Hillary A. Jones, Ph.D.
Graduated December 2011
Hillary teaches basic public speaking and the message analysis version of CAS100. Her research focuses on the rhetorical and socio-political possibilities, the equipment for living, provided by texts. In particular, she focuses on what we can learn from anarchist and feminist rhetoric about how to make the world a better place.
Balancing Flux and Stability: Ursula K. Le Guin‟s The Dispossessed
In my dissertation, I argue that Ursula K. Le Guin offers the Reader of The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia a utopian vision that balances flux with stability. With the novel’s textual structure, ideological underpinnings, and imagined worlds, Le Guin teaches the Reader ways to change the world, and through rhetorical criticism, I explore how rhetoric, anarchism, and feminism articulate possibilities for socio-political transformation by providing readers with new equipment for living.
The Dispossessed features a society informed by Taoist principles, anarcho-syndicalist organization, and open and changing relational structures. More specifically, Le Guin imagines new ways of being in the world by using Taoist paradox and contradiction to guide the Reader down a new path, weaves in Kropotkin’s anarchism to re-work how society functions and labors, and, although she did not call her suggestions feminist, performs feminist politics to re-relate the individual to institutions, identities, and places.
Textually, Le Guin strikes a balance between opening and closing the text. The novel opens outward to the Reader, with uncertainty and flux characterizing the reading experience. The cognitive estrangement that drives science fiction separates the Reader from the novel’s setting but encourages the Reader to seek answers to real-world problems in the novel’s fictional environment. Le Guin trains her Reader to look for connections, to participate in creating the argument, and to craft relationships. To prevent the Reader from wandering endlessly, however, Le Guin closes the text using a spiraling structure, similar to a spinning skater, to turn the Reader back toward the central points. Recurring symbols, such as prisons and light, guide the Reader through these twists, keeping the text in motion as the Reader navigates the turns. Le Guin provides additional guidance using iconicity to unite content and form.
I suggest that Le Guin draws on paradox, ambiguity, and confusion to encourage her Reader not to share her protagonist’s journey but to embark on one of her or his own, informed by Taoist philosophy. The Reader learns, through the novel, how to navigate dialectic, contradiction, and paradox. Those paradoxes help both the main character and the Reader to appreciate how truths might emerge from the tension created by contradiction.
The re-working of the workplace that Le Guin performs in The Dispossessed offers the Reader a view of how anarcho-syndicalism could change how work functions. Workers in Kropotkin’s workplace enjoy their work, administer and organize themselves, and depend on other syndicates to help them to create a balanced society. The society that Le Guin forms in the novel applies Kropotkin’s decentralized government to separate the means of distribution from the means of production and his syndical and interdependent societal organization and work structure. The motives driving characters to work form a balanced social organism that eliminates government and maximizes individual freedom.
Le Guin uses the novel to alter not only how people work but how people relate to one another, to institutions, and to vectors of identity. To avoid socio-political dystopia, the Reader can turn to the new relationships that Le Guin offers in The Dispossessed. The novel offers new ways to relate to institutions, identities, and the planet. Each new relationship option helps to stabilize the protagonist, and the Reader, in the midst of a fluctuating political world and reading experience. I contend that the Reader is left with the need to re-form her or his own relationships, to the social order, to the nation, to identity and the self, to the planet, and to other people.