Back to the Hugos

The Guardian considers Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness.

Fred recently considered it here.

I have to be honest, I just don't see it, didn't see it, and don't quite get it.  I've read the book three or four times trying to get what others did out of it, and it just doesn't work for me.  But perhaps it is time for another go-round with it.  As one's viewpoint changes stories that previously did not engage become more engaging.  If I were to nominate one LeGuin for everyone to read it would, without doubt, be The Dispossessed.   Although I am also very partial to The Lathe of Heaven.

But to be fair, this is the book everyone goes ga-ga over and everyone holds up as her triumph.  I am definitely a dissenting voice in this match.


  1. Steven,

    Chuckle...First time anyone has ever described me as being "gaga" over anything.

    Actually my experience has been quite different from yours. Most people that I know and have talked to about Le Guin's work, feel that _The Dispossessed_ is her best novel. One or two even seemed to have been quite uncomfortable with the novel. My experience has been that I'm in the minority here. We seem to live in two different worlds, at least as far as when Le Guin is the issue.

  2. Dear Fred,

    I'm sorry. I did not intend the ga-ga to be a personal remark, and I'm glad you didn't take it personally. I just meant by it that a great many people love this book beyond what I can see in it. I don't even recall liking the writing--but my last acquaintance is of such great vintage that I am not being entirely fair to it.

    I'm not uncomfortable with the concept of the novel--the "experiment" just leaves me a little indifferent. When I first encountered it, I thought the express concerns a little "of their time."

    Conceptually, however, this is one of those touchstone, solid works. The concept alone is certainly mind-boggling--so as a feat of imagination, it is admirable--indeed profoundly admirable--although certainly derivative of similar motifs from Teresias to Orlando (and beyond)--but never applied in exactly this way.

    Thank you for commenting, and once again, my apologies for inadvertantly offending.



  3. Steven,

    No offense taken.

    I'm not so certain that the central concern is dated. I wonder if it's gone underground as not being PC and to some extent male violence isn't still a reflection of that confusion.

    Just a random thought.

  4. Dear Fred,

    Sorry, I didn't express it well. The treatment of the central concern, the "androgyny" if you will, seemed very old even at the time. Does it make its point? I'm not certain, the trappings are such that this whole notion of men and women being absolute equivalents seems a strained reading of the human condition. To deny biological differences to achieve some sort of equality is, of course, futile, because the biological differences reassert themselves, regardless of our desire to see them go away. Hence, my feeling the treatment is a sort of special pleading that actually hurts the cause rather than helps it. As a thought experiment, it is interesting, but as a political stand, it is much like Joanna Russells's "The Female Man" and others of its ilk. Whenever I read it I get the sense of women/men--fish/bicycle.

    Does the problem remain? Undoubtedly, and I think in part because of this attempt to find equality in the eradication of difference rather than in the celebration of it. There are fundamental differences between the two in ways that intrinsically matter, but not in ways that detract from the dignity of one or the other. And not in ways that justify the perpetuation of unjust systems. But when you kick against the goad so hard the end result is that you alienate any meaningful freedom.

    So, I would argue that _Left Hand of Darkness_ as political screed is dangerous. I don't think Ms. LeGuin intended it to be read that way, but it is difficult not to--and that is what I mean by dated. It is filled with the mindset of the time (and to some extent continuing) that the way to equality is to deny reality--an ultimately post-modern sensibility.






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