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The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed

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ISBN-13: 978-0739108628
ISBN-10: 073910862X
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is one of the most significant utopian novels in this long tradition of imaginative socio-political thought experiments. In this collection, Davis and Stillman have given us a “sustained and comprehensive” re-examination of this “ambiguous utopia” by way of sixteen astute and original essays. This is a welcome, timely, and important collection. (Tom Moylan, Glucksman Professor of Contemporary Writing and Director, Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies, University of Limerick and author of Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia and Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the)

Like Le Guin's open-ended ambiguous utopia, these sixteen essays will reveal their resonance only as we reread them. Together they comprise a rich, and a valuable, and a persistently stimulating fresh contribution to the ongoing and open-ended appreciation of The Dispossessed. (James Bittner, Author of Approaches to the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin)

For three decades Le Guin's The Dispossessed has inspired debates about competing ideologies, about notions of gender, about space-time continuums, about forms of utopian expression-indeed about topics as broad as human communication and as intensely personal as the emotional epiphanies of the novel's hero Shevek. So, to say that this lively first collection of essays about the book is welcome and long overdue is to make a grand understatement. Like Le Guin's novel the collection is wide-ranging, open-ended, and provocative. It offers analyses of expected topics and images―anarchism, ecology, and walls, for instance― from multiple viewpoints, as well as discussions of important less-expected issues, notably consumerism. Contributors examine rich networks of connections and parallels between Le Guin's thought and art and the works of Lao Tzu, Kropotkin, Paul Goodman, Marcuse, Hegel, Hannah Arendt, and French and Italian architects and designers. Le Guin's essay, which concludes the collection, is afrank and feisty response to critics who reduce her novel to treatise status, and a complex advocacy of art that teaches. This fine collection will invigorate discussion of The Dispossessed and of Le Guin's other works, especially Always Coming (Kenneth M. Roemer, Author of The Obsolete Necessity, Build Your Own Utopia, America as Utopia, and Utopian Audiences)

I was delighted to find that these essays deepened and expanded my appreciation of both work and author. If you've read The Dispossessed . . . by all means read this as well. (Sfrevu)

Those interested in the history of both utopian and anarchist thought will gain a great deal from the sophisticated analyses on offer. This is particularly so given the diversity of the perspectives brought to bear on the novel....What the volume offers is an exceptional range of essays exploring the radical political theory of the The Dispossessed. (Political Studies Review)

For three decades Le Guin's The Dispossessed has inspired debates about competing ideologies, about notions of gender, about space-time continuums, about forms of utopian expression-indeed about topics as broad as human communication and as intensely personal as the emotional epiphanies of the novel's hero Shevek. So, to say that this lively first collection of essays about the book is welcome and long overdue is to make a grand understatement. Like Le Guin's novel the collection is wide-ranging, open-ended, and provocative. It offers analyses of expected topics and images―anarchism, ecology, and walls, for instance― from multiple viewpoints, as well as discussions of important less-expected issues, notably consumerism. Contributors examine rich networks of connections and parallels between Le Guin's thought and art and the works of Lao Tzu, Kropotkin, Paul Goodman, Marcuse, Hegel, Hannah Arendt, and French and Italian architects and designers. Le Guin's essay, which concludes the collection, is a frank and feisty response to critics who reduce her novel to treatise status, and a complex advocacy of art that teaches. This fine collection will invigorate discussion of The Dispossessed and of Le Guin's other works, especially Always Coming Home, and engage any serious reader of utopian and science fiction and political and social theory. (Kenneth M. Roemer, Author of The Obsolete Necessity, Build Your Own Utopia, America as Utopia, and Utopian Audiences)

This collection will be an essential part of the collection of every Le Guin scholar and every research library. It also has a great deal to teach anyone interested in utopias or in the broader issues of the political workings of fiction. Editors Davis and Stillman are to be applauded for initiating this much-needed reconsideration of a major work of utopian fiction and for bringing together such a varies and astute group of contributors. (Utopian Studies)

One would think that 324 pages on this one aspect of this one novel by this one Le Guin might get a little thin; but I was happily surprised. (Mike Cadden Paradoxa, November 2008)

Perhaps I can express my gratitude best by saying that reading [these essays] left me knowing far better than I knew before how I wrote the book and why I wrote it as I did…. They have restored the book to me as I conceived it, not as an exposition of ideas but as an embodiment of idea - a revolutionary artifact, a work containing a potential permanent source of renewal of thought and perception, like a William Morris design, or the Bernard Maybeck house I grew up in…. This is criticism as I first knew it, serious, responsive, and jargon-free. I honor it as an invaluable aid to reading, my own text as well as others. (Ursula K. Le Guin)

About the Author

Laurence Davis holds a doctoral degree in politics from Oxford University, and has taught political theory at Oxford University and University College Dublin.
Peter Stillman is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Environmental Studies Program at Vassar College.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Lexington Books (September 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 073910862X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0739108628
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,564,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Peter G. Stillman on December 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
Here is a fuller description of the book from the editor: The Dispossessed has been described by political thinker Andre Gorz as "The most striking description I know of the seductions -- and snares -- of self-managed communist or, in other words, anarchist society." To date, however, the radical social, cultural, and political ramifications of Ursula Le Guin's Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel remain woefully under explored. Editors Laurence Davis and Peter Stillman help to right this state of affairs in the first ever collection of original essays devoted to Le Guin's novel. Among the topics covered in this wide-ranging, international and interdisciplinary collection are the anarchist, ecological, post-consumerist, temporal, revolutionary, and open-ended utopian politics of The Dispossessed. The book concludes with an essay by Le Guin written specially for this volume, in which she reassesses the novel in light of the contributors' analyses and the development of her own thinking over the past 30 years.

Introduction, Laurence Davis

Part I. Open-Ended Utopian Politics

1 The Dynamic and Revolutionary Utopia of Ursula K. Le Guin, Laurence Davis

2 Worlds Apart: Ursula K. Le Guin and the Possibility of Method, Simon Stow

Part II. Post-Consumerist Politics

3 The Dispossessed as Ecological Political Theory, Peter G. Stillman

4 Ursula K. Le Guin, Herbert Marcuse, and the Fate of Utopia in the Postmodern, Andrew Reynolds

5 The Alien Comes Home: Getting Past the Twin Planets of Possession and Austerity in Le Guin's The Dispossessed, Douglas Spencer

Part III.
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The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed
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