» The Left Hand of Darkness ç Download by â Ursula K. Le Guin The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty not knowing what comes next Is Ursula K Le Guin s The Left Hand of Darkness only a science fiction story Far from it, and that is why I enjoyed it so much Oh, I like reading science fiction, sometimes just for the entertainment of it But this goes much beyond that Different from some reviews, for me it did not seem a feminist advocacy I would venture and say it is an anti prejudice assertion It is just a brilliant, endearing novel about people, relationships, and desires that leads to insight and questionings on plenty of topics While we are reading Le Guin s novel, we wonder about the impact of gender on human cultures and dualism versus unity Even , the difficulty of being isolated in a foreign land, and how people can survive and interact in such harsh climates Le Guin discusses sentiments so close to us, such as fear, deception, and misunderstanding patriotism and power struggles and last, but not less important, facts versus truthNo, I don t mean love, when I say patriotism I mean fear The fear of the other And its expressions are political, not poetical hate, rivalry, aggression It grows in us, that fear It grows in us year by yearLe Guin s narrator is Ekumen s envoy Genly Ai, a young man from Earth, that is in Gethern, on Winter, to bring the planet to his multi world federation The most striking characteristics of Winter is that the whole population are hermaphrodites And only when in kemmer are either one or the other sex and feel desire So, the peculiarity is that Genly is always male among people who are each in themselves neither and both female and maleLight is The Left Hand of Darkness and darkness the right hand of light Two are one, life and death, lying together like lovers in kemmer, like hands joined together, like the end and the way But at the beginning, Genly is too different and alien for that He might repulse some of the local population, but there is no closer relationship until later And enters the main Gethenian character, Estraven, Karhide s Prime Minister He is labeled a traitor and has to flee to the entirely different culture of Orgoreyn, where behind every man is the inspector.
Genly and Estraven s relationship grows from mutual suspicion to a deep friendship, and I found captivating to be along with them as their bond evolves Much happens, but I loved to read about how Estraven and Genly escape through the freezing environment of icy mountains as they flee Orgoreyn on footAnd I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him that he was a woman as well as a man Any need to explain the sources of that fear vanished with the fear what I was left with was, at last, acceptance of him as he was Differences usually lead to prejudiced, but we are free to act on it or to accept and understand Le Guin s creativity and originality coupled with its significance make The Left Hand of Darkness great literature and should not be missed Highly recommendedIt is good to have an end to journey toward but it is the journey that matters, in the end The meagre 2 isa reflection of my enjoyment rather than an objective measure of the book it has won prestigious awards It wasn t to my taste, and that was exacerbated by mismatched expectations It is not really sci fi, the gender and sexuality were a bit of a side show, leaving curious combo of political intrigue and Boys Own tale of derring do in an inhospitable climate The setting is another planet in the future, but right from the start, mentions of rain and reign contributed to the non sci fi feel.
There were some some fascinating ideas, but I felt they weren t really developed Also, the multiple names of many people and places made it a little less reader friendly than it might have been.
PLOTGenly Ai is a single human envoy sent to very cold planet Gethen, aka Winter to see if the humanoids there want to join the inter planetary alliance, the Ekumen etymologically related to ecumenical He isn t first contact, but he is the first overt contact The idea of him being alone is that One voice speaking the truth is a greater force than fleets of armies , and also that although the planet might change him, he won t be able to change it.
The planet does not have a single government, and Ai inevitably becomes enmeshed in power struggles between different realms He starts off in Karhide, and compares subsequent events and encounters in Orgoreyn with those in Karhide The other main character is Estraven, a senior courtier in Karhide, who is the second narrator.
SEXThis is the book s USP not people leaping in and out of bed with each other, but the fact that the Genthenians are ambisexual most of the time they are both neither sex hermaphrodite neuters, orpositively, potentials or integrals , and when they go into kemmer like being on heat , they can be either.
It s easy and convenient to pigeon hole people based on sex, and Ai understandably struggles with that framework not applying One manifestation is linguistic he admits defeat and mostly uses male pronouns in part because he often meets people in male associated roles, such as King , but it makes it hard for the reader to view the characters as anything other than male Feminine qualities are rarely mentioned, but when they are, it is invariably pejorative, which feels strange coming from a female author For example, effeminate deviousness , sullen as an old she otter , someone s behaviour was womanly, all charm and tact and lack of substance, specious and adroit Further, an earlier female investigator from Terra comments, A man wants his virility regarded, a woman wants her femininity appreciated On Winter one is respected and judged only as a human being It is an appalling experience For Ai, awkwardness extends to distaste It was impossible to think of him as a woman and yet whenever I thought of him as a man I felt a sense of falseness, of imposture Much later, there is grudging acceptance I saw what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him.
Gethenian sexual behaviour and taboos are necessarily different from those typical on Earth, though this includes very relaxed though still regulated traditions regarding incest DUALISMIn some ways, Winter is a very samey planet with one season and one no gender being fixed in one of two sexes is considered a peversion, though is tolerated Does that make Getheniansor less complete than Terrans The title of the book is said to come from a Handdara poem, and after hearing it, Ai says to Estraven You re isolated and undivided Perhaps you are obsessed with wholeness as we are with dualism The phrase is also likened to the duality of yin and yang.
WARThere are feuds and rivalries on the planet, but no war, and no word for it This is curious, but not really explained, other than that in Karhide hospitality, The stranger is a guest Your enemy is your neighbour , along with another dig at women they don t have war because They lacked the capacity to mobilize They behaved like animals in that respect, or women They may not have a word for war, but they do have 62 words for snow, so The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax continues TRUTHThe book opens with the narrator brazenly stating that Truth is a matter of imagination , facts are not fixed, so the reader can choose the facts they like best However, although the book is mostly told in the first person, by either Ai or Estraven, there appears to be little contradiction in their accounts, so the point is wasted.
Ai s people have developed mindspeech telepathy , which clearly limits the scope for privacy and lying, but apart from one scene, this is another lost opportunity.
RELIGIONThe first person narratives are occasionally interspersed with snippets of Gethenian folklore Two religions are mentioned Handdara, which is a religion without institutions and which involves meditation, trance like superstrength dothe and foretelling The other ismonotheistic, and mentioned rather less The predominant religions and consequent or caused different cultures in the two countries may be a factor in their political differences ALIEN WORLDA short appendix explains quirks of the Gethenian calendar compared with Earth s, but the only interesting aspect is mentioned on page one of the story it is always year 1 all other years are counted relative to now, which is potentially confusing though not in practice Another curious idea evenso nowadays is that Karhiders don t read much and prefer their news and literature heard not seen books and televising devices are less common than radios, and newspapers don t exist Gethenians are adapted to the cold climate biologically enduring low temperatures and socially, in that they live somewhat communally Their technological development has been steady, but slower than that on Earth They have no flying vehicles, and it s suggested that, lacking any flying creatures on the planet not even insects , the possibility never occurred to them.
Karhiders also have an important system of protocol face etiquette, called shifgrethor, which is mentioned often, but somewhat opaque which is fair enough, as it puts the reader in a similar state of disquiet as Ai is in.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENTThere isn t much it s primarily plot driven , but some characters do change their opinions of others as events unfold Although the King is often described as mad, he didn t seem particularly so 42I was reminded of Douglas Adams Hitchhiker s Guide , which is possibly an homage, whether conscious or otherwise Here, there is a discussion of what sort of question one could or should ask Foretellers, including the danger of asking What is the meaning of life In fact, they perfected foretelling to exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question.
A FEW QUOTES A powerful person cannot make an empty gesture or say a word that is not listened to He knows it,and the knowledge gives himreality than most people own a solidness of being, a substantiality, a human grandeur A grand palace is the product of centuries of paranoia on a grand scale Patriotism is fear of the other And its expressions are political not poetical my landlady, a voluble man The coldness of it was perpetually incredible Every morning I had to believe it all over again Shades of believing six impossible things before breakfast in Alice in Wonderland The blurb from the GR description says in the final paragraph that this is science fiction for the thinking reader , so I guess failing to like it must be a fault in me as a reader, rather than Le Guin as the author Also, David Mitchell cites it as one of the two finest science fiction novels along with another le Guin, The Disposessed at 10 30 in this interview A Groundbreaking Work Of Science Fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness Tells The Story Of A Lone Human Emissary To Winter, An Alien World Whose Inhabitants Can Choose And Change Their Gender His Goal Is To Facilitate Winter S Inclusion In A Growing Intergalactic Civilization But To Do So He Must Bridge The Gulf Between His Own Views And Those Of The Completely Dissimilar Culture That He EncountersEmbracing The Aspects Of Psychology, Society, And Human Emotion On An Alien World, The Left Hand of Darkness Stands As A Landmark Achievement In The Annals Of Intellectual Science Fiction The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin has a voyeuristic quality, as if a description to a studious observation I could not help thinking that I was reading a National Geographic article about a reporter visiting Winter, or Gethen as its inhabitants know it Many readers cannot help but comment upon the Gethenians physiological androgyny, and this is certainly a central theme of the story, but there is so muchto fascinate the reader Le Guin has demonstrated again how she can create a science fiction fantasy novel that is both entertaining and enlightening, using the fantasy as a vehicle to explore social and psychological themes, and to state observations about our culture as metaphor Ray Bradbury noted that to distinguish between science fiction and fantasy, fantasy is the larger genre, a mere impressionistic lens through which we can better view our world Likewise, Philip K Dick Le Guin s high school mate, though they were not then known to each other uses his abstractions, not as a Kafka esque absurdist portrait, but rather as shifting hyperbole to better highlight and caricaturize the real world In this sense, Le Guin uses TLHOD to speak to us just under the surface about a great many subjects sexuality, social s, violence, politics, psychology, religion, and anthropology The final scenes where the two journey across a vast wasteland of ice took this experience for the reader to another level A thoroughly excellent book.
Light is The Left Hand of Darknessand darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lyingtogether like lovers in kemmer,like hands joined together,like the end and the way This was written in the sixties, though it feels like it was written yesterday Ursula K Le Guin creates a vivid culture of ambisexual humanoids that come with a detailed history and culture And it is truly fascinating to read about because such discussions and representations of gender and sex are strikingly relevant to modern society.
Genly Ai is a human envoy sent to the planet Gethen to persuade the natives to join an interplanetary trade alliance Such a thing would benefit all involved as all cultures would expand intellectually and culturally It s about a shared exchange, about learning from one another in order to become better anddeveloped The Gethenians as a people are gender neutral they display no maleness or femaleness unless they go into kemmer which is their biological mating cycle Whatever sex they display is entirely dependent on who they are partnering with at the time A pervert is what Genly Ai comes across as To the alien eyes of the Gethenians he looks like he s in a permanent state of sexual arousal and they are totally confused and offended by it They don t trust him, and he must rely heavily on his diplomatic skills to ensure them of his genuine nature Language barriers and misunderstandings cause several problems resulting in his imprisonment and near death The point is, the novel highlights the need for effective communication and discourse for opposite cultures and political systems to reach an agreement, rather than branding the other a villain simply because they do not understand it in its differentness We need to learn from the other However, for all the intellect the writing displayed, the plot was terribly slow for the first half Very little happened, by way of action and dilemma The progress that the book displays is a shifting of opinion, a development of perspective, as the two protagonists learn about each other s culture and see their counterpoint as less alien they begin to see the humanity in the other And that s kind of important because it transcends ideas of gender and sex, race and culture, looking only at what it means to be human and alive Labels don t matter, only the person mattersAnd I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him that he was a woman as well as a man Any need to explain the sources of that fear vanished with the fear what I was left with was at last, acceptance of him as he was So, this is a book that will appeal only to a certain type of reader because it is quite difficult to read Although it is clearly science fiction, it breaks genre boundaries with its lack of standard tropes instead choosing to question existence itself It s not a story designed to sweep you away, but it is a story that will make you think There s certainly a lot of wisdom in these pages FBR Twitter Facebook Insta Academia If civilization has an opposite, it is war In the nascent days of summer, I read a book that I can t stop thinking about and can t stop recommending I m stirring from my Goodreads silence to tell you about this book, Left Hand of Darkness, by the late Ursula K Le Guin Written in 1969 and the winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, this book is just as relevant and important today as it was when it first hit the shelves Left Hand of Darkness is a gorgeous sci fi novel of political intrigue, heroism, and humanity that works like an anthropological study complete with folktales and history as Le Guin creates a unique society, enabling her to take a probing look at gender roles, religion, and bureaucracy and their configurations in oppression and nationalism Left Hand of Darkness is a philosophical and anthropological treat in which Le Guin deftly creates social, political and religious layers to examine a fascinating new world on the brink of war Set in a distant future, Left Hand of Darkness is another tale in Le Guin s universe of the Ekumen an 83 planet union with slight governing laws designed to increase communication and philosophy sharing throughout the universe in which Genly Ai is sent alone One alien is a curiosity, two are an invasion as an envoy to convince the planet Gethen to join the union His arrival alarms the Kardish King, who fears acknowledgement of larger, universal societies as a threat to his might and power, and intrigues the king s rival nation, who consider how Genly can be used as a political pawn Throughout the novel, the understanding of a new world is most succinctly conveyed in the growing friendship between Genly and Estraven a man cast out as a traitor The book itself is a collection of Genly s journal while on Gethen along with Gethen tales and history intermixed I ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination, Genly writes at the start He reminds the reader that this not his story alone, nor told by me alone.
and if at moments the facts seem to alter with an altered voice, why then you can choose the fact you like best yet none of them is false, and it is all one story.
Le Guin creates not only a fantastic, textured reality of civilization, but also a unique lexicon with which to explore her world Ideas such as kemmering and the social currency of shifgrethor vaguely meaning prestige as well as the untranslatability of many of the Gethen terms is one of the novel s purest joys as it reminds us that language is not only a means to communicate and commune, but also a barrier without a one to one ratio that emphasizes the uniqueness of cultures These terms point towards a deeper cultural significance that, as the observer, we can only fumble to understand While never confronted head on as in some of Le Guin s other novels of Hannish colonization and the Ekumen such as The Word for World is Forest there is a subtle backhand at the ills of colonization and cultural oppression when one tries to conform the Other to meet their own standards or needs Speaking of culture, one of Le Guin s better points is her use of racial diversity in her works Genly Ai is a black man while the Gethenians are described as appearing much like Inuits Even when other humans arrive, none of them are white the only other prominent human being an Asian woman In an essay condemning the SyFy TV miniseries adaptation of her Earthsea series for whitewashing among other issues Urusla Le Guin comments on the deliberateness of the diversity in her novels My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start I didn t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill I didn t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white and why all the leading women had violet eyes It didn t even make sense Whites are a minority on Earth now why wouldn t they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the futureWhile the racial issues in her books are not perfect, the acknowledgement of them and inclusion of many races is a step forward during a time when most there are exceptions science fiction was predominantly white and male Gethen is a curious world to Genly, one that he suspects may have been the result of early experiments on gender On Gethen there is no gender all beings exist in a genderless, non sexual state called somer for most of the time except during their monthly mating cycle of kemmer During kemmer, their sexual organ take the role of either a male or female there is no choosing before reverting back to a genderless, or ambisexual, state A person can father a child one month and become pregnant the next, leading to the wonderful line the king is pregnant midway through the novel This genderless society is not a perfect examination of gender, and many early critics have been underwhelmed that Le Guin did not take it further, but there is still a lot of unpack here Le Guin herself, in her essay Is Gender Necessary, regretted her pronoun choices that made Gethenians seemspredominantly masculine I call Gethenians he because I utterly refuse to mangle English by inventing a pronoun for he she , she writes in her reflective essay written seven years after the novel and then updated in footnotes to further dissect her decisions over a decade later , though she did later attempt genderless pronoun choices for readings in the 80s Despite some setbacks and the fact that the incest on Gethen is mentioned but not really examined , the idea really works While the idea of a constantly bisexual community her term is wonderful, the lack of any discussion on any same gendered kemmering or LGBT aspects are notably absent and underwhelming Genly, an ethnologist, spends much of the novel unpacking how the lack of traditional gender shapes society Late in the book, Genly explains to Estraven how gender functions in his own, gendered world the heaviest single factor in one s life, is whether one s born male or female In most societies it determines one s expectations, activities, outlooks, ethics, manners almost everything Vocabulary Semantic usages.
it s extremely hard to separate the innate differences from the learned ones On Gethen, Genly describes a world where the notions of sexual domination and rape haven t figured into society in any way he has witnessed there is, naturally, an argument to be made that as a heteronormative human some of these issues could have occurred but were in his cultural blind spots However, this is the novel as it stands He details a world where a lack of gender normative roles leads to one of unity In the story Coming of Age in Karhide from the collection The Birthday of the World and Other Stories , a story about the first kemmering of a youth in the Karhide nation on Gethen, kemmer is examineddirectly as a driving force of unity While Gethenians can make a vow of permanent kemmer with an individual their form of what Ekumen planets consider marriage for the most part the extreme sexual attraction during kemmer stage is not monogamous and bonds people with each other I loved them all and they all loved me and that was the secretlove is love, the narrator thinks, realizing kemmer unites his entire community where anyone can be a lover.
Unity is important on this planet as survival is not easy Gethen is a planet of perpetual winter Genly is cold even during the summer months and society seems built around a general sense of goodwill towards each other While gender is a major factor for how society functions, the social interactions on a political level that take place in this book are some of the most powerful moments Most of the novel concerns two major nations in Gethen, Karhide and Orgoreyn The former is a monarchy ruled by a king losing himself to pride and paranoid madness, and the latter is asophisticated but similarly paranoid government where the multiple parties conspire against each other While Le Guin laments having relatively cliched governing systems in her essay Is Gender Necessary, the contrast works quite well The discussions on how the growing bureaucratic style in Orgoreyn opens the way for corruption is quite engaging and the general governing systems still allow for an important discussion on patriotism and the slippery slope into violent nationalism This is a world where shifgrethor, or prestige of reputation, is extremely valuable and all communication configures around their cultural standards of respect Much of Genly s early frustration with Estraven and his elusiveness turns out to be communication barriers due to shifgrethor with Genly assuming Estraven s attempts at respect are instead coldness Also, in this society where reputation is a powerful social currency, notions like loyalty and betrayal become major signifiers in identity throughout the novel.
All in all, Gethen seems to be a relatively non aggressive world where they apparently have never yet had what one could call a war Throughout the novel, it is theorized that this could be due to the lack of gender roles and possibly the aim of a Hanish experiment to see what sort of society would grow from this It is also postulated that the dominant factor in Gethenian life is not sex or any other human thing it is their environmenthere man has a crueler enemy even than himself, Whatever the cause and both are likely part of the systemic whole Gethen has not known war, though the King of Karhide does fear loss of power and many in both countries are scheming and cooking up ways to become mightier than the other The answer to mobilizing a nation becomes not one of dominance but fear, fear of the Other and love for one s own How does one hate a country, or love one I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply What is love of one s country is it hate of one s uncountry Then it s not a good thing Is it simply self love That s a good thing, but one mustn t make a virtue of it, or a profession Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary line of hate And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope.
Estraven often discusses the idea of patriotism and how it can be manipulated for power, fear and violence No, I don t mean love, when I say patriotism, he tells Genly, I mean fear The fear of the other And its expressions are political, not poetical hate, rivalry, aggression.
The two characters, one a stranger inspiring fear into both political bodies and the other a disgraced traitor, have to find a way to bring unity back into a growing warlike climate one that starts over a border dispute in order for Genly to accomplish his mission To be accepted into the Ekumen, the planet must be at peace and agree to the inclusion However, many factions are willing to make Genly disappear to keep the political power they are accruing through nationalistic propaganda This sort of fear mongering is just as relative today as it was in 1969, and I suspect this theme will hit home when read during any era.
Beyond the political is a spiritual undercurrent that flows gorgeously through the novel Duality is a major theme, as expressed in the Gethen poem from which the novel derives its title Light is The Left Hand of Darknessand darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lyingtogether like lovers in kemmer,like hands joined together,like the end and the way.
In the world of Gethen, there exist two major religions, the Handarra and Yomesh Handarra is akin to Taoism, and the themes of Taoism permeate much of Le Guin s works and are particularly key to understanding her novel The Lathe of Heaven Handarra is the predominant belief system in Karhide, while Orgoreyens tend to practice Yomesh Yomesh, a younger religions connected to the concept of light , started when a group of Foretellers split after being asked to see the answer to the question, What is the meaning of life This religion, full of parables, saints, and angels there are no birds on Gethen and the concept of flight has never occurred to them In their religious texts, angels do not fly but float down like snow comes across as a metaphor for Western religions such as Christianity Le Guin sprinkles the book with many stories of the two religions and their functions in society that add a dynamic texture to the understanding of the book in a way that manages to not distract or detract even when it interrupts the larger narrative It becomes understood that the narrative is simply an aspect in a larger purpose of understanding each other and coming together in love and unity The duality of the two religions are very much represented in the politics of the opposing nations Yomesh concerns itself with enlightenment whereas Handarra accepts being ignorant to the answers of life as a virtue Handarra is muchcomplex than this, however, as it seeks to find a balance between light and dark, knowledge and ignorance Darkness is only in the mortal eye, that thinks it sees, but sees not.
Life must exist in balance and avoid the extremes, something that is threatened by the rising call to war.
This duality also occurs in the ambisexuality as termed by an earlier Hannish visit to observe the planet without making their presence known of the Gethenians Shelved under science fiction all the old arguments of stigmatized genre are worth considering , this novel works alongside any of the finest Literature with a capital L Beingsoft science instead of hard sci fi, Le Guin creates a wonderful array of technologies such as the ansible which allows immediate communication across space to any Ekumen planet and an intricate calendar and time system for Gethen though the joy is seeing how people and society interacts with these sci fi elements rather than having a clear, scientific understanding of how they work This has never bothered me anthis is a novel to come to on it s own terms as it, essentially, is about understanding a foreign community on its own terms Left Hand of Darkness is one of the most engaging books I ve read in a long time It s what I come to books for most finding the feeling of reading a favorite book for the first time and discovering a new favorite author I ve since devoured several other works by her and I only wish I had come to her before her passing Le Guin was a master of the anthropological approach to science fiction and if one enjoys this novel there is a wide variety of other Hannish novels and short stories of the Ekumen to delight in This novel is just the right balance of nuance, world building and philosophical musings that culminate into a staggeringly empathetic work Being a great work of feminism, it still has flaws in aspects of gender but the examination of it in the book is really worth the read It is a rallying cry to go against the wheel , to see beyond the boundaries of your own cultural experience and meet what you find with nothing but love Though most seem to use the ambisexuality of the book as the main talking point, for me it was the political intrigue and discussions on patriotism as an element of fear and hatred instead of love that really hit hard Le Guin writes with such grace and charm that even the denser, descriptive moments dance upon the page This is one to read and read again, I very highly recommend this trip to Gethen.
5 5 I wondered, not for the first time, what patriotism is, what the love of country truly consists of, how that yearning loyalty that had shaken my friend s voice arises and how so real a love can become, too often, so foolish and vile a bigotry Where does it go wrong They should do away with these tags science fiction, speculative fiction and all them other clever maneuvers designed to erect barriers between the strictly literary and the mainstream when it s Atwood who is writing or a Le Guin Woe betide anyone who begs to differ This deeply entrenched contempt of the other and this instinctive loathing of anything we fail to understand after a perfunctory once over are not only the center of the man made hullabaloo of gender but the root cause of all friction in this very reality of ours A few years ago my cab had once been caught up in traffic at a crossing when I was taken unawares by somebody knocking on my window I was startled at the discovery of the unexpected apparition who was the cause and source of this interruption a sari clad transgendered individual asking me for loose change I must have flinched visibly because I recall the hopeful expression on his her see how our pronouns, too, betray the third sex face being gradually replaced by a look of mild mortification and apology Apology for causing momentary distress to a young college bound girl because apology is something owed only to the privileged and the ones born with society approved sexual organs Unable to successfully communicate, thus, he she drifted away to another car window while I kept staring at his her receding back, embarrassed at the sudden loss of my powers of speech Fragments of this memory have risen to the surface of my consciousness time and again since then But not until Le Guin familiarized me with Ekumen envoy Genly Ai and Gethenian citizen, ambisexual Estraven s mutual suspicion of each other was I able to pinpoint the cause of my visceral dread in that cab years ago Like Genly and Estraven, I have been unknowingly initiated into the cult of fearing the unfamiliarNo, I don t mean love, when I say patriotism I mean fear The fear of the other And its expressions are political, not poetical hate, rivalry, aggression It grows in us, that fear It grows in us year by year I am the product of a patriarchal societal order which is only starting to awaken to the far reaching implications of misogyny and the sociocultural fallout of holding heteronormative gender roles in higher regard than humanity Homophobia is a term which is yet to acquire a firm foothold even in the imaginations of the Indian intelligentsia since both our judiciary and the executive have proselytized on the unnaturalness of loving whomever we want to Maybe in a couple of decades we ll rectify this foolishness too But what about the members of the third sex, those hapless outcasts even our gender biased language fails to address Our government believes that making it conventional for transgenders to extort money from parents of newborns at hospitals could pass for employment opportunities These young parents feel righteously terrorized by their appearance and breathe a sigh of relief after they have finished with their loud performances celebrating the birth of a healthy child and left with their payments What seems less surreal The daily enactment of this aforementioned ritual and the rationale or lack thereof behind it or Le Guin s ambisexual Gethenians who keep alternating between two genders Again, you and I will choose what we know of and discard what we don tAnd I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him that he was a woman as well as a man Any need to explain the sources of that fear vanished with the fear what I was left with was, at last, acceptance of him as he wasSeveral realities clash violently every moment in this perplexing drama of life which of them get to be bestowed with the stamp of normality and which of them get dismissed as aberrations depends on the will of the majority and what they identify with And I can t imagine what could have been aeffective way of shedding light on this farce other than plotting this narrative the way Le Guin did the meeting and eventual synthesis of two cultures, each fashioning its existence around contradictory value judgement systemsAnd I wondered, not for the first time, what patriotism is, what the love of country truly consists of, how that yearning loyalty that had shaken my friend s voice arises and how so real a love can become, too often, so foolish and vile a bigotryI thank that anonymous person years ago, whose humanity we have whittled down to the distinctness of his her gender, for causing me to take notice of injustices I help perpetuate every moment with my ignorance and indifference And I have Le Guin to thank for helping me realize that the apologetic look should have been on my face that day instead of his her, that I can either hide behind these inherited labels of race, religion, gender and nationality or I can aspire to the ambition of becoming a citizen of the world and, in turn, the Cosmos As ever the choice lies with me With us.
Only recently April, 2014 has the Supreme Court of India stirred awake and given legal recognition to the third gender who had so far been deprived of their fundamental rights as citizens.
No Mere Extrapolation The Left Hand of Darkness is a work of science fiction published by Ursula Le Guin in 1969.
At the time, it sought to differentiate itself from most other science fiction in two ways.
Firstly, as Le Guin explains in a subsequent introduction, it didn t just take a current phenomenon and extrapolate it scientifically into the future in some predictive or cautionary fashion Secondly, it explored the nature of sexuality as a subject matter from a sophisticated, feminist point of view.
She goes beyond semiotics, the linguistic significance of gender, and ventures into the philosophy, psychology and aesthetics of gender representation From a psychological perspective, she examines the symbolic role of gender From an aesthetic perspective, she uses it as a metaphor.
From all points of view, she is interested in gender as the arena of power and its abuse.
Just My ImaginationLe Guin s dual ambitions were supportive of each other.
In order to explore the possibilities of ambisexuality , she had to construct a whole new sexual, social and political world that was materially different from the known world To do so, she had to eschew the simplistic and rationalistic approach of traditional science fiction, and invent a new, alternative society in fact,than one , that could throw our own society into sharp relief The novel had to be a fully fledged work of the imagination rather than a work of methodical extrapolation.
The imaginative qualities are what makes The Left Hand of Darkness a great work of literature, regardless of genre.
Read now, almost half a century later, the novel still achieves its goals in style The prose is economical rather than effusive, often lyrical, but sometimes dry, especially in some of thedescriptive passages Overall, Le Guin is a master of the craft of elegant, if understated, writing.
AmbisexualityThe inhabitants of the planet Gethen are double sexed human beings possibly the descendants of an experiment conducted by Terran Earth based colonizers What does this mean This is a purely technical explanation which is revealed fairly early in the novel view spoiler During the course of a 26 day sexual cycle, their sexuality changes for around 21 days, they are somer , sexuality is latent and inactive for the balance, they enter kemmer , during which they remain androgynous for all but a few days, when they acquire both sexual capacity and drive Nobody knows whether they will acquire the sexuality of a male or a female They could be either, month by month A human could be both the mother of one child and the father of another.
Because sexual activity is confined to a limited period, the bulk of their life is sexually indeterminate and inactive hide spoiler I ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imaginationI can t say why it s taken me so many years to finally get to The Left Hand of Darkness Perhaps because every time I passed it in a bookstore or library it looked like a typical dated 1960s sci fi novel But it is so muchthan that.
This book is quite astonishing Hannah Gadsby has made me reluctant to say ahead of its time but if any book is ahead of its time then this one is It s a fascinating read, complete with rich world building, detailed descriptions of the Gethenian customs, an exploration of an ambisexual society, and an examination of how political and cultural norms can force a wedge between societiesNo, I don t mean love, when I say patriotism I mean fear The fear of the other And its expressions are political, not poetical hate, rivalry, aggressionThis alone is extremely interesting, but it wasn t until I d sat wide eyed through many chapters of the book until I realized that somewhere along the way Le Guin had snuck in and stolen my heart, too Perhaps ultimately I had put off this book because I had expected interesting but not moving Not emotional And definitely not heartbreaking The Left Hand of Darkness is definitely a tough read at times, especially in the beginning when Le Guin throws in Gethenian terms without explanation and leaves us to work out what they re referring to But you do work it out eventually, and even at its most challenging it is not unenjoyable The world is so rich in detail that it becomes an adventure to explore it, and the nuanced character dynamics keep the pages turning.
The story is about Genly Ai, a male human envoy, who is sent to Gethen to persuade the Gethenians to join the Ekumen union He believes they can both benefit from the trade and exchanging of technology this would lead to He first appeals to the Karhide king who refuses and then later to the Orgoreyn politicians Alongside this mission is the story of Gethen s developing relationship with Estraven a disgraced former prime minister.
I can usually quite neatly separate books into those driven by characters and those driven by plot, but it is not so easy here The plot is definitely dynamic and a lot happens over the course of 330 pages, but I do think the book s strength lies in how Le Guin explores character interactions The Gethenians are genderless and essentially sexless or, perhapsaccurately, they are intersex as they can take on either sex during mating season but Genly finds it hard not to force the Gethenians into the gender binary He constantly examines their behaviour for traditionally masculine and feminine traits, which affects how he views and treats them.
It is a fabulous exploration of fluid gender and sexuality And race, too I ve got to be honest this being a 1960s American novel, and a science fiction novel at that a still depressingly white genre , I was expecting to experience the usual pearly whiteness of the characters, with a jarring absence of people of colour On the contrary, Genly is black, and the Gethenians are described as having a whole range of skin colours.
If you ve been on the fence about this book like I was, I highly recommend it It s a thought provoking, highly original story that is as relevant today as it ever was And between the political and social commentary, in the icy landscape of Gethen, there is an unmistakably human story of loyalty, tragedy and love.
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And then you decide to give an author a go because of some weird research string you were on and it rekindles your love of why you started reading it in the first place LeGuin approaches sci fi as it should be a thought experiment Instead of spending pages upon pages describing the minutiae of every aspect of the future, she integrates snippets of mythology, politics, and does it in a way that you don t feel is droning on There are parts that aren t very action oriented at all, and yet, they don t drag I have no idea how she does it and am now rather enad with this author.
As for the book itself, it approachesthan the simple issue of gender it s almost zen like, with an exploration of a duality in a whole And the main character was the type a cranky sap like me could really relate to Best book I ve read in a long while.