An accidental, oblique response to AG’s comments on “outsides”

I’m thinking about the different uses of maps in The Dispossessed and Parable of the Sower. In TD, the small round maps at the start of the novel do very little to help a reader conceive of the world Le Guin crafts. They tell us so little about Urras, Anarres, or their populations. In seminar, we talked about how those maps signal genre, the overlap of fantasy. In Parable, mapping offers the opposite. The route markers serve as literal and figurative shelter, the roads give us access to a navigable story. I am biased, of course, as someone who has traveled the length of the California coast by unconventional conveyances, but I think for any reader with a digital or analogue map of the coast, Butler’s cartographic references make concrete the fabulated narrative. Her maps make the world real, navigable.

Last week, Diana talked about how Gibson’s dystopian futures offer no outsides, no hopeful kernel of possible alternative worlds. Butler, like Le Guin, looks star-ward for optimistic alternatives. Butler gives us lots of hope, but much more than Le Guin’s moonscape, “Earthseed deals with ongoing reality, not with supernatural authority figures. Worship,” Butler declares through Lauren, “is no good without action. With action, it’s only useful if it steadies you, focuses your efforts, eases your mind” (219). Is Le Guin’s Anarres a kind of worship? Is Parable a more useful text?

This is my first-time reading Parable. I read Kindred this summer and I’m struck by a continuity between the two texts: the grab-pack. “We should make emergency packs,” Lauren tells Joanne. “Money, food, clothing, matches, a blanket,” the things that make Lauren’s survival plausible also serve as convenient plot devices—for both the text and the character, they make all sorts of things possible that might be a real slog otherwise (58). I wonder if these grab-packs might be doing something else, too: from the early pages of the book, they generate a kind of anxious hopefulness for the reader: leery, threatened, but tangible—accessible. Which, it seems to me, is representative of a central affective project of the book.

One thought on “An accidental, oblique response to AG’s comments on “outsides””

  1. The worship/action thing is such a weird line in this novel. I don’t know what action means here. The Trickster fragments seem to try out a bunch of different kinds of actions and their consequences. And call into question not just what kinds of actions are good, but also the relationship between worship and action. As Canavan puts it, “what the all-important dream of the Destiny . . . offers us . . . is a chance not to abolish human nature but to perhaps temporarily suspend it.” Worship and action are tied up if we think of suspension as major thematic.

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