Monday’s literal fantasies

Sciences of “Dune”: An Introduction (LA Review of Books)

A symposium on Dune’s medicine, ethnography, eugenics and others.

Why Do We Love the Brutality of “Grimdark” Fantasy? (LitHub)

Have neither read ASoIaF nor watched GoT, but I will leave the root of word “grimdark” here: In the grim darkness of far future there is only war.

On Tolkien and Orwell (Darcy Moore)

More common points than just “being peculiarly English authors with evergreen book sales“.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s biography gets a publisher and a release date (Oregon Live)

Just finished The Dispossessed, the 1974 SF novel by Le Guin. A worthy, humane read, definitely. Apart from the beautiful prose, the setting is compelling. Two planets: Urras, complete with states, money and war, and Anarres, a former mining outpost turned to colony by settlers from Urras. Governments of Urras offered to people adhering to the teachings of a semi-legendary woman (“Laia Asieo Odo”) the colony, so that they could do their thing without disrupting “civil order”. Le Guin explains:

Odonianism is anarchism. Not the bomb-in-the-pocket stuff, which is terrorism, whatever name it tries to dignify itself with; not the social-Darwinist economic “libertarianism” of the far right; but anarchism as prefigured in early Taoist thought, and expounded by Shelley and Kropotkin, Goldman and Goodman. Anarchism’s principal target is the authoritarian State (capitalist or socialist); its principal moral-practical theme is cooperation (solidarity, mutual aid). It is the most idealistic, and to me the most interesting, of all political theories.

Source

The book follows a scientist from the anarchist planet who travels to the old world. The chapters alternate between his interactions there and flashbacks from his homeland. The writer paints the capitalist state, that hosts the traveler, as funky, but sinister (she does not spare a neighboring socialist one, either), while she treats the anarchist world more generously. It even gives it some, let’s say, additional leeway, contrasting its arid, hostile landscape with the lush environment of Urras. The dichotomy is furthered by guarantees of isolation: The two worlds only do some limited communications and trade, no traveling in-between.

The outline of life in Anarres was the most interesting aspect, to me. Trust, mutuality and personal freedom are the basic elements in this anarchist society, which prides itself against those competitive, “archists”, “propertarians” of Urras. They also fear and loathe them (acknowledging that Anarres is practically defenseless at the face of tactical armies), and also need to trade with them ores for necessary goods.

The constructed language of Anarres expresses the core beliefs, for example, it uses “central” instead of “higher”, to denote significance in the absence of hierarchies. The word for “work” is the same as “play” (or was it “joy”?), and the really unpleasant tasks are shared on a rotating basis. This means that specialized and unspecialized individuals alike spend some considerable time laboring for society’s wellbeing. Professions are conducted through syndicates, which form and dissolve voluntarily. Individuals move freely across the planet’s communities. There is a unit that coordinates production, work postings and resources allocation (a Gosplan-lite, if you take away the imposing building and that 5-year fetish). It also has powers like emergency work postings in times of need (the closest thing to quasi-official “compulsion” in a society without the notion of it). Serial slackers deserve food and shelter, like anyone else, but at some point will probably get their asses kicked by their peers and/ or pressed to fuck-off to another location.

Only the original Gosplan deserved a fancy garage like this – source

Each individual is responsible to the others. This simple standard of meeting social expectations, benevolent as it is at first, in the novel is seen as gradually taking the shape of an “orthodoxy” placed, and finally encroaching, upon individual freedom. The writer is also keen to pinpoint the effects of creeping hierarchies, even in organizations open to participation. For example, an anarchist argues that the coordination unit has assumed the bureaucratic attitude (“no to everything”). Other institutions, like research centers, are seen festering with dug-in cliques and “seniors”, that fend-off outsiders and boss around among supposedly equals. I think that anyone who has experienced office life can relate to this.

There is more, about self, relations, gender (not The Left Hand of Darkness – not read, or Tehanu – read, level), constraints and science (the last I cannot judge). A final note, the people of Anarres describe themselves as anarchists, Odonians and, of course, libertarians.

Monday Links, sticks and two (or maybe three) smoking sentences

Gangsters vs. Nazis (Tablet)

How the Jewish mob fought American admirers of the Third Reich. An excerpt:

Judd Teller, a reporter for a New York Jewish daily, relates how he met one day with “several men who said they were from ‘Murder, Incorporated’ and wanted a list of ‘Nazi bastards who should be rubbed out.’” Teller took the request to Jewish communal leaders. They told Teller that if the plan would be put in motion, “the police would be informed promptly.” Teller relayed this warning to his Murder, Inc. contact. Upon hearing this, the mobster angrily replied, “Tell them to keep their shirts on. OK, we won’t ice [murder] the bodies; only marinate them.” According to Teller, this is exactly what they did. He said the attacks by the Jewish mobsters was sufficient “marination” to drastically reduce attendance at Nazi Bund meetings, and discouraged Bundists “from appearing in uniform singly in the streets.”

The Inimitable Orwell (Commonweal)

On the Politics and the English Language essay. I try to stick to the six rules, but I fear I am not totally “outright barbarous”-proof. Another list with writing rules – a more light-hearted one – comes from Umberto Eco, the noted Italian scholar:

Umberto Eco’s 36 Rules for Writing Well (Openculture)

Speaking of proper phrasing, here is a passage from Lysander Spooner (Thomas L. Knapp posted it in the comments section of a NOL piece by Jacques Delacroix):

[W]hether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.

Now, I may have found the second prospective opening for my public policy course, should I ever offer one (the absurd part is that I lack almost everything else to supply it, demand included). It is pithy, sharp and, importantly, timeless. The alternative one-liner I would possibly pen day one at the imaginary class:

Property imposes obligations. Its use by its owner shall at the same time serve the public good.

Weimar Constitution (1919), art. 153(c)

While not as punchy as Spooner’s aphorism, it has qualities and can raise eyebrows. Both phrases are metal. Independent of context, they have more or less exactly what it takes to pick and stick. Perhaps both of them should set the opening, leaving the audience free to choose the way forward.

Back to Spooner. Another prominent figure (of American individualist tradition this time) I had not heard of till this day.

Lysander Spooner (Online Library of Liberty). The particular passage comes from his No Treason. No. VI. The Constitution of No Authority (1870).

The Wings of Competition in Things Daily – Source

I took note that he challenged the government monopoly in mail services (a field with quasi-military structure, typically used as a matrix to consolidate state bureaucracy/ power, btw) with his American Letter Mail Company, on ethical and economic grounds. The state finally forced him out of business in 1851, though competition temporarily drove fees down.

(If you care about post stamps – I don’t – USPS to issue Ursula K. Le Guin stamp this month (Book Riot). I enjoyed Le Guin’s Earthsea and plan to read The Dispossessed, a veiled study of social systems I hear, before summer end)

If anything, Spooner seems to have shared the fiery convictions and language of his contemporaries at the First International. That was a time of memorable lines, obviously. This easily comes to mind:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

The Communist Manifesto (1848)

They also sported some serious beards. Those of Spooner and Marx are respectable, but I would award James Guillaume’s bonus points for the extra menacing vibe.