Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Ursula K. Le Guin on Expanding Possibilities { and Other Important Topics }


Ursula K. Le Guin I don’t know if you know Ursula K. Le Guin—whether you know her writing, fiction and non-fiction

You might have read The Lathe of Heaven

Or, perhaps, The Dispossessed, The Word for World is Forest, or The Left Hand of Darkness

If you haven’t ever read her, use this link to explore more Le Guin

But, I’m going to focus on an article from Maria Popova’s site, Brain PickingsUrsula K. Le Guin on Power, Oppression, Freedom, and How Imaginative Storytelling Expands Our Scope of the Possible.

The first quote from Le Guin that Maria shares is:

“We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.”

Another quote shared by Maria, concerning oppression:

“If it were true that superior people refuse to be treated as inferiors, it would follow that those low in the social order are truly inferior, since, if they were superior, they’d protest; since they accept an inferior position, they are inferior. This is the comfortably tautological argument of the slave owner, the social reactionary, the racist, and the misogynist.”

On what we might have to do to learn what we need to know:

“Are there indeed tools that have not been invented, which we must invent in order to build the house we want our children to live in? Can we go on from what we know now, or does what we know now keep us from learning what we need to know? To learn what people of color, the women, the poor, have to teach, to learn the knowledge we need, must we unlearn all the knowledge of the whites, the men, the powerful?”

And, Le Guin speaking of what she attempts in her writing:

“To me the important thing is not to offer any specific hope of betterment but, by offering an imagined but persuasive alternative reality, to dislodge my mind, and so the reader’s mind, from the lazy, timorous habit of thinking that the way we live now is the only way people can live. It is that inertia that allows the institutions of injustice to continue unquestioned.”

And, circling around to the idea in the first quote:

“The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. Having that real though limited power to put established institutions into question, imaginative literature has also the responsibility of power. The storyteller is the truthteller.”

There are writers who claim the importance of revealing life “just as it is”, with no “moral improvements”—some call them “realists”

Yet, we humans have the real ability (and, responsibility?) to imagine beyond what IS

Perhaps the characters of a story don’t end up total winners or shining exemplars

But, I feel, if they improved their lot, if they struggled to move an inch off their patch of inertia, the story is worth reading.

And, there have been many extremely satisfying stories where the protagonists die at the end; yet, they left a better situation for others

But, to write stories that imaginatively improve on some imagined absolute, to create a story that shows a possible world, a world which some would never reach unless the writer helped them imagine it—this is worthy writing.

And, all that is possible without soapboxes or pulpits.

Perhaps my own motto for worthwhile writing (whether you’re reading it or writing it) is “It doesn’t matter if it was hard, it matters that you did it.”
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2 responses to “Ursula K. Le Guin on Expanding Possibilities { and Other Important Topics }

  1. Jane Watson September 5, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    I would encourage folks to read the short story by Ursula Le Guin: “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”. And then perhaps read an article about this in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/13/opinion/david-brooks-the-child-in-the-basement.html?_r=0
    But read the story first. It will be hard (a moral and ethical challenge ….) but you will have done it :-)

    Like

    • Alexander M Zoltai September 5, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      Thank you, So Much, Jane, for that recommendation :-)

      Like

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