The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Remember in the film version of The Jane Austen Book Club that Hugh Dancy’s character gives Jane Austen a try and asks the Maria Bello character to try science fiction? He particularly recommends Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Bello’s character resists and resists, but near the end of the film, when she is finally open to trying a new relationship and a new genre—she reads it, and buys the next ones. The books are soon placed on the hood of her car as Dancy draws her into an embrace—an embrace that comes to be because of shared love of literature. So much for my motivation to read this text. Now what were the results?

Le Guin’s introduction to this book addresses a reader just like me, someone who brings preconceived notions of what science fiction entails and who it is for to the reading. I was struck almost immediately by the strong command of language, and the seeming paradoxes reminded me very much of Oscar Wilde’s introduction to The Picture of Dorian Gray, also not in my usual preferred genre, but a work I enjoy and appreciate nonetheless.

We are in a new world here, and it took me some time to adjust (and even to understand what was happening and who was narrating, which is made more confusing by the shifting of narrator, a la Faulkner). The human beings are “five-sixths of the time, hermaphroditic neuters” who can both bear and sire children, depending on their partner during “kemmer.” While at first this difference from us feels a bit creepy, some interesting philosophy emerges about our notion of human sexuality, about duality being part of everything, about war, and about what constitutes a moral entity. The story via which these philosophies are explored is rather interesting (quite an adventure our two protagonists go on), so I enjoyed this book on both levels.

A taste of the philosophy:

1. In order to have war, people must be patriotic.

2. Men’s notions of their own manliness complicates their pride—and their ability to be completely forthright.

3. Without intuiting a moral entity in a fellow being, the perceiver can’t help but feel unease and chill.

But even if you read The Left Hand of Darkness for the plot alone, you won’t be disappointed.

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Published in: on June 14, 2009 at 9:01 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. I’m still reading this. It’s slow going because I’m doing about a million things at once, but you recommended it to me a while back and so I’m reading it. I was in love (yes, strong, but still accurate) with the introduction she wrote. And I’m liking what I’ve read so far.


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