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Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2002 17:03:58 -0500
From: James Jordan 
Subject: Re: (urth) Time, Briah, 5HC, and other things

At 02:55 PM 4/19/2002, Blattid wrote:

>Does anyone else beside me remember a comment in an early interview
>or something in which Wolfe suggested that these books may be taking
>place, not in our far future, but in our distant past?

Yep, though it's not "our" distant past. It was part of my loooong 
interview, online at

And here is the relevant part, with a bit more for those who might not have 
read all this before. (I've tried to clean it up a bit, but someday I have 
to find the tapes and really clean it up.) -- Nutria

JJ: Is Briah our universe? Or is that a universe that resurrected saints 
have set up in the world to come as part of the cities that they made?
GW: No. I thought of it as a long past universe. Something that we are 
repeating rather than something that we are.
JJ: I don't know that I have any other questions. It is a universe in which 
angelic like beings actually have physical control over the universe of 
stars and suns. I noticed that you had scarabs in the great machine in 
Yesod. Severian goes through and sees that
GW: Oh yeah, yeah.
JJ: Scarabs push the suns. But that is a past world in your imagination.
GW: Yes, I was looking at what past universes might have been like really 
and that is how...I began with the idea of what is going to happen to us if 
we just keep going the way we are going and continue to live on the 
continent of Earth without ever really going into the sea or going into 
space and we just wait for the money to run out. The do nothing future and 
thinking about what that would be. And then I got into the idea of 
universal cycles. And decided that I would show that this might be a past 
cycle. Some physicists at least think that the Big Bang is eventually going 
to be followed by a Big Gnab in which the whole universe coalesces again 
which will be followed by another Big Bang which is sort of like a 
succession of universe as piston impulses in an internal combustion engine. 
I certainly don't have any great emotional investment in that idea but I do 
think it is a useful idea to play around with. Physics is coming nearer and 
nearer and nearer mysticism. It has been doing this now for over 50 years 
and it seems to me that is a fascinating thing that much too little 
attention has been given to.
JJ: That poses something of a difficulty in terms of Christian eschatology 
if there is to be a time and there is a resurrection where the world comes 
to an end. Are you making an attempt to unify those two ideas or just to 
play with the idea of a gnostic universe?
GW: I was toying with those ideas, I think, rather than trying to make 
sense of them. Is our resurrection going to be in another universal cycle? 
Well, yes, maybe it is. I don't know. We don't know what is really meant by 
the world coming to an end, and God rolling up the sky like a carpet and 
all that. It is all picturesque language. Figurative language to try to 
give a general idea to an audience that would not be capable of 
understanding the actuality. And I am not sure we are more capable of 
understanding that actuality than they were. It is like the Genesis story. 
I don't believe in a literal apple and I don't believe that literally 
biting into the fruit had this effect but if you have to explain to a bunch 
of primitives how men differ from animals and where men went wrong in 
differing from animals, this is a pretty good way to do it.
JJ: Who is on trial in The Urth of the New Sun? Severian or Tzadkiel? 
Because Tzadkiel tells him as the captain of the ship ______________mind.
GW: Severian is really on trial. Tzadkiel is pretending to be on trial as a 
part of Severian's trial as I remember.
JJ: Tzadkiel means the righteousness of God.
GW: He is an angel of justice.
JJ: He passes judgement there. Apheta, that would mean opheta with an eta: 
that is speechless. Was that your idea? Opheta with an epsilon could mean 
GW: No it is speechless. They talk by centering the sounds that you hear so 
that you think that you are hearing a voice but they are actually 
speechless. In a completely silent atmosphere they would be unable to speak.
JJ: Right.
GW: It was just a physical idea that I decided to play with and it has 
certain philosophical reasons to it.
JJ: As if the universe of words is on one level and there is something 
higher or above that.
GW: Well, the idea of selection. That we can make ourselves clear to 
somebody else by selecting things to which they pay attention.
JJ: Okay. Oh... Severian's sexual relationship with her. What is the 
purpose of that? He is a married man so at one level he is cheating on his 
wife. He gets aboard ship and immediately takes a cabin near Gunnie and the 
way you have it written he thinks to himself well it has been 10 years 
since I have had anybody since Valaria. It seems to be one of his lapses in 
virtue at that point.
GW: Yeah, I was not trying to show him as being that virtuous a man.
JJ: But here you have an angelic being takes him for the night. What is 
going on there? Is that an idea of a celestial marriage between heaven and 
GW: I think that the ideal of the higher being trying to raise the lower 
being to a greater height perhaps. And also the attraction that the lower 
being at least properly should feel toward the higher being.
JJ: So we could interpret that more symbolic than a moral level?
GW: Oh yeah, yeah. Well he is there to be morally judged but that does not 
mean that everything... The fact that he is acquitted doesn't mean that 
everything that he does or will do is right. If that is the criteria then 
none of us are going to make it. None of us are without sin which I realize 
is a platitude but it is also truth and it is very important truth. There 
are..., if that is what we mean by good people then there are no good 
people. What we have to mean by good people is people who are bad but are 
trying at times to be good with mixed success because that is the closest 
that we get.
JJ: The holy slaves [Heirodules], Famulimus or one of them tells Severian 
that he is the center of his race, the savior of his race. That is such 
Christlike language you can see why interpreters would say well Severian is 
a Christ figure. But is there a Christ figure in the book, or is he simply 
for this universe?
GW: In so far as there is a Christ figure it is Severian. That doesn't mean 
he has to be identified with Christ. He is in a position similar to that of 
Christ. But really it is a different position because Christ really is both 
God and man. Severian is not. Severian is a Christian rather than a Christ. 
But he is been taken as the representative of humanity by whom humanity is 
to be judged. This I think is what has happened perhaps with the actual 
human Jesus. He is or was is as fully human as you or I and we are saved by 
Him. By the fact that he passed. That the corruption did not destroy Him. I 
think that St. Paul is absolutely correct when he says that Jesus was 
tempted in all the ways that we are tempted. I think that Jesus was tempted 
to commit murder or any other sin that you want to name just as the rest of 
us are. And the difference is that He did not sin.


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