I waffled between The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. Both are foundational texts for me, one addressing sexual identity and the minefields of gender, and the other…well, convincing me to hope that we are more than our history shows. The Dispossessed won.
I love considering big “what if” questions, and I’m sure that is what propels me into reading so much science fiction and fantasy. What if gender and sexuality weren’t fixed? What if dreamers could change reality? What if we were able to take possession out of the mix, to negate the idea of laws (which are based on the protection of what is mine and what is yours), and where would that lead and what kind of language would we speak? Le Guin’s answers always manage to strike a clear bell in my soul, a clarion of hope.
If I write that The Dispossessed presents an anarchist world, no one will understand, because anarchism is defined commonly as the opposite of law-abiding. Everyone will think of Mad Max movies, which actually are all about rampant micro-capitalism and dictators enforcing their own laws. Since law-abiding is culturally endowed as a virtue, law-erasing must be a sin. (This is Mother Culture’s unarguable whisper, Daniel Quinn would say.) But we’ve known of peoples in the past, peoples our civilization wiped out or corrupted, for whom the idea of static laws had no validity; these were people of the world, who never considered owning it. Le Guin builds a different kind of world, based on different structures than we are used to, and then imagines a fully-formed protagonist that such a world might create. She then throws him, and everything he embodies, against a futuristic representation of our own political/economic systems.
Why does this book effect me so? I’m not sure. There are things that seem sacred, even in my atheist heart. The ground we walk on, the life around us, the clear sweet air and water. There is something also between us as humans that transcends our societies and structures. We express it in our art, our music, especially for me in the beating of drums, and our voices, our joy. That is holy. Everything we build around us, to hem in what is ours, to mark our territories, to determine who is not one of us, everything that breaks us from communion, is profane. If Le Guin can imagine Anarres, and if humanity can survive our infancy…yes, the slimmest of hopes.