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Putting the Questions Differently

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      Putting the Questions Differently
Doris Lessing

Earl G. Ingersoll

A collection of interviews with the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature that serves as an invaluable companion to her work.Doris Lessing is one of the greatest literary figures of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These interviews give us her thoughts on her early years as a communist and fledgling writer in Southern Rhodesia, her views on marriage, the family and feminism, on other writers from Tolstoy to Lawrence, and on her later experiments in psychotherapy and mysticism. She reveals how these preoccupations have influenced her own work, from ‘The Golden Notebook’ to her acclaimed autobiographical masterpiece ‘Under My Skin’.The book is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand not just Lessing, but also the profound impact she has had on our age.

Putting the Questions Differently

Interviews with Doris Lessing

1964–1994

EDITED BY

EARL G. INGERSOLL

Contents

Title Page (#udd0dd576-df39-5261-a6d5-ac2d7927c3ec)

Introduction (#u24bc39f1-71be-53f2-b4e3-1ec2b151a9ee)

Chronology (#u2a7eda31-2b29-57ec-85ae-6e6f0e1864c6)

Talking as a Person (#ua5250aee-1f93-5342-9085-ac87eb7f9586)Roy Newquist

The Inadequacy of the Imagination (#udc2adddc-03c7-5317-99b8-bc360e05dc46)Jonah Raskin

Learning to Put the Questions Differently (#uc046fc98-7774-5912-9507-4e5183a124ba)Studs Terkel

One Keeps Going (#ua30d12f7-15e6-502c-ac3d-2e49ed509daa)Joyce Carol Oates

The Capacity to Look at a Situation Coolly (#uf9c13812-99c6-5fa2-816a-a3c82ad80ea9)Josephine Hendin

Creating Your Own Demand (#ua7281af0-6dcf-5e1b-9101-49322c15c9d0)Minda Bikman

Testimony to Mysticism (#u83a73d16-b20d-5e9b-8417-f50ea0ca1cf1)Nissa Torrents

The Need to Tell Stories (#u2683a987-60bb-5a7f-bcfc-8e699cd516dc)Christopher Bigsby

Writing as Time Runs Out (#uf8dcf4a5-a6b2-5a44-86a2-24d0ec8e4b9c)Michael Dean

Running Through Stories in My Mind (#u595a7062-0080-5df0-bb7a-6b14ddf9c590)Michael Thorpe

Placing Their Fingers on the Wounds of Our Times (#litres_trial_promo)Margarete von Schwarzkopf

Breaking Down These Forms (#litres_trial_promo)Stephen Gray

Acknowledging a New Frontier (#litres_trial_promo)Eve Bertelsen

The Habit of Observing (#litres_trial_promo)Francois-Olivier Rousseau

Caged by the Experts (#litres_trial_promo)Thomas Frick

Living in Catastrophe (#litres_trial_promo)Brian Aldiss

Watching the Angry and Destructive Hordes Go Past (#litres_trial_promo)Claire Tomalin

Drawn to a Type of Landscape (#litres_trial_promo)Sedge Thomson

A Writer Is Not a Professor (#litres_trial_promo)Jean-Maurice de Montremy

The Older I Get, the Less I Believe (#litres_trial_promo)Tan Gim Ean and Others

Unexamined Mental Attitudes Left Behind by Communism (#litres_trial_promo)Edith Kurzweil

Reporting from the Terrain of the Mind (#litres_trial_promo)Nigel Forde

Voice of England, Voice of Africa (#litres_trial_promo)Michael Upchurch

Describing This Beautiful and Nasty Planet (#litres_trial_promo)Earl G. Ingersoll

Index (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

Also by the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

Read On (#litres_trial_promo)

The Grass is Singing (#litres_trial_promo)

The Golden Notebook (#litres_trial_promo)

The Good Terrorist (#litres_trial_promo)

Love, Again (#litres_trial_promo)

The Fifth Child (#litres_trial_promo)

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)

Introduction (#ulink_2a79d541-e280-5fb8-a2bd-4fbe55551142)

FEW WRITERS HAVE VOICED more misgivings about the value of interviews yet submitted to as many of them as Doris Lessing. The two dozen conversations in this collection were selected from over 100 in which she has participated in the past three decades. Those 100 or so interviews run the usual gamut in a writer’s interviews. Among those not included here are many of the “celebrity interview” variety in which it is the writer’s fame that generates the interview. Such interviewers may know little or nothing of the writer’s work and occasionally may even begin with that confession, as though their busy lives as journalists somehow justify their not having completed their “assignments” in preparation for the interview. It is just this preoccupation with the writer’s personality that Mrs. Lessing has found particularly frustrating. As she has insisted on several occasions recently, being interviewed, especially following the appearance of one of her publications, is a part of book promotion that she submits to, often without enthusiasm. The interviews in this collection of “conversations” are generally “literary” interviews. The interviewer, frequently an academic or writer, can be expected to ask informed questions.

If Mrs. Lessing has misgivings about the interview as a literary form, they are grounded in her commitment to the writer’s craft. As one who is especially sensitive to language, she is dismayed by the narrow confines of the interview format. Seldom does the interviewee have the opportunity to prepare for the questions to be posed, and her views on complex issues or problems must be limited to a spoken response without the opportunity to revise. In such conversations, it is obviously impossible to say to one’s questioner: “Give me an hour to think about that question, before I respond,” or “Could you ignore what I’ve been saying for the past two minutes so that I might begin again?” or “May I reorganize the points that I am trying to make?” Clearly, she has felt the pressure toward oversimplification that such a format can easily produce. She herself has written about interviews in an article aptly entitled “Never the Whole Truth?” appearing in a recent issue of British Journalism Review (Winter 1990):

The slightest involvement with the machinery of interviews has to convince you that no one cares about facts. How many have I sat through, uninterested in the questions I am asked, which I have probably answered dozens of times before. I do this, I hope, amiably, with every appearance of interest: before any interview or ‘promotion’ trip I resolve never to seem impatient or bored, and to answer every question as if for the first time. But more than once, an interviewer, sensing I am not totally enthralled, has leaned forward at the end to enquire if perhaps there is something not yet mentioned that I would like to discuss. But on saying ‘Yes – so and so — ’ a look at first of incredulity, and then of boredom settles on his or her face, because what I have just said is not exciting enough, does not feed myths about writers. But an interview is ‘dead’ if the interviewee tells the interviewer what to ask. Why bother to have an interview at all? (The publishers have an instant reply to this.) The point is, the interviewer’s questions do interest him, her, and represent in some way the readers. When a German interviewer flounced off, ‘If you are not going to talk about your personal life…’ she was right. That is what interested her and therefore her readers. (Her fault was not to say in advance that this is what she expected me to talk about.) But it is a remarkable fact that of what must now be hundreds of interviews all over the world – you would be surprised how many interviews a writer doing ‘promotion’ is expected to agree to – only two or three stay in my mind as good ones – that is, based on real insight. I am not joking when I say that writing about writers has long since lost the idea that truth should be the aim.

What is at stake here is vital to Mrs. Lessing’s concerns with contemporary thinking, or perhaps its absence. As one well-versed in the subversion of language by political ideologies, she is acutely aware of the need to escape the entrapment of received notions and the morass of professional jargon. From her point of view, her interviewers frequently pose questions that are nearly impossible to answer, largely because they are not really questions at all. They are assertions disguised as questions, mini-lectures to which she occasionally replies, “Well, you’ve already said it.” Beyond that, however, she is aggravated by the contemporary tendency to insist on putting everything into compartments, a sort of perverse legacy of nineteenth-century scientists who felt an inordinate pleasure in labeling and categorizing phenomena. In speaking with fellow-writer Brian Aldiss, she has a famous laugh at the expense of an unidentified but eminent critic, who kept repeating in a review of The Fifth Child on the radio, “But you can’t categorize this book; you can’t categorize it,” as though if we only could, then we would no longer have to think about it.

Mrs. Lessing has participated in a large number of interviews not merely because hers has been such a significant voice in the last thirty years, but because she is a genuinely international writer, as is evident in interviews conducted in places as far from her London home as Singapore and in interviews originally appearing in French, Italian, German, Spanish, Danish, and Norwegian newspapers and magazines. She has been a much-sought-after speaker around the world. That should not be surprising, given her background.

Doris Tayler Lessing was born in 1919 of English parents in Kermanshah, Persia (Iran). Her father had survived the First World War with psychological as well as physical wounds. Like many veterans, he was dismayed by England and took a bank job in Persia, hoping to start over in a different country. In her words, he was something of a dreamer, and when he happened on an agriculture fair he suddenly decided to move his family to Southern Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then called. Mrs. Lessing grew up in Southern Africa, where Marxism attracted her, along with many other sensitive young whites, since it seemed the only political ideology addressing itself to racial injustice. In 1949, as a young woman in her late twenties, she left her second husband Gottfried Lessing and accompanied by their son Peter moved to London where she has continued to live. She brought with her the manuscript of The Grass Is Singing. It was not her first attempt at the novel, since as she has told her interviewers, she destroyed the manuscripts of two earlier apprentice works. Its critical success and modest royalties launched her as a writer. Years later, she has been amused at her innocence in assuming that she would be able to support herself and her son through writing, but then, as she remarks, writers in mid-century England seldom aspired to the huge sales and royalties to support extravagant life styles that young writers often hope for today.

During the ’50s and ’60s, The Grass Is Singing was followed by the five volumes of her Children of Violence series. The first three in the series – Martha Quest, A Ripple from the Storm, and A Proper Marriage – as she herself admits, drew heavily upon her own experience as a young woman. Her next novel, The Golden Notebook (1962), was not part of the Children of Violence series. Still probably her best-known work, The Golden Notebook began an accelerated movement away from the autobiographical impulse in her fiction. Unfortunately, her readers have often been unwilling to accept her assertion that the women characters are not Doris Lessing in disguise. Those readers have had particular difficulties with The Golden Notebook, which some American feminists tried to read as a bible of Women’s Liberation. As Mrs. Lessing repeats throughout the later interviews, she had quite different interests in her famous novel and has deeply resented its appropriation as a weapon of sexual politics. Indeed, one distinct theme in these interviews is Mrs. Lessing’s attempt to rescue her own fiction from her readers who often want to reduce its complexity to their own narrow points of view.

In many ways, The Four-Gated City is among Mrs. Lessing’s most important novels. Like The Golden Notebook, it is one of those novels written for readers in the future. She has often indicated her sadness that there are no nineteenth-century novels giving readers in this century a better understanding of a movement like Chartism, for example. She goes on to say that she had hoped The Golden Notebook would offer future readers a clearer sense of what sensitive, thinking people were concerned with in mid-century England. The Four-Gated City fulfills that need for the ’60s. However, it also points toward her continuing interests throughout the ’70s and ’80s, especially toward her interest in the “space fiction” that would precipitate a kind of crisis in her literary reputation.

Central to her later interests is the attempt to move out of the realist mode that brought her critical acclaim and a large readership for her earlier fiction. Briefing for a Descent into Hell and The Memoirs of a Survivor are the clearest evidence of that movement away from conventional realism toward “inner space.” Both are “difficult” novels because they demand more “willing suspension of disbelief” than many of her readers have been prepared for, even though fictional exploration of “insanity” in The Golden Notebook and the apocalyptical last section of The Four-Gated City point in that direction. And then, almost to demonstrate that she had not said farewell to the realist mode, The Summer Before the Dark appeared in 1973, between Briefing and Memoirs, creating difficulties once again for those bent upon “categorizing” her writing or smoothly plotting the course of her “career.”

More than anything, it was toward her problematical “space fiction” that The Four-Gated City pointed the direction. In 1979 she launched the Argos in Canopus series with the “novel” Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta. If its readers were surprised and puzzled, it was in part because they had not paid enough attention to the increasing presence of science fiction on the literary scene in her watershed novel, The Four-Gated City. These same readers may also have misread Mrs. Lessing’s interest as an attempt to join the virtually universal chorus of scoffers at this “sci-fi,” to use the persistent “mainstream” and media term of amused disdain for a fiction damned in part for its popularity. She has preferred the term “space fiction” for the Canopus series, not because she wants to dissociate it from “science fiction,” but only because she admits to having too little formal training to claim that her writing is “science fiction.” As she indicates in the interviews that follow, she turned to space fiction because it alone offered her the opportunity to range freely in time and space and to find metaphors to express her concern with contemporary problems and issues.

The response to the Canopus series among her readers, both professional and “common,” has been astounding. In reviews of the novels, in critical articles, and in letters to Mrs. Lessing herself, many readers have indicated their dismay that she has been wasting her talent writing fantasy. Some who have been particularly dismayed are those readers still waiting for her to write another Golden Notebook, or at least a “women’s book,” like The Summer Before the Dark. She has persisted, however, past the second Canopus novel, The Marriages of Zones Three, Four, and Five, which is about as close as she has come in the series to pleasing that readership. The latest three novels in the Canopus series are more similar to Shikasta than to Marriages. One of these, The Making of the Representative for Planet 8, has led to yet another new departure for her writing, the libretto for the opera of the same name, written in collaboration with Philip Glass, an artist whose work has also had its share of detractors.

The most recent of the Canopus novels deliberately ends without a clear sense of closure. As Mrs. Lessing indicates, she plans a sixth novel and perhaps even more in the series. She has been “sidetracked,” she says, by The Fifth Child and The Good Terrorist, as well as by African Laughter, her memoirs of four visits to Zimbabwe, and by the first volume of her autobiography. The two novels that “sidetracked” her might be misread as her bowing to the pressure of those readers bent upon returning her writing to the realist mode. Certainly, they are more realist than the fiction beginning with Briefing; they represent, however, in the clearest fashion, Mrs. Lessing’s insistence upon her own artistic integrity and the freedom to write in diametrically opposed modes, as they suit her differing interests as a writer.
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