thinking back … to ‘Hållning: June Encounters’ … … … … several months on … …

In the introduction to one of her best known and celebrated novels, The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin writes:

‘Science Fiction is often described, and even defined, as extrapolative. The science fiction writer is supposed to take a trend or phenomenon of the here-and-now, purify it and intensify it for dramatic effect, and extend it into the future. ‘If this goes on, this is what will happen’. A prediction is made … Strictly extrapolative works of science fiction generally arrive about where the Club of Rome arrives: somewhere between gradual extinction of human liberty and the total extinction of terrestrial life. This novel [The Left Hand of Darkness] is not extrapolative. If you like you can read it … as a thought experiment. Let’s say (says Mary Shelley) that a young doctor creates a human being in his laboratory … in a story so conceived, the moral complexity proper to the modern novel need not be sacrificed, nor is there any built in dead end; thought and intuition can move freely within the bounds set only by the terms of the experiment, which may be very large indeed. The purpose of the thought experiment … is not to predict the future (… the future cannot be predicted …) but to describe reality, the present world.’ 

‘Introduction’ from The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin(1969) pp.xvii-iii

The quote interests me in general, and it feels very helpful when thinking about our ‘present world’ of things that are programmed by parts of our cultural sector. You could, I feel, swap out “story” and write instead “exhibition/ performance/ symposium/ programme” and you would have an, I believe, helpful critique of some of the stuff generated for the public by the more robustly funded galleries, museums, cultural centres, venues, universities etc in the global north which, generally speaking, are often headed up and led by white curators, directors, and trustee boards.

Put another way – it can feel like sometimes things get stuck. Instead of proposing (what Le Guin names as) “thought experiments”, some of our (better resourced) cultural institutions programme with an idea, or a point that feels already fixed. There’s already a conclusion, a path that has been laid out ahead of time and so we bulldoze forward down a known route, the “prediction” as Le Guin says already pre-set in our minds. I do it too sometimes. I can feel scared of experimenting. I worry sometimes without fixing my point ahead of time, I’ll get lost. Show myself up. Get it wrong. 

When I showed up for ‘Hållning: June Encounters’ I came wanting to be actively thinking, even if it’s risky. Throughout the weekend, it felt like all of us in the (zoom) room were open to, together, creating “thought experiments”. It felt rare, and so good – because that takes a lot of trust, a lot of willing and it’s brave. Does that mean a “safe space” was created? No, I wouldn’t say so. It’s hard to define, but I think that’s because “safe spaces” aren’t so possible out in public. 

It does mean though, that room was created to be present, and to think in real time.

In the months since, I have been assembling things that take me back to showing up for ‘Hållning: June Encounters’. That connect, or remind, or answer back to. I guess they show that, for me, this relationship between physical bodily posture and political stance or position left a big impression on me. Has brought to my attention just how forcefully I growing up in the global north have been taught to separate body from social and civil self. The notes below are incomplete, I will continue to assemble, but here’s a few things that have unstuck me still, make me think.



‘any study of the colonial world should take into consideration the phenomena of the dance and of possession. … The circle of the dance is a permissive circle: it protects and permits … by various means – shakes of the head, bending of the spinal column, throwing of the whole body backward – may be deciphered as in an open book the huge effort of a community to exorcise itself, to liberate itself, to explain itself. There are no limits – inside the circle’

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth. (New York: Grove Press, 1968) pp 57-58 


Intervals II 1973 Kim Lim 1936-1997 Purchased 1975


Toni Morrison – “if you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees …”



Jessie McLaughlin, Sept 2021