Friday, October 12, 2007
More or Lessing
Yesterday morning I awoke to discover via my trusty email that every Doris Lessing book I have in my online store inventory had sold. I had a colossal WTF moment because typically her books are slow movers, selling primarily to lit majors who are required to read her oeuvre. Then I was listening to NPR and learned that Lessing had won the Nobel prize for literature and I got to have my ah-ha moment.
I have to admit that I'm not very well acquainted with Lessing's works. I've only ever read "The Fifth Child", while on vacation at a beach house in North Carolina two years ago, and remember turning to Miss Kitty when I finished it and saying something along the lines of, "What was the point of this?" To the best of my recollection she replied, "It's considered an important work." And I said back, "My who? Dr. Caligari's closet?" The last reference proved too arcane because Miss Kitty doesn't watch seminal horror movies, and the rest of my argument suffered because of it. Damn me! Still, "The Fifth Child" did leave me wondering what alternative to applied anthropology Lessing studied.
Then a few months ago a friend (thanks Glaurung!) sent a link to Ursula K. LeGuin's review of Lessing's most recent book, "The Cleft". Despite being scathing, I also think after reading other's thoughts on "The Cleft", that LeGuin was being a tad kind in her assessment that reads in part: "If we are offered the story as an origin myth of human sexuality and gender, I can't accept it. It's incomplete; it is deeply arbitrary; and I see in it little but a reworking of a tiresome science-fiction cliche - a hive of mindless females awakened by the shock of masculinity. A tale of Sleeping Beauties - only they aren't even beautiful. They're a lot of slobbering walruses, till the Prince comes a long." And yes, in Lessing's imagining of human origins females are indeed walrus-like creatures who only evolve and advance once they stop reproducing through parthenogensis and instead mate with the few male mutants (called, 'squirts') that they've birthed. Hmmmm, a premise such as this goes a long way in explaining why critic Harold Bloom called Lessing's work of the last fifteen years, "...unreadable, fourth rate science fiction." While I agree that Lessing is unreadable, I don't agree with Bloom when he says that the Nobel award was "...pure political correctness..."
Huh? Because of the feminist underpinnings of "The Golden Notebook"? That book is older than I am! Ok, it's the same age as I am, but the point is that Lessing hasn't written anything vaguely PC for decades. In fact, it could very well be argued now that she's the antithesis of PCness with her obsession of portraying sex within the conservative constraints of procreation.
Anyway, there's always controversy when a woman wins anything, but in this instance, I think there are a lot more women more deserving, starting with Margaret Atwood.