Worlding and Unworlding Central Europe with Ursula K. Le Guin

Worlding and Unworlding Central Europe with Ursula K. Le Guin

Writing in Transit Research Cluster, School of Modern Languages and Cultures
Date: Wednesday 17 March 2021
Time: 13:00 - 14:00
Venue: Online via zoom
Category: Public lectures
Speaker: Dr Eliza Rose, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

As a college student, Ursula K. Le Guin (then Ursula Kroeber) wrote her first novel manuscript. Titled A Descendance, the story was set in the invented realm of Orsinia – an “unimportant country of middle Europe.” From her site of exclusion as a young woman seeking entry into a patriarchal publishing world, she staked out a country where her imagination was sovereign.

Daughter of anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, Le Guin used a quasi-ethnographic toolkit to develop a complex fictional world for Orsinia complete with a Slavic-Latinate language, intricate class system, and history of Austrian annexation. Orsinia became the setting of two novel manuscripts, thirteen stories, and three folk songs.

This talk argues that the critically neglected Orsinian corpus indexes Le Guin’s career as a trajectory of sharpening self-awareness, for even by virtue of its duration as a project (1948-1990), it tracks her growing criticality as an author.

Drawing from Gayatri Spivak, Donna Haraway and Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius, I explore ethnography and fictional “worlding” as relatedly fraught ways of “knowing” the other. Orsinia builds on the literary tradition of the Ruritanian romance (fiction authored in the West yet set in invented Central European countries). These genre parameters make Orsinia a unique site in which Le Guin overcame the limitations of the script she had been dealt.

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