“It was an introverted life, self-sufficient, stagnant, steeped in that singular ‘ignorance’ prized by the Handdarata and obedient to their rule of inactivity or noninterference. That rule (expressed in the word nusuth, which I have to translate as ‘no matter’) is the heart of the cult, and I don’t pretend to understand it. But I began to understand Karhide better, after a halfmonth in Otherhord. Under that nation’s politics and parades and passions runs an old darkness, passive, anarchic, silent, the fecund darkness of the Handdara.”
Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Left Hand of Darkness,” New York: Penguin Group, 1969, pg. 63. Print.
This passage uses a few key literary devices to convey a certain tone. Probably the most noteworthy one is alliteration: “self-sufficient, stagnant, steeped in that singular,” and “politics and parades and passions.” Linked by this connection, the meanings of these phrases are colored in a tone of repetition. Because they are put together this way, the reader gets the impression that these belong together–rather, that this is a run-of-the-mill, typical situation. Suddenly the “introverted life” as described by the narrator makes immediate sense because it seems recognizable, commonplace, and so too do the characteristics of the nation, with its “politics and parades and passions,” presumably just like every other nation. A totally foreign world comes alive to the reader as a result, capable of seeming not so otherworldly after all.
But “The Left Hand of Darkness” is a jarring text; despite the localized comfort created by the alliteration surrounding this passage, there remains alien subtext within. A primary example of this can be seen in Genly’s parenthetical, where he translates a term that is literally alien. His word choice shows that his translation is loose at best–he “has to” translate nusuth as “no matter,” indicating that there is no predefined, standard translation. This hesitation, though slight, reinforces the notion that this is still very much a foreign world, where not even the shift between languages can be comfortable. This is clear again in the conclusion of the surrounding sentence, where Genly says “I don’t pretend to understand it.” The atmosphere of the novel is set incrementally in this fashion–by relating it to the reader in comprehensible phrases, but reminding them all the while that this is not really a familiar place at all.