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The Dispossessed (1994)

The Dispossessed (1994)

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4.15 of 5 Votes: 4
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0061054887 (ISBN13: 9780061054884)
harper voyager

About book The Dispossessed (1994)

Thoughts on The DispossessedOf the various layers of content in The Dispossessed, the most obvious is the socio-political: capitalism vs. anarchistic-communism. The claim often made is that, even though her heart is with the latter, she nonetheless treats the two structures impartially. The claim or presumption is to be found in the reviews of fantasy/science fiction devotees, those with a particular interest in anarchism and, I suspect, also those who simply read it with an uncritical eye.I don’t see that at all. Not surprisingly, given where her sympathies lie, le Guin has created the best possible picture of anarchistic communism and the worst of capitalism. In creating a capitalist society which has at its apex overwhelming plenty, perched on a base of workers whose existence is miserable beyond belief – going to hospital typically means being eaten by rats if one is poor – le Guin has created a capitalist society which is not only a morally reprehensible model but a very stupid one. Capitalism has known for a long time that one keeps those making up the base of support happy by giving them enough. That principle pertains throughout our society and there is no reason I can see to explain why le Guin’s capitalist model is different from that.Contrast the anarchistic-communist model she proffers. By placing it in a poor, harsh geography, she creates the perfect setting for that model to succeed. Although superficially she is seen to consider the difficulties with the structure – when harsh becomes drought-induced-impossible, how does one decide who lives and who dies in this society – it is obvious that the real difficulties with the model arise when one considers physical ease and economic plenty. I can’t begin to see how any anarchistic-communist model then works, let alone one which has specifically been constructed on the presumption of struggle, survival, utility, function, purpose. The model she presents borrows much from the experience of the kibbutz movement in Israel. As it has failed, so too it is impossible to imagine her ideal society surviving.This is the only le Guin I’ve read. Are all her books so stilted and contrived in style? There is a point at which dispassion by the author is hard to distinguish from a boredom that is infectious. I stopped reading The Seducer to take on The Dispossessed and this has made me appreciate how well-written the former is. It has been argued that the dull tedious style is necessary to portray the poverty and utilitarianism of her utopian society. Sorry, I can’t see that for one moment. The woman hates writing, it is – unhappily for both her and her readers – a necessary medium to communicate her ideas. If she had commissions Ray Bradbury to turn her ideas into words, he would have made something beautiful without betraying the style she wishes to impose. But, then, Ray Bradbury loves writing.Look, for example, at this list:p.110 Coats, dresses, gowns, robes, trousers, breeches, shirts, blouses, hats, shoes, stockings, scarves, shawls, vests, capes, umbrellas, clothes to wear while sleeping, while swimming, while playing games, while at an afternoon party, while at an evening party, while at a party in the country, while travelling, while at the theatre, while riding horses, gardning, receiving guests, boating, dining, hunting – all different, all in hundreds of different cuts, styles, colours, textures, materials. Perfumes, clocks, lamps, statues, cosmetics, candles, pictures, cameras, games, vases, sofas, kettles, puzzles, pillows, dolls, colanders, hassocks, jewels, carpets, toothpicks, calendars, a baby’s teething rattle of platinum with a handle of rock crystal, an electrical machine to sharpen pencils, a wristwatch with diamond numerals, figurines and souvenirs and kickshaws and mementoes and gewgars and bric a brac, everything either useless to begin with or ornamented so as to disguise its use; acrues of luxuries, acres of excrement. Sorry, but my average weekly shopping list is a more interesting read. Compare this list from The Seducer:p 63 I must be allowed to say a little bit about bicyles…because bikes occupy a very special place in people’s memories – just think of the palpable thrill that runs through the body at the memory of the drag when a dynamo is flipped in against a tyre. And even more than the bike itself, what one remembers are all the accessories and trimmings. In fact, I would go as far as to say that for many people the status seeking that has since manifested itself in having as many letters and digits as possible after the name of a car had its beginnings right here. I could mention at random the different types of handlebars, not least the so-called ‘speedway’ handlebars which were all the rage for some time and which, if I remember correctly, were even banned, in keeping with the Norwegian fondness for every possible sort of safeguard, and which boasted such features as luminous handgrips with little nubs that pressed into the palm of your hand, and gears – source of such stories as, for example, how Frankenstein pedalled up the steep slope of Badedamsbakken in ‘third’, sitting down – and a speedometer, an item which in Jonas’s day was long a rarity, owned only by boys like Wolfgang Michaelsen, not to mention a lamp of the type that had two little yellow lights on either side of the big one, like fog-lights, and last but not least, the obligatory bell, which the really cool guys replaced with a beauty of a horn. Then you had the wide variety of different saddles, foremost among them the banana seat, motorbike-style, which suddenly became the in thing, and the accompanying cross-country tyres and who could forget those mud-flaps emblazoned with an ‘N’, as if one were all set to cycle across Europe? Anything else? Oh, yes, the toll kit on the carrier with its carefully stowed contents, anticipating the suitcase-packing problem in that everything had to be slotted into exactly the right place or the lid wouldn’t close. This fastened with a little padlock, available in various colours, and came complete with minute keys; which in turn brings me on to the advent of the combination lock, with a cat’s eye on the knob, and the hunt for the most baffling combination, which was engraved on a little copy of the lock itself and which, for some, represented their first encounter with the recursive element in life. Lastly, I ought to mention all the badges for sticking onto the mudguagd, and the pennant, its rod vibrating so delightfully, and then, of course, the flags and foxtails that made you feel like the Shah of Persia as you rode around the blocks of flats. But one of the most interesting features in this connection was the trimming of the wheel-spokes, first with empty cigarette packs: Ascot, Speed, Jolly, Blue Master and, above all, Monte Carlo, the menthol Virginia cigarette that came in three varieties – yellow, red and black – adorned with little paintings which today seem quite exotic, like works of art from a bygone age, and later with triangles formed out of fuse-wire, which is to say copper wire of the sort insulated with different coloured plastics.Now that is a list. A lovingly constructed list by a man whose delight it is to write. Perhaps when going through the process of making up a language, it is perforce going to make for tedious presentation. Coming to The Dispossessed as one whose science fiction days have long passed and who has never had any sympathy for fantasy, this whole process generally irritates me, it seems such an effort for nothing. Why can’t the characters be called Barry and Kevin and Patsy? Why do they have to be Shevek and Pae? Why does the toilet have to be the shittery? Having begun the book with no patience for this, I eventually came around to the idea that her anarchistic society had to create its own language and culture. Still, I’m not convinced by the linguistics side of the story but I’m too ignorant of the area to feel comfortably criticizing it. Is the way in which the language is established and developed credible? My gut feeling is not. Nicholas Tam, in a detailed review of the book to be found here has this to say:“…the linguistics in The Dispossessed adhere to a Whorfian model that is inconsistently applied. Pravic, the Esperanto-like language spoken on Anarres, was planned and designed to fit the needs of a communist utopia where property and class do not exist. Le Guin’s presentation of this is quite elegant: she “translates” the disparities between Pravic and Iotic (the language spoken in A-Io on Urras), along with the occasional code-switching, into English analogues—thereby avoiding the indulgent trap of science fiction and fantasy that Randall Munroe so helpfully illustrates:’Nonetheless, he is not altogether happy with the linguistics of it. I can’t help but feel that if one is going to all that trouble to invent a language, one might as well be careful about it. Le Guin’s ‘utopia’ has no word or concept for ‘wife’ but sure enough the girl who drops in to deliver the baby is a midwife. That doesn’t seem consistent to me, but perhaps a linguist will take me to task.Personally, I don’t understand why believability has to be achieved through the device of inventing language. Nor, if it comes to that, the concept dear to le Guin’s heart, numinousness. Good writing will create that effect any time over artificial devices, linguistic or otherwise. Again, Ray Bradbury achieves numinousness through nothing more than lovingly applied craft and a sensitive imagination. Since, however, The Dispossessed is polemic in nature, perhaps it is as it has to be.I’m also unsure about the structure of the book. I’m generally distrusting of books that split a story into two or have two separate stories going at once. My immediate response is that they don’t stack up to a straight chronological narrative layout….but again, perhaps if there is a book that needs such a form this is it.Compared with these big pictures aspects of the book – the linguistic, the politico-social – I felt more comfortable with her philosophical considerations at a micro or personal level. Scientists who have reviewed this book are very accepting of her main character, Shevek and his development. It not being my area I’m happy to take their word for it. I find him a very dull character, slow on the uptake. It takes him 40 years to understand things about his own society which seemed obvious and which his friends knew since they were teenagers. Is that supposed to be part of the point of the book? That he is brainwashed so convincingly by his society that this holds up his own personal development, even as a scientist, so that when he finally has his epiphany, the reader is left thinking, that could have been twenty years earlier if only he’d been open-minded.Le Guin espouses all sorts of personal/interpersonal philosophy I live by. It did not altogether fit in with my understanding that in this period she wrote ‘for men’. Her argument in favour of absolute fidelity in the context of partnership, and her observation that life and even mere sex are meaningless without both fidelity and partnership, are pretty much what I’ve believed since, like her stepping-out-of-teenage experimentation-characters, I realised that sex was nothing. It is only the loving partnership that makes it something. Is that really something written for men? The male reviews I’ve looked at make no comment on this side of the book.I was especially taken by a scene where Shevek, after some years of abject misery both personally and work-wise finds Takver. It takes them seconds to realise that they will be together for life. Sadly, they had met a long time earlier, but although she knew he was the one, he saw her, but did not see. Still, there is no point regretting what cannot be undone:‘It was now clear to Shevek, and he would have thought it folly to think otherwise, that his wretched years in his city, had all been part of his present great happiness, because they had led up to it, prepared him for it. Everything that had happened to him was part of what was happening to him now.’ Lately, before I read this book, I’ve been explaining the last 33 years of my life that way. This is the time when I felt like writing for le Guin is not just hard work, when she is writing about love.

Why America Is Full of Toxic Bullshit and Why Ambiguous Utopias Need to Check Themselves Before They Wreck Themselves Going Down the Same Fucked-Up Path by Ursula K. Le Guin.this excellent novel-cum-political treatise-cum-extended metaphor for the States lays its thesis out in parallel narratives. in the present day (far, far, far in the future), heroically thoughtful protagonist Shevek visits the thinly-veiled States of the nation A-Io on the planet Urras in order to both work on his Theory of Simultaneity and to pave the way for change on his homeworld. in chapters that alternate with this trip to Urras, we watch Shevek grow from boy to man on the anarcho-communist Anarres - the "Ambiguous Utopia" of the novel's subtitle. Urras and Anarres form a double-planet system within the Tau Ceti star system. The planets have a difficult relationship: 150 years prior, revolutionaries from Urras were given the mining planet of Anarres in order to halt their various revolutionary activities throughout the Urran nations. Upon establishment of their colony, Anarres cut off all but the most basic contact and trade with the despised "propertarians" of Urras.The Dispossessed is a fiercely intelligent, passionate, intensely critical novel - yet it is also a gentle, warm and very carefully constructed novel as well. ideas do not burn off the page with their fiery rhetoric - everything is deliberately paced; concepts and actions and even characterization are parsed out slowly. its parallel narratives are perfectly executed, with different plot themes and character backgrounds brought up, expanded upon, and often reflecting upon each other. ideas are unspooled in multiple directions and serve to continually challenge reader preconceptions. overall this is not a novel that quickens the pulse (although there is some of that) but is instead a Novel of Ideas. if you are not in a contemplative mood, if you have no interest in systems of government or human potential or theoretical physics, then this is probably not the novel for you. it is a book for the patient reader - one who actually enjoys sitting back and thinking about things. Le Guin's prose does not jump up at you; nonetheless, she is a beautiful writer - equally skilled with the little details that make a scene real and and with making the Big Concepts understandable to dummies like myself. and Le Guin is a sophisticated writer. she seems constitutionally unable to write in black & white - everything is multi-leveled, nothing is all bad, nothing is perfect. humans are fallible; ideas are fallible. everything must change and yet the past is ever a living part of the present.America as A-Io is where much of Le Guin's passion is displayed. however, the time spent in A-Io (roughly half the novel due to the alternating chapters) did not exactly challenge me. perhaps because i am already critical of the good ole U.S. of A., and have engaged in plenty of political shenanigans throughout my life, i wasn't reading anything new. i am the choir to whom the novel preached. still, i'm not sure i would say that this is Le Guin's fault. it's probably my fault, being an unpatriotic asshole who both loves and hates this crazy place, and who is in agreement regarding all the negative points - and the positive ones too (introduced fairly late in the novel by a Terran envoy). i am automatically sympathetic to all the points made about the ivory tower of education, hypocritical politicians, unncessary wars, the poisonous yet hidden class system, the demeaning of women, etc. still, despite my lack of enthusiasm about A-Io, this is also where some of the most wonderful writing occurs, and where some of the most mind-expanding concepts are described.where the novel really shines is in the depiction of the Ambiguous Utopia, Anarres. everything is not peachy-keen on this arid, sadly animal and grass-free desert world. the ideals that created Anarres are indeed admirable; it was awesome to see my own (and countless others') anarcho-socialist jerkoff fantasies about how perfect it would be if we were all truly able to share, all able to chip in to help each other, if materialism was seen as an abomination, if we were able to give up on ridiculous hierarchical structures, etc, etc, et al enacted in a fairly realistic way and in a very positive light. but of course this is an "Ambiguous" Utopia, so Le Guin also shows how basic, power-craving, territorial human nature will always surface... how cooperative, communal living can also stamp down the individual, how it can make being different seem like a threat... how other-hatin' tribalism is ultimately toxic, no matter the tribe, no matter the utopia, no matter if the tribe is an entire nation - or world. Le Guin makes a utopia, then she nearly unmakes it by unmasking all of its issues and ugliness... but she does not denounce it. i loved that. Le Guin and Shevek still see the beauty in this culture, in a place that is anti-materialist, anti-capitalist; their goal is to explore how such a system can truly be maintained - in a way that is genuine and that respects the invididual, a society that is continuously revolutionary. and the true enemies of revolution are complacency and stasis.a closing word and quick circle-back to the sophistication of Le Guin's writing: i loved how Shevek's Theory of Simultaneity was reflected within the book's structure and by the political and moral themes as well. an example:"But it's true, chronosophy does involve ethics. Because our sense of time involves our ability to separate cause and effect, means and end. The baby, agan, the animal, they don't see the difference between what they do now and what will happen because of it. They can't make a pulley, or promise. We can. Seeking the difference between now and not now, we can make the connection. And there morality enters in. Responsibility. To say that a good end will follow from a bad means is just like saying that if I pull a rope on this pulley it will lift the weight on that one. To break a promise is to deny the reality of the past; therefore it is to deny the hope of a real future. If time and reason are functions of each other, if we are creatures of time, then we had better know it, and try to make the best of it. To act responsibly."

Do You like book The Dispossessed (1994)?

I read Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy way back when I was a kid, but I am abashed to say that until now I had never read any of her adult SF novels.The Dispossessed holds up amazingly well for a book written nearly forty (!) years ago. In fact, forget about the publication date and it could have been written this year. Except that hardly anyone writes this kind of slow-moving, thoughtful, idea-heavy science fiction any more. The Dispossessed won a Hugo, a Nebula, a World Fantasy Award, and the National Book Award. That was back in the days when winning a Hugo meant something.(Sorry, John Scalzi, I like you, but... Redshirts? A Hugo? Seriously?)The Dispossessed takes place on the planet Urras and its habitable moon, Anarres. Urras was the original world from whence men came, with a long recorded history and an environment much like Earth. (Goodreads librarians seem to have decided that The Dispossessed is the fifth book in the "Hainish" cycle. My understanding is that the other books do take place in the same universe, but are largely independent of one another. However, they are united by the Hainish, who apparently contacted all the races of mankind on different planets and revealed that they are all descended from common ancestors. This is a detail mentioned in this book, but not really very important.)About a hundred and fifty years ago, revolutionaries from Urras fled that planet on a rocket to Anarres, and settled on the barren, habitable but stark and hardscrabble moon. They follow a philosophy called Odonianism, after the founder, a woman named Odo. Odonianism is true anarcho-communism, and so this book is mostly an exploration of two very different socio-political systems. Urras, as I said, is much like Earth — its most wealthy nations are essentially capitalist (what Odonians call "propertarians"), but it has a range of governments (what Odonians call "archists"). When Shevek, the physicist who is the first Anarresesti to return to Urras since the Anarres colony was founded, encounters Anarres society, he of course experiences culture shock, horror at their propertarian and archist ways, but he also realizes that it is not the authoritarian hellhole that all Odonians assume it must be.He had been taught as a child that Urras was a festering mass of inequity, iniquity, and waste. But all the people he met, and all the people he saw, in the smallest country village, were well dressed, well fed, and contrary to his expectations, industrious. They did not stand about sullenly waiting to be ordered to do things. Just like Anarresti, they were simply busy getting things done. It puzzled him. He had assumed that if you removed a human being's natural incentive to work -- his initiative, his spontaneous creative energy -- and replaced it with external motivation and coercion, he would become a lazy and careless worker. But no careless workers kept those lovely farmlands, or made the superb cars and comfortable trains. The lure and compulsion of profit was evidently a much more effective replacement of the natural initiative than he had been led to believe.A superficial and ideologically reflexive reader might think that Le Guin is praising socialism, that The Dispossessed is a novel that criticizes capitalism and democracy and authority in favor of some idealistic vision of anarcho-communism. (Notice how I conflated socialism and communism there? Well, the superficial and ideologically reflexive reader thinks they are the same thing. Le Guin knows better.) But inasmuch as she portrays the Odonians in a sympathetic light, as they are the protagonists, she also takes us through Shevek's entire life and his discovery of the flaws in Odonian society, the ways in which human nature conspires to undermine every utopian ideal. And shows how Anarres is a harsh and sometimes joyless place, even without violence or authority or force or compulsion. The Anarresti consider themselves a utopia and Urrasti society to be a dystopia; the Urrasti think the opposite.Shevek, as a brilliant physicist who holds the key to what the Urrasti believe will lead to profound technological advancement (including making weapons, naturally), is warmly welcomed to Urras, where they do their best to subvert and seduce him. But Shevek came to Urras to bring the revolution back to the planet on which it was born.I had to think about why this book so impressed me, and made me give it 5 stars, despite its lack of razzle-dazzle or action or high concept plotting. Part of it is Le Guin's prose, of course — she's a skilled and artistic writer who delves deep into human psychology and sociology and yet also manages to make the advanced, esoteric physics, hand-waved as it is, sound plausible and high-falutin' and sciency. (Keeping in mind, again, that this book was written in 1974!)I came to the conclusion that first of all, this is a book that is only nominally science fiction. Or rather, while it is most certainly science fiction, it's not the "science fiction" part that dominates the narrative. The story doesn't need to be about a physicist on another planet; it just makes certain elements easier to explain that way. It's a story about how societies interact and how people interact with each other and how people interact with society. The Anarresti were interesting precisely because Le Guin put as much effort into working out the details of a global anarchist communitarian civilization - which is able to conduct advanced physics and make trains run on time - as most SF authors put into the orders of battle for their starfleets and the physics of their warp drives and the biology of their Slee'th'krin Hagaa'r aliens, etc.Lots of folks on Earth say "Well, sure, communism is an 'ideal' society in theory, but it will never scale beyond a small community, let alone for an entire planet." So Le Guin goes about showing how it might work. And it really does work — but it's not a utopia. At one point, one of the Urrasti lower classes tells Shevek "At least on your world, no one goes hungry." And Shevek corrects him: "No one goes hungry while another man eats." In fact the Anarresti do go hungry during a rather harrowing global drought. Arguably the result of the environment, and the Anarresti's hardships are largely the result of their having to settle on a barely-liveable planet instead of the lush Urras, but still, it's no utopia. Le Guin shows how a society in which no one has to do anything, no one can be made to do anything, and everyone can take whatever they like, actually works, through the mechanism of social norms and mores. People just do. And those same norms and mores also result in a slow bureaucratization, and institutionalization even in a society supposedly without institutions, and authoritarianism in a society supposedly without authorities, because people are still people.My other conclusion, or maybe a corollary to the first, is that science fiction falls into two categories, broadly: Big Idea SF, and old stories dressed up as SF.There can be a lot of overlap, of course, and I like old stories dressed up as SF. But as Star Trek was famously described as "Wagon Train in Space," a lot of science fiction is your basic war story, or rags to riches/orphan hero, or rebels against evil invaders, or crime thriller or detective mystery, etc., with androids and space travel and beam weapons or whatever. They are perfectly good stories, may even be great fiction, but they aren't really bringing anything new to the table. Enjoyable, but just another way to retell a story.Big Idea SF is what science fiction, or "speculative fiction" to get all pretentious about it, is "supposed" to do when you are waxing pretentious about genres. Namely, explore ideas, posit hypotheses, construct stories around a what-if or play with science and technology in ways we can't yet in reality. This is how you come up with mind-bending stories, worldview-changers, science fiction that expands boundaries.Most of this science fiction is built on the premise of some advanced technology, or climactic changes, or the arrival of aliens, or some other clearly fantastical element. In The Dispossessed, the advanced technology is the minimum necessary for plot purposes, the mention of offworlders (Hainish and Terrans and others) likewise. It's a novel of societal science fiction.In my slightly snobby opinion, that's kind of what we should reward novels for with Hugos and Nebulas. With the big, big disclaimer that if you peruse my reading list, you will see I read and enjoy lots of books for no other reason than they were great war stories or detective mysteries with androids and space travel and beam weapons or whatever.The Dispossessed is really a thinking book that would be, should be a literary classic, even if it must always struggle against that bright orange paperback cover that says "sci-fi."

Shevek is a brilliant physicist living on Anarres. His world is actually a moon populated with the anarchist rebels of Urras. Anarres is utopic in many ways, but stifling to free thought, so Shevek flees to Urras. There, he finds himself too swaddled in privileges. My inarticulate summary doesn't give the slightest hint of how incredible this book is. Le Guin turns her thoughtful, earthy eye on each form of government and lifestyle in the 9 Known Worlds, from the utilitarian anarchists to the overly-controlled socialists to the authoritarian capitalists. Shevek is the physicist who travels between worlds and revolutionizes conceptions of time, yet Le Guin spends time on his family and friends, too, as though a fish geneticist's trouble with pregnancy is important to her story as well. This book is a study in revolution, hierarchies, war, the master's tools, clean thinking. I recommend it as highly as I am able.

i'm both surprised that so many people hold this book in high esteem and embarrassed that i don't. this novel reminds me of those semi-fictional parables/treatises philosophers used in the past to elucidate a theory, like, say, plato's republic, or leopardi's operette morali, or charlotte perkins gilman's herland. in other words, this seems to me didactic, and weak in the story-telling and the drama and the adventure and all those elements that make a novel fun and novelistic instead of the expo

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