Owen Harry (PhD) is an instructor at the National University of Singapore, where he previously completed his PhD in English Literature. His dissertation “Posthuman Ecospiritualities in American Literature” examined the importance of the religious imagination, particularly Buddhism, Christianity, and animism, in the work of contemporary American environmental writers who seek alternatives to notions of human separation and superiority. He has published articles on Gary Snyder and Richard Powers, both of which were developed from papers given at ASLE conferences. E-mail: oharry@nus.edu.sg


Dreaming of Change: Ursula K. Le Guin and the Daoist Posthuman

Abstract: In their emphasis on perceiving and relating to the world as fundamentally interconnected rather than divided into separate human and nonhuman realms, various religious traditions of Southeast Asia, most prominently Buddhism and animism, offer valuable resources for countering the anthropocentrism of humanist thought. Scholars have recently argued that posthumanists should pay greater attention to such traditions, with some pointing to Daoism as corroborating and even potentially radicalizing posthumanism. The confluence of these perspectives may be seen clearly in the work of the American writer Ursula K. Le Guin, who consistently positions Daoist thought in direct opposition to anthropocentric humanism throughout her speculative fiction. While posthumanist critics have acclaimed Le Guin for her experiments in multispecies subjectivity, they tend not to pay any consideration to the role that Daoism plays in these experiments, perhaps due to associations made throughout Le Guin scholarship between Daoism and passivity or quietism. In this paper, I read Le Guin’s most explicitly Daoist novel The Lathe of Heaven (1971) to demonstrate how its protagonist embodies Daoist concepts and in doing so conforms largely to Rosi Braidotti’s model of posthuman subjectivity as dynamic, embodied, and relational. Rather than simply noting how Daoism reflects posthumanist theory, however, I argue that reading the novel in light of recent re-evaluations of the concept of wuwei (non-action) suggests an alternative conception of human agency and a spiritual technology that may inform the posthumanist project.
Keywords: Daoism, religion, posthumanism, speculative fiction, subjectivity