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  • The Legacies of Ursula K. Le Guin: Science, Fiction, and Ethics for the Anthropocene
  • Katie Stone
The Legacies of Ursula K. Le Guin: Science, Fiction, and Ethics for the Anthropocene [Héritages d'Ursula Le Guin: Science, fiction et éthique pour l'Anthropocène]06 18–21, 2019, Institut du Monde Anglophone, Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris

"The Legacies of Ursula K. Le Guin" was an exemplary interdisciplinary event that brought together scholars across the humanities with those working in science and technology studies. Supported by the Chaire Arts & Sciences, École Polytechnique, and Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, the conference gave utopian studies specialists the opportunity to converse with experts in the philosophy of science, critical ecologists, and political philosophers. Unlike other single-author events this conference was not the product of an existing community of Le Guin scholars, meaning that the delegates were drawn together primarily through their enthusiasm for Le Guin's writing, their interest in theorizing an "ethics for the Anthropocene"—as the conference's subtitle indicates—and their shared loss at news of Le Guin's death in January 2018. These four days provided a space for delegates to combine their urgent critical engagements with Le Guin's work as it speaks to our contemporary moment with their attempts to commemorate the magnitude of her contribution to both literature and utopianism more broadly. Ranging from avid science-fiction fans to those who spent their childhoods navigating the archipelago of Earthsea, the speakers at "The Legacies of Ursula K. Le Guin" offered engaging, sensitive, and politically driven readings of Le Guin's many wonderful works. [End Page 227]

The conference began on the evening of Tuesday, June 18, with a screening of Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin(2018). For some this was their first opportunity to see this documentary, which offers an introductory overview of Le Guin's life and work and features original interview footage with Le Guin along with beautiful animated sequences that illustrate some of her most beloved fictional worlds.

The following morning saw the beginning of the conference proper, held in the grand amphitheater—a former anatomy lecture hall—of the Institut du Monde Anglophone. After some words of welcome from organizers Sarah Bouttier, Pierre-Louis Patoine, and Christopher Robinson, we began the conference's first panel: "Anthropocene." Chessa Adsit-Morris (University of California, Santa Cruz) opened the discussion. She immediately delved into a critique of the term Anthropocene—pointing to how feminist, decolonial, and science-fictional modes of knowing are often decentered in homogeneous, catchall modes of theorizing. Adsit-Morris cited Le Guin's short story "She Unnames Them" as a prompt to "unname" the Anthropocene—a project she has undertaken in her research with "Beyond the End of the World." This opening paper was followed by Brad Tabas (École Nationale Supérieure de Techniques Avancées de Bretagne), who also problematized the term Anthropocene—a term that he noted Le Guin never publicly used. To Adsit-Morris's theorization of ecological messiness he added the idea of darknessas a productive term in Le Guin's work. Tabas's paper was followed by Supriya Baijal (Dayalbagh Educational Institute) with the paper "Negotiating 'Power' and 'Balance' in A Wizard of Earthsea(1968)." Baijal drew on the image of the shadow in A Wizard of Earthseaas something that must be accepted into the self, thus continuing the interesting exploration into darkness and messiness offered by this panel. As a specialist in children's literature she was also able to throw light on the pedagogical function of the text as a piece of ecocriticism. The final paper of the panel was given by Kim Hendricks (Flemish Research Foundation/Katholieke Universiteit Leuven). Hendricks engaged more explicitly in the potentially utopian function of science fiction than his fellow panelists, although again he returned to the idea of darkness, which he connected to Donna Haraway's concept of the "thick present." Hendricks opposed Le Guin's focus on the present to the futurism that characterizes much utopian discourse, from the science fiction of David Brin to the political predictions of Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. [End Page 228]

We returned after lunch with a panel presentation...