Tag Archives: Lao Tzu

Ursula K. LeGuin and history

I went to the Salvation Army store the other day hoping to find a replacement for the jacket I left on the plane in Denver. No luck, but I did find a book that has proved to be worthwhile. (There was a jacket that might have served but it had Frontier Airlines stitched on the front. I don’t think so!)

I read Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy years ago and liked it enough to keep it in my library. I’ve read it once or twice more since then. She wrote a fourth book in the same story line that I read but did not care for as much.

Regardless, when I saw her name on a book titled Tales from Earthsea, I picked it up immediately. For a dollar how can you go wrong?

The book has a foreword that explains LeGuin’s take on the ‘nonexistent history’ of the fictional Earthsea. There’s a paragraph that hit me between the eyes this morning when I read it. She writes:

Even if we are present at some historic event, do we comprehend it – can we even remember it – until we can tell it as a story? And for events in times or places outside our own experience, we have nothing to go on but the stories other people tell us. Past events exist , after all, only in memory, which is a form of imagination. The event is real now, but once it’s then, its continuing reality is entirely up to us, dependent on our energy and honesty. If we let it drop from memory, only imagination can restore the least glimmer of it. If we lie about the past, forcing it to tell a story we want it to tell, to mean what we want it to mean, it loses its reality, becomes a fake. To bring our past along with us through time in the hold-alls of myth and history is a heavy undertaking; but as Lao Tzu says, wise people march along with the baggage wagons.

The philosophy of Lao Tzu is similar to that of Chuang Tzu, who I referenced in an earlier post involving LeGuin’s work: http://thezachproject.us/index.php/2016/09/01/loss/

LeGuin has a larger, world history in mind but her words resonate with me for the events of last November. Humankind is just a tiny blip in the context of the universe, but for us it is all we have. We must hold our memories true and pass them on. There is nothing more.