Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

The Left of Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on October 2, 2012

Shorn of its impressive atmospherics and exotic locales of Planet Winter, Le Guin’s ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, is at its core, a brilliant portrayal of two intertwined journeys of exploration, discovery and personal transformation. While the protagonist Ai’s official mission of expanding the interplanetary solidarity by enabling Gethenian civilizations join the Ekumen is one journey, the discovery of the meaning of “otherness” in Gethenians and bridging that gap through compassionate understanding is his other journey. One is physical and temporal and the other is emotional and inward looking.

The “otherness” of Gethenians lies predominantly in their self-contained sexuality making them incomprehensible and puzzling in initial encounters. However, the journey of Ai across the harsh wintry landscape with Estraven gives him an opportunity to enlarge his understanding and break free from his existing impressions. This leads him to alternative worldviews like wholeness and duality of a being with respect to sex and provides him with an opportunity to reassess his views on male-female dichotomy of his world and an acceptance of the way things are around him. On the other hand, the emissarial journey to expand the membership of Ekumen leads Ai into some fundamental questions around the natures of nation-state, competitive politics, patriotism, psychological basis of life and death and most important of all, the complex and multi-faceted feature of shifgrethor which determines the basis for social authority in all civilizations of Gethen. With these powerful and profound portrayals of alternative viewpoints, Le Guin elevates the quality of our reading experience.

Bruce Chatwin in his classic ‘The Songlines’ (paraphrasing Muhammad) said that ‘a journey is a fragment of hell’ and Martin Buber, the famous philosopher opined that ‘all journeys have secret destinations of which a traveler is unaware.’ This is true of both journeys of Ai and in the process it is also true vicariously for all the readers of ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’

To that inevitable question: Are Ai’s efforts and hardships worth the trouble? Le Guin’s heartening response is:

 ‘It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.’

 In this reassuring wisdom lies the joy of this thought provoking and wonderful book

2 Responses to “The Left of Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin”

  1. Murali said

    Hi Vish, i am assuming the influence of the course is manifesting in this blog. Would you have a list of all the readings from the SF course?

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