The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination

The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination

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by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Ursula K. Le Guin as she explores a broad array of subjects, ranging from
Tolstoy, Twain, and Tolkien to women's shoes, beauty, and family life. With her
customary wit, intelligence, and literary craftsmanship, she offers a diverse
and highly engaging set of readings.
Wave in the Mind

includes some of Le Guin's finest

See more details below


Ursula K. Le Guin as she explores a broad array of subjects, ranging from
Tolstoy, Twain, and Tolkien to women's shoes, beauty, and family life. With her
customary wit, intelligence, and literary craftsmanship, she offers a diverse
and highly engaging set of readings.
Wave in the Mind

includes some of Le Guin's finest literary criticism, rare autobiographical
writings, performance art pieces, and, most centrally, her reflections on the
arts of writing and reading.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Le Guin enjoys an honored reputation as a winner of the National Book Award, as well as of the Hugo, Nebula, Gandalf, and Kafka awards. She has produced more than 15 novels, as well as works of literary criticism, poetry, and even children's literature. In this collection of essays, organized into thematic categories (e.g., "Personal Matters," "Readings," "Discussions and Opinions," and "On Writing"), she explores a variety of subjects through personal vignettes that give insight into her values. The essays also provide perceptive literary criticism on works by a wide range of authors, from Jorge Luis Borges to Mark Twain; incisive comments on fiction vs. nonfiction; and discussion of gender, beauty, literacy, privilege, and the writer's role and character. Le Guin is invariably thoughtful; she engages and challenges her readers' minds and values while exploring her own voice and modeling good prose style. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Essential reading for anyone who imagines herself literate and/or socially concerned or who wants to learn what it means to be such."—Library Journal

"What a pleasure it is to roam around in Le Guin's spacious, playful mind. And what a joy to read her taut, elegant prose."—Erica Jong

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in the early nineties as a performance piece, performed a couple of times, and
slightly updated for this volume.

am a man. Now you may think I've made some kind of silly mistake about gender,
or maybe that I'm trying to fool you, because my first name ends in a, and I
own three bras, and I've been pregnant five times, and other things like that
that you might have noticed, little details. But details don't matter. If we
have anything to learn from politicians it's that details don't matter. I am a
man, and I want you to believe and accept this as a fact, just as I did for
many years.

see, when I was growing up at the time of the Wars of the Medes and Persians
and when I went to college just after the Hundred Years War and when I was
bringing up my children during the Korean, Cold, and Vietnam Wars, there were
no women. Women are a very recent invention. I predate the invention of women
by decades. Well, if you insist on pedantic accuracy, women have been invented
several times in widely varying localities, but the inventors just didn't know
how to sell the product. Their distribution techniques were rudimentary and
their market research was nil, and so of course the concept just didn't get off
the ground. Even with a genius behind it an invention has to find its market,
and it seemed like for a long time the idea of women just didn't make it to the
bottom line. Models like the Austen and the Brontë were too complicated,
and people just laughed at the Suffragette, and the Woolf was way too far ahead
of its time.

when I was born, there actually were only men. People were men. They all had
one pronoun, his pronoun; so that's who I am. I am the generic he, as in, "If
anybody needs an abortion he will have to go to another state," or "A writer
knows which side his bread is buttered on." That's me, the writer, him. I am a

maybe a first-rate man. I'm perfectly willing to admit that I may be in fact a
kind of second-rate or imitation man, a Pretend-a-Him. As a him, I am to a
genuine male him as a microwaved fish stick is to a whole grilled Chinook
salmon. I mean, after all, can I inseminate? Can I belong to the Bohemian Club?
Can I run General Motors? Theoretically I can, but you know where theory gets
us. Not to the top of General Motors, and on the day when a Radcliffe woman is
president of Harvard University you wake me up and tell me, will you? Only you
won't have to, because there aren't any more Radcliffe women; they were found
to be unnecessary and abolished. And then, I can't write my name with pee in
the snow, or it would be awfully laborious if I did. I can't shoot my wife and
children and some neighbors and then myself. Oh to tell you the truth I can't
even drive. I never got my license. I chickened out. I take the bus. That is
terrible. I admit it, I am actually a very poor imitation or substitute man,
and you could see it when I tried to wear those army surplus clothes with
ammunition pockets that were trendy and I looked like a hen in a pillowcase. I
am shaped wrong. People are supposed to be lean. You can't be too thin,
everybody says so, especially anorexics. People are supposed to be lean and
taut, because that's how men generally are, lean and taut, or anyhow that's how
a lot of men start out and some of them even stay that way. And men are people,
people are men, that has been well established, and so people, real people, the
right kind of people, are lean. But I'm really lousy at being people, because
I'm not lean at all but sort of podgy, with actual fat places. I am untaut. And
then, people are supposed to be tough. Tough is good. But I've never been
tough. I'm sort of soft and actually sort of tender. Like a good steak. Or like
Chinook salmon, which isn't lean and tough but very rich and tender. But then
salmon aren't people, or anyhow we have been told that they aren't, in recent
years. We have been told that there is only one kind of people and they are
men. And I think it is very important that we all believe that. It certainly is
important to the men.

it comes down to, I guess, is that I am just not manly. Like Ernest Hemingway
was manly. The beard and the guns and the wives and the little short sentences.
I do try. I have this sort of beardoid thing that keeps trying to grow, nine or
ten hairs on my chin, sometimes even more; but what do I do with the hairs? I
tweak them out. Would a man do that? Men don't tweak. Men shave. Anyhow white
men shave, being hairy, and I have even less choice about being white or not
than I do about being a man or not. I am white whether I like being white or
not. The doctors can do nothing for me. But I do my best not to be white, I
guess, under the circumstances, since I don't shave. I tweak. But it doesn't
mean anything because I don't really have a real beard that amounts to
anything. And I don't have a gun and I don't have even one wife and my
sentences tend to go on and on and on, with all this syntax in them. Ernest
Hemingway would have died rather than have syntax. Or semicolons. I use a whole
lot of half-assed semicolons; there was one of them just now; that was a
semicolon after "semicolons," and another one after "now."

another thing. Ernest Hemingway would have died rather than get old. And he
did. He shot himself. A short sentence. Anything rather than a long sentence, a
life sentence. Death sentences are short and very, very manly. Life sentences
aren't. They go on and on, all full of syntax and qualifying clauses and
confusing references and getting old. And that brings up the real proof of what
a mess I have made of being a man: I am not even young. Just about the time
they finally started inventing women, I started getting old. And I went right
on doing it. Shamelessly. I have allowed myself to get old and haven't done one
single thing about it, with a gun or anything.

I mean is, if I had any real self-respect wouldn't I at least have had a
face-lift or some liposuction? Although liposuction sounds to me like what they
do a lot of on TV when they are young or youngish, though not when they are
old, and when one of them is a man and the other a woman, though not under any
other circumstances. What they do is, this young or youngish man and woman take
hold of each other and slide their hands around on each other and then they
perform liposuction. You are supposed to watch them while they do it. They move
their heads around and flatten out their mouth and nose on the other person's
mouth and nose and open their mouths in different ways, and you are supposed to
feel sort of hot or wet or something as you watch. What I feel is like I'm
watching two people doing liposuction, and this is why they finally invented
women? Surely not.

a matter of fact I think sex is even more boring as a spectator sport than all
the other spectator sports, even baseball. If I am required to watch a sport
instead of doing it, I'll take show jumping. The horses are really
good-looking. The people who ride them are mostly these sort of nazis, but like
all nazis they are only as powerful and successful as the horse they are
riding, and it is after all the horse who decides whether to jump that
five-barred gate or stop short and let the nazi fall off over its neck. Only
usually the horse doesn't remember it has the option. Horses aren't awfully
bright. But in any case, show jumping and sex have a good deal in common,
though you usually can only get show jumping on American TV if you can pick up
a Canadian channel, which is not true of sex. Given the option, though I often
forget that I have an option, I certainly would watch show jumping and do sex.
Never the other way round. But I'm too old now for show jumping, and as for
sex, who knows? I do; you don't.

course golden oldies are supposed to jump from bed to bed these days just like
the horses jumping the five-barred gates, bounce, bounce, bounce, but a good
deal of this super sex at seventy business seems to be theory again, like the
woman CEO of General Motors and the woman president of Harvard. Theory is
invented mostly to reassure people in their forties, that is men, who are
worried. That is why we had Karl Marx, and why we still have economists, though
we seem to have lost Karl Marx. As such, theory is dandy. As for practice, or
praxis as the Marxists used to call it apparently because they liked x's, you
wait till you are sixty or seventy and then you can tell me about your sexual
practice, or praxis, if you want to, though I make no promises that I will
listen, and if I do listen I will probably be extremely bored and start looking
for some show jumping on the TV. In any case you are not going to hear anything
from me about my sexual practice or praxis, then, now, or ever.

all that aside, here I am, old, when I wrote this I was sixty years old, "a
sixty-year-old smiling public man," as Yeats said, but then, he was a man. And
now I am over seventy. And it's all my own fault. I get born before they invent
women, and I live all these decades trying so hard to be a good man that I
forget all about staying young, and so I didn't. And my tenses get all mixed
up. I just am young and then all of a sudden I was sixty and maybe eighty, and
what next?

a whole lot.

keep thinking there must have been something that a real man could have done
about it. Something short of guns, but more effective than Oil of Olay. But I
failed. I did nothing. I absolutely failed to stay young. And then I look back
on all my strenuous efforts, because I really did try, I tried hard to be a
man, to be a good man, and I see how I failed at that. I am at best a bad man.
An imitation phony second-rate him with a ten-hair beard and semicolons. And I
wonder what was the use. Sometimes I think I might just as well give the whole
thing up. Sometimes I think I might just as well exercise my option, stop short
in front of the five-barred gate, and let the nazi fall off onto his head. If
I'm no good at pretending to be a man and no good at being young, I might just
as well start pretending that I am an old woman. I am not sure that anybody has
invented old women yet; but it might be worth trying.

Taken for Granite

I am taken for granite. Everybody is taken for granite sometimes but I am not
in a mood for being fair to everybody. I am in a mood for being fair to me. I
am taken for granite quite often, and this troubles and distresses me, because
I am not granite. I am not sure what I am but I know it isn't granite. I have
known some granite types, we all do: characters of stone, upright, immovable,
unchangeable, opinions the general size shape and pliability of the Rocky
Mountains, you have to quarry five years to chip out one little stony smile.
That's fine, that's admirable, but it has nothing to do with me. Upright is
fine, but downright is where I am, or downwrong. I am not granite and should
not be taken for it. I am not flint or diamond or any of that great hard stuff.
If I am stone, I am some kind of shoddy crumbly stuff like sandstone or
serpentine, or maybe schist. Or not even stone but clay, or not even clay but
mud. And I wish that those who take me for granite would once in a while treat
me like mud.

mud is really different from being granite and should be treated differently.
Mud lies around being wet and heavy and oozy and generative. Mud is underfoot.
People make footprints in mud. As mud I accept feet. I accept weight. I try to
be supportive, I like to be obliging. Those who take me for granite say this is
not so but they haven't been looking where they put their feet. That's why the
house is all dirty and tracked up.

does not accept footprints. It refuses them. Granite makes pinnacles, and then
people rope themselves together and put pins on their shoes and climb the
pinnacles at great trouble, expense, and risk, and maybe they experience a
great thrill, but the granite does not. Nothing whatever results and nothing
whatever is changed.

heavy things come and stand on granite and the granite just stays there and
doesn't react and doesn't give way and doesn't adapt and doesn't oblige and
when the huge heavy things walk away the granite is there just the same as it
was before, just exactly the same, admirably. To change granite you have to
blow it up. But when people walk on me you can see exactly where they put their
feet, and when huge heavy things come and stand on me I yield and react and
respond and give way and adapt and accept. No explosives are called for. No
admiration is called for. I have my own nature and am true to it just as much
as granite or even diamond is, but it is not a hard nature, or upstanding, or
gemlike. You can't chip it. It's deeply impressionable. It's squashy.

the people who rope themselves together and the huge heavy things resent such
adaptable and uncertain footing because it makes them feel insecure. Maybe they
fear they might be sucked in and swallowed. But I am not interested in sucking
and am not hungry. I am just mud. I yield. I do try to oblige. And so when the
people and the huge heavy things walk away they are not changed, except their
feet are muddy, but I am changed. I am still here and still mud, but all full
of footprints and deep, deep holes and tracks and traces and changes. I have
been changed. You change me. Do not take me for granite.

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