Unlike Dickens, I haven’t read everything that Doris Lessing has written. I read Canopus in Argos straight through when I was in my twenties. I taught a couple of her short stories in advanced reading classes a few years ago. I was pleasantly surprised and happy that she received the Nobel prize this past week.
The NYThas republished an article by Lessing from 1992. It is prefaced with comments from Harold Bloom reacting to Lessing’s winning of the prize.
One of the most pointed criticisms of Ms. Lessing came from Harold Bloom, the Yale professor and literary critic, who told The Associated Press, “Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable.” He went on to add that the prize is “pure political correctness.”
Political correctness? Unreadable? The hell? Bloom has the nerve to characterize another writer as UNREADABLE? Ahh, well, he’s an old man and can blather on to his diminishing audience as he likes for all I care.
The Lessing article is titled, “Questions You Should Never Ask a Writer,” and it begins:
WHILE we have seen the apparent death of Communism, ways of thinking that were either born under Communism or strengthened by Communism still govern our lives. Not all of them are as immediately evident as a legacy of Communism as political correctness.
The first point: language. It is not a new thought that Communism debased language and, with language, thought. There is a Communist jargon recognizable after a single sentence. Few people in Europe have not joked in their time about “concrete steps,” “contradictions,” “the interpenetration of opposites,” and the rest.
The first time I saw that mind-deadening slogans had the power to take wing and fly far from their origins was in the 1950s when I read an article in The Times of London and saw them in use. “The demo last Saturday was irrefutable proof that the concrete situation…” Words confined to the left as corralled animals had passed into general use and, with them, ideas. One might read whole articles in the conservative and liberal press that were Marxist, but the writers did not know it. But there is an aspect of this heritage that is much harder to see.
It’s worth reading in its entirety, (I won’t copy and paste it all — I can’t.)
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.
How silly Harold Bloom’s comments are, in light of what the real live person Doris Lessing wrote. While I don’t completely agree with Lessing — she was writing at the time from a UK perspective — I see her point and can apply it to the state of discourse here now in the U.S. Now, the label of political correctness is thrown around to mean something that 15 years ago it did not. Political correctness (or rather ‘fighting against it’) is used as a way for more racist and bigoted types in society to speak their minds in defiance. That actually is fine with me — I think Chris Baker, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Gallagher, and people like them should continue to dig their respective holes. In railing against what they perceive to be ‘political correctness,’ they show themselves for what they are: white guys with no clue.
On a lighter note, it was good to see Lessing in the news. And congratulations to her.