A world without the wise woman

1929 — 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin understood that magic, when it’s more than a plot device, more even than a metaphor, is a kind of objectification of humankind’s collective potential. In SF, the same thing is suggested in the impossibly huge machines of mech anime or space opera. And in the craft and practice of writing, it’s in those mystical notions of characters taking on their own will, or the text speaking back to you and critiquing itself as the work goes on. These things don’t actually happen. But it’s our framework for experiencing, in Raymond Williams’s language, that sprawling cultural material process. Its determinants and its scope through space and history is beyond any one of us.

I’ve barely read her work because I’m a dolt. Just LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS (genius, especially in its structure) some stories, and the intro essay to the Norton anthology she co-edited.

But as a light reader of SF she was always there as an example of a committed socialist in a field dominated by libertarian ideas. That’s enough for anyone to be grateful, but hers was also a work of robust anarchist metaphysics to boot.

Her famous quote about capitalism — you know the one — should make anyone who calls themselves a writer yet insists that there is no viable alternative to capitalism feel like a damn fool. For they have failed in their vocation before even picking up the pen or setting down to the keyboard: to use one’s imagination.

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