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literary criticism

This tag is associated with 6 posts

Gender, Fear, and Politic: “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin

lhd-ursulakleguin

The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling… (1)

The Left Hand of Darkness has come to be considered one of the greatest works of science fiction. The book portrays the efforts of an ethnologist, Genly Ai, makes to try to unite the people of the planet of Winter with the Ekumen of Known Worlds. What happens in his efforts  will be explored thematically in what follows. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Gender

Le Guin has come to be known as a major innovator in science fiction by putting forth feminist ideas in the form of novels. In The Left Hand of Darkness, Winter is populated by humans who have genetically been modified to be essentially genderless. But it goes beyond that, because in each monthly cycle, people become either male or female during a time of fertility, and then become effectively “neuter” again.

The novel is oriented around questions of how this may affect perceptions of gender. It is largely narrated from the perspective of Genly, who himself has many assumptions about what men and women are like from his own gendered society. In reading Genly’s thoughts, the reader is exposed to notions of duality. At one point, Genly attempts to explain what a woman looks like and who a woman is in his own society to one of the inhabitants of Winter:

I suppose the most important thing… is whether one’s born male or female. In most societies it determines one’s expectations, activities, outlook, ethics, manners–almost everything… (252-253).

Ultimately, Genly admits defeat in attempting to explain what women are like. He says they are “more alien” to him than the aliens of Winter (253). But Genly, in his own mind, has much to think about women. He often thinks of women as submissive, foolish, and perhaps a little weak. They are tied down through childrearing while men are to be dominant in society. Genly’s own thoughts on the topic serve as a foil for the reader’s thoughts about gender. By placing the reader in Genly’s mind, and seeing the absurdity of his views of gender lined up against an effectively genderless (or potentially gendered?) society, one is forced to consider one’s own views of gender and the power structures which may accompany it.

Jarringly, the inhabitants of Winter are always referred to with male pronouns. The reason is explained at one point as having to assign the Gethenians (those inhabitants) some pronoun to use. But the fact is that the Gethenians may be both the mother of some children and the father of others due to the way their procreative cycle works. One is forced to wonder at the wisdom of using the male pronoun for such persons.

The implications of a sexless society (or again, potentially sexed?) are used as a way to view our own society. We are told to “Consider” various aspects of how reality might change if gender were not viewed as a way to predetermine power structures:

Consider: Anyone can turn his hand to anything… Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive. (100)

We’ll consider the implications of this below, but for now it is merely important to see the dialogue happening within the story. What are your views of gender? How do they impact your view of the “other”?

Fear and Politic

Gender may be seen as one way of viewing the “Other,” but fear is a powerful tool, and it applies to any duality or disjunct which allows one to see strict delineation between self and other. In a discussion with one of the inhabitants of Winter on politics, Genly is asked if he knows what it is to be a patriot:

[Genly responded] “I don’t think I do. If by patriotism you don’t mean love of one’s homeland…”

[The Gethenian replied] “No, I don’t mean love… 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.” (20)

Once again we see the recurring theme that the “Other” is to be feared and fought against. Whether that “Other” is a gendered other or an alien or simply someone from a different country, The Left Hand of Darkness forces readers to consider their own fears. How might one’s own feelings about the “Other”s in their own society shape their interactions with them?

Truth

The line quoted at the beginning of this post is echoed throughout the book: truth is what we make of it. We may choose a reality. But Le Guin’s portrayal of truth goes beyond relativism. Instead, truth matters in the telling. “Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive” (1). Thus, lies may come across as true or believable due to how they’re told, and they may “become true.” Of course, this means not that reality itself changes, but rather that one’s interaction with truth or falsehood may itself determine one’s belief in either one.

Reflection

The Left Hand of Darkness is steeped in critical theory. Le Guin’s discussion of gender is perhaps the most obvious point of this: readers are forced to consider their own ways of thinking about male/female dichotomy through the eyes of a man who is struggling to force his categories onto beings which do not neatly fit into either bucket. Some may immediately critique Le Guin and suggest she is trying to blur gender lines and do away with any distinction between man and woman. That may well be what she was doing (I don’t know), but that should not prevent readers from acknowledging they have their own biases about what genders are or how male/female should act (or not?). The novel forces introspection and reflection.

Similarly, how does one’s view of the “Other”–whether made other by gender, country, kin, or belief–get shaped by one’s own presuppositions about what that “Other” should be? Here are dynamics of power, politic, and fear.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a highly reflective novel. By integrating literary criticism and critical theory into her fiction, Le Guin forces readers to examine their own views. Whether one agrees with the various aspects of feminist thought Le Guin includes in the work, one will consider these aspects with new light through the reading of the novel.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (New York: Ace, 2010). Originally published by Ace in 1969.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Honoring Giftedness- Women in David Weber’s science fiction

The_Honor_of_the_QueenDavid Weber is the author of a few New York Times Bestselling science fiction series. One, the Honor Harrington series, follows a woman who starts off as a captain of a starship sent on routine (and initially boring) missions. The second book in the series, The Honor of the Queen portrays its main character becoming involved in a wartime crisis between two nations with whom Honor’s home Kingdom is attempting to set up an alliance. There are SPOILERS for this book in what follows.

The two nations are complementarian in nature. Complementarianism is the theological belief that men and women are “complementary” in roles, which means that men should be in charge in the church and home. I have discussed it and the rival view that women should be ordained/treated as equals (egalitarianism) at length elsewhere [scroll down to see other posts].

What really struck me is that David Weber fairly presented firm theistic believers as a spectrum. In the future, the Christian Church has continued to reform and have splinter groups form because of this. Weber’s presentation of the issue showed that believers–even some who might be considered extreme–can be reasoned with and even persuaded to believe differently based upon evidence. Furthermore, he showed that even those who may line up on the side with which he disagrees are not all (or even mostly) blinded by faith or foolishness. Rather, although there are some truly evil and disillusioned people, Weber shows that many are capable of changing their position or at least acknowledging that rival views are worth consideration.

The most vivid portrayal of this theme is found in a conversation between Admiral Courvosier and Admiral Yakanov. Courvosier is from the same nation as Honor Harrington and wholly endorses his female officer in a position of command. They discuss Captain Honor Harrington:

[Yanakov responds to Courvosier’s question about his society’s reaction to Honor]: “If Captain Harrington is as outstanding an officer as you believe–as believe–she invalidates all our concepts of womanhood. She means we’re wrong, that our religion is wrong. She means we’ve spent nine centuries being wrong… I think we can admit our error, in time. Not easily… but I believe we can do it.”

“Yet if we do[” Yanakov continues, “]what happens to Grayson [Yanakov’s world]? You’ve met two of my wives. I love all three of them dearly… but your Captain Harrington, just by existing, tells me I’ve made them less than they could have been… Less capable of her independence, her ability to accept responsibility and risk… How do I know where my doubts over their capability stop being genuine love and concern?” (96, cited below)

The exchange is characteristic of the way Grayson’s people are treated throughout the book. They are real people, capable of interacting with other views in honest ways. They feel challenged by a view contrary to their own. Some react poorly, and there are extremists who are blinded by hatred and anger. Yet all of them are treated as people with real concerns shaped by their upbringing and backgrounds.

Honor Harrington ends up saving Grayson, and at the end of the book, she is commended by the rulers of that planet. She talks to the “Protector” [read: king/president] of Grayson:

“You see,” [said the Protector] “we need you.”

Need me, Sir?” [Responded Honor]

“Yes, Grayson faces tremendous changes… You’ll be the first woman in our history to hold land… and we need you as a model–and a challenge–as we bring our women fully into our society.” (419)

Weber thus allows for even ardent supporters of specific religious backgrounds to respond to reasoned argument and to change. They are capable of interacting on a human level and deserve every bit of respect as those who disagree with them. Again, there are those who are radicals and will not be reasoned with, but they are the minority and they do not win out.

The dialogue presented in this book provides some interesting insight into facets of the present dialogue between complementarians and egalitarians. David Weber’s fictional character presented a challenge to the Grayson’s notions of what it meant to be a woman by being an excellent officer and professional. There are, it seems, real “Honor Harringtons” out there, challenging preconceived notions of what it is to be a woman. When, for example, a woman takes on the role of leadership in the church and succeeds, that should not be dismissed as a fluke, but rather a challenge to a paradigm which may itself be undercutting women’s ability to succeed.

On a personal note, I have been challenged in exactly this way. When I was younger, I was a complementarian and was confronted by a woman who destroyed my presuppositions about what a woman “could do” spiritually. She showed that she could be a leader and present Christ to all without having to fit into role I defined for her. This real challenge caused me to realize that my notions of what a woman “should be” were themselves social constructs, not anything derived from the Bible. Like Yanakov, I had to rethink what my words and actions had done to perhaps limit the women around me. By God’s grace, this woman’s very existence forced me to rethink what I had assumed as truth and go back to God’s word to see where I had gone wrong.

David Weber’s own presentation of Honor Harrington as a paradigm-shattering woman is something that hits close to home for me. For you, dear reader, I think it is worth considering the same: who has challenged your view of what they are “supposed to be”? Is your view of someone’s giftedness directly drawn from the Bible or is it something that you’ve just always assumed? As for me, I think we need more Honor Harringtons in our lives.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Check out my posts on egalitarianism (scroll down for more).

Source

David Weber, The Honor of the Queen (New York: Baen, 1993).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The New Atheist Novel” by Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate

tnaa-bradley-tateThere are moments in which you pick up a book and are delivered into a completely unexpected and fresh-feeling experience. The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11 was one such experience for me. Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate take readers on a journey through the literature of four modern authors who, they argue, are representative of a new form of novel: the “New Atheist Novel.” This novel is a kind of counter-mythology which invents the transcendent within an atheistic universe. Bradley and Tate analyze the work of Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Philip Pullman, and Salman Rushdie. The authors show how some have shifted their polemic after 9/11 to viewing religion as a kind of one-size-fits all mentality that has no distinction between liberalism and fundamentalism.

Bradley and Tate apply critical theory to the works of fiction presented in this book in incisive fashion. They draw out themes of the authors analyzed in order to show how often they are just as guilty of irrationality as those against whom they pontificate through the voices in their novels. 

Ian McEwan’s fiction, they argue, shows a distinctly New Atheist bent. He sees religious persons as ultimately violent and anti-intellectual. Interstingly, McEewan’s vision of transcendence develops through music and the written word. His post 9/11 writings show a more distinctly anti-Islamist bent, which sees religion as a failure of the imagination. However, Tate and Bradley argue that McEwan’s imagination is itself failing in its capacity to see the radical Muslim act of terror as inherently symbolic and transcendent itself.

This kind of analysis proceeds across the authors analyzed, from Martin Amis’ cliché-filled war against cliché to Salmun Rushdie’s more even-handed but nevertheless anti-theistic vision of the “Quarrels over God.” The analysis of Philip Pullman’s work is perhaps the highest point of the work, as it shows how even in disagreement, one might learn from the “New Atheist Novel.” Pullman’s work shows the myth of the death of God as a kind of human transcendence and freedom from restraint. This vision may be seen as a sometimes on target critique of religion which sometimes becomes authoritarian and too bent towards heresy-hunting. Tate and Bradley ultimately see Pullman’s fiction as a kind of neo-heresy which is attempting to purify religion of its alleged bent towards fundamentalism and too-small vision of deity.  

The book’s usefulness goes beyond simple critique. Instead, it gives readers a chance to interact with all literature in a critical fashion. Moreover, Bradley and Tate are not entirely unsympathetic to the “New Atheist Novel” and show how it may help to inform future discussions. The critical interaction is not merely critical but also constructive.

Perhaps the biggest weakness in the book is that its thesis doesn’t seem to carry throughout. The “New Atheist Novel” makes its debut with McEwan, but by the time the author’s reach Rushdie’s slightly more amiable vision of religions in conflict, it seems to lack cohesion as a concept. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the “New Atheist Novel” is more of an “Anti- (or Alter-) Theistic Novel” which encompasses not mere anger against religion but rather a critical and sometimes polemical and mistaken vision of the “religious other.” Thus, it seems in the end the “New Atheist Novel” namenclature might not be inaccurate after all, but I tend to think–and the authors reinforce this–of the “New Atheism” along specifically Dawkinsian lines of thought, and Rushdie and Pullman’s works did not seem to fit this usage of the term. A minor gripe, but one worth noting.

This is a book well worth reading and referencing. Don’t be deceived by its length (111 pages of text); it truly has an enormous amount of useful information and discussion. I took a monstrous amount of notes on this book given its length. It will get you thinking, whatever your own view. I recommend it without reservation.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote!- The New Atheist Mythology– I share a quote from The New Atheist Novel which discusses the notion that there is a mythology growing up around atheism.

Source

Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate, The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11  (New York: Continuum, 2011).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- The Measure of Art

eeapmu-poe

Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The Measure of Art

I’m a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, but I can fairly say I never understood him until  I read Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe by Harry Lee Poe (yes, a cousin of Edgar’s). I was rereading this delightful book when I came upon an interesting quote about Edgar Allan Poe’s view of what makes art worthwhile:

[Poe] insisted on measuring a work of art, not by its size or by the effort it took to produce it, but “by the object it fulfills, by the impression it makes”… [not] “by the time it took to fulfill the object, or by the extent of ‘sustained effort’ which becomes necessary to produce the impression.” Poe believed that every story succeeded as a story to the extent that it created an effect upon the reader. (62)

For Poe, the measure of art was the impression it left upon the viewer (or reader, or hearer, or…). What do you think of this notion? What do you think qualifies as “the measure of art”? Have you read Poe? If so, how does his work “measure” for you?

Be sure to check out the review of this book.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe by Harry Lee Poe– I reviewed this fascinating book at this link. Check it out to see what other insights you can get from this work.

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Harry Lee Poe, Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe (Waco, TX: Baylor, 2012).

SDG.

Sunday Quote!- The New Atheist Mythology

tnaa-bradley-tateEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The New Atheist Mythology

I recently finished reading The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11. The book was simply phenomenal as it applied critical theory to four novelists in order to draw out various themes in their works and parallels with the writings of the “New Atheists.”  I’ll write up a review at some point, but for now I want to highlight the central theme of the book:

[I]t is possible to detect an obscure… reason for the massive popular appeal of the New Atheism: it constitutes a new and powerful creation mythology that–like all mythologies–performs an implicit anthropological service… For Dawkins… it has become de rigueur to wax lyrical about, say, the ‘breathtaking poetry of modern cosmology’ (whatever that means) even amidst attacks on the ‘fairy story’ that is monotheism. (7, 9, cited below)

The book analyzes various novels in light of this theme: that the New Atheists are, in a sense, creating a rival mythology to the monotheism they denigrate, and this expands into literature in various and interesting ways. In a sense, this mythologizing about the power of the human mind, the wonders of the cosmos, or the beauty of poetry is a project to create transcendence in a worldview which, by definition, rails against the transcendent. It is a kind of creation myth which allows for meaning to seep into the meaningless.

What do you think? Can humans live without a mythology? Is wonder a necessary part of the human condition? Why do you think that even the “New Atheists” have put forward such lyrical and mythological language in their writings?

As I said, I’ll try to get a review of this book up ASAP.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate, The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11  (New York: Continuum, 2010).

SDG.

Really Recommended Posts 5/23/14- Handel, Asteroids, Alcohol, and more!

postI read all kinds of awesome posts this week and have gathered them here for your reading pleasure. Let me know what you think in the comments, and be sure to tell them too! This week we have alcohol, Handel, asteroids, embryology, and young adult fiction. How’s that for an assortment of topics!?

How Evangelicals Lost Their Way on Alcohol– How should Christians think about alcohol? Here, Thomas S. Kidd argues that some have lost their way in the debate over Christianity and alcohol. What are your thoughts on this topic?

George Frideric Handel- Things you may not know– Handel is one of the most amazing composers of all time. I know I have benefited greatly from his “Messiah.” But there are some things you may not know about the man himself. Read this post to test your knowledge, and maybe learn something new.

Rewinding the Clock: An Asteroid Family History– Interestingly, asteroids give us a lot more information than one might think. Some of this information is a challenge to a young-earth paradigm. Check out this post to see how the development of asteroids shows that our universe is very old.

Did Washington Post Check the Science?– Clinton Wilcox comments on a recent opp ed over at the Washington Post which claimed to check the science to see if life begins at conception. Wilcox’s commentary is enlightening. Check it out.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking)– Anthony Weber’s site, Empires and Mangers, provides readers with numerous reviews of YA literature and movies from a genuinely insightful Christian perspective. Check out this post to see his look at a recent (and popular) piece of YA lit, and follow his site to see much more where this one came from.

 

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