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Class 8: Walking away…?

March 25, 2021

Guest speaker Glenn Loughran aka Feilimy joined the class to lead the discussion on the short story which you were asked to read in preparation. Here is his summary.

view of the classroom through the windows.
Feilimy introduces Ursula K Le Guin’s story ‘The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas’.

The session began with brief introductions in the class, focusing on the different disciplines that participants are working through. After this Ursula Le Guin’s text ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas‘ (1973) was introduced and contextualised. Emphasis and discussion were given over to the form of the story which is ‘allegorical’.  As Walter Benjamin has suggested, the allegory is a particular kind of literary trope that often emerges at times of crisis or political unrest. This is because the form of the allegory (part for whole) enables a reduction of complexity, making crisis more manageable and visible. A key allegorical trope is the figure of the Island because it represents a fragment of the whole. It is often understood is a microcosm of the world. These reflections then fed into a discussion about the text, the narrator of the text and importantly, how the narrator constructs the image of Utopia, with the reader. Incrementally, the narrator of the text asks the reader to contribute to the image of Utopia, ‘if they are unsatisfied with the one being described’. All in the class agreed that this is a strategic device to include the reader in the narrative, to make them co-constructors and potentially, co-conspirators. From this analysis, there was brief reflection on the conceptual nature of this strategy, commonly understood as ‘breaking the fourth wall’, which was developed by theatre practitioners in the early 20th Century, such as Bertolt Brecht. As the students proceeded through the text the discussion turned toward the moral dilemma at the heart of the text, its ideological presuppositions and the redemptive quandary that defines the ending of the story. This led to a very vocal and heated debate around the idea of a social contract vs individual agency. Some students pointed out how the allegorical nature of the story enabled it to be used as a tool to understand geopolitical structures of oppression. Interestingly this also led to analogies drawing out the relationship between cheap technological apparatuses and platforms being used in the class and the alienated labour that produced them, touching also on fast fashion and Virtual Reality. After this a very novel suggestion was made, which highlighted the relationship between the natural environment and modernity, suggesting that the environment could be understood as the oppressed child, subject to the hedonistic society of industrial progress. Some participants in the class could not comprehend lack of action or intervention into the situation by the citizens of Omelas, while others contemplated the possibilities that might emerge from walking away. As always, there was very little agreement on the dilemmas presented in the text and that is as it should be. Its aim is to foster debate, discussion, and imagination which it certainly did in the session.

John rejoined the class towards the end to thank Feilimy and remind you that the next class will be in three weeks, following the Easter break.

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