The Left Hand of Darkness

Discussion in 'Ursula K. Le Guin' started by Diziet Sma, Sep 10, 2017.

  1. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    The Left Hand of Darkness is a sublime story in which Genly Ai, a native of Terra is sent to the planet of Gethen as an envoy of the Ekumen, a union of 83 worlds (I bet Le Guin's choice of the word Ekumen refers to Ecumenical, a very fitting definition)
    The first thought experiment Le Guin introduces is the idea that all humanoid species in those worlds had a common origin and are direct descendants of the original Hainish colonizers.
    The second one regards to the inhabitants of Gethen: the hermaphrodite humans. They are sexually latent ambisexuals and they only become sexually active once a month, a period called kemmer.
    Throughout the novel, Le Guin uses the personal pronoun “he” in regard the Gethenians in despite their current role in kemmer. I presume Le Guin used the more inclusive, generalized masculine pronoun compared to the female perhaps more exclusive “she”.
    This genderless fixed society led Le Guin to portray Gethen as a civilization without war. I wouldn’t say peaceful or free of violence but rather no bellicose in its strict meaning. Besides, a sexually free society triggers, from our perspective, very foreign dynamics amongst its people. Le Guin presents us the Gethenians as a civilization whose behavior is not sexually prompted at any level. If one stops a minute to reflect what this entitles, it is almost impossible to imagine it. At least, I do struggle to grasp all its potential ramifications.

    Those who have already read The Left Hand of Darkness will possibly find my comments predictable.
    Those who haven’t read it yet, well, I can only encourage them to read it. Why? Because this story is one of acceptance and learning. Because it tells a tale of an unlikely love, deep and meaningful. The type of love that will surely break your heart. Because loyalty, fidelity, and betrayal are conflicting concepts that reflect the cultural perspective in which they originate. And because we, people, tend to fear and recoil from that which shakes our beliefs and place us in an uncomfortable situation. And despite this, we should take Le Guin’s offer and confront and explore a dark side, in which we will inexorably dwell in some very revealing and liberating premises.

    I rarely mark passages while reading but it has been very much the opposite with TLHoD. I could share many poignant quotes but this is one I keep toying with: "I'm not trying to say that I was happy, during those weeks of hauling a sledge across an ice-sheet in the dead of winter," writes Genly Ai. "I certainly wasn't happy. Happiness has to do with reason, and only reason earns it. What I was given was the thing you can't earn, and can't keep, and often don't even recognise at the time; I mean joy.”

    After finishing TLHoD I thought @Dtyler99's comment "A must-read. You take from it what you put into it" to be very accurate. One can ruminate as little or as much as one would like about the story and this is what you will take with you. "In the end, Nusuth: it doesn’t matter what you do..."
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2017
    Boreas, hrafnwasser and Safari Bob like this.
  2. hrafnwasser

    hrafnwasser Well-Known Member

    I know I referred, in another's thread, to Coming of Age in Karhide in The Birthday of the World and other stories; I would heartily recommend reading it. Le Guin, "after twenty-five or thirty years" between writing, returns to Gethen. The writing of Le Guin is different; more confident.
    Sov Thade Tage em Ereb speaks directly of the physicality, the embodied experience of kemmering - in a way that brings to life a sexuality and gendering that is based on a very different physiology to that usually found in Terran Homo Sapiens. It is so very clearly expressed that it feels like genuine experience; rather than be just "believable" it feels authentic.
    It is this direct connection to how it is to be "other" that is the key quality in the writing of Le Guin, for me at least, that makes her writing transcend genre.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2017
    Boreas and Diziet Sma like this.
  3. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Le Guin’s sensitivity to invite you to become “other” was poignant in The Left Hand of Darkness and therefore I plan to explore and enjoy her work without haste.
    hrafnwasser likes this.

Share This Page