Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doris Lessing-Nobel Prize Winner-Congratulations From the Comrades!

Warmest of congratulations to former Communist Party member, Doris Lessing, for being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, an absolutely splendid choice and most thoroughly well deserved. All Communists, Socialists and Progressives will welcome this recognition one of the foremost writers of the 20th Century. Doris fell out with the organised Communist movement, on principled and well thought through grounds, but unlike many who left the CP in that period, did not degenerate into reactionary thinking.She has also contributed enormously to feminist thought through her literature.Some of her depictions of some of more chauvinist and reactionary attitudes prevalent amongst many men in the Communist movement, were painfully accurate, and still appeared to be relevant when I first encountered her writings in the late 1970's. Doris remains a broadly progressive voice in relation to matters of world peace, and anti-racism and social progress.The Swedish academy's announcement was stunning even by the standards of Nobel judges, who have been known for such surprises as Austria's Elfriede Jelinek and Italy's Dario Fo.
Lessing, less than two weeks short of her 88th birthday, is the oldest choice ever for a prize that usually goes to authors in their 50s and 60s. Although she is widely celebrated for "The Golden Notebook" and other works, she has received little attention in recent years and has been criticized as strident and eccentric.Swedish Academy Permanent Secretary Horace Engdahl was not able to reach Lessing before announcing the prize in Stockholm, but reporters waiting outside her brick rowhouse in North London told her she had won as she pulled up in a black cab, two hours later."I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all," said Lessing, whose previous honors include the James Tait Black Memorial Book Prize and the W.H. Smith Literary Award. "It's a royal flush."Later, she told reporters: "I thought you were shooting some kind of television series.
Doris Lessing was born in Persia (present-day Iran) to British parents in 1919. Her family moved to Southern Africa where she spent her childhood on her father's farm in what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). When her second marriage ended in 1949, she moved to London, where her first novel, The Grass is Singing, was published in 1950. The book explores the complacency and shallowness of white colonial society in Southern Africa and established Lessing as a talented young novelist.She is now widely regarded as one of the most important post-war writers in English. Her novels, short stories and essays have focused on a wide range of twentieth-century issues and concerns, from the politics of race that she confronted in her early novels set in Africa, to the politics of gender which lead to her adoption by the feminist movement, to the role of the family and the individual in society, explored in her space fiction of the late 1970s and early 1980s.The books in the 'Children of Violence' series (1952-69) are strongly influenced by Lessing's rejection of a domestic family role and her involvement with communism. The novels are autobiographical in many respects, telling the story of Martha Quest, a girl growing up in Africa who marries young despite her desperate desire to avoid the life her mother has led. The second book in the series, A Proper Marriage (1954), describes the unhappiness of the marriage and Martha's eventual rejection of it. The sequel, A Ripple from the Storm (1958), is very much a novel of ideas, exploring Marxism and Martha's increasing political awareness. By the time that this book was written, however, Lessing had become disillusioned with communism and had left the party. With the publication of her next novel, The Golden Notebook (1962), Lessing became firmly identified with the feminist movement. The novel concerns Anna Wulf, a writer caught in a personal and artistic crisis, who sees her life compartmentalised into various roles - woman, lover, writer, political activist. Her diaries, written in different coloured notebooks, each correspond to a different part of herself. Anna eventually suffers a mental breakdown and it is only through this disintegration that she is able to discover a new 'wholeness' which she writes about in the final notebook.The pressures of social conformity on the individual and mental breakdown under this pressure was something that Lessing returned to in her next two novels, Briefing for a Descent into Hell (1971) and The Summer Before the Dark (1973). Briefing for a Descent into Hell is about a man who is found wandering the streets of London with no memory of a 'normal' life, while Kate, the central character of The Summer Before the Dark, achieves a kind of enlightenment through what doctors would describe as a breakdown. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Doris Lessing turned almost exclusively to writing fantasy and science fiction in the 'Canopus in Argos' series, developing ideas which she had touched on towards the end of 'Children of Violence' and in Briefing for a Descent into Hell. The first book in the series, Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta, was published in 1979. The fourth, The Making of the Representative for Planet 8, was adapted by Philip Glass as an opera, with a libretto by the author.She made a return to realist fiction with Diary of a Good Neighbour (1983) and If the Old Could ... (1984), sent to her publisher under the pseudonym Jane Somers. They were turned down for publication several times and when published had only small print runs and few reviews. When the truth was uncovered, the books were, of course, reprinted to much greater acclaim. Lessing's more recent novels have continued to confront taboos and challenge preconceptions, generating many different and conflicting critical opinions. In The Good Terrorist (1985), Lessing returned to the political arena, through the story of a group of political activists who set up a squat in London. The book was awarded the WH Smith Literary Award. The Fifth Child (1988) is also concerned with alienation and the dangers inherent in a closed social group. Harriet and David react to the hedonism and excesses of the 1960s by setting themselves up in a large house and embarking on an enthusiastic programme of childbearing and domestic bliss. Their fifth child, however, emerges as a malevolent, troll-like and angry figure who quickly disrupts the family idyll. The acclaimed first volume of her autobiography, Under My Skin (1994), won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for biography), and was followed by a second volume, Walking in the Shade: Volume II of My Autobiography 1949-1962 (1997). Doris Lessing's recent fiction includes Ben, in the World (2000), a sequel to the The Fifth Child, and, The Sweetest Dream (2001), which follows the fortunes of a family through the twentieth century, set in London during the 1960s and contemporary Africa. She was made a Companion of Honour by the British Government in 1999, and is President of Booktrust, the educational charity that promotes books and reading. In 2001 she received the David Cohen British Literature Prize.Doris Lessing lives in London. Her recent books include: the grandmothers (2003), a collection of four short novels centred on an unconventional extended family; and Time Bites (2004), a selection of essays based on her life experiences. Her latest novel is The Cleft (2007).

9 comments:

Paul said...

I thought an 'Unrepentant Communist' might have something to say about Comrade Lessing's support for the mujahedin in Afghanistan. While I was opposed to the decaying bureaucratic Stalinist regime which sent the Red Army into Afghanistan, I was also opposed to attempts to paint the warlords and Islamists as a progressive democratic alternative to the PDPA stooges installed by the Kremlin. No-one's listening but to me that looks retrospectively like a good call. Lessing on the other hand seems to have sided politically with the mujahedin. So what do you think about that?

Gabriel said...

Good point Paul, but she was by no means alone in being utterly duped about what was going on in Afghanistan, alot of leftists got conned into believing the 'brave freedom fighters' garbage, anyone who has any doubts that these medievalist mysoginistic thugs were armed to the teeth by the CIA should read 'Ghost Wars' by Steve Coll. This shows that these religious fanatics were funded and armed by the CIA and the Saudis with their main aim being at all costs to damage the Soviet Union. Doris I suspect was, like so many others, conned into believing that the Mujahideen were some sort of valiant band of underdogs, how wrong they all were about that. Ithink I would have preferred the influence of what you ( rather robotically) refer to as a 'bureaucratic stalinist' government in Afghanistan than the Taliban.

Paul said...

You say "I think I would have preferred the influence of what you ( rather robotically) refer to as a 'bureaucratic stalinist' government in Afghanistan than the Taliban." Perhaps you won't be surprised that I would agree with you - most people probably would. However that is really a false dichotomy which doesn't help us understand how we got here in the first place. You don't have to politically indulge or support the mujahadeen to object to the way that the Red Army went into Afghanistan claiming they were there to support the PDPA government and started out by putting the head of that government against the wall and shooting. This has nothing to do with communism based on the self-organisation of the workers and the oppressed. Instead it's the crudest kind of realpolitik. I think that's one factor in the character of subsequent developments in Aftghanistan. You could not say that it was directly responsible for the role of the CIA in training the likes of Osama Bin Laden or for the emergence of the Taliban 15 years later. However this revolting spectacle no doubt contributed to what you describe as "a lot of leftists [being] conned into believing the 'brave freedom fighters' garbage'". You could claim, and if pushed I might, that in some distorted bureaucratic way, the Kremlin regime was seeking to defend something progressive, although within the framework of their utterly degenerate politics. However the way that they did it was so awful that at the least it made defeat much more likely, and gave little scope for the self-organisation of the masses in defence of the gains of the PDPA even if you think that would have happened. You may think I'm a robot. I don't know what kind of unrepentant 'communist' you are, but if you don't have any problem with what self-styled 'Communist' regimes did in Czechoslovakia in 1948 and 1968, Hungary in 1956, Poland, China (the suppression in Tienanmin Square) etc etc I doubt it matters very much - you ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow!

Paul said...

I'm anxious to get to work, but I think I've left out something important here. You refer to leftists being 'conned'. Essentially cons work best on those who are ready to believe, so those who did still have to answer for their choices. I think I would still adhere to 'the dominant ideology thesis' but this to me seems to be aligned to a rather crude conception of it when in my view saying that it holds in everyday life is not incompatible with a much more dialectical view of the struggles involved. This brings me back to my original discomfort with your view of Lessing. Good luck to her. All the same I cannot help feeling that we've lost something very important in her trajectory over the past 30 or 40 years, and "broadly progressive" is too generous and too brief a summary.

Gabriel said...

Paul your contributions are greatly valued and have given me pause for thought.I think that for some being horrified by the USSR's actions in Afghanistan was in fact a sort of moral laxative, in that this stance permitted them to don the garb of being still true socialists. The problem was that the international class was WAS about real-politick, and well the CIA and the US of A knew that. They won because they had no moral qualms about supporting the Mujahideen fundamentalists because the bigger prize was to inflict a mortal blow to the USSR. Craven pro-sovietism was in retrospect the position that the Left should have adopted in that situation, since the much greater evil was that the USSR would be removed as a bastion, albeit flawed, of progress in the world. The trouble was that this was not palatable to either the Left or the worlds progressives, who got very confused about the issues, and went all liberal about the questions of invasion...I admit it that I myself was lukewarm at first about this. In retrospect I think that what happened was inevitable I suppose, but the Left completely failed to see what was at stake...as I said earlier, Doris Lessing was one of many who failed to see that the battle in Afghanistan was, despite its muddied waters, essentially a battle between progressive forces and reactionary forces- namely an alliance between religious fundamentalists and the most aggressive elements in world capitalism , later described as the neo-cons. The latter knew how important it was for global capitalism to destroy the USSR, its a pity that the wooly minded left failed to grasp it too.

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