Friday, July 22, 2011

"The Domestication of Hunch"

This post is about Ursula K. le Guin's book The Left Hand of Darkness. I don't recommend reading this post unless you've read the book.


So, I'm taking a look at what chapter 5, "The Domestication of Hunch," says about the Handdara.

"But I'm a Yomeshta, praise to the nine-hundred Throne-Upholders and Blest be the Milk of Meshe, and one ocan be a Yomeshta anywhere" (47).

Genly's landlady is of the opinion that a person can only be of the Handdara if they are in certain locations. I'm pretty sure that this is not the case, however.

" Lord Meshe was born 2,202 years-ago, but the Old Way of the Handdara goes back ten thousand years before that" (47).

The landlady again, telling us that the Handdara is about 12,000 years old.

Actually, Genly says on page 71 that it's 13,000 years old.

"Oh, the Old Men can. I used to drive in a caravan that brought up their food from Erhenrang, late in summer. Of course you can't get in or out for ten or eleven months of the year, but they don't care. There's seven or eight Indwellers up there" (52).

Someone telling Genly about some of the practitioners of Handdara.

"I came there at noon. That is, I came somewhere at noon, but I wasn't sure where . . . . After a while I became aware that there was a wooden hut just off the path to my right, and then I noticed a quite large wooden building a little farther off to my left; and from somewhere there came a delicious smell of fresh frying fish . . . . As I went on along the path I realized that a whole village or town was scatrtered about inthe shadow of that slanting forest, all as random as Rer was, but secretive, peaceful, rural" (54-5).

Genly comes to a Fastness and cannot even see it at first. It blends into the rest of the forest. I think it's safe to assume that this shows something of the nature of the Handdarata -- perhaps that they do not intrude, and mesh easily with the rest of the world.

Also, there is that word again: shadow.

"The Handdara is a religion without institution, without priests, without a hiearchy, without vows, without creed; I am still unable to say whether it has a God or not. It is elusive. It is always somewhere else. Its only fixed manifestations is in the Fastnesses, retreats tow hich people may retire and spend the night or a lifetime" (55).

What we've learned here:

*No institution
*No priests
*No hiearchy
*No vows
*No creed
*Elusive (to Genly)
*The Fastnesses are the "only fixed manifestations"
*People may sped a "night or a lifetime" in a Fastnesses

" 'I've lived here three years, but haven't yet acquired enough ignorance to be worth mentioning.' He qas highly amused, but his manner was gentle, and I managed to recollect enough scraps of Handdara lore to realize that I had been boasting very much . . . . 'Behold, we must sully the plain snow with footprints, in order to get anywhere' " (56-7). 

Here we see that ignorance is to be desired, and sought. Goss seems to suggest that ignorance can be gained, just like knowledge.

He also says "we must sully the plain snow with footprints in order to get anywhere." So what is the snow? If it's assumed to be what is wanted (ignorance) then it must be assumed that the footprints (which would cast shadows inside of them!) would be knowledge. Hmm...

This might be an important indication of what all the shadow references are about.

"They were practicing the Handdara discipline of Presence, which is a kind of trance -- the Handdarata, given to negatives, may call it untrance -- involving self-loss (self augmentation?) through extreme sensual receptiveness and awareness. Though the technique is the exact opposite of most techniques of mysticism it probably is a mystical discipline, tending towards the experience of Immanence; but I can't categorize any practice of the Handdarata with certainty" (57-8).

First of all, Genly admits that he does not fully understand the Handdara, and so we need to take what he says with a grain of salt.

That being said, we have a description here of Presence, a Handdara practice.

"You're the Envoy, aren't you?" (58).

Faxe knows who Genly is immediately, even though Genly has not told anyone.

Time spent in the Fastesness (59-60)

I'm going to paraphrase much of what happens before the foretelling, with occasional quotes thrown in here and there.

“Time was unorganized except for the communal work…” (59)

Very quiet. Hardly a word spoken. (59)

Sometimes music, beer, other fun in evenings. (59)

Two men dancing one evening: “…men so old that their hair had whitened, and their limbs were skinny … Their dancing was slow, precise, controlled; it fascinated the eye and mind … all but the drummer who never stopped his subtle changing beat. The two old dancers were still dancing at Sixth Hour, midnight, after five Terran hours” (59). This is the first time that Genly has seen dothe. Slightly more complete description may be found in book.

"It was an introverted life, self-sufficient, stagnant, steeped in that singular 'ignorance' prized by the Handdarata and obedient to their rule of inactivity or non-interference. That rule (expressed in the word nusuth, which I have to translate as 'no matter') is the heart of the cult, and I don't pretend to understand it" (60). To understand the Handdarata better we need to understand nusuth.

Foretelling (60-7)

"There are only certain times, you know, when the Foretellers are able to meet together, so in any case you’d dwell with us some days” (59). What are those certain times? There is some time between them, at least in some cases. Genly's foretelling was held on the 18th (62)

"The more qualififed and limited the question, the more exact the answer ... Vagueness breeds vagueness" (60).

Some questions cannot be answered. If forced to answer the Foretellers will be "wrecked." (60)

Once a group was forced to answer "What is the meaning of life?" and the result... "all the Celibates were catatonic, the Zanies were dead, the Pervert clubbed the Lord of Soreth to death with a stone, and the Weaver ... He was a man named Meshe" (60). Meshe then founded the Yomesh. (61)

"The cost was high for the asker -- two of my rubies went to the coffers of the Fastness -- but higher for the answerers" (61).

The Foretellers meet in a locked room, with a physician present. Genly asks the question, the Weaver declares it answerable. Nothing really seems to happen, the Pervert arouses the Celibate who is entering kemmer, until "Faze raised his hand. At noce each face in the circle turned to him as if he had gathered up their gazes into a sheaf, a skein" (64). All become connected mentally, and Genly is pulled into it. Sexual visions. Finally the answer yes is screamed. " Something about darkness and foreshadows is mentioned. (61-6)

Those involved in the Foretelling are: Celibates -- five of them, one must be in kemmer, they're all adepts of the Presence; two Zanies -- they are not sane, are called "time-dividers", and when asked if they can be cured Goss asks "Would you cure a singer of his voice?"; the Weaver -- who holds everything together, is the "filament" (67); and the Pervert -- can be artifically aroused, but it's generally preferred to get a real one. (63) Nine total.

"Even then I was aware of the quality of that answer, not so much a prophecy as an observation" (67). Genly calls the answer a hunch, a hunch that is 100% accurate.

"But my business is unlearning, not learning. And I'd rather not yet learn an art that would change the world entirely . . . And I'll change with it [the world], Genry. But I have no wish to change it" (69).

Faxe is willing to change with the world (and as we later see he even becomes involved in politics) but he does not wish to change it himself. Passive.

"Indwellers of the Fastness have no rank or status . . . [if I take back status] I take back my status and my shadow, but my foretelling's at an end. If I had a question while I served in the kyorremy, I'd go to Orgny Fastness there, pay my price, and get my answer" (70).

Details about what would happen if Faxe left.

It is implied here that Faxe could have a question and it would be answered for no charge.

"But we in the Handdara don't want answers. It's hard to avoid them, but we try to . . . we come to here to the Fastnesses mostly to learn what questions not to ask . . . You don't see yet, Genry, why we perfected and practice Foretelling? . . . To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question" (70).

Implication here is that there is one correct question. Perhaps it is "how can I best unlearn?"

I'm pretty sure that this right here is the essence of the Handdara.

"There's really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already knowt he answer. . . . The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next" (71).

Ok, this paired with the previous quote could be the essence.

The question and answer referenced is "will we die" and the answer is "yes".


Also, I've noted on the final page that Otherhord sounds like Otherworld.

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