Ursula Le Guin On Anarchism

Ursula Le Guin’s novel, The Dispossessed, is supposedly about a dissident physicist who travels from his “ambiguously utopian” (so says the cover) anarchist home-world of Anarres, where all is shared, there is no state, and the women are liberated, to the “propertarian” Urras, a luxurious, unequal (on both class and gender lines), world from which Anarres has been long isolated.

Actually, the book largely seems to be about Ursula Le Guin. Anarres is drawn, nearly wholly, from other Le Guin novels: the laconic sages, the moral purity and simple living, the richly imagined gender egalitarianism. Meanwhile, Urras, as the back cover admits, “is a world very similar to Earth.” The book moves back and forth, chapter by chapter, between Shevek (the brilliant protagonist) as a student and young physicist on Anarres, and his mid-life visit to Urras, when he attempts to cash in on his now considerable fame to achieve some rapprochement between the two social orders.

We are, in other words, plunged into the split consciousness of the successful, but radical, science-fiction writer.  Continue reading

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On Wings of Song

Of course, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but there are covers, and there are covers.

Take Thomas Disch’s On Wings of Song, which was recommended several years ago by John Crowley, who taught me at Yale. Like much of Crowley’s work, On Wings of Song is finely written, richly imagined “science fiction.” The novel, published in 1979 and set in an imagined 21st century America, pirouettes from a Iowan police-state—complete with fundamentalists, horrific termite farms (protein), and neo-feudal manors—to a decadent, unstable, bohemian New York. The protagonist, a sometime singer and frequent sufferer, wants to, through music, depart from his body and fly (as is possible in his day). It’s a very sad novel about, among other things, artistic transcendence, and it is itself, as a result of remarkable artistic control and workmanship, transcendent. Without knowing much about Disch’s life, one can sense that there’s been a remarkable transmutation of autobiography into something far stranger.

And then there’s the cover. Continue reading