by Ursula K. Le Guin Silver Press, £13.99 (softcover)
Known for writing capacious and beauteously strange worlds into being, sciencefiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin wrote with an unclenched hand. For her, stories are objects oered, unyielding in their mood but open to interpretation, both impenetrable and confessional. Her novels oer both defamiliarisation from and clarifying critique of the repressive regimes that enclose our present, as well as visionary depictions of alternative modes of relation and being, such as in the lunar anarchist settlement in The Dispossessed (1974) and the ambisexual Gethenians of The Left Hand of Darkness (1969).
For the first time, Space Crone brings together Le Guin’s writings in a collection structured around gender. It gathers lectures, talks, essays, stories and ephemera such as marginalia, annotations, forewords and postscripts into a stitched-together redux of Le Guin’s reflections on gender, art, craft, motherhood and ageing. The texts in this collection reveal an insistent attention and reverence for the unruly, the discarded and the marginal.
Throughout Le Guin’s body of work, she consistently locates power in modes of being that are routinely disavowed – to notice the necessity of the opaque and recessive, the honour and strength in the soft and nonassertive. This radical move is brought to the fore and articulated explicitly in relation to feminist political history and Taoist cosmic principles in Silver Press’s posthumous collection. In Le Guin’s essay ‘A Non-euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be’ (1982), quoted here in the editor’s introduction, utopia is articulated as a project of going ‘inward, go[ing] yinward… dark, wet, obscure, weak, yielding, passive, participatory, circular, cyclical, peaceful, nurturant, retreating, contracting, and cold’, as opposed to the ‘big yang motorcycle trip’ of masculinist utopias that insist on the future as ‘firm, active, aggressive, lineal, progressive’.
As the editors of the collection note, rather than an essentialist argument about natures, axing the feminine to the yin and the masculine to the yang, the dynamic polarities of yin and yang are taken by Le Guin as a prompt to consider how better futures may be seeded through an undoing of the moralisation of yang as good and yin as bad, seeking instead proper balance, seeing each as already embedded in the other. Expansion through retreat; clarity through opacity; progressing by yielding: the truth of these paradoxes is sung through ‘the woman’s tongue, that earth and savor, that relatedness, which speaks dark… but clear as sunlight’, in Le Guin’s words at a 1986 commencement address at Bryn Mawr College.
This moment is one of a political consciousness that increasingly notices gender both as a social performance and as category inscribed onto bodies fundamentally ungovernable or classifiable by such clumsy binary means; Space Crone arrives on time to remind us, in the reconstitution of ourselves outside or against the purview of patriarchal and gender-essentialist power, not to leave behind those movements that have been coded as useless, passive, weak. Perhaps, Le Guin suggests through these collected fragments, it is precisely those qualities that have been moralised as bad or not valuable where the hope lies for new worlds, structured around a kind of relation outside of the masculinist relations of force and control that dominate our contemporary worlds and social lives.
While Le Guin’s writing has always been for and about, as she puts it in the 1986 address, ‘the unteachers, the unmasters, the unconquerors, the unwarriors’, Space Crone
asks us explicitly to consider the powerfulness of the easily bruised, the strength of the gentle as the seed of a revolutionary political ethic.
Space Crone collects Le Guin’s feminist writings with the eect of illustrating how she thinks through and with the feminine as beyond human politics, as a cosmo-political principle: a kind of relation, an ethic, a method of being. In a world increasingly run by an ever-accelerating and expanding rationalist technocracy, an age sick with yang, Space Crone
is essential reading, (re)turning us yinward.