Reading the TVTropes page for Left Hand of Darkness surprised me a couple times because some of the observations listed hadn’t occurred to me when reading the book. For example under Deliberate Values Dissonance a troper remarks on how, despite Genly’s disparaging manner in regards to feminine things, he doesn’t come off as a Straw Misogynist. It wasn’t the observation that surprised me (we’ve of course touched on Genly’s sexism in class) but rather the possibility of Genly being a Straw Misogynist. I guess the phrase gave me pause because this may be the first time I’ve come across reference to such a character; I’m more used to Straw Feminists! Another phrasing that surprised me, or I should say, caught my attention, was how the discrimination against the ‘perverts’ was shelved under Fantastic Sexism. I was thinking of their attitudes more along the lines of transphobia to be honest because the sex dichotomy doesn’t exist on Gethen, so the idea to regard the discrimination as sexism somehow never occurred to me. One thing which amused me was the parallel drawn between Gethen and Siberia, and more clearly the Gulag and Pulefin Farm.
Suddenly Ethnicity and Deliberate Values Dissonance were particularly interesting (primarily because upon reading the former I laughed out loud), but I think considering them in connection can be beneficial, especially in the context of part of our conversation on Thursday, when we talked about what we perceived to be a blending of cultures in Genly’s home world. Most of the time when we read something, we perceive the default characterization to be set as white male. Genly’s name isn’t codified as white male however, so this does play with our perceptions of him as a character, but the added notation of his “dark skin” (which we perceive as “of African descent” black, not possibly “Desi” black) is another offhand detail that produces a sense of….disassociation, I suppose? In which we can see similarity between ourselves and Genly, but not enough to the point where we can slide comfortably into his skin. Granted, this is a bit problematic, because one of the reasons why the white male is the default is purportedly because it’s just easier to identify with white males (not that decades upon centuries of social conditioning has put that into place or anything), so….as a result of this, are we meant to not identify with Genly because he’s different? Or because he’s just similar enough for it not to matter?
Not my TvTropes post yet, only that I kept forgetting to post this ever since I found it last Thursday and thought it was interesting in terms of worldbuilding: his name is essentially ‘Henry Love’ transmuted through three changes in two existing Earth languages. In her introduction, Le Guin casts herself in opposition to the tendency to define science fiction as inherently extrapolative, but what else is this but one potential development of human language? Not predictive, sure, but there’s that inclination to want to push existing culture in a direction, to see where it could go; I was really surprised to see her blanket dismissal of extrapolation, considering.
(And in a way it reminds me of the system of names in Lovecraft. ‘Francis Wayland Thurston’ sounds as likely to be a foreign devil-worshipper as ‘Henry Love’ sounds like a time-jumper from an interplanetary space democracy. Use a different name – Castro, Genly Ai – and suddenly the whole character is more plausible. It’s connotative shorthand.)