Taking Up LeGuin for a Feminist Critique of Conversation

This last week I vlogged about how it’s hard to have a satisfying, exploratory conversation, especially when it comes to difficult or [politically] fraught subjects. I was thinking about Ursula LeGuin’s essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” which offers a thought-provoking critique (for me, at least) of the prevailing “heroic model” of narrative; it seemed to me that we can apply a similar critique to how we think about logic and debate, and that maybe we can look at conversation through that lens.

Essentially, LeGuin offers a feminist psychoanalysis of the hero as a phallic subject that solves problems by force, shooting for straight and sharp lines. LeGuin interrogates this model and offers an alternative.

Here’s a key passage from the essay, with the word “conversation” replacing LeGuin’s original wording (“novel”).

 

[The heroic/phallocentric model dictates that] proper shape of the [conversation] is that of the arrow or spear, starting here and going straight there and THOK! Hitting its mark (which drops dead). … I differ with all of this. I would go so far as to say that the natural, proper, fitting shape of the [conversation] might be that of a sack, a bag. A [conversation] holds words. Words hold things. They bear meanings. A [conversation] is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to one another and to us.

What are the implications of this idea? How do we perform such a communicative model in our conversations? Here’s the video. I’d love to hear what you think.

There are a couple really thoughtful comments from people on the YouTube video that are also worth considering.

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Photo credit: Alan Turkus (https://www.flickr.com/photos/aturkus/1555651794/in/dateposted/)

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