There’s something about the way LeGuin writes that gets under your skin. You don’t realize it but she’s crafting a new world in your head through the experience of words on the page, so you know exactly how people think, and even if the point of the story isn’t necessarily about the characters — because with LeGuin, you always know it’s something bigger — it’s rooted in the characters, inescapably. I usually read for character but I think LeGuin is one of the few writers that I read for her ideas alone. For instance, I can’t remember the names of characters from The Left Hand of Darkness, the first book of hers that I read, but I remember the emotional intensity nonetheless, and I know that it’s a book I cherish and will have to come back to.
Maybe what I’m sensing is that her characters somehow get out of the way of the story, if that’s possible. The Dispossessed is “about” Shevek in both senses of the word: it is a story told of him and through him, but also somehow around him, an asymptote approaching but never achieving a full identification with him.
What I think I love the most about it was the way that science became an artform. That’s the part of it that I can understand. I wish that more physicists were also philosophers. The application of temporal physics is ethics, indeed! Einstein would be proud, I think, to be referenced in a work like this.
I was thinking last night about why it is that there are some professions that get more screen time than others. Pretty much anyone involved with the border between life and death, or with the law, can get his or her own TV show, whatever the angle may be. I wonder why we’re fascinated with these professions, though. It’s always the scientists, the doctors, the lawyers, the crime-fighters who we see onscreen. I think it’s probably because we have an obsession with order and naming. We want everything in its right place, and these are the people we see as helping us with that. There aren’t TV shows about artists because art is about destabilizing the world, and we don’t want instability when we could have certainty. Sometimes the bad guy gets off, it’s true, but frequently that becomes a jumping-off point for the creation of some kind of inner stability, or the beginning of an arc that resolves itself in some negation of chaos. We like to believe that “good” is synonymous with “ordered.”
But what I think I’m saying is that anything worth doing is revolutionary. As Shevek quotes, “The Revolution is in the individual spirit, or it is nowhere. It is for all, or it is nothing. If it is seen as having any end, it will never truly begin.” Without revolution, no evolution. Without a journey outward, no journey homeward. Even the things we do under the guise of ordering the universe cause chaos; chaos is inevitable. There is a difference between understanding and controlling, between knowing and naming. Even the scientist who proposes a new order for classifying the substance of the world must do so in subversion or direct attack against the previous order. Even in science, there is no order. Science and Art, at their best, both hope for the same: a naming of the chaos, a worth in the struggle, a life before death.