“All we have is means”: Ursula K Le Guin’s imperfectionist anarchism

Kunstuniversität Linz, 12 Oct 2023 –

this was the access copy for this talk – if you were there and need it, please email me!

Abstract: Anarchists have long argued that there is a vital connection between means and ends, that how we do things matters to what we can accomplish in collective movements for liberation. In this paper, I think with science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, putting her articulation of the importance of process in conversation with theorists writing about prefiguration, anarchism, and collective transformation. Le Guin foregrounds the importance of attending to how we do things, formulating any work toward a goal as something that will continue beyond that goal, continual becoming as a core aspect of revolutionary work, and continual questioning as a basis for life.

No higher purpose: Ursula K Le Guin’s existentialist anarchism.

Institute of World Literature, Bratislava –

11 Oct 2023

(access copy was here if you were at the talk and need a copy, you are welcome to email me)

Abstract: It is a standard existentialist trope that humans come into the world without a pre-given purpose for our existence. On this view, there is nothing in particular that we are made for, and we must make for ourselves any meaning or direction. Often this sense of being condemned to our freedom is experienced and discussed at the individual scale. This is odd, since from the beginning of the tradition philosophers have theorized the relationship between individual freedom and the collective context in which we exercise it. The urgency of thinking beyond the individual becomes clearer when we confront existentially demanding problems, such as climate change, migrant crises, global pandemics, wars, or famines. In this paper, I argue that anarchism helps us in thinking about the necessarily collective aspect of addressing wicked problems like these. I take Ursula Le Guin’s science fiction as a key theoretical resource for an existentialist anarchism, and so I am also reflecting on method: what are the implications of reading fiction as philosophy? How is Le Guin’s conception of shared social responsibility helpful for projects of ongoing life on earth?