I'll admit that I don't have a ton to contribute here, but I wanted to say that I listened to & enjoyed these episodes. You continue to find more of interest in this text than I would have seen myself (which is different from the normal Wolfe criticism style of having new insights into, and interpretations of, a text one already finds interesting). You do a great job of bringing out what is *good* about the text (I tend to see mostly the ways in which it is weak, comparing it to other Wolfe books).
I particularly liked the religious discussion in part 2 — it paralleled nicely with the earlier episode given over to politics; I don't know if that was deliberate or not, but the pacing and alteration of the themes was nicely done. And I continue to benefit from your bringing in Christian theology — as an American historian I've studied, e.g., the Second Great Awakening mostly as a social movement, with only surface examination of the theologies involved; and things like the the seven works of mercy were totally news to me. So thanks for that.
I was struck by the aside about labor as the only vehicle for meaning of life in the first episode (returned briefly to in the second). I think that the notion that labor gives purpose to life is broader than you imply in the first episode; I remember Nietzsche, e.g., describing this as a universally held modern belief, and hearkening back to the ancient Greeks who (in aristocratic style) thought labor beneath them & leisure the best form of life. I suppose, in general, praise for labor is both a bourgeois and a proletarian virtue (for very different reasons), and only aristocratic classes (thin on the ground these days) make a virtue of not laboring. The notion that new notions of leisure might be necessitated by automation is an interesting one, but I'd throw into the mix the fact that that is true only if social conditions permit it; see Peter Frase's classic essay on the anti-Star Trek society: http://www.peterfrase.com/2010/12/anti-star-trek-a-theory-of-posterity/ (He later used this as the foundation of his book, Four Futures (where anti-trek is one of the four).
Two or three minor notes:
- Like Brandon, I read the "robotized" army as referring to drugs, not actual robots; I think this reading is supported by the larger context of talking about drugs.
- I liked the parallel you made, towards the end of episode 1, between this and the BotNS — with the idea that John Castle might trace Severian's path to the throne. (I suppose you, living in the future, now know if this turned out right...). I'd tie this into your description of the book as a picaresque, and point out that what you said about this book — that the plot serves to show off different parts of the society — is true of BotNS, too.
See you in chapters 7 & 8!