January 26, 2018

Ursula LeGuin Says It Right

        Ursula K. LeGuin (1929-2018) died on Tuesday, and I have long admired her as a masterful maker of worlds, a soaringly beautiful writer, and a fierce intellect of probing questions and uncompromising logic.  While I definitely don’t agree with her on every statement she’s ever made, she undoubtedly had a way of declaring many of the ideas I’ve been working with, and of expressing them better than I do, too.  So in tribute to one who never failed to write as if her gift for writing was the tool she had for making the world a better place, let me just give you some of LeGuin’s own words.

        To me the important thing is not to offer any specific hope of betterment but, by offering an imagined but persuasive alternative reality, to dislodge my mind, and so the reader’s mind, from the lazy, timorous habit of thinking that the way we live now is the only way people can live. It is that inertia that allows the institutions of injustice to continue unquestioned.  Fantasy and science fiction in their very conception offer alternatives to the reader’s present, actual world. Young people in general welcome this kind of story because in their vigor and eagerness for experience they welcome alternatives, possibilities, change. Having come to fear even the imagination of true change, many adults refuse all imaginative literature, priding themselves on seeing nothing beyond what they already know, or think they know.
The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. Having that real though limited power to put established institutions into question, imaginative literature has also the responsibility of power. The storyteller is the truthteller.

[Picture: Prólogo, woodcut by Erasto Cortés Juárez, 1955 (Image from Colección Blaisten).]
(Quotations from the essay “A War Without End” in The Wave in the Mind, 2004.)

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