Review: The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few light years away from Terra, there is a dual system of a planet and a moon, similar to the one back home. The planet, Urras, is a beautiful planet, rich with natural splendour, floral and faunal variety and the kind of society you’d find on Terra: full of social inequalities and a global culture founded on ownership, reflecting almost nothing of its beauty on the lives of the population.

The moon of that planet is Anarres. It has an atmosphere that paints the sky violet but is little more than a large desert with not too much water and only a few species of plants and animals – the most advanced species apart from humans living there are fish. Humans from Urras have settled Anarres 150 years now, in the space-age equivalent of ’30s Catalonia, after a massive social movement in Urras following an important religious/revolutionary figure by the name of Odo forced the Urrasti to make concessions and agree with the revolutionaries to let them put themselves into exile on the moon, founding an anarchist society in the process.

Since then, the Odonians have led quiet, balanced, happy lives on Anarres. Odo’s theories/preachings supported that people are like cells of a single organism, together with the rest of life forming a greater consciousness, and should act the part, leaving ownership and “egoising” behind and focusing on the welfare of the community. Every man’s or woman’s duty in this society is to do the thing they can do and enjoy doing best, similar to a specialised organic cell, so that they should be productive as well as happy and fulfilled in the process: that was her secret of a balanced and healthy society, in tune with its environment and living space. As a sidenote, I’d like to point out here that the same ideology is represented in 1984: that IngSoc is an organism that consists of tiny cells which are the members of the party. It asks a completey different quesion based on that assumption though: “do you die every time you clip your fingernails, Winston?” It uses this train of thought to argue for the survival of the organism even when its individual members have to be eliminated in order to ensure survival of the greater consciousness; quite the opposite of what Odo says, which is that the welfare of the organism depends on individual welfare as well as the co-operation and solidarity between its cells. In both sides of the argument, egoism is repressed, but for completely different reasons.

To return to Odonianism: to allow themselves to have such a lifestyle, people would have to get rid of such distractions as wasteful culture including ownership, money and egoistical behaviour. The experiment worked and the results we catch a glimpse of in The Dispossessed.

People on Anarres share everything, even their homes and their sexual partners — keeping a partner for yourself is regarded as egoistical and equivalent to having them as your property; it is thus disencouraged (as are all possessive pronouns, even when it comes to family relationships) unless it’s for rearing a child. People are free to lead the lives they please as long as they don’t get in the way of their ammars, that is to say their brothers, doing the same.

The protagonist is a guy named Shevek, a name given to him by a computer as is the tradition in Anarres, which ensures the uniqueness of every individual and the uselessness of last names, in turn weakening family ties in favour of a more collective familial sentiment. The reader follows Shevek throughout his life and the problems he has growing up in this society when he is not as sociable as others. You see, he is a scientist, a theoretical physicist with great potential. But what happens when his society, good, balanced and just as it may be, doesn’t allow him to be the best he can be? For games of power exist in Anarres as well, and the person in charge of him in the institute knows the ropes very well; the difference is that the payoff is influence and fame, not money. What should he do: try leaving Anarres for Urras to make his ideas known and accepted there, making the world better in the process, or stay in his society following the norms that forbid most kinds of communication with the outer world?

The answer is given in the first chapter of the book, whence we follow Shevek in his stay in Urras. The book is chronologically mixed up (fittingly, in my opinion, as Shevek’s main goal in his field is to make a unified theory of simulaneous time) and alternately follows Shevek’s backstory in Anarres and his present life in Urras. Both settings were equally satisfying: looking at a foreign anarchist who’s never known anything else coming in contact with “profiteer” (a horrible insult in Pravic) society, is just as interesting as looking at how people have managed to build a fully working bona fide anarchist society in Anarres and the details of their day-to-day existence on the arid planet.

I have divulged this much of the book’s plot for it is not therein that its charm is hidden. I don’t think I’m blurting out spoilers here. There is little mystery or what we’d recognise as development in the story. The feeling it gave me was much less of a thrilling narrative and much more of a beautiful journey in a foreign land. All the other characters apart from Shevek, even perhaps Shevek himself, were there only to guide us through this utopia. The little things the traveller discovers are what make The Dispossessed a zen-like, heart-warming experience: Shevek’s first encounters with animals; his discussion with a Terran embassador; labour allocation in Anarres; the contrast between the placentas being kept after birth in Anarres as part of their zero-waste culture and the huge shopping malls in Urras, which could make any Anarresti physically ill; sex in Urras and how Shevek finds it so foreign and pretentious, and so on.

Furthermore, and I think this is very important, we get a look at the disadvantages of living in an anarchist society as Shevek experiences them; the necessity of sacrificing certain ambitions in favour of the common good, the morality of the question itself, the tendency of people, no matter what political inclination they have and culture they belong to, to grow conservative over time and forget their very own beliefs, growing rigid and rule-abiding rather than flexible and people-friendly, utilitarian rathen than deontological…

“She [Le Guin] invites, as Tolkien does, a total belief”, reads a snippet of a critic on the back-cover of my copy. If a sci-fi novel can make me believe in the existence of a real anarchist society somewhere in the galaxy and by extension in the real possibility of an anarchist society much closer to home, I can’t but heartliy agree with the above snippet.

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North Korean Mass Games

If you want an existing state that’s more like Oceania than any other, look no farther than North Korea, at least as far as complete control on the population’s lives and the adoration of a leader and a banner go. The videos are literally awesome: they are awe-inspiring.

High-quality photographs and article on German photographer receiving permission to photograph the games for the first time in 2011. Softness is what killed Kim Jong-il.

Finally, and while we’re still on North Korea, it didn’t take me a lot of YouTube Hopping to reach to the following. It was too good not to post!

Review: 1984 : Ο μεγάλος αδελφός

1984 : Ο μεγάλος αδελφός
1984 : Ο μεγάλος αδελφός by George Orwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me
There lie they, and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree

I always loved how, in the book, pop prolefeed songs are manufactured by computers; no human creativity is needed. I involuntarily recall this tidbit whenever I listen to the newest radio hit these days.

I originally read Nineteen Eighty-Four (the original title, though understandably usually shortened to 1984) in Greek a few years back. 10 days or so ago I felt a need to return to it in English and did so in audio book format, read by Simon Prebble.

They say that Brave New World describes our world much better than 1984 does, that the blissful ignorance is much more prominent in our society than 1984’s “boot stamping the human face”. I’ve always held at heart that our own dystopia in the making is the neat blend of the two: the blissfully ignorant sex, drugs and genetically determined human strata, go hand in hand with a government that is in love with power and has merely chosen this more subdued but no less effective way to prolong its ever-lasting dominion.

In this world, wars never end; the enemy is unbeatable and ever-present. Bombs go off randomly every now and again just to allow your mind to come in terms with this fact. Telescreens follow the population everywhere. Nowadays people even take little telescreens with them and have feelings of withdrawal if they are ever separated from them. Those who control the present control the past, and those who do so, do it very, very well. So well, in fact, that public opinion can be swayed one way or another in a matter of weeks or even days — so little do people actually remember, so easily do they forget. Relativism is used as the end-all be-all argument to support that might is right following sickening twists of logic: that there is no nature “out there”, thus truth is dictated by the government and the government only. A similar argument hides behind the saying “who wants to ban fascist groups is against freedom of speech and a fascist themselves!” The encouragement of doublethink, of which the above is but an example, ultimately has people holding two contradicting beliefs at the same time: “I’m not a racist, but everybody knows that our race is more advanced” or “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”. In a similar vain, the government body that is responsible for hitting people and quenching peaceful protests is named “Ministry of Citizen Protection” and the one which makes sure that everyone starves is called “Ministry of Development”, releasing false figures to mask the facts and manipulate the masses. They are allowed to do so; there are no real laws, since the judiciary body is also controlled by the government. What about the proles where the hope for revolution lies? They’re either too busy surviving to actually think for themselves or they’re blindly consuming the “prolefeed” the party is providing them with, including of course their own propaganda.

…oh, sorry about that. I got carried away there and started describing our own living, breathing 2012.

This is definitely one of the masterpieces of the 20th century and is one of absolute favourites. It stands as a beaming symbol of the totalitarian societies of the past and of political oppression, violence, propaganda, hunger for power etc. Orwell’s vision was so ironically vivid, realistic and reverberated with so many that his name has even come through this book to stand for a whole arrangement of things that smack of real-world totalitarianism. Even if he did write it for a different world than what exists more than half a century later, it’s evident that when it comes to human societies, old loves die hard; whether it is totalitarian socialism/communism or hardcore neo-liberal capitalism, it makes little difference. The essence, displays Orwell masterfully, remains the same. Reading 1984, especially for a second time, I got the same feeling Winston, the protagonist, gets from reading a certain book in the book itself: that he had always known about these things and that he was grateful that he had found someone who could articulate them for him.

Parts of 1984 are extreme, I’ll admit. Part Three is a punch in the gut every time. I just wanted to lie in a fetal position in the corner of my room after first reading it. It is that hopeless, that horrible. I can’t believe that states like Oceania et al. could be set up and maintain themselves on force, pain and hatred alone; call it conscience, call it a belief that people are basically good, I just can’t see such a place existing. It’s too evil to exist! That said, I can’t think of a way that such a regime, if already having been set up properly, could fall, either. Not to mention that in many ways, our own world and reality is full of unnecessary evil. Who’s to say if it’s within the bounds of possibility for the next logical step in this progression of evil and imbalance to be taken?

This nightmarish inevitability hidden within, the terror of the idea that if someone really wanted to create IngSoc and Oceania, they could, is what plays with my mind and I believe with every reader’s mind. We might, like Winston, think that such a world is just a work of dystopian fantasy; if we look around us carefully, we just might realise that the absoluteness of the pain, the torture and the future being described as “a boot stamping on a human face forever” might not be such absurd ideas after all.

The owner of the boot is creating his shoelaces made of hatred and fear as we speak. What if we could create our own artificial shortage of shoelaces?

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I’m reading a book written by a spectacularly honest frenchman titled “How to talk about books you haven’t read”. In this book, among many other things, he says that a lot of authors refer to books they might have skimmed through or even not read at all. He uses a system within his own book that puts a certain tag next to each book he refers to, ranging from. He also uses a rating system from ++ to — to express his opinion on the particular book.

In detail, ++ is extremely positive opinion, + is positive opinion. – and — are negative and extremely negative opinions respectively. I think this system is perfect for sharing your disposition to something without having to use a 1-10 or 1-100 system. I hate it when people ask me to rate a girl, game, movie, or just about anything from 1 to 10. What’s a 1? Even more importantly, what’s a 10? Can you rate anything with a 10 without having any doubts about whether anything will surpass it, ever? Everything in life is experiences, including all the above, and experiences are rating-proof! By the way, before any of you say it: Yes, since the YRS (Yummers Rating System) is a 1-10 deal, I have concluded that it too is incomplete and needs revision.

I like the ++ to – – so much that I’ll use just it to describe what’s going on in my life at the moment by how much I like it!


Paradox Interactive. These guys are one of the best studio/publisher around. I’m seriously hooked with Europa Universalis III and Victoria. Hearts of Iron looks like a thing to check out soon (what am I saying, I already own two copies! I’m not going into detail with that, I want to forget…)

CouchSurfing. I just hosted an Italian guy, his name is Duan. 2 nights it was. I had almost forgot how nice and cozy hosting makes you feel, especially when it’s people you’d easily make friends with but will probably never appearin your life again.

SPACED!! After Hot Fuzz and Dawn of the Dead (I mean, um, a couple of years before those), comes Spaced. It’s awesome, pure awesome, and I recommend it to anyone who has a thing for cleverly stupid humour. Anger, Pain, Fear, Aggression…

Jose Saramago. This guy is quickly, and I mean quickly, becoming my favourite writer. Period. I couldn’t resist and gave ~100 euros to get 5 of his books together (along with the book I mentioned first and 1984). Which brings me to…

1984, by George Orwell. It shocked me. A masterpiece of 20th century literature. I may write something on it one day…


Soon I’ll be translating and subbing eco films, and not for free! I am excited for what may be my first paid job.

The Balkans, by Mark Mazower. An excellent read on the real side of “European Turkey”.

I’m entering a Guitar Hero contest. Yay?!

I’m learning Japanese… And want to learn Turkish. I want to communicate with the world! Is it normal that I’m only learning the languages of the… “bad guys” (plus german)?

We dressed up as vampires with Alex. It had been so long since I had done something like that…

In January we made a little cut-out animation for uni. It’s not completely ready yet so don’t expect to have a look if you haven’t already! 😛 It did turn out well though…

My money is running low much faster than would be desirable, even if we eat everyday at the Uni with Mario!

I still think I have no certain purpose or goals. That I’m not really good at anything but only mediocre in lots of things. Same applies to everything. Is this good or bad in the end?

Nationalistic idiots annoy me.

Pop songs that use Beethoven’s 9th also annoy me.

Waking up early to catch those pesky morning lectures is always a problem… So it is now!

No time for everyone that I would like to have more of in my life… You know who you are.

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Keeping my house clean is a nightmare.

Rain and cold. Cold and rain. And no central heating This pretty much sums up 2009’s weather up till now. And for the past week, it’s extreme rain and cold. Where’s summer? Where’s the sun?! I seriously don’t believe I’m uttering these words…

Every time it rains, my second room gets flooded. Argh! How can people be so stupid they mess up a balcony this much?

I hate the announcements in the ships. All of them. Lissos, Mytilini especially. I want to kick the (taped) announcers to death. Yes, that’s how much I hate them.