doris lessing won the nobel prize for literature. she is only the 11th woman to win the literature nobel since they started handing out the prize in 1901, and only the 34th woman to win a nobel of any sort.

i still remember reading "a sunrise on the veld" in my 1st year comp class at GRJC. i was entranced. it was the first time i had read something that seemed to capture and express the implacable amorality of nature--something that i, an instinctive atheist in a city whose culture was dominated by fundamentalist calvinist christians, had always felt but never dared to express too loudly (except among like-minded friends, or, oddly, in classroom discussions...or on the paper message board in GRJC's student center, where i could remain anonymous; and also in my papers for school). lessing's essay made a huge impression on me, at a time when i was just starting to realize how much bigger, messier, and more diverse and interesting the world "out there" was, than my provincial hometown of grand rapids, MI.

it's funny, i haven't read much more of lessing's work. i would be very interested to read it with a postcolonial theoretical lens. i would expect her work to be somewhat problematic, or at least complicated by her position as a white, imperial british subject (read: member of the colonizing class) who was born in what is now iran and reared in what is now zimbabwe.

i understand her later, SF work is pretty bad, or at least has been critically lambasted. i should check it out. my curiosity is piqued.
apparently it's the 50th anniversary of on the road. maybe i should finally get around to reading it.

i have always felt ambivalent about the beats. even before i had much knowledge of feminism beyond a few bumper-sticker slogans, i found the beats a bit too misogynistic for my taste. i still feel that way. but i've read them anyway...and will continue to do so... i think it's kinda fucked to denounce something without reading it, and i never shelter myself from things i disagree with. hell, i sat through the entirety of dw griffith's birth of a nation, after seeing brief clips from it in a seminar a few years ago. i also think literary works (like the people who write them) are complex, multi-faceted, deeply layered, and at least potentially rewarding of my time and effort. (birth of a nation wasn't rewarding as a work of was interesting as a historical artifact, though, even while deeply repellent.)

heh. i just mentioned this whole 50th anniversary thing to [ profile] glaucon, and said that maybe it's time for me to read it. he said just one word: "sucks." i said, "well...he wrote it in 3 weeks." to which he replied, "it shows." yeah, probably. but i'll check it out anyway.
PICKS: check out today's doonesbury. (edited link) it's a humorous--and probably unintended--commentary on the whole "teach the controversy" thing that's happening in the federal way school district at the moment. also, i highly recommend rey chow's the protestant ethnic and the spirit of capitalism, if you're into cultural theory. you should have some familiarity with max weber's the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, foucault's concept of biopower (developed in the history of sexuality, vol. 1), and georg lukacs's work on class consciousness. i think a familiarity with all of the big strands of contemporary marxist theory would be helpful, actually--though i think the book is readable in its own right, too. she explains most of the more esoteric concepts she works with, anyway.

PAN: i have to follow up my RWP post from friday night. i finished the marge piercy novel (the third child) and it is one of the worst things i have ever read, honestly. i'm dismayed. i don't even know where to begin. every plot point, every bit of characterization and dialogue, is ridiculously hackneyed and, worse, just not interesting. the book is about a college-aged young woman named melissa dickinson, who also happens to be the daughter of a newly elected and very conservative u.s. senator (dick dickinson--yes, really) who was formerly the governor of pennsylvania. she goes off to college at weslyan, and whom should she happen to meet and fall in love with but blake, the son of an african-american civil rights activist named toussaint parker (named after francois-dominique toussaint l'overture, a leader of the haitian revolution) and his white wife. parker, it turns out, was framed for murder and executed by none other than melissa's father (i can't remember right now if dick dickinson was then a prosecuting attorney or the governor--it was way before he got elected to the senate). during his father's ordeal (told skeletally as back story), blake's mother dies in a car accident, on her way home from visiting toussaint in prison. thus, his father's execution orphans blake at the age of 7, and he is adopted by si and nadine ackerman, his father's defense attorney and his wife, both of whom are hotshot jewish (yes, this is an issue in the book) lawyers who have it in for senator dickinson. fast forward to the novel's present: blake seems to truly adore melissa, but he's also hell bent on exacting justice from her father. oh, and he's a hacker. meanwhile, melissa's mother rosemary is straight out of the manchurian candidate, a shrewish woman who is the real force behind her husband's political career, but who would never consider it proper for a woman to embark on such a career for herself. she is constantly harping on melissa about the kind of people she should and shouldn't associate herself with at weslyan. one day, melissa's parents meet her boyfriend, and quickly realize he's the adopted son of the ackermans, and the biological son of parker. let the hijinks begin! oh, and the plot also involves a gay ex-staff member of senator dickinson's, who sells stolen papers to melissa and blake; and a lefty lesbian aunt of melissa's (sister of the senator) who has been forcibly incarcerated and heavily medicated in a "sanitarium" in the adirondacks for the last 5 years because she is an embarassment to the senator's family. thus, the novel's multiculturalist pretensions are rounded out. i feel sorta bad panning it, because it's trying so hard to be a critique of conservatism. but in so doing, it engages in an equally problematic tokenism. as you can probably tell from this brief summary, the plot of this novel goes straight downhill. the climax and resolution are just....fucking maudlin. it ends on a sort of girl, interrupted note, but with an ominous foreshadowing of a future trajectory similar to one flew over the cuckoo's next, or possibly frances (a biopic of frances farmer starring jessica lange).

seriously, this novel's plot is a confused mess of improbable confluences, coincidences, developments, and muddled facts that overstrained my willingness to take it seriously. at one point rosemary's assistant is declared free of cervical cancer--what diagnostic test did they use to determine this? an ultrasound, of course. everyone knows they use ultrasound to diagnose cervical cancer, right? right? yeah...not so much. diagnosing a tumor as cancerous or benign requires a biopsy, for fuck's sake. but the real question that was in my mind as i was reading this little bit of plot development was: why? why is this in here? what does this have to do with anything else that's going on in this book? this is a minor character, composed of verbal vellum, at best, she's so 2-dimensional. why do we need to know what's happening with her cervix?! don't even get me started on melissa's siblings--richard jr., the eldest, who is being groomed for a career in politics; merilee, #2, a law student who is trying to fend off their mother's advice to get married immediately to a "suitable mate"; melissa is the "third child" of the title; and billy, a rebellious prep school student who nevertheless cynically embraces their father's conservative ideas.

the verdict: i wish i could stick my finger down the throat of my brain, and purge my memory of this wretched book. if you have a sick fascination for literary train wrecks, though, i'd be happy to give you my copy, so long as you promise to keep it far, far away from my bookshelves when you're done with it. send it to your ex-friend who lives in new jersey. send it anywhere except back to me.


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