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"La mano izquierda de la oscuridad"

Primera lectura: 2003 (tuvó que ser entre 2002 y 2005, en Figueres)

Second read: 28.11.2011

Comments: I have always remembered TLHoD as a bit too descriptive, a bit too abstract. Possibly it was just that at 16 I wasn't ready to understand a writing of the depths Le Guin has. And maybe I should have reread sooner, now, firmly entrenched in feminism, I have other issues with it (the pronouns in the femenine work just so perfectly in "Coming of Age in Karhide"). *spoilers* I felt the lack of a consumation of the Genly/Estraven relationship was a cop-out, but I could have lived with the potential if Estraven had been allowed to live. His death was senseless. I wrote an essay about it in which I said "he choose to free Genly to do his duty" but it makes no sense, Genly had already called the ship down and if he was worried about endangering him they could have just stayed at different places. Another reason I suggested is that he couldn't live with his guilt over per sibling's death any longer. Thing is, I keep making up this reasons but the Estraven *I* read didn't give me any. I wish Le Guin would share the Estraven siblings story, maybe that'll give the rest some sense.

On a purely stylistic sense, having read things she wrote later, I can find some flaws. Or maybe flaws isn't the right term... but her writing is less polished than, in say, The Telling. Genly's mysoginia, for one thing, is a bit too extreme
. Still made me cry. I know some people become devoted to a single writer, I have done it with fanfic writers, following them into fandoms I knew nothing about and cared less for, and I think sometimes Le Guin could be that writer for me in RL, because even though her fantasies are rather not my thing, her sci-fi makes me shiver every time.


[p9] There had been a servant to attend our meal, but Karhiders, having no institutions of slavery or personal bondage, hire services not people, and the servants had all gone off to their own homes by now.

[p15]  Let me ask you this, Mr. Ai: do you know, by your own experience, what patriotism is?"
"No," I said, shaken by the force of that intense personality suddenly turning itself wholly upon me. "I don't think I do. If by patriotism you don't mean the love of one's homeland, for that I do know."
"No, I don't mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression.

[p34] As they say in Ekumenical School, when action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep.

[p38] But on Gethen nothing led to war. Quarrels, murders, feuds, forays, vendettas, assassinations, tortures and abominations, all these were in their repertory of human accomplishments; but they did not go to war. They lacked, it seemed, the capacity to mobilize. They behaved like animals, in that respect; or like women. They did not behave like men, or ants. At any rate they never yet had done so. à I don’t see how those two pairs link.

[p40]Gethenians could make their vehicles go faster, but they do not. If asked why not, they answer "Why?" Like asking Terrans why all our vehicles must go so fast; we answer "Why not?" No disputing tastes. Terrans tend to feel they've got to get ahead, make progress. The people of Winter, who always live in the Year One, feel that progress is less important than presence. --> The Year one thing is one of my favourite Gethenian things. The way it goes is this: the current year ends and it starts to be called “Year before one” and the new current year is “Year One”, so that in Gethen I would have been born on Year 24 Ago.

[p57] "Well, we come here to the Fastnesses mostly to learn what questions not to ask."
"But you're the Answerers!"
"You don't see yet, Genry, why we perfected and practice Foretelling?"
"To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question."
I pondered that a good while, as we walked side by side through the rain, under the dark branches of the Forest of Otherhord. Within the white hood Faxe's face was tired and quiet, its light quenched. Yet he still awed me a little. When he looked at me with his clear, kind, candid eyes, he looked at me out of a tradition thirteen thousand years old: a way of thought and way of life so old, so well established, so integral and coherent as to give a human being the unselfconsciousness, the authority, the completeness of a wild animal, a great strange creature who looks straight at you out of his eternal present…

"The unknown," said Faxe's soft voice in the forest, "the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion. No Handdara, no Yomesh, no hearthgods, nothing. But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion… Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, predictable, inevitable—the one certain thing you know concerning your future, and mine?"
"That we shall die."
"Yes. There's really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer. … The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next."

[p60]  "I never broke the vow we swore, Therem."
"True. There was none to break. It was a false vow, a second vow. You know it; you knew it then. The only true vow of faithfulness I ever swore was not spoken, nor could it be spoken, and the man I swore it to is dead and the promise broken, long ago. You owe me nothing, nor I you. Let me go."
As I spoke my anger and bitterness turned from Ashe against myself and my own life, which lay behind me like a broken promise. But Ashe did not know this, and the tears stood in his eyes. He said, "Will you take this, Therem? I owe you nothing, but I love you well." He held a little packet out to me.
"No. I have money, Ashe. Let me go. I must go alone." I went on, and he did not follow me. But my brother's shadow followed me. I had done ill to speak of him. I had done ill in all things.--> I’d read the hell out of the Estraven siblings’ love story.

[p61] Some rise to present danger, not I. My gift is forethought. Threatened closely I grow stupid, and sit on a bag of sand wondering if a man could swim to Orgoreyn.

pp73 The genitals engorge or shrink accordingly, foreplay intensifies, and the partner, triggered by the change, takes on the other sexual role (? without exception? If there are exceptions, resulting in kemmer-partners of the same sex, they are so rare as to be ignored).

(Otie Nim wrote that in the Orgoreyn region the use of hormone derivatives to establish a preferred sexuality is quite common;

pp74-77 Kemmer is not always played by pairs. Pairing seems to be the commonest custom, but in the kemmerhouses of towns and cities groups may form and intercourse take place promiscuously among the males and females of the group. The furthest extreme from this practice is the custom of vowing kemmering (Karh. oskyommer), which is to all intents and purposes monogamous marriage. It has no legal status, but socially and ethically is an ancient and vigorous institution. The whole structure of the Karhidish Clan-Hearths and Domains is indubitably based upon the institution of monogamous marriage. I am not sure of divorce rules in general; here in Osnoriner there is divorce, but no remarriage after either divorce or the partner's death: one can only vow kemmering once.
Descent of course is reckoned, all over Gethen, from the mother, the "parent in the flesh" (Karh. amha).
Incest is permitted, with various restrictions, between siblings, even the full siblings of a vowed-kemmering pair. Siblings are not however allowed to vow kemmering, nor keep kemmering after the birth of a child to one of the pair. Incest between generations is strictly forbidden (in Karhide/Orgoreyn; but is said to be permitted among the tribesmen of Perunter, the Antarctic Continent. This may be slander.).
What else have I learned for certain? That seems to sum it up.
There is one feature of this anomalous arrangement that might have adaptive value. Since coitus takes place only during the period of fertility, the chance of conception is high, as with all mammals that have an estrous cycle. In harsh conditions where infant mortality is great, a race survival value may be indicated. At present neither infant mortality nor the birthrate runs high in the civilized areas of Gethen. Tinibossol estimates a population of not over 100 million on the three continents, and considers it to have been stable for at least a millennium. Ritual and ethical abstention and the use of contraceptive drugs seem to have played the major part in maintaining this stability.
There are aspects of ambisexuality which we have only glimpsed or guessed at, and which we may never grasp entirely. The kemmer phenomenon fascinates all of us Investigators, of course. It fascinates us, but it rules the Gethenians, dominates them. The structure of their societies, the management of their industry, agriculture, commerce, the size of their settlements, the subjects of their stories, everything is shaped to fit the somer-kemmer cycle. Everybody has his holiday once a month; no one, whatever his position, is obliged or forced to work when in kemmer. No one is barred from the kemmerhouse, however poor or strange. Everything gives way before the recurring torment and festivity of passion. This is easy for us to understand. What is very hard for us to understand is that, four-fifths of the time, these people are not sexually motivated at all. Room is made for sex, plenty of room; but a room, as it were, apart. The society of Gethen, in its daily functioning and in its continuity, is without sex.
Consider: Anyone can turn his hand to anything. This sounds very simple, but its psychological effects are incalculable. The fact that everyone between seventeen and thirty-five or so is liable to be (as Nim put it) "tied down to childbearing," implies that no one is quite so thoroughly "tied down" here as women, elsewhere, are likely to be—psychologically or physically. Burden and privilege are shared out pretty equally; everybody has the same risk to run or choice to make. Therefore nobody here is quite so free as a free male anywhere else.
Consider: A child has no psycho-sexual relationship to his mother and father. There is no myth of Oedipus on Winter.
Consider: There is no unconsenting sex, no rape. As with most mammals other than man, coitus can be performed only by mutual invitation and consent; otherwise it is not possible. Seduction certainly is possible, but it must have to be awfully well timed.
Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive. In fact the whole tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking may be found to be lessened, or changed, on Winter.
The following must go into my finished Directives: When you meet a Gethenian you cannot and must not do what a bisexual naturally does, which is to cast him in the role of Man or Woman, while adopting towards him a corresponding role dependent on your expectations of the patterned or possible interactions between persons of the same or the opposite sex. Our entire pattern of socio-sexual interaction is nonexistent here. They cannot play the game. They do not see one another as men or women. This is almost impossible for our imagination to accept. What is the first question we ask about a newborn baby?
Yet you cannot think of a Gethenian as "it." They are not neuters. They are potentials, or integrals. Lacking the Karhidish "human pronoun" used for persons in somer, I must say "he," for the same reasons as we used the masculine pronoun in referring to a transcendent god: it is less defined, less specific, than the neuter or the feminine. But the very use of the pronoun in my thoughts leads me continually to forget that the Karhider I am with is not a man, but a manwoman.
The First Mobile, if one is sent, must be warned that unless he is very self-assured, or senile, his pride will suffer. A man wants his virility regarded, a woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. On Winter they will not exist. One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.

It is possible that the experimenters wished to see whether human beings lacking continuous sexual potentiality would remain intelligent and capable of culture.
On the other hand, the limitation of the sexual drive to a discontinuous time-segment, and the "equalizing" of it in androgyny, must prevent, to a large extent, both the exploitation and the frustration of the drive. There must be sexual frustration (though society provides as well as it can against it; so long as the social unit is large enough that more than one person will be in kemmer at one time, sexual fulfillment is fairly certain), but at least it cannot build up; it is over when kemmer is over. Fine; thus they are spared much waste and madness; but what is left, in somer? What is there to sublimate? What would a society of eunuchs achieve? -But of course they are not eunuchs, in somer, but rather more comparable to pre-adolescents: not castrate, but latent.

pp78 The fact is that Gethenians, though highly competitive (as proved by the elaborate social channels provided for competition for prestige, etc.) seem not to be very aggressive; at least they apparently have never yet had what one could call a war. They kill one another readily by ones and twos; seldom by tens or twenties; never by hundreds or thousands. Why?
It may turn out to have nothing to do with their androgyne psychology. There are not very many of them, after all. And there is the climate. The weather of Winter is so relentless, so near the limit of tolerability even to them with all their cold-adaptations, that perhaps they use up their fighting spirit fighting the cold. The marginal peoples, the races that just get by, are rarely the warriors. And in the end, the dominant factor in Gethenian life is not sex or any other human thing: it is their environment, their cold world. Here man has a crueler enemy even than himself.

pp79Few were frightened of me personally, or showed the xenophobic revulsion. An enemy, in Karhide, is not a stranger, an invader. The stranger who comes unknown is a guest. Your enemy is your neighbor.

pp83 <&b> It is a durable, ubiquitous, specious metaphor, that one about veneer (or paint, or pliofilm, or whatever) hiding the nobler reality beneath. It can conceal a dozen fallacies at once. One of the most dangerous is the implication that civilization, being artificial, is unnatural: that it is the opposite of primitiveness… Of course there is no veneer, the process is one of growth, and primitiveness and civilization are degrees of the same thing. If civilization has an opposite, it is war. Of those two things, you have either one, or the other. Not both. It seemed to me as I listened to Tibe's dull fierce speeches that what he sought to do by fear and by persuasion was to force his people to change a choice they had made before their history began, the choice between those opposites.

pp85 "Do you consider yourself to be in his debt for that?"
"Well, in a sense. However, the mission I am on overrides all personal debts and loyalties."
"If so," said the stranger with fierce certainty, "it is an immoral mission."

He stared at me. His face worked and changed, and he caught his breath in a sob. Most Karhiders cry easily, being no more ashamed of tears than of laughter.

pp86 There was nothing in the world for this man outside Estraven. He was one of those who are damned to love once.

pp123 To oppose something is to maintain it.
They say here "all roads lead to Mishnory." To be sure, if you turn your back on Mishnory and walk away from it, you are still on the Mishnory road. To oppose vulgarity is inevitably to be vulgar. You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk a different road.

pp139 There was kindness. I and certain others, an old man and one with a bad cough, were recognized as being least resistant to the cold, and each night we were at the center of the group, the entity of twenty-five, where it was warmest. We did not struggle for the warm place, we simply were in it each night. It is a terrible thing, this kindness that human beings do not lose. Terrible, because when we are finally naked in the dark and cold, it is all we have. We who are so rich, so full of strength, we end up with that small change. We have nothing else to give.

pp144 Prisoners who had been there for several years were psychologically and I believe to some extent physically adapted to this chemical castration. They were as sexless as steers. They were without shame and without desire, like the angels. But it is not human to be without shame and without desire.
Being so strictly denned and limited by nature, the sexual urge of Gethenians is really not much interfered with by society: there is less coding, channeling, and repressing of sex there than in any bisexual society I know of. Abstinence is entirely voluntary; indulgence is entirely acceptable. Sexual fear and sexual frustration are both extremely rare. This was the first case I had seen of the social purpose running counter to the sexual drive. Being a suppression, not merely a repression, it produced not frustration, but something more ominous, perhaps, in the long run: passivity.

pp172-3 Hate Orgoreyn? No, how should I? How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That's a good thing, but one mustn't make a virtue of it, or a profession… Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope."
They weren't absolutely at the mercy of their merciless climate any longer; a bad harvest would not starve a whole province, or a bad winter isolate every city. On this basis of material stability Orgoreyn had gradually built up a unified and increasingly efficient centralized state. Now Karhide was to pull herself together and do the same; and the way to make her do it was not by sparking her pride, or building up her trade, or improving her roads, farms, colleges, and so on; none of that; that's all civilization, veneer, and Tibe dismissed it with scorn. He was after something surer, the sure, quick, and lasting way to make people into a nation: war. His ideas concerning it could not have been too precise, but they were quite sound. The only other means of mobilizing people rapidly and entirely is with a new religion; none was handy; he would make do with war.

pp 173-4 I said, "Is it going to be 'Mr.' clear across the Gobrin Ice?"
He looked up and laughed. "I don't know what to call you."
"My name is Genly Ai."
"I know. You use my landname."
"I don't know what to call you either."
"Then I'm Ai.—Who uses first names?"
"Hearth-brothers, or friends," he said, and saying it was remote, out of reach, two feet from me in a tent eight feet across. No answer to that. What is more arrogant than honesty? Cooled, I climbed into my fur bag. "Good night, Ai," said the alien, and the other alien said, "Good night, Harth."
A friend. What is a friend, in a world where any friend may be a lover at a new phase of the moon? Not I, locked in my virility: no friend to Therem Harth, or any other of his race. Neither man nor woman, neither and both, cyclic, lunar, metamorphosing under the hand's touch, changelings in the human cradle, they were no flesh of mine, no friends; no love between us.

pp202 His face in the reddish light was as soft, as vulnerable, as remote as the face of a woman who looks at you out of her thoughts and does not speak. And I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him: that he was a woman as well as a man. Any need to explain the sources of that fear vanished with the fear; what I was left with was, at last, acceptance of him as he was. Until then I had rejected him, refused him his own reality. He had been quite right to say that he, the only person on Gethen who trusted me, was the only Gethenian I distrusted. For he was the only one who had entirely accepted me as a human being: who had liked me personally and given me entire personal loyalty: and who therefore had demanded of me an equal degree of recognition, of acceptance. I had not been willing to give it. I had been afraid to give it. I had not wanted to give my trust, my friendship to a man who was a woman, a woman who was a man. He explained, stiffly and simply, that he was in kemmer and had been trying to avoid me, insofar as one of us could avoid the other. "I must not touch you," he said, with extreme constraint; saying that he looked away. I said, "I understand. I agree completely." For it seemed to me, and I think to him, that it was from that sexual tension between us, admitted now and understood, but not assuaged, that the great and sudden assurance of friendship between us rose: a friendship so much needed by us both in our exile, and already so well proved in the days and nights of our bitter journey, that it might as well be called, now as later, love. But it was from the difference between us, not from the affinities and likenesses, but from the difference, that that love came: and it was itself the bridge, the only bridge, across what divided us. For us to meet sexually would be for us to meet once more as aliens. We had touched, in the only way we could touch. We left it at that. I do not know if we were right. We talked some more that night, and I recall being very hard put to it to answer coherently when he asked me what women were like. We were both rather stiff and cautious with each other for the next couple of days. A profound love between two people involves, after all, the power and chance of doing profound hurt. It would never have occurred to me before that night that I could hurt Estraven. Now that the barriers were down, the limitation, in my terms, of our converse and understanding seemed intolerable to me. Quite soon, two or three nights later, I said to my companion as we finished our dinner—a special treat, sugared kadik-porridge, to celebrate a twenty-mile run—"Last spring, that night in the Corner Red Dwelling, you said you wished I'd tell you more about paraverbal speech."

pp217 "Fear's very useful. Like darkness; like shadows." Estraven's smile was an ugly split in a peeling, cracked brown mask, thatched with black fur and set with two flecks of black rock. "It's queer that daylight's not enough. We need the shadows, in order to walk."

pp219 His loyalty extended without disproportion to things, the patient, obstinate, reliable things that we use and get used to, the things we live by. He missed the sledge.

pp233 The young physician said nothing for a while. "You're not saying that he killed himself?" "Perhaps—" "That's a bitter thing to say of a friend. And I will not believe it of Harth rem ir Estraven." I had not had in mind when I spoke the contemptibility of suicide to these people. It is not to them, as to us, an option. It is the abdication from option, the act of betrayal itself. To a Karhider reading our canons, the crime of Judas lies not in his betrayal of Christ but in the act that, sealing despair, denies the chance of forgiveness, change, life: his suicide. "Then you don't call him Estraven the Traitor?"

pp237 I sat down across the hearth from Argaven, and saw his face in the light of the flames. He looked unwell, and old. He looked like a woman who has lost her baby, like a man who has lost his son. "Well, Mr. Ai, so your ship's going to land."

pp241 The physician from Sassinoth came in. His quiet voice and his face, a young, serious face, not a man's face and not a woman's, a human face, these were a relief to me, familiar, right…

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