I want to talk about the former of these two things because I feel like I have a lot to learn from everyone’s opinion on this, and the second because I think it offers a potential connection to Star Trek.
In his book Demand the Impossible, Tom Moylan presents a critical reading of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. Part of his criticism lies in the contradictions of Le Guin’s egalitarian Utopia, especially in its presentation of gender and sexuality. Moylan sees the presentation of Bedap as being a shortcoming in the novel that undermines the idea of Utopia. Indeed, Bedap does seem rather unhappy with his situation. I believe, however, that Le Guin’s depiction of him (whilst, perhaps, somewhat “token”) was indeed deliberate, and aware of its implications. Bedap is a character outside the margins in a supposedly non-marginalising society. He is the one who is aware of the corruption of power on Anarres, and the one who makes Shevek aware of this. He is shown as being dissatisfied with the status quo; he is indeed a revolutionary. Le Guin’s message, then, may have been that such people are necessary for the continuation of rebellion, which is portrayed as a noble and desirable societal function. In such a light, figures such as the homosexual Bedap become a sort of sacrificial character; exposing their own hardship in the quest for betterment.
Why, then, does Le Guin include the passage with Shevek and Sadik with Bedap despondent? The immediate thought for me was that Le Guin’s perspective in the novel is of course reflective of her own personal one. She is an author with a husband (she took his name) and with three children. Her own experiences link parenthood, family and monogamy to happiness, and this is shown in the presentation of Shevek’s relationships throughout the text. A lot of the novel centres on the subversion of human impulse to create a mutually beneficial society, and perhaps this is an extension of that.
Where does Bedap fit in? My response to this is that Le Guin does not ever assert that Anarres has reached Utopia, indeed the need for revolution is still apparent. This is where, I believe, Moylan’s criticism was somewhat unfounded. He talks of “the utopian society of Anarres,” (Moylan, 95) and then of “the flaws in the utopia.” (Moylan, 95). This somewhat paradoxical last statement indicates the complexity of the situation, but at times Moylan treats it simplistically. At some points he writes as if he thinks that Le Guin intended Anarres to be wholly utopian, and then goes on to point out what’s not utopian about it. If we take the less simplistic view, we see Anarres as a work-in-progress. Bedap certainly has things better than he would have done on Urras, but in order for things to get better, he has to again incite revolution. Moylan also claims that “We read of no changes on Anarres due to his trip”(Moylan, 116), which is untrue because in Chapter 13 Skevek notes that “It seems there are more of them [supporters] than we I left.” (TD, 382).
I am also wary of the connection that Moylan draws between Shevek’s sexual experiences and his breakthroughs. We are told that Shevek has numerous other sexual relations, most of which only add to his feelings of stagnancy. Instead, it is when he makes an emotional and intellectual connection with someone that he takes major strides (his two professors included). As for Vea, I think that it is Shevek’s sense of disgust that is more important in that night being a tipping-point than the sexual aspect.
Finally, I want to talk about Moylan’s treatment of the Ekumen. This is a word that is not even mentioned in The Dispossessed, but Moylan takes it as part of the novel. His criticism is that Shevek’s findings result only in “a useful new product to benefit the hierarchy, the bureaucratic leadership of all the known worlds who can now set up a mega-bureaucracy of centralized power for the universe.” (Moylan,117). Within the context of the book, however, this is not at all the implication. Shevek shares his work to “save it from becoming a property of the Ioti.” (TD, 350). The stress is thus on commonality, transparency and mutual benefit, not the acquisition by government. I believe this is an unfair criticism of the book because it introduces ideas that are out of context.
1) Do you think Le Guin passes a commentary on human nature in The Dispossessed? If so, is human nature depicted as part of the key to our happiness, or something that must be overcome to reach utopia?
2) Do you think Moylan ever sees Anarres as Le Guin’s failure to present a utopia, or is he aware that none of the societies in the book may be truly utopian? Is the book’s utopia simply the idea of “hopeful anarchism”?
3) Is it fair to bring the Ekumen into discussion of The Dispossessed? If so, what connections can be drawn to Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets? Or, if you’d prefer, Futurama’s Democratic Order Of Planets, DOOP?