Thursday, April 17, 2003

I've calmed down after my rant (see below) - and found my copy of Ursula LeGuin's piece, so I am now torn between my anarchist desire to stick it all up here, and my librarian's respect for copyright laws. Maybe I'll have to give you the excerpt I've typed up so far, and then 'serious researchers' can contact me for a full copy for their private use. Either that or I'll have to link to some anonymous site where some unscrupulous anarchist will have published it all.... hmmm

Excerpt from: THE CARRIER BAG THEORY OF FICTION (1986) by Ursula LeGuin

"In the temperate and tropical regions where it appears that hominids evolved into human beings, the principal food of the species was vegetable. Sixty-five to eighty percent of what human beings ate in those regions in Paleolithic, Neolithic, and prehistoric times was gathered; only in the extreme Arctic was meat the staple food. The mammoth hunters spectacularly occupy the cave wall and the mind, but what we actually did to stay alive and fat was gather seeds, roots, sprouts, shoots, leaves, nuts, berries, fruits and grains, adding bugs and molluscs and netting or snaring birds, fish, rats, rabbits and other tuskless small fry to up the protein. And we didn’t even work hard at it – much less hard than peasants slaving in somebody else’s field after agriculture was invented. The average prehistoric person could make a nice living in about a fifteen-hour work week.
Fifteen hours a week for subsistence leaves a lot of time for other things. So much time that maybe the restless ones who didn’t have a baby around to enliven their life, or skill in making or cooking or singing, or very interesting thoughts to think, decided to slope off and hunt mammoths. The skilful hunters then would come staggering back with a load of meat, a lot of ivory, and a story. It wasn’t the meat that made the difference. It was the story.
It is hard to tell a really gripping tale of how I wrested a wild-oat seed from its husk, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then I scratched my gnat bites, and Ool said something funny, and we went to the creek and got a drink and watched newts for a while, and then I found another patch of oats….No, it does not compare, it cannot compete with how I thrust my spear deep into the titanic hairy flank while Oob, impaled on one huge sweeping tusk, writhed screaming, and blood spouted everywhere in crimson torrents, and Boob was crushed to jelly when the mammoth fell on him as I shot my unerring arrow straight through eye to brain.
That story not only has Action, it has a Hero. Heroes are powerful. Before you know it, the men and women in the wild-oat patch and their kids and the skills of the makers and the thoughts of the thoughtful and the songs of the singers are all part of it, have all been pressed into service in the tale of the Hero. But it isn’t their story. It’s his."

LeGuin, Ursula "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction." Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places. New York: Grove P, 1989. 165-70.

Oh, and if you wonder what carrier bags have to do with it all:

"Before - once you think about it, surely long before - the weapon, a late, luxurious, superfluous tool; long before the useful knife and ax; right along with the indispensable whacker, grinder and digger - for what's the use of digging up a lot of potatoes if you have nothing to lug the ones you can't eat home in - with or before the tool that forces energy outward [Toby: spears, etc], we made the tool that brings energy home. It makes sense to me. I am an adherent of what Fisher calls the Carrier Bag Theory of human evolution."

Oh, you have to read it all. I hope that wicked anarchist gets the complete text posted up soon, so I can link to it.

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