Thursday, January 25, 2018

Ursula Le Guin

With Dolores, and now Ursula Le Guin, that's the loss of two of my heroes in the same month.

Over the years, I've written a number of posts about Le Guin's work, beginning with my 2008 review of The Left Hand of Darkness. While it seems that many folks are familiar with that work, they are less familiar with her short story, "The Matter of Seggrei." In many ways, I find this latter short work the more interesting.

Rather than positing a genderless world, "Seggrei" envisions a world in which men possess the traits ascribed to them by gender essentialists - that men, by their nature, are brutes who only care about sex. Except, she flips it around so that what on our world is a "reason" for men's dominance becomes a liability. Women use this "truth" about men's nature to greatly restrict men's role in the world to sports and sexual servitude, while women run society.

Le Guin had a gift for both world-building and social commentary that seem to have been derived from her observations about some of the dominant narratives in our culture. Through reversals and slight changes from our world, her works inspire us to interrogate some of the"truths" we take as self-evident, particularly about gender, which is why her work has long resonated with me.

In her final collection of essays, Words Are My Matter, she wrote, prophetically:

"Hard times are coming, when we'll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We'll need writers who can remember freedom - poets, visionaries - realists of a larger reality."
In our current state of sociopathic, lie-idolizing, bot-saturated, cynical, abusive, too-cool-to-care discourse that dominates on social media, I relate hard to the path Le Guin suggests is our way out of this hellscape.

It's on us now.

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