Perdido Street Station – Rape, Crime, Identity, and Social Constructions

China Mieville’s 2000 novel Perdido Street Station was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula in 2002 and won several other awards, including the Arthur C. Clark Award and the British Fantasy Society’s August Derleth Award. It also put him on the map for science fiction scholars, and since then, he’s been one of the most-often examined contemporary writers in science fiction journals.

The Plot: Isaac, a scientist studying out-of-mode theories who has a khepri artist as a lover, is approached by a garuda who has had his wings removed with an interesting commission: to make him fly again, whether by wings or some other means. In the course of his research, Isaac inadvertantly releases a brain-sucking parasite onto the city of New Crozubon, a parasite with no natural predators for thousands of miles. In the course of amending his mistake, Isaac gleans allies from several groups, including the New Crozubon criminal element, the wingless garuda, the newly sentient Construct Council, mercenaries, political activists, and a creature from another dimension. Even after Isaac and his crew manage to save the city, the oppressive regime in power and a criminal kingpin continue to hunt him as the perpetrator, and he is forced to flee the city.

I read Joan Gordon’s article “Hybridity, Heterotopia, and Mateship” before Perdido Street Station itself and, consequently, had her ideas about hybridity and social organization in my head as I was reading. It’s true that, as Gordon argues, Isaac’s plan requires many different kinds of people in order to work, but I also saw the novel as examining the many ways in which we construct difference. Much like The City and the City, we see many spaces where differences are upheld on tenuous logics, like the separation of the two khepri neighborhoods, Creekside and Kinken. The residents of Kinken, Isaac’s khepri lover Lin reflects, construct Creekside as a ghetto in order to not be living in a ghetto themselves. Likewise, there is a division between the the cactacae who live within the Glass House, supposedly keeping their traditions alive, and those who live without. But we also see several places where differences are real and not constructed, notably with the Construct Council and the Weaver (and I would like to say that I think Miéville does an excellent job of creating characters that fall outside of human ideologies, here with the Weaver and with the Arakei in Embassytown).

I’d really like to spend some time with the garuda, another place where we see real, as opposed to constructed, difference: first with Yagharek and then with the New Crozubon garuda Isaac meets in the Spatters. Before I started off my summer reading with Perdido Street Station, I did a small project on Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy, and I’ve been thinking a lot about her philosophy that utopias in SF happen too suddenly, that humans can’t get to utopia without a great deal of hardship and resistance. Thus, the Xenogenesis Trilogy shows this resistance as well as the small steps towards a better humanity, while questioning some of the ideologies that inform our ideas of “better” (see, for instance, Zaki and Miller). I think that we see something similar with the garuda; their ideology of the individual results in something of a utopian society, but it’s a society that is completely unworkable in the space of New Crozubon, as we see with the hierarchical structure of the garuda in the Spatters, the need for someone to be in charge in order to keep the others safe. I feel like this is an important reminder of how deeply physical space affect societal construction; what seems to be the best way for the garuda to live in small tribes in the harsh desert landscape does them little good in the city where different resources are necessary for survival.

I found Kar’uchai’s meeting with Isaac deeply affecting for a number of reasons. First of all, I felt like Miéville had somehow broken our writer/reader contract by making me sympathize with a character who turned out to be a rapist. I felt like, in some ways, my choice had been stolen, my choice to reject or accept Yagharek after being given all the information. And I was upset that the closing section of the novel seem to present Yagharek as somehow redeeming himself for his crime by plucking his feathers and not being a garuda any more. At the same time, I realized that I was committing the same mistake that Isaac does, by reading the rape of Kar’uchai through my own ideological conceptions of rape. Really, murder is a much worse crime, but I wouldn’t have felt as upset by finding out that Yagharek had killed someone. More importantly, though, Kar’uchai forces Isaac (and the reader) to reconsider how our concepts of rape interpolate the “rape victim” as somehow different from victims of other crimes. She says, “I was not violated or ravaged […] I am not abused or defiled … or ravished or spoiled. You would call his actions rape, but I do not: that tells me nothing. He stole my choice, and that is why he was … judged […] Do not look at me with eyes reserved for victims” (609-10) The one crime of choice-theft for the garuda, with its many possible manifestations, asks the reader to reflect on the underlying logic of our own criminal system and the way that system ranks the severity of crimes.

  • Gordon, Joan. “Hybridity, Heterotopia, and Mateship in China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station.” Science Fiction Studies 30.3 (2003): 456–76. Print.
  • Miéville, China. Perdido Street Station. New York: Ballantine Books, 2000. Print.
  • Miller, Jim. “Post-Apocalyptic Hoping: Octavia Butler’s Dystopian/Utopian Vision.” Science Fiction Studies (1998): 336–360. Print.
  • Zaki, Hoda M. “Utopia, Dystpia, and Ideology in the Science Fiction of Octavia Butler.” Science Fiction Studies 17.2 (1990): 239–51. Print.
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Woman on the Edge of Time – The Way Things Could Be

As I mentioned in my last post, Mattapoisett is the utopia I want to live in, so I’m excited to move away from writing about Connie’s present and into Luciente’s future. Of course, since I could easily go on and on about Luciente’s future, I’m going to limit myself to a few quick snippets before diving into language and politics.

Sexuality: Sexuality in Mattapoisett is extremely open. Connie sees children as young as six or seven engaging in sexual activities. There don’t seem to be words for “heterosexual” or “homosexual.” It appears that often mems are also “pillow friends,” but pillow friends avoid raising comothering together. In fact, the only sexual taboo beyond rape (which is punished on the first offense with some kind of service decided by the victim or victim’s family and is punished on the second offense with death) is strict monogamy; in this future, people are discouraged from binding to each other in ways that are exclusionary to others.

Class: Mattapoisett is a socialist society; the number of things a person actually owns is quite small. Every one has a personal living space, whether that be a small home of to themselves or a room in a house shared with mems (family members), but they don’t own that living space. If a person dies or moves, someone else who needs a space takes residence. Everyday clothing is owned, but clothing for special occasions and rituals can be rented from the library, as well as pieces of art and rare books. Credits for luxury items are distributed in different ways in different communities, but in Mattapoisett credits are distributed equally and might be traded in for a nice gift for a mem like a bottle of good port or a nice book for yourself.

Reproduction: In Luciente’s future babies are grown in tubes; there are no longer live births. The “comothering” of a child (the concept of “fathering” doesn’t exist) is undertaken by three willing adults, usually mems, though the children really belong to everyone. Two of the comothers, or “coms” pronounced with a long “o” sound, breast feed, with the men taking hormones in order to produce milk. Like Connie, I find this part a bit troubling, the idea that in order for women to achieve equality they must share what identifies them biologically as woman. But, distinctions between genders don’t really mean much at all in this new society anyway, so it’s probably more a sign of my own ideological positioning than anything else.

Race: Luciente’s future is extremely diverse racially, and racial percentages can be carefully controlled due to the test-tube baby-making. More interestingly is that each village in the future has an ethnicity, a “flavor,” that is completely separate from the racial make-up of the inhabitants. Bee explains it like this: “At grancil — grand council — decisions were made forty years back to breed a high proportion of darker-skinned people and to mix the genes well through the population. At the same time, we decided to hold on to separate cultural identities. But we broke the bond between genes and culture, broke it forever. We want there to be no chance of racism again” (96). I really like the way that the intersections of skin-color, cultural practices, and “race” are articulated here.

Art: There is no place for the romantic genius in Mattapoisett; everybody has to pick caterpillars off the bean plants no matter what they’re profession is. Jackrabbit explains it like this: “We think art is production. We think making a painting is as real as growing a peach or making diving equipment. No more real, no less real. It’s useful and good on a different level, but it’s production” (261).


And now onto language… 

The most immediate and far reaching linguistic quality of Luciente’s future is the erasure of gendered pronouns. Early in the novel, Luciente makes some comment to Connie using “you” which Connie takes mild offense to. Luciente explains, “You plural […] a weakness that remains in our language, though we’ve reformed pronouns” (34). It does take some time to get used to Luciente’s pronouns, “person” for the subjective third-person and “per” for the objective and possessive third-person, but after a while it’s easy to think “Person must not do what person cannot do.” This lack of gendered pronouns combined with the lack of gendered codes in dress and naming in Mattapoisett means that determining the gender of individuals is very difficult for Connie, who continues to think in gendered pronouns, and consequently for the reader. Of course, that’s the point, really, that gender is a set of markers that allows us to place individuals in categories.

The other issue of language that comes up is the jargon that has arisen out of this new society. Luciente has mems, some of whom are coms and some of whom are pillow friends. She contacts these people and many others with her kenner. For festivals, she wears a flimsy and sometimes she rides in a floater. Sometimes she attends the grancil. And so on and so forth.

And then there’s the politics…

Political life in Mattapoisett is everyone’s responsibility insofar as positions on the grancil are given by lot, so at any point in time any adult in the community may have to serve as representative of per village. As Connie comments on, people in this new society spend a lot of time in meetings talking, and it’s pretty much everyone, not just those whose job it is to do it. As such, we see two of these meetings, one a township meeting where village representatives congregate to discuss the allotment of resources and whatnot and one a “worming,” in which Bolivar and Luciente try to sort out their differences. In the township meeting, representatives from various villages debate the needs and wants of all the villages while they, as well as the representatives for the animals and the land, also debate the relative damage to the surrounding area. If two villages are debating some kind of resource, say one village wants a piece of land for growing cabbage while a neighboring village wants the land as pasture for sheep, the village that wins the decision in council hosts the losing village in a feast and night of festivities, so as to keep down on hard feelings. So political rhetoric is a contest, but it’s one that doesn’t stray much outside the council room. Of course, there are the decisions that go above the township level, such as the decision about deliberating shaping human genetics for certain traits. In this issue, one point of interest is that Luciente and those mems who agree with her on the issue plan to create a drama to take around and perform in other villages  to try to convince others to their side; this indicates that political rhetoric in Mattapoisett and the surrounding areas is found less in speeches and more in performances: dramas, stories, holis, dances, etc. It’s extremely performative. As such, art as a rhetorical form often comes under scrutiny and is debated as such. When Luciente crits Bolivar and Jackrabbit’s latest holi for suggesting that conflicts between genders played a greater role in the downfall of humanity than conflicts between class did, Sojourner remarks, “Our culture as a whole must speak the whole truth. But every object can’t! That’s the slogan mentality at work, as if there were certain holy words that must always be named” (203).
This crit comes up in the worming that I mentioned earlier, in which Bolivar and Luciente come face to face to discuss the ill feelings between them, centering around certain possessive feelings about Jackrabbit. I find this part interesting considering how emotionally open Luciente’s society seems to be. In her first visit to the cafeteria of Mattapoisett, Connie notes, “Really this could be a dining room in a madhouse, the way people sat naked with their emotions pouring out, but there was a strong energy level here. The pulse of the room was positive but a little overwhelming” (67). Yet some emotions are discouraged as “binding,” such as Luciente’s jealousy of Bolivar. They are kind of forced to be friends, with their mems directing them to spend time together without Jackrabbit to try to become friends. It is much like the way that strict monogamy is discouraged. So we have a society that is emotionally very free, but still limiting in certain areas. However, those negative emotions are dealt with through talking, whether in a worming or with a healer.

And finally a cool thing I found…

As I was doing a little research, I came across this neat little game based on Woman on the Edge of Time called Luciente’s War. Check it out.

Woman on the Edge of Time – The Way Things Are

Marge Piercy’s 1976 feminist utopia Woman on the Edge of Time is, hands down, one of my favorite utopias. It is the utopia where I want to live: a feminist utopia that doesn’t have to get rid of men entirely for equality, a community where learning and “education” is entirely self-directed, where in-knowing is valued, where the ideology of progress is largely limited to what can be good for the land and the people…It’s just beautiful. But, as much as I love it, WET is also incredibly depressing at times, and it’s that anchor in the horribleness in the here and now that makes it so successful as a utopia, I think.

The Plot: Consuelo (Connie) Ramos, a poor Mexican-American woman in NYC, has been having strange dreams and hallucinations of a young man named Luciente who claims to be contacting her psychically from the future. Before Connie really knows what’s going on, she has a run-in with her niece’s pimp, hitting him in the face for trying to force her niece to have an abortion by a quack doctor and, due to past violent behavior, winding up back in a mental institution. In the hospital, Connie begins to communicate more with Luciente, who turns out to be a woman rather than a man, and even passes over in Mattapoisett, the utopian community where Luciente lives with her “mems,” those individuals she is close enough with to consider family. As Connie learns more about this possible future where babies are grown in tubes, men breast-feed as well as women, no one goes hungry, and renewing the earth is a prime concern, she is signed up for an experimental procedure by her brother, one intended to “cure” her illness by releasing chemicals into her brain every time she feels a negative emotion. Her implant, however, is removed because her frequent trips to visit Luciente result in her lying for hours in a coma-like state, which worries the doctors. During this time, Connie visits another possible, dystopic future in which humans are kept alive as organ farms for the wealthy elite, women undergo plastic surgery to make themselves into parodies of femininity and live with men only on contract for limited periods of time, and the highest physical state is to become a cyborg. Connie decides that it is time to fight and, after a visit to her brother where she is able to steal a fast-acting and lethal poison, she makes one last visit to Mattapoisett to say goodbye to Luciente before she dumps the poison into the coffee pot of the doctors in charge of the experiments.

Most utopias/dystopias outline in detail the future but do not discuss the present at any length, creating what my colleague Ben and I have been referring to as “the macro-enthymeme of utopia”  in which the unstated premise is the author’s/audience’s own cultural/historical situation. WET doesn’t follow this form, though, spending a great deal of the novel in the present and one that is very marked by race, class, and gender. Since the novel clearly divides itself into conceptions of the present and the possible future, I’ve opted to divide by commentary in the same manner, beginning by looking at the way things are for Connie.

As a rhetor, Connie’s position is limited at best and just plain shitty at worst. This becomes immediately apparent when she is readmitted to the hospital but no one will listen to her because she is “crazy”: “They said reluctance to be hospitalized was a sign of sickness, assuming you were sick, in one of these no win circles” (9). Connie is stuck in a system of welfare and hospitalization that does not offer her any agency or authority on the state of her own body or living situation. She has an unwanted hysterectomy so that medical students can get practice when she is in surgery for a poorly performed abortion. She is routinely monitored by welfare representatives who check her job situation and living arrangements.

Feeling sympathy for Connie made more complicated because this attention is not necessarily unwarranted: Connie admits to being a neglectful and abusive mother. She admits to being an alcoholic and drug-user and not taking care of her daughter. She argues that this is also the result of the system which kills her lover Claud in a prison experiment, and though it is difficult to determine the degree to which Connie has been wronged in issues concerning her daughter, it is easy to see that she is continually being punished for a fluke in her life, albeit a very large and dangerous fluke.

But even before her life was derailed by her abusive second husband and the loss of Claud and her daughter, Connie learned to be distrustful of the system. As Luciente explains how decisions are made in Mattapoisett and the larger township, Connie tells the following story:

Years ago, I was living in Chicago. I got involved that way. Meetings, meetings, meetings! My life was so busy, my head was boiling! I felt such hope. It was after my husband Martin… he got killed. I was young and naive and it was supposed to be a War on Poverty… But it was just the same political machine and us stupid poor people, us… idiots who thought we were running things for a change. We ended up right back where we were. They gave some paying jobs to so-called community leaders. All those meetings. I ended up with nothing but feeling sore and ripped off. (146-7)

So even before she is labeled as “crazy”, Connie suffers from a dearth of political power, though she recognizes that the political machine works to make it look like she may grasp some for however short a period of time. 

The rhetoric of the present judges based on gender as well as class and race; consider repeat-offender and repeat-asylum inmate Sybil. While Connie does not quite buy into Sybil’s assertions of magical power, she does admit that “Sybil was persecuted for being a practicing witch, for telling women how to heal themselves and encouraging them to leave their husbands, for being lean and crazily elegant and five feet ten in her bare long high-arched feet, for having a loud, penetrating voice and a back that would not stoop” (76). Connie frequently comments on how Sybil’s size gets her different treatment from herself, since Connie is short and perceived as being easy to handle compared to Sybil.

Altogether, Connie’s story in the present paints a picture of a political machine (an important word considering the cyborgs of the dystopic future) with many arms for oppressing women, especially women of color. We see staged moments of Bakhtinian carnival where it looks like an inversion in power might happen in Connie’s participation in the War on Poverty. We see the means by which medical rhetoric is used to control Connie’s sexuality and reproduction as well as her freedom to move about, given her strict incarceration in the hospital. We see the degree to which how a woman looks controls what she is able or allowed to do in Sybil, Connie, and Connie’s niece Dolly (who takes speed to stay thin and dyes her hair — all her hair — red to attract johns) but also in the wives of Connie’s brother Luis, who become increasingly Anglo as he becomes more successful, leaving behind as much of his Mexican identity as possible. In all of this, Piercy illustrates the ways in which “women’s issues” are also inherently tied up in issues of race and class as well.

The Left Hand of Darkness – Nationalism and Communication

On of the things that immediately struck me about shifgrethor is that it’s an ideology based on the premise that all communication is rhetorical. Consider Genly’s thoughts on his first interview with the king of Karhide, Argaven:

Though Argaven might be neither sane nor shrewd, he had had long practice in the evasions and challenges and rhetorical subtleties used in conversation by those whose main aim in life was the achievement and maintenance of the shifgrethor relationship on a high level. Whole areas of that relationship were still blank to me, but I knew something about the competitive, prestige-seeking aspect of it, and about the perpetual conversational duel that can result from it. That I was not dueling with Argaven, but trying to communicate with him, was itself an incommunicable fact. (35)

I’ve frequently noticed in “alien encounter” stories that language is something of a barrier, but the ideology behind that language isn’t that big of deal. For example, in Octavia Butler’s Dawn, Lilith is slightly altered genetically by the Oankali to remember everything she has heard, meaning that the language lessons she was undergoing have a new efficacy. However, translation seems to continue to work on a one-to-one model; the fact that the Oankali are supposedly a non-hierarchical race does not seem to affect Lilith’s ability to understand their language at all. Here we see something a bit different; Genly has no problem with speaking Karhidish or Orgota, but there are aspects of communication that he does not understand at all, and we as readers are repeatedly reminded by him that he struggles with understanding. Similarly we are constantly reminded of his difficulty in seeing Estraven as ambisexual. There are underlying ideologies to communication that Genly simply cannot comprehend for quite a while. And, of course, he seems to be assuming that his own communication is unrhetorical, even though he is in fact attempting to persuade the Gethenians to join the Ekumen of Known Worlds. But beyond all communication being part of shifgrethor, it seems that almost any act has the potential to confirm or insult shifgrethor. Once he reaches Orgoreyn, Genly says, “Manners here were certainly different from manners in Karhide; there, the fuss he was making would either have degraded his own shifgrethor or insulted mine; I wasn’t sure which, but I would have done one or the other — practically everything did” (127). Shifgrethor is constantly on-going and extremely performative, which does make it more like our postmodern conceptions of ethos than Aristotle’s (though I stand by my previous statement that shifgrethor and ethos shouldn’t be conflated).

Genly’s thoughts on shifgrethor upon entering Orgoreyn are important in discussions of nationalism in this novel as well. One of the things I liked the best about this novel is that we get to see two different cultures on this planet rather than the Gethenians being collapsed into one cultural group, and the tensions between national identity and shifgrethor play out in interesting ways. At one point Genly says to Estraven, “You’re isolated, and undivided. Perhaps you are as obsessed with wholeness as we are with dualism” (252). Estraven refutes Genly’s assumption, stating, “We are dualists too. Duality is an essential, isn’t it? So long as there is myself and the other” (252, emphasis in original). This harkens back to a previous instance when Estraven spoke of “the other” shortly before his exile, when he explains to Genly what he means by patriotism: “No, I don’t mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression” (20). If shifgrethor is an expression of Gethenian unity, patriotism is then an expression of Gethenian duality. Karhide is often suggested to be lacking in a certain national cohesiveness which Genly describes like this: “Quarrels, murders, feuds, forays, vendettas, assassinations, tortures and abominations, all these were in their repertory of human accomplishments; but they did not go to war. They lacked, it seemed, the capacity to mobilize. They behaved like animals in that respect; or like women. They did not behave like men, or ants” (51). The gendered nature of this comment aside, Genly references ants again when he is imprisoned in a work camp in Orgoreyn: “If there were ants on Winter, Gethenians might have tried to imitate them long ago. The regime of the Voluntary Farm is a fairly recent thing, limited to one country of the planet and literally unknown elsewhere” (191). Sharp contrast is drawn between Karhide and Orgoreyn; whereas Estraven calls Karhide a “family quarrel” and Genly witnesses the feudal system in which by and large individual lords do as they will, Genly describes the Orgota as “people trained from birth in a discipline of cooperation, obedience, submission to a group purpose ordered from above,” in short, people who are able to mobilize (186).

The increasing national unity in Orgoreyn seems to have a correlating diminishment of shifgrethor. In his journals, Estraven writes, “Tibe [the prime minister put in place after Estraven’s exile] wants to teach Karhide how to lie. He takes his lessons from Orgoreyn: a good school” and later explains that Karhide becoming more like Orgoreyn would most likely result in war erupting between the two (162). Genly hears Tibe’s attempts on the radio, saying, “He talked much about pride of country and love of the parentland but little of shifgrethor, personal pride or prestige” (108). This suggests to me that nationalism and shifgrethor are, in fact, incompatible, and this can perhaps be seen most clearly in the difference in how Karhiders and Orgota treat shifgrethor, which we can see when Genly comments on the differing manners and customs of the Orgota which would have been considered shameful in Karhide. Moreover, Orgota seem to have much less difficulty waiving shifgrethor, perhaps showing that with the construction of the national identity, maintaining the integrity of self throught shifgrethor becomes increasing less important, and given the somewhat dystopic nature of Orgoreyn (labor camps, secret police, the necessity of having “papers” for travel and work), I think that Le Guin is suggesting that this is a bad thing.

The Left Hand of Darkness – Introduction to Shifgrethor

As soon as I read Le Guin’s introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, I immediately began to draw connections between LHD and Embassytown, especially given that Le Guin’s name comes up quite frequently in interviews with Mieville. Here’s a selection from that introduction:

It is words that make the trouble and confusion. We are asked now to consider words as useful in only one way: as signs. Our philosophers, some of them, would have us agree that a word (sentence, statement) has value only in so far as it has one single meaning, points to one fact that is comprehensible to the rational intellect, logically sound, and — ideally — quantifiable. Apollo, the god of light, of reason, of proportion, harmony, number — Apollo blinds those who press too close in worship. Don’t look straight at the sun. Go into a dark bar for a bit and have a beer with Dionysios, every now and then. I talk about the gods; I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. The only truth I can understand or express is, logically defined, a lie. Psychologically defined, a symbol. Aesthetically defined, a metaphor. (xvii)

In the introduction, Le Guin posits science fiction not as an extrapolative genre, predicting the future, but as a “thought-experiment,” something that instead reflects reality rather than makes any kind of prediction. She goes on to say that LHD is populated by an androgynous race, but she is in no way predicting that humans will become sexually androgynous so much as reflecting the fact that the lines between gender-specific roles are becoming more and more blurred, giving us career moms and stay-at-home dads for example.

Related to this androgyny — but really, ambisexuality is a better term since each Gethen has the potential to be either male or female during its mating period — is the concept of shifgrethor, which Genly attempts to define as “prestige, face, place, the pride-relationship, the untranslatable and all-important principle of social authority in Karhide and all civilizations of Gethen” (14). I was at first disposed to this of shifgrethor as ethos, but that’s not quite right at all. Ethos is perhaps consciously crafted within a particular text or is generated by the multiple public faces/appearances of an individual (we can even talk of ethoi), and of course one individual in one situation may be interpreted in several different ethoi by different audiences given their particular backgrounds, assumptions, terministic screens, etc. Shifgrethor is not like that at all. Shifgrethor, Estraven tells Genly, comes from the old word for shadow (266), and given that Gethenian philosophy conceives of light and dark not as opposites but rather as a kind of unity, I think it is safe to assume that a person’s shifgrethor is not separate from him/herself. Furthermore, a person’s shifgrethor cannot be added to or taken away; it can only be insulted or confirmed.

One of the ways I think that we can think about shifgrethor is as a certain integrity of the self that has to do with the Gethen’s ambisexuality. I’ve found Gayle Rubin’s essay concerning the trafficking of women in kinship systems to be helpful in thinking about this. She writes, “Kinship systems rest upon marriage. They, therefore, transform males and females in ‘men’ and ‘women,’ each an incomplete half which can only find wholeness when united with the other. Men and women are, of course, different. But they are not as different as day and night, earth and sky, yin and yang, life and death” (279). What caught my attention in this passage was the way that Rubin compares the duality of man and woman to other dualities, dualities that Gethens readily turn into unities. I think that perhaps one way of understanding the difficulty Gethenians have in waiving shifgrethor is by thinking about the waiving of shifgrethor as a kind of acknowledgement/announcement of the un-unity of self. Interestingly, it is right after Estraven explains to Genly that shifgrethor comes shadow that Genly is able to see Estraven not first as a man then as a woman, but as both at once.

  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace Books, 2010.
  • Rubin, Gayle. “The Traffic in Women: Notes of the Political Economy of Sex.” Feminist Theory: A Reader. 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw Hill Inc., 2005. 273-288.