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Old 01-18-2019, 01:49 AM   #46
Catlady
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Catlady, the difficulty is that singular "they" is only wrong in an ever narrowing set of circumstances - see the grammergirl link in astrangerhere's post. As you suggest, and as that article and referenced style guides recommend, rewriting to avoid the problem is a good idea when viable, but this becomes cumbersome and awkward in a novel (both writing and reading).
No, it isn't cumbersome at all. The example in the link "Tell the next caller that they won" (I believe that was the wording) is clearly something that would only arise in spoken English that's being quoted, or in dialog or first-person narration, in all of which cases it would and should be left alone--it's how people speak. It's not, however, something that should ever be written otherwise.

And if one wanted to be pedantic, even that sentence could probably be altered to "The next caller will be the winner"--slight change in emphasis there might or might not matter depending on the context.
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Old 01-18-2019, 01:59 AM   #47
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It's not, however, something that should ever be written otherwise.


Why not? What makes a usage that has persisted for 700 years or more wrong, other than personal antipathy/distaste?
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Old 01-18-2019, 04:21 AM   #48
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No, it isn't cumbersome at all. The example in the link "Tell the next caller that they won" (I believe that was the wording) is clearly something that would only arise in spoken English that's being quoted, or in dialog or first-person narration, in all of which cases it would and should be left alone--it's how people speak. It's not, however, something that should ever be written otherwise.

And if one wanted to be pedantic, even that sentence could probably be altered to "The next caller will be the winner"--slight change in emphasis there might or might not matter depending on the context.
The problem with such limited examples is that they do not really explore the problem. Write a 500 page novel and you'll get a better idea. If you could be tempted with science-fiction (which I know you can't) I would suggest you look at Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer for a more comprehensive example of what is involved. I didn't enjoy it, didn't even manage to finish it, but it was an interesting example of exactly this problem, and I respect the work it must have taken. Until you've attempted something like it you can't judge the difficulties involved.
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Old 01-18-2019, 06:10 AM   #49
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I'm not a prescriptivist when it comes to grammar. I think language evolves and changes. I'm not saying it should or should not be that way, I think it's just an observable fact. I can't remember who said it now, but someone made the case that grammar rules are important not for their own sake but in order to promote clarity. I think that's where I'm at.
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Old 01-18-2019, 12:08 PM   #50
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If you consider yin and yang, yin is described as negative, dark, feminine, and yang as positive, bright, masculine. The one cannot exist without the other and they complement each other, as the symbol shows.

So I don’t read Le Guin as being dismissive of females at all - she was reflecting eastern philosophies, not the whole western distaff/sinister thing at all.
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issybird, you can't have it both ways (left and dark). In the Yin-and-Yang symbol, and in "Tormer’s Lay" recited by Estraven, the left hand of darkness is light (and darkness the right hand of light). So either left-and-light or right-and-dark are our choices in duality in these examples.
The problem inherent in this, whether east or west, is that it's not gender bending, it's bolstering the status quo. The purport of the book seems to be to question our notions of gender, but the underpinnings do the contrary.

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I do think this bit of mythology is spoiled by "sons". I think that was careless and inappropriate. Although it was probably justified on the same grounds as "he" and "him" etc., I see it as a step too far.
Now you're arguing my case for me!
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Old 01-18-2019, 12:45 PM   #51
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Why not? What makes a usage that has persisted for 700 years or more wrong, other than personal antipathy/distaste?
The same thing that makes it wrong to misuse its/it's or effect/affect or they're/their/there. The same thing that makes it wrong to use nonstandard spelling. We have rules to ensure clarity of expression and ease of understanding.

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The problem with such limited examples is that they do not really explore the problem. Write a 500 page novel and you'll get a better idea. If you could be tempted with science-fiction (which I know you can't) I would suggest you look at Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer for a more comprehensive example of what is involved. I didn't enjoy it, didn't even manage to finish it, but it was an interesting example of exactly this problem, and I respect the work it must have taken. Until you've attempted something like it you can't judge the difficulties involved.
I have not written a 500-page novel, but I've been the copyeditor for way more than 500 novels over the years. Rarely is a workaround needed to avoid "her or she" or "s/he"; those constructions simply don't come up--unless in dialog or a first-person narration, and I've already said that's completely acceptable.

If SF is different, if an SF author wants to create a world with its own language rules and conceits, that's fine too, as long as it's internally consistent and logical.
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Old 01-18-2019, 03:11 PM   #52
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I do think this bit of mythology is spoiled by "sons". I think that was careless and inappropriate. Although it was probably justified on the same grounds as "he" and "him" etc., I see it as a step too far.
Then there's this. Genly describes Agraven when he sees him again as looking like "a woman who has lost her baby, like a man who has lost his son." We can ascribe this to Genly's unthinking sexism/misogyny, but what are we to make of a woman's being in effect indifferent to the sex of her offspring, when a man is fulfilled only by a son?

And... to what extent does the narration reflect Genly's thoughts at the time, and to what extent should we have hoped that new insight would have led him to temper his language to reflect the reality?

Essentially, I don't think Le Guin thought through the implications of what she was saying. Genly comes across as a bit of a throwback even for 1969 and you'd have thought society would have altered more. Le Guin makes a show of the woman on the rescue ship, but Genly comes across as very much a 50s male.

=========

I feel as if I should ask people to limit their comments on grammar, pronouns and so forth to those that are comments on the book. I think we're getting a bit bogged down in the back-and-forth.
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Old 01-18-2019, 06:17 PM   #53
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The problem inherent in this, whether east or west, is that it's not gender bending, it's bolstering the status quo. The purport of the book seems to be to question our notions of gender, but the underpinnings do the contrary.
I can’t agree with you on this, issybird. The whole point of the yin-yang symbol is that the opposites are indivisible and make up a whole. Genly comes to see that the Gethenians personify the symbol, even if he still uses terms like man and he when referring to them.
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Old 01-18-2019, 07:24 PM   #54
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I can’t agree with you on this, issybird. The whole point of the yin-yang symbol is that the opposites are indivisible and make up a whole. Genly comes to see that the Gethenians personify the symbol, even if he still uses terms like man and he when referring to them.
That's reasonable, although I still think that Le Guin needed to move outside gender norms to be persuasive.

However, we seem to be stuck on the gender issues that the book has become identified with, to the detriment of everything that was happening. What about the governments? There also seemed to be a bifurcation there, between the autocracy of Karhide and the bureaucracy of Orgoreyn. And what about the religions of the two countries?

I'll say that the portrayal of King Argaven, characterized as both insane and stupid, seemed scarily current. "Worst I fear is the bitter truth" and so he rules through fear. And then there's Tibe, "His speeches were long and loud: praises of Karhide, disparagements of Orgoreyn, vilifications of the 'disloyal factions,' discussions of the 'integrity of the Kingdom's borders,' lectures in history and ethics and economics, all in a ranting, canting emotional tone that went shrill with vituperations or adulations."

Sound like anyone, hmm?
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Old 01-18-2019, 07:51 PM   #55
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Oh yes please, do let’s get away from the gender issue! I certainly felt a chill of recognition in that description of Tibe’s rants to whip up hatred and fear among the citizens of Karhide. It was also understandable that Genly felt that Karhide’s system, once Tibe was gone, was to be preferred over the apparently pleasant but covertly sinister regime of Orgoreyn.
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Old 01-18-2019, 08:08 PM   #56
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The religions were interesting, weren't they. Again, a contrast between what seems to be a monotheistic cult of Meshe in Orgoreyn, and the Handdara of Karhide which seems to be more of a philosophy of how to live, like Taoism or Buddhism.

Chapter 12 On Time and Darkness, says that "Meshe is the centre of time". It emphasises the importance of light:

Quote:
There is neither darkness nor death, for all things are, in the light of the Moment, and their end and their beginning are one.
I did like the section where Genly visited the Foretellers and had a discussion with Faxe:

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"You don't see yet, Genry, why we perfected and practise Foretelling?"
"No - "
"To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question."
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Old 01-18-2019, 08:14 PM   #57
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[...] Now you're arguing my case for me!
I think that's probably because, ultimately, I agree with you. I think the language of the novel is reinforcing of the status quo, but at the same time I agree with Bookpossum, that the intention was to try an unite gender in the Gethenians as if yin-and-yang was applicable. I see these as two sides of the same argument.

In the 1988 redux of her essay "Is Gender Necessary?", Le Guin admits "If I had realized how the pronouns I used shaped, directed, controlled my own thinking, I might have been “cleverer”". But the pronouns are almost the least of it, there are the "sons" references, the "like a man" and "like a woman" references, and the entire idea of yin-and-yang as a representation for the two genders I think is divisive. Sure, it says the two sides are part of the whole, but it still says there are two sides; I don't think that's true even here, but on Gethen it definitely is not true.

I do like what Le Guin did with Gethen and its single gender, I think it is instructive, it's just a shame it was let down by the language. She may not have gotten it all right, but her own tentative explorations made a starting point, a discussion point for others. And that's a good thing.
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Old 01-18-2019, 08:47 PM   #58
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I'm kinda curious if any trans, or ideally, non-binary people are participating in this or have read this and are willing to give their opinion on the treatment of gender here.
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Old 01-18-2019, 09:09 PM   #59
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I did like the answering the wrong question part of the foretellers in Karhide (it made me wonder if this provided inspiration to Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), but it seemed to me this didn't really go anywhere (unless we are supposed to question whether the answers provided by this book are to the wrong questions?). The commune-styling of the foretellers had obvious inspiration from such communities in the 60s, even to the extent of feeling temporary (to me) which seemed contrary to how long foretellers had been doing their thing.

The creation myth, and even the harsh planetary setting, seemed mostly there to emphasise theme of duality: snow-white and cold-dark; the inability to see anything on the ice cap when there were no shadows. I liked all this, I thought it was neatly constructed and revealed, but it does feel simplified for the purpose - which is probably to be expected.

The rest of political/religious/spiritual aspects of the novel, for me, were less interesting, because they didn't feel particularly new and they didn't feel as if they reflected what these people were. We have talk of kemmerhouses and hearths, but I felt that none of this was really reflected in what we saw in the book. That is; it didn't feel different enough to match that of a people who were all one gender/non-gender. However, I can see that making the communities too different may have distracted from the theme Le Guin was trying to explore and so threatened to turn the book into something quite different.
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Old 01-19-2019, 12:46 AM   #60
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I think that's probably because, ultimately, I agree with you. I think the language of the novel is reinforcing of the status quo, but at the same time I agree with Bookpossum, that the intention was to try an unite gender in the Gethenians as if yin-and-yang was applicable. I see these as two sides of the same argument.

In the 1988 redux of her essay "Is Gender Necessary?", Le Guin admits "If I had realized how the pronouns I used shaped, directed, controlled my own thinking, I might have been “cleverer”". But the pronouns are almost the least of it, there are the "sons" references, the "like a man" and "like a woman" references, and the entire idea of yin-and-yang as a representation for the two genders I think is divisive. Sure, it says the two sides are part of the whole, but it still says there are two sides; I don't think that's true even here, but on Gethen it definitely is not true.

I do like what Le Guin did with Gethen and its single gender, I think it is instructive, it's just a shame it was let down by the language. She may not have gotten it all right, but her own tentative explorations made a starting point, a discussion point for others. And that's a good thing.
Thanks for the reference to the Le Guin essay, gmw. I hadn't come across it and it was interesting to read, especially in the light of our discussions.

And yes, we should appreciate the book for its trail-blazing qualities, rather than simply find fault with it because it was written 50 years ago, and would have been done differently now.
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