Ursula K. Le Guin's groundbreaking work of science fiction The Left Hand of Darkness plays a central role in Tuesday Smillie's work, on view now at the Rose. On Nov 15 the Rose will host a book club led by the artist, placing the novel within the context of her work and the author's later responses to criticism. Join us in reading and discussing this pivotal text.
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For those who would like to borrow a copy of The Left Hand of Darkness, lending copies are available at the front desk of the Rose.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness takes place on the invented planet Gethen, a world in which bodies are inherently gender-fluid. First published in 1969, Le Guin’s text questioned the essentialized nature and hard divides of gender at a time when public conversations about such topics, especially those related to transgender identity, were sparse. As such, The Left Hand of Darkness has been the subject of praise, and claimed by many—including Smillie—as a pioneering transgender feminist text. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, this novel stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.
At the time of its publication, as well as today, however, The Left Hand of Darkness has also been criticized for the ways in which Le Guin’s early sketch of Gethen remains hinged on a binary of gendered attributes and heterosexual pairings. While inhabitants of Gethen are ungendered, they are identified by male pronouns, to which Smillie has wryly commented: “While she literally creates universes out of thin air, Le Guin cannot imagine creating a singular, gender-neutral pronoun.”
This critique, responded to by both readers and Le Guin herself, will be discussed during this event.
Speculating on the potential impact that collective action can have on creating a more equitable and just world, Tuesday Smillie’s sewn and embroidered textile works use text both original and borrowed—citations from literature as well as the rallying cries of 1970s trans activist movements. Smillie’s work continues these dialogues, looking critically at past movements even as she underscores the revolutionary power of the imagination that fueled them. For, as she writes: “To build another world, we must first be brave enough to imagine how that world could be.”