The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin: “The Revolution is in the individual spirit or it is nowhere. It is for all, or it is nothing.”

18 Aug

Was impacted by this book twenty odd years ago when I first read it, and the ideas kept coming to mind, though I could only remember the outline of the story–two planets, a habitable moon colonized by anarchist revolutionaries from the home planet, as a compromise so they can build a new society without destabilizing the home one. And the contrast between an anarchist society, which seemed strange but also beautiful in a way, with a market-driven, government-led one.

More: several hundred years later, when the new anarchist society is well established and the propertarian one has evolved further along its lines, one anarchist, Shevek, whose primary work is physics, returns “to unbuild walls.” He learns about the beauties, accomplishments, and dark side of the home planet, about his role in this exchange of ideas, and about the ways in which his own society must be renewed. In parallel, he works out, in order to share equally with all the known worlds, a theory of time–the ways cyclical time, linear time , timelessness, and eternity interact. Amazing book, amazing author. So many writers can put together as  compelling a story, but not many can create such a rich landscape of profound ideas and complex development of characters. One of those books I need to go out and buy in order to reread and underline. A few quotes:

“Sacrifice might be demanded of the individual, but never compromise: for though only the society could give security and stability, only the individual, the person, had the power of moral choice–the power of change, the essential function of life…revolution begins in the thinking mind.”

“If we must all agree, all work together, we’re no better than a machine. If an individual can’t work in solidarity with his fellows, it’s his duty to work alone. His duty and his right.”

“The thing about working with time, instead of against it…is that it is not wasted. Even pain counts.”

These quotes are particularly striking to me and I’m thinking a lot about why… what is my work, my essential work, and as I work with time and not against it, when will I really get underway, how will I overcome obstacles, and since I do not live in a society without possessions, family structure, or a need for money, how do these things apply?


Posted by on August 18, 2014 in Writers & Books


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2 responses to “The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin: “The Revolution is in the individual spirit or it is nowhere. It is for all, or it is nothing.”

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    August 19, 2014 at 6:39 am

    A friend of mine put me onto this–have you seen it? Seems right up your alley—this guy also has a blog at

    • toesinthedirt

      August 19, 2014 at 11:58 pm

      Lovely–I was excited to read about unschooling way back when I was starting out–John Holt, Marilyn Howshall, and read the Gatto book too, and as much of his biblioraphy as I could. I felt unschooling was a style I could really run with, and some days and seasons were like that. But the tug was back to structure and coercion, to keeping up and “staying on track.” I wish I’d had the courage, energy, and support to trust my kids’ natural learning process still as they got into their teen years. Now I tempt them to stray of the beaten path, seemingly to no avail.


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