All the greatness of men is founded on shame, made out of it. Ursula Le Guin, Tehanu, Eartsea Book IV,
I have been meaning to write about the role of shame and masculinity, which I sensed is an important theme in Tehanu. After the Archmage Ged loses his powers, he escapes from being encountered in his weakness by people who previously knew his great power (up close), and chooses a humble life of anonymity herding goats (going by [and back to] the name, Hawk [recall this post on the significance of this]). This perspective is expressed by Tenar, who (like me) does not understand his shame (which she understands as a humiliation).* After all, neither the loss of status (he was an Archmage) nor the loss powers (which he loses in a great act which is also an act of great virtue) seem to be the right cause to feel shame.
I do not mean to deny that shame is intrinsically connected, as Bernard Williams notes, of being seen (nakedly) by the wrong people in the wrong condition. This presupposes an acknowledgment of the significance (of the judgment) of another or (the aptness of) a norm/value.** But since Ged's actions would be/are approved (by a worthy judge, Tenar) the situation was puzzling. It's possible, of course, that Ged shares in the sexism of his society and so does not treat Tenar as a worthy judge. There are sufficient hints that this may explain the whole issue; sexism is a problem in the patriarchies of Earthsea, the mages/experts and many of the women in it are not excepted in this judgment.
But as the wording of the quoted passage suggests, shame precedes great acts. In fact, the passage suggests that shame contributes materially to the greatness. This means that shame cannot be a consequence of his fall even if his fall may be part of the conditions that make his (pre-existing) shame visible to others.
In SCUM manifesto [recall yesterday's post], Valerie Solanis makes pretty much the same claim (while denying greatness to any male product): according to her men are ashamed of their animality and produce a whole number of cultural salient practices that are meant to displace and cover this shame including f om men themselves. In the manifesto, Solanis has a tendency to pair and conflate shame, guilt, contempt, and disgust, so I don't want to treat her claims with more precision than she manifests. Even so, in Earthsea, the Mage acquires the greatest worldly expertise by foregoing his animal/sexual nature. The ability to name truly (theoretical wisdom) and at the right moment (practical wisdom) is not just a product of natural talents and great training/cultivation of them, but also a displacement of one's sexual nature such that self-mastery is second nature. How shame is the driving cause of these effects remains unclear.
Earthsea shows how fragile this edifice can be. And by re-imagining Plato's Aristophanic comic myth of the splitting of our natures (in terms of a human/dragon composite--and women as bearers of the dragon element), it strongly implies -- shades of original sin, Augustine, etc. -- there is a structural deformation of human nature that our self-mastery hides from ourselves most of the time.*
As a an aside, it is no surprise, then, that the only Mage, Ogion, who is receptive to seeing this, qua Mage, is the one who refuses to his powers in worldly matters and for whom worldly acknowledgment is so indifferent. Ogion is a way of expressing unity.
Regular readers know, I think of Ursula Le Guin as one of the wise. I won't try to convince you see is right or that this is the true path; I doubt there is a conclusive way to do so unless, perhaps, we relearn (to echo Hobbes) the art of reading ourselves.