Close Readings II: Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed

How do words get their meaning? What’s the relationship between meaning and ambiguity? And how do authors play upon meaning’s multivalence to achieve the effects seen in great essays and works of fiction? How do the styles and methods of writing impact upon our styles and methods of thinking? How do the methods of repetition, symmetry, and symmetry breaking effect a text’s reception, what the reader takes away from it? Do we think in metaphors, and can their connections and connotations encourage us to adopt and maintain certain perspectives?

These are the questions from which we begin Close Readings II, and we use these tools to analyse a classic of 20th Century science fiction. Its political clashes, its two-world geography, the establishment and subversion of character, and the author’s use of structure to represent her philosophy will be the topics to which we apply our new-found critical reading skills.

Each week our students write a short, anonymous response to a particular section or concept from the book, and each week we move further and further afield from its starting point, considering Daoism, anarchist political philosophy, alternate models for understanding time, and the nature and subliminal structure of power in an institution. Students work towards their final presentation and essay, but more than that, towards a mature and flexible form of understanding and interrogating a text that can be applied in any field of future study.