Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Week 6: The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed is in so many ways a fascinating novel of the complexities of human interests, desires, passions, and relationships. While many science fiction novels are able to pinpoint and effectively critique mechanisms of modern societies, this is the first we have read this semester, I believe, that effectively portrays the myriad dichotomous relationships that define who we have become (and are becoming). While there is so much that could be said of this book—including discussions about religion, anarchy, capitalism (once again), feminism, and so forth—the separation of societies is something I would like to touch on. The Dispossessed shows the awkward separation of two societies that have for so long chosen not to associate much with each other. Within these two societies, though, exist other dialectical associations—relationships between men and women, between countries (A-Io and Thu), and between children and parents. Such relationships often show a disconnect between the way we choose to interact. Motivation is an interesting concept here as we see anything from animalistic sex drive to politics to consumerism as a source of desire that drives the human will. What is it, though, that forces us to make separations from each other? Why, since the beginning of man, must there always be a power struggle—an opposite to which organizations must compare themselves?

I see this phenomenon happening in nearly every aspect of our lives. Where there is a sports team, there is almost always a heated rival between another team. In the military, we see ideological schisms between the Army and Navy. Countries typically have a number one foe on their hit list. Religions find their counterparts and pursue heated and even violent debates. The Dispossessed shows the estrangement between two very different societies—Annares and Urras—where the latter exiled the former to a desolate land. I couldn’t help but make the association between the early American settlers and the American Indians. Mankind has a unique trait that searches for a reason to dominate, to control. Such is also represented with the men over the women in Urras. This book effectively shows these relationships and their complex and recurring-ness in daily human life. One very important reason for this, as LeGuin shows early on in the book, is a difference in language.

As one who studies communication, the separation of ideologies because of language is interesting. Shevek and his planet (moon) struggle with the notion of ownership in great part because their language doesn’t allow for it. Instead of saying “you can borrow my shirt,” Anarresti are forced to say “you can use the shirt I wear,” effectively removing ownership from the sentence. This very subtle difference in language mechanics can shift an entire ideology. Thus, is it fair to say that language shapes us rather than the way around? Certainly. The way we think and react is contingent upon the way our language works. And there are so many things we can’t say simply because out language doesn’t allow for it. In the world how much of our struggles and our polarized relationships develop as a direct or indirect cause of our language?

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