I’m about a quarter of the way through The Dispossessed, and I’m pretty disappointed so far. It seems like a flat character expounding on the virtues of Anarcho-syndicalism, but I just have a hard time believing it.
It honestly reminds me of Atlas Shrugged. It’s this ideal world where an idealist system works, and it’s hard to make it believable.
Maybe I’m just a hater. I guess I shouldn’t have an opinion until I finish it.
For all books - fiction and non-fiction.
The only text I have read from Le Guin has been Omelas. I didn’t find it much to my liking, not as much for the content of the story in itself but for her choices in storytelling, and that is why I was willing to give her another chance. After seeing this however, I suppose that I will send her even further back on my reading list.
I’ve read Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” and found it quite compelling. On reflection, it’s essentially just a presentation of the trolley problem which goes out of its way to humanize the people on both sets of tracks.
It sounds like her world-building in Dispossessed leaves a lot of holes; that’s also very true in Omelas, where the narrator literally says they’re details that don’t matter. But as it’s a short story it’s easier to waive it, especially when the questions the story poses don’t hinge on the omitted information. Perhaps she intended the same thing with Dispossessed?
I guess it’s the “details that don’t matter” that may be bugging me the most here.
I’ll have to pick up Omelas!
LeGuin was a writer, not a futurist. The value of her writing is in the style and not the plot points. She was never interested in asserting truth or facts exclusively. She found that to be “sterile”. Instead, LeGuin built worlds and presented questions. Some worlds took place ‘in the future’ because that was a niche of readers, editors, and publishers that was willing to embrace her work.
Don’t look to the books for realism and answers. You will be disappointed because that was explicitly not her intention in writing. In her words, “I have no interest in confession. My games are transformation and invention.”
Hi slatlun, thanks for weighing in! I think there might be a slight ideological mismatch here. I meant to post this to the lemmygrad books community to specifically get a read on what other ML’s think about the ideology she puts forward here, and how she presents it.
I quite like her Earthsea series, actually! The writing and characterization in The Dispossessed seems different specifically because it’s meant to be a vehicle for her political thoughts (and I think she’s said that in interviews from a quick skim).
My post is largely meant to be about her politics and how she presents them (I’m also not done with the book).
It’s speculative fiction, not ideology. The book is a speculation about what an anarchist society that broke from a capitalist society would be like. She clearly has an opinion, but it’s nothing like a Randian literary project.
I’m not sure I see the same difference you’re seeing. Is speculative fiction that tries to present a system of ideas as possible much different than a sincere defense of that system of ideas?
Like, we’re all pretty clear on Starship Troopers being speculative fiction that defends (a form of) fascism.
I’m not really trying to argue that deeply, and I def hold Le Guin in much higher esteem than Rand.
Starship Troopers is a critique of fascism, not a support of fascism.
Think of Le Guin’s speculative fiction as theory projects. For example, in the Left Hand of Darkness you wouldn’t say she defends an ideology of hermaphrodism. The Dispossessed is a what if that fits neatly into the gaps of most social theory. The Marxist tradition is famous for thinking about the critical aspects of social development while steadfastly refusing to speculate on exactly what forms those would take. In The Dispossessed, you can easily see someone on Earth looking up at the Moon and wondering “What if we shot all those anarchists at the moon and told them they could build their utopia there?” That she choose anarcho-syndicalism and not fully automated gay luxury space communism could be seen as an “endorsement”, but I think the intense and unsolvable scarcity lends itself a little better to an anarcho-syndicalist story. Also note that there is a concerted effort on her part to also imagine changing language and social relations in a way that, during the time of her writing, was not really supported by MLs in the US, who were quite clear that race and gender were secondary problems that would eventually work themselves out once the class problem has been resolved and that the queer movement was bourgeois corruption of human society. During that time, writing something like The Dispossessed would have required drawing inspiration from outside the predominant manifestation of ML theory in her society.
In short, I just don’t see it like the Randian project of trying to show everyone how Objectivism is correct and how if everyone would just do it we’d live in a perfect society, etc. I don’t see Le Guin’s writing as dogmatic. Instead I see it as curious. That’s what I mean speculative here. It’s a different type of theory work, exploring possibilities, finding and surfacing contradictions, imagining the impacts certain principles would have on the human condition and how it might play out over time. If you haven’t finished it yet, I won’t spoil the ending, but it doesn’t end in a way that says “and they all came to realize that the anarchists were right and society successfully replicated itself using their principles forever and ever.”
I’ll take that. Thanks for laying it out so clearly! I’ll try not to judge the whole work before I finish it.
Earthsea is super cozy
Yeah, it’s super rad
I remember how Lenin hated “futurists” and ordered them to be chased off from cultural institutions because they did produced idealist visions.
That honestly makes sense!
Yes, and on several different levels. It was something like 1921, RSFSR was just picking it up from the civil war, half of party was up in arms because NEP looked like regress to them and at the same point the famine hit hard, everything was in real danger of falling apart and Lenin was again like “MORE GRAIN” just like in 1917.
And in this political climate the previously pacified machists led by Bogdanov and Lunacharsky again tried to smuggle their ideology into the marxism using proletkult, and much of remaining dissident intelligence gathered around them.
The immediate problem with futurists then is that they either purposefully or unwittingly hit the worst possible time for their visions. Note how later, after situation stabilised the futurism stopped being unwelcomed and when USSR caught up with science to the west, even sci-fi was encouraged to the point USSR scene was very popular and developed.
I’m not super knowledgable about the history of the Russian revolution, but now I’m imagining this guy in civil war era USSR:
Wh-what happened to his face?
But yeah this guy and his bro would surely be one of the aristocratic-bourgeois parasites on the soviet science. Or more likely, just fucked off to the west with the rest of the guys.
Also about the Bogdanov in question, remember the famous photo of Lenin having a gamer moment playing chess on Capri with Gorky in the background? Alexander Bogdanov is the guy with whom he was playing.
Actually he did had some significant role here and now for the bolsheviks and was never ultimately purged despite being admonished several times and even arrested once. His mistake was his bourgeoise scholar ambition, he tried to make his own philosophical system “empiriomonism”, but it was just regurgitation of machism into marxism and russian conditions and ultimately just a bastardisation of dialectical materialism, and he was dunked out heavily by Lenin for that. Unfortunately, he was pretty good at presenting that so he had many followers and at grown into one of the most significant crisis in the party around 1909.
Was empiriomonism what Lenin was responding to with Materialsm and Empiriocriticism?
Exactly, Bogdanov was the main guy on the recieving end of that absolute burn.
There is actually an analogue to the perpetual motion engine thing in Atlas Shrugged, keep reading. You’re on to something. I’ll crack it open again tonight because I remember rolling my eyes at parts.
Interesting!! I’ll keep reading and let you know if I stumble across it!
I finished it a few years ago, and I also couldn’t understand why ppl love this book. It was incredibly idealist (the capitalist power just agrees to not attack the anarchist commune for no reason at all).
The characters had zero depth, and were only used as props to expound on how bad the capitalist culture was. There’s an insurrection in the story iirc, but its completely unorganized and hopeless.
Because liberals/anarchists tend to like it and they are idealists.
I’m glad I’m not alone! I think it’s strange that she sets the capitalist society up as somehow sustainable and having learned from it’s mistakes.
If they really learned, would they be capitalist? (somewhat undialectical)
That’s what I’m thinking! In the book, the capitalist society has limited the use of cars because of pollution, and I just don’t see that being possible under capitalism.