I’m currently reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic sci-fi novel The Left Hand of Darkness, and while I rarely quote books while I’m reading them, this one passage hit me between the eyes. The story involves a planet that’s divided into two countries, and our two protagonists–one a planetary native, one an off-world visitor–are on the run in one of the two countries (“Orgoreyn”) and are trying to cross great distance to return to the other.
This exchange takes place, with the first line spoken by the off-world visitor who is a stranger to these countries:
“You hate Orgoreyn, don’t you?”
“…Hate Orgoreyn? No, how should I? How does one hate a country, or love one?…I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession…Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope.”
Lots of good food for thought in this book. But then, it’s Le Guin, so this is not a surprise.
UPDATE!!! So I just finished the novel, and it turns out there’s an Introduction to the book. Oddly, in my Library Of America edition of Le Guin’s works in which Left Hand is anthologized, that introduction does not appear at the beginning of Left Hand but rather as an appendix to the book as a whole, which is a rather odd thing, I must say. But anyway, in that introduction appears this bit of wisdom:
The artist deals with what cannot be said in words.
The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.
I love that sentiment.