Progress in The Left Hand of Darkness

” Yes. There’s really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer…..The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable, uncertainity: not knowing what comes next.” (LeGuin 75).

The above passage encapsulates LeGuin’s claim within What is Gender that the Gethenians have no myth of progress. In seminar last week, we discussed the possibility of The Left Hand of Darkness moving away from the heavily “technical” science fictions texts we have seen thus far, into something considered more “literary”. Though using the terms technical and literary only seem to emphasize dualisms such as high/low, LeGuin’s turn away from progress seems very antithetical to the idea of science itself, which is based on the idea of advancing towards an ultimate objective or aim.
The merging of “male” linearity with “female” circularity is also interesting because it truly eliminates gender hierarchies, and though LeGuin acknowledges that as a fiction writer she merely conducts a thought experiment when she writes, “It was a heuristic device, a thought-experiment. Physicists often do thought-experiments. Einstein shoots a light-ray through a moving elevator; Schrodinger puts a cat in a box. There is no elevator, no cat, no box. The experiment is performed, the question is asked, in the mind. Einstein’s elevator, Schrodinger’s cat, my Gethenians, are simply a way of thinking” (LeGuin 163). LeGuin’s thought experiment does makes one wonder whether the only way in which hierarchies can truly be removed is to eliminate our notions of gender completely, which seems most possible within science fiction texts.

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