Intervju za „Parisku reviju“: Doris Lesing

Doris Lesing

Doris Lesing

Engleska spisateljica Doris Lesing u intervjuu datom američkom magazinu „Pariska revija“ govorila je o detinjstvu provedenom u Africi, na koji način joj je aktivno učestvovanje na književnoj sceni formiralo odnos prema putovanjima, o svom spisateljskom alter-egu Džejn Somers, kao i o svojim spisateljskim navikama i ritualima. Jedan sasvim nov uvid u autorku romana „Zlatna beležnica“, „Memoari preživele“, „Peto dete“, „Alfred i Emili“, „Leto pre sumraka“, kao i mnogobrojnih pripovedaka i čak dve posebne knjige memoara.

INTERVIEWER

I have the feeling that you are an extremely intuitive kind of fiction writer, and that you probably don’t plan or plot out things extensively, but sort of discover them. Is that the case, or not?

LESSING

Well, I have a general plan, yes, but it doesn’t mean to say that there’s not room for an odd character or two to emerge as I go along. I knew what I was going to do with The Good Terrorist. The bombing of Harrod’s department store was the start of it. I thought it would be interesting to write a story about a group who drifted into bombing, who were incompetent and amateur. I had the central character, because I know several people like Alice—this mixture of very maternal caring, worrying about whales and seals and the environment, but at the same time saying, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs,” and who can contemplate killing large numbers of people without a moment’s bother. The more I think about that, the more interesting it becomes. So I knew about her; I knew about the boyfriend, and I had a rough idea of the kinds of people I wanted. I wanted people of different kinds and types, so I created this lesbian couple. But then what interested me were the characters who emerged that I hadn’t planned for, like Faye. And then Faye turned into this destroyed person, which was surprising to me. The little bloke Phillip turned up like this: Right about then I was hearing about an extremely fragile young man, twenty-one or twenty-two, who was out of work, but was always being offered work by the authorities. I mean, loading very heavy rolls of paper onto lorries, in fact! You’d think they were lunatics! So he always got the sack at the end of about three days. I think it’s quite a funny book.

INTERVIEWER

Do you work on more than one fictional thing at a time?

LESSING

No, it’s fairly straight. I do sometimes tidy up a draft of a previous thing while I’m working on something else. But on the whole I like to do one thing after another.

INTERVIEWER

I’d imagine then that you work from beginning to end, rather than mixing around . . .

LESSING

Yes, I do. I’ve never done it any other way. If you write in bits, you lose some kind of very valuable continuity of form. It is an invisible inner continuity. Sometimes you only discover it is there if you are trying to reshape.

INTERVIEWER

Are you producing fairly continuously? Do you take a break between books?

LESSING

Yes! I haven’t written in quite a while. Sometimes there are quite long gaps. There’s always something you have to do, an article you have to write, whether you want to or not. I’m writing short stories at the moment. It’s interesting, because they’re very short. My editor, Bob Gottlieb, said, quite by chance, that no one ever sends him very short stories, and he found this interesting. I thought, “My God, I haven’t written a very short story for years.” So I’m writing them around 1,500 words, and it’s good discipline. I’m enjoying that. I’ve done several, and I think I’m going to call them “London Sketches,” because they’re all about London.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have regular working habits?

LESSING

It doesn’t matter, because it’s just habits. When I was bringing up a child I taught myself to write in very short concentrated bursts. If I had a weekend, or a week, I’d do unbelievable amounts of work. Now those habits tend to be ingrained. In fact, I’d do much better if I could go more slowly. But it’s a habit. I’ve noticed that most women write like that, whereas Graham Greene, I understand, writes two hundred perfect words every day! So I’m told! Actually, I think I write much better if I’m flowing. You start something off, and at first it’s a bit jagged, awkward, but then there’s a point where there’s a click and you suddenly become quite fluent. That’s when I think I’m writing well. I don’t write well when I’m sitting there sweating about every single phrase.

INTERVIEWER

What kind of a reader are you these days? Do you read contemporary fiction?

LESSING

I read a great deal. I’m very fast, thank God, because I could never cope with it otherwise. Writers get sent enormous amounts of books from publishers. I get eight or nine or ten books a week which is a burden, because I’m always very conscientious. You do get a pretty good idea of what a book’s like in the first chapter or two. And if I like it at all, I’ll go on. That’s unfair, because you could be in a bad mood, or terribly absorbed in your own work. Then there are the writers I admire, and I’ll always read their latest books. And, of course, there’s a good deal of what people tell me I should read. So I’m always reading.

INTERVIEWER

Did you ever do any of those sixties’ experiments with hallucinogens, that sort of thing?

LESSING

I did take mescaline once. I’m glad I did, but I’ll never do it again. I did it under very bad auspices. The two people who got me the mescaline were much too responsible! They sat there the whole time, and that meant, for one thing, that I only discovered the “hostess” aspect of my personality, because what I was doing was presenting the damn experience to them the whole time! Partly in order to protect what I was really feeling. What should have happened was for them to let me alone. I suppose they were afraid I was going to jump out of a window. I am not the kind of person who would do such a thing! And then I wept most of the time. Which was of no importance, and they were terribly upset by this, which irritated me. So the whole thing could have been better. I wouldn’t do it again. Chiefly because I’ve known people who had such bad trips. I have a friend who took mescaline once. The whole experience was a nightmare that kept on being a nightmare—people’s heads came rolling off their shoulders for months. Awful! I don’t want that.

INTERVIEWER

Do you travel a great deal?

LESSING

Too much; I mean to stop.

INTERVIEWER

Mostly for obligations?

LESSING

Just business, promoting, you know. Writers are supposed to sell their books! Astonishing development! I’ll tell you where I’ve been this year, for my publishers: I was in Spain . . . Barcelona and Madrid, which is enjoyable, of course. Then I went to Brazil, where I discovered—I didn’t know this—that I sell rather well there. Particularly, of course, space fiction. They’re very much into all that. Then I went to San Francisco. They said, “While you’re here, you might as well . . .”—that phrase, “you might as well”—“pop up the coast to Portland.” You’ve been there?

INTERVIEWER

No, never.

LESSING

Now there is an experience! In San Francisco, they’re hedonistic, cynical, good-natured, amiable, easygoing, and well-dressed—in a casual way. Half an hour in the plane and you’re in a rather straight-laced formal city that doesn’t go in for casual behavior at all. It’s amazing, just up the coast there. This is what America’s like. Then I went to Finland for the second time. They’ve got some of the best bookstores in the world! Marvelous, wonderful! They say it’s because of those long, dark nights! Now I’m here. Next I’m going to be in Brighton, for the science fiction convention. Then I won a prize in Italy called the Mondello Prize, which they give in Sicily. I said, “Why Sicily?” and they said, deadpan, “Well, you see, Sicily’s got a bad image because of the Mafia . . .” So I’ll go to Sicily, and then I shall work for all the winter.

INTERVIEWER

I hear you’ve been working on a “space opera” with Philip Glass.

LESSING

What happens to books is so astonishing to me! Who would have thought The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 would turn into an opera? I mean it’s so surprising!

INTERVIEWER

How did that come about?

LESSING

Well, Philip Glass wrote to me, and said he’d like to make an opera, and we met.

INTERVIEWER

Had you known much of his music before?

LESSING

Well, no I hadn’t! He sent some of his music. It took quite a bit of time for my ears to come to terms with it. My ear was always expecting something else to happen. You know what I mean? Then we met and we talked about it, and it went very well, which is astonishing because we couldn’t be more different. We just get on. We’ve never had one sentence worth of difficulty over anything, ever. He said the book appealed to him, and I thought he was right, because it’s suitable for his music. We met, usually not for enormous sessions, a day here and a day there, and decided what we would do, or not do. I wrote the libretto.

INTERVIEWER

Do you do many public readings of your own work?

LESSING

Not very many. I do when I’m asked. They didn’t ask me to in Finland. I don’t remember when was the last. Oh, Germany last year, my God! That was the most disastrous trip. It was some academic institution in Germany. I said to them, “Look, I want to do what I always do. I’ll read the story and then I’ll take questions.” They said, the way academics always do, “Oh you can’t expect our students to ask questions.” I said, “Look, just let me handle this, because I know how.” Anyway, what happened was typical in Germany: We met at four o’clock in order to discuss the meeting that was going to take place at eight. They cannot stand any ambiguity or disorder—no, no! Can’t bear it. I said, “Look, just leave it.” The auditorium was very large and I read a story in English and it went down very well, perfectly okay. I said, “I will now take questions.” Then this bank of four bloody professors started to answer questions from the audience and debate among themselves, these immensely long academic questions of such tedium that finally the audience started to get up and drift out. A young man, a student sprawled on the gangway—as a professor finished something immensely long—called out, “BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.” So with total lack of concern for the professors’ feelings I said, “Look, I will take questions in English from theaudience.” So they all came back and sat down, and it went well . . . perfectly lively questions! The professors were absolutely furious. So that was Germany. Germany’s the worst, it really is; the end.

 

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