Monday, August 13, 2018

Worldcon 76 Academic Track Presentation: "Le Guin's Daoism"

This week I'm going to San José, California to attend Worldcon 76 where I'll be making a presentation on the Academic Track called "Le Guin's Daoism."  The presentation will be on Saturday, Aug. 18 at 3pm (details here, abstract below).

This will be my second Worldcon, after MidAmeriCon II (Worldcon 74) in Kansas City, Missouri in 2016 (read about my experience here).  I had a great time at that one, so I'm looking forward to this one.  I'll also be spending a day in San Francisco beforehand, and thus need to pack for a totally different climate than San José.  The Bay Area is weird.

I hope to make a blog report on my trip when I get home, but that could be tricky since I'm leaving Worldcon early to get home for the first day of the fall semester (and will sadly miss the Hugo Awards Ceremony).

As prophesied three paragraphs ago, here is my abstract:

Le Guin’s Daoism

Ethan Mills
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, USA

It is hardly a novel claim that the work of Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) contains influences from philosophical Daoism, but I argue that this influence has yet to be fully understood.  Several scholars criticize Le Guin for misrepresenting Daoist ideas as they appear in ancient Chinese philosophical texts, particularly the Dao De Jing and the Zhuangzi.  While I have sympathy for this charge, especially as it relates to Le Guin’s translation of the Dao De Jing, I argue that it fails to understand the extent to which her fiction contains her own philosophical development of Daoist ideas.  Looking at some of her most influential works (e.g., The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, A Wizard of Earthsea, etc.), I suggest that Le Guin’s fiction is better seen as a refocusing of Daoist concepts such as complimentary contrasts and non-action (wu wei) in the contexts of modern feminism, modern anarchism, science fiction, and fantasy.  Le Guin was not trying to represent ancient Daoism as a scholar; rather, she was trying to reimagine Daoism as a creative artist and philosopher in her own right.  This way of viewing Le Guin’s work does not fully exorcise the specter of the possibility of Orientalist cultural appropriation, but it does make the issue more complex.  To what extent can an artist be guilty of misrepresentation if representation was not, strictly speaking, her goal?  I end with a brief reflection on what is perhaps the deepest philosophical lesson of Le Guin’s work: everything is more complicated than it first appears.

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