Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant the accuracy of closed captions. These are derived automatically from the broadcaster's signal.
Doris Lessing - Nobel Prize Winner -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

(generated from captions) Hi, I'm Jennifer Byrne, and it's a pleasure to be back tonight with Foreign Correspondent. The reason being that when I did work for the program I had the enormous pleasure of speaking with Doris Lessing, who has, of course, just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And this was her reaction. We're photographing you. Have you heard the news? You've just won the Nobel Prize! Oh, Christ! I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all. It's a royal flush. It was vintage Lessing, who turns 88 next week.

I met Doris Lessing at her London home in 2001, just after the events of September the 11th, when the whole world was wondering about how America and her allies would respond to those attacks. And although, at that stage, the talk was of invading Afghanistan - not yet Iraq - Lessing turned out to be remarkably prescient. Now the world is talking war again, what's your thoughts about it? Do you think we understand what we're in for? No, I don't. I think there's a new generation who has only seen war in television programs and war films and they're - I don't know why war always looks glamorous but it is, so they have no idea at all what they're talking about. Does it demonstrate one of the things you write about a lot, which is the way mass movements happen - an idea happens and then everyone jumps on it. Is this a demonstration of it? It sounds like mass hysteria - this drum-beating - and it makes my blood run cold because I've lived through it more than once.

It's very powerful and it takes people over and then people stop thinking. They just chant slogans and this is what's so frightening about it. And do you feel fearful that basically a generation that hasn't been through a war just doesn't know, just doesn't understand? No, I don't. What interests me about the aftermath of war is we list the dead and the wounded but we don't notice the emotional cripples and the psychological disasters. I'm not saying there are not times when you shouldn't go to war - of course there are. Is this one, do you believe? I don't think it's a war they're going to win, you know, not the way it's projected at the moment. You write very caustically about the power of the 'ism', whether it's the communism, feminism, unfocused idealism, journalism. Do you think that an 'ism' is an intrinsically suspicious thing? Yes, I do rather. I think we're always making categories and fitting people and things into it that don't necessarily belong there at all. As for the idealisms, people say, "Oh, yes, but there's - "there was, you know, Hitler was an idealist. "Have you ever heard his plans for a 1,000-year Reich?" Mussolini, and I've no doubt at all that good old comrade Stalin had moments of idealism - not very many - but as for Lenin - of course, that old murderer. Well, why do we want them so much, do you think? Oh, you see, we love powerful people unfortunately. We do. We do. We love powerful, strong men - or a lot of people do who haven't actually experienced them. You know people just love bullies, unfortunately. What does this generation, therefore, believe in? What are the values to your observations? Well, you may think it's a negative approval, you see. None of them are on some ideological bandwagon and they're not idealists, thank god,

because we know where all that leads. I think that they're a very sensible, level-headed lot

and I think they're wonderful. I've no doubt at all that if things got tough they would cope very well. Is it getting harder to speak your mind or easier, do you think? Easier - no-one's going to put you into prison at the moment for speaking your mind or banning you. Luckily I'm not a Muslim in this country - they're having a bad time. Yet, when you spoke your mind about feminism - the cry that went out, the shouting - You were an evil woman, Doris Lessing. What I actually said, what I was on about was this culture where men automatically rubbished. I really hate it and this is what I said.

I said we now have a culture where there's a part of the language - advertisements, radio programs, the putting down of men - and I said it was time this came to an end. But I don't think it was that that made people furious. That was I think made the front page in Australia I have to say. Really? Yes, it was that you had said that the most stupid, ill-educated and nasty woman

can rubbish the nicest, kindest, most intelligent man and no-one protests it. Exactly. I did say that. That's what you said. I stand by it, absolutely. I think it's an appalling thing. Women - you know when I was young and I was this brash girl, I was always tackling some man saying, "Why are you patronising me? I'm not some stupid little woman." They never had any idea what I was talking about because a part of the culture - "What's she on about?"

Well, now women do it and don't even know that they're doing it.

And I don't see why we should become as bad as they were and some of them still are. But, you know, the thing that I really was on about in Edinburgh, I said that the whole of the 1960s movement had been a sexual revolution - it hadn't really done the situation of women much good. It was all great fun, god knows, but when I was a girl, I said I had a role model - a word that had not been created then - and she used to say to us, "Girls, go out "and get yourself equal pay for equal work,

"equal opportunity and good nurseries "and then you will be equal with men." Now it is a long time in the women's movement since any of them have thought about changing laws or fighting. Boring old fighting in committees, writing letters to papers, getting into parliament - it was hard work getting that. Well, we don't do that anymore. We think it's absolutely wonderful if some girl has an exciting sexual life and jolly good luck to her, but it doesn't change anything. Why is it do you think the feminists have been so keen to adopt you as one of their spokespeople, anyway? It was about a notebook, that's why. That was read as a feminist tract when it first came out. And it wasn't? I see it as an historical document, which is how I wrote it. I wanted to describe a time which I knew was passing very fast and I wanted to grab it before it disappeared and I think I did, and I'm glad to say I'm told it's being set in the history classes and sociological classes, and I think that gives me great pleasure. Do you think they're teaching it as one of the seminal works of feminist theory? You know, it does have a lot of things in it. It does have quite a lot of politics in it. It comes out of that particular time when communism was collapsing everywhere around about the last part of the '50s. Communism was beginning to - it was falling down like the Twin Towers in New York before our very eyes, and it was very, very extraordinary to watch and to live through. Is there an 'ism' or an ideology that you hold to now? Well, the only one I hold to is that people should think before they shout slogans. Whatever the slogan. That's all. And you think that might be a small demand, but it isn't,

because look how easily people start shouting slogans. Why is it that people are so ready to be persuaded and to follow? Well, in this particular case, we're talking about America at the moment. It's very attractive, you know. As far as the Americans are concerned, they're totally in the right, because they always are totally in the right when they start shouting slogans and everybody else is wrong and they have been horribly attacked.

This is a very good scenario for self-righteousness and for slogans, and since we all know not all Americans are like this and only hope their voice would be heard soon. As you get older, and one assumes wiser... Don't assume that. No, not so? Is it hard to be tolerant of the foolishness and the naivity of the young? No, it's not - it's harder. It's just that you understand it so well since you've done it all yourself. It's a pity that they repeat our follies but apparently that's a plan of life, god knows why.

Nobody ever learns from a previous generation, but they don't. But isn't that being young, being careless of history? We don't have to admire it, do we? You were quoted recently as saying, "Writing is something I have to do." Is it still? I mean will there ever be enough that you've written? No, see, I think there's - I'm just a story teller. I have to - I have to - and it's interesting, of course, why, why I am. I don't know.

I just - I'm very unhappy when I'm not writing. I need to write. I think it's possibly some kind of psychological balancing mechanism that but...for writers anybody. I think all of us just a step away from lunacy anyway and we need something to keep us balanced.

So this is your sanity? Exactly. Will you retain it? I mean, will you keep not the sanity, the writing? Yes, I'll go on as long as I can. You were offered to become a dame. Why did you knock it back? The dame of the British Empire, right? I'm a good colonial by upbringing - I hated all that, and I spent a good part of my youth trying to undo the British Empire and a very few more unimpressive sights than some old person licking the hand that it used to bite. So, no, I said no. So then they said would I like to be a Companion of Honour, which I said yes to because I'm not called anything. I mean, how would you like to be called a 'Dame', like a pantomime? Somewhat unlikely. Doris Lessing thank you very much. Thank you, thank you. I enjoyed it.