Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and the Künstlerroman Tradition

By Graham Jensen

University of Victoria

This essay argues that Le Guin radically reimagined the Künstlerroman (“artist’s novel”) through its intervention in contemporary debates about art and science. Leveraging the revolutionary, utopian potential linked...

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This essay argues that Le Guin radically reimagined the Künstlerroman (“artist’s novel”) through its intervention in contemporary debates about art and science. Leveraging the revolutionary, utopian potential linked to the figure of the Romantic artist but frequently denied art (e.g., by those theorists for whom art serves largely to reproduce ideology), The Dispossessed parlays science’s utilitarian function into an artistic process that imaginatively transcends its material and political origins, rehabilitating both science and art within a generic frame that is at once familiar and alien, conventional and revisionary. The essay concludes that the Künstlerroman form changes how we read Le Guin’s narrative and its relationship to the intellectual debates of its time, but that it also alters our understanding of the Künstlerroman tradition itself.

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Original publication information:

“Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and the Künstlerroman Tradition.” English Studies in Canada 44.4 (2018): 87-113. https://ojs.lib.uwo.ca/index.php/esc/issue/view/1331/237. [ESC is available in Open Access under the restriction of a twelve-month moving wall.]