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Left Hand of Darkness is Light 
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Post Left Hand of Darkness is Light
The Left Hand of Darkness is among the most influential science fiction books ever written. In some respects, it provided the template for the widely read Canopus in Argos series of five books by Doris Lessing, including Shikasta and The Sirian Experiments. Lessing expanded Le Guin’s use of galactic vision as a setting for psychological imagination and for rumination on the factors in the rise and fall of culture. Le Guin provides the template used by Lessing of an envoy from an interstellar civilization to an isolated planet as the main character and narrator of the plot. Winter, the planet of The Left Hand of Darkness, has two visited countries, Karhide and Orgoreyn, which serve as platforms for analysis of human psychology, including as prophecy and satire of the ignorance and treachery in politics, through their responses to an alien envoy who seeks to draw their planet into galactic contact. The common theme with Lessing is the patient wisdom of the old alien culture, seeing that incorporation of an isolated place into a bigger whole can be of high benefit through the sharing of experience.

The poem which gives the book its title is

“Light is the left hand of darkness
And darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
Together like lovers in kemmer,
Like hands joined together,
Like the end and the way.”
(p199).

This poem is rather like a Zen koan, a paradox that defies clear meaning but contains hidden wisdom. Traditionally, the right hand is light and the left hand is dark, based on the yin-yang polarity associating activity with transparency and passivity with concealment. For Le Guin to say that darkness has a left hand is very confusing, and to then equate darkness with 'the right hand of light' suggests a way of thought alien to traditional human categories. Behind these images is the argument that the tao which can be seen is not the real tao. The term ‘kemmer’ is an alien sexuality invented by Le Guin in which everyone is both male and female, a theme that gives rise to interesting contrasts with how male-female sexuality organises the boundaries of human life.

The statement 'two are one' is in itself an arithmetical paradox, resolved in the observation of complex systems where polarities produce a higher unity. Recognising there is no darkness without light, that night and day are like the end and the way, indicates a cyclic vision of time with a strong implicit critique of linear logic.

I was pleased to read Le Guin's comment, written in the early 1970s, that CO2 emissions could cause global warming. This was little known at that time, and reflects her capacity to be open to new big ideas about planetary life.



The following user would like to thank Robert Tulip for this post:
bleachededen
Fri Mar 19, 2010 8:14 pm
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Post Re: Left Hand of Darkness is Light
This is a great realization, Robert. Thank you for sharing it.

I'm finding that this book is proving to be more interesting to me through other people's readings of it. I wasn't very enthused while reading and only finished it out of the principle that I had to finish it, but reading everyone else's thoughts brings out aspects that I glanced over or didn't pay as close attention to, and brought out some of my own insights that I hadn't thought of until someone else mentioned something. I like that, that a book I didn't really even like can still prove to be useful just from sharing it with others. That was exactly what I was looking for when I found BookTalk, and I am happy to say I found exactly what I was looking for. And I always love your insights, Robert. :)

Thanks.



Sat Mar 20, 2010 2:10 am
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