A few weeks ago, for class on October ninth, we read three essays by Ursula Le Guin. This was, I know, a frighteningly long time ago. Nevertheless, I am still going to insist on blogging about one of those essays, because I really wish I had brought it up in class.
The essay was “Science Fiction and the Future” (1985). It was, on the whole, a very interesting discussion about how different societies view time. There was a short paragraph relating American views of time (or maybe Western views of time-- Le Guin is a bit vague on whose view it is. She just assumes her reader is a part of the society that views time this way.) to a critique of imperialistic science fiction and a need to, essentially, go with the flow, and not try to conquer the future. Her commentary on these Western views is insightful, and I agree with them. But the way that Le Guin comes to a lot of her insights about Western views of time is through a comparison with the ideas of time that the Quechua-speaking peoples of the Andes,” and the way that she makes that comparison is problematic.
The first thing I had problems with in this essay was Le Guin’s constant use of the word “we.” When she discusses time, she writes “We know where the future is…We know where the past is…As we drag the Andean peoples into our world of progress, pollution, soap operas, and satellites, they are coming backwards—looking over their shoulders to find out where they’re going” (142). I dislike this use because it assumes that the reader is coming from Western society*—or at least not from a Quechuan speaking one—and because it establishes an “us versus them” scenario. Le Guin assumes that her reader views time a certain way, and that the society is more progressed than the Quechuan one. The use of “the world of progress” (142) might be considered as sarcasm, but the rest of the essay enforces the idea that “our” world is one of progress, while the Quechuan one if full of the Noble Savage. Le Guin compares the Quechuan view with “our” view more fully with “But the fact that the future comes, or is there, whether we rush forward to meet it in supersonic jets with nuclear warhead, or sit on a peak and watch the llamas graze” (143). I take issue with this because it assumes that “our” society is developed and intelligent, while the Quechuan one is full of people who just sit around and hang out with nature and are simple and innocent. The paper even concludes with something not even tangentially related to the Quechuan idea of time—that they “stand still for long periods” (143). Although I like the premise of the essay, the way that Le Guin makes her point about the imperialism about “our” view of time is imperialist itself.