Author Archives: elizap2013
Dear Ms. Le Guin,
I am a student at the University of Oregon currently taking the Feminism and Science Fiction class and thus feel I should tell you that I have been looking through the correspondences and papers you have given to the Special Collections. It is with strange yet compelling intrigue that I read your letters and it leaves me feeling oddly thrilled at my sneaky and stalker-ish method of gaining information (In my defense, I do believe that it is everyone’s desire to learn about the daily, private lives of others). I must admit I had never read any of your work before this class, but since the start of term I have had the pleasure of learning what an amazing writer you are, your informal communications being just as well written as your short stories and novellas (your novels have been put on my ever growing list of books to read once the term ends).
Well, now that I’ve gotten through the disclaimer and fan section of this letter, the reason behind my archival snooping has been for a research paper I am working on that looks at how you have been influenced by the environmental movement. I know you grew up in Berkeley and have lived most of your life in Portland and thus have seen the growth of environmental awareness. Several of your works have an environmental aspect to them (The Word for World is Forest) as well as an anarchist feature (The Dispossessed) and I know you are involved with environmental groups and have also been in contact with anarchists. I was wondering if you could tell me a little about how you felt the environmental movement has influenced you and your writing? What major concepts and ideas do you identify with and have you incorporated into you work? Oregon has a history of people tree-sitting and blocking roads in an effort to protect the environment and I was wondering if you ever participated in any such events (I know you have been a part of numerous protest marches) as well as how you felt about the anarchist-environmental feelings that were sometimes quite strong in the Northwest.
Thank you for taking for your time and I’m excited to hear you at the symposium/talk this Friday.
PS. My dad, unlike me, apparently read all of your books when he was younger and is ecstatic that I am studying and researching you for this class. He told me to tell you that the science fiction concepts in your books were a big influence in his life.
Going through Ursula Le Guin’s papers, nothing has really stood out to me as surprising in regards to the content I was reading. Perhaps my previous unfamiliarity with her as an author gave me no preconceived notions to surprise, or maybe I’m simply looking through some dull papers regarding interview requests and the occasional transcript. Instead, what has astonished and amazed me the most in the archives has been the handwriting. While I admit that some letters are a little messy with scratchy writing, other correspondents have penmanship so nice it almost seems fake. There may be little flourishes or even a calligraphy quality to some, and the result is me scrutinizing, not the content, but the flow of the lettering, the construction and elegance of their f’s, r’s, and g’s.
To me some of the writing seems as if it is from another time, one long past, before spell check and e-mail, when letters were written and whatever was put on the paper, ramble or no, was usually the final thing. There is a quality to a letter that simply does not carry over into e-mail, something to be read in the loops and slant of the letters. One reason I’m so fascinated by the penmanship of the various authors is because this summer I decided that I wanted to improve my cursive so, in my spare time, I would write down song lyrics in an attempt to establish a flowing script. As we work more and more with computers, the art of handwriting is slowly disappearing, a fact that saddens me greatly. I went into the archives with the expectation of simply learning about Le Guin but to be handed such a gallery of lettering was both surprising and captivating.
As a side note, another unexpected discovery was a postcard written to LeGuin by one Heinz Tschachler of the University of Oregon English department in 1986. They had been corresponding previously about an interview and the postcard merely had a few scrawled words, but the picture on the front was of the UO campus and that is what caught my eye. I spent a good 10-15 minutes inspecting that photo to see what was the same, what was different, seeing how things have changed. Most of the science buildings are just a parking lot, the rec fields are just that, fields, the education and music schools are only a couple buildings, and 13th st seems to go all the way through. It was an intriguing find.
Protected: Final Project Proposal: What was the Influence of the Environmental Movement on Le Guin and Her Writing?
This is a review of Joanna Russ’ novel The Female Man, first published by Beacon Press in 1975. 214 pages.
The four women who are the focus of Joanna Russ’ best-known work, The Female Man, are each from an alternative universe dealing with male oppression in decidedly different ways. There is Joanna, who lives in a world very similar to Earth in the 1970’s. She is a professional struggling in a male-dominated society. She wants to be taken seriously and respected, not forced to accept the power of men and the classed roles of women. In Jeannine’s world the Great Depression never ended and she believes that the female stereotypes she has been told will bring her happiness. These two and their somewhat “normal” societies and constraints are contrasted with Janet and Jael. Janet comes from a utopian future world called Whileaway where there are no men, having all been killed some 30 generations ago, and the women live in lesbian families, reproducing via parthogenesis. Jael, on the other hand, lives in a world where the male and female populations live separately and are at war with each other.
The story gets interesting when the women start dimension jumping and interacting with each other along with, inevitably, their very different societies and cultures. First, Jeannine and Joanna show Janet around America where she clashes with the male culture that cannot understand aspects of the queer, assertive women of Whileaway. Afterwards, Jeannine and Joanna travel to Whileaway with Janet to experience that way of life before Jael guides all three around her world. Joanna, in turn shows Jael America. Through their travels and experiences in the alternative worlds, all the women learn about themselves and as well as what it is to be female.
Along with shifting dimensions, the novel also shifts between the voices of the four women. Sometimes this is thought provoking. Sometimes it is downright confusing, with the reader having difficulty ascertaining which woman is narrating a section or figuring out what world they are in. While this makes the plot difficult to follow in the beginning (and hard to read at times) the perplexity makes the reader think about the female identity and the idea of self, concepts central to the novel. Russ’s jumping between alternative viewpoints and worlds has the additional effect of removing the concept of how. How is all of this happening? How were they traveling worlds? Rather than explain some complicated technology, it simply is. Instead of focusing on the technology, the reader focuses on the societal interactions and the thoughts and experiences of the four women. While hard to follow in the beginning, it does become easier as the story progresses, though it is definitely not a style for everyone.
There is no doubt that Russ uses this novel as a way to vent the real-life frustration she felt regarding the constraints she experienced as both a woman and a lesbian. Some passages are simply too spunky, some satire too obvious, and some contempt too discernible to be passed off as mere writing. “Do you enjoy playing with other people’s children–for ten minutes? Good! This reveals that you have Maternal Instinct and will be forever wretched if you do not instantly have a baby of your own…Do you like men’s bodies? Good! This is beginning to be almost as good as getting married. This means you have True Womanliness, which is fines unless you want to do it with him on the bottom and you on the top, or any other way than he wants to do it…” (p. 151) Russ has even given her name, Joanna, to the woman from the “contemporary” world in a not-so-subtle nod to the obvious. Joanna: female man.
This book is recognized as one of the founding pieces of literature in feminist science fiction and there is no doubt that it deals with some heavy issues and ideas regarding the sexes and their relationships with each other. What would a society without men look like? What about separated male and female societies? This book looks at all of these questions and more, making people question societal norms and assumptions. For me the problem is that it is no longer the 1970’s but 2013. Towards the end of the book there is a long list of how men hold all the meaningful professions: doctors, cops, bank managers, landlords, factory workers, the army, etc. But for me, about half of these are not true; women too hold those roles in my life. We do live in a more equal society than Joanna’s. Is there stuff we need to work on now in 2013? Of course! But while a number of the passages still ring true, some of the tirades just don’t seem that applicable to me anymore which makes it harder to personally connect with Russ’s 1970’s feminist message. Never having experienced that time, it is hard for me to discern where the satire stops and the seriousness begins.
This does not, however, mean the book is not interesting read. The Female Man gives the reader an insight into Russ’s disappointments, aggravation, and fury regarding to the treatment and stigmas she felt against women. It touches upon ideas of feminist equality long before they were thought about; in fact it helped spark them.