Thursday, July 14, 2011

Shifgrethor -- Genly

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

SPOILERS

My last post was about shifgrethor, and I looked at it from Therem's point of view.

Here I'll take a look at it from Genly's point of view. Looking at his explanations of it will have some advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that he explains it clearly, but the disadvantage is that he's viewing it as an outsider and doesn't fully understand it. He even admits that he doesn't fully understand it. This means that his explanations will be flawed, and we need to take what he says with a grain of salt.

"He was, as a said, voluble, and having discovered that I have no shifgrethor took every chance to give me advice, though even he disguised it with ifs and as ifs" (48).

Again we see that it's a shifgrethor no-no to give advice. This is so engrained in those who live shifgrethor that Genly's landlady doesn't even give direct advice, though she does take advantage of his lack of shifgrethor.

Why is it a no-no to give advice? I'll have to look at that later...

"In trying to flatter and interest him I had cornered him in a prestige-trap" (38).

So flattery such as "You're a sovereign, my lord. Your peers ont he Prime World of the Ekumen wait for a word from you" can be...what? Insulting? A challenge? A trap? I'm not sure. Certainly not flattery. So is it also a no-no to flatter? Or did Genly just go about it the wrong way?

"Though Argaven might be neither sane nor shrewd, he had had long practice in the evasions and challenges and rhetorical subtleties used in conservation by those whose main aim in lfe was the achievement and maintenance of the shifgrethor relationship on a high level. Whole areas of that relationship were still blank to me, but I knew something about the competitive, prestige-seeking aspect of it, and about the perpetual conversational duel which can result from it. That I was not dueling with Argaven, but tryng to communicate with him, was itself an incommunicable fact" (33-4).

(Yes I know I'm working my ways backwards through the book.)

There's a wealth of knowledge in the above paragraph. In it Genly tells us that shifgrethor is, or involves:

*Evasive
*Challenging
*Rhetorical subtleties
*Copetitive
*Prestige
*Verbal dueling
*A barrier to communication

"No doubt this was all a matter of shifgrethor -- prestige, face, place, the pride-relationship, the untranslatable and all-immportant principle of social authority in Karhide and all the civilizations ofo Gethen" (14).

Here we have some sort of definition of shifgrethor. A flawed definition, but still.

Now I'll start working my way forward in the book again. lol

"He talked much about pride of country and love of the parentland, but little about shifgrethor, personal pride or prestige. . . . I decided that he deliberatly avoided talk of shifgrethor because he wished to rouse emotions of a more elemental, uncontrollable kind. He wanted to stir up something which the whole shifgrethor-pattern was a refinement upon, a sublimation of. He wanted his hearers to be frightened and angry. His themes were not pride and love at all, though he used the words perpetually; as he used them he meant self-praise and hate. He talked a great deal about Truth also, for he was, he said, 'cutting down beneath the veneer of civilization'" (102).

What shifgrethor is not:

*Uncontrollable emotions
*Fear
*Anger
*Self-praise
*Hate

I suppose that Truth might also be added to this list, but I'm not going to because I think (though I can't point anywhere in the text right now that supports this) that shifgrethor is not about lies, and that you can get at the truth with it. Just in a round about way.

I think that Tibe's "Truth" is something else, probably a lie that he's just calling truth.

What shifgrethor is:

*Pride
*Love of parentland
*Prestige

"Anger had replaced timidity, and he was going to play shifgrethor with me. If I had wanted to play, my move was to say something like, 'I'm not sure; tell me something about him.' . . . . And he had just taught me a lesson: that shifgrethor can be played on the level of ethics, and that the expert player will win" (105-6).

These two pages could do with an entire post dedicated just to them. I've selected bits from the beginning and ending that I think reveal the most:

*Shifgrethor is not timid
*It can be used to achieve an ethical outcome

"He fussed over my condenscension in deigning to learn anything about his country. Manners here were certainly different from manners in Karhide; there, the fuss he was making would either have degraded his own shifgrethor or insulted min; I wasn't sure which, but it would have done one or the other -- practicially everything did" (119).

Therem doesn't say anything about shifgrethor being different in Orgoreyn, so I think that Shusgis knows that Genly does not have any shifgrethor and is taking advantage of that. That being the case, I think that the fuss he makes degrade's Genly's shifgrethor, not his own.

I don't want to erase what I wrote above, but a few hours after writing it (but before posting it) I realized that Therem does observe that things are different in Orgoreyn. Different enough for Shusgis to not being offending Genly's shifgrethor? I don't know.

"They believed that in doing so Orgoreyn would gain a large and lasting prestige-victory over Karhide, and that the Commensals who engineered this victory would gain according prestige and power in their government" (142).

Of course, they're talking here about joining the Ekumen.

Why would being the ones to make Orgoreyn join the Ekumen give them so much prestige? Because it would be a political success? Or because they joined when Karhide refused to? Or some other reason? Oh wait, the reason (or part of it) is in the next one...

"Or else the Erhenrang Government will get up their courage and come and ask to join, after us, in second place. In either case the shifgrethor of Karhide will be diminished; and in either case, we drive the sledge" (143).

This is Obsle speaking, one of the Orgoren government.

So whoever leads the way is higher (or better? elevated?) shifgrethor and prestige.

"Mersen's a spy for Tibe, and of course he thinks nobody knows it but everybody does,a nd he can't stand the sight of Harth -- think he's either a traitor or a double agent and doesn't know which, and can't risk shifgrethor in finding out" (145-6).

Why would finding out risk shifgrethor?

"On the other hand, if he could lower all his standards of shifgrethor, as I realized he hd done with me. . ." (218)

Therem has discarded shifgrethhor with Genly, because (I think) he realizes that Genly doesn't really know how to play shifgrethor, and doesn't understand it. And yet...

"You know I have no shifgrethor to waive" (259).

...later Therem gives Genly direct advice (without it being requested), and then asks forgiveness. He knows that Genly has no shifgrethor, but still feels that he has done wrong. It's so engrained in him.

"Shifgrethor? It comes from an old word for shadow" (247).

Therem tells Genly this. And if I'm going to really understand this, I need to study all the references to shadows in the book, which I did not note down as I read it recently. LOL Now I have more work cut out for me.

Everything all ties in together, it seems. It's awesome!!!

Pages 257-8

Therem explains the situation with Karhide and Orgoreyn and the Ekumen, and how shrifgthor is involved. This could perhaps use a post all by itself, but the basic gist has already been outlined above -- whoever joins first wins.

Then there's also the fun about Genly, and how things would work if Orgoreyn is caught lying.

So, to be caught lying is to lose prestige.

"...and when after a day or two they got around to asking, discreetly and indirectly, with due regard to shifgrethor, why we had..." (273)

If you want to ask something you don't do it outright, if you're following shifgrethor.

"Tibe made no effort to hang on. My crrent value in the game of internatinoal shifgrethor, plus my vindicaton (by implication) of Estraven, gave me as it were a prestige-weight so clearly surpassing his, that he resigned, as I later learned, even before the Erhenrang Government knew that I had radioed to my ship. He acted on a tip-off from Thessicher, waited only until he got word of Estraven's death, and then resigned. He had his defeat and his revenge for it all in one" (288).

Things have gone as Therem predicted, although Therem had under-anticipated things.

Hmm...this could perhaps use a post by itself...one post examing the shifgrethor between the two countries.

It is worth noting, perhaps, that Tibe did get his revenge. So his shifgrethor was, perhaps, not as bad off as it could have been.

"It was the Round-Tower Dwelling, which signaled a high degree of shifgrethor in the court: not so much the king's favor, as his recognition of a status already high" (289).

So, status can be recognized by the king by him giving people grand places to live.

"...evidence of any mistrust at this point would humiliate the Karhidish escort, impugning their shifgrethor" (269).

So, signs of mistrust can insult someone's shifgrethor.

So what is shifgrethor?

First, we've got to remember that Genly's understanding of it is flawed, and so naturally any definition I come up with here must also be flawed. With that in mind I'll try to separate things here into things that I think are correct and things that I'm not so sure about.

Things I'm sure of:

*Giving advice is a no-no, unless shifgrethor has been waived
*Shifgrethor can be waived, and set aside
*Prestige
*Pride
*It can be used to achieve an ethical outcome
*Related to shadows -- must study shadow references!!!
*Being caught lying can hurt shifgrethor
*Someone having high status can be recognized by their being given certain places to live

Things I'm not sure of:

*Flattery might also be a no-no
*Evasive
*Challenging
*Rhetorical subtleties
*Copetitive
*Prestige
*Verbal dueling
*A barrier to communication
*Pride
*Love of parentland
*Prestige
*Shifgrethor is not timid
*It can be used to achieve an ethical outcome
*Showing signs of mistrust can hurt or offend someone's shifgrethor

I know that some things are in both places. That's because I'm copying and pasting in some cases, and am not editing.

What shifgrethor (apparently) is not:

*Uncontrollable emotions
*Fear
*Anger
*Self-praise
*Hate

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