At this moment while I am reading Doris Lessings Mara and Dann, very happy that I finally got a hold of that book, I hear that Doris Lessing died today at the age of 94. For me, she is the best writer ever and as she wrote a LOT, I still have a long list of her books that I need to read. One of the most special things about this writer is her very critical futuristic writing. While so many futurists picture a kind of world in which scientific progress would go on and on – even in George Orwells very critical ‘1984’, the means of controlling people only got better over time – Doris Lessing is giving us a post-apocalyptic world, ruined by the climate and wars, where all knowledge has been destroyed. So you have people seating and pushing others around in old airplane carcases they found, all the while wondering how these would have worked.
The books ‘The story of General Dann and Mara’s daughter, Griot and the Snowdog’ and ‘Mara and Dann’ play in Ifrik, recognizably Africa, under the weight of drought, while the Northern half of the world is covered in ice. Streams of refugees are going in all directions.
Dann, being a General, organizes his city. All refugees are welcome in his ‘army’ if they make themselves useful. General Dann is aware that much knowledge got lost, and very thirsty for it. So at the gates of the city he has people asking the newcomers if they have any knowledge: of languages, of crafts, about the world, anything. Those who know something are summoned at the palace, where the ‘scribes’, the very few who can write, sit at tables to write everything down.
Then a very secret chamber is found, well hidden by people of the past, with books and rolls. All the scribes together can read just a fraction of the knowledge that is gathered there, for lack of the languages. And most of the books just fall apart in their hands. Then, water flowing into the cave, almost all of the secret archive is destroyed.
I thought a lot about Lessings books when I met the Norwegian artist Signe Lidén who was inspired by an old archive on crafts and the making of artworks, in South-East China. I put a link to her work “Writings” and I pass on a link she gave me to the Donhuang manuscript cave in the Chinese Mogao Caves.
Doris Lessings view of the future and on knowledge made a deep impression on me. It touches the discussions on ‘Primitives’ as ‘incultes’, but now placed in the future.
I need to tell you about another book of hers, never mentioned in the ‘best of’ lists, but for me one of her best and with interesting comments on the thematics of this blog: Briefing for a Descent into Hell (1971). As I have the materials in my workshop, I will post about this one when I get there.