“Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planets of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe… Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Urras, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.”
- Eos edition paperback cover
Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed alternates between two narratives across time and space. One revolves around the protagonist Shevek in the present as he travels to and learns about the world of Urras; the following piece looks at this story. The second narrative tells the story of Shevek’s past and his life growing up on the world of Anarres, an anarchic and egalitarian society – I’ll explore that in the next post. Finally, I’ll be examining the whole story in a third and final piece through one of the novel’s central theme: Reconciliation.
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P.S. Been a little overwhelmed with personal matters and professional obligations over the last week, so the first Dispossessed piece (I’m planning three right now) will be a little late. Apologies and thanks for reading!
My honeymoon with The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia was an intense and extended one. Ursula K. Le Guin’s Nebula and Hugo-winning novel proved immensely alluring to me – its rendition of post-capitalistic civilization; its probing into the nature of revolution and power; its look at the possibility for change. The novelty and power of its ideas captivated me so much that I devoured an essay collection dedicated to them, and The Dispossessed quickly became one of my favourite novels of all time.
When I recently returned to the story through the audiobook narrated by Don Leslie, I found the infatuation that had so arrested me had faded. The ideas, once so vivid and vital in my mind, had lost their lustre, becoming old-hat and common sense. At the same time, I began to notice the novel’s shortcomings, despite my best efforts not to: There was an awful lot of exposition, its real world parallels were obvious and dated, and Le Guin’s prose, while still beautiful, contained neither the mythic flourish of The Left Hand of Darkness nor the practiced grace of later works like Lavinia. I had to face the painful possibility that I was perhaps outgrowing one of my most treasured tales.
Outside the locked room is the landscape of time, in which the spirit may, with luck and courage, construct the fragile, makeshift improbable roads and cities of fidelity: a landscape inhabitable by human beings.
It is not until an act occurs within the landscape of the past and the future that it is a human act. Loyalty, which asserts the continuity of past and future, binding time into a whole, is the root of human strength; there is no good to be done without it…
…The thing about working with time, instead of against it, he thought, is that it is not wasted. Even pain counts.”
The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia
Storytelling and reconciliation. Joy and meaning. Fidelity and time and journey. The quotes over the past three weeks highlight the themes I hope to explore as I revisit one of my favourite novels of all time, next time on Ekostories.
“Making happiness the focal point of your life trivializes it, because in order to regard anything as truly important, you also have to regard its loss as truly meaningful. Opening yourself up to moments of deep meaning simultaneously means that you have to open yourself up to the possibility of deep hurt and sorrow.
You do that anytime, for example, you make a relationship profound, you put your emotions on the line and that has to be real, or else the relationship can’t be real. To hope that sort of risk could be obliterated by the indulgence in a simplistic form of happiness is to shrink in cowardice from the demands real human existence places on people.”
-Jordan B. Peterson, CBC Idea’s “Say No to Happiness”
P.S. There’s a reason for these quotes – stay tuned!