Let’s start with a brief introduction to Ursula K. Le Guin. She was born in California USA and her works have been published worldwide since the mid-19th century. She was known by and be awarded several times for her fantastic stories and novels. She also influenced Neil Galman, Salman Rushdie etc. In the subtext of her works, roots for Anarchism, Socialism, Feminism and Taoism can be found. I want to express my feelings towards my first encounter with Ursula.
Planet of Exile
This novel narrates hundreds of years later from now in which intergalactic relationships are advanced. A group of earthlings are trapped in a planet in which a tribe of indigenous humanoids are settled. We observe the social fabrics, individual passions/desires and the relationship between two different nations in a Socialist, Feminist and Taoist context. The answer to whether a conservative-reactionist and a progressivist society can collaborate with each other towards a common enemy is sought. We can also say that this novel has a very fluent and interesting plot, thus, is able to catch the interest of the reader.
The success of the novel is derived from the dissolution of the subtexts into the story and be out of the naked eye. My first concern towards a novel which is written by a politically-motivated writer is the probability of reading a manifesto instead of a literary piece of art. However, in the Planet of Exile, phenomena like otherhood, prejudice, rootlessness and deterritorialization are processed within the framework of modern Feminism and Taoism, but don’t capture and possess the whole plot. I mean, although the novel narrates a woman chasing freedom in a patriarchal society, it is hard to say that it is only ‘the novel of a woman revolting against patriarchy’. The story of this kind of a woman stays in its place as an assistive element to the phenomena of adventure, mystery and conflict as we expect form a science-fiction novel.
The Dilemma of ‘Feminist Novel’
The dilemma that I will explain in a little while is not only about the Feminism. There is an emerging genre in Turkey called Literature of Ankara (Ankara Edebiyatı). It seems that, as an opposition to the main stream Turkish novel which most of the time narrates Istanbul, young writers started to write novels which take place in Ankara. It is that simple only to the point that we start to name these under a separate subtitle. This naming marginalizes itself and prevents them to combat against the absorption power of the main stream. If it is desired to create the diversity, first, we must get rid of this subtitle.
Let me give an example. The slogan of a popular detective story which takes place in Ankara, Behzat Ç., is “A Detective Story of Ankara”. This slogan shouts that there is no advanced literature in the capital city and Ankara has only one detective story good enough to be mentioned. This is, as I said before, marginalizing Ankara instead of normalizing it. None of the Ahmet Ümit’s novels are tagged as “A Detective Story of Istanbul”.
The concept of “Feminist Novel” is as bizarre as “Literature of Ankara”. A woman (or a Feminist) writer is not doomed to write about the problems of women or any kind of gender-related issue. The first thing comes to my mind when I hear “Feminist Novel” is either the story of a heroic woman character fighting against the patriarchy or a free woman trying to impose her political values to the others. This is of course a misconception of Feminist Novel but it should be underlined that it is a self-produced misconception caused by marginalizing nature of these kind of subtitles. Feminism cannot be successful when it creates the “Feminist Novel” but it can be successful when it frees the women to write whatever they want. This is the reason why I place special emphasis on the works of Ursula writing without giving up Feminism but also without confining herself to it.
When it comes to the literature and Feminism, the tales of the Middle Ages are also mentioned. These tales are generally describing the women as fragile and possessed commodities. Although I understand the sensitiveness of Feminism towards these tales, I’m against to the idea of wiping out them as they are the sources of a historian chasing the knowledge about an era in the history (and I’m chasing to be a historian like that as well). We must recognize one important fact: these tales are filling a gap and fulfilling a need. We cannot deny this fact when they are read hundreds of years later and adapted to cinema several times.
My suggestion is to put an effort to create new tales instead of fighting against the previous ones. Tales which express the importance of universal values like modesty, altruism, thoughtfulness, creativeness etc., but do not depict the women as fragile and helpless creatures… Ursula and her works are good examples of this. Her tales are filling the gap and fulfilling the need while they give hints about universal values and discuss the developments of modern world. I, as a passionate reader, would prefer to read these tales of Ursula rather than the already existing fairy tales altered and sanitized by Feminist thought.
My opinions, I think, is going to be shaped more and more after I read her other works. Let’s see, which shores are awaiting us, in the quest of understanding Ursula K. Le Guin. But for now, I liked her and Planet of Exile very much.
This was translated into English, in Jul 2018.