For this post, I’m wishing everyone thinking about utopia, imperialism or decolonization would just go read Ursula K. Le Guin’s esaay, “A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be.” You should go read that and come back.
In this musing on the pitfalls of imperialism and its ideological conflation with utopia, Le Guin brilliantly brings together utopian thinking from Robert Elliot and Milan Kundera, notions about communitas via Victor Turner, social theory from Levi-Strauss, philosophy from Chuang Tzu along with some thoughts about the yin/yang of rationalism as opposed to the soft, the social and the unruly, the way of the Trickster. I can’t hope to summarize it here.
But here’s what the essay inspires me to think about:
On the construct of the New World: as Le Guin says, “Only if a European discovered or invented it could America exist.”
Colonization, not only in the United States but all over the world, is/was based on economics, exploitation of people and resources, but in some sense, it’s also based on ideas. Big ideas like Democracy, Salvation, Order and Capitalism and their alleged superiority to existent social systems and relationships to the environment. Utopian ideas.
Results: subjugation, assimilation and disappearance of cultures, along with appropriation, tokenization and exoticism.
The West is still creating stories about the primitive and the unknown through history and literature: one pretends to tell the objective stories of the world, which ones are worth knowing and how to think about Progress and Civilization, and the other shapes our thinking about people, places and how to think about the Other. Maybe they both do (that landscape is changing, but there’s still a great deal of work to do).
Have you noticed yet what’s missing from my post/rant? Where are the perspectives from the “outside”? Where are the counter-narratives?
If you didn’t read Le Guin’s essay, go read it. While you’re at it, read Cornel West. Read Uma Narayan. Read Chela Sandoval. Read Arundhati Roy, anything by her at all, who said, “The only thing worth globalizing is dissent,” and “Fiction is truth. I think fiction is the truest thing there ever was.”
Support the creation of new narratives, like We See a Different Frontier. Suggest resources for counter-narrative in the comments below.
Write your own counter-narrative.