“Early into lockdown, Polly (Programme Producer at Brighton CCA) shared Ursula K Le Guin’s text ‘The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’ with me.
I was, in the most part, unfamiliar with the work of Le Guin, only really being aware of her death in 2018 and the hum of grief that it had stirred across social media and the internet. At the time it was strange to me that such a prolific and influential writer who was spoken about so highly by so many had escaped my attention. This should have spurred me on to investigate her work, but I easily put her to one side in the pile marked Science Fiction Writer and underestimated what she could mean to me.
Reading ‘The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’, however, felt like someone was speaking directly to me, leading me past troubling ideas about narrative long-lodged inside my own brain and helping me to shift and open myself up to alternative ways of thinking. All of this resonated much more harmoniously with my own experience of being human. Revolutionary ideas around fiction, feminism, collectivism and re-writing the history of technology by positing that the receptacle came before the weapon or tool are all touched on within this deceptively slight and warm essay.
In the text, Le Guin also writes about the fixation on the Hero narrative: “the proper shape of a narrative is that of the arrow or spear, starting here and going straight there and THOK! Hitting its mark (which drops dead)”. Le Guin argues that this type of story is wrongly favoured over narrative structures that embrace complexity and community: “instead of heroes, [such narratives] have people.”
In an attempt to honour the principles of the text, I wanted to respond collectively and invited Deputy Editor of Disegno Kristina Rapacki, Assistant Curator at CCA Glasgow Sabrina Henry, and Youth Programme Co-ordinator at Timespan Fenella Gabrysch to join me for an online discussion.” Emma Clifton