For those of my friends who have read CSL's An Experiment in Criticism and Tolkien's On Fairy-Stories, this makes an interesting companion. Although FFor those of my friends who have read CSL's An Experiment in Criticism and Tolkien's On Fairy-Stories, this makes an interesting companion. Although Forster doesn't really address things in quite the same way, he does have chapters on "Fantasy" and "Prophecy," each of which I think has some confluence with CSL and Big T....more
The book has its problems, but it was okay. It has a lot to live up to, with the "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" tagline emblazoned across tThe book has its problems, but it was okay. It has a lot to live up to, with the "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" tagline emblazoned across the top, and I think realizing that it's the first book of a trilogy helps to explain – if not wholly satisfy – some of the underwhelmingness of the story. Yes, the characters could be better developed, but we know we're going to get more of them.
Also, I'm not sure how much my own ignorance of New Canon Star Wars hurts my reading of this novel. To date, I've only read A New Dawn, and I'm entirely unfamiliar with the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons. I was glad to see Rae Sloane return, this time as an admiral, but her character seems to me still to be too hesitant and questioning of her own abilities – closer to Capt. Pallaeon than Grand Admiral Thrawn, if you will admit the comparison.
And of course, such comparisons are begging to be made. Although apparently closer in time to the Battle of Endor than Zahn's post-RotJ trilogy, the situation of Aftermath is very similar to the situation of Heir to the Empire: the Rebel Alliance has (or is trying to) become the New Republic, while Admiral Ackbar is still leading the military struggle against the remnants of the Empire, which itself is beset by internal bickering about who will be the new leader, even while a mysterious person of quality has risen to power and is pulling strings to solidify that power. The broad situational strokes are, necessarily, the same, and my thoughts inevitably kept turning toward the difference between how the two stories were handled.
In tone, the biggest difference is that the Thrawn stories gave us a wide-angle view of the galaxy throughout its story, not merely showing us what was going on in different places, but also how our favorite characters were faring in the wake (I almost wrote "aftermath") of their having killed the Emperor and his probable successor, Vader. Aftermath takes a different approach, with the majority of the action taking place on a single planet or immediately above it. While there's certainly a value into looking at local conflicts like this and the effects it has on people, I think the thing that Aftermath loses in this approach is the very space operatic feel that make the original Star Wars movies so grand.
At heart, I think Wendig (and the PTBs at Disney controlling story continuity) had to be conscious of this loss – and hence, the interludes. Ah, the interludes, the literary equivalent of Lucas' tacky post-exploding-Death-Star celebration montage in the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi. They give us glimpses with no context of Things Happening Elsewhere, none of which appear to have any bearing whatsoever on the story at hand. Given that they don't move the story along even a bit, one has to wonder why they exist. The congenial response is that they are explicative vignettes to show how various people and planets are faring in a confusing and tumultuous galaxy after its government has collapsed; the cynic in me thinks that they're merely advertisements for future books. Tell me we're not going to get a book about Han Solo and Chewie liberating Kashyyyk... I mean, hell, I'd love to read that book – I want to read that book much more than I wanted to read Aftermath. But I don't want a commercial about it in this story. All of the interludes work basically as prologues to future potential stories, and as such they are interruptive to this story. Frankly, I'd recommend skipping them altogether.
There are plot points that could be picked apart, but all in all, getting past the stuff above, it's a workhorse story that gets us from point A to B, and sets us up for the next book in the series. Admittedly, I am curious to see how Norra and team (I suppose I think of her as the leader, now?) will fare in in the future, so I can't say with good conscience that the story was wholly uninteresting, even if there were a few too many "Oh my god, she/he is dead! Oh, wait, no she/he's not..." moments. (It's a surprise vs. surprisingness thing, for you CSL fans....) So even though I didn't particularly like Wendig's writing style — ZOMG STOP WITH THE PRESENT TENSE — or his willy-nilly use of punctuation, I suspect I'll read the follow-up stories.
Which puts me into a weird place, because until now I wasn't really sure about the New Canon stuff. I'm certainly not as excited about it as I was as a high schooler reading Zahn's trilogy for the first time, but it's growing on me. I'm just not sure whether that growth is symbiotic or parasitic, yet.......more
This is a fantastic short book on the purpose and value of criticism. I had read chapters from it previously, but this is my first read all the way thThis is a fantastic short book on the purpose and value of criticism. I had read chapters from it previously, but this is my first read all the way through. This read through is prompted by my preliminary work on developing my thesis for the MA program at Mythgard Institute.
Not only does Lewis make a strong case for looking at literary criticism from a different perspective — that of how readers read, as opposed to what they read — but it ends strongly, stating what I think is at least a similar sentiment to my own about what literature does, and something that I strongly suspect is a universal experience for what Lewis calls "literary readers," even if not all of them acknowledge it.
As I've done before, rather than trying to sum up my thoughts, I'm going to note passages that I enjoyed while reading this:
p. 91-92: "In characterising the two sorts of reading [good and bad] I have deliberately avoided the word 'entertainment'. Even when fortified by the adjective mere, it is too equivocal. If entertainment means light and playful pleasure, then I think it is exactly what we ought to get from some literary work…. If it means those things which 'grip' the reader of popular romance—suspense, excitement and so forth—then I would say that every book should be entertaining. A good book will be more; it must not be less."
p. 106: "Observation of how men read is a strong basis for judgements on what they read; but judgements on what they read is a flimsy, even a momentary, basis for judgements on their way of reading. For the accepted valuation of literary works varies with every change of fashion, but the distinction between attentive and inattentive, obedient and wilful, disinterested and egoistic, modes of reading is permanent; if ever valid, everywhere and always."
p. 120: "The question is about the criticism which pronounces on the merits of books; about evaluations, and devaluations. Such criticism was once held to be of use to authors. But that claim has on the whole been abandoned. It is now valued for its supposed use to readers…. For me it stands or falls by its power to multiply, safeguard, or prolong those moments when a good reader is reading well a good book and the value of literature thus exists in actu."
p. 130: "Are you and I especially obliged or especially qualified to discuss what, precisely, the good of literature consists in? To explain the value of any activity, still more to place it in a hierarchy of values, is not generally the work of the activity itself."
p. 132: "A work of literary art can be considered in two lights. It both means and is. It is both Logos (something said) and Poiema (something made). As Logos it tells a story, or expresses an emotion, or exhorts or pleads or describes or revokes or excites laughter. As Poiema, by its aural beauties and also by the balance and contrast and the unified multiplicity of its successive parts, it is an objet d'art, a thing shaped so as to give great satisfaction."
p. 140: "Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality…. But in reading literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see."...more
Generally, an interesting (and fairly quick) read highlighting the relatively small set of scientific research behind yoga and measuring it against thGenerally, an interesting (and fairly quick) read highlighting the relatively small set of scientific research behind yoga and measuring it against the claims made by both traditional texts and modern "masters" of the practice. Both the health benefits and the risks are highlighted, and the author does a good job of balancing positive, negative, and indeterminate research. That said, the book is still generally positive toward the practice, and takes an almost idealist view of how science can help yoga become safer and part of a more mainstream (MORE mainstream?!) practice.
One thing I would have liked to have seen is some comparative insight in relation other practices that focus on stretching, flexibility and breathing, such as, for example, tai chi and qigong. Similarly to yoga, such practices have also received some limited scientific research that point to various benefits. It would be interesting to see which has more support for various types of health benefits, which might contain greater risks, and perhaps what types of conditions one might be better to practice over another. Perhaps there isn't enough research out there to draw such comparisons, but the author's apparent bias toward yoga seem to have trumped any thought of such a comparison regardless.
The only real annoyance I had with the book was in the epilogue. I agree with the author that more scientific study of the health benefits of yoga is warranted. That said, the implication that it must come at the hands of federal funding is absurd, especially considering a decent amount of the research the author cited in the book was not federally funded. In any case, scientists and science supporters need to get past the idea that government should provide funding for everything they want to study (or have studied). Set up a freakin' kickstarter, for crissake. Or dedicate proceeds from your book to support a study. There are plenty of ways to have scientific studies done without government support.
Anyway, the minor irritation noted above notwithstanding, the book is worth reading overall if you enjoy yoga, are thinking about doing yoga, or even are interested in health-related sciences in general....more
The story is as engaging as I remember it. Zahn deftly extrapolates the actions, concerns, relationships, and experiences of the familiar Star Wars chThe story is as engaging as I remember it. Zahn deftly extrapolates the actions, concerns, relationships, and experiences of the familiar Star Wars characters from the original trilogy, while giving them new situations – threats and otherwise – to adapt to, managing to fill out even more of their stories through, for example, a visit to Chewie's home planet and yet another return trip to Dagobah for Luke. That the primary protagonists seem to keep ending up together in the places where the main action seems to be occurring is not more or less providential than in the original movies.
However, Zahn's genius has always been the introduction of his new antagonists: most importantly the alien Imperial strategist, Grand Admiral Thrawn (for whom the trilogy has been post hoc named), and the hate-filled Emperor's Hand, Mara Jade. Expertly crafted characters in their own rights, both are given plausible backstories as to how, despite being marginalized by the Empire (and the Emperor himself), they yet remain loyal to it (and him) in ways that exceed the rote conditioning of the average officer and stormtrooper in the Imperial Navy.
Perhaps more subtly inspired, and something that I had not picked up on with previous reads, is the use of Capt. Pallaeon and Talon Karrde to explicate the more fascinating personalities of Thrawn and Jade, respectively. Zahn uses these two characters in much the same way that Tolkien uses the hobbit characters (mostly) in The Lord of the Rings – what Michael Drout has called the "epistemic regime." The reader wonders and learns alongside Pallaeon and Karrde about the motives and insights of Thrawn and Jade, respectively, and while it's not quite as expertly done as in Tolkien, the effect is much the same, with our seeing through the eyes of those who have less information.
The only chagrin I have with re-reading this is, of course, that the last time I read the book, I had not even seen the "new" movies, let alone learned that the Expanded Universe was no longer canonical in any way. I still enjoyed the story very much, but knowing that these aren't the events that "actually" happened post-Return is, as the kids say, booty. Given that the Thrawn trilogy was my own introduction to the EU, at a time when it was supposedly curated by Lucas Films, it's disappointing to know that this is not the direction which Disney, Abrams, et al, will be taking the new stories. That said, it is blessedly free of midi-chlorians. (For more thoughts on how I think the jettisoning of the EU from canon is a terrible idea, please listen to the 100th episode of my podcast, Kat & Curt's TV Re-View.)
Nonetheless, I still really enjoyed the story and have the second book in the series sitting here beside me waiting to be cracked as soon as I hit save on this review.......more
Okay, I'm officially abandoning this one (though still marking it as "read" since I had to put up with it for so long).
I had high hopes for the story,Okay, I'm officially abandoning this one (though still marking it as "read" since I had to put up with it for so long).
I had high hopes for the story, but it just didn't grab me. The idea of being invaded by underwhelming aliens with 70s style is possibly a good one, and it might have been presented in an interesting way. It just didn't happen in this book. It's too slow to get to the point, and it's deliberately confusing in a way that doesn't really add to the story at all. Also, I have simply no motivation to care about the whiney, self-absorbed protagonist. In short, there's not much I can say about this book that I liked.
I wish I could've liked it. I wanted to like it. But I didn't....more
Although I'm not sure I can say that I love Lovecraft (cue The Format "I love Lovecraft..."), this volume is undoubtedly a masterful production in itsAlthough I'm not sure I can say that I love Lovecraft (cue The Format "I love Lovecraft..."), this volume is undoubtedly a masterful production in itself. A solid collection of its work, the annotations in it are insightful and enlightening. If I have any complaint, it's that I wish there were more – especially given the large format of the book, which was designed to accommodate sidenotes. There are too many pages with inches of whitespace on the side that could have been filled with additional references and explanations....more
This should perhaps be more aptly titled "The History of Supernatural Horror in Literature." Lovecraft does an excellent job of listing works that conThis should perhaps be more aptly titled "The History of Supernatural Horror in Literature." Lovecraft does an excellent job of listing works that contain cosmically horrific elements and themes – and that's it. If you're looking for a Grand Unifying Theory of supernatural horror, this isn't the place to find it. It's more genre-definition-by-name-dropping than critical combination of theoretical ideas.
Nonetheless, it's an interesting and useful resource. I don't know that I'll ever read it all the way through again, but it will definitely be useful as a reference....more
Have you ever pondered the existential depression of Kitt a couple decades after Michael Knight's death? Or wondered how post-apocalyptic updates fromHave you ever pondered the existential depression of Kitt a couple decades after Michael Knight's death? Or wondered how post-apocalyptic updates from the International Space Station might look as loosely formed haikus? If so – or if you now want to – this book is for you.
Rousselot's "Dawn of the Algorithm" is a clever blend of pop-culture references and science fiction innovation presented as freeform poetry. Even in places where the form is a bit too loose for my liking, it's nonetheless oddly compelling: I daresay you will not find a poem with "sternocleidomastoid" in any other book (unless "Headmovies" is anthologized), so I will not quibble if it doesn't quite fit any particular meter. In fact, science-fictional poetry is far too lacking in the world overall to be extremely critical.
In addition to providing a stream of allusions to childhood and, um, less-childhood entertainments, "Dawn of the Algorithm" presents a host of thematic overtures. For example, "The Right Stuff" is an anthem of Campbellian exclamation, with lines like:
I am Ender, I am Luke, I am the chosen one!
Meanwhile, "Welcome to the Doctor Moreau Zoo" offers common-sensible advice:
Never look a hypnotoad in the eye unless you want to mutate into a Cronenbergian horsefly.
And lest you think that the book is merely the ravings of a mad science-fictionist — I mean, it is that, but it's also more than that — you should know that it is backed up by hard data, such as:
I get along with at least 83% of the people I meet—I’m an affable guy— but less than 1% will let me lick them.
All in all, "Dawn of the Algorithm" is an enjoyable read for anyone who ever loved a speculative story of any kind. I mean, how can you not read a book that has a poem with a title like "The Metaphysical Implications of Left 4 Dead 2 Online Multiplayer"?
Edit: I should note that I probably would've given this 3.5 stars, but Goodreads doesn't do half-stars....more
In this new collection, Michael Newton has pulled together an exemplary set of what he terms "literary fairy tales" –literary not as a value judgment,In this new collection, Michael Newton has pulled together an exemplary set of what he terms "literary fairy tales" – literary not as a value judgment, but in contrast to the oral tradition that had been occupying the likes of the Grimm brothers and others in the preceding eras. In writing their tales, Victorian writers "transform[ed] a form based in the shared telling of tales into self-conscious, authored literary texts," and, Newton argues, they "experimented with the form to explore political and social concerns, as well as questions of identity, love, and the moral life."
Newton selected the stories in this volume for "their representative nature, in order to give the reader a sense of the kinds of literary fairy story that were available in the Victorian period." He surrounds the main collection with two pre-Victorian tales on the front end, and four Victorian essays on the fairy story, including MacDonald's "The Fantastic Imagination." A chronology of the literary fairy tale and notes on the text round out the volume.
All in all, this is an excellent work of scholarship for anyone who is interested in the history, development and impact of fairy tales. Even if Victorian fairy tales are not your favorite, as they are not mine, the anthology is worth checking out, especially as it contains some pieces that are not easy to come by elsewise.
A short book describing a very particular set of criticisms related to Austrian economics, in particular related to the ability of praxeology (the "loA short book describing a very particular set of criticisms related to Austrian economics, in particular related to the ability of praxeology (the "logic of human action," the foundational framework of the Austrian school) to predict future events. The particular question relates to the Austrian idea that the free market tends toward equilibrium. Selgin suggests that this equilibrium can be seen through the concept of equilibration, that is, the destruction of profit opportunity upon market action. "Wherever there is action, there is an imagined profit opportunity. Where there is no action, there are no such imagined opportunities; and where there are no imagined profits, there is no action—that is, viewing things in a dynamic context, there is no basis for the modification of plans.” Thus, a market action is taken because profit opportunity exists; but once that action is taken, the profit opportunity is gone: Any imagined profit related to that action is either realized or unrealizable, meaning no further profit opportunity exists. Any further profit opportunity would relate to a new market action.
This is all well and good, but I didn't actually read this book for its economic lessons, but rather for its praxeological ones. As it happens, the first third or so of the book is a good primer on praxeology as a general study, as opposed to its application in economics where has historically most often applied. I believe there may be a variety of ways that praxeology could be applied to other disciplines beyond economics (and closely related fields, like game theory), but unfortunately most of what is discussed about praxeology is couched in economic terms – distinguishing what is praxeology and what is economics from a praxeological perspective is sometimes quite difficult. In developing his argument, Selgin does a good job here of placing praxeology in context of opposing nihilistic views of historicism and positivism/empiricism....more
Feb. 21, 2015: As promised, I have had some more thoughts about this book.
In general, people seem to choose one of two ways to handle Robert Heinlein’Feb. 21, 2015: As promised, I have had some more thoughts about this book.
In general, people seem to choose one of two ways to handle Robert Heinlein’s I Will Fear No Evil: detest it in all its casually (and sometimes not so casually) misogynistic odiousness, or love it like an uncouth grandfather who “grew up in a different time.” As is often a case, I don’t think either extreme is quite right.
Feb. 14, 2015: This story will take awhile to process. There were some...interesting...things in it, but they are muddled by the incessant idleness (in a sense) of the characters. I'm not sure Heinlein needed as many pages as he took to get the result he did.
That said, I did like the ending. In a strange way, it has a similar feel as A Canticle for Leibowitz, even though the implications of “A baby cried, a world began” are exactly opposite of "The shark...was very hungry that season." I feel like there's something I'm missing in the progression of the story that would be explain it better.
I think I shall have more to say about this – just not today....more
Reading the reviews here on Goodreads, this is clearly a divisive book. Folks seem either to love it or hate it. It was nominated for Hugo, Nebula, LoReading the reviews here on Goodreads, this is clearly a divisive book. Folks seem either to love it or hate it. It was nominated for Hugo, Nebula, Locus SF, and Prometheus awards, although it did not end up winning any of them. While it's not Heinlein's best, I think it's a fairly solid effort.
At its core, the story is about what all good science fiction is about: What does it mean to be human? Friday explores that question in the setting of a futuristic world that is rapidly degrading through balkanization and surreptitious control by multinational corporations. The eponymous character, Friday Jones, is an "artificial person" (AP) – what today we would call a genetically engineered person – who has no legal rights, although she is technically free, unlike some APs who are slaves or indentured. As an AP, Friday is stronger and more intelligent than "real" people, and she is also immune to many diseases. However, because of rampant prejudice and fear against APs, she hides her talents as much as possible, relying on them only when necessary. As one might expect, it becomes more necessary to rely on those characteristics as the story continues.
I found the mixture of Friday's superhumanness and subhumanness intriguing. Her constant fear of being found out as an AP is tempered by the knowledge that she can, at any time, perform feats that are impossible for the average person. In one way or another, she is almost never among equals, and societal prejudice (and fear of that prejudice) conspires to scuttle any potential moments when she might otherwise have had a meaningful encounter with another AP. The people she meets are constantly drawing lines, both literally and figuratively, to delineate their tolerance, and far too often Friday finds herself on the opposite side of those lines.
Having grown up in the 1980s, I remember some of the discussions (and fear) about test-tube babies and the supposed horrors they would create. Debates today about genetic modifications and human cloning are descendants of those discussions. Also, the way Heinlein portrays people talking about APs also reminded me of some of the ways people today talk about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), using words like "frankenfoods" to incite fear and cynicism.
Some reviewers have criticized the book for having no clear plot, which doesn't make sense to me. What I think they mean is that there is no singular MacGuffin driving the entire story. But there is most definitely a plot: Friday's discovery of her own humanity. Yes, it meanders sometimes, and there is backtracking and indecision at others. But isn't that the way of it in everybody's life? Who wants a story about someone who goes directly from point A to point B? So what if we never find out the full details about Red Thursday? MacGuffins are fine enough for what they can do, but it is wrong to think that a MacGuffin is required to have a plot worth reading.
There is one piece that requires a little more in-depth analysis, partly because it is controversial, but more importantly because I think it highlights what is wrong with some of the criticism of this novel. However, first I must issue a
In Chapter 2, Friday gets gang raped. There is no way to discuss this gently.
A lot of reviewers dislike this scene, and it's understandable why. For one thing, it's an incredibly uncomfortable – if such an inadequate word may be used – scene to read, not merely because it is a rape, but because of the detached way in which Friday handles it. First, she criticizes the act of rape as an outdated method of interrogation: "No professional group uses either beating or rape before interrogation today; there is no profit in it; any professional is trained to cope with either or both." Then, Friday outlines three such coping methods: A) "detach the mind and wait for it to be over"; B) "emulate the ancient Chinese adage" (which adage that may be is never revealed, or at least I didn't pick up on it); and C) use the event "as an opportunity to gain an edge" over one's captors. Finally, Friday transitions from academic theory to application, indicating her choice of method C (with a little B) and explaining her calculated responses to the relative unpleasantness of each of the four men who raped her.
The scene (indeed, the whole chapter, which later subjects Friday to a variety of tortures) is both terrible and terrifying. I was eventually able to integrate only by justification of it being part of the extremely harsh world, run nominally by balkanized states but in reality by multinational corporations, in which Friday lives, works and plays. As she narrates later about the probability of her being killed if she continues with a particular job, "If you don't believe that such things can happen, we aren't living in the same world and there is no point in your reading any more of this memoir." Criticism against the way Friday handles being raped seems largely to ignore the realities of the world in which Friday lives, a world in which it is not only prudent but expected that those who trade in secrets (as she does) be trained to handle such methods. I daresay such training occurs in the primary world – not to say that it is right, but that it happens.
There are some who suggest that this scene shows that Heinlein is dismissive of rape, and that Friday's method of handling being raped is somehow commentary by the author that rape itself is not a big deal or that all women who are raped should respond similarly to Friday. This sort of "crit fic" analysis goes directly against the text. Friday acknowledges that she has suffered "bruises, contusions, and multiple personal indignities – even heartbreaking ones had I been an untrained female" (emphasis added). There is no suggestion in the text that every person should be able to handle such a situation in the same way, or that even having such training and being able to handle gang rape in the way Friday did is a good thing. It is an unfortunate – another inadequate word – part of Friday's world that such occurrences exist, but ignoring their existence does not make them go away. Friday has been trained because it makes sense for her to be, given her career and the world she lives in, but it is absurd to extend that idea to propose that Heinlein thinks all real-life women should treat gang rape the same way as a specially trained, genetically engineered woman who lives in a fictional future does.
(view spoiler)[More striking than the event itself is the later revelation that one of her rapists (known variously as "Mac," "Pete" and "Percival") is a member of Friday's security detail during an off-planet job. When she confronts him and asks why he participated, Pete says, "I did it because I wanted to. Because you are so sexy you could corrupt a Stylite. Or cause Venus to switch to Lesbos. I tried to tell myself I couldn't avoid it. But I [k]new better." This goes against the conventional idea that rape is about power and domination, rather than sex, and the all-to-common excuse that such violation is a compulsion on the part of the perpetrator. In lieu of killing Pete (he even offers to make it look like a suicide), Friday demands various information and explanations from him. She also says that letting her go pee (after the rape, but before the other tortures) was when she decide he was "not totally beyond hope." Later, while making her escape from her employers – whom she deduces are most likely going to kill her once the job is over – Pete helps her, and they eventually get married. That's right: Friday marries one of her rapists. Those who have a problem with how Friday handles the rape scene in situ also dislike these later developments. (hide spoiler)]
Those who criticize this book (and Heinlein) seem to focus more on the fact that Friday has the wrong responses to being gang raped, according to their view, rather than asking why it is that Friday has the reactions she does. Friday is not dehumanized by the assault, nor does she dehumanize her assaulters. Partly this is because she is already dehumanized by the fact of her existence. From the beginning she identifies herself as an Artificial Person, and the entire novel is an exploration of what it means to be human. She travels from place to place seeking to find those who will accept her for who she really is, rather than for the various identities she takes on during the course of her work. It is somewhat ironic that despite this very clear and ubiquitous theme throughout the novel, some readers can't see through their own preconceived notions about rape enough to allow Friday her own thoughts and reactions.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I read this as part of my research for a paper I'm will be presenting on Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness in January at Mythmoot III. I was surprI read this as part of my research for a paper I'm will be presenting on Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness in January at Mythmoot III. I was surprised to find how short the book is, and was able to read it in one sitting — though, having done so, I suspect it is not the intended method of consumption. It seems better suited to small, daily chunks for rumination or meditation. It's unlikely that I will read it in that manner, but I suspect I will revisit it a couple times in the next month or so.
Overall, I quite enjoyed it. I read more for feeling than sense, and Le Guin's brief, sporadic commentaries seem to uphold such a reading. Much of it is the sort of short, enigmatic, oscillating verse that one might expect, but I was surprised to find how much of it is fairly comprehensible. Indeed, there's plenty of strangeness and a tendency toward epigrammatic enigma, but on the whole there's a simplicity to the sensibleness of many of the verses. It's hard to say how much of that is inherent in the text itself, and how much of it is Le Guin's rendering. She warns, in her notes at the end, that she did not translate it, but created her own version based on a dozen or so prior translations that she has studied over many years, working on it bit by bit, sometimes with decade-long hiatuses.
Anyway, if I have one criticism, it's in a single comment she makes on chapter 53, "Insight," the last stanza of which reads:
People wearing ornaments and fancy clothes, carrying weapons, drinking a lot and eating a lot, having a lot of things, a lot of money: shameless thieves. Surely their way isn't the way.
Le Guin's comment: "So much for capitalism."
The obvious reply here is that when Lau Tzu (or whomever) wrote this, capitalism wasn't "a thing," so to call out capitalism in response to these statements is disingenuous at best. More to the point, the text seems to indicate that these things are not "the way" regardless of the political and economic situation one finds themselves. (In the prior stanza, there is a reference to splendiferous palaces, which seems distinctly anti-capitalist to me.) The idea that ornamentalism, ostentatiousness, warmongering, gluttony, greed and theft are solely the products of capitalism is simply absurd.
In fact, there are other moments in Le Guin's commentary that seem to favor capitalist — in particular, anarcho-capitalist — ideals. The author "sees sacrifice of the self or others as a corruption of power," she writes in her comment on chapter 13, "Shameless." "This is a radically subversive attitude. No wonder anarchists and Taoists make good friends." This idea is cognate with modern libertarian attitudes against so-called "crony capitalism," which is an oxymoron insofar as it isn't truly capitalism but more like fascism (in the original sense of the word). In chapter 57, "Being simple," are found the lines:
The more restrictions and prohibitions in the world, the poorer people get ... So a wise leader might say: I practice inaction, and the people look after themselves. I love to be quiet, and the people themselves find justice.
Le Guin's comment, in part, is, "No pessimist would say that people are able to look after themselves, be just, and prosper on their own. No anarchist can be a pessimist." Again, this fits well with libertarian/capitalist viewpoints. It was, after all, Adam Smith, the patron saint of capitalism, who wrote, "We may often fulfill all the roles of justice by sitting still and doing nothing."
Perhaps I've ranted too long. Overall I quite enjoyed the work. And bonus: I even found some stuff to use for my paper on Left Hand....
Edit: I feel compelled to add that I realize Le Guin's definition of anarchism is likely not anarcho-capitalism but rather anarcho-syndicalism. I mean, I have read The Dispossessed. Still, my objections stand....more
It gets better as you read along, which is the preferred trajectory for a book, in my opinion: too often it's the other way around. The opening is touIt gets better as you read along, which is the preferred trajectory for a book, in my opinion: too often it's the other way around. The opening is tough, with forty to fifty pages (or more) of the main character sitting around, reading his father's journals and ruminating on them with his brother, etc. The first-person narration also becomes less stilted when the action begins....more