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Month: April, 2012

More The Golden Notebook quotes

So all that is a failure too. The blue notebook, which I had expected to be the most truthful of the notebooks, is worse than any of them. I expected a terse record of facts to present some sort of a pattern when I read it over, but this sort of record is as false as the account of what happened on 15th September, 1954, which I read now embarrassed because of its emotionalism and because of its assumption that if I wrote ‘at nine-thirty I went to the lavatory to shit and at two to pee and at four I sweated’, this would be more real than if I simply wrote what I thought. And yet I still don’t understand why. Because although in life things like going to the lavatory or changing a tampon when one has one’s period are dealt with on an almost unconscious level, I can recall every detail of a day two years ago because I remember that Molly had blood on her skirt and I had to warn her to go upstairs and change before her son came in.

And of course this is not a literary problem at all; it is the same as the ‘experience’ with Mother Sugar. I remember saying to her that for the larger part of our time together her task was to make me conscious of, to become preoccupied by, physical facts which we spend our childhood learning to ignore so as to live at all. And then she made the obvious reply: that the ‘learning’ in childhood of was the wrong kind, or otherwise I would not need to be sitting opposite her in a chair asking for her help three times a week. To which I replied, knowing I would get no answer to it, or at least, not on the level I wanted, since I knew that what I was saying was the ‘intellectualizing’ to which she attributed my emotional troubles: ‘It seems to me that being pyscho-analysed is essentially a process where one is forced back into infantilism and then rescued from it by crystallizing what one learns into a sort of intellectual primitivism – one is forced back into myth, and folk lore and everything that belongs to the savage or undeveloped stages of society. For if I say to you, I recognize in that dream, such and such a myth; or in that emotion about my father, that folk-tale; or the atmosphere of that memory is the same as an English ballad – then you smile, you are satisfied. As far as you are concerned, I’ve gone beyond the childish, I’ve transmuted it and saved it, by embodying it in myth. But in fact all I do, or you do, is to fish among the childish memories of an individual, and merge them with the art or ideas that belong to the childhood of a people.’ At which, of course, she smiled. And I said: ‘I’m now using your own weapons against you. I’m talking not of what you say, but how you react. Because the moments when you’re really pleased and excited; the moments when your face comes alive are those when I say the dream I had last night was of the same stuff as Hans Andersen’s story of the Little Mermaid. But when I try to use an experience, a memory, a dream, in modern term, try to speak of it critically or drily or with complexity, you almost seem bored or impatient. So I deduce from this that what really pleases you, what really moves you, is the world of the primitive. Do you realize that I’ve never once, not once spoken of an experience I’ve has, or a dream, in the way one would speak of it to a friend, or the way you would speak of it, outside this room, to a friend, without earning a frown from you – and I swear the frown or the impatience is something you aren’t conscious of. Or are you going to say the frown is deliberate, because you think I’m not really ready to move forward out of the world of myth?’

‘I’m going to make the obvious point that perhaps the word neurotic means the condition of being highly conscious and developed. The essence of neurosis is conflict. But the essence of living now, fully, not blocking off to what goes on, is conflict. In fact I’ve reached the stage where I look at people and say – he or she, they are whole at all because they’ve chosen to block off at this stage or that. People stay sane by blocking off, by limiting themselves.’

‘Look,’ I said. ‘If I were sitting here, describing a dream I’d had last night, the wolf-dream, let’s say, more highly developed, there’d be a certain look on your face. And I know what the look means because I feel it myself – recognition. The pleasure of recognition, of a bit of rescue-work, so to speak, rescuing the formless into form. Another bit of chaos rescued and “named”. Do you know how you smile when I “name” something? It’s as if you’d just saved someone from drowning. And I know the feeling. It’s joy. But there’s something terrible in it – because I’ve never known joy, awake, as I do, asleep, during a certain kind of dream – when the wolves come down out of the forest, or when the castle gates open, or when I’m standing before the ruined white temple on the white sands with the blue sea and sky behind it, or when I’m flying like Icarus – during these dreams, no matter what frightening material they incorporate, I could cry with happiness. And I know why – it’s because all the pain, and the killing and the violence is safely held in the story and it can’t hurt me.’

And so we laughed, and it might have ended there, but I went on: ‘You talk about individuation. So far what it has meant to me is this: that the individual recognizes one part after another of his earlier life as an aspect of the general human experience. When he can say: What I did then, what I felt then, is only the reflection of that great archetypal dream, or epic story, or stage in history, then he is free, because he has separated himself from the experience, or fitted it like a piece of mosaic into a very old pattern, and by the act of setting it into place, is free of the individual pain of it.’

‘You’re suggesting I should write of our experience? How? If I set down every word of the exchange between us within a hour, it would be unintelligible unless I wrote the story of my life to explain it.’

‘And so?’

‘It would be a record of how I saw myself at a certain point. Because the record of an hour in the first week, let’s say, of my seeing you, and an hour now, would be so different that…’

‘And so?’

‘And besides, there are literary problems, problems of taste you never seem to think of. What you and I have done together is essentially to break down shame. In the first week of knowing you I wouldn’t have been able to say: I remember the feeling of violent repulsion and shame and curiosity I felt when I saw my father naked. It took me months to break down barriers in myself so I could say something like that. But now I can say something like: … because I wanted my father to die and – but the person reading it, without the subjective experience, the breaking down, would be shocked, as by the sight of blood or a word that has associations of shame, and the shock would swallow everything else.’

She said drily: ‘My dear Anna, you are using our experience together to re-enforce your rationalizations for not writing.’

‘Oh, my God, no, that is not all I’m saying.’

‘Or are you saying that some books are for a minority of people?’

‘My dear Mrs Marks, you know quite well it would be against my principles to admit any such idea, even if I had it.’

‘Very well then, if you had it, tell me why some books are for the minority.’

I thought, and then said: ‘It’s a question of form.’

‘Form? What about the content of yours? I understand that you people insist on separating form and content?’

‘My people may separate them, I don’t. At least, not till this moment. But now I’ll say it’s a question of form. People don’t mind immoral messages. They don’t mind art which says that murder if good, cruelty is good, sex for sex’s sake is good. They like it, provided the message is wrapped up a little. And they like messages saying that murder is bad, cruelty is bad, and love is love is love is love. What they can’t stand is to be told it all doesn’t matter, they can’t stand formlessness.’

‘So it is formless works of art, if such a thing were possible, that are for the minority?’

‘But I don’t hold the belief that some books are for the minority. You know I don’t. I don’t hold the aristocratic view of art.’

‘My dear Anna, your attitude to art is so aristocratic that you write, when you do, for yourself only.’

‘And so do all the others,’ I heard myself muttering.

‘What others?

‘The others, all over the world, who are writing away in secret books, because they are afraid of what they are thinking.’

insignificant thoughts

As always, knowledge comes in retrospect. She had had enough experience to doubt it, and so she let her emotions roam and subside, and then made her observations. It is amazing how people justify themselves by all kinds of seemingly valid arguments, but which nonetheless are swayed by emotions. It is all nothing but self-defense, self-indulgence, self-aggrandizement. And once one realizes this one cannot help falling into the other end of the spectrum. One is wounded, but not by the world-at-large, but from the helpless recognition of one’s inferiority, insignificance, worthlessness, futility. Failure and the hopeless obsession of the notion, the hopeless crave for the otherwise. Despicable egotism. I am suffering for things that won’t gain me any sympathy because most people are safe from these afflictions and think them unnecessary, she thought. She remembered reading a novel in which the narrator said everyone had written something. That depressed her a great deal. She was not yet thirty and she wanted so much to give up fighting against this world, which seemed so hostile all of a sudden, she felt so exhausted already. And yet all these battles, the emotions and thoughts and all, happened nowhere save in her own mind.





Doris Lessing on Reading

And naturally these incidents bring up again questions of what people see when they read a book, and why one person sees one pattern and nothing at all of another pattern, and how odd it is to have, as author, such a clear picture of a book, that is seen so very differently by its readers.

And from this kind of thought has emerged a new conclusion: which is that it is not only childish of a writer to want readers to see what what he sees, to understand the shape and aim of a novel as he sees it – his wanting this means that he has not understood a most fundamental point. Which is that the book is alive and potent and fructifying and able to promote thought and discussion only when its plan and shape and intention are not understood, because that moment of seeing the shape and plan and intention is also the moment when there isn’t anything more to be got out of it.

And when a book’s pattern and the shape of its inner life is as plain to the reader as it is to the author – then perhaps it is to throw the book aside, as having had its day, and start again on something new.

—- Doris Lessing, Preface to The Golden Notebook

Doris Lessing on Literary Reception

Where there are critical books of immense complexity and learning, dealing, but often at second or third hand, with original work – novels, plays, stories. The people who write these books form a stratum in universities across the world – they are an international phenomenon, the top layer of literary academia. Their lives are spent in criticizing, and in criticizing each other’s criticism. They at least regard this activity as more important than the original work. It is possible for literary students to spend more time reading criticism and criticism of criticism than they spend reading poetry, novels, biography, stories. A great many people regard this state of affairs as quite normal, and not sad and ridiculous…

Where people who consider themselves educated, and indeed as superior to and more refined than ordinary non-reading people, will come up to a writer and congratulate him or her on getting a good review somewhere – but will not consider it necessary to read the book in question, or ever to think that what they are interested in is success…

Where when a book comes out on a certain subject, let’s say star-gazing, instantly a dozen colleges, societies, television programmes, write to the author asking him to come and speak about star-gazing. The last thing it occurs to them to do is to read the book. This behaviour is considered quite normal, and not ridiculous at all…

—- Doris Lessing, Preface to The Golden Notebook

Doris Lessing on Subjectivity

At last I understood that the way over, or through this dilemma, the unease at writing about ‘petty personal problems’ was to recognize that nothing is personal, in the sense that it is uniquely one’s own. Writing about oneself, one is writing about others, since your problems, pains, pleasures, emotions – and your extraordinary and remarkable ideas – can’t be yours alone. The way to deal with the problem of ‘subjectivity’, that shocking business of being preoccupied with the tiny individual who is at the same time caught up in such an explosion of terrible and marvellous possibilities, is to see his as a microcosm and in this way to break through the personal, the subjective, making the personal general, as indeed life always does, transforming a private experience – or so you think of it when still a child, ‘I am falling in love’, ‘I am feeling this or that emotion, or thinking that or the other thought’ – into something much larger: growing up is after all only the understanding that one’s unique and incredible experience is what everyone shares.

—- Doris Lessing, Preface to The Golden Notebook

Rabindranath Tagore on Bondage

The worst form of bondage is the bondage of dejection, which keeps men hopelessly chained in loss of faith in themselves.

—- Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Nationalism in Japan’, Nationalism