I’ve recently been taking pottery classes at the local community centre. Recalling fond memories of lessons growing up, I went into the first session brimming with enthusiasm, confident that I would be spinning out pots and vases and plates in no time. No such luck. I soon discovered I had no aptitude for the wheel. Class after class, clay balls wobbled off centre and flung apart, overzealous hands warped promising cylinders, and palms grew raw trying to coax shapes out of an alien medium. No muse or intuition came to me, and I realized I had a lot to learn. After grappling with futility, I decided to take a break from the wheel to work with the clay by hand. Something clicked, and frustration gave way to the freedom of unfettered play. I found myself making figurines of flora and fauna as I did when I was a kid, back when clay gave my restless hands something solid to work on. From failed pots emerged mushroom landscapes populated by miniature elephants. Coils grew into dolphins …
Welcome to the second part of my look at Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. For a synopsis of the book, please check out the first part of this piece.
“In our loss and fear we craved the acts of religion, the ceremonies that allow us to admit our helplessness, our dependence on the great forces we do not understand.” – Lavinia, p. 177 This piece is dedicated to Russell Collier, fellow Le Guin fan, dear colleague, guide, friend. In memoriam. Lavinia, a novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, is many things: Historical fiction set in the Italian Bronze Age; a mythic fantasy derived from the last six books of Vergil’s Aeneid; an experiment in which the narrator is aware of her own fictionality; a postmodern tale where creation and creator come to learn and love one another. But above all, Lavinia is a haunting story crafted by a great storyteller. It is not my favourite of Le Guin’s works, but it is perhaps the most beautifully written. Her laconic prose brings to life a little known pre-Roman world, captures the lived essences of a semi-mythical people, and offers voice to one neglected, to tell the tale of her life and beyond.
“More familiarity with our own mythology might help us to relate to theirs.” – Jean-Luc Picard, from last week’s piece on Darmok With this quote and the tale of Gilgamesh and Enkidu still fresh in my mind, I came across a piece titled A Wild Man, Tarzan of the Highlands over at The AnthropoEccentric. In his thought-provoking essay, N.S. Anderson explores modern re-imaginings of the tale of Gilgamesh in music, translations, and art while highlighting the connections between nature and culture that lies at the heart of this Mesopotamian epic.
Several weeks past, I attended a workshop on the use of storytelling for effective social engagement. Sitting at my table was a doctoral student interested in better ways to communicate concepts of ecological economics to the public. As we chatted about the various metaphors embedded within conventional economics, particularly around growth and development, I started thinking about stories that focus on the challenge of communication and the power of metaphor. Searching my mind for examples, I found myself returning once more to the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation for inspiration, this time to an episode titled Darmok.