06 March 2008

A tribute to Ursula Le Guin

I've been neglecting this blog for awhile because the continuing research and revision of my book has been absorbing all my thoughts. But now and then some bit of ‘outside’ reading knocks my socks off, as they say. The other night it was a story of Ursula K. Le Guin's, in her collection The Birthday of the World.

Le Guin's best work (for me anyway) is what i call fictional anthropology. Each of us is immersed in our own culture, and the only way to get some perspective on it is to encounter a different one. Leguin learned this as a child growing up among anthropologists, but must have realized that the genuine encounter depends on your ability to imagine the possibility of people thinking and acting in very different ways, for very different reasons, from those you have taken for granted. Whether this possible otherness has been realized by an actual culture on this planet is not all that important. What counts is that the possibility feels genuine, feels like a life you could be living in other circumstances.

Le Guin's command of imaginative but plausible detail, along with the eloquence and elegant simplicity of her language, make her imaginary worlds seem real enough to care about. But best of all, the reader cares because he sees these alternative cultures from the inside, and not as a detached observer. This is what makes it possible to think and feel outside the familiar box of your own culture. And this in turn gives you a feel for something deeper than opinions and convictions, something closer to the core sense of being alive.

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