Posts Tagged “The Dispossessed”
In The Disposessed, the utopian revolution on Anarres was meant to be “a permanent one, an ongoing process” (p. 176) but by the time of Shevek’s life, the society has become static. Bureaucracies are given power in times of emergency, but when the emergency is over that power is not revoked. The desire for societal approval saps individuals’ willingness to challenge any aspect of their lives. As Chris Ferns puts it, “the future is something which they believe has been attained and, in their efforts to ensure that it does not revert to the past from whose contradictions it emerged, they are in the process of transforming it into something more sterile, lacking in the transforming vision and energy that was once capable of imagining the genuinely new” (p. 258).
Thus, from Ferns’ point of view, Shevek’s trip is successful because it “restore[s] the possibility—on both worlds—of genuine change” (p. 259). Because the revolution on Anarres was so isolated from the society on Urras that it was meant to revolt against, both planets are stuck in stasis, each convinced of its own superiority. Only Shevek, by breaking the barrier between the societies, can re-start revolution on both planets. Ferns seems to consider Shevek himself to be central to this process, and he connects Shevek’s individual “freedom from fear of the genuinely new” (p. 259) to his individual approach to time and physics.
This focus on Shevek is interesting to me in light of Tom Moylan’s criticisms that “the activists in the novel who might most reflect the various movements of the late 1960s—anti-war activists, ecologists, school reformers, anarchists, working-class and poor, Third World revolutionaries—are displaced to the margins” (p. 113) in favor of “a type of commitment that revolves around a single redeemer, a vanguard intellectual, and a dominant male” (p. 109). Moylan seems to suggest that in life, revolutions cannot be brought about by a single person, and that LeGuin is again undermining her own ideology by showing us a revolution that is not a dynamic, continuous social movement, but rather a single individual carrying out a single action.
I think that there is more to the revolutions on Anarres and Urras than just Shevek’s actions. Bedap’s group of friends existed long before Shevek’s involvement with them, and in fact seem to have carried out much of the work of the Syndicate of Initiative without Shevek’s input. The revolution on Urras, as well, significantly pre-dates Shevek’s involvement and acts independently of him, organizing an immense general strike. However, I agree with Moylan that these other revolutionaries were not given attention proportional to their impact. Although we know they must have been there, to set the stage for Shevek’s actions, the book does not linger on their activities, so that what we see of revolution remains focused on Shevek.
What do you guys think? Who is really most important to the revolutions in The Disposessed? Does anybody take issue with characterizing either of them as revolutions? What does a revolution look like?
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In The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, Le Guin creates a setting of two diametrically opposed planets. The protagonist, Shevek, is from the anarchist and separatist Anarres. Shevek wants to travel to the archist mother planet Urras to rekindle social revolution on Anarres, bring social revolution to Urras, and to advance his knowledge and theory of physics. By the close of the novel it seems probably that he has achieved the first goal, and he has definitely achieved the last. However, despite the time he spends on Urras, he fails to create meaningful change there. In fact, by the close of the novel I was left feeling as if Shevek had merely given up on Urras, and moved on.
First, although Urras is originally portrayed as a binary opposite to Anarres, there are many cases in which Le Guin deliberately problemitizes or blurs the presumed differences. By establishing commonalities between the planets, Le Guin creates an expectation for the traveler Shevek to advance both societies. Shevek finds Oiie’s family particularly redeeming within Urrasti society, and is moved to participate in a majority revolution of the poor. These acts seem to support my expectation as a reader that the protagonist will find a way to aid both societies.
When the revolution on A-IO fails, Shevek flees to the Terran embassy. He has no further contact with any revolutionaries before leaving the planet, and claims Urras is hell, that it is impossible to change those who do not wish to change. I fail to understand how this realization fits in with the rest of The Dispossessed. It seems that the large revolution indicates that the oppressed majority is ready for change. Furthermore, what is the purpose of such a lengthy sojourn in Urras if Shevek is ultimately there only to spur change on Anarres and complete his physics theory? Is Urras merely an explanation for the extradition of the new physics theory of a novel composed around the set-up for the technological novum which defines Le Guin’s chronologically later books? The inconclusive future for Urras seems to split Shevek’s three goals, while attaching importance in relation to her overall megatext to the completion of his physics theory, and to the novel itself in the furthering of Anarres’ social movement. Any change in Urras is minimal, and the marginalization of this element of the novel leads to an overall feeling of disconnect in the work.
How do you reconcile Shevek’s Anarresti ideal of constant revolution with him giving up on Urrasti reform?
Do you see further significance in the inclusion of Urras in the novel, or do you think the same themes of the novel could be expressed in an equally effective manner in another setting foreign to Anarres?
Is there some purpose in leaving Urras’ future unfinished in the novel?
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Tom Moylan’s criticism of Ursula K. Le Guin’s work, The Dispossessed, concentrates on the contradictions that Le Guin’s utopia faces against her own ideologies. The pro-feminist and pro-sexual liberation notions were presented well, yet instead of putting emphasis on these two, cast them aside into the margins in order for Shevek to take his place as “hero” and “leader” of the revolutionary path. In hindsight, pointing out Le Guin’s focus on a male-dominant attitude may seem arbitrary but does not ignore the fact that characters such as Bedap, as Moylan dubbed “the token homosexual,” had been “devalued” and never transcended from his restrictions as a minor character. (I might as well be reiterating parts of my E5 in this blog post, so sorry, Gerry, if this gets rather redundant.)
When The Dispossessed was published in 1973, homosexual acceptance was becoming more apparent, yet only reluctantly so. Despite the prevalence of opposition, the GLBT movement in America continued to confront its obstacles—Sodomy laws adhered by numerous states, discrimination, condemnation from various religious sects, and hate crimes—and has had its victories: The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders on December 15, 1973. A week later a United States federal judge promotes a ban to discriminate sexual orientation of employees. The removal represents a deviation from previous notions of homosexuality being “a psychological abnormality” and allowed limited acceptance for same-sex relations. Moreover, the gay culture stepped further into the public eye when gay political figures were elected into office and when more celebrities “came out.” In its social and political context, Le Guin’s novel may have portrayed America’s ostensible acceptance to sexual preference. Anarres culture did not frown upon on homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual relationships; sexual experimentation was of the norm.
So why does Moylan scrutinize Le Guin’s presentation of the GLBT characters like Bedap? Bedap expresses regret for his lifestyle or that he can never experience “the hardest and deepest, the intimacy of pain” (Le Guin 370). The implication is that Bedap’s homosexuality is the cause for regret, the reason why he cannot share the joys, the pains, of parenthood, cannot share the sufferings of others because “he never took the time” (Le Guin 370). His self-pity, his sense of uselessness prompts the assumption that offspring defines and fulfills a person’s purpose, betraying the ideology of sexual tolerance Le Guin contends in her works (this may be an outstretched presumption of mine… And I may be emulating Moylan’s tone. Sorry for that). Ironically, Bedap is the one who pushes Shevek towards the revolution, the catalyst that opens Shevek’s minds to the various flaws littered in Anarresti institution and administration. He never achieves complete happiness by the end of the novel, and is never mentioned again after he leaves Shevek and Sadik alone, an unfortunate and unexpected ending for someone who lives in a gay-friendly society. This ambiguity may just be a by-product of the novel.
I agree with Hunter’s suggestion of an unreached utopia being the reason for Bedap’s unhappiness. Yet, I still feel unsatisfied with that reason. There could have been some closure on Bedap and his endeavors (which I would assume include a family unit), but the open ending and the lack of any other mention of this character seems to again imply that Bedap is not part of the greater scheme of things like Shevek, who is the protagonist, the “important one.”
1) What do you think of Moylan’s criticism of Le Guin’s presentation of GLBT characters? Agree? Disagree?
2) Do you think Bedap’s treatment was a reflection of America’s reluctance to wholly accept homosexuals during the 1970’s?
3) Would a short epilogue detailing the marginalized characters like Bedap, or even Takver, suffice people such as Moylan? Or would it detract from the ambiguity that is The Dispossessed?
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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?
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In this blog post I want to focus on the opening scene of chapter 10, in which Shevek rides the rails across the Southwest in order to get to Takver. Like Kyle, this has absolutely nothing to do with my essay topic (how education on both worlds relates to their ideology), but it was such a striking and disconnected first scene that I felt I had to address it.
First, I want to point out the style of the section, which is the first thing I noticed. It contains no names, just “the passenger” and “the driver.” It is told from the point of view of the driver, who views Shevek as “worn out” (309). This point of view in conjunction with the descriptions of the desolate landscape creates a disconnected feeling in the reader; it’s the same sort of feeling you get after you’ve been sitting in a car for a long time watching the endless and monotonous landscape, like an out-of-body experience. This allows LeGuin to write about Anarres and its shortcomings in a seemingly unbiased fashion. It is not Bedap actively criticizing all aspects of Anarrasti culture but two seemingly anonymous men, who are assumedly good Odonians, debating the merits of their own system.
Which brings me to the actual content of their conversation. The conversation starts out lightly enough, with the driver commenting on the nature of partnerships between men and women. In class, we talked about how it seemed that the pseudo-state disapproved of partnerships because of their inherently anti-Odonian implications. However, the driver has been happily partnered with someone for eighteen years. He talks about how “it isn’t changing around from place to place that makes you lively” (311). Instead, the routine of everyday life is enough to satisfy him because he has enough variety with his partner. He mentions something about “getting time on your side” and “working with it, not against it” is what makes one happy (311). I’m not quite sure what to make of this. What do you think? How does it relate to the overall theme of time in the novel? Does he mean that to live life, you mustn’t see it as something to fight but something to go along with and enjoy?
They also talk about the troubles Anarres went through because of the drought. They debate whether or not it is moral for the driver to kill a few (in case of a raid on the truck) in order to save many. Both the driver and the passenger find issue with this point of view; they do not believe in putting a number on human life and don’t think that any living thing should be told to decide who lives and who dies. However, I feel like this is the Anarrasti’s pseudo-government’s ethic and is something like utilitarianism. During the drought, everyone conserves and everyone suffers small rations because in the long run more people might be able to survive, even if a few people literally lie down and die. The pseudo-government does not care about the suffering of the few because their policies help the many (the society) as a whole survive the drought.
Some questions to consider (both related to my post and not):
What do you think of this scene? Are Shevek and the driver criticizing the way the government decided to run things? Is Anarrasti society concerned with the most benefit for the most people?
Do you think the book ended abruptly?
What do you think will happen to the person from Hain on Anarres? Is this alien about to enter a journey just like Shevek did when he went to Urras? Has the story come full circle?
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I suppose I should preface this post by saying that this topic has nothing to do with my E4 or my intended E5. For both of those, I’m using the concept of suffering as it applies to the novel and to our lives. However, while I was reading the last few pages of the novel, a thought suddenly sprung into my mind: hadn’t the Anarresti built just as many walls as the Urresti?
In the beginning of the book, Le Guin begins with the simple phrase “There was a wall” (Le Guin, 1). It is implied further by the next few pages that this is the only wall on the planet and that the people that had gathered to watch the freighter Mindful take off hadn’t had experiences with other physical walls. However, it should be noted that Le Guin doesn’t say “the wall”, but “a wall.” This intentional phrasing implies that walls are not as foreign of a concept to the Anarresti as the reader might initially think. But if this was the case, what were these additional walls?
As I said, the existence of other walls jumped out at me as I was reading the final chapter. As Shevek was talking to the first officer Ketho, he describes how the Anarresti knew of the Hainish existence but they still didn’t attempt to make contact with them because “‘[their managers] were just building more walls’” (Le Guin, 384). Le Guin makes it clear that the people who were in charge (who weren’t really “in charge” because no one is accountable to any particular person on Anarres) frowned upon communication with other species because Odonians were supposed to be self-sustaining.
While these ideas of isolation and self-sustentation may seem like somewhat plausible excuses, the Terms of Settlement seem to come into direct contradiction of Odonian principles. Based on the terms, no Urrasti were ever to be allowed off the ships, no contact was ever allowed between the two planets, and there was never to be mixing between the races. However, if someone should want to become an Odonian, why should they not be allowed to? This additional wall put up by the Odonians pushed them past the seclusion that was initially desired in order for the settlers to be self-sustainable. They had progressed to a point where the walls were an essential part of what defined being a member of this exclusive, Odonian group.
When it is all said and done, I only have a few questions left that I can’t quite answer. How could a race of people that avoided the creation of physical walls allow other metaphorical walls to be built without seeing the direct conflict in ideology? Is there a way to salvage Anarres and return it to its true anarchist state, or is Shevek right in deciding that perhaps he and his followers need to move to yet another remote region to restart the true anarchistic colony? And finally (sorry Hunter), can either of these two planets be considered a true utopia? Can we even say that a faction of either of the planets is utopian?
P.S.- Sorry for the cheesy Shakespeare play on words. I couldn’t resist.
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In Chapter 7, Le Guin gives us some interesting insight into the role of women in Urrasti culture through Vea Doem Oiie. As Vea tours Shevek around Neo Esseia she shares her experience with the propertarian society on Urras and a woman’s place in it.
Ever since his conversation with Kimoe about the status of women on Urras, Shevek has been under the impression that, according to the Urrasti, women were significantly inferior to men. Kimoe’s simple disbelief that he could ever consider women equals – “You can’t pretend, surely, in your work, that women are your equals?” (Le Guin, 17) – erased all hope Shevek had that Urras and Anarres could relate on this point. Given this, what I found most interesting about Vea’s interpretation of a female’s role was that she believes them to be, in fact, superior to men on Urras. According to Vea, “women do exactly as they like” (Le Guin, 214). And this isn’t limited to dressing up, hosting parties and sleeping until noon (as I have been led to believe by previous encounters with Urrasti women). As Shevek so deftly puts it – what is it they do? “Why, run the men, of course!” (Le Guin, 215). Vea paints a picture of women who seem to be content with compliance, because they secretly know that they control the men in other, less overt ways. The difference between men and women is not that men are more important to society or dominant over the women, but that the two genders become “self-content” in very different ways. While this seems like a great balance (the men get what they want but the women are all happy appearing inferior), I still feel like I would be uncomfortable in a situation such as this. What do you all think – is the pleasure of being self-content worth the price of others thinking of you as a subordinate? If you’re self-content, does it matter if other people think you’re inferior?
Vea’s assertion becomes a bit less convincing when, later in the evening, she is talking physics with Shevek and some of his peers. After attempting to enter the conversation, a man discredits her point and she is “relieved to be put in her place” (Le Guin, 224). It doesn’t seem that she is content to seem inferior while secretly be in control in this situation, she is just more comfortable being in “her place”, which happens to be on a lower intellectual plane than the men.
And so Le Guin presents a philosophy of Urrasti women (as delivered to us by Vea) that seems to contrast the action we see later in the chapter. Do you see some way the actions and words of Urrasti women in practice hold to the theory Vea presented? Also, we’ve seen that on Anarres things aren’t really as equal as they seem – the women scientists are never quite as smart as Shevek needs them to be. On the other hand, women on Urras seem to be very successful at what they do (even though it is not the same thing that men do). Which society do you think is really more equal between the genders? And this is quite broad, but what message is Le Guin trying to send by presenting women in these ways?
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In her novel The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin uses the setting of a distant planet and its moon to explore the relationship between technology and society, drawing both extensions and contrasts to her world.
Le Guin uses A-Io on Urras to draw a vision of an America set in the future; this relationship becomes clear when considering the role of technology in life. Shortly after Shevek arrives on Urras he notes that there are few cars on the roads, saying that “all such luxuries which if were freely allowed to the public would tend to drain irreplaceable natural resources or to foul the environment with waste products were strictly controlled by regulation or taxation (82).” In the 1970s, the environmentalist movement was just starting to grow, and the image of fuel-inefficient cars being extravagant polluting machines was beginning to become more popular. Many in America were, and still are, worried that the perpetual increase in the number of cars on the road is unsustainable and will become too much of a drain on unrenewable resources in addition to creating pollution.
Additionally, though A-Io realized that the number of cars it had was unsustainable and cut back, the nation in the novel was not able to completely recover from its exploitation of the environment. Though Shevek notes that “the excesses of the Ninth Millenium were ancient history” (82), he also says that there was a lasting effect of a shortage of certain minerals which Urras is now forced to import from its moon, Anarres.
On the other hand, Le Guin does not simply use the alien setting to extend the role of technology on Earth; she uses Anarres to present entirely new ways of using technology in society. In Le Guin’s time, computers were starting to become more popular, and in her envisioned future computers play much larger roles in everyday life. All of the citizens of Anarres, when born, receive their names not from their parents, but from a computer. When Vea exclaims it would be “dreary” and “impersonal” to be named by a machine, Le Guin has Shevek disagree, saying “what is more personal than a name no other living person bears?” (198). Where no single person or committee would be able to keep track of such a large number of unique names, a computer can handle the task with ease, allowing the people on Anarres to only need to use their single name as identification. (It is interesting, though, that Takver dislikes the name for her child, Sadik, saying “it sounds like a mouthful of gravel” (250), as though she wishes she had been able to choose a name for her own child.)
Computers and extensive communication lines on Anarres are also used by Divlab to, as the name would suggest, divide the labor. Citizens on Anarres are allowed to put in requests to the system, asking for jobs according to what they believe are their individual strengths. Additionally, places all over the planet will post job openings through the system as well. Divlab will then make recommendations to each person on which job posting to take, but there appears to be a great deal of flexibility in the process.
Does Le Guin fairly use the state of A-Io to mirror a possible future for America in the face of environmental exploitation? Can you see people ever agreeing to allow a computer to produce names, or, like Takver, will we always feel the proprietarian want to name our own children? Are there any other examples of technology’s role in everyday life in The Dispossessed that stood out for you?
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“They were superbly trained, these students. Their minds were fine, keen, ready. When they weren’t working, they rested. They were not blunted and distracted by a dozen other obligations. They never fell asleep in class because they were tired from having worked on rotational duty the day before. Their society maintained them in complete freedom from want, distraction, and care” (128). Welcome to Duke University…. uh I mean the Ieu Eun institution on the planet Urras. I have to admit that I was a bit in awe with how Shevek deconstructed and criticized the extravagant society’s educational system, if not solely for how it parallels the place at which I now study. Perhaps it’s the way Shevek was alienated from his students on Urras. Being so success orientated and focused upon turning a profit from their education, they became incapable of absorbing any sort of greater life philosophy from such a great thinker like Shevek. They are so pampered in their “intellectual stimulation” that they cannot begin to reconcile the other forces abound in the universe. “The beds were made for them, the rooms were swept for them, the routine of the college was managed for them, they way was made plain for them” (129). Shevek essentially finds that by quantifying and fueling “study” minds become narrowed and trained, and the true capacity of the brain to understand is stifled. This, I believe, is Le Guin’s criticism of a capitalistic society’s effects upon the intellectual, and one I find to be valid. It seems that at least once a month I walk into the Bryan center and find myself surrounded by my peers in suit and tie, pitching their soul to a plethora of multinational firms that represent the finest minds in monetary exploitation. In this moment I experience a nauseating disillusionment. I wonder if my absurd tuition fees are no more then a capital investment. It seems imminent that Duke University will not aid me in finding the fulfillment and meaning in life I seek. It will render me to be a good profiteer, but little else. The inner Odonian cries out.
I digress. The truth is that while I have been focusing upon Urras, Le Guin spent much of chapters 4-6 exploring the pitfalls of Annares. What emerges from these pages is a rather conflicted vision of the “utopia”. Indeed, the colony was founded by revolutionaries who sought to apply a methodical logic to human life in order to perfect it. At the same time, there is a reason why Shevek found Odo to be hiding amongst the most lavish garden upon the planet. Between the tyranny of Sabul, the overbearing censorship of Annares’ shadow government, and the social conundrum that is Odonian society, a true hell on the moon for independent and revolutionary thinkers has been created. Whereas Urras exploits their minds for profit, Annares silences them Gulag style. Of course, you can’t afford to miss Bedap’s lecture on the pitfalls of communism (around pg. 165). I also couldn’t help but to have Ayn Rand’s Anthem in mind when I read about Shevek’s little love vacation in the mountains. Regardless of the political commentary, Le Guin’s depiction of Annares in these chapters has a strong pseudo-utopian context. Through Shevek and those he interacts with, it is shown that Odonian society, as it as evolved, is ineffective at accounting for individuality and change: “But nothing changes anymore! Our society is sick. You know it. You’re suffering its sickness. Its suicidal sickness!” (166)
Perhaps one of the more interesting dynamics of the society is the “revolutionary paradox”. To quote The Who, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. Annares was once the place of revolutionaries. Now it has become backwards enough for the next crop of reformers to bud out, reformers who seem to reject both a profiteering society and a forced cooperative (one in the same?), “ The circle has come right back around to the most vile kind of profiteering utilitarianism” (176).
That’s pretty much it, though I’ve come up with a few things to ponder. Atro says to Shevek, “There’s a great deal that’s admirable, I’m sure, in your society, but it doesn’t teach you to discriminate- which is after all the best thing civilization teaches” (143). I think this quote is very important, and should be taken in to consideration when debating the two worlds. Also, Shevek has a profound connection to animals, something largely absent on Annares. What is the significance of this?
P.S. I hope you guys can problematize Daniel’s relational framework of the Annares/Urras dichotomy by highlighting some fundamental paradoxes in his paternal dynamic
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Imagine a world almost identical to Earth set in a time somewhat in the future. This world is created in Ursula K. Le Guin’s book The Dispossessed, and it is called Urras. They have a central government, an economy, and social classes. They strive for glamour and are always looking for the next best thing. Anarres is a polar opposite planet to Urras with no government, no economy, and everyone working on the same level to ensure sustainability. There is hostility between the Urrasti and the people of Anarres rooted in betrayal. An Urrasti philosopher started a colony on Anarres to get away from the quickly growing, materialistic world of Urras. The colony grew and became mostly self-sustaining, but still needed some basic necessities from neighboring Urras. Shevek, an Anarres physicist, decides he wants to learn all he can from the Urrasti instead of hate them like the rest of his people. The planet he arrives on is a utopia, and very different than Anarres.
To an Urrasti, Urras is home. The Urrasti see their planet very similarly to how we view Earth. Shevek is amazed by the splendor of not only the actual planet Urras, but every small detail as well. It is as if he is a toddler in a candy shop. He looks at every object as if it is a new toy. On Anarres, everyone dressed casually and nothing was too detailed. There was no time to experience the “pleasures” of life because the planet needed to be kept sustainable. No one could ever really have a day off. Living on a desert planet does not allow for that. That is not true on Urras. On Urras, Shevek gets the chance to view “women in full gowns that swept the floor, their breasts bare, their waists and neck and heads adorned with jewelry and lace and gauze, [and] the men in trousers and coats or tunics of red, blue, violet, gold, green, with slashed sleeves and cascades of lace (23).” It is a culture shock for Shevek when he is thrown into a room with so many elegant and beautiful Urrasti. Their customs of shaving off all hair and wearing jewels all over their body was something that Shevek was expecting, but regardless was still in shock. Once Shevek’s welcoming part is over, he retires to his room and is still in awe of the splendor around him. He stares into his empty water cup with the “rim of gold” reflecting back on his first day on a new world (25).
The people of Anarres always looked down on the Urrasti. Each race assumed they were superior to the other. The children on Anarres have views of the Urrasti as elegant materialistic fools who “[lie] around naked in the sun with jewels in their navels (41).” Shevek grew up with these stereotypes and was somewhat shocked to find out that they were true. Granted the Urrasti do not lie around naked all day, but they do have something about them that make them seem unreal. After his first night on Urras, Shevek begins exploring his room. He finds “a closet big enough to hold the clothing of a ten-man dormitory,” his own personal bathroom with fixtures he has never seen before, and chests with drawers “of beautifully carved wood (64).”Le Guin uses so much detail when describing items on Urras. When speaking about Anarres, everything seems rustic and run down. This is ironic because Urras is significantly older than Anarres. The same people, genetically, live in complete opposite worlds, and it is something that Shevek is starting to grasp. The people of Urras have a lot of stuff. They take up excess space for no reason and always want things to be bigger. The Urrasti society is very materialistic and follows the stereotype given to them on Anarres.
Le Guin uses intricate details to show how different the Anarres people and the Urrasti really are. The Urras utopia seems picture perfect at first and even Shevek is roped in to believe this when he thinks, “this is what a world is supposed to look like (65).” The splendor of Urras is a front to make up for the deteriorating society that will become more obvious as the book progresses. A society obsessed with status cannot be completely functional and will eventually fail. The Anarres society will be the future, not Urras. Anarres will dispossess Urras.
What do you think about Anarres eventually taking Urras’ place? Will they become a better society?
Do you think about Urras’ society eventually fail because of its obsession with being the best and having the best? Do you think they are a materialistic society? Can being a materialistic society cause the downfall of that society?
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