covered with swimming pool sparkles; problems of LeGuin heroes

It was at least 100 degrees here today but we had a splendid time at Nada’s mom-in-law’s pool with her and her kid Riffy! Riffy is not quite 3 but possibly the most verbally precocious kid I’ve ever met. He is hilarious!

And I figured out suddenly that Moomin was perturbed deeply about his bathing suit being wet. The shame of pants-wetting! Because once he got to be naked all his reluctance to go in the water disappeared. *SNAP* like magic! He swam around with me, he edged his way around the pool hanging on to the edge like a little water monkey, he floated on pool noodles, he jumped into my arms and cavorted on the steps. It was so great for me to see.

I had all these thoughts about LeGuin which I had while driving the other day and then re-thought about today while driving home on 280. How several of her protagonists have this opposition between a sort of public life: progress, scientific discourse, fame, technical innovation, the public exercise of talent; vs. this wholesome family life; to “just be”, to live with the seasons on the land, farming, connection with nature, routine and comfort with other people. You either have exciting artistic/scientific contacts, or you have personal happiness or enlightenment or fulfilment. Shevek has this opposition — Ged has it — the dude in Fisherman of the Inland Sea has it. I think we can say Estraven also has it.

This makes me deeply uncomfortable. It’s not even her being a luddite really, and it’s more than a buddhist belief in detachment, and I have this suspicion that is actually about gender and the ways that our society has split public and private life to be gendered so that men are supposed to (we can say “were supposed to” but why pretend it’s any more than a little different…) do the public work and have the ambition and stuff, but be personally unhappy and out of touch like the Fisherman was even though he like, invented churtening or something; and the women are supposed to maintain the connections and emotional life and the stable home life and the important nurturing of children, but be non-intellectual (not that we see them that often, really, in leguin!) but it means no one gets to be a whole person (on this level of mythicness or archetype. obviously i think we get to try hard to be whole people in our actual lives.) What bothers me about LeGuin, not that I would criticize her, as I kiss the hem of her garment forever, but doesn’t it seem that her characters’ choices for public life are always “the wrong choice” and the achieving of great things or public importance always carries a horrible price – for estraven, death; for Ged, he’s all maimed and loses his magic and stuff, I think; for Shevek, lord it’s been a long time since i’ve read that book but wasn’t he totally fucked in the end? at least, in exile. But the men have moments where they wake up and go “oh fuck, where is my happy family life and my orchard? I have fucked up. I have focused too much on work and ambition. I have pursued Illusion.” Again… deep suspicion. Though as Le Guin actually IS a famous ambitious person I think we can believe it that fame and ambition have their price and are difficult. Of course I believe this. But I also don’t believe that it would be better to fart around tending an orchard all one’s life and making perfect marmalade if it is at the expense of all the other stuff… I don’t think that’s what she’s trying to say but that’s what comes through on some level as if she had a deep nostalgia for the 70s dream of the hippie feminist bourgeois communal goat farm I keep writing about, where everything’s all wholesome and earthy and consensus decision making works great and you get organic vegetables and cooperative day care, and yet doing the laundry is not tedious or difficult as there is JUST enough technology to make life easy yet not enough to exploit anyone or pollute anything.

But Le Guin’s hippie family-oriented people don’t get to have anyone around for conversation. No “discourse”. They don’t get to be on international churtening-discussion mailing lists, or talk to any scholars of dragonspeech. They’re aliens in self-imposed hermit-like isolation as if they are doing penance for the crime of having once aspired to be public intellectuals by now only letting themselves have conversations with Goody Witchwife’s retarded cousin-in-law about embroidery and last year’s peach crop. Becuase they wouldn’t want to get above themselves, or act biggety, or get stoned to death for being different or counterrevolutionary. I guess this is the part that seems horribly wrong.

I guess you could say that Arha does the reverse thing – she is the public figure, but when she goes personal, she is exiled but then gets happier to just be a normal small person of not much importance doing whatever she ends up doing, herding goats or tending her gontish peach orchard etc. I now suddenly can’t remember the details of Tehanu and Other Wind, but when I read them I felt that they fixed many of the irritating sexist problems of the early Earthsea books, but that something else was going on that I couldn’t figure out.

Now I must go look it up. I could be remembering wrong out of the desire to fit everything into this pattern that I suddenly felt I saw.


I suddenly remembered that the whole reason I suddenly remembered this train of thought was from listening to this guy named Horehound read a very funny and great story about giving up everything that might be a barrier to his enlightenment but how he realized he couldn’t give up anonymous sex with hot guys. I wish I could remember the title but it was a long list of vigorous porn-style things one would have to give up, like “Juicy Spit-Covered Dicks and something, and something else, vs. the attainment of Samadhi.”

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6 Responses to “covered with swimming pool sparkles; problems of LeGuin heroes”

  1. Prentiss Riddle

    I’m sure it *is* about gender, but might it also be about her father, Theodore Kroeber?
    I’m assuming all LeGuin fans must know about her (in his day) even more eminent father. And about his associate, Ishi, who provides Ursula with a source of luddite nostalgia much deeper than 70′s granola-ism. If not, press “play” and I’ll be happy to do a brain-dump on the subject.

  2. Prentiss Riddle

    Did I say Theodore Kroeber? Oops — her dad was Alfred Kroeber. Theodora Krober was her mom (or her stepmom?), a bestselling author in her own right.
    See, it is about gender! :-)

  3. badgerbag

    Wow, good point about Dad and Ishi.

  4. whump

    I need to go back and read Four Ways to Forgiveness because of the sense of exile: work for the Ecumen, say goodbye to everyone you know because they’ll be long-dead when you get back from your posting. And there’s the men’s hut and the women’s hut on the Ecumen homeworld, oh, and the technology is in one special house and you only go read email when its extremely important.
    Thank you.

  5. Iris

    Err..hmm…I wonder where ‘orchard and perfect marmalade’ came from? My life has many, many strands you know.

  6. badgerbag

    The marmalade was to make you laugh — the orchard is from “Tehanu” and all the feminist utopias, and the garden of eden!

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