The Dispossessed

Discussion in 'Ursula K Le Guin' started by The Master™, Jun 13, 2004.

  1. Mirela

    Mirela Member

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    The Dispossessed” is no doubt an amazing book with a constructive critique towards past and current sociological, economical and political problems.
    I loved the way Le Guin has elaborated the problem of capitalism by describing the feelings of Dr Shevek while he as walking through the street full of stores; full of people obsessed with buying things, obsessed with BUYING CLOTHES. I JUST LOVE IT!:)
    Every page of the book is worth of great discussion.
    I loved the way she describes the problem of scientists-researchers, even they are not let to express themselves as they think they should, be it in anarchy or a capitalistic society. The search for perfection is useless.:p
    And again, if you do not cope in with your society, you are a lunatic, a traitor, unsuccessful.
    Do you think it will change? Do you think people will ever be free finally! Ridiculous! Free of what, who!? Free from him self - THE PEOPLE! We have built a really comic society.
    Dr Shevek deserves to exist-it is worth the try!
    “The Dispossessed” is definitely one of my favorite books; it is really satisfying to have read it…
     
  2. CiteWizard

    CiteWizard New Member

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    Calling ULG a feminist is a bit too simplistic. She certainly went through a "feminist" phase, but you have got to realize that she has been writing for a long long time and has developed and changed her political and social views through her writing. This can be seen somewhat in the "space" novels and more clearly in the Earthsea series. Overall however, having read most of her work, I see her as being more interested in exploring human societies, social structures and different ways that humans interact, for good or bad. In short, I see her as a very humane writer who wants to get us to see our own true nature, and that we are diverse in so many ways (race, gender, politics etc) but that we have to try to understand and accept each other.
    I think these broad themes unite most of her work.
    Her Buddhist outlook contributes a lot to her themes as well.
    But if you want a simple racy story... try Eddings instead.
     
  3. Uraeus

    Uraeus The Celestial Master

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    Definiteley a very good book.
     
  4. PrinceAshitaka

    PrinceAshitaka Unlikely Ally

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    I've just picked it up again, and I am always amazed by Le Guin's stories - this is certainly no different..
    But I don't believe she is a feminist. She is, however, a Taoist.
     
  5. anivid

    anivid Planetary Guest

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    Yeah, I like it too - am only on page 7, but the introduction was long ;-)
    Have a little difficulties comprehending her space/room descriptions - it might be better later on ;-)
     
  6. Anthony G Williams

    Anthony G Williams Greybeard

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    This is my take on it, from my SFF blog:

    Yet another selection for the Classic Science Fiction discussion group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ClassicScienceFiction/ Something of an achievement for me; I don't think I've managed to read both the classic and modern novels in one month before.

    I first read The Dispossessed when it emerged in 1974 but haven't done so since. I had conveniently forgotten everything about the plot so could read the story with fresh eyes.

    The setting is the far future, with humanity existing on several worlds but apparently having developed separately since before the beginning of recorded history, the original race who had seeded the other planets being the Hainish. These had more recently provided the technology for interstellar flight to less developed civilisations such as the Terrans (who had by then completely wrecked the environment of the Earth). This background was used for other Le Guin novels from this period: Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions, and The Left Hand of Darkness.

    The Dispossessed is set on Anarres and Urras, a pair of worlds which orbit each other as well as the star Tau Ceti. The Cetian civilisation had developed on Urras, Anarres being smaller and almost barren. However, a revolution nearly two centuries before had seen the revolutionaries, followers of an anarchist named Odo, voluntarily transferred to Anarres to continue the development of their ideal society there. Urras continued as a patchwork of nations and philosophies not very different from present-day Earth. Contact between the two worlds then ceased but for some essential trade.

    The story begins with the controversial journey of a ground-breaking physicist, Shevek, from his home in Anarres to visit Urras. The chapters then alternate between his experiences on Urras and his earlier life on Anarres which led up to his unprecedented decision to leave his home world. Anarres is a harsh, dry world permitting little but a survival level of existence, well suited to the frugal, egalitarian society implanted there, and Le Guin paints a convincing picture of the how the society functions, with all its flaws and benefits. On the lush world of Urras, Shevek finds himself not only the centre of attention but also the focus of tension, as competing interest groups are stirred into conflict by his arrival.

    The Dispossessed isn't really a traditional SF novel; the setting and plot are merely vehicles to enable the author to explore some fundamental issues about society and humanity in a much more clear-cut way than would otherwise be possible.

    This novel is not a dramatic page-turner and isn't the kind of story which would normally appeal to me, but it is so well-written and contains such intelligent observations that it held my attention throughout. It deservedly won both the Hugo and Nebula awards as well as being well-received outside the SFF community. Highly recommended.
     
  7. Harpo

    Harpo HONK!

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    I just finished reading it this morning, it's a fine book.

    Incidentally, the other day I visited the William Morris Gallery and there was a copy of The Dispossessed displayed in a cabinet along with other 'utopianesque' books.
     
  8. Pratfall II

    Pratfall II Member

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    First post. Sure, UKL was and is a feminist. Why the trepidation though?? Feminism is merely the radical notion that women are human beings. Don't understand why this is hard for so many to swallow. The Dispossessed completely changed my life and way of thinking. I strongly recommend it to anyone. Also The Lathe of Heaven...
     
  9. J-Sun

    J-Sun

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    "Women are human beings" is merely the radical notion that women are human beings. Feminism is an ism that often means much else besides. Writers like Leigh Brackett, Pat Cadigan, CJ Cherryh, Katherine MacLean, and CL Moore are "women are human beings" writers. I don't know anyone of either gender who's not irredeemably biased who has a problem with them as human writers. But some people understandably have some trepidation in dealing with "feminist" writers just as many people would with "masculinist" writers if there were any who avowed themselves to be such and do with any who might have the sense of the label applied.

    All that aside, welcome to the Chrons! :)
     
  10. Pratfall II

    Pratfall II Member

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    Thank you! Happy to be here. This seems to be one of the better sf forums on the net.

    Feminism as I see it is a revolt against the current social order which is patriarchal. You don't have to actively be a "masculinist", if you don't claim feminism then you are one by default.
     
  11. Anthony G Williams

    Anthony G Williams Greybeard

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    Then there are some women writers who seem to be on the "mild feminism" end of the scale - the one which comes to mind is Sheri Tepper. Her stories frequently feature strong female leads and somewhat less impressive men.

    There are also of course male SFF writers who also give at least equal treatment to women, such as James H. Schmitz (particularly notable since he was writing from the 1940s onwards). His stories often feature strong female characters.
     
  12. J-Sun

    J-Sun

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    We all seem to be sliding off-topic but, just to reply...

    Given that ultimatum, very well then, I'm a masculinist. However, I don't accept the assumptions in the ultimatum.

    Yep - I really feel Schmitz is overlooked, both in general quality regardless of gender but also for that really remarkable element of his stories.

    As far as mild feminists, Lisa Goldstein and Pat Murphy might fit there. (They're also mildly science fictional, trending more into fantasy in the case of Goldstein, but still.)

    Then there are the people who are very feminist but seem to be unfairly reduced to only that dimension and who are so creative and compelling that their stories can be most transformative when they don't seem to be making any special gender point, (or at least, are creative in producing the gender metaphors/situations) such as Carol Emshwiller.
     
  13. Pratfall II

    Pratfall II Member

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    Feminism is a confusing word for many. Feminism = sexual egalitarianism. Though there are certainly some misandrist factions out there both overt and covert. "Women are human beings" is a simple idea, but introduce it into our complex situation and it becomes "feminism" which is a complex idea. I recommend anyone interested in learning more about what feminism means and why it is important read Germaine Greer's book The Female Eunuch.
     
  14. Nerds_feather

    Nerds_feather Purveyor of Nerdliness

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    Much truth here.

    The minimal definition of feminism is a bit more than just "women are human beings"--it's "women are equally human and should be treated as such."

    After that you get into a lot of differences. The most obvious of these would be "degree of militancy." Most feminists aren't terribly militant about it, and certainly aren't "man-haters." Then you have the type or mode of feminism--whether it's political feminism (i.e. focused on advocacy and addressing issues that can be changed through activism); methodological feminism (i.e. a type of analysis that deconstructs patriarchy and other forms of subjugation); or what you might call social feminism (i.e. concern with male/female relations at the level of everyday interaction and in social institutions). These overlap to some degree, but just because you are a lot of one doesn't mean you are a lot of the others.

    Beyond that there are debates over what feminists should value. For example, should women put higher emphasis on equal access to the things that are traditionally "male," on the assumption that they are "higher status"; or should they embrace and celebrate traditionally "feminine" things. Or both. And there are related debates over what actually constitutes subjugation. There's an interesting debate in feminist circles over the Muslim hijab that illustrates this nicely.

    One feminist perspective claims that the hijab is a symbol of patriarchal subjugation of women and women's second-class status. Another feminist perspective claims that the hijab is liberating, because it relieves women of the burden of sexualizing themselves for the benefit of men. I'm not endorsing either view--the hijab is a complex issue and I think you have to look at it as having different meanings in different places and for different individuals (e.g. if someone is forced to wear it, as in Iran or Saudi Arabia, or if someone chooses to wear it as an adult, as is usually the case in Indonesia).

    The general point of all this is that feminism is many things to many people at many times and in many places.
     
  15. Pratfall II

    Pratfall II Member

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    Thank you. Feminism is not a dirty word. Wish it didn't seem to carry such a heavy negative connotation, especially in the sf world. Like you said 'feminism' is hardly a homogeneous ideology, it has many different interpretations. I and many other people feel that the inequality of the sexes is the central problem of human civilization and the root of all its ills, but it's downplayed and minimized through patriarchal intellectual and media channels.
     
  16. J-Sun

    J-Sun

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    That was partly my point. Insofar as "feminism" is so heterogenous as to be undefinable, it's useless. Insofar as definable subsets are homogenous, many "feminists" are basically adopting a shorthand set of other people's beliefs rather than articulating their own. It's like the (US) Democratic or Republican parties - there are precious few people who actually subscribe to either platform (or would if they stopped to think about it) but most people "identify" with one or the other just so they can have "a team" and can cheer and jeer rather than actually think about what might be best about each issue.

    This is a specific articulation of one of the modes (and not an especially mild one). Black people and Moslems and poor people (and those sympathetic to them and kindred groups along an array of divisive lines) might disagree, finding the "central problem" of human civilization to be racism or religious intolerance or economic inequality and would see it downplayed by the white/Christian/plutocratic "intellectual and media channels". And then there's the point of view that miscegenating godless communist rabble tearing down the foundations of good society and "tolerating" and "equalizing" everything was the central problem. And then there's the point of view that people defining themselves and others in such restrictive ways was the central problem.

    Perhaps the central problem of human civilization is that so many people think everything is so simple as to be reducible to a central problem. ;)
     
  17. Anthony G Williams

    Anthony G Williams Greybeard

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    In a word - yep!
     
  18. Nerds_feather

    Nerds_feather Purveyor of Nerdliness

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    That general point is correct: the world is a complicated place and full of crosscutting insequalities.

    To be fair, though, most feminists believe in "intersectionality," which is when different axes of inequality come together to produce social outcomes. For example, in the US it's generally harder to be black than white, but harder to be a black woman than a black man, and then harder to be a gay black woman than a straight black woman. Some feminists (and critical race theorists) try to export the US- or UK-based categories to the rest of the world in problematic ways. But I think most recognize that gender is just one potential axis of inequality among many. A common and invidious one, but only one...
     
  19. farntfar

    farntfar Who needs built-in obsolescence when you've got me

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    Hello people. I'm new to the site, but I came here principally to discuss ideas about this sort of thing.
    Intelligent books which have moved me greatly.

    It seems to me that Ursula Leguin had a terrific ability to take a concept, which generally was very important to her, and then explore the possible outcomes of taking these ideas to their conclusions.

    She was certainly a feminist, but that wasn't what she was exploring in this book.
    In the Dispossessed she was mainly looking at the difference between capitalism and anarchy.
    Capitalism in this story (as in our own society) was defined by the provision of better conditions of life to those who gave the most (in the society's terms) in order to encourage them to provide even more, and the provision of the least to those who gave what the society considered the least.

    Anarchy was defined by the ability of people to work together under a régime which provided equally and sufficiently for all people, regardless of their ability or expertise, but nevertheless expected everyone to give back as much as they possibly could to the society, both in ways where they were expert or special and also in ways that could be given by everyone.
    Thus Shevek, while an outstanding theoretical physicist and mathematician (an Einstein or Hawking type figure) was also expected, and perfectly willing to spend months or years working in the fields or in the mines or somewhere as part of his contribution to society, even though this hindered his scientific progress.

    He, and his partner and their child considered this perfectly normal.

    On Urras, he was exploited by the state and university so easily, simply because he had no concept of what exploitation was.
    But at the same time he was able to use the facilities that capitalism was able to provide, in order to complete his work and develop the Ansible and the theories of faster than light travel.

    In historical terms, by separating the anarchists from the motherworld of Urras, she (ULG) was able to create an anarchist society which could actually work on Annares, without the need to constantly fight against capitalist elements within, or on the other side of the globe, and also to create the exagerrated capitalist society of Urras without a dissident subculture, as they had all been shipped off to the moon.

    The feminist angle, which is fairly peripheral to the main story, is shown by the equal standing of Shevek and his partner on Annares, and the trophy standing of his host's wife on Urras (displayed so eloquently by the story of the soirée, and Shevek's total misunderstanding of how that worked!!)

    The real feminist novel by Ursula LeGuin is surely The Left Hand of Darkness, which explores the possibility of a human society which actually has no difference of sex, except on occasion as part of the reproductive cycle, where either member of a partnering pair could take the male or female sex.

    For the greater part of their lives there is no sexual difference between any of the people.

    Again, she has taken the feminist/sex-egalitarian theory to its conclusion and removed the possibility of prejudice to see where it leads.
    Maybe a discussion on that is worth a go in this group too.
     
  20. Hardlight

    Hardlight Science fiction fantasy

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    Just a thought: doesn't this book focus as well on the theme of people's lives being driven by machines? Like in the way the computer thought of the name of the baby Sadik?
     
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