Space Crone

by Ursula K. Le Guin Silver Press, £13.99 (softcover)

- Kelsey Chen

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 o˜ered, unyielding in their mood but open to interpreta­tion, both impenetrab­le and confession­al. Her novels o˜er 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, a“xing 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 e˜ect 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.

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