writers on writing: paul fussell

 

If you want to be remembered as a clever person and even as a benefactor of humanity, don’t write a novel, or even talk about it: instead, compile tables of compound interest, assemble weather data running back seventy-five years, or develop in tabular form improved actuarial information. All more useful than anything "creative" most people could come up with, and less likely to subject the author to neglect, if not ridicule and contempt. In addition, it will be found that most people who seek attention and regard by announcing that they’re writing a novel are actually so devoid of narrative talent that they can’t hold the attention of a dinner table for thirty seconds, even with a dirty joke.

 

—from Paul Fussell, Bad, or, the Dumbing of America

mass culture and the age of anxiety in wasserstein’s barbarism and civilization

‘There is no document of civilization’, writes Walter Benjamin, ‘that is not simultaneously a document of barbarism.’

 

… Whether from the state or the market, pressures for cultural uniformity grew throughout European society. Contemplating this development with some distaste, the Spanish thinker José Ortega y Gasset defended an elitist, or, as he called it, ‘radically aristocratic’ version of liberalism against the celebration of vulgarity and elevation of mediocrity that he saw in the collectivisms of the age, Fascist and Marxist alike. In The Revolt of the Masses (1930), he lamented that ‘the mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated. . . .

 

The age of anxiety

 

The apparent breakdown of capitalism, the discrediting of bourgeois social norms, the challenges to Christian moral verities, large-scale refugee movements, the palpable failure of the system of international law based on the League of Nations, as well as the looming shadow of a new world war—all this fed a pervasive public mood of insecurity and lost bearings in the 1930s, what Auden called ‘the Age of Anxiety’.

 

One symptom of the emotional climate was a rise in the suicide rate, registered in much of the continent. It was highest in Hungary, which even had a special ‘suicide anthem’, the song ‘Gloomy Sunday’ (Szomoru Vasárnap), composed by Rezső Seress, who used to play it in the Kis Pipa restaurant in Budapest in the early 1930s. The song, which allegedly inspired several suicides, was banned on that account on many radio stations. (Seress killed himself in 1968.) Sigmund Freud is said to have regarded the song as a representation of his theory of the ‘Sonntagsneurose’.

 

Foremost interpreter of the sources of human neuroses, discoverer of the primacy of the unconscious in the determination of human behaviour, Freud enjoyed a fashionable reputation that was now at its peak. He had coined the term ‘psychoanalysis’ in 1895 and, in the decade before 1905, had published his pathbreaking works on hysteria, on the interpretation of dreams, on jokes and the unconscious, on the psychopathology of everyday life, and on infantile sexuality. But he initially encountered hostility from the medical establishment and it was not until 1920 that he was appointed a professor at the University of Vienna. In 1930 he was awarded the Goethe Prize for literature but his ideas remained controversial and were often fiercely contested. Yet his concepts of traumatic repression, of displacement, sublimation, and regression, and of the oedipus complex laid the basis not merely for a new therapy but for a revolution in human self-understanding.

 

By the 1930s psychology, although divided into warring schools, had become the modish social science of the period. Although fashionable as a treatment for many forms of mental illness, some hitherto unrecognized, as well as for generalized anxiety, psychoanalysis reached almost exclusively a narrow segment of upper bourgeois society in central and western Europe. The Bolsheviks opposed it and it made few inroads in the USSR. Under Nazism it fared little better, although many ‘Aryan’ psychoanalysts, headed by Carl Jung, tried to ingratiate themselves with the New Order. By the end of the 1930s the centre of gravity of the movement had shifted to the United States. The social and cultural impact of Freud’s ideas in Europe, however, was far-reaching, extending into social work, the social sciences, religious thought, the arts, and literature. Like Darwinism half a century earlier, Freudianism permeated the public mind and, in the process, was vulgarized, distorted, and misrepresented. Although primarily concerned with the individual, Freudian concepts were loosely applied to collective behaviour and to ‘mass-man’.

 

In Civilization and its Discontents (1930), Freud himself ventured into the territory of social psychology. ‘Civilization’, he maintained, was ‘built up on renunciation of instinctual gratifications’. The repression of sexuality had reached a high water mark in contemporary western civilization. ‘The standard which declares itself in these prohibitions,’ he wrote, ‘is that of a sexual life identical for all.’ As a result, the sexual life of civilized man was

‘seriously disabled’. The consequences of the inherent human tendency to aggression had led society to restrict sexuality and, further, by means of what he termed a ‘narcissism in respect of minor differences’, to channel hostility against other collectivities, such as Jews or neighbouring states. Given the sacrifices of both sexuality and aggressiveness that civilization demanded, it was hardly to be wondered that civilized man should be unhappy. The aggravated anxiety that seemed to afflict contemporary men, ‘their dejection, their mood of apprehension’, he attributed to the fact that ‘men have brought their powers of subduing the forces of nature to such pitch that by using them they could now very easily exterminate one another to the last man’. Freud was a pessimist who had no faith in the inherent goodness of man but even he could not know how soon, and with what wild abandon, Europeans would cast aside all civilizing inhibitions.

 

—from Bernard Wasserstein, Barbarism And Civilization: A History Of Europe In Our Time (2007)

john gray on the “prozac politics” of the west

Philosopher John Gray: ‘We’re not facing our problems. We’ve got Prozac politics’


The philosopher John Gray is riding high as one of the few thinkers to have predicted the current economic chaos. Here, he tells Deborah Orr how we got into this mess – and how we might get out of it


Interview by Deborah Orr


Saturday, 11 April 2009

It’s universally recognised that some people benefit hugely from recessions. But no one really expects those beneficiaries to be philosophers. John Gray, thus far, has had a fabulous recession, not least because he was one of the few people who forcefully predicted it, notably in his 1998 book False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism. This week, with perfect serendipity, Penguin has published Gray’s Anatomy, a collection of his political writings over the past 30 years. Gathered together, Gray’s essays, articles and reviews offer a very handy historical and philosophical guide to how we all got here, in a hefty, readable slab of glorious prescience.

Gray, who is now 60, withdrew from his sparkling academic career not much more than a year ago, in order to write full-time, and he still gets a bit of a kick from his new-found freedom. He grandly insisted on booking a room in "the Wylie building" for our interview. This, I think, hints a little at pleasure in being represented by Andrew "the Jackal" Wylie, the pre-eminent transatlantic agent of his generation, and a lot at habituation to having well-appointed institutional rooms at his disposal. Gray moved to Bath, with his wife Mieko, a dealer in Japanese antiquities, around the time when he surrendered his most recent post, as Professor of European Thought at the LSE. So the plush Bloomsbury office now serves as a London base.

One might forgive Gray, as he sits in Georgian splendour sporting a rust-coloured corduroy suit, for being a little bit bumptious, and slightly prone to self-regarding cries of: "I told you so." But such egotistical grandstanding would be a betrayal of everything Gray has ever believed in, if he could be accused of ever having "believed in" anything. Gray eschews all "isms", except realism, and he admits, with some shame and an awareness of the dreadful irony of life, that "a surviving element of utopianism in me" presently leads him to hope against hope that realism – and the establishment of a reasonable modus vivendi – might possibly be the coming thing.

Long mistaken for a pessimist, Gray instead has a talent for calling an ideological spade an ideological spade. His intellectual speciality, or his "recurrent habit of enquiry", as he puts it himself, "is to try to identify features of the present moment, which are taken to be unshakeable by conventional opinion and established interpretation, but are not, in order to try to find out the interstices or weaknesses or fragilities". It’s a technique that has served him very well.

However, Gray always does his best to respect the politicians who wield the ideological spades, preferring those who are "willing to get their hands dirty" and involving himself in the think-tanks that nourish them. This guiding principle dictated that he was an early supporter of first "the Thatcher project" and then "the New Labour project", even though many people would argue that one or both of these contributed vastly to our current predicament.

Again, it’s all about realism. It would be wrong to say that Gray has "faith" in politics. But he does think that politics are a much better way of sorting things out than the messier alternatives – war and revolution. He also reserves a degree of disdain for protest politics, not because it never succeeds in getting its point across – Gray fully accepted the evidence of global warming early on, for example – but because he is suspicious of movements that people join in order to find psychological satisfaction and "give meaning to their lives". It is the "meaning-conferring function of political projects" that he identifies as the aspect of them that allows people to get carried away with dangerous fervour.

In the introduction to Gray’s Anatomy, the author declares with some irritation that he has lost count of the number of people who have asked him why he stopped "believing in Thatcherism". He has the good grace to chortle amiably when I facetiously insist on making that my first question to him. Anyway, it’s still a good question, as he concedes himself, because its answer encapsulates pretty much every aspect of Gray’s formative thinking.

Certainly Gray recognised in Thatcher, from the moment she became leader of the opposition in 1975, a politician who was willing to get her hands dirty. But more importantly for him, she was a militant anti-communist, as was he. He dates his interest in Russia from early in his teens, when he began reading Dostoevsky, and credits the hardening of his anti-Soviet, anti-ideological stance to "the enormous influence" of Norman Cohn’s 1957 book The Pursuit of the Millennium.

"Cohn argued that all of the great political movements of the 20th century, including Nazism, were at least partly pathological versions of western religious traditions, in particular apocalypticism. If you talk to most centre-left people, these happy meliorists, these so-called inch-by-inch meliorists, they will say: ‘That may be true of the 20th century and of the extremes of politics but not of us.’ But I always believed that utopian or millenarian or, let’s just say, irrational politics, could break out in democraciesas well." His 2007 book, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, explains how the war in Iraq was one such nightmarish manifestation.

Crucially, Gray considers that one of the signals of incipient pathology is the advent of hubris. Hubris, he points out, entered the Thatcher project when communism collapsed. It was then that it came widely to be dubbed as "Thatcherism" and then that Gray judged it to have disconnected from reality. He recalls seeing Thatcher on television saying, "We are a grandmother," and thinking: "That’s it, then…"

"One of my recurring tests of political reality and of political fantasy is when hubris penetrates not just leaders but an entire organisation," he explains. "Then it’s over. That happened with Thatcher, and it happened with Bush. The key phrase with him was the famous: ‘Are you part of the reality community?’ "

Significantly, Gray’s anti-communism differed in one important aspect from Thatcher’s – and almost everybody else’s. "Far from being pessimistic," says Gray, "I was considered wildly optimistic at that time because I thought communism – a tremendously repressive system of government – would simply collapse. Nearly everyone, including the Foreign Office and Sovietologists, always portrayed it as completely unshakeable. I didn’t think that was true. It didn’t have much internal legitimacy – ever."

So, while Gray fully endorsed Thatcher’s "militant position in the Cold War", he wasn’t utterly surprised when the Berlin Wall suddenly went, like a tower block that had been demolished in a controlled explosion. Except that this was an explosion that few saw the need to control.

"I was horrified by the uncomprehending and stupid western post-collapse policy towards Russia … What were western policy-makers thinking in the Nineties, when Russia went through a demographic crisis? People were dying in numbers unique in modern peace-time. A third of the population went underwater, pensions and life savings went out of the window. What were they thinking would result from that? That was an absolute catastrophe. George Bush Senior, not long after the Wall came down, said: ‘This is a great moment for freedom, but no occasion for triumph. It will be very, very difficult.’ But nobody wanted to hear that.

"It went against the prevailing mood of triumphalism, when Thatcherism turned into a global project. It went against the opportunities for financial gain that presented themselves in the former Soviet Union. It went against the hubris of the time. What was needed was a very light touch, a non-ideological approach, very pragmatic, very flexible, very skilful. Instead what we got was: ‘This is what you’ve got to do. Adopt this wonderful model that we’ve got.’ "

The swaggering hubris of the time gained widespread intellectual legitimacy with the publication of Francis Fukuyama’s essay The End of History, in 1989. Gray was back then contemptuous of what he saw as yet another expression of apocalyptic thinking, and an example of "the domination of the American mind by the liberal ideology that has fostered blind spots in American perception of the real world that have been immensely disabling for policy". While Fukuyama’s theory is now dismissed as an aberration, Gray rightly maintains that its influence was pervasive and baleful.

Anyway, it is now all too obvious that neither global liberal democracy nor global free markets were unstoppable. Gray is quite certain, on the contrary, that they are over, in their present form. He predicts, during the piecemeal process of coming up with a different model, "a relatively long period of sheer survival".

"We are presently in the first phase, not of recession, depression, deflation, inflation – all these sterile debates. We’re in the first phase of the collapse of this type of globalisation, or this phase of globalisation, which will have some features in common with the Thirties but will be different in lots of ways."

Gray admires John Maynard Keynes, and admires the post-war settlement. Why shouldn’t he? From a working-class background in South Shields, he was nudged into grammar school and from there to Exeter College, Oxford, where he studied PPE because its reading list "coincided with the things I was reading anyway". He describes himself as a Butler boy, a child of the post-war settlement. But he doesn’t think that approach will work now. All it provides, he says, "is a staff to lean on" while we work out how to "stop fighting the last battle instead of the one we are in".

"A crucial difference is that America isn’t the industrial powerhouse of the world any more, so reflating America, even if it was possible, wouldn’t get us out of the mess. The Obama administration is essentially rudderless. Gordon Brown did stop the banking system from outright collapse, but that was crisis management, and we’re now at a later stage. Mechanical Keynesianism won’t work, or at least won’t work well in a context in which capital movements and economies are open.

"A semi-open global free-market was created, especially for capital. It has its own features, its own logic, its own dynamism. I don’t think anyone fully understood how it worked or how big it was growing. So then it becomes very difficult to control, because there’s no entity that embraces this economy. Each separate state or entity presents problems without even comprehending what is happening. They all react in different ways as they resolve different issues. The elite oscillates between immediate crisis management, and just dithering, or not knowing what to do, or quarrelling about who is to blame.

"In this early phase of collapse, Brownian rationalist re-regulation at an international level is utterly remote from what is in fact happening, which includes an entrenchment of illegal parts of the economy that are rather globalised. The elements of de-globalisation are: less trade, repatriation of capital, nation state more important. If you’re going to bail out a bank there will be pressure – so far not very effective – for the benefits of that to be felt locally.

"So all these classical features of collapse are present. Which has happened before. This is a normal historical collapse. There was a major collapse in globalisation after the First World War. I’m not saying we are going to have what we had then, because there were a number of malign features then that we don’t have now. We don’t have fascism or communism we don’t have imperialism or colonialism …"

But we do have ecological peril.

"Yes. Industrialisation is still occurring. China still wants and needs 8 per cent growth a year. That requires large energy inputs and so oil prices will go back probably to $80 or more in the next few years. When that happens, will it be against a background of governments having taken various measures to ensure that they develop alternatives to oil? I doubt it. Because most environmental and ecological projects are being reined back because now the immediate imperative everywhere – in the case of China for regime survival even, or in democratic countries just as part of winning the next election – is to try to get the show back on the road. But the reason it collapsed is that it is not sustainable.

"There are no goodies and baddies in this. It’s not just the Russians, the Chinese. It’s also Canada, Denmark, Norway. All saying: ‘We want our share.’ That’s the future. If we had the realism to see that as an ongoing trend, it could be mitigated, the sharp edges could be taken off. We could expect conflicts we might be able to manage better.

"But the actual response, I think, and this is partly to do with the way democracy works and the way the mass-media works, is to avoid confronting these admittedly intractable problems, because there is actually underlying despair. It’s Prozac politics. If you say actually, possibly, we’re past the tipping point for preventing a two-degree change. That’s despair: ‘I can’t get out of bed. I’ll get drunk. I just can’t take it.’ So it’s a very fragile mental resilience we’ve got here.

"But in the Netherlands, they’re giving some land back to the sea, they’re giving some land that was farmed back to nature, they’re building on stilts, they’re creating wildlife passageways – they’re responding. Intelligently. To my mind that’s inspiring. Just take the emerging consensus of scientists and respond.

"Realism is a necessary condition of serious politics and serious policy-making. And realism isn’t popular. Because what many people are looking for in politics – including green politics at the moment, is a meaning for their lives. If you say to people: ‘We can’t move to a world in which we don’t have either nuclear or fossil fuels. That’s impossible,’ they will say, ‘That’s not impossible, not if we all want it.’ But many countries don’t want it. Russia’s not going to do it. Venezuela’s not going to do it. Iran’s not going to do it. Their wealth and power depend upon fossil fuel. ‘Well, we can do it,’ they’ll say.

"And when you push it, it comes down to a kind of symbolic expressive function whereby even if the effect of certain policies – like moving towards wind power – is to be forced back to coal, then it doesn’t matter, because the purpose of the policy is not actually to effect a real-world change but to keep the spirits up.

"The search for a narrative which confers meaning on people’s lives and shows them to be part of a larger, meaningful picture, is to my mind a legitimate and deep-seated human need." For that reason Gray scorns Richard Dawkins, and the whole idea that if people turned away from religious belief, the world would be "better".

"The search for meaning is dangerous when it spills over into politics. It’s not only dangerous when it produces the communists, the Jacobins and the Nazis, but also in the context of democratic or liberal meliorism, because it creates a preference for policies which satisfy this need for meaning rather than have an actual effect."

Gray sees the present collapse as an inevitable consequence of the human condition, and particularly the human belief that somehow industrialisation is progressive, and can become wholly benign, for everybody. "Humans don’t always adapt well to industrialisation, but pretty much all humans want the benefits of industrialisation. They want clean water, they want long lives, they want warm rooms, and, let’s be frank, they also want a high-stimulus environment. I can’t imagine what life is like in an immobile village in the medieval period. But it would be a very low-stimulus environment, in which people are stuck. There’s no room for romantic nostalgia here.

"Yet all forms of industrialism are on one hand attractive to humans and on the other intolerable to them. Partly, that’s their revolutionary character. It is in the nature of industrialisation that markets rise up and disappear because new technologies rise up and disappear. So whole industries vanish, with some of the ways of life that are associated with them. People have to move or change their skills, or find other things to do. It’s not a transition to a stable state. It’s permanent change.

"It’s not really about capitalism. Industrial civilisation itself is inherently dynamic and revolutionary. I think Marx got that right. That’s partly what human beings like about it. That’s what’s attractive. What’s unattractive is that it is very difficult to reconcile its actual operation with the human needs for security and stability. People do want security and stability. But they also want possibility and thrills. They do want happiness, but they also want excitement, which is quite different. And these are ubiquitous human conflicts."

Gray remains a fan of the 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill: "Not his utilitarianism, not his belief in progress, not his Victorianism – but his eclecticism. He took things from different systems of thought. The truth about human civilisation is very unlikely to lie in some single form. Which he understood."

Yet specialisation is another change that has been ever-increasingly wrought by industrialisation. Very few people on the planet now can really claim to be intellectual generalists yet still have a grasp of "the detail". Gray suggests that there are one or two people who manage to achieve a useful overview. He is complimentary about Nassim Taleb, the writer and hedge-fund manager who also anticipated the crash. But he is, like many others, a bit cross with the "experts" of Wall Street and Canary Wharf, who didn’t read Keynes or Galbraith – or even Ayn Rand – until they got their redundancy bonuses.

"The type of economic thinking that went on up to and including Keynes – which was not that long ago – doesn’t happen any more. Political economy. Adam Smith. Lectures on jurisprudence. Theory of Morals. And so on. David Ricardo. Marx came out of that tradition.

"Economics wasn’t seen as a separate discipline concerned with mathematics and the ability to model it. It was seen as a historical discipline connected with history, connected with morality, connected with the analysis of the nature of the human mind. And that went on right up to Keynes, who was a sophisticated kind of guy, founder of the Arts Council and so on, but who also wrote a treatise on probability, read all the philosophers of his day, was an investor, liked to go to Deauville and have a flutter.

"The post-war settlement did last a long time and was a benign settlement, predominantly … But the way economics has developed … it has cut loose from history, even from the history of economics, let alone the history of economies … the loss of the past, of the sense of history is a very profound development."

It’s slightly weird talking to Gray, because I find I agree with absolutely every word he says. I’m not sure whether we are just on the same wavelength, or whether, over the years, he’s had such a profound influence on my world-view that I’m just a little John Gray thought-clone. However, since that’s one question that Gray is quite unable to answer, I fear that I cannot answer it either.

—from The Independent:  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/philosopher-john-gray-were-not-facing-our-problems-weve-got-prozac-politics-1666033.html

hazlitt’s school had a curriculum four times more comprehensive than that of similar school today

"A girl I know, taken to Paris to broaden her mind, which needed it, though she was doing brilliantly in examinations, revealed that she had never heard of Catholics and Protestants, knew nothing of the history of Christianity or any other religion. She was taken to hear mass in Notre Dame, told that this ceremony had been a basis of European culture for centuries, and she should at least know about it — and she dutifully sat through it, rather as she might a tea ceremony in Japan, and afterwards enquired, ‘Are these people some kind of cannibal then?’ So much for what seems enduring."

 

What Has Been, Can Be Again

 

Upon Receiving the 2001 Prince of Asturias Prize in Literature in Madrid


Once upon a time, and it seems a long time ago, there was a respected figure, the
Educated Person. He — it was usually he, but then increasingly often she — was educated in a way that differed little from country to country — I am of course talking about Europe — but was different from what we know now. William Hazlitt, our great essayist, went to a school, in the late eighteenth century, whose curriculum was four times more comprehensive than that of a comparable school now, a mix of the bases of language, law, art, religion, mathematics. It was taken for granted that this already dense and deep education was only one aspect of development, for the pupils were expected to read, and they did.

 

This kind of education, the humanist education is vanishing. Increasingly governments — our British government among them — encourage citizens to acquire vocational skills, while education as a development of the whole person is not seen as useful to the modern society.

 

The older education would have had Greek and Latin literature and history, and the Bible, as a foundation for everything else. He — or she — read the classics of their own countries, perhaps one or two from Asia, and the best known writers of other European countries: Goethe, Shakespeare, Cervantes, the great Russians, Rousseau. An educated person from Argentina would meet a similar person from Spain, one from St. Petersburg meet his counterpart in Norway, a traveler from France spend time with one from Britain, and they would understand each other: they shared a culture, could refer to the same books, plays, poems, pictures, in a web of reference and information that was like a shared history of the best the human mind has thought, said, written.

 

This has gone.

 

Greek and Latin are disappearing. In many countries the Bible, and religion — going. A girl I know, taken to Paris to broaden her mind, which needed it, though she was doing brilliantly in examinations, revealed that she had never heard of Catholics and Protestants, knew nothing of the history of Christianity or any other religion. She was taken to hear mass in Notre Dame, told that this ceremony had been a basis of European culture for centuries, and she should at least know about it — and she dutifully sat through it, rather as she might a tea ceremony in Japan, and afterwards enquired, “Are these people some kind of cannibal then?” So much for what seems enduring.

 

There is a new kind of educated person, who may be at school and university for twenty, twenty-five years, who knows everything about a specialty (computers, the law, economics, politics) but knows about nothing else — no literature, art, history — and may be heard enquiring, “But what was the Renaissance, then?” “What was the French Revolution?”

 

Even fifty years ago this person would have been seen as a barbarian. To have acquired an education with nothing of the old humanist background — impossible. To call oneself educated without a background of reading — impossible.

 

Reading, books, the literary culture, was respected, desired, for centuries. Reading was and still is in what we call the Third World, a kind of parallel education, which once everyone had, or aspired to. Nuns and monks in their convents and monasteries, aristocrats at their meals, women at their looms and their sewing, were read to, and the poor people, even if all they had was a Bible, respected those who read. In Britain until quite recently trade unions and workers’ movements fought for libraries, and perhaps the best example ofthe pervasiveness of the love for reading is that of the workers in the tobacco and cigar factories of Cuba whose trade unions demanded that the workers should be read to as they worked. The

material was agreed to by the workers, and included politics and history, novels and poetry. A favorite of their books was The Count of Monte Christo. A group of workers wrote to Dumas and asked if they might use the name of his hero for one of their cigars.

 

Perhaps there is no need to labor this point to anyone present here, but I do feel we have not yet grasped that we are living in a fast fragmenting culture. Pockets of the old excellences remain, in a university, a school, the classroom of an old-fashioned teacher in love with books, perhaps a newspaper or a journal. But a culture that once united Europe and its overseas offshoots has gone.

 

We may get some idea of the speed with which cultures may change by looking at how languages change. English as spoken in America or the West Indies is not the English of England. Spanish is not the same in Argentina and in Spain. The Portuguese of Brazil is not the Portuguese of Portugal. Italian, Spanish, French, grew out of Latin not in thousands of years but in hundreds. It is a very short time

since the Roman world disappeared, leaving behind its legacy of our languages. One interesting little irony about the present situation is that a lot of the criticism of the old culture was in the name of Elitism, but what is happening is that everywhere are enclaves, pockets, of the old kind of reader and reading and it is easy to imagine one of the new barbarians walking by chance into a library of the old kind, in all its richness and variety and understanding suddenly what has been lost, what he — or she — has been deprived of.

 

So what is going to happen next in this tumultuously changing world? I think we are all of us fastening our seat belts and holding on tight.

 

I drafted what I have just read before the events of the 11th September. We are in for a war, it seems, a long one, which by its nature cannot have an easy end. We all know that enemies exchange more than gunfire and insults. In this country, Spain, you know this better perhaps than anyone. When feeling gloomy about the world I often think about that time here, in Spain, in the early Middle Ages — in

Cordova, in Toledo, in Granada, in other southern cities — Christians, Moslems, Jews, lived harmoniously together: poets, musicians, writers, sages, all together, admiring each other, helping each other. It went on for three centuries. This wonderful culture went on for three centuries. Has anything like it been seen in the world? What has been, can be again.

 

I think the educated person of the future will have a wider basis than anything we can imagine now.

 

— Doris Lessing

 Doris Lessing wins Nobel Prize in Literature, 2007