Monday, August 5, 2013

The Telling

I've just re-read Ursula K. Le Guin's The Telling. Why? I'm not sure, really. It's not something I expected to want to revisit.
My way of recommending the story is for once the same as many readers': "decent, but not Le Guin's best work". She's written more admirable books (The Dispossessed) or more enthralling adventure stories (Rocannon's World) or ones which have hit me harder personally (Solitude.) Yet there's still something about it.

It's easy to get caught up on the politically charged elements of the novel. There's no telling (pun intended) how much East-Asian culture has been lost in the past century, much less in similar modernization processes in other parts of the world. Religious suppression of progressive thought and progressive suppression of religious pursuit will always be hot topics for any of us on either side of the fence. (To needlessly re-iterate my stance on the issue: progress.) Yet The Telling is not an ideological pamphlet like Four Ways to Forgiveness or even The Dispossessed. It is not concerned primarily with which side causes greater loss. It seems more a tale about loss in itself. It concerns the things we discard as our interests shift, as individuals or societies. It's more about the experience of tearing away parts of ourselves, and the meaning and understanding discarded in the process. It's about loss, both as the necessary or inevitable cauterizing and shedding of pain and burdens and the overkill of revolutionary or reactionary thought or of our generalized tendency toward Stockholm Syndrome.

I pride myself in my progressive outlook, whatever that ends up meaning, but I cannot say I've always kept a clear conscience. Is it possible to rid ourselves of obsession, fanaticism and cloying custom without also abandoning their accumulated experience? Are we cutting the cultural branch out from under our feet?

I also don't think it's fair to fault the book on being unfocused, or the main character for being mainly a passive observer and not a prime mover. After all, the emphasis should be on the Telling itself, on being lost in the immensity of human experience, desperately trying to patch it together as it constantly falls apart.

No comments:

Post a Comment