You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2013.

I’ve been putting my thoughts about linked ideas, images, and events in The Dispossessed into what the software, MindMeister, calls a “Mind Map,” here.

Whole sections haven’t been transcribed from my mind to the map, such as the multiple valences of possession, but it’s fun and helpful to get it into this form. What would you add?

Looking forward to class tonight, 7:30 in the UUCPA Fireside Room. Directions here, campus map here.

Cross-posted to the UUCPA blog, which is where comments may be made.

Tim Bartik, who I wish lived near Palo Alto instead of in Michigan so he could be there tomorrow night, has been contributing really interesting and careful comments on The Dispossessed at the UUCPA blog, and his last one, written on February 24, was so helpful in clarifying my own thoughts that I want to post my response here as well.

Forgive the length of this response, but you’ve helped me understand a real key to this novel. I’ve been thinking about your previous comment, which made me realize for the first time the connection between The Dispossessed and Le Guin’s essay (which I cannot recommend highly enough) “The Stalin in the Soul,”  and how I would concisely sum up my scattered thoughts, and before I got back to the internet you did it:

“as long as he or she can find an audience that is willing to pay for that art”

That’s the rub, isn’t it? That’s why our freedom isn’t free. Not only because many great artists never make their art, or many people never get to see it or hear it, because they are busy working in an office or factory; but because many potentially great artists censor themselves for the market. They make what will sell instead of what their art calls them to make. That is an outcome of our economic system. It might be a price worth paying, in the last analysis, but we mustn’t treat it lightly.

Le Guin’s essay describes two novels: a great one that is written and never published in the author’s native land, because it is repressive and censors him in life and death; another great one that is never published in the author’s native land because he never writes it, being too busy writing what will sell to ever get around to his true art. The first author is Yevgeny Zamyatin, author of We, and the second is anyone in the US, including herself. As she says, we’re free “not only to write fuck and shit, and to spell America with a k,” but “to write what we please,” and yet we often don’t. She’s a little hard on her imaginary author, making him concerned with riches and fame. Most artists surrender their freedom just to eat and pay the rent, so their selling out is more understandable.

You are right that Bedap is right–Shevek doesn’t accept it in chapter 6 but he comes to–but I think you are describing the repression on Anarres slightly inaccurately. The bureaucrats can assign Tirin to the Asylum, but they can’t send him there. There are no laws, no police; he can refuse to go. But he goes, under the pressure of his community. The distinction is key, because we also pride ourselves on the fact that no one is going to throw us in jail for expressing ourselves. But do we do it?

If we don’t–and most so-called artists don’t, most of the time–then what is keeping us from doing it? A kind of unfreedom. And if we say, “Well, we’re free really, as long as we find someone to pay us,” we’re being like the Anarresti who “keep their initiative tucked away safe” (chapter 10). We’re refusing our own freedom. And then how free are we? Less free, in a sense, than Zamyatin, who wrote his book at least, even under Stalin.

I’m not saying there’s a better alternative to what we’ve got. I’m not sure whether there is, though I hope so. What I’m saying is that we tend to hide behind our democracy, assuring ourselves that we’re all free, and not acknowledging the walls that our economic system puts up. For every artist I know, I know five other people who would create art if only they didn’t have to earn a living. And don’t ask me how many “artists” I know whose great novels never get out of their heads because they are too busy producing what their publisher tells them can earn them the next advance. I’m sure it’s a lot. Most of them. And let’s not even get started on physics. You create it for the military, or for sale, or you fit it into the ever-narrower realm of “pure research” enabled by the ever-poorer universities. For that matter, I know many ministers who are not pursuing the community ministry they are called to, which would be tremendously beneficial, because they don’t know any way to get paid for their ministry except by congregations.

Last night, when I heard UKLG speak at Berkeley, her interlocutor asked her about her passion for Virgil, since she has such leftist-anarchist politics and he’s a poet of empire. She said she’d thought of lefty excuses for him, which got a laugh, and then she said seriously, “He had to be. If you don’t have copyright, you need a patron, and his patron was the emperor.” Art has to be paid for. (Copyright is just a part of it, something she’s concerned with at the moment since it’s under assault.) One thing she fantasized in The Dispossessed was a society in which artists are supported the same way as anyone else: the only justification they need present for their receiving food and housing and medical care and time is that they are doing the work they need to do, and that they join in the tenthday rotation and do some kleggich like everyone. They don’t need to find a patron; they don’t need to sell their art. They just need to create it. And then, because she is an honest thinker, she identifies what might not work about this: even Odonians start to ask, implicitly about the art, the compositions, the physics maybe, “What is it good for?” (“music isn’t useful,” Bedap points out)–which makes them no different than Dearri, the stupid businessman at Vea’s party. If it doesn’t further their narrow ideas of Odonianism, so they block it. They miss the true Odonianism, of course, which is based on the conviction that if each person follows their calling the society will thrive.

She is very subtle in how she talks about what undermines a revolution. This novel is not Animal Farm. People aren’t shot or driven out of the community by force. Tirin is not SENT to the Asylum; no one can send anyone anywhere, on Anarres. His Stalin is in his soul. But social pressure is often enough to drive someone mad and punish him for his madness. So what’s our equivalent? What imprisons us, who are so free? Isn’t the purpose of Le Guin’s novel to get us to ask that? And she suggests one answer: part of it, a big, big part of it, is money.

Again, disabling comments here so as to consolidate them at the UUCPA blog.  “The Stalin in the Soul” is a very short essay collected in Le Guin’s The Language of the Night and also in a collection called The Future Now.

Two more questions in advance of my class on The Dispossessed next week.

(1) As a teenager on Anarres, Shevek sees a film about Urras, the home planet that’s a lot like ours–multiple countries, all with governments, some of which are capitalist and some communist. The film juxtaposes a famine in the country of Thu where the bodies of starved children are being burned with the wealth and plenty only 700 km away in the nation of A-Io, noting that these exist “side by side” (pp 33-34 in the Avon paperback edition). Do you think  this is a fair criticism? Can it be applied to our world? How would you defend us, or would you make the same criticism?

(2) If you suddenly discovered that Anarres existed and you could move there, would you trade the benefits of living in a society like ours for those of that society? For example, would you give up the various things you own, and the possibility of owning more, in exchange for life in a society where you have almost no private possessions and “no one eats while another starves”?

Cross-posted at the UUCPA blog, and I’ve disabled comments here so that all comments are in one place; please make them over there.

As in previous years, I decided on a spiritual practice for Lent. One recent year, I tried drawing every day, and missed almost as many days as I drew.  So this year I decided to draw, too, but not to aim for every day. Just most days, and something fast. Whatever catches my eye is my subject and I jump in for five or ten minutes; for example, on the first day I drew part of the BART station while I was waiting for a train.

Joy said, “Aren’t you supposed to give something up?” and then answered her own question: “I guess you’re giving up not-drawing.” Yes.

The past two Mondays having been school holidays, I have missed my figure drawing sessions to be with the munchkin, so these little drawings have been nice tidbits to tide me over.

I’m in the tight fist of the bad dream I had this morning just before waking. I was in the early stages of a disease that looked certain to kill me soon. Much adult talk and worry, me and doctors, me and other patients, me and Joy. Then, in that way dreams have, it went further and reminded me I have a daughter, and became about the heartbreak of leaving her when she is still a child. It’s hard to shake the image of her face as she realized what was happening, her whole body so still and serious.

I am praying fervently for everyone who is really living those circumstances and can’t wake up from the nightmare.

I’m facilitating an Adult Religious Education session on the novel The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin, on February 28. I know some people will come who haven’t read it, but you’ll get a lot more out of the class if you have, so you might want to get a hold of the book now.

As promised, I’m posting questions about it ahead of time. This first one is more along the lines of a thought experiment and can be carried out whether you’ve read the book or not.

As you go through your day, wonder what it would be like if no one in our society had money or private property–if everything belonged to everyone. (On Anarres, one of the novel’s invented worlds, if you want a new shirt, you walk into a clothing depository and pick one up.)

For example, if you go to a restaurant tonight: If this were Anarres, what would happen when you walked into a restaurant? Who is cooking, how does the food get there? Would there be a restaurant? Etc. This is repeatable wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

How does it feel to imagine this different economy? Freeing, frightening, fragile . . . ?

By the way, Ursula LeGuin will be speaking in Berkeley on Tuesday, February 26. I’ll be there.

Cross-posted at the UUCPA blog. I am closing comments here* so that responses are gathered in one place–click on over to the UUCPA blog to add your comments.

*Except Stacy’s. That got through before I remembered to close comments. 🙂

I haven’t known many postmasters, but I used to chat often with the one in South Strafford, Vermont, where I got my mail. He was ruler of the domain of the post office in the general store–a box of an office and enough mailboxes for half a town of 1000 people–and he was the nicest guy, smart and funny and easygoing. Sometime during my eight years there, the postal service floated the idea of ending weekend delivery altogether, and I asked him what he thought about it. Bad idea, he said. Monday is already a crazy day, with two days’ mail accumulated; the postal service processes mail on Sunday, it just doesn’t deliver it, and you may have noticed that you get more mail on a Monday than any other day of the week. Having to handle three days’ mail on one day would be too much and efficiency would suffer. They should cancel a different day, he said. Wednesday would make more sense than Saturday.

But the post office has taken action, and not taken Vince’s advice. Saturday deliveries will cease starting August 1. I hope it won’t make Vince’s job too difficult.

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