Doris Lessing

Over at Library Juice, there is a post about Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.  In it, Lessing briefly mentions the Internet.  She does this in the context of observations about the gap in cultural capital (the most basic kind – books, schools, teachers) between the West and the impoverished developing world.  The Library Juice post, however, takes this passing reference and runs with it – saying that she “questions the Internet.”  Horror of horrors! 

 Her speech (really a sort of literary essay) is,  as one would expect, brilliant, incisive, and heartbreakingly clear-eyed.  Yes, she does speak of the decline of reading and notes the correlation between a decline in reading and general cultural literacy evinced in the modern West and the rise of “computers, the Internet, and TV.” But, these are commonplace observations, and clearly Lessing implicitly acknowleges their nuances.  She notes that the technological revolution “is not the first revolution we, the human race, has dealt with.” Yet, it is different compared with the print revolution, which, she observes, “did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, changed our minds and ways of thinking.”

I realise that the people at Library Juice are not trying to paint Lessing as some sort of Luddite, but I was a bit dismayed to see this aspect of her speech portrayed this way in the headline of the post.  It seemed to distort the nature of her remarks, which were much more expansive – and important – than an aside about the societal and cultural implications of technology. 

Perhaps it was the seemingly dismissive way that Lessing referred to the Internet, which she said “has seduced a whole generation into its inanities” that got under the skin of the technophiles at Library Juice.  Unfortunatley, these sorts of remarks – especially when they are made by anyone over the age of fifty –  always seem to elicit hostility all out of proportion to their intent. 

Certainly, it is not untrue that the Internet, while providing revolutionary access to information and ‘publishing’ to millions, has also facilitated a metastasizing of the trends of commodity fetishism, and consumer-driven dumbing down of cultural space.  You don’t need to read Adorno to understand that Facebook does not really empower social and political change as much as it indulges consumerist self-absorption.

  In any case, Lessing’s remarks are important – not least because one of the most important writers of the twentieth century is offering insight about our society and culture from the perspective of the end of her career.  And the fact that she is still able to contribute to a vital conversation about the moral and ethical issues of cultural politics is, I think,  a cause for celebration.  Having said that, I’m still pleased that the people at Library Juice noted her remarks, and that they recognized their importance – even if they got the tone a bit wrong.  

Explore posts in the same categories: Culture

2 Comments on “Doris Lessing”

  1. rlitwin Says:

    I think you misread me a bit. I’m hardly a technophile. I sympathize with Lessing’s statements for the most part, and I thought I communicated that. Maybe the title of my post is misleading in the context of the blogosphere.

  2. usfbear Says:

    Fair enough, Rory. And thanks for changing the title; it makes all the difference, I think.


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