kortina.nyc / notes
21 May 2023 | by kortina

Le Guin // The Lathe of Heaven

In her 1971 novel The Lathe Of Heaven, Ursula Le Guin examines the question of whether humanity can survive technology – but it’s also about dreaming, human imagination, and collective consciousness.

It’s short, and well worth a read.

Like many books that follow man’s pursuit of technological progress to the limits, it ultimately turns away, accepts uncertainty, and lands in somewhere adjacent to where much eastern philosophy leads.

Mark Fischer has an old k-punk post on the book that’s also worth a read:

after a few moments of bewildered fugue, Heather Lelache accepts the ‘new’ world as the ‘true’ world, editing out the point of suture. This strategy - of accepting the incommensurable and the senseless without question - has always been the exemplary technique of sanity as such, but it has a special role to play in late capitalism, that ‘motley painting of everything that ever was’, whose dreaming up and junking of social fictions is nearly as rapid as its production and disposal of commodities. To be able to function in late capitalism without being a psychological wreck, it is necessary to accept the insane as standard.


If the reality program has been set up elsewhere, there is nothing he can do, so he must tell himself, but play along with it. This disclaiming of responsibility is now so widespread amongst managers that to invoke the old category of ‘bad faith’ scarcely seems adequate for what is a structural effect. Which is to say: the managers of capital are well-practised in living someone else’s dream. Or someone else’s nightmare…


Again, it is unclear as to whether Le Guin is making a point by having her mixed race female character’s whole existence depend upon her being the hero’s brown love interest. What is clear is that Le Guin is too attached to the existing reality co-ordinates to conceive of the void as anything but the ‘wrong way’. It strikes me, however, that this void - the void which capitalist creative destruction continually gestures towards but continually covers over - is the revolutionary rupture. This, after all, would be the time of the Event, which is also the time of trauma, where ontology is suspended — and what will henceforth count as reality is up for grabs.

Notes and quotes…

11 Confucius and you are both dreams, and I who say you are dreams am a dream myself.

This is a paradox. Tomorrow a wise man may explain it; that tomorrow will not be for ten thousand generations.

–Chuang Tse: II

2361 It’s not that he’s evil. He’s right, one ought to try to help other people. But that analogy with snakebite serum was false. He was talking about one person meeting another person in pain. That’s different. Perhaps what I did, what I did in April four years ago… was justified. … (But his thoughts shied away, as always, from the burned place.) You have to help another person. But it’s not right to play God with masses of people. To be God you have to know what you’re doing. And to do any good at all, just believing you’re right and your motives are good isn’t enough. You have to… be in touch. He isn’t in touch. No one else, no thing even, has an existence of its own for him; he sees the world only as a means to his end. It doesn’t make any difference if his end is good; means are all we’ve got…. He can’t accept, he can’t let be, he can’t let go. He is insane….

He could take us all with him, out of touch, if he did manage to dream as I do. What am I to do?

2689 Starlight asked Non-Entity, ‘Master, do you exist? or do you not exist?’ He got no answer to his question, however. . . .

–Chuang Tse: XXH

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