Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dualism and Humanity

Ursula LeGuin's motivation for writing The Left Hand of Darkness is in keeping with this course's theme of science fiction being a literature of "cognitive estrangement." By eliminating the concept of a strict gender divide for one of fluidity determined by whether the individual is in a state of kemmer or not LeGuin sought to eliminate the issues of gender association and view the individuals for their underlying humanity. This is in no way following the strain of science fiction being a literature of probable or advanced future technologies. As she states in the Introduction, "science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive." In her view the business of science fiction is to take a topic in the present and stretch it to far beyond its reasonable reach. In this sense the role of the science fiction author is to challenge the reader's set way of thinking about a topic through a metaphor that focuses on issues of the present without taking on a role reliant on predicting possible future crises.

LeGuin initially moved away from accepting the claim that she set out to challenge the reader's settled way of viewing the world by taking on gender as her central topic. She denied being a feminist writer. In her own words The Left Hand of Darkness is "a book about betrayal and fidelity" rather than issues of gender specifically. However, this topic is unavoidable as by removing gender she calls all the more attention to its presence in our daily lives. In her revision of "Is Gender Necessary Redux" she says,  ["The fact," is however, that there are other aspects to the book, which are involved with its sex/gender aspects quite inextricably] (LeGuin, 8). Thus she acknowledges the unavoidability of facing the issues of sexuality and gender which she initially downplayed for fear of being considered a feminist author.

Indeed, she claims that, "[At the very inception of the whole book, I was interested in writing a novel about people in a society that had never had a war. That came first. The androgyny came second. (Cause and effect? Effect and cause?)]" (LeGuin, 10). For LeGuin diffusion of gender followed from the conception of a world without conflict on the scale of war. This lack of gender duality, one of several lacks including a continuity in seasons, causes a sort of fluidity in form among the Gethens not found in the people of Earth and the larger Ekumen empire.

Genly finds his hosts on Gethen to be androgynous and not clearly indicative of either gender. This is apparent in his encounter with Estraven early on, "yet whenever I thought of him as a man I felt a sense of falseness, of imposture" (LHoD, page 12). This mirrors LeGuin's later lamenting of her own inability to separate her view of a gender neutral people by insisting upon using a masculine pronoun.

LeGuin's inability at the time of writing the novel to divest herself of this preoccupation with the gendered, male-dominated pronoun shows how she is bound in to the system of expression. That is to say, that her not recognizing the issue with the use of the word "he" indicates how she viewed the words that make up our world in a way that was not tied to gender inequalities, which appears naive. Her opinion on the use of a male instead of a neuter pronoun changes from believing that they don't matter to, [If I had realized how the pronouns I used shaped, directed, controlled my own thinking, I might have been "cleverer"] (LeGuin, page 15).  Through the use of gendered pronouns LeGuin appealed to the mainly male science fiction audience.

Her choice of a firmly male character also establishes the concept that the world is viewed through a male lense. As demonstrated by her choice of pronouns this extends as far as to the author's choice of how to identify the characters. This raises the question of how far our societal reliance on masculinity extends– considering that LeGuin is a woman.


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