ENG237: Science Fiction
Test One Information:
- next week starting at 6:15 PM
- need to bring student ID/pens/pencils
- we will have a short lecture after the test
- covers everything up to this lecture
- full details are on Blackboard
- the passages will come from things we've talked about in class
- make sure to cite/use textual evidence to support points
- be as speciﬁc as you can, especially for Part B
- for Part B, you can refer to other parts of the novel for other examples, but your focus should be
the passage given on the test
Recap from last week:
- Gethenian sexual biology causes a dissonance or discord in the linguistic/semiotic ﬁeld of
gender(ed) signiﬁers in Genly's narrative:
- he, his, him, male, man, men are Genly's default gendered terms of Gethenians; yet such
signiﬁers are ultimately inaccurate and thus unstable
- see speciﬁc moments of dissonance in Genly's language e.g. "My landlady, a voluble man"
- expresses Genly's experience of cognitive estrangement, of defamiliarization, with regard to
Genly's struggle with language when it comes to the Gethenians can represent his sense of
estrangement in an alien world. Chapter seven comes as a guide for readers to the challenges
Genly faces when it comes to Gethenian sexual biology. Gethenians present a profound
challenge to our imaginations: we have to think in terms other than gender binaries we are
used to. The process of us imagining Gethenians as a "man-woman" is perhaps what lies at the
heart of Genly's own narrative experiment in his story's multiple voices.
What is the consequence of chapter seven?After this the reader becomes more attuned to this
dissonance when it comes to linguistic signiﬁers and gender/sex. The reader becomes more
aware of the estrangement Genly feels in the text.
An ambisexual point of view: how does sexual biology affect Gethenian society and identity?
The journey across the ice also charts Genly's own changing sense of identity and self.An
important part of this change is that Genly acquires a more "ambisexual point of view", to a
Chapter seven presents anthropological observations of the Gethenian society and describes how
the kemmer phenomenon shapes their society. In chapter 7, we see that Gethenian society is
radically different from our own. It is estranging in a crucial way. With a lack of gender
dualism and hierarchies, much that is familiar to us doesn't apply. Thinking socially, everyone
can be both a father and a mother. There is no rape, no war, etc. This society is very different
from ours, and so the challenge to the reader and to Genly is profound. We rely upon gender
binaries, they are very central to our identities, and this is not the gase in Gethenian society. Gethenians treat a person as a human being, and for us this could be an "appalling experience".
Why would this be? For many of us, gender is very much a part of our identity, and so to not
be seen as a "man" or a "woman" is appalling for people who are used to this. In a way
Gethenians force us to confront how crucial sex and gender are to our society: we're forced to
deal with our own ideologies and assumptions. There are no gender differences, gender
politics, gender competition, etc. This sort of competition takes different forms (e.g.
shifgrethor). There is no sense of "belonging" to a certain group; all people are judged the
same. Everything changes when there is no gender binary.
"Light is the left hand of darkness.... Two are one, life and death, lying together like lovers in
kemmer, like hands joined together, like the end and the way."
Being treated as both man and woman lies in the shifting point of view that Genly has to
make, as well as his change in identity. This requires a new imagination, a new idea of gender
and sex. In the novel, Genly steadily acquires an ambisexual point of view. There are two
metaphors for this, one from Estravan and one from Genly.
From Estravan: Tormer's Lay. It supplies an expression of the Gethenian perspective as
inﬂuenced by Gethenian sexual biology.
Chiasmus: light is the left hand of darkness, darkness the right hand of light. There is a balanced
reverse. Light and darkness are not opposites, but joined together as one. They are valued
equally rather than one being valued higher than the other. Gethenian ambisexuality embodies
this notion of two together. There is a synthesis here, represented in the line "like lovers in
kemmer": the two are one. Kemmer embodies the idea that Gethenians can be both men and
women; but it also embodies the idea that two Gethenians come together in kemmer like
lovers. Even when in kemmer the two are humans, not "man" and "woman".
From Genly we get the metaphor of yin and yang for an ambisexual point of view. "Both and
one". This symbol can represent Estravan and Gethenian society. It is a sign of synthesis and
unity; of the mutual reliance and equality of two terms. Genly links the yin and yang to
Tormer's Lay, forging a synthesis between the two of them. Genly discovers for himself a
familiar sign that expresses the same basic idea as Tormer's Lay. He also links the symbol to
Estravan's own biology.
Estravan is both and one, as being a "man-woman". What we see here, and in the Tormer's Lay,
is the power of a metaphor for materializing a complex idea. Genly reaches a point of
imagination at which he can accept Estravan for who and what he is. He is beginning the shift
to a more ambisexual point of view. By the end there is a shift in Genly in that he is no longer
uncomfortable with Gethenian society (although he still has problems with language).
The Gobrin Ice Journey as "Keystone"
The symbol of the keystone is introduced in the beginning of the novel and used again later by
Genly at the end of the novel when talking about bringing his ship down from orbit. The idea
is that the keystone completes and stabilizes the two arms of an arch by distributing weight
equally down both sides. It is the joining of two halves.
Estravan himself becomes the keystone that forms the bond between the Gethenians and the
Ekumen. The whole process for Genly is ﬁgured speciﬁcally in terms of the keystone and the
arch: setting the keystone and bringing the two sides of the arch together. By returning to it at the end Genly brings the novel full-circle. The journey across the ice is a kind of keystone in
Genly's point of view. His relationship with Estravan is the setting of a keystone, and it is
important in that it becomes based on love. There is also the setting of a keystone in that
Genly acquires the perspective needed to accept the Gethenians as who they are.
What are the consequences of Genly's journey across the ice in terms of how it affects his
perspective towards the alien?At the start of the journey Genly has a very bisexual point of
view. Initially Genly is acutely aware of the difference