For those of you concerned with the recent discussion over at the Tor Books website, I wanted to weigh in on the nondiscussion of the noncontroversy the postrational postmoderns were having with themselves, I assume in a safely padded room.
The fires of reform have let fall a spark upon wood which they perhaps find sadly dank, and the furious wind of words is attempting bravely to blow on an idea with no merit that arouses no interest in the reading public: and so far the idea has burst into no particular blaze.
Namely, the reform proposed is that readers should change their assumptions so that assuming the human race comes only in two sexes would no longer be the standard, default assumption. We should suffer a moment of surprise and worried shock if ever again we read a story where the human characters fall neatly either into male and female categories.
Whether this assumption matches reality or not has been ruled beyond discussion.
One assumes the motive for such social reform is benevolent, based on the idea that those among us who are neither male nor female cannot feel sympathy with any characters outside our own sex. Or, worse, perhaps the assumption here is that one ought not feel sympathy for sexes or races outside one’s own, but have only partisan loyalty to one’s own identity-group.
If so, it is not benevolent at all in its outcome, no matter the intent, for it is the philosophy of xenophobia. It is the attempt to make it normal to judge all other men solely by their unintentional outward accidents, and to ignore that inward soul and character which makes us all equal. It is the attempt to undo centuries of progress in the areas of civic equality and Christian charity in one blow, and turn us all back into squabbling tribes severed by mutual hatred.
Whether such an idea catches fire, we shall see. But I wanted to contribute my bucket of water to the attempt:
Dear postmodern reformers, you are ninety-four years out of date.
In the seminal work of wonder known to mortals as VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS by David Lindsay, an author in every way more imaginative than any writer (myself included) writing today, effortlessly disposed of this issue, and in a fashion not even Ursula K LeGuin’s striking and imaginative LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS could match.
The comparison is, of course, slightly unfair, as LeGuin was writing science fiction (elevating the standard set for the genre as she did so) whereas David Lindsay was writing theological or theosophical speculation, a visionary delirium not bound by normal conventions of genre, story-telling, or any mundane rules or tropes.
It is worth quoting at length. This is from Chapter 16, ‘Leehallfae’. The earthman Maskull has been carried by an impossible vessel across the abyss of space to the giant planet Tormance, sole companion of the binary star Arcturus, either to bring new fire to man like Prometheus, or to die, or both. Abandoned by his companions, and having suffered many strange mutations both of body and outlook, and having committed appalling murders, he travels alone across the wild lands seeking a glimpse of the second sun, Alppain, whose weird colors form a spectrum unknown on Earth and indescribable, but whose light banishes all illusions:
A voice called out to him from behind, and, turning around, he saw a human figure hastening toward him from some distance down the ravine. It looked more like a man than a woman. He was rather tall, but nimble, and was clothed in a dark, frocklike garment that reached from the neck to below the knees. Around his head was rolled a turban. Maskull waited for him, and when he was nearer went a little way to meet him.
Then he experienced another surprise, for this person, although clearly a human being, was neither man nor woman, nor anything between the two, but was unmistakably of a third positive sex, which was remarkable to behold and difficult to understand. In order to translate into words the sexual impression produced in Maskull’s mind by the stranger’s physical aspect, it is necessary to coin a new pronoun, for none in earthly use would be applicable. Instead of “he,” “she,” or “it,” therefore “ae” will be used.
He found himself incapable of grasping at first why the bodily peculiarities of this being should strike him as springing from sex, and not from race, and yet there was no doubt about the fact itself. Body, face, and eyes were absolutely neither male nor female, but something quite different. Just as one can distinguish a man from a woman at the first glance by some indefinable difference of expression and atmospheres altogether apart from the contour of the figure, so the stranger was separated in appearance from both. As with men and women, the whole person expressed a latent sensuality, which gave body and face alike their peculiar character…. Maskull decided that it was love – but what love – love for whom? Continue reading