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Alternative Routes:
Separation, Segregation, and Mutuality in "Solitude" and "The Matter of Seggri"  

"Solitude" (1994)

To see the World in a Grain of Sand,

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour.

-William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence" (ODQ 73.18)

There is more than one road to the city.-The Beginning Place (last sentence)

 

If a relatively positive unmarried life is a real possibility in the world of "Another Story"-if not for the main character-frequent solitude is privileged in "Solitude." If the socially-mediated complexity of human relationships is praised in all the churten stories, life in "artificially complicated situations" (F&SF 87.6: 134) is just one option in "Solitude," and not the option chosen by the protagonist-narrator. Like any responsible character in one of Ursula K. Le Guin's stories, the heroine, Serenity (nicknamed "Ren"), strives "to be in the world" (141), but she wishes to be in the world relatively alone. As she said in "Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown" (1976), Le Guin is not convinced that "Man is the measure of all things, or even of very many things . . . . The great mystics have gone deeper than community and sensed identity, the identity of all," and Serenity, if not (yet) a great mystic, at least knows part of the mystic Way and can get by with relatively little community, relatively little human touch (LoN [1979]: 116). In one way at least, "Solitude" is like the meditation on Mitsein in the climactic section of The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), with Genly Ai and Estraven out on the Ice. Even as Ai and Estraven comprise the simplest human social unit, so "Solitude" seems almost a thought-experiment using the simplest sort of human society, and concluding that such a society is still human. Indeed, the culture Ren adopts seems as simple as the Ndif created by Bill Kopman's fantasies in Le Guin's "Pathways of Desire" (1979), or the post-Apocalypse cultures seen in most post-Apocalypse movies. "Solitude" and "The Matter of Seggri" are also thought-experiments on more or less gender-separatist societies, where men and women have little interaction. Unlike The Tombs of Atuan (1970/71), in these two stories the all-female societies, in themselves, are good places for women to live. However, "Solitude" and "Seggri" are not separatist in their politics, affirming on the contrary "the body's obscure, inalterable dream of mutuality" ("Seggri" 29) between women and men; but they make the biological, sociological, and political point that, our function as sperm-production systems aside, men are optional: women living in solidarity can get along without.

"Solitude" is strongly anthropological science fiction, set in what Serenity's mother Leaf, a professional ethnographer of the Ekumen, considers an impoverished society. The planet Eleven-Soro in the "Before Time" had a population of 120 billion people and "the greatest cities every built on any world" (147); the people of Eleven-Soro risked disaster, and disaster came, and the current human population seems to have regained only "a broken culture-not a society, but the remains of one." From the point of view of Leaf, there remains only "A terrible, appalling poverty" (153). It is significant for the kind of fiction Le Guin writes that it never occurs to Leaf or any of the Ekumenical researchers to rescue the Sorovians or to debate whether or not the Ekumenical "Prime Directive," the "Law of Cultural Embargo" (PE 75; ch. 9), allows the forces of civilization to move in and make the Sorovians conquer their stasis and get with the high-tech, «high-culture» program.

The team of three Ekumenical First Observers initially sent onplanet to Eleven-Soro ran into an immediate "communications problem." They understood the language itself well enough for first contact; the problem was finding informants, people to talk to. Sorovian culture is strongly segregated not only sexually but also generationally, with women and children living apart from men, who in turn live apart from (post)pubescent boys. The men of Eleven-Soro live "in solitary houses as hermits or in pairs" and would not exchange more than a few words with the male investigators. When the two male Observers entered the territory of a group of adolescent boys, the young males "either fled or rushed desperately at them trying to kill them." When these Observers entered one of the "dispersed villages" of the women, the women "drove them away with volleys of stone as soon as they came anywhere near the houses." One woman did approach one of the male Observers, but only to mate with him, leading one of the Observers to state his belief that the sole community activity of the Sorovians "is throwing rocks at men." A female Observer did little better. She was allowed to move into an unused house of an "auntring" (i.e. village) consisting of seven houses. She was never invited into another house by any of the women, "nor expected to help or ask for help in any work. Conversation concerning normal activities was unwelcome to the other women," leaving her only the children to talk to. This leads to the conclusion that the Sorovians learn what "they learn when they're children"-only, which sets up the situation for the story; the Ekumenical field ethnographer Leaf is the mother of In Joy Born (a boy nicknamed Borny, eight years old) and Serenity (a girl of five), who have already accompanied their mother in fieldwork on another planet (132-33).[ 1]

The plot begins with Leaf, Borny, and Ren moving into a house in an auntring (134) and continues into the adulthood of Serenity. The action of the plot is Serenity's adaptation to the culture around her, while her mother does not adapt, and Borny rather falling in between. There is conflict in the plot: mostly between Serenity and her Mother, Leaf. Still, Borny is very significant. Leaf is using her children in her work but also keeping them with her (132), so there is no ethical problem with their presence on the planet (see "The Shobies' Story" and the opening to "Dancing to Ganam" [FIS]). The crisis in the story has to do with Borny's being forced to leave the auntring when he reaches puberty and head out for "the Territory" (141) and into a "boygroup" (140) and his later prospects for life on the planet as a man.[ 2] Leaf wants to go back to the ship before Borny is expelled from the village. Serenity hardly remembers and does not understand the ship; she wants to "be here, where my soul is. I want to go on learning to be in the world." She fears Mother and Borny, "who were both working magic": Leaf using her authority as a mother, Borny using persuasion. Serenity says "nothing and was still," as she had been taught by the aunts (140-41).

Borny persuades his mother to let him go to the Territory and join the boys, without a radio, doing it "right," but arranging to meet her in half a year. And Borny and a friend leave the village, stopping by all the houses to say goodbye, except that there is no word in the language for either "hello" or "goodbye" (141). Borny's time away is torment for Leaf and an excellent opportunity for suspense-Will Borny make it back?-but it is an opportunity Serenity and Le Guin forego: "Nobody ever came back to their mother from boygroup. But Borny did," Serenity tells us, with the last sentence getting a paragraph to itself (142). But the return is not after six months. Instead, Serenity goes out to "starwatch" one night to get in contact with the universe, and on her way home she is accosted by a rather Dickensian character who tells her that Borny and his friend are all right and warns Leaf through Serenity not to go to her rendezvous with Borny: "Some boys are in a gang. They'd rape her." The man-House on the Skyline Man-makes sure that Serenity has memorized his message, including, "I and some others are killing the leaders" of the gang. "It takes a while. Your brother is with the other gang" (143).

With that kind of news and reassurance, Leaf starts packing to go after her son, but Serenity tells a neighbor about House on the Skyline Man's message, and the neighbor comes over to get a message across to Leaf. This is difficult. The Gethenians of The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) won't advise one another unless the giver of advice wants to insult the receiver; the Sorovians are even stricter. Serenity tells us the neighbor, Noyit, "pretended to be talking to me, because women don't teach women." Noyit repeats House on the Skyline Man's message, and gives some background on men breaking up juvenile male gangs, "when the boygroups get wicked. Sometimes there are magicians among them, leaders, older boys, even men who want to make a gang. The settled men will kill the magicians and make sure none of the boys gets hurt," and Noyit assures Leaf, indirectly, that Borny will be all right. Leaf isn't listening, so Noyit adds, "A rape is a very, very bad thing for the settled men . . . . It means the women won't come to them" for sex (and some talking). "If the boys raped some woman," e.g., Leaf, "probably the men would kill all the boys"-and that last gets Leaf's attention and keeps her from going after her son (143).

Borny eventually shows up, emaciated and with a damaged lip, and with no intention of going back to the Territory and having to "hold his own among the older boys, by fear and sorcery, always proving his strength, until he was old enough to walk away" and try to find a place "where the men would let him settle"-and then spending another three or four years "challenging, fighting, always watching the others, on guard" to become a settled man and "end up living alone your whole life." Borny concludes that he "can't do it" and says that he is "not a [p]erson" and just wants "to go ho[m]e." Leaf agrees to leave; Serenity says "No" (145).

Leaf forces the point, and they go up to the ship. Borny recovers and thrives and wants to go to Hain for education in the Ekumenical schools. Leaf just wants to go home to Hain. Serenity does not; she wants to go to her home. In a confrontation with her mother, Serenity pronounces the formula, "You have no power over me" and says she won't go to Hain, telling her mother to go without her. Highly angry, her mother says to Serenity, "You are one of them. You don't know what love is." She thinks Ren has closed into her self "like a rock," and she concludes she should never have brought Serenity to Eleven-Soro. "People crouching in the ruins of a society-brutal, rigid, ignorant, superstitious-Each one in a terrible solitude-And I let them make you into one of them!" If "You have no power over me" is a crucial formula for Serenity, "one of them" is a powerful formula for an ethnographer like Leaf: Lyubov in The Word for World Is Forest most fears the "racial hatred" that would have his friend Selver "treat him not as a 'you' but as 'one of them'" (WWF 94; ch. 5). Finally Serenity repeats "You have no power over me" and shuts her eyes and covers her ears with her hands: "She [Leaf] came to me then and held me, but I stood stiff, enduring her touch, until she let me go" ("Solitude" 148).

The impasse is resolved in part by a Gethenian archeologist, Arrem, someone Serenity can respond to: "not a man . . . yet not a woman; and so not exactly an adult, yet not a child: a person, alone, like me." Arrem finds the "slow walking" of the Sorovian women like "the untrance movements from the Handdara of Karhide" and other elements of their soul-formation "like what they learn on Gethen," which Serenity says Borny says "kind of stopped Mother from ranting about primitive superstition." With Arrem and Borny mediating, a compromise is reached. Borny will go to Hain while Serenity and Leaf stay on ship, for one year (149). At the end of the year, Leaf will go to Hain, with or without Serenity, who may then return to Eleven-Soro. Meanwhile, Serenity will stay, but with occasional trips onplanet, where, among other things, she helps a zoologist solve-significantly-a communications problem with a cephalopod high-intelligence life-form (150).

Whatever her other needs, most immediately Serenity needs to get off the ship. She has privacy there, "But there was no place to be alone on the ship"; "It was all human-made," designed, and like Isaac Rose's mother in "Newton's Sleep" (FIS 26), Serenity doesn't see a space craft as a proper home ("Solitude" 151). Serenity cannot be "friendly and mannerly" the way everyone else is on the ship, and she feels her soul is dying, perhaps drowning in "a mechanical sea"-or, perhaps, "the soft hushing of the ship's systems, like a mechanical sea" is the best part of the ship.[ 3] In any event, Serenity needs to go home to make her soul, and Leaf needs to go home to save hers: it is just that they have two different homes, and their respective returns home will make them dead to one another (151-52). So they decide to die to each other, and both weep and embrace: Ren could hold her "mother, cling to her and cry with her, because her spell was broken" (152). As in much of Le Guin's writing, life requires acceptance of death; to be able to touch and hold someone, we must be willing to let go.

Serenity is left onplanet and lives out her life up to the time she makes this report, as a supplement to her mother's report on Eleven-Soro. Some events in her life are significant for her and for us. The first is Dnemi's death. When Sut's baby died, Leaf had been "angry and ashamed that she could not go and try to comfort Sut and that nobody else did." Even the Ndif in "Pathways" have funerals, however "graceless" (CR 200-01). It was Sut's just going away with her dead baby that had elicited the complaint from Leaf, "It is not human . . . . Nothing could be clearer evidence that this is a broken culture." Serenity wonders if Dnemi's death might have changed Leaf's mind. Aid is sent to Dnemi's house while she is dying, and a watch kept over the body, with singing for her soul. The corpse is wrapped in bedding and "given back, under a rock cairn or inside one of the ruins of the ancient city." The theory is to take the corpse to the ruined city because "Those are the lands of the dead . . . . What dies there stays there" (153)-in both a practice to keep a ghost away (cf. CI 69; ch. 4) and a sophisticated judgment on the cities of the Before Time. So Dnemi's death is handled with ceremony, after the manner of humans.

After death, life: the birth of a baby in the village and the beginning of Serenity's desire to have one herself, eventually, "but not for a long time, because once you have a child you are never alone." Meanwhile, there is "the great harmless magic, the spells cast between men and women," which Serenity goes off to seek (154). She finds sex and a variety of love with Red Stone Man, for a while, and then leaves him, indicating to him her need "To get away from your magic, sorceror{sic}," and find "a larger world to be in" (155-56). Ren wanders a while and finally returns and builds a house of her own, keeping clear of Red Stone Valley since "The man there behaved as if he had a claim on me, a right to me." She still likes him, but not "that smell of magic about him, his imagination of power" over her (157). So she finds another man, and they make a daughter; later Serenity and this man, or another man, make a son (158). The story ends with Serenity's explaining why, after all these years, she called down the lander and told her story. When her daughter

was born, that was my heart's desire and the fulfilment{sic} of my soul. When my son was born, last year, I knew there is no fulfilment{sic}. He will grow toward manhood, and go, and fight and endure, and live or die as a man must. My daughter, whose name is Yedneke, Leaf, like my mother, will grow to womanhood and go or stay as she chooses. I will live alone. This is as it should be, and my desire. But I am of two worlds; I am a person of this world, and a woman of my mother's people. I owe my knowledge to the children of her people.  . . . To them, to the children I say: Listen! Avoid magic! Be aware! (158-59)

*

"Solitude" is an important story for a number of Le Guinian themes: loners, complexity, abstraction, peoplehood, marriage, projects, politics, magic, communication, self-sufficiency, and soul-formation in the world-a consideration of one extreme way of finding/making the Self that is Universe.[ 4]

In much of Le Guin's writing, loners come across poorly. The hermit in Rocannon's World (1966) gives Rocannon mindhearing, but at the cost of Rocannon's dearest friend. William Haber in The Lathe of Heaven (1971) sees himself as "a lone wolf," and "had never wanted marriage nor close friendships" (112; ch. 8), and Haber is the villain of Lathe and arguably the greatest mass murderer in Terran history.[ 5] In The Dispossessed (1974), "on the fringes of the older Anarresti communities," there were always "a good many solitaries and hermits . . . pretending that they were not members of a social species," and young Shevek views them negatively, a feeling readers should share, although not to the degree of the rather rigid and puritanical young Shevek (TD 90; ch. 4). More recently, Dalzul, though hardly a villain in "Dancing to Ganam" (1993), is a man with serious problems, as is Tiokunan'n Hideo in "Another Story" (1994) when he tries to be a relatively loner scientist, lost in his work. This is not surprising: the lone hero, unproblematic or angst-ridden, is a «guy-thing», usually avoided by feminist writers, with Joanna Russ's We Who Are About To ... an important, rule-testing, and superlative exception. Still, there is the helpful, philosophical hermit in City of Illusions (1967), and Osden in "Vaster than Empires and More Slow" (1971): two men who cannot shut out other people's emotions and so must limit their contact (CI 51-52; ch. 3). More admirable still, there is in Earthsea Ogion for much of his life and Ged in one version of his last days-if not the version we see in Tehanu. And there is the peasant boy in "The Poacher" (1992), the protagonist-narrator of a beautifully ironic variation on "Sleeping Beauty," where a poor boy knows enough to leave sleeping princesses lie and learns to live and tell his own story in the solitude of an enchanted castle (UA 205-207). The boy's relationships with nonroyal women are highly questionable, but we are to think well of his choice of solitude.[ 6]

The story, "Solitude," is a meditation on hermetic life, the Way of one kind of sage, carefully distinguishing degrees of isolation. Serenity tells us that such a meditation is difficult, and more difficult to communicate: "I think there is no way to write about being alone," she writes. "To write is to tell something to somebody, to communicate to others. . . . Solitude is non-communication, the absence of others, the presence of a self sufficient to itself" (154). Earlier, though, Serenity clarifies the limits to the solitude, the degree to which even Leaf had to recognize that humans on Eleven-Soro were members of a social species. Even without adults going into one another's houses or having conversations, even when ". . . men and women had only brief, often casual relationships, and men lived all their lives in real solitude, still there was a kind of community, a wide, thin, fine network of delicate and certain intention and restraint: a social order" (144), enough of a social order to get to Leaf word of her son and to protect him and other (nonwicked) boys.[ 7] Right after saying how it may be impossible to write about being alone, Serenity expands on the ways in which the persons of her world-persons, not her people-are connected.

A woman's solitude in the auntring is, of course, based firmly on the presence of others at a little distance. It is contingent, and therefore human, solitude. The settled men are connected as stringently to the women, though not to one another; the settlement is an integral though distant element of the auntring. Even a scouting woman [looking for sex, other adventure] is part of the society-a moving part, connecting the settled parts. Only the isolation of a woman or man who chooses to live outside the settlements is absolute. . . . There are worlds where such persons are called saints, holy people. Since isolation is a sure way to prevent magic, on my world the assumption is that they are sorcerors{sic}, outcast by others or by their own will, their conscience. (154)

Serenity is not endorsing saintly isolation; Serenity, and Le Guin, endorse relative solitude as one way of being in the world, a way of a self to be, within limits, sufficient unto itself. Not Saint Simeon Stylites on his pillar, trying to transcend the world; or Star-Child at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, gazing down at Earth as his new project, not even a ten-clone as in "Nine Lives" (1969), a misguided attempt at self-sufficiency (Those Who Can 208), or a family man isolated in his ego and rationalism like Ike Rose in "Newton's Sleep."[ 8] Serenity rejects a transcendent position above her planet in the Hainish observation ship; she rejects a chance to go to an Ekumenical school and go off on great projects for the Ekumen. Her relationship to the stars is lying on her back looking at a star "and the stars around it, until you feel the earth turning, until you become aware of how the stars and the world and the soul move together" (142).[ 9]

Daily life immanent in the auntring or out scouting or among the men may be repetitive, and repetitive daily life can certainly grow dull; but Serenity has a point in saying "I never knew anybody, anywhere I have been, who found life simple. I think a life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details, the way a planet looks smooth, from orbit" (134). A vision from orbit is hardly to be despised, giving a whole, beautiful view of a planet; that is one truth, and it is no less true that worlds are "dirt and rocks" up close, and in the dirt and rocks and details there is always complexity (TD 153-54; ch. 6). The "heart" of Serenity's life has been her "being alone" (154), and she can be alone and not know loneliness and boredom because she is aware of, if not necessarily Blake's "a World in a Grain of Sand," then certainly "of the grain of dust beneath the sole of the foot, and the skin of the sole of the foot, and the motion of the light across the air, and the color of the grass on the high hill across the river . . . endlessly changing, endlessly new" (156).[10] For many mystics, the details of multiplicity in unity is the mystic experience.

Serenity is a Self, capable of a degree of self-sufficiency precisely because she is a Self in contact with the world (see ACH 485); she is not some mere ego trying to transcend and command the world. For Serenity and the persons of her world, wholeness is to be part of the planet, and with other humans-but with other humans only as that "thin, fine network of delicate and certain intention and restraint" (144), a social order as tenuous as the cord Isako tells Isidri connects mother and child ("Another Story" FIS 173), or the "silvery thread" in A Ride on the Red Mare's Back (1992: 42). These persons refuse to intellectualize, generalize, or universalize on the political level at all, not even thinking of themselves as a people. To get people to act together-act politically, in concert-is magic. Possibly on the basis of their horrible historical experience, to use any power "to get power over other persons" is magic-"an art or power that violates natural law" (136)-and "To live rightly a person has to keep away from magic" (144).

Le Guin allows Serenity and the philosophy of her planet to make a very strong point: "to get power over other persons" in any way is magic, even if it is coming to lead a gang of boys, even if it is Borny talking to his mother on his joining the boygroup. Leaf thinks the boygroups "Perform natural selection," and she wants Borny to have nothing to do with the boygroups, and she has an excellent point. She wants to take them back to the ship, and Borny "persuaded her out of it" (140). Serenity agrees with Borny, but she does not join this argument, and she will come to use methods against her mother that readers could see-and I do see-as far more harmful than arguing: shutting her eyes and covering her ears, standing stiff and "enduring her touch," the touch of Leaf, her mother (148, my emphasis). Serenity is admirably guilt-free, and she is correct in setting out one exception to the naturalness of a mother's power: it is unnatural if "used against the child's soul" (140). Still, looking back upon this scene, there is something to be said for Tiokunan'n Hideo's line in "Another Story," "How cruel we are to our parents!" (FIS 159), and more to be said for Rakam's somewhat rueful memories in "A Woman's Liberation" of her (young) "beautiful voice speaking the beautiful truth" with too little thought of immediate hurts (FWF 179; § 3).

In the text, there is an exquisite balance that readers may legitimately leave be or tip one way or another. Logos is central to "phallologocentric"; and logic, reason, and rhetoric can be part of patriarchal oppression: "a form of violence, a kind of tyranny" (de Beauvoir, Second Sex 167; ch. 20). In Le Guin's canon, Ike Rose in "Newton's Sleep" is a rationalist, as is Dr. Haber in The Lathe of Heaven, and the Professors in "The Rock That Changed Things" (FIS). And the anti-Logos position can be pushed quite far. In the 1980s a feminist colleague sent on to me for my information and comments a published essay she had come across arguing (sic) that "any attempt to persuade is an act of violence," that "the difference between a persuasive metaphor and a violent artillery attack is obscure and certainly one of degree rather than kind." By this sort of logic, an attempt by Amnesty International to persuade people to stop torture is equivalent to torture. In the ethicist William Schuyler's phrase, such a conclusion would "gag a maggot."[11] My view is that "Avoid magic!" is bad advice if it means avoid trying to persuade people, and I have an ally in Bu in "The Rock that Changed Things." In that story, Bu, "was so excited and persuasive" about colors of stones "that other nurs of Obling began studying the color patterns, learning how to read their meanings" (FIS 64)-and Bu's persuasion helps bring a very necessary revolution. In "Solitude," though, from Serenity's view, we should take the idea seriously that persuasion is magic to be avoided.

What we see in much of the story is a moving, loving conflict between Leaf and Serenity, mother and daughter, both of whom have claims on our empathy and sympathy. Leaf is something of a cultural and intellectual snob for an anthropologist, and most of us can sympathize with Serenity for wanting more stories and songs from her "and not so many words"-which I assume means fewer theories and abstractions. We can see the narrow-mindedness, plus flat-out error, of Leaf's dismissing as "primitivism" the way the persons of Eleven-Soro see technology as magic. As Serenity explains, they just do not see the technology as magic; they see the technologists as (evil) magicians, using technological power to get political power (144). And, of course, we can see perhaps better than Leaf the wisdom of a "cultural imperative" against "magic." The daughter has some points. On the other hand, even as we would do well to "know how the princess perceived" Dalzul's initial visit in "Dancing to Ganam" (FIS 119), so we do well to wonder what Serenity's mother would have to say about much of "Solitude."

Ideally, Serenity would have as native tongues both Hainish and Sorovian and could be a woman of two worlds. The universe is not set up that way, though, and Serenity must choose a world. Leaf and In Joy Born do well to figuratively walk away from a culture far less tempting than that of Omelas and leave Eleven-Soro: if they decide they want to be in the world, they can find a nice pueblo on Hain to do it in (see opening sections of "A Man of the People," FWF). Serenity chooses Eleven-Soro, and we have learned enough about that world to say that, for her, the choice is a happy one and a legitimate choice of a place to be.

# # #

"The Matter of Seggri" (1994)[12]

Be careful how you pray; the gods are malicious and sometimes gives us what we ask for.-Proverb and Joke

Complementing "Solitude" is "The Matter of Seggri." As a phrase, "The matter of Seggri" is what the Mobile Noem calls his report to the Stabiles of the Ekumen on the culture of Seggri (34). As a literary work in Crank! magazine, it is five narratives, from five different times over perhaps 1400 years of Seggrian history (see Brigg, "Chronology" 18, n. 2). "Seggri" is anthropological SF, including Le Guin's first long look at athletics in a culture, and the five narratives give us figurative snapshots of the planet's human culture from their first recorded contact with alien humans through their having sufficient dealings with other cultures to have some perspective on their own culture, to the beginning of change.[13]

Of the five narratives, the first and last are in the voices of men, the middle three of women. The first narrative is a log entry by an alien male; the second, notes for a report to the Ekumen by a woman who is a Mobile and a native of Hain; the third is a memoir by a woman of Seggri, telling the story of herself and her brother; the fourth is a Seggrian short story, by a woman and from the point of view of a woman, telling of the fictional woman's life and loves, including the sad romantic love a man has for her; the last is an autobiographical sketch by a Seggrian man who has worked off Seggri for the Ekumen and desires to return home as a Mobile.

The basic situation on Seggri will seem familiar to anyone who has read Sam Moskowitz's anthology When Women Rule (1972) or, more to the point for me, Joanna Russ's 1980 essay "Amor Vincit Foeminam: The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction." "Seggri" shows "role reversals in the group relations between the sexes" (Russ 42). That seeming familiarity of role reversal, however, gets defamiliarized radically by other, different familiarities: not all the roles are reversed, "reversal" is far too crude a term for what Le Guin is up to in this story, and, on Seggri, the sexes do not battle.

The first item in "Seggri" is Captain Aolao-olao's Report from the log of his Wandership, apparently a generation starship, some "six generations out" (Crank! #3: 3). As frequently happens on generation starships, cultural development has taken a strange turn (and/or the culture was strange to start with), and we have a report by a starship captain who looks with contempt upon the leader of their hosts for believing "the stars to be worlds full of people and beasts, asking us from which star we descended" (4). Captain Aolao-olao's Report is a send-up of the ship's log entry of a Terran sea captain of the eighteenth or early nineteenth century CE: say, an Englishman or a Frenchman ca. 1767-69 or 1778 for Captain James Cook in Hawaii-or of a utopian description in the manner of Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516). The Captain is a mildly fanatical monotheist and a sexist, and what he sees is a paradise of bachelors served by "a vast superabundance" of maids and adult women (3).

The Captain opens his log entry stating that on this world he and his men have been entertained well "and leave with as good an estimation of the natives as is consonant with their unregenerate state." His next sentence tells us that the natives "live in fine great buildings they call castles, with large parks all about," and it is only in the seventh line of the entry that we learn that his comments about "the natives" have included only men. "Their women live in villages and towns huddled outside the walls. All the common work of farm and mill is performed by the women," who the Captain sees as "ordinary drudges, living in towns which belong to the lords of the castle" (3). The men spend their days in manly sporting events, and "At night they go to certain houses which they own in the town, where they may have their pick among the women and satisfy their lust upon them as they will." To make the dream perfect: "The women pay them . . . for a night of pleasure, and pay them yet more if they get a child on them. Their nights thus are spent in carnal satisfaction as often as they desire, and their days in a diversity of sports and games" (3-4). And, after the kids are raised to be sufficiently human for men to deal with-in my formulation, not the Captain's-the "Boys are taken from the women at the age of eleven and brought to the castle to be educated as befits a man." The only problems from the Captain's point of view are that so few boys are conceived and live through infancy, though this is appropriate as "the curse of GOD laid upon this race as upon all those who acknowledge HIM not"; the Captain is also disappointed by the paucity of arts and ignorance of the sciences among the (male) Seggri-occupations and projects the men dismiss as "women's work" and "womanish things" (4). And he is struck by the degree of competition "in the ornamentation and magnificence of their costumes" which the Captain et al. might have thought unmanly "were they not withal such proper men, strong and ready for any game or sport, and full of pride and a most delicate and fiery honor" (5).

The second voice we hear is from many years later, that of Merriment, a Hainish woman, in her Notes for a Report to the Ekumen. She and the Alterran man Kaza Agad are First Observers. They are separated shortly after they arrive onplanet, and Agad is sent to a Castle; in the link between Merriment's Notes and the next entry, we learn that Agad is killed, and he is absent from "Seggri" except for Merriment's concern for him and attempt to get information about him.

Merriment stays a while in a town and then goes to a college, and her view of Seggrian culture-though based on similar data-differs greatly from that of Captain Aolao-olao. In scenes from daily life and from exposition, we learn that humans on Seggri have a world-wide monoculture with a deep division between the sexes very deeply rooted in their reproductive biology. Merriment tells us, bitterly, "My ancestors must have really had fun playing with these people's chromosomes," and she feels guilty-a useful occasion, she thinks, for guilt. Merriment is able to quantify Captain Aolao-olao's observation on the superabundance of women: one conception in six yields a male zygote, with many miscarriages of male fetuses and high death rates in infancy bringing the male population down to one in sixteen by puberty. "Given their situation," the biological gift of the Hainish founders, "they need strong healthy men" to reproduce; so they evolved a system of "social selection reinforcing natural selection" (8). Males have scarcity value on Seggri, but the culture is hardly the masculinist paradise Captain Aolao-olao saw. "Their gender imbalance has produced a society in which . . . men have all the privilege and the women have all the power" (8-9). It has been a stable society for "at least two millennia," probably longer, "But it could be quickly and disastrously destabilised" through contact with the Ekumen and "experiencing the human norm" of more equally gendered societies (9).

The castles are supported by the towns and the men must stay in the castles except to compete in games and to go to the "fuckeries" to service-"that's their word, the same word they use for their bulls"-the women of the towns (11). Within capitalist constraints, the women choose the men they want; the men have no more choice in the matter than bulls servicing cows.

Merriment finds much to like about Seggrian women's culture, and "Seggri" can be read as a complex variation on the theme of the ambiguous utopia.[14] Among the Seggri, "female homosexuality . . . is the central element of society, as heterosexuality is" in Terran societies generally.[15] The women are highly communal but respect the need to be alone; they are capitalistic and admire wealth, but they also respect teaching (6), and the flexibility of their colleges could be instructive even for the schools on Hain (10). They say "piss" and "fuck" and cry easily and publicly: "There is an enviable simplicity to many acts in a society which has, in all its daily life, only one gender. And which perhaps . . . has no shame" (7). Indeed, Seggri is an improvement on our world for most women, and Seggri could be a dream come true for a bisexual woman sports fan from a patriarchal culture who migrated to Seggri and got rich.

On the other hand, Merriment finds some less admirable aspects to the culture. Skodr, a professorial intellectual, tells Merriment that men aren't allowed in colleges because learning is "very bad for men: it weakens a man's sense of honor, makes his muscles flabby, and leaves him impotent. 'What goes to the brain takes from the testicles . . . . Men have to be sheltered from education for their own good'" (10). Some younger readers might find this passage just entertainingly silly; older readers should recognize it as one instance of simple reversal: sexist ideology about educating women reversed and applied to men. It is also a straightforward statement of classic (and sexist) American macho anti-intellectualism: the life of the mind as unmanly, male intellectuals as wimps. Merriment tries to "be water" and accept, as she was taught, probably by the rather Daoist teachers of the Ekumen and on Hain generally; still she was "disgusted," and Skodr, as a liberal sexist intellectual, tries to placate her by telling her about "secret colleges" often run by the homosexual men of the castles. Such colleges have produced interesting works, but Skodr can only think of two (10).

Merriment's disgust at Skodr's ideas about male intellect is based in part on what she has learned from Skodr about life for men in the castles.

I keep thinking "spoiled brats!" but actually these men must be more like soldiers in the training camps that militarists have. Only the training never ends. As they win trials they gain all kinds of titles and ranks you could translate as "generals" and the other names militarists have for all their power-grades. Some of the "generals," the Lords and Masters and so on, are the sports idols, the darlings of the fuckeries . . . ; but as they get older apparently they trade glory among the women for power among the men, and become tyrants within their Castle, bossing the "lesser" men around, until they're overthrown, kicked out. . . .

It sounds like a miserable life. All they're allowed to do after age eleven is compete at games and sports inside the Castle, and compete in the fuckeries, after they're fifteen or so, for money and number of fucks and so on. Nothing else. No options. No trades. No skills of making. No travel unless they play in the big games. (9-10)

So not just a military life-which Le Guin has handled negatively since at least The Word for World Is Forest (1972)-but militarist life in the castles. And emphatically no life of the mind, because the sexist ideas outside the castles dovetail perfectly with the sexist ideas within on what manly men do when doing manly things-and it is not thinking (10). So life for the great mass of men must be, by statistical necessity, not winning in the games and trials and therefore not becoming sports champions. And "men who don't win at things aren't allowed to go to the fuckeries." The analogy with grand champion bulls at a state fair is quite exact, except that the Seggrian champions are joined by "boys between fifteen and nineteen," used for pleasure. However, Merriment's friend and colleague Kaza is not a prize stud nor a juvenile sex toy: "He's a man, and this is a terrible place to be a man" (11).

And so ends Merriment's Notes. Again, the link (written in italics) tells us "Kaza Agad had been killed" and adds that Merriment's recommendation to the Stabiles to "observe and avoid" was not followed, with another pair of Observers sent to Seggri (both women), with their status changed after their third year to First Mobiles; and then one of them was made Ambassador. Very conscious of the guilt she felt for her ancestors' experimenting with the genome of the humans of Seggri, Merriment had been determined to upset things as little as possible (9). The First Mobiles were less cautious: "They made Resehavanar's Choice as 'all the truth slowly,'" with up to 200 offworld visitors a year (11).

The memoir that follows is written by a woman of Seggri for her "dear friend," who either is, or through whom it eventually got to, the Ekumenical Ambassador: "You asked me, dear friend, to tell you anything I might like people on other worlds to know about my life and my world." The Speaker here is aware of "how strange we seem to all the others, the half-and-half races" and conscious of how her people may seem to aliens "backward, provincial, even perverse." She is aware that her people may change within the next few decades, that they may "decide that we should remake ourselves" (11). The woman is happy she will be dead by the time such a decision must be made. She writes, "I like my people. I like our fierce, proud, beautiful men,{sic} I don't want them to become like women. I like our trustful, powerful generous women,{sic} I don't want them to become like men" (12).

The story she chooses to tell is that of herself (Po) and Ittu, her beloved younger brother. Little Ittu wants to work/play with his older sister among the cattle (eventually playing hornvaulting games) even after it is time for Po to "be doing things together with the other girls" and Ittu-approaching his eleventh birthday and going to the Castle-to be "doing things" alone "the way men do" (15). Ittu does not want to go to the Castle and eventually makes his feelings known. He draws the attention of Ushiggi, a mother and grandmother of boys, mayor of the town five or six times, and "a formidable old woman" who has the title of respect "vev": teacher. Apparently, Ittu has the inchoate idea that "a man's body does not" or need not "shape his fate" (14). Vev Ushiggi has another lesson for him. "She told him that he was born to the service of his people and had one responsibility, to sire children when he got old enough; and one duty, to be a strong, brave man, stronger and braver than other men, so that women would choose him to sire their children." He had to live at the Castle "because men could not live among women." Showing some of the bravery Vev Ushiggi has commanded, he asks her why not. Po quotes Ittu quoting Ushiggi's long-considered answer: "Because we would destroy them" (15)-i.e., women would destroy the men.

Feeling "that passion of justice that children know, the birthright we seldom honor" as adults (13-14), Po disobeys her mother and the village elders by playing with her brother and is punished by hard time in solitary confinement in the town jail. Very close to his eleventh birthday, Ittu proposes to Po running away to the agents of the Ekumen. The first thing his sister says is "You want to get me locked up again? They said next time it would be thirty days!" Ittu replies, "They're going to lock me up for fifty years." He hopes the Ekumen can save him from the Castle; Po thinks running away would be "dishonorable." Ittu doesn't "care about honor"; he wants "to be free" (16). His sister won't take the risk and tries to cheer him up with clichés. "He knew and I knew," she says, "that I had betrayed our love and our birthright of justice. He knew he had no hope." So he runs away, and his sister doesn't tell, but he is caught anyway. On his eleventh birthday, he goes into the Castle, "and the Gates closed" (17). In anarchist terms, Ittu is imprisoned, with prisons a central image of State repression and oppression (see TD 27-32; ch. 2).

There are three more brief paragraphs to the memoir, making explicit the image of the closing gates. Ittu becomes a Young Champion Hornvaulter and gets traded away to another castle at age twenty. When Po's daughter is born, she writes Ittu, but he doesn't answer her letters. The memoir ends with "I don't know if it's what I want you to know. It is what I had to tell" (17).

Po's narrative is followed by a Seggrian short story, supposedly by one Sem Gridji, called "Love Out of Place." The introductory link distinguishes the new genre of the short story from the older Seggrian genres of drama and narrative poem (18), with the most important form the traditional Epics (33). The classical genres were initially "written collaboratively" and rewritten over the generations-all by anonymous authors. "Small value was placed on preserving a 'true' text." The short prose narratives have identifiable authors and historical or fictional settings and characters, not larger-than-life Heroes. The epics and plays are very well known and as a set of classic works are "one of the principal unifying influences of the Seggrian monoculture." On the other hand, "The prose narrative, read in silence, served rather as a device by which the culture might question itself, and a tool for individual moral self-examination"; hence, conservatives among the Seggrian woman "disapproved of the genre as antagonistic to the intensely cooperative, collaborative structure of their society"; the intellectuals of college literature departments, as one might expect, often dismissed the genre out of hand: "fiction is for men" (18).

"Love Out of Place" is the story of Azak, a mill-district girl who goes to college, eventually marries well and starts her own business with her first wife; the two find a third woman for a marital triad-a strong lesbian relationship in which the three prosper and reproduce; but Azak ends up feeling, "My life is wrong" and not knowing "how to make it right" (25). The problem in her life, and the stuff of the story, is the Young Champion of Dance, Toddra. Azak sees him dance on holovision and is "captivated." His price at the local fuckery is twice that of the other men, but Azak likes sex, especially intercourse with highly potent men, and she pays it. After some very good sex indeed, Azak develops something of an obsession for Toddra (18-19); for his part, Toddra falls in love.

Toddra's love is romantic in a way that is new and subversive in Seggrian literature "in the late sixteenth century" (18), and was new and subversive on Terra in France and England and Western Europe fairly generally from about 1100 CE (producing, for a major example, "The Matter of Britain") through the Elizabethan period in England in the sixteenth century CE. (Nowadays on Terra, the most common form of romance is of the Harlequin variety and definitely not subversive.) Sem Gridji, then, has helped re-invent literal heterosexual romantic love through a literal prose romance, with "romance" suggesting "Medieval Romance": with romance as courtly love, where the male lover wishes to belong to the woman and serve her. Toddra says, "I wish I were your servant," and he means it. He wants to belong to her: to serve her and only her; Toddra would die for Azak, he says (19), so great is his love (and his pathos).[16]

To confirm the point, there is a brief dialog between Azak and the manager of the fuckery, occasioned by Azak's asking if Toddra has proved as popular with the customers as the manager et al.-who owns the fuckeries is not clear in "Seggri"-might have expected.

"No," the manager said. "Everybody else reports that he takes a lot of arousing, and is sullen and careless toward them."

"How strange," Azak said.

"Not at all," said the manager. "He's in love with you."

"A man in love with a woman?" Azak said, and laughed.

"It happens all too often," the manager said.

"I thought only women fell in love," said Azak.

"Women fall in love with a man, sometimes, and that's bad too," said the manager. "May I warn you, Azak? Love should be between women. It's out of place here. It can never come to any good end. I hate to lose the money, but I wish you'd . . . not always ask for Toddra. You're encouraging him . . . in something that does harm to him." (19)

It does not come to a good end. And a Seggrian version of Captain Aolao-olao, could read the fuckery manager as the Spokeswoman for the true social norm reinforced by this story, the real meaning of the story: "Love should be between women. It's out of place" in a heterosexual relationship.

Toddra has a plan. In the story-dances he usually plays women's parts; Toddra proposes to disguise himself, escape and come to Azak's house as a servant. "I would serve you, service you, sweep your house, do anything, anything. Azak, please, my beloved, my mistress, let me be yours!" At least till she tires of him. Azak declines. She cannot take Toddra's love "entirely seriously," but she is touched (20-21). With other women, Toddra turns out to be a reliable stud, with a good record for healthy male offspring, which puts him in demand. Which is just as well with Azak, because she finds a woman, Zedr, and great sexual fulfillment (21). She sees less and less of Toddra and feels a little ashamed for not telling Toddra that she loves Zedr, but consoles herself thinking he would be so busy siring children he wouldn't miss her much: ". . . despite all his romantic talk of love, he was a man, and to a man fucking is the most important thing, instead of being merely one element of love and life as it is to a woman" (22).

So Azak marries Zedr, and they set up business and a household, and start arranging for a third partner, both for business and the marriage. Then Toddra shows up in women's dress, pleading, yet again for Azak to let him be her servant, claiming he cannot live without her. Zedr calls the police, who subdue Toddra brutally and send him back to the Castle. Two years pass, and the third woman, Chochi, is added to their business and then household. Toddra was back at the fuckery occasionally, as the year's Champion Sire for his Castle, but he was used only for reproduction, "as he had a reputation for roughness and even cruelty." Azak finds it difficult "to picture Toddra behaving brutally" and concludes that severe "punishment at the Castle . . . must have altered him" (23). Valuing marital fidelity, Azak has avoided the fuckery since marrying Zedr, but Chochi is pregnant and the triad would like twins-and Azak doesn't want either "self-impregnation" with semen out of a sperm bank, nor some stranger to copulate with her; so she schedules Toddra (24). After some small talk with Azak's trying to make sure that "all that foolishness about love is over," Toddra undress her, they lie naked, she fondles him, and he sneaks a knife into his hand and attacks her-the attack including his entering her and ejaculating. Toddra is subdued with violence by the men at the fuckery and returned to Castle, where "They'll geld him" (25). Romance lovers, especially when crossed, can be dangerous to themselves and others.[17]

We do not learn whether or not Toddra impregnated Azak, or if she successfully had a child, or how her marriage or business fare; and the story ends with the lines on her life being wrong and her not knowing "how to make it right" (25).

Why end the story there, with Toddra hauled off for castration, and Azak coming to the vaguest sort of recognition? If it is Azak's story, why not tell us more about her life than what may have been only a strange interlude with a literally hopeless romantic? Aristotle and his followers talked about a narrative having a beginning, a middle, and an end, but Le Guin question the idea in "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction" (DEW 169) and is going to have a very respectable story-teller tell us, within ten pages of the end of "Love Out of Place," that stories don't have "an end" (34) Why end the story here, and why can we be sure most readers will find this an appropriate place to end the story and my questions about What happened next? in Azak's life, at best impertinent?

Short answer: Because unlike the Seggri, most of Le Guin's audience are{sic} used to the prose romance narrative, and for us the center of "Love Out of Place" is Toddra's unreturned, passionate love for Azak. For most of us, and for Sem Gridji, the beginning of the story is the rise of Toddra's love, the middle of the story the highly unsmooth course of that love, and the end of the story the end of that love and the violence that destroyed Toddra and got Azak to begin to recognize a problem. But what about Sem Gridji's readers, as we imagine them, or any readers of "Seggri" (perhaps young males) unfamiliar with stories of romantic love? Or female readers very familiar with stories of romantic love who, on the basis of ideology and/or experience, are convinced that stories of romantic male lovers of women are dirty rotten lies? If the manager of the fuckery is seen as especially acute in matters of male/female love, and if Azak and Zedr are more typical of the culture, then "Love Out of Place" is a very challenging work, challenging the idea that only lesbian love is appropriate love, true love. For those who think that "to a man fucking is the most important thing," or the only thing in a male relationship with a woman or women, it would be a bit of a shock to read about Toddra, a man who can have all the fucking he can handle, and who instead wants to love and serve.

It's a relevant point. Writing of his own research among his undergraduate students at Rutgers University in the 1970s and 1980s, Michael Moffatt inferred as a useful category, Romantic Men. About a third of the young men who wrote about their sex lives and attitudes for Moffatt's study took "sexual stances that could be called romantic, sometimes in opposition to what they themselves saw as the more powerful men's mainstream. . . . Like the neotraditionalist women, the romantic men maintained with varying degrees of conviction that the only good sex was sex with love" (Moffatt 212). By the mid-1990s, the "Remasculinization of America" (to appropriate a phrase from Susan Jeffords) had proceeded apace, with that "more powerful men's mainstream" rolling on, washing out much of the American branch of the male-romantic tradition. In such a context, it is well to put readers into a situation where to deny the possibility of a male romantic is to deny the existence of a character right in front of then-and to put themselves on the side of the obviously narrow-minded and sexist. For Le Guin's readers who might think that life in the Castle and fuckery could be enjoyable for at least a Champion, "Love Out of Place" might indeed prove "a device by which the culture might question itself, and a tool for individual moral self-examination" (18).

The last section of "The Matter of Seggri" is a personal narrative, an "Autobiographical Sketch by Mobile Andar Dez," a man who would like to return as a Mobile of the Ekumen to his native Seggri. It is a first-person, first-hand look at life in the Castle, a direct look at a man's world not possible from the point of view of Serenity in "Solitude" and not given us up until now in "Seggri."

After a brief summary beginning with "I was born"-a common opening for personal narratives on Terra, especially slave narratives, and perhaps Yeowe as well (FWF)-Andar Dez brings us quickly to "the ceremony of Severance" and his entry into the small Castle at Radedr.[18] Like many of Le Guin's settings, Rakedr is "conservative": a hinterland place where, for good and/or for ill, the old ways are clung to. Here it is mostly for ill. Dez sees the Severance as a kind of death all men on Seggri knew: "They had turned and looked back at their whole life," the families that raised them, their towns, "every place and face they had loved, and turned away from it as the gate closed" (27). If the heart of tragedy is the isolation of the individual, followed by crushing that individual, then every boy of Seggri had undergone a tragedy. Not the death of the boy and the birth of the man, but in the Castles of Seggri, as Dez describes them, pure tragedy: the boys leave the world-the living world-to try to live outside the world in a militarist prison, a very small City of Man: at least figuratively a place of death.

The Castle at Rakedr, though, may have been, in its details, worse than most, although potentially promising. There is a political split between the "collegials" and "traditionals," i.e., "a liberal faction left from the regime of" the previous Lord "and a younger, highly conservative faction." The rule of the new Lord "had grown increasingly harsh and irrational," corrupt and cruel. Dez thinks he and the other boys and young men would have "been destroyed if there had not been a strong, constant, moral resistance, centered around Ragaz and Kohadrat, who had been protégés of Lord Ishog. The two men were open partners; their followers were all the homosexuals in the Castle, and a good number of other men and older boys" (27). Resistance is needed. The Castles are indeed the everlasting boot camps inferred by the Mobile Merriment concerning Awaga Castle (9)-plus a nightmare version of a nineteenth-century English public school plus the rape and brutalization of punk-breaking rituals at your average American high-security prison.[19] Unlike an English public school, or among peoples on Werel and Yeowe (FWF), there is no religion in the castles nor on Seggri generally: no Kamye to give hope to the oppressed. Indeed, there seems to be no overt religious life on Seggri, with sports, perhaps, replacing religion. So the machismo and displaced militarism of the castles, where sport clearly replaces war, is not, as in Le Guin's earlier work, bracketed with monotheism.[20]

There is also no privacy in the castles, and compassion must be shown in secret. Adult consenting homosexuality and consenting sexuality between the older boys is punished with "bizarre and appalling physical mutilations." Yet Lord Fassaw "encouraged the older boys to rape the eleven-and twelve-year-olds, as a manly practice." The youngsters, and eventually everyone not of the chosen, came to dread particularly four «lords of discipline» called "the Lordsmen"-Lord Fassaw's men, his sycophants and enforcers. Looking back, Ardar Dez says he was happy that he didn't kill himself or kill his "mind and soul" to survive. "Thanks to the maternal care of the collegials-the resistance, as we came to call ourselves-I grew up." Dez calls attention to his use of the word "maternal": there are no fathers in the world of Seggri, only sires; Dez says, "I thought of Ragaz and Kohardrat as my mothers. I still do" (28).

Dez does not feel totally positive toward his literal mothers. The times have changed a bit, and town councils and other authorities among the women that could investigate the castles. Still, "Any protest the resistance tried to bring to the Town Council could be dismissed as typical male whining, or laid to the demoralising influence of the Aliens," the Ekumen here as «outside agitators» (28-29). Dez feels abandoned, but the collegial leader Ragaz tells him that they both are and are not abandoned. The women support them: food, clothing, shelter, payment for services rendered. Still, there is violence inherent in the Seggrian system-obvious violence among the males, and, among the women, what the Narrator of The Dispossessed (1974) called violence's "most devoted ally, the averted eye" (206; ch. 8). Rogaz formulates the problem as collusion between the sexes "in maintaining the great foundation of ignorance and lies on which our civilisation rests"; and Ragaz foresees male independence. Dez adds, "Independence was as far as his vision could reach. Yet I think his mind groped further, towards what he could not see, the body's obscure, inalterable dream of mutuality" (29).

Neither the vision nor the dream last long for Ragaz. However much he doubts the Town Council will hear them, Ragaz still led the attempt to have their case heard. "Lord Fassaw saw his power threatened" and within days Ragaz is "seized by the Lordsmen and their bully boys, accused of repeated homosexual acts and treasonable plots, arraigned, and sentenced by the Lord of the Castle" to a beating with "Lord Long," a tube of heavy leather, filled with lead weights. Ragaz survives the beating less than two hours. Ragaz's lover and colleague Kohadrat preaches a sports variation on the anarchist doctrine of the unity of ends and means: "How you play is what you win." Dez and his fellows, though, "would not play the patience game any more. We would win, now, once for all."[21] And they do: in The Rakedr Mutiny they kill Lord Fassaw and the Lordsmen and their supporters, and mutilate the bodies (29-30). For himself, Dez and three other mutineers grab exercise clubs and beat to death Lordsman Tatiddi. Dez comments, "How we played is what we won" (30).

The blood and guts aside-literal blood and guts: they eviscerated at least one victim-there was a positive result of the uprising. "It was only two months after the Mutiny that the World Council enacted the Open Gate Law. We told one another that that was our victory, we had made that happen. None of us believed it." We should believe: the link between the stories that is the headnote to Dez's "Autobiographical Sketch" states explicitly that the Mutiny "directly precipitated the Open Gate Law" (26). Dez continues, "We told one another we were free. For the first time in history, any man who wanted to leave his Castle could walk out the gate. We were free!" As in "A Woman's Liberation" (1995), but with gender variations, a question is, "What happened to the free man outside the gate?" As Dez discovers when he and ten others walk out the gate, "Nobody had given it much thought" (31). They are like ghosts returning from the dead-nearly a motif for Le Guin in the 1990s-which is a problem: societies do not make room for ghosts. Men are hounded on the streets; they cannot get jobs, not even an apprenticeship; they cannot even work at the fuckeries, absent a Castle's guarantee of their health and behavior. They are still outside the world of life: "work, love, childbearing, childrearing, getting and spending, making and shaping, governing and adventuring-the women's world, the bright, full real world." There was no place for them; all they knew how "to do was play games and destroy one another" (31-32).

As he explains to his mother, Dez wants, primarily, to get married. She asks if he means marry a man, and he responds that he wants to marry a woman: "a normal, ordinary marriage. I want to have a wife and be a wife" (no "husbands" in the culture or language, only wives). His mother is shocked, but she tries to deal with the idea. Her son and a woman would "live together just like any married pair," establish "our own daughterhouse" and be faithful. If they have a child, Dez would "be its lovemother along with her." And his mother doesn't argue, just notes that she knows no precedents and that he will have to find a way to meet women. She offers the sound motherly advice that he might want to try the fuckery: fucking is, of course, a very logical way for a man to meet women and see if they like each other-and she doesn't see why their motherhouse couldn't guarantee his health and behavior as well as a Castle could (32). For readers from a still largely puritanical culture such as that of the USA, where normative mothers do not tell their sons that fucking for money is a good way to meet nice girls, this is a moment of wry situation comedy as well as vigorous defamiliarization of a mother-son conversation. But Dez refuses this offer, explaining that as a resistance worker he had few experiences at the fuckery and those experiences were not good, "after the tenderness of my lover-protectors in the Castle" (33).

On the other hand, women attract him "physically as men never had," and he is in a painful situation: surrounded by women, with no sex life. Fortunately, they have given him a room of his own, so he has physical room, and a place to masturbate. Much more fortunately, the story moves to a turning point when his sister Pado comes up to his room to tell him of an offworlder come to Rakedr to study the Mutiny. "'He wants to talk to the resistance,' she said, 'Men like you. The men who opened the gates. He says they won't come forward, as if they were ashamed of being heroes."[22] Dez blurts out "Heroes!" and then glosses the word as a female-gendered term referring to "the semi-divine, semi-historic protagonists of the Epics"; and Pado says that a hero is what he is: "You took responsibility in a great act. Maybe you did it wrong," but heroic error is hardly unprecedented, including in the Epics, and Pado sends him off to see the alien by saying "You owe us the story" (33),and he does: it is a rule with Seggri that "The doer of any notable acts was held literally accountable for it to the community" (34).

So Dez comes to talk to Mobile Noem, of Terra, and finds him "easy to talk to." Dez thinks, Noem "did not seem at all masculine to me, at first; I kept thinking he was a woman, because he acted like one. He got right to business, with none of the maneuvering to assert his authority or jockeying for position that men of my society felt obligatory in any relationship with another man. . . . Noem, like a woman, was direct and receptive" (34). Or maybe Noem is just from a fairly egalitarian and direct society on Terra and/or was well-trained on Hain; Dez, for good reasons, tends to have a bit of tunnel-vision in terms of gender. (The Gethenians, can be highly indirect and jockey enthusiastically for shifgrethor, without concerns of gender [see LHD 14; ch. 1].)

Dez learns that his story "has no beginning, and no story has an end. That the story is all muddle, all middle. That the story is never true, but that the lie is indeed a child of silence." I'd prefer to put the first couple of statements that, short of the story of the universe from Big Bang to Big Crunch (or Final Whimper of Entropy), all beginnings and endings are more or less arbitrary; and that insofar as all stories are partial-as in only part, plus told from a point of view-they are never completely true. Getting as much of Dez's story for "the matter of Seggri" as he wants, and perhaps noticing that Dez had come "to love and trust him," Noem asks Dez more personal, "impossible" questions (34). Most especially, Noem asks, "What would you be if you could be anything?" Dez's unhesitating, passionate answer: "A wife!" He wants his own family and his own house, where he can be a grownup (not his mother's son). He wants "A wife, wives-children-to be a mother," concluding, "I want life, not games!" Dez cannot bear a child, but he can "mother one," and Noem likes the Seggrian usage. Noem presses the point: what are the chances that Dez will find a wife? Noem doesn't think any Seggri woman has yet married a man. "It will happen, certainly, I think"-a hedged «certainty» Dez likes. But, Noem continues, noting that the first heterosexual marriages will come at high personal costs to the couples. And Dez tries to tell him his feelings "of having no room in my world, no air to breathe," and Noem points out the obvious: that there is plenty of room in the galaxy, and he offers a chance for an Ekumenical School on Hain. After Dez gets at least a bit of local education (35).

So Dez goes to college, and he meets an open-minded woman. And they "managed, tentatively and warily, to fall in love." Both "loathed the professionalism of the fuckery" and manage a relationship of "communication and commonalty" that was mostly other than and far more than just genital. But Dez's story is not another prose-narrative romance. The love-match "did not work out very well, or last very long, yet it was a great liberation" for both. Dez does not marry and give All for Love and the Galaxy Well Lost.[23] That is "Another Story" (FIS 147 f.). His college lover married into a motherhouse and had two children, and Dez does not sacrifice himself romantically for love or altruistically for the principle of heterosexual marriage on Seggri. Instead he finishes college, leaves for Hain for Ekumenical training, and travels to Werel and Yeowe as a member of the staff of the Mobile. The autobiography we read here is submitted as part of his "application to return to Seggri as a Mobile of the Ekumen. I want very much to live among my people, to learn who they are, now that I know with at least an uncertain certainty who I am" (36). The Gate got opened; Dez left the Castle. In earlier imagery, as at the end of City of Illusion (1967), the frame breaks and pattern shatters, and Dez went flying off into the great room of the galaxy. In a somewhat later image, he is one of those who walk away from Omelas. Still, Seggri has possibilities intentionally omitted in the timeless, changeless psychomythic world of "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (1973). "True journey is return," and the occasion of Dez's autobiographical sketch is his trying to get back. Dez's story, so far, is of a man who affirms marriage, who affirms political action, but who would not sacrifice himself for an idea and who knew when to get out. Now that he knows "with at least an uncertain certainty" who he is, now that he has experienced other worlds of oppression, and, maybe, now that Seggri has changed, now he can take the risk to return to what might be or become a home.

*

As I indicate above, "The Matter of Seggri" is a thought-experiment in "role reversals in the group relations between the sexes," to use Joanna Russ's formulation (42). But it is a very complex thought-experiment: among other things it offers commentary on "The Matter of Role-Reversals," "The Matter of Romance," "The Matter of Sexism," and maybe even "The Matter of the Feminist/Separatist Utopia," or of utopias more generally.

Above I said that "reversal" was too simple for much of what Le Guin is up to: there is at least a dual reversal among the Seggri. It is a reversal of patriarchy by definition, that women are in power and men are not; but the most narrow-minded of patriarchs, Captain Aolao-olao, say, can look at the Seggrian condition and find it comfortably familiar. The male conservatives of the Castles as well as the conservative women of the towns can look around them and see a culture to preserve. The men are solely masculine: the most manly of men doing the most manly of things, short of warfare, i.e., sports, competition, rule, fucking. And the women do women's work: everything else, including love, drudgery, mothering, "getting and spending," the life of the mind. Pushing through the reversal, following 'round the heyiya-if, so to speak, one can read the reversal to see the successful men of Seggri imprisoned in their narrowly-defined, golden cage of macho masculinity even as privileged women under patriarchy are imprisoned in a golden cage of a narrowly-defined femininity. A Seggrian pumped up Ken-doll can be seen reflecting a Terran Barbie. Less successful men among the Seggri, like all but the most privileged of Terran women, are pretty well just imprisoned. In a competitive hierarchy, as in the Castles, the great majority necessarily lose.

The basic and inevitable price for the men is that they are cut off from just about everything Le Guin defines as "the world," "life." They are also cut off from any vivifying life of the mind, but they intellectualize with a vengeance: the intellectual kick of success in sports, climbing in that abstraction, the hierarchy, finding glory among women or power over men. Even in the best of Castles on Seggri, the men are within the gates, in prison, trapped, cut off from nature, young children, women, any possibility for real community, real work, real thought; cut off from everything except games.

The women of Seggri have a good world: if not The Good Place, at least a pretty good place, better than most women get in most readers' times and places. Still, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is a most rigorous proof that Le Guin is not going to let us approve of a Good Place bought at the Faustian price of the suffering of one child, and the good life for the women of Seggri is bought at the price of many sacrificed sons.[24]

Insofar as a Good Place for Seggri women is purchased at the price of brutalized boys, Le Guin suggests, there is a problem. Still, the Castles are a truth on Seggri, not the whole truth. As the military is a truth on Urras in The Dispossessed (1974); as the rooms of suffering people are not the only truths of Orgoreyn in Left Hand of Darkness (1969) or "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"-and as Lucasville maximum security prison in my own region is not the only truth about Ohio. Readers, and especially male readers, who find the Seggri women paying too much for eutopia-figuratively out of the pockets and hides of their men-should come to ask the price of male-run eutopias. The point here is not that the women should be denied their good place in the world but that the men-carefully-should be allowed to enter. How difficult that will be for the Seggri is a measure of how effective Le Guin's story is as a feminist commentary on macho excess.

* *

"Seggri" and Feminism: The Political Le Guin

Men's Issues

"Since when was altruism an Odonian virtue?" Le Guin's Shevek asks in The Dispossessed (214; ch. 8), and the point is that altruism is not an Odonian virtue. Nor do altruism and benevolence look very good in Le Guin's Lathe of Heaven (1971). With very few exceptions-the most capable and confident of the elite-men on Seggri need not be altruistic nor benevolent to want to change their society; they need only be conscious. Terrans are not Seggri, but if we look at their world "in the peculiar, devious, and thought-experimental way proper to science fiction" (LHD 1976: Introd.)-there are significances for us. Taking to an extreme a sexist logic (reductio ad finem), Seggri "is a terrible place to be a man"; so, for most men, are the patriarchal cultures of Terra: patriarchy is the basis of a system of hierarchy and privilege in which a handful prosper, and most (men) are exploited. Industrialized patriarchal society offered few decent ways for men to live, and postindustrial society may lead to a culture like Seggri: most of the population with no useful work, reduced to game-playing, and prison.

If sexism and patriarchy as such are problems with men that must in part-mostly?-be dealt with by men, then, "Seggri" very usefully implies the evils of a patriarchal system for men.[25] In Le Guin's universe, there is no system of divine justice distributing rewards and punishments, no transcendent Goods to fulfill one's being by serving, so philosophically as well as in terms of very crass practical politics, there must be self-interests served for political action. "Seggri" can teach that Terran feminism can help men.

* * *

Women's Issues:

In Alice Echoll's words, "The issue of lesbianism really exploded" within the Women's Movement "on May 1, 1970, opening night of the second Congress to Unite Women" (214) and has been out of the closet and significant for the politics of feminism ever since. Into the 1970s and beyond, there was a good deal of anti-lesbian bigotry among liberals and a few radicals in the Women's Movement-and some conscious actions against lesbians in the Movement-and in the early 1970s the animosity was sometimes returned by lesbian-feminists. If one's doctrine is "feminism is the theory, lesbianism the practice" (my emphasis), then one might well agree with Rita Mae Brown's assertion that "Straight women . . . . betray Lesbians and . . . their own selves. You can't build a strong movement if your sisters are out there fucking with the oppressor" (Echolls 219, 227, 238, 232; ch. 5).[26] Infighting among people who mostly agree is never a good thing; moving into the 1980s and a full-scale backlash against feminism, radicalism, and then even liberalism and "secular humanism," Left-wing animosities against «natural allies» became an unaffordable luxury. Heterosexist biases and actions got recognized and renounced more among heterosexual activists; biases against heterosexual «breeders» generally got dropped. The rising consciousness on gay and lesbian issues among heterosexual authors and their readers is important background for Le Guin's recent writing.

As Le Guin has gone "forward with feminism without looking backward to fathers" (Barr 115)-no fathers in either "Solitude" nor "Seggri"-and "wrestled with the angels of the feminist consciousness" (ER 11), she has also dealt more positively with homosexuality. In "Seggri," voluntary, compassionate male homosexuality comes through well, and it is clear that the lesbianism-based motherhouses we learn about, and the marriage triad we see with Azak, Zedr, and Chochi, work quite well. Further, there indeed is "an enviable simplicity to many acts in a society which has, in all its daily life, only one gender" (7); and there is an admirable elegance and stability when that one gender is female and women can get all their needs met within that society, plus occasional professional servicing by males. But Le Guin is a critical feminist, I think, even as she is a Critical Romantic. Lesbian relations as "the central sexual element of society" among the Seggri do not preclude capitalism or sexism, nor do they preclude exploitation, segregation, and-when a few men enter active society-discrimination (31-32). The Seggri are a monoculture, which is stable and enviably simple, but as Susan Rose warns Ike in "Newton's Sleep," one might well fear "oversimplifying" (FIS 28). One should also fear simplifying in ways that go against "the body's obscure," but apparently quite real and "inalterable dream of mutuality" (29), including the simplifying of men into mere bodies.[27]

In "The Matter of Seggri," Le Guin has given us feminist SF not looking backward to fathers but perhaps forward to a world in which women and men would want and find real work and "A wife, wives-children-to be a mother" and to "mother" a child (35), "to have a wife and be a wife" (32), a challenging and radical feminist idea and ideal. In the sexual and gender politics area of one Kulturkampf, Le Guin will value solitude and separation, but only so long as there is the possibility of eventual social integration and on-going mutuality.

 

 


Alternative Routes: "Solitude" / "Seggri"—Endnotes  

[  1] If Borny and Serenity have a father, he is invisible in the plot of "Solitude." 

[  2] The end of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884/85) is Huck's decision, his book being written, "to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it.  I been there before."  Presenting kids literally running in packs may be only a slight and slightly satiric extension of American-adult views of youngsters (see Charnas's Walk . . . and Motherlines).     

[  3] On manners, cf. and contrast "Nine Lives" (1969), where learning manners is a crucial part of Kaph's learning to be a person.   

[  4]  See also Edna in "Ether, OR": "All my life since I was fourteen I have been making my soul" (UA 107 [108]); and the Woman in "The Woman and the Soul" (Peacocks 53-55).  Note Ren as a liminal character, and one of Le Guin's exiles and, as we read her story, envoy (see Spencer). 

[  5] "The murder of six billion nonexistent people" raises ontological questions that make it a difficult action to judge; we can be sure, though, that it is a wicked thing to do—whatever we finally decide has been done (LoH 75; ch. 6 [see ch. 5]). 

[  6] In the story's primary world, the Poacher did not protect his step-mother from his father when he grew big enough to do so (UA 197-98).  In the dream-time world of the castle, he did not leave a (heterosexual) pair of sleeping peasant lovers alone but "laid [himself]. . . down softly on her," kissed her nipples, "and came into her honey sweetness," apparently on more than one occasion and with her smiling "in her sleep" and sometimes making "a little groan of pleasure" (208).  When he eats food without its being consumed, the boy asks, "Was it that as a dream, I could change nothing of this reality of sleep?" (204), and he may change nothing; so if he's in a dream, ethical issues get complicated—or very simple: dreams are amoral. 

[  7] Not entering other people's houses may glance at a trend in the US away from casual visits.  In large US cities around the time of "Solitude," people may be physically close to their neighbors but more isolated than the women in a Sorovian auntring. 

[  8]  Having spent time "wearing a spiked girdle in a dark cave," and a full summer as "a rooted vegetable in a garden," Simeon became a "pillar saint" near Antioch in 423 CE  I.e., after having descended into the earth, aardvark-hole fashion, St. Simeon Stylites climbed atop a pillar and stayed there, meditating, praying, and building the pillar higher, gradually raising "himself to a height of sixty feet above the ground," where he spent thirty years (Thompson and Johnson 56; see Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow 315-22).   

[  9]  Owen Griffiths, the protagonist-narrator of VFA (1978), had a similar experience "Once out in the desert, under the stars," when he "turned into the earth turning on its axis"—but he has such experiences "always alone.  By myself," and he treasures a similar experience "on the high mountain with a friend" (VFA 41). 

[10]  Among sociable people who pair for life, such attention to detail is also crucial; Shevek and a nameless truck train driver in TD agree it is attention to detail that makes for variety in partnerships (249; ch. 10).

[11] I.e., "cause a maggot to gag" (if maggots were capable of gagging).  The quotations on persuasion = violence I recalled turned out to be from Sally Miller Gearhart's "The Womanization of Rhetoric," qtd. here from Jarratt 106-07.  For a nuanced response to Gearhart and more generally "The Feminist Case against Argument," see all of Jarratt's "Feminism and Composition: The Case for Conflict," a thoughtful and important essay Jarratt was kind enough to give me when I requested it in the spring of 1997, in the context of my work as Student Mediator for the Miami U. English Dept. 

[12] My thanks to David Schappert for sending me on 10 July 1995 materials on "Seggri" from the World Wide Web site for the 1995 James Tiptree, Jr. Award.  I used from those materials comments from Brian Attebery, Pat Murphy, and Susanna J. Sturgis.  ("Seggri" won the 1995 Tiptree.) 

[13] For snapshots, see "Winter's King" (1969/1975, coll. WTQ (86 f.). 

[14] In the Web site comments on the Tiptree Award, Brian Attebery invites comparisons of "Seggri" with some of Le Guin's own works "as well as the thought experiments of other gender explorers like Joanna Russ, Eleanor Arnason, Sheri S. Tepper, and James Tiptree, Jr." (i.e., Alice Sheldon).  Susanna J. Sturgis compares with "Seggri" Arnason's "The Lovers" and Suzy McKee Charnas's Furies, both nominated for the 1995 Tiptree (Furies is the sequel to Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines); the worlds of the Charnas trilogy should also be put into dialog with Eleven-Soro in "Solitude."  As a quiet part of that dialog, one should add Le Guin's own "Limberlost" (1989), coll. UA. 

[15]  Quoted words from Le Guin, personal communication; I have removed Le Guin's underlining to fit her words better into my sentence. 

[16] I use "pathos" as in pathetic: Toddra is like the traditional chivalric/courtly lover in combining a strong dose of overly earnest masochism in his love.  See below for Le Guin as a critical Romantic critiquing this variety of lover.   

[17]  For a classical instance in English see climax of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, where, thinking himself betrayed, the sighing and riming Duke Orsino gets murderous: "I'll sacrifice the lamb that I do love / To spite a raven's heart within a dove" (see 5.1.111-27).  Lancelot of the Lake, Romeo of Verona, and many of their brothers on the Romance circuit are also dangerous to have around. 

[18]  See opening of "A Woman's Liberation" (FWF 145).   

[19]   "Breaking a punk" was described to me in the middle 1970s when I guest-taught at the State of Ohio's maximum security prison at Lucasville; I believe the story.   

[20]  We might see the lack of sky-god monotheism correlating with a woman-run culture.  Note, though, that there is no visible religion among the Terran military on Athshe in WWF (1972)—or in most SF and other genres of popular narrative.  Contrast the strong monotheism of the Basnasska Nation in CI (1967 [ch. 4]) and of the Condor people of ACH (1985).

[21] Contrast the rejection of violence by the Committee of the Student Action Council when in power in "Unlocking the Air" (coll. UA, see esp. 138). 

[22] On the gate-opening, cf. and contrast the revolt on Yeowe, where it is the opening of the armory of Nadami Plantation by a slave woman that gives the insurrection impetus, and military weapons (FWF 226), and note passim in FWF (1995) and ACH the imagery of gates, especially gates closed and open in FWF, and the presence or absence of walls for there to be gates in, in ACH  

[23] John Dryden's updating of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra was titled All for Love OR The World Well Lost (1677/78). 

[24] There are also lost options for girls with high potential for athletics, and some kinds of dance and theatre (the story dances). 

[25]  The oppression of women, as such, is a problem for women to be dealt with primarily by women: "'To liberate' is a reflexive verb."   

[26] Echolls notes Ti-Grace-Atkinson's movement from "feminism is  theory, lesbianism is a practice" to "feminism is the theory, lesbianism the practice" (238).  I have heard the second form used as a feminist slogan.    

[27] Note that Merriment is soon "glad to get away from the rah-rah and the swooning and the posters of fellows with swelling muscles and huge penises and bedroom eyes" (8).  The jock/cheerleader aspect of Seggri culture is a satiric joke that should be taken seriously.  If a women's culture segregates men and uses men for entertainment, at least part of that culture could move toward a kind of fan culture.  See Moffatt for the "recurrent motifs" in Rutgers U dorm room decoration of "good-looking, minimally-clad young adults of the opposite sex, which were about as common and about as near-nude in women's rooms as in men's, and favorite stars of music, television, and the movies" (80; ch. 3).   


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