WORD LISTS

John Leonard on Doris Lessing's "Time Bites" and more

November 17, 2013
Doris Lessing died this weekend. She was a controversial figure with a body of work so vast it is difficult to know where to start. In this review of an essay collection of Lessing's from 2006, the late critic John Leonard gives a nice overview of Lessing's life and her major works. While obviously admiring Lessing, Leonard also gives the reader an idea why some people were less than kind to her and her novels. With this review as a starting point, you can decide whether Lessing is for you, and what period of her career might suit you best. From New York Review of Books, November 30, 2006. E-text available here.
barbarous
Everything is remarkable, people, living, events present themselves to you with the immediacy of players in some barbarous and splendid drama that it seems we are part of.
imperious
Her default mode is usually imperious, as if ex cathedra were the normal respiration of her intelligence.
snide
But for every lovely fugitive impression (“the first men probably did not know where their thoughts ended and the consciousness of beasts began”), there is a snide kick at “militant feminists,” and for every gut-wrenching account of the agony of Zimbabwe, a couple of twaddles about the “tyranny” of “Political Correctness.”
doppelganger
It was as if Martha Quest, until then Lessing’s alter ego and doppelgänger in the series, had somehow got hold of a copy of The Golden Notebook, been desolated to discover the bankruptcy of every master narrative of Western Civ from Euclidean geometry to class war to the Oedipus complex, and then battered her way headfirst through the library wall into a prehistoric realm of memory, myth, madness, and genetic mutation.
rapture
So she got to be cranky about Communists, feminists, journalists, shoplifters, progressive schools, conversion experiences, and grief therapy—but aside from the obligatory reference to yarrow stalks and the I Ching, the raptures of the deep went unmentioned.
sage
What she found, courtesy of Idries Shah, was the poets and sages of a 1,300-year-old current of Islamic thinking that sought, through otherworldliness, a strenuous spiritual calisthenics of pilgrimage, sleeplessness, fasting, and ecstatic dance, and a kick-the-can pedagogy of parables, aphorisms, fables, verses, and jokes, to see past mere appearances to the hidden reality and transcendent dimension of human life.
calisthenics
What she found, courtesy of Idries Shah, was the poets and sages of a 1,300-year-old current of Islamic thinking that sought, through otherworldliness, a strenuous spiritual calisthenics of pilgrimage, sleeplessness, fasting, and ecstatic dance, and a kick-the-can pedagogy of parables, aphorisms, fables, verses, and jokes, to see past mere appearances to the hidden reality and transcendent dimension of human life.
pedagogy
What she found, courtesy of Idries Shah, was the poets and sages of a 1,300-year-old current of Islamic thinking that sought, through otherworldliness, a strenuous spiritual calisthenics of pilgrimage, sleeplessness, fasting, and ecstatic dance, and a kick-the-can pedagogy of parables, aphorisms, fables, verses, and jokes, to see past mere appearances to the hidden reality and transcendent dimension of human life.
aphorism
What she found, courtesy of Idries Shah, was the poets and sages of a 1,300-year-old current of Islamic thinking that sought, through otherworldliness, a strenuous spiritual calisthenics of pilgrimage, sleeplessness, fasting, and ecstatic dance, and a kick-the-can pedagogy of parables, aphorisms, fables, verses, and jokes, to see past mere appearances to the hidden reality and transcendent dimension of human life.
transcendent
What she found, courtesy of Idries Shah, was the poets and sages of a 1,300-year-old current of Islamic thinking that sought, through otherworldliness, a strenuous spiritual calisthenics of pilgrimage, sleeplessness, fasting, and ecstatic dance, and a kick-the-can pedagogy of parables, aphorisms, fables, verses, and jokes, to see past mere appearances to the hidden reality and transcendent dimension of human life.
ineffable
As well as poets like ‘Attar, who elaborated on this ineffable topography in his Parliament of Birds, and Rumi, who founded an Order of Whirling Dervishes, the Mawlawiyyah.
dervish
As well as poets like ‘Attar, who elaborated on this ineffable topography in his Parliament of Birds, and Rumi, who founded an Order of Whirling Dervishes, the Mawlawiyyah.
latent
I believe that the chief gift from Africa to writers, white and black, is the continent itself, its presence which for some people is like an old fever, latent always in their blood; or like an old wound throbbing in the bones as the air changes.
necrology
It’s not just that Mara and Dann seemed to rehearse all of immemorial Africa—savannas, gorges, femurs, shamans, soldiers, refugees, empires, necrologies, genocides, and other affidavits of atrocity—and to catalog as well volcanic cataclysms in deep readings of ice caps, carbon clouds, and fossil dumps.
anathematize
If her 1999 novel accused its century of specializing in refugees, in forced relocations of the outcast and anathematized, it never suggested that any other century had been nicer.
aide-de-camp
And when Dann retires to anguish over his sister, or to indulge his bitter envy of those “lost time” ancestors who were so much cleverer than he, the narrative chores fall to Griot, his dutiful, humorless, green-eyed aide-de-camp, a former child soldier who followed Dann all the way from Agre, who sees to the training of the army his general leads into pointless battle, and who, like all the griots before him, will sing praise-songs on the killing fields.
conscript
We also meet Mrs. Sussman, the analyst Lessing saw for three years before conscripting her so memorably into The Golden Notebook as Mother Sugar.
Jungian
Mrs. Sussman, a Jewish convert to Roman Catholicism, was a Jungian who specialized in “unblocking” artists.
archetypal
In Doris she found archetypal residues of Electra, Medea, and Antigone.
redolent
There are many unpleasant smells in Lessing’s autobiographies—camphor, horses, paraffin, chamber pots, dead fish, wet wool, the habits of nuns, her father’s crotch—but none so redolent as the very idea of Anna’s compulsive washings of herself in The Golden Notebook, so that she won’t smell of her own period.
inchoate
In her ears was an inchoate grinding, the great wheels of movement, and it was inhuman…and no part of that sound was Martha’s voice.
slapdash
She has written tens of thousands of pages, many of them slapdash, millions of words, none of them mushy, one masterwork, The Golden Notebook, and may be the twentieth century’s least ingratiating great novelist, whose fatalism is often difficult to distinguish from complacency, and who is harder on women than on men: there is “a basic female ruthlessness,” she has said, “female unregenerate, and it comes from a much older time than Christianity or any other softener of savage moralities.
complacency
She has written tens of thousands of pages, many of them slapdash, millions of words, none of them mushy, one masterwork, The Golden Notebook, and may be the twentieth century’s least ingratiating great novelist, whose fatalism is often difficult to distinguish from complacency, and who is harder on women than on men: there is “a basic female ruthlessness,” she has said, “female unregenerate, and it comes from a much older time than Christianity or any other softener of savage moralities.
existential
If she doesn’t believe in free will, liberal humanism, historical determinism, existential psychology, the holy ghost, the Enlightenment, or victimhood (and she doesn’t), what does she believe in?
archetype
Then there are mothers and daughters, as old as archetypes get.
neurotic
No one before or after Lessing has better anatomized the sick self-sabotaging of smart women who allow themselves to settle for indentured servitude as house mothers, group mothers, householders, hostesses, caretakers, nannies, nurses, and “neurotic nurturers.”
nihilist
We see this from Kate Brown in The Summer Before the Dark, who so efficiently organized her family, her office, and the care and feeding of a whole continent that she practically abolished herself, to Alice Mellings in The Good Terrorist, a lunatic Mother Courage among bomb-throwing nihilist losers...

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Tuesday November 19th 2013, 10:07 PM
Comment by: jt (Greece)
Wow Sweet list

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