Last night I finished rereading my favorite book (beside The Sparrow) by my favorite author: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin.1 Kelly cited the Heresy of Paraphrase, and yet I may prove my inadequacy by trying to actually talk about this book. Here are two worlds, Urras and Anarres, each the other’s moon, and are quite literally worlds apart. Urras is like Earth: rich, plentiful, abundant, ruled by warring States and competing forms of captialism and socialism. Anarres is a desert, harsh; an anarchy. It is about a temporal physicist who must travel from world to the next, weaving in and out of time and philosophy with lyric grace. It is impossible to summarize The Dispossessed beyond this.
The idea, ideal, represented by Anarres appeals to me tremendously. Human brotherhood, solidarity, serving no master but being a member of a living social organism, willingly doing what is necessary to sustain that organism. It is difficult to explain. Granted, Anarres is able to exist because it exists in a vacuum. There are no other nations on Anarres; its two-million population must cooperate to ensure basic survival. There are no luxuries on Anarres. Nothing is owned, all is shared. The settlers came with nearly nothing. They created an entirely new language. All ties with the old world were severed. Anarres really is the great experiment.
Le Guin is not a Christian, but in many ways, these anarchists have more in common with the early church in Acts 2 than we do today. Community, sharing. It is reflected even in their speech: consider a three-year old saying, “You may share the hankerchief I use.” If not that, then the proverb “Excess is excrement” should challenge any Christian living in our materialistic world.
There are far too many passages I would want to quote, not to mention the abundance of perfect sentences, but I shall only quote one:
You write music! Music is a cooperative art, organic by definition, social. It may be the noblest form of social behavior we’re capable of. It’s certainly one of the noblest jobs an individual can undertake. And by its nature, by the nature of any art, it’s a sharing. The artist shares, it’s the essence of his act.
Nay, I shall quote two:
For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.
Finally, my friends in the States, you have Le Guin to thank that I shall not be an ex-pat forever. Twice now she has convinced me that
True voyage is return.2
1 Unfortunately the Perennial Classics edition is riddled with typographical errors. The Dispossessed is available online and appears to be a cleaner copy.
2 Some thoughts on “True voyage is return” after I read The Dispossessed a year ago.