Doris Lessing Interview

It turned out I was just as unprepared as most everyone else for the Swedish Academy’s selection of Doris Lessing to receive the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature. But the award has, as always, turned the just-turned-88 British/Rhodesian authoress into a hot property: her books are now in greater demand, and so are her opinions. And the Spanish newspaper El País has turned up as the big winner in the latter sphere, scoring the exclusive, (somewhat) extensive interview “War and Memory Never Stop” that the world’s other papers can only quote snippets from. (Yes, I don’t usually track the content on El País; I was alerted to the article by Le Nouvel Observateur’s treatment of such interview snippets.) Why El País? It’s nowhere totally clear, although it seems that Lessing has been thinking back quite a lot these days to the Spanish Civil War, something that is of course discussed in the interview.

The headling-grabbing snippet that most of the derivative articles concentrate upon (including Le Nouvel Observateur, which puts the remark even in its article’s title) is Lessing’s reaction to all the talk about 9-11: What about the IRA? she asks. People forget, she claims, “that the IRA attacked our Government with bombs; that it killed various people while they held the conservative convention, where Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was. [This was the Brighton hotel bombing of 12 October 1984.] . . . September 11 was terrible, but if you review the history of the IRA, that of the Americans doesn’t turn out to be so terrible.” To the extent that the rest of the world’s press goes beyond that bit, it generally passes on Lessing’s acerbic evaluations of several leading political figures. Tony Blair: “I’ve always hated Tony Blair, from the start. . . . I’ve said since he was elected: this is a little showman [here the English word was retained in what is otherwise a translation into Spanish] who was going to get us into problems, and he did.” And of course George W. Bush: He’s a “world calamity, the whole world is tired of this man. Either he is stupid, or he is very clever . . .”

Still, these attention-grabbing segments are hardly what the interview as a whole is all about – in fact, they are all found concentrated in a series of question-and-answer pairs at about the 3/4 mark. Rather more time is devoted to discussion of Lessing’s upcoming book, as you might expect, although it is still at a stage where she is not allowed to talk much about it – not allowed to disclose the title, for example – other than that it is apparently non-fiction, written about the wartime experiences of her parents. OK, so that part (mainly at the end) is nothing more than what we’ve come to expect from guests on TV talk-shows, who make it a point to use their exposure as much as possible to plug whatever it is they have to plug. But there are other segments of interest nonetheless. Amusingly, Lessing reveals early on her disagreement with the citation from the Academy accompanying the announcement of her award, that part about how she wrote about “the feminine epic experience,” as if it were useful to put writing about males and females in separate boxes. Plus she has some cutting comments about the influence of television on modern society, always a favorite topic here. In her view, the coming of television marked the end of a certain culture of family life, where people could take the time to sit and talk, to gather around the piano to sing, or at least just listen to the radio. “It was the end of conversation, of the joviality of living together, it ended the practice of everyone sitting together to eat . . .”

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