I've been enjoying the theological discussions taking place in your most recent podcasts. I came to make two, hopefully not merely pedantic, points about what you have been talking about recently concerning baptism and the first sin of man.
The first is that I was surprised you guys did not mention that baptism is explicitly a ritual involving the symbolic death of the participant. From the online catechism, " This sacrament is called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out: to baptize (Greek baptizein) means to "plunge" or "immerse"; the "plunge" into the water symbolizes the catechumen's burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as "a new creature." This is one of the reasons why baptisms are often done around Easter.
Secondly, and, I think, more importantly, is that you guys said a number of times that the first sin of man was in desiring knowledge, but this isn't quite right. The small but important distinction to make is that Adam's sin was not in desiring knowledge, but in desiring knowledge in an improper way. The serpent tempted Eve not simply with knowledge, but knowledge that was like God's knowledge. The serpent says, "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." So, the temptation here isn't in knowing good and evil, but in becoming "as gods".
This is one of the reasons why I have so much trouble with the epigram to this story, especially the last line. Of the things mentioned in the quote, the desire to know is, I think, essentially different from the others because humans are, by nature, ordered towards knowledge, and to give that up a truly radical sacrifice. But I realize, just as I am typing this, that must be the point. Saints are fucking awesome.
Glenn, I think you are right about the garden episode and I think I misspoke. What I meant was that their sin was not in desiring knowledge, or the beauty of the fruit or any of those other things listed, but in acquiring it in an improper way. Thus, they seemed to have achieved some kind of knowledge which was unnatural, that is to say, not via their natural mode of coming to know, to them.
On a somewhat different note, I often find that Wolfe uses these types of allusions to give his world a richness and a depth, but that, perhaps, and I will hide behind my couch as I say this, doesn't really do much with them after that. What I mean is, bringing up the questions that the story of the fall of man, or the anthropological questions that a character like mr. Milion, raises is one thing, but commenting on them is another. Asking the questions is, of course, the place where one must start, but why bring them up at all if one does not, are least, attempt an answer? I am open to correction and guidance on this for I am not as well read in Wolfe and the commentary on him as, I'm sure, others here are, but I want so badly to see an argument from Wolfe on these topics in his stories. Perhaps I am looking for something Wolfe simply doesn't even intend to offer, or, and perhaps more likely, he has simply slipped them right under my nose. It wouldn't be the first time he has done so.
James, these are some great comments. I was recently listening to the interview with Gene Wolfe that was posted in the facebook group and one of the interviewers asked him about his interest in water as a symbol. He gives a sort of non-answer, but the general idea is that water (and baptism as a sacrament) have a number of different symbolic uses.
Baptism by submersion (apart from death and resurrection into a new life) can also be about purity and it can also represent the symbolic presence of the holy spirit, as when the three members of the trinity are present at Jesus' baptism by John the baptist. I see Wolfe using both the sense of baptism as symbolic of the story of Christ's death and resurrection (focusing primarily on the death as St. Anne seems to have no sense of resurrection) and the use of baptism and the symbolic power to purify and imbue one with a higher sense of being (being spiritual in nature or ability to be closer to God as a person who can "know" rather than as an animal who can not) in play in A Story by John V Marsh. I read Wolfe as siding more with the Hill People's interpretation of baptism rather than the Marshmen's. In any event, there's an awful lot going on with water and the river in "A Story."
I think it's an excellent point to say that Adam and Eve's pursuit of knowledge is a sort of perversion of the type of knowledge that Adam and Eve already had of God, who could dwell with them in the Garden. This curse of "knowing" as God does, the difference between good and evil, is part of the curse of Adam that remains with all humanity. The desiring to not know, as st. John of the Cross discusses, is, in my mind, an attempt to return to a sort of purity of knowing of God, as Adam and Eve would have in Eden, rather than knowing about God using faculties of reason. It is an attempt to move beyond the curse of exile and into a purity of being.
Haha, yes, I know that if I'd been in the Garden of Eden I'd have been the first person going after that fruit. I can't imagine giving up my curiosity -- it would be like losing my whole self, just as John of the Cross says.
The temptation in the Garden is a really interesting episode. You've pointed out how the serpent tempts Eve, but of all the things the serpent lists the narrator leaves out the being like gods when he explains Eve's motives. What tempted her was the beauty of the fruit itself and the wisdom she would receive from eating it. Of course, Wolfe also seems to focus on what the serpent says when the Shadow Children discuss their drug, which will link right back to John of the Cross. Quite right about baptism as a symbolic death and resurrection, and I think this is important if we are going to read the whole novel as Gene Wolfe's Divine Comedy. And the notion of death and rebirth is going to be a significant part of the story in the next novella, too.