Friday, September 23, 2011

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed page 310

Very late on the following ship night, Shevek was in the Davenant's garden. The lights were out, there, and it was illuminated only by starlight. The air was quite cold. A night-blooming flower from some unimaginable world had opened among the dark leaves and was sending out its perfume with patient, unavailing sweetness to attract some unimaginable moth trillions of miles away, in a garden on a world circling another star. The sunlights differ, but there is only one darkness.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed page 219

They owned him. He had thought to bargain with them, a very naïve anarchist's notion. The individual cannot bargain with the State. The State recognizes no coinage but power: and it issues the coins itself.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed pages 178-182

A couple of men were determined to talk physics with him. One of them was well mannered, and Shevek managed to evade him for a while, for he found it hard to talk physics with nonphysicists. The other was overbearing, and no escape was possible from him; but irritation, Shevek found, made it much easier to talk. The man knew everything, apparently because he had a lot of money. "As I see it," he informed Shevek, "you Simultaneity Theory simply denies the most obvious fact about time, the fact that time passes."

"Well, in physics one is careful about what one calls 'facts.' It is different from business," Shevek said very mildly and agreeably, but there was something in his mildness that made Vea, chatting with another group nearby, turn around to listen. "Within the strict terms of Simultaneity Theory, succession is not considered as a physically objective phenomenon, but as a subjective one."

"Now stop trying to scare Dearri, and tell us what that means in baby talk," Vea said. Her acuteness made Shevek grin.

"Well, we think that time 'passes,' flows past us, but what if it is we who move forward, from past to future, always discovering the new? It would be a little like reading a book, you see. The book is all there, all at once, between its covers. But if you want to read the story and understand it, you must begin with the first page, and go forward, always in order. So the universe would be a very great book, and we would be very small readers."

"But the fact is," said Dearri, "that we experience the universe as a succession, a flow. In which case, what's the use of this theory of how on some higher plane it may be all eternally coexistent? Fun for you theorists, maybe, but it has no practical application, no relevance to real life. Unless it means we can build a time machine!" he added with a kind of hard, false joviality.

"But we don't experience the universe only successively," Shevek said. "Do you never dream, Mr. Dearri?" He was proud of himself for having, for once, remembered to call someone 'Mr.'

"What's that got to do with it?"

"It is only in consciousness, it seems, that we experience time at all. A little baby has no time; he can't distance himself from the past and understand how it relates to his present, or plan how his present might relate to his future. He does not know time passes; he does not understand death. The unconscious mind of the adult is like that still. In a dream there is no time, and succession is all changed about, and cause and effect are all mixed together. In myth and legend there is no time. What past is it the tale means when it says 'Once upon a time'? And so, when the mystic makes the reconnection of his reason and his unconscious, he sees all becoming as one being, and understands the eternal return."

"Yes, the mystics," the shyer man said, eagerly. "Tebores, in the Eighth Millennium. He wrote, The unconscious mind is coextensive with the universe."

"But we're not babies," Dearri cut in, "we're rational men. Is your Simultaneity some kind of mystical regressivism?"

There was a pause, while Shevek helped himself to a pastry which he did not want, and ate it. He had lost his temper once today and made a fool of himself. Once was enough.

"Maybe you could see it," he said, "as an effort to strike a balance. You see, Sequency explains beautifully our sense of linear time, and the evidence of evolution. It includes creation, and mortality. But there it stops. It deals with all that changes, but it cannot explain why things also endure. It speaks only of the arrow of time--never of the circle of time."

"The circle?" asked the politer inquisitor, with such evident yearning to understand that Shevek quite forgot Dearri, and plunged in with enthusiasm, gesturing with hands and arms as if trying to show his listener, materially, the arrows, the cycles, the oscillations he spoke of. "Time goes in cycles, as well as in a line. A planet revolving: you see? One cycle, one orbit around the sun, is a year, isn't it? And two orbits, two years, and so on. One can count the orbits endlessly--an observer can. Indeed such a system is how we count time. It constitutes the time-teller, the clock. But within the system, the cycle, where is time? Where is beginning or end? Infinite repetition is an atemporal process. It must be compared, referred to some other cyclic or noncyclic process, to be seen as temporal. Well, this is very queer and interesting, you see. The atoms, you know, have a cyclic motion. The stable compounds are made of constituents that have a regular, periodic motion relative to one another. In fact, it is the tiny time-reversible cycles of the atom that give matter enough permanence that evolution is possible. The little timelessnesses added together make up time. And then on the big scale, the cosmos: well, you know we think that the whole universe is a cyclic process, an oscillation of expansion and contraction, without any before or after. Only within each of the great cycles, where we live, only there is there linear time, evolution, change. So then time has two aspects. There is the arrow, the running river, without which there is no change, no progress, or direction, or creation. And there is the circle or the cycle, without which there is chaos, meaningless succession of instants, a world without clocks or seasons or promises."

"You can't assert two contradictory statements about the same thing," said Dearri, with the calmness of his superior knowledge. "In other words, one of these 'aspects' is real, the other's simply an illusion."

"Many physicists have said that," Shevek assented.

"But what do you say?" asked the one who wanted to know.

"Well, I think it's an easy way out of the difficulty. . . . Can one dismiss either being, or becoming, as an illusion? Becoming without being is meaningless. Being without becoming is a big bore. . . . If the mind is able to perceive time in both these ways, then a true chronosophy should provide a field in which the relation of the two aspects or processes of time could be understood."

"But what's the good of this sort of 'understanding,'" Dearri said, "if it doesn't result in practical, technological applications? Just word juggling, isn't it."

"You ask questions like a true profiteer," Shevek said, and not a soul there knew he had insulted Dearri with the most contemptuous word in his vocabulary; indeed Dearri nodded a bit, accepting the compliment with satisfaction. Vea, however, sensed a tension, and burst in, "I don't really understand a word you say, you know, but it seems to me that if I did understand what you said about the book--that everything really all exists now--then couldn't we foretell the future? If it's already there?"

"No, no," the shyer man said, not at all shyly. "It's not there like a couch or a house. Time isn't space. You can't walk around in it!" Vea nodded brightly, as if quite relieved to be put in her place. Seeming to gain courage from his dismissal of the woman from the realms of higher thought, the shy man turned to Dearri and said, "It seems to me the application of temporal physics is in ethics. Would you agree to that, Dr. Shevek?"

"Ethics? Well, I don't know. I do mostly mathematics, you know. You cannot make equations of ethical behavior."

"Why not?" said Dearri.

Shevek ignored him. "But it's true, chronosophy does involve ethics. Because our sense of time involves our ability to separate cause and effect, means and end. The baby, again, the animal, they don't see the difference between what they do now and what will happen because of it. They can't make a pulley, or a promise. We can. Seeing the difference between now and not now, we can make the connection. And there mortality enters in. Responsibility. To say that a good end will follow from a bad means is just like saying that if I pull a rope on this pulley it will lift the weight on that one. To break a promise is to deny the reality of the past; therefore it is to deny the hope of a real future. If time and reason are functions of each other, if we are creatures of time, then we had better know it, and try to make the best of it. To act responsibly."

"But look here," said Dearri, with ineffable satisfaction in his own keenness, "you just said that in your Simultaneity system there is no past and future, only a sort of eternal present. So how can you be responsible for the book that's already written? All you can do is read it. There's no choice, no freedom of action left."

"That is the dilemma of determinism. You are quite right, it is implicit in Simultanist thinking. But Sequency thinking also has its dilemma. It is like this, to make a foolish little picture--you are throwing a rock at a tree, and if you are a Simultanist the rock has already hit the tree, and if you are a Sequentist it never can. So which do you choose? Maybe you prefer to throw rocks without thinking about it, no choice. I prefer to make things difficult, and choose both."

"How--how do you reconcile them?" the shy man asked earnestly.

Shevek nearly laughed in despair. "I don't know. I have been working a long time on it! After all, the rock does hit the tree. Neither pure sequency nor pure unity will explain it. We don't want purity, but complexity, the relationship of cause and effect, means and end. Our model of the cosmos must be as inexhaustible as the cosmos. A complexity that includes not only duration but creation, not only being but becoming, not only geometry but ethics. It is not the answer we are after, but only how to ask the question. . . ."

"All very well, but what industry needs is answers," said Dearri.

Shevek turned slowly, looked down at him, and said nothing at all.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed pages 153-154

When the Moon was in the sky one could make out the coastlines of its continents clearly, under the dazzling while whorls of its clouds.

"Why does it look so beautiful?" Takver said, lying beside Shevek under the orange blanket, the light out... "When we know that it's a planet just like this one, only with a better climate and worse people--when we know they're all propertarians, and fight wars, and make laws, and eat while others starve, and anyhow are all getting older and having bad luck and getting rheumatic knees and corns on their toes just like people here . . . when we know all that, why does it still look so happy--as if life there must be so happy? I can't look at that radiance and imagine a horrid little man with greasy sleeves and an atrophied mind like Sabul living on it; I just can't."

Their naked arms and breasts were moonlit. The fine, faint down on Takver's face made a blurring aureole over her features; her hair and the shadows were black. Shevek touched her silver arm with his silver hand, marveling at the warmth of the touch in that cool light.

"If you can see a thing whole," he said, "it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives. . . . But close up, a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval. The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death."

"That's all right for Urras. Let it stay off there and be the moon--I don't want it! But I'm not going to stand up on a gravestone and look down on life and say, 'O lovely!' I want to see it whole right in the middle of it, here, now. I don't give a hoot for eternity."

"It's nothing to do with eternity," said Shevek, grinning, a thin shaggy man of silver and shadow. "All you have to do to see life whole is to see it as mortal. I'll die, you'll die; how could we love each other otherwise? The sun's going to burn out, what else keeps it shining?"

"Ah! your talk, your damned philosophy!"

"Talk? It's not talk. It's not reason. It's hand's touch. I touch the wholeness, I hold it. Which is moonlight, which is Takver? How shall I fear death? When I hold it, when I hold in my hands the light--"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed pages 106-107

[A]t his request Pae had taken him to Saemtenevia Prospect, the elegant retail street of Nio Esseia, to be fitted by a tailor and a shoemaker.

The whole experience had been so bewildering to him that he put it out of mind as soon as possible, but he had dreams about it for months afterwards, nightmares. Saemtenevia Prospect was two miles long, and it was a solid mass of people, traffic, and things: things to buy, things for sale. Coats, dresses, gowns, robes, trousers, breeches, shirts, blouses, hats, shoes, stockings, scarves, shawls, vests, capes, umbrellas, clothes to wear while sleeping, while swimming, while playing games, while at an afternoon party, while at an evening party, while at a party in the country, while traveling, while at the theater, while riding horses, gardening, receiving guests, boating, dining, hunting--all different, all in hundreds of different cuts, styles, colors, textures, materials. Perfumes, clocks, lamps, statues, cosmetics, candles, pictures, cameras, games, vases, sofas, kettles, puzzles, pillows, dolls, colanders, hassocks, jewels, carpets, toothpicks, calendars, a baby's teething rattle of platinum with a handle of rock crystal, an electrical machine to sharpen pencils, a wristwatch with diamond numerals; figurines and souvenirs and kickshaws and mementos and gewgaws and bric-a-brac, everything either useless to begin with or ornamented so as to disguise its use; acres of luxuries, acres of excrement. In the first block Shevek had stopped to look at a shaggy, spotted coat, the central display in a glittering window of clothes and jewelry. "The coat costs 8,400 units?" he asked in disbelief, for he had recently read in a newspaper that a "living wage" was about 2,000 units a year. "Oh, yes, that's real fur, quite rare now that the animals are protected," Pae had said. "Pretty thing, isn't it? Women love furs." And they went on. After one more block Shevek felt utterly exhausted. He could not look any more. He wanted to hide his eyes.

And the strangest thing about the nightmare street was that none of the millions of things for sale were made there. They were only sold there. Where were the workshops, the factories, where were the farmers, the craftsmen, the miners, the weavers, the machinists, where were the hands, the people who made? Out of sight, somewhere else. Behind walls. All the people in the shops were either buyers or sellers. They had no relation to the things but that of possession.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed pages 105-106

He must not dismiss as ridiculous what was, after all, of tremendous importance here. He tried to read an elementary economics text; it bored him past endurance, it was like listening to somebody interminably recounting a long and stupid dream. He could not force himself to understand how banks functioned and so forth, because all the operations of capitalism were as meaningless to him as the rites of a primitive religion, as barbaric, as elaborate, and as unnecessary. In a human sacrifice to a deity there might be at least a mistaken and terrible beauty; in the rites of the moneychangers, where greed, laziness, and envy were assumed to move all men's acts, even the terrible became banal. Shevek looked at this monstrous pettiness with contempt, and without interest. He did not admit, he could not admit, that in fact it frightened him.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed page 52

He went to the windows of the big room and stood looking out. The room was high. He was startled at first and drew back, unused to being in a building of more than one storey. It was like looking down from a dirigible; one felt detached from the ground, dominant, uninvolved.