Dualism in The Left Hand of Darkness

“‘Well, in the Handdara… you know, there’s no theory, no dogma… Maybe they are less aware of the gap between men and beasts, being more occupied with the likeness, the links, the whole of which living things are a part.’ Tormer’s lay had been all day in my mind, and I said the words,

Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.
(LeGuin 251-2)

This passage is quite possibly the epitome of low hanging fruit, but I was intrigued by it both the first time I read it and additionally as I was thinking about LeGuin’s text Is Gender Necessary? There are really so many things to talk about concerning this supplemental piece- however was I find most interesting is the duality that LeGuin seeks to unpack in her “thought experiment” that it The Left Hand of Darkness. More specifically, I find LeGuin’s rumination on the absence of war and the way that gender plays into it to be a very provocative exploration. In the book, as well as this additional text, she assigns war a “masculine” quality. She writes, “It has been male who enforces order, who constructs power-structures, who makes, enforces, and breaks laws.” (Is Gender… 165). She continues,
“…the driving linearity of the ‘male,’ the pushing forward to the limit, the logicality that admits no boundary- and the circularity of the ‘female,’ the valuing of patience, ripeness, practicality, livableness” (Is Gender… 165-6).

In this way, gender divorces our culture so much that it takes an incredibly about of cognitive liberation to even being to conceptualize what the world would be like without it (as the Gethenian culture exists.) I find this moment in the book to coincide with this particular passage in Is Gender Necessary because it really fleshes out the problem of dualism in our society in contrast to that of the Gethenians. It puts an emphasis on how inclusive Gethenian culture really is- people are not object, but rather exists in tandem with one another. It is not a matter of what is “this” and what is “that,” but rather just everything existing at once, in unity, in the past, present, and future.

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