Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Dispossessed

Ursula Le Guin (1974)
'For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.'

This is my second Le Guin novel (after The Left Hand Of Darkness), and I'm well impressed with her so far. I'm not really into science fiction, but I am when it is used to explore different philosophies and ways of living. In this one, Le Guin takes on perhaps the biggest change from our current way of life that anyone could imagine - anarchism - and more or less pulls it off.

The central character is Shevek, a physicist from the anarchist planet of Annarres. This world is running into some problems, mainly because it's basically shit in terms of resources, so this creates scarcity which communists on Earth hope we wouldn't have to worry about. He becomes a rebel against anarchism, not in a 'propertarian' way - like on the planet Urras - but in a purely anarchist way.

Some socialist utopias (William Morris' News From Nowhere being the most cloying example) are so abundant and happy that they're basically unreadable by anyone living in a capitalist society (although I have to say NFN is a repeat guilty pleasure). Here, Le Guin gets round that problem with her use of the aforementioned dusty, shit planet.

Does that mean fiction couldn't exist in a communist society, without the dramatic crucible of material scarcity? Maybe, but I wouldn't be too worried about that should I ever see live to see it. I'd be enjoying the absence of walls too much.

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