Doris Lessing

It’s nice to see an existentialist, feminist, humanist science fiction writer win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here are a few Lessing links including,

  • Her acceptance speech via the Guardian… it is a paean to reading and writing and books. It includes this passage,

    The printing revolution, which did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, transformed our minds and ways of thinking. A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked: “What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print?” In the same way, we never thought to ask, “How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc?”

    It contains literally thousands more well-chosen words contextualizing Ms. Lessing’s concerns and her love of books, and it does not avail itself to the sound-bite analysis that journalists with deadlines have tried to apply.

  • Jan Hanford’s Doris Lessing “fan site,” a well composed popular biographical and bibliographical site showcasing Ms. Lessing’s life and works. Naturally, there a few cat pictures.
  • The October 11, 2007 New York Times story regarding the Nobel Prize award.
  • The Lessing Wikipedia article.

I just finished reading Jon Husband’s comments on Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Jon says,

…as Lessing suggests the Web is making its way inexorably and in a sense more slowly than we might realize, into the daily fabric of our lives. I am old enough to be able to say that I learned to read and think before there was a web, and I think there is something fundamentally important about reading as a way to anchor ideas and values in real-life experience.

However, today’s younger folks are beginning to learn to take in, use and push back out information in different ways.

It is important that we pay attention to this. What we call blogging and twittering and growing social cohesion through exchanges of personal and perhaps pertinent information will be “just the way we do things” in the relatively near future.

Jon connects the dots that Lessing provides between those of us who learned to think and read before the mediation of the Interweb was available, and the current generation of children of privilege for whom it has always been available. He says,

Let’s see how it [the Internet and the web] can be used, and we can use it, to work at connecting people, ideas, purpose and meaning so that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have a fighting chance to come to terms in positive ways with what we will have left them.

At Burningbird, Shelley Powers commented on Nick Carr’s observations regarding Ms. Lessing’s speech. The speed at which we bounce our critiques, our criticisms, our arguments and impressions back and forth and off each other is NOT something Ms. Lessing addressed, but it does make for a slippery milieu for intellectual engagement. Often by the time I get around to writing about something, the flock of bloggers has picked it clean and moved on to other interesting topics. The meta-critical nature of Shelley’s engagement with Carr regarding Lessing’s pointed love for books and that nostalgic passage lamenting current conditions in favor of her memory of the better old days reminds me that — thank god — it’s not turtles all the way down, but at some point we break through to a brightly lit space with an infinite horizon and we have the ability to focus with clarity anywhere on this plane of existence. As usual, there are interesting comment threads accompanying both Powers’ and Carr’s posts.

Doris Lessing has no trouble saying what she means, and expressing herself quite clearly. I have trouble capturing the nuance and the profundity that she’s shared with us this year in her Nobel lecture. I have so much trouble with this, that it is not until now that I quote the title of her piece:

On not winning the Nobel Prize

[tags]Doris Lessing, what about Nicholas Negroponte, hundred dollar laptop, hundred dollar misunderstanding[/tags]

Posted in Arts and Literature, Writing
2 comments on “Doris Lessing
  1. Shelley says:

    Actually, Ms. Lessing is not a feminist, and has carefully disassociated herself from both the term and the feminist movement.

    I was concerned also about Ms. Lessing’s references back to that seemingly golden time in Zimbabwe’s history, when whites ruled. No one would defend Mugabe, but it was the white leadership that created Mugabe. Ms. Lessing seems to have forgotten this fact.

  2. I caught one allusion to the good old days of white colonial rule, and I cringed. Were there more? I don’t think it’s exactly true that, as you say, the white leadership of Rhodesia “created” Mugabe, unless extending the struggle to maintain white minority rule a good fifteen years past the time when the government could have peacefully changed hands counts. Mugabe was after all a Marxist, and the whites had plenty of time to accomplish a peaceful transition to a moderate government, so by prolonging the struggle did they “create” Mugabe?

    Ms. Lessing refuses the label “feminist.” There is a good Wikipedia quote about this. She said (in 1982):

    What the feminists want of me is something they haven’t examined because it comes from religion. They want me to bear witness. What they would really like me to say is, ‘Ha, sisters, I stand with you side by side in your struggle toward the golden dawn where all those beastly men are no more.’ Do they really want people to make oversimplified statements about men and women? In fact, they do. I’ve come with great regret to this conclusion.

    When The Golden Notebook gained popularity among a certain set here in fly-over country in the mid-sixties, it was clearly a (lowercase ‘f’) feminist work. Lessing’s need to disassociate herself from “Ms.” magazine feminism notwithstanding, she was obviously feminist in that egalitarian context that underscores the 19th amendment to the US Constitution, the suffragist’s amendment. A year or so ago Lessing wrote a little bit around this in the Guardian. In that brief article she says,

    Meantime, other “feminist bibles” had appeared, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex being the best. Which brings me to something no one believes. When I wrote The Golden Notebook it never occurred to me I was writing “a feminist bible”. The 60s feminists were not the first in the arena. “The Woman Question” dated from the 15th century. In communist circles in the 40s and 50s feminist issues were much discussed. But the second sentence of The Golden Notebook is: “‘The point is,’ said Anna, ‘as far as I can see, everything is cracking up.'” This is what I thought The Golden Notebook was about, as its “structure” said. Everything was cracking up, and by now it is easily seen that we live in a fast-fragmenting culture.

    So I became “a feminist icon”. But what had I said in The Golden Notebook? That any kind of singlemindedness, narrowness, obsession, was bound to lead to mental disorder, if not madness. (This may be observed most easily in religion and politics.)

    Whether she is a feminist by her own lights or not, I choose to see her like my grandmother: an independent woman, less concerned with the label than the facts, and certainly a feminist role model in terms of her actions and her words.

    Something else I find interesting is this: when Lessing speaks of “the fall of communism” in the Guardian article linked above, she is speaking of the break-up of a unified international movement in the fifties following Khruschev’s revelations of Stalin’s crimes against humanity. Here in USia, we are taught to think of the fall of communism as something Reagan inspired and punctuated by the destruction of the Berlin wall. Lessing sees that fall as happening thirty years earlier for entirely different reasons. I bring that up because here in web-land people are having a hard time getting their minds around the perspectives this rare and insightful genius has to share with us.

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Doris Lessing"
  1. […] Frank Paynter had a recent post about Doris Lessing, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Frank’s post, along with the links he provides, are worthy reads. Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy described Ms. Lessing as that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny. What an accolade! One of Frank’s links is to Lessing’s biographical and bibliographical site, which, when I first visited, had this quote emblazoned across the screen ‘neath the header: I am so happy to be communicating with people on this newest of new wavelengths which to some older people must seem like a kind of magic. — Doris Lessing […]



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