Before the actual transcript of Le Guin’s speech was posted to the internet, scores of folks posted their CONTEXT/PERSONAL OPINION — QUOTE — CONTEXT/PERSONAL OPINION — QUOTE — CONTEXT/PERSONAL OPINION essay. The speech is awesome—more awesome than the 85-year-old pacific northwest legend flipping the bird/mic dropping scene that it was on the surface. Kind of. Here is the transcript that parker higgins beat everybody to transcribing. DEAL WITH IT
And here is my CONTEXT/PERSONAL OPINION — QUOTE — CONTEXT/PERSONAL OPINION — QUOTE — CONTEXT/PERSONAL OPINION post. So the context: I met Le Guin briefly in 2007 when I was in school and she spoke there about the future of the book as a physical pagéd object—you know: a book—and that it was not to die as fast as we all thought. She is a science fiction writer, so she had some perspective, as people usually look at screens in sci fi, and she is also a writer, so, you know…books. I hated technology at the time—and haven’t gotten too far past that…—so I was into it. I didn’t meet her so much as I just came forward afterward and said I was into it. Maybe that didn’t even happen. She’s a legend, so, you know, maybe I met her by being in the same room as her and hearing her speak…through a microphone. DON’T HASSLE ME! MEMORY IS FUZZY AND SO IS CELEBRITY. Never underestimate awe and read this truth:
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.
I realize it is absurd to say that Le Guin was speaking directly to me, because a severe lack of humility is required in self-identifying as “the realist of a larger reality.” Having said that… try telling me, young author, that you didn’t think she was talking about you. Just try. It’s ok, poets and visionaries, admit it. It’s ok, remember freedom, and let us do this. Fuck this fear-stricken society, fuck the iPhone 6 and whatever other obsessive technologies we’ve replaced actual life with (“actual” is complicated, my apologies, but you know what I mean), let us admit it, let us self-identify as such: the realists of a larger reality. How do we get there? What’s holding us back? In the back of the room, or just everybody together—what is the answer always: CAPITALISM! YAY! We’re all there! Preach it, Ursula!
Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.
Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write.
At this point someone from the audience CANNOT HANDLE IT and expresses her love audibly, enthusiastically, all of the goddman adverbs, to which Le Guin MAKES THIS HUMAN’S LIFE, “Well, I love you too, darling.” I do not wish to out myself as an outsider to certain mainstream sensibilities for the sake of any audience respecting these here words and other ones I might write, but I will anyhow: I do not wear deodorant. I am not even sure if it is something you wear. Briefly, I tried it out, around that time when they teach you to fear your bodies, between 5th and 9th grades, because I was given a small stick of old spice in health class, given to us all to get on the right track, one in which any underarm odors we might naturally produce would be killed dead before they even emerged from the pores. So it is easy for me to come to certain conclusions about deodorant, that it is an unnecessary commodity—among many—that we have been convinced that we need, that we are made to feel disgusting—literally so—for not purchasing, and that distances ourselves from our natural selves, that makes us hate and resent our natural selves. Sure there’s Tom’s—do what you gotta do—but the apotheosis of deodorant, your old spices, and body sprays of other masculine mass-marketing campaigns, these make me gag, a reaction that I believe is as based in philosophy as physiology. I’m not a scientist. I do know that perhaps the most infamous Pacific Northwest critique on American consumerism and capitalism’s perversion of art and humans is “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which juxtaposes our highest accomplishments—our music, our stories, our art—with deodorant, particularly one that Kurt Cobain’s girlfriend wore sometime in Olympia as the ’80s became the ’90s: teen spirit. Needless to say, we are not deodorant. Our smell is not the point—and not unpleasant even if it were—it is that which we express with out fingers as we mouth the words and think the opposite of OH YES THIS WILL SELL. Because:
Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.
Our art, you who also thought that Ursula K. Le Guin was speaking directly to you. While all of the signs that populate our world were designed to tell you that you are a failure precisely because you do not fit into the capitalist machinery that connects readers with what this very machinery considers transgressive, new or meaningful, to practice OUR ART as capitalism tells us it meaningless, failing, NOT GOOD ENOUGH, that is resistance, that is where change will come from, because everyone will catch up and realize how destructive and awful amazon is, how little mainstream publishing is interested in pushing boundaries—because they might dominate such an expanded space—and then, when we are 85 years old we can give hope to those who are alienated by the bullshit of another new century, because there will be bullshit, and, believe it or, there will even be another century.
I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. It’s name is freedom.