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‘Overawed By Force’
Impressions of Chapter 31 of Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer
Reading from pages 184-188 of Shadow & Claw
The Shadow of the Torturer
“It is part of our office to stand uncloaked, masked, sword bared, upon the scaffold for a long time before the client [1] is brought out. Some say this is to symbolize the unsleeping omnipresence of justice, but I believe the real reason is to give the crowd a focus, and the feeling that something is about to take place.”
Severian notes that the poor, in such circumstances are not as vicious as the privileged, who are not accustomed to being overawed by police and other officers of the state.
Schooled in the art of the ceremony, the headsman is supposed to spare the condemned pain in numerous ways and to stand so that his shadow blots out the sun forever for the person about to lose their head. Royalty, who were beheaded in the early modern era did express concerns about their dignity at execution, something the author has transferred to all people at the end of Time, at the hands of a dedicated guild, where historical persons beheaded on stage were most often done to death by condemned men who escaped the axe, sword or noose by agreeing to take on the unsavory burden of executioner.
Severian returns to his own life having taken another and is haunted by his multiple recent near death experiences, consciously turning his mind away from the stress of insuring his own survival:
“…as a woman alone in a large house refrains from looking into mirrors, and instead busies herself with trivial errands, so that she may catch no glimpse of the thing whose feet she hears at times on the stairs.”
The deep hypocrisy of this term, echoes our idea of citizenry with a cynicism deserved by those who are ruled as surely as the mob of ancient Rome yet fancy their rulers “public servants.”
The Consultant
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supplicant song
by this axe!
the world is our widow
when you're food
logic of steel
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