Ursula K. Leguin, daughter of the anthropologist A.L. Kroeber, writes:
“Those who refuse to listen to dragons are probably doomed to spend their lives acting out the nightmares of politicians. We like to think we live in daylight, but half the world is always dark; and fantasy, like poetry, speaks the language of the night.” (LeGuin, 1989:6)
Our class has been looking into “otherness” in anthropology, and its colonial roots. The subsequent debates into cultural relativism were quite heated. I found this quote just recently, but it certainly fits. LeGuin argues that a lot of science fiction has consisted of standard western colonial stereotypes – where women are objectified, and men save the universe. In looking at colonialism and anthropology, its clear that literature and anthropology share the same problems when it comes to acting responsibly. Leguin writes:
“If you deny any affinity with another person or kind of person, if you declare it to be wholly different from yourself – as men have done to women, and class has done to class, and nation has done to nation, you may hate it or deify it; but in either case you have denied its spiritual equality and its human reality. You have made it into a thing, to which the only possible relationship is a power relationship. And thus you have fatally impoverished your own reality. You have, in fact, alienated yourself.” (LeGuin, 1989:95)
She argues that the most important part of writing is the development of characters. Good science fiction for her is not just about space ships and vast dominating empires. It is good when it transcends those stereotypes, and reveals truth about individuals. Like many anthropologists (maybe we can even say the good ones?), she is critical of those who uphold domination. Her science fiction is anti-colonial, in that it plays and presents alternative realities. I think literature has a lot to offer in terms of addressing the individual, which is often lost when looking at the world in general.
more on this to come…