Androgyny and the Uncanny &c

by johannespunkt

Here is my bachelor’s thesis, with my own words removed. It is titled “Androgyny and the Uncanny in Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice” and if you’d like to read it you can reach me at johannes.punkt at gmail dot com. I don’t bite, I promise. Apparently quotes take up roughly 15% of the thesis. Is that good? No-one knows. The sources for all these words are also in the full document.

“man” “woman” “eliminated gender, to find out what was left. Whatever was left would be, presumably, simply human”

“science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender” “much-needed models for non-binary characters” “out of date”


The uncanny is queer. And the queer is uncanny.

“a foreign body within oneself, even the experience of oneself as a foreign body” “foreign body” “strange, peculiar, eccentric,” “homosexual”

“The ‘Uncanny,’” “Das Unheimliche.” “intellectual uncertainty” “ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light” “something familiar unexpectedly arising in a strange and unfamiliar context, or … something strange and unfamiliar unexpectedly arising in a familiar context,” “the uncanny is that class of frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar”

“The Uncanny Valley” “distinguish[ing]” “creating an artificial human is the true goal of robotics”

“[t]o discover our own disturbing [O]therness”

“Queer” “one’s so-called … ‘sexuality’”

“conservative, if not misogynistic” “approaching it from the masculine end of the spectrum [or] the feminine” “vacant[ly]”

Wavering Definitions of Human in The Left Hand of Darkness

I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive.

“uncanniness occurs when the borders between imagination and reality are erased” “as if I told a story”

“as [his] landlady, for he ha[s] fat buttocks … and a soft face, and prying, spying, ignoble, kindly nature” “I saw a girl, a filthy, stupid, weary girl looking up into my face as she talked, smiling timidly, looking for solace”

“king-bee,” “queen-bee” “man I must say, having said he and his” “soft supple femininity that [Genly] dislike[s] and distrust[s]” “it was impossible to think of him as a woman … yet whenever I thought of him as a man I felt a sense of falseness” “effeminate deviousness” “effeminate” “[Estraven] was the only one who had entirely accepted [him] as a human being … and who therefore had demanded of [him] an equal degree of recognition”

“the very use of the pronoun in my thoughts leads me continually to forget that the [Gethenian] I am with is not a man, but a manwoman” “experiment” “[t]he somer-kemmer cycle strikes us as degrading, a return to the estrus cycle of the lower mammals” “loaded with meanings”

“as if they did not cast shadows” “shadow” “just a little bit unreal,” “vast stone semi-cellar with one door locked on us from outside, and no window … perfectly dark” “locked in the dark with uncomplaining, unhopeful people,” “ignored that black cellar and gone looking for the substance of Orgoreyn above ground, in daylight” “substance”

“Estraven the Traitor” “Long ago, before the days of King Argaven I” “a Domain’s pride is the length of its borders, and the lords of Kerm Land are proud men and umbrageous men, casting black shadows” “umbrageous” “shadow-fight” “murder is a lighter shadow on a house than suicide,” “shadow” “curse” “curse”

“shifgrethor” “prestige, face, place, the pride-relationship, the untranslatable and all-important principle of social authority,” “played” “waive shifgrethor” “never even really understood the meaning of the word” “It comes from an old word for shadow” “black shadows” “proud … umbrageous men” “murder is a lighter shadow on a house than suicide”

“the Unshadow” “there’s no lying” “neither [Estraven] nor [Genly] cast any shadow” “[t]he king shortens no man’s shadow” “[s]ome shadows got shorter and some longer, as they say in Karhide”

Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.

“[l]ight, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, [Estraven]. Both and one. A shadow on snow”

The Machinery of the Empire in Ancillary Justice
“nonhumans … include[s] quite a number of people who [consider] themselves human,” “it’s so easy, isn’t it, to decide the people you’re fighting aren’t really human” “civilized” “doesn’t mark gender in any way” “invariably … offended when [she] hesitate[s] or guess[es] wrong”

“it” “its,” “any sort of individual,” “person,” “human,” “corpse soldier”

“used to wonder how Radchaai reproduced, if they were all the same gender” “They’re not” “inadvertently genders”

them all, suddenly, for just a moment, through non-Radchaai eyes, an eddying crowd of unnervingly ambiguously gendered people. I saw all the features that would mark gender for non-Radchaai … Short hair or long, worn unbound (trailing down a back, or in a thick, curled nimbus) or bound (braided, pinned, tied). Thick-bodied or thin-, faces delicate-featured or coarse-, with cosmetics or none. A profusion of colors that would have been gender-marked in other places. All of this matched randomly with bodies curving at breast and hip or not, bodies that one moment moved in ways various non-Radchaai would call feminine, the next moment masculine.

“captain” “cast[s] the Gethenian protagonist, Estraven, almost exclusively into roles that we are culturally conditioned to perceive as ‘male’” “mother,” “daughter,” “sister,” “sir” “parent” “parent,” “sir,” “captain”

“a generation or two” “the head priest of Ikkt,” “not seen her way clear to demoting her god in its own temple, or identifying Ikkt with Amaat closely enough to add Radchaai rites to her own” “normal practice to absorb any religion the Radch ran across, to fit its gods into an already blindingly complex genealogy, or to say merely that the supreme, creator deity was Amaat under another name and let the rest sort themselves out” “ma[kes] the strange god familiar and br[ings] it safely within her mental framework” “we go to the top of the local hierarchy”

“no control over the new body” “it” “I” “it” “’Help,’ I croaked … It was shivering, still cold from suspension, and from terror” “I can bring you back” “he” “she” “it,”

Unifying, Disunifying Telepathy
“the notion that any given moment … depends on the fiction that everyone is experiencing the same moment, uncannily interconnected, sharing the same ‘now’” “fiction,” “presumed analogy between the novelist as creator and the Creator of the cosmos, an omniscient God” “God knows everything because He is everywhere – simultaneously … [a narrator] does not ‘know’ simultaneously but consecutively” “telepathic” “clairvoyant” “same ‘now,’”

“now,” “the constant of simultaneity” “produce[s] a message at any two points simultaneously” “[m]indspeech [is] the only thing I ha[ve] to give to Estraven, out of all my civilization” “consists largely of simple communication [via ansible] rather than of transportation” “the rapport [is] there” “now” “now.” “now”

“now” “identity is never absolutely pure or singular” “Estraven the Traitor.” “as a dead man’s, his brother’s voice” “disturbed” “[p]erhaps a Gethenian, being singularly complete, feels telepathic speech as a violation of completeness” “now”

“every breath, every twitch of every muscle,” “very nearly” “possesse[s] thousands of bodies, all of them genetically identical, all of them linked to each other” “She’s been secretly moving against herself … the whole time all of her has been pretending not to know it was happening, because as soon as she admitted it the conflict would be in the open, and unavoidable” “prevent the knowledge from reaching the parts of her that aren’t [t]here” “and the rest would have to trust that” “now,”

“hiding what she'[s] done from herself,” “if there [are] now two Anaander Mianaais, might there not also be more?” “[c]orrupted” “No-one is subverting the Lord of Radch except the Lord of the Radch”