Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Le Guin's Questions and Answers

Thought-experiment, utopia, dystopia, questions and answers

Marcellino’s Shadow’s to Walk brings an interesting slip to last week’s discussion on utopia’s revolving around Tiptree’s stories. As we discussed, for Tiptree, the challenge was often finding out whose utopia she had created. Is the space more beneficial for men or women? Le Guin brings a middle of the road answer in balance between genders and sexes. Even though this balance would ideally become the best possible society for both males and females, in reality isn’t balance a utopia for women and a dystopia for men? Living in a male dominated society in the our present time, any change to balance would require men to lose their current power and women to gain power. Therefore it seems that there is no possible way to reach a balance in our own society as a pure utopia.

I was most intrigued by Le Guin’s statement in “Is gender Necessary? Redux” that classified The Left hand of darkness as questions, not answers. She states this asking of questions as one of the “essential functions of science fiction” (9). As answers, the Gethenian society becomes restricted and limited to what is possible, practical and reasonable as a society. Readers then judge whether or not this utopia is even a utopia and even a plausible one at that. But focusing on questions as a starting point, allows the characters, author and reader to have limitless thinking in any direction. Similarly, Ellen Peel offers the suggestions that criticism Is “meant to be thought-provoking rather than prescriptive” ( Marcellino 204).

This misconception or misunderstanding reflects Le Guin’s introductory remarks to The Left Hand of Darkness. For her, Science fiction should not be seen as a prediction of the future. Instead, science fiction is a “thought- experiment” to describe rather than predict. She also describes fiction as using facts to support lies, which reflects back to our first discussion around the contradictions of science and fiction as independent fields.

Even though Le Guin believes that The Left Hand of Darkness is in fact not a utopia all, this is just one of the questions the book raises, and doesn’t necessarily give an answer. It seems that making her characters socially ambisexual was one of the few ways she could create an “equal” society that the 20th century reader would believe. This places the change as biological, not purely social and therefore possibly easier to accept because there is less choice involved. It seems to me to be Le Guin playing it safe by calling her work only questions not answers. Within her text, she seems to be offering answers, even if she is unwilling to call them “good” answers to our current problems.


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