Multiperspectivity as Self-Awareness of the World in “The Author of the Acacia Seeds” - REVIEW
Ursula K. Le Guin created a body of work that merged her scientific, philosophical interests with her narrative talent, and her 1974 short story “The Author of the Acacia Seeds and Other Extracts From the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics” is no different— while also not being for everyone. The short story splits into three sections, each focused on different aspects of “therolinguistics” (i.e. the language of animals), which use multiperspectivity and epistolary format to reveal the theme of translations and, more accurately, of interpretations of the world and its wonders.
While spurring from an already educated mind, this short story plays with multiperspectivity in an overt academic sense. The three sections gradually paint a more scientifically accurate picture of the so-called science of “therolinguistics,” making the branch and its followers a part of reality: translating ant language in the first section (the journal entry), penguin language in the second (the Arctic advert), and finishing with an editorial where Le Guin’s authorial beliefs shine the most while pondering the infinite possibilities of understanding language, even from plants and rocks. The language and matter-of-fact tone from all sections create the illusion of reality, but one that loses its excitement after the first entry, the only one that mimics an actual story albeit with non-human characters— an ant wants to revolt, does so, and ends without a head. It is brutal, intriguing, and with an unexpected denouement, all interpreted from literal acacia seeds placed in different formations until the small body is found. The excitement surrounding this explicitly narrated event is all attributed to the clever use of language, both human and ant: while “there has already been considerable dispute over the interpretation” of Seeds 31: “Up with the Queen!”, the correct translation can only be “Down with the Queen!” since for ants “ ‘up’ is scorching sun; … exile; death.”
Even though the final two sections are not as exciting in narrative terms, they add to the realism in portraying additional scopes of interpreting language, all so the message in the editorial is best understood: art in all of its forms is untranslatable. In this short story, language is art, and people who think that what they do not understand does not exist are just blatantly ignorant. Consequently, this last section comes across as a reproach as much as a warning too.
Overall, I applaud the innovative narrative perspective, the sincere— albeit a tad preachy— opinion on what constitutes as worthy of our attention, but having been plunged in this world with a narrative exciting event and then not following through with others like it diminished both my interest and my enjoyment. Still, Ursula K Le Guin created this short story to shine a light on the diverse aspects of this world so that we could appreciate it more and she ultimately succeeded. It is self-awareness of being a part of this great existence, not alone, always surrounded by wonders and mysteries that have yet to be discovered or understood, but that could still be appreciated for what they truly are: art. This is my assessment of “The Author of the Acacia Seeds.”
“Translation is not highly respected work. So like many translators, I do it for love.” - U. K. Le Guin
My Rating: ★★★☆☆