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The Dispossessed
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Book Club 2011 & 2012 > [Aug/Sept] The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin

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message 1: by Tinea, loose ends coordinator (new)

Tinea (pist) | 132 comments Mod
For the end of Summer, we'll be reading some fiction: The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Full text as both HTML and PDF at The Anarchist Library.

Interview with Ursala K. Le Guin for the book Mythmakers and Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction by Margaret Killjoy at Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness Distro (pdf).

Have at it! Discuss, react, question, an post resources here.

message 2: by d (new) - rated it 4 stars

d | 1 comments My favorite passage is when Shevek first leaves Annares (the anarchist moon) and arrives on Urras (the capitalist planet). His reaction is a mirror arrogance to what I felt when I first was introduced to anarchist organizing.

“He had been taught as a child that Urras was a festering mass of inequity, iniquity, and waste. But all the people he met, and all the people he saw, in the smallest country village, were well dressed, well fed, and contrary to his expectations, industrious. They did not stand about sullenly waiting to be ordered to do things...they were simply busy getting things done. It puzzled him. He had assumed that if you removed a human being's natural incentive to work -- his initiative, his spontaneous creative energy -- and replaced it with external motivation and coercion, he would become a lazy and careless worker. But no careless workers kept those lovely farmlands, or made the superb cars and comfortable trains. The lure and compulsion of profit was evidently a much more effective replacement of the natural initiative than he had been led to believe.”

I think the book demystifies utopia against both right-wing skepticism and classical anarchism. It counteracts right-wing skepticism (Paul Brian contends the title is a reaction to Dostoevsky's The Possessed, which is supposed to present the anarchist as a dehumanized terrorist) by displaying a very nuanced and honest portrayal of a what large-scale industrial anarchist society may look like. Le Guin admits that hierarchy will constantly redevelop. She admits that diverse sanctions like calling each other 'propertarian' or 'anti-Odonian' can turn into effective cultural methods of domination. The imperfection of Annares is most clearly demonstrated through the syndicates' effective censorship of Bedap's unconventional art and Shevek's science. And how, even though the word on Annares for 'work' and 'play' is the same, work has not actually been abolished. Shevek, for instance, still is following orders from Sabul, his senior researcher on Annares. And I think the extent of Annares's reliance on technology could be dangerous; for instance, even though this sounds benign, the practice of having computers assign people names could be fairly dehumanizing. Despite all these flaws, life on Annares is immensely appealing, and I enjoyed reading about some of the cultural norms it implemented- for instance abolishing the family and removing possessive adjectives like 'my' from everyday language.

And the book disrupts classical anarchism by showing that the revolution will not be completed at once but instead requires the eternally watchful attitude that Harold Barclay calls anarcho-cynicalism. Compare this book to Kropotkin's Advice to the Young. In this pamphlet, Kropotkin urges young aspiring doctors, scientits, lawyers, engineers, teachers and artists to devote their working lives to revolution. He tells scientists that "At the presence moment we no longer need to accumulate scientific truths and discoveries" but rather to popularize them. But Le Guin realizes that capitalism is more formidable than Kropotkin predicted. And it means that it can make sense sometimes to put aside utopian dreams and focus for a time on working on something non-revolutionary like Shevek does for a while...if only because utopia, even an ambiguous utopia is going to take several more lifetimes of patience and effort.

message 3: by Pawel (last edited Jan 07, 2013 02:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pawel | 1 comments Anyone reading the book might find this link helpful.

It has some notes as well as questions the reader might want to think about for each chapter.

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Books mentioned in this topic

The Dispossessed (other topics)
Mythmakers and Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Ursula K. Le Guin (other topics)
Margaret Killjoy (other topics)