(Left Hand of Darkness, introduction).
Years ago I began to write a fantasy novel about a woman, Nina, on a quest. Nina dreams of killing a dragon, coopting that masculine act so prevalent in our mythological history. Nina's killing of the dragon is not accompanied by triumph; rather, she realizes, watching the dragon's blood stream out, that the dragon is female and pregnant. After this Nina discards the story of the hero and searches for an alternative. The ending still eludes me.
In "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction," Ursula K. Le Guin presents the new theory that the first tool was a carrier bag for food rather than a weapon. The "carrier bag theory" lends weight to women being the earliest creators of tools. Le Guin draws a connection between the story of origins to the writing of fiction. Contrary to the old stories of a hero going off to battle, Le Guin posits the novel as an ultimately feminine form, mainly because it refuses the notion of a "hero." Le Guin maintains that "the natural, proper, fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. A book holds words . . . . A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in particular,powerful relation to one another and to us" (Dancing, 169).
Women writers of science fiction try to imagine alternative worlds in order to elucidate the limitations of our own: Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness poses the question of androgyny, as does Joanna Russ's The Female Man; Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time places a poor Latina who is kept in a mental hospital in communication with someone from the future who lives in a communal, egalitarian society. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale presents a horrifying dystopia where the Christian Right have overthrown the U.S. government and imposes strict regulation on women where they are literally consigned to the roles of wife, mother, childbearer, and whore [editor's note: we also find the "Martha" in Atwood's work-- the allegorical serving woman-- a role for the old and otherwise 'useless' (read infertile) white women in this society].
Le Guin later wrote on her process of
thinking and envisioning The Left Hand of Darkness: ".
. . it seems that what I was after again was a balance: the driving
linearity of the 'male,' the pushing forward to the limit, the
logicality that admits no boundary--and the circularity of the
'female,' the valuing of patience, ripeness,practicality, livableness"
(Dancing, 12). When she readied this same essay for reprinting
in a collection, Le Guin revised some of her thoughts, pushing
her feminism further; while in the original form of the essay
she defends of the use of the pronoun "he" to refer
to the androgynous people of Gethen, she later revised this,
a revision that she shows by inserting text instead of merely
replacing it, explaining that, "[i]t is rather in the feminist
mode to let one's changes of mind, and the processes of change,
stand as evidence--and perhaps to remind people that minds that
don't change are like clams that don't open" (Dancing,
On her novel The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood said, "It's not a feminist dystopia. It's a regular dystopia told from a woman's point of view" (seminar). Yet the telling of a woman's point of view, especially in a society that has particular constraints on women and regulates their bodies, is in itself a feminist act of writing,one supported by a long history of feminism in its attempts to tell the stories of women. And in envisioning a possibility for an antiwoman future, Atwood makes the necessary link between totalitarianism and the control of women. More than just science fiction, the novel was never meant to be a reflection of existing truths, but rather a constant discovery, according to Milan Kundera. The novel is "incompatible with the totalitarian universe. . . [T]he world of one single Truth and the relative, ambiguous world of the novel are molded of entirely different substances" (The Art of the Novel,14).
Kundera presses on a point of contradiction evident in my essay: while I want to assert that imagination is the ultimate arbiter of Truth, I also want to put forward the postmodern idea of truth being relative, constantly changing, and determined by historical, cultural, and social forces, not transcendent. This is the complexity of feminism as well: the impulse to tell the Truth of women's lives fighting against the questions of the knowability of our lives and the relevance our experiences to political ideology.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986.
---. Seminar. New York State Writer's
Institute. University at Albany,
Kundera, Milan. The Art of the Novel.
Translated by Linda Asher. New York:
Le Guin, Ursula K. Dancing at the
Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words,
---. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace Books, 1969.
Piercy, Marge. Woman on the Edge of Time. New York: Ballantine, 1976.
Russ, Joanna. The Female Man. Boston: Beacon Press, 1975.
Feminist Science Fiction:
A Brief Historical Survey of Women Writers of Science Fiction A pretty thorough critical examination of women writers of science fiction, concentrating mostly on the twentieth century.
Feminist Science Fiction Homepage A good starting point, complete with an index of women science fiction writers.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Unofficial Ursula K. Le Guin Page.
A page of the Feminist
Le Guin's World A comprehensive page with bio, interviews, reviews, bibliography, and links.
To order Le Guin's books: www.non.com/books/LeGuin_Ursula_cc.hmtl
University of Connecticut apparently hosts a site devoted to her, but I wasn't able to connect to it.
Weird Fiction's Joanna Russ Page Book and ordering information.
Marge Piercy Home Page Marge Piercy's own page.
Alyssa Colton is currently a doctoral candidate in English at the University at Albany. Her dissertation is a critical-poetic novel entitled The Faithful, centered around four characters' relationships to suicide and the power of healing through art, writing, and activism.
Two years ago Alyssa published a rant in Glamour against the throwing of bouquets at weddings. Recently, she succumbed to institutionalized tradition and married "a townie," Dan Heins, who has local fame as the owner of the Shining Star on Lark Street. She did not throw the bouquet.
Alyssa hopes to convince a
publisher to take her novel someday, in spite of the academic
degree. Meanwhile, she teaches writing and literature at the
University at Albany and is the statewide Secretary-Treasurer
for the Graduate Student Employees Union.