m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

A Royal Flush

Despite the little grey man’s predictions, Doris Lessing won the 2007 Nobel Prize in literature. She missed the call and got the news from reporters lying in wait at her home. A Reuters TV crew attempted to interview her:

“Isn’t this a recognition of your life’s work?” I persisted.

“Yes, it is. See, you’ve said it all for me,” the feisty and prolific author responded, turning to head indoors.

A radio journalist asked her to appear on air. She snapped back that she would have to think of something suitable to say.

Clearly she was not going to make it easy.

I managed to get her to turn around when she was half-way up the garden path by asking her if prizes meant anything to her as obviously they were not the reason she wrote books.

“Look I have won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one. I’m delighted to win them all, okay?” she responded testily.

As an afterthought she turned around and mumbled:

“It’s a royal flush.”

In response to some harsh criticism from Harold Bloom, the New York Times reprinted a 1992 essay of hers on political correctness:

A very common way of thinking in literary criticism is not seen as a consequence of Communism, but it is. Every writer has the experience of being told that a novel, a story, is “about” something or other. I wrote a story, “The Fifth Child,” which was at once pigeonholed as being about the Palestinian problem, genetic research, feminism, anti-Semitism and so on.

A journalist from France walked into my living room and before she had even sat down said, “Of course ‘The Fifth Child’ is about AIDS.”

An effective conversation stopper, I assure you. But what is interesting is the habit of mind that has to analyze a literary work like this. If you say, “Had I wanted to write about AIDS or the Palestinian problem I would have written a pamphlet,” you tend to get baffled stares. That a work of the imagination has to be “really” about some problem is, again, an heir of Socialist Realism. To write a story for the sake of storytelling is frivolous, not to say reactionary.

The demand that stories must be “about” something is from Communist thinking and, further back, from religious thinking, with its desire for self-improvement books as simple-minded as the messages on samplers.

The phrase “political correctness” was born as Communism was collapsing. I do not think this was chance. I am not suggesting that the torch of Communism has been handed on to the political correctors. I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I didn’t expect the Nobel any more than Doris Lessing did, and that I heard about it from Fake Steve Jobs, of all places.