As you will have heard by now, Doris Lessing has won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature:

“that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny”.

Most people seem pretty happy. But not Harold Bloom:

American literary critic Harold Bloom called the academy’s decision “pure political correctness.”

“Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable … fourth-rate science fiction,” Bloom told the AP.

Anyone out there feel like writing an assessment of Lessing’s sf for Vector?

11 thoughts on “Nobel

  1. From that Guardian article ‘This afternoon I asked a group of 24 first-year English Literature undergraduates which of them had heard of Doris Lessing (not read, just heard of). Only six of them raised their hands.’ *shakes head more in sorrow than anger*

  2. I’m actually rather ecstatic right now because of the fact that she wrote SF. Bloom can go to hell as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been dealing with this preconceived notion that SF or F is lesser fiction now that I’m at a University and taking actual literature courses from people who have PhD’s in lit. It’s disgusting really. People like Bloom cling to this old-age, archaic thinking that SF or F cannot be real literature, despite the fact that SF, if anything, comprises some of the most relevant and important works in the literary world.
    So, screw Bloom and his antiquated thinking, and congrats to Lessing!

  3. Oops, as a side note to what the person above me said. Most people haven’t a clue who winds the Nobel anymore. I can only name two Nobel winners for literature–Gunter Grass and Andre Gide–and both of those I only know because my teachers this quarter told me. I might pay more attention to the award now that Lessing has won simply because apparently SF is gaining a little momentum. But to be honest I’ve never found anything that won the Nobel worth my time.

  4. >Anyone out there feel like writing an assessment of Lessing’s sf for Vector?

    I’m afraid not, Niall. However, I do have an almost uncontrollable urge to lock Harold Bloom in a room with the complete Chronicles of Gor and not let him out until he’s read them all. He should fully understand what fourth-rate science fiction is before he accuses a Nobel Laureate of writing it.

    I wonder what Naomi Wolf makes of Bloom’s claim that the decision is “pure political correctness” . . . ?

  5. I suspect I would say the same of many of the previous Nobel Laureates.

    A short reading list from SFnal mags, in no way complete
    Bazin, Nancy Topping. “Madness, Mysticism, and Fantasy: Shifting Perspectives in the Novels of Doris Lessing, Bessie Head, and Nadine Gordimer.” Extrapolation 33 (1992): 73.

    Carter, Nancy C. “Shamanism in a Threatened World: Doris Lessing’s Briefing for a Descent into Hell.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 2.3 (1990): 5-13.

    Fishburn, Katherine. “Doris Lessing’s Briefing for a Descent into Hell: Science Fiction or Psycho-Drama?” Science Fiction Studies 15.1 (1988a): 48-60.

    Greenland, Colin. “The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five by Doris Lessing.” Foundation 20 (Oct 1980a): 97-98.

    —. “Shikasta by Doris Lessing.” Foundation 19 (June 1980b): 64-66.

    Hayles, N. Katherine. “Review of Lorelei Cedarstrom, Fine-Tuning the Feminine Psyche: Jungian Patterns in the Novels of Doris Lessing.” Science Fiction Studies 19.1 (1992): 131-133.

    Howell, Yvonne. “Review of Stephen Baehr Lessing, The Paradise Myth in Eighteenth-Century Russia: Utopian Patterns in Early Secular Russian Literature and Culture.” Science Fiction Studies 20.1 (1993): 125-127.

    Jacobs, Naomi. “Beyond Stasis and Symmetry: Lessing, Le Guin, and the Remodeling of Utopia.” Extrapolation 29 (1988): 34.

    —. “The Frozen Landscape in Women’s Utopian and Science Fiction.” Utopian and Science Fiction by Women: Worlds of Difference. Ed. Jane L. Donawerth and Carol A. Kolmerten. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1994. 190-202.

    Leith, Linda. “Review of Mona Knapp, Doris Lessing.” Science Fiction Studies 13.2 (1986): 220-222.

    Mathew, David. “Mara and Dann by Doris Lessing.” Foundation 79 (Summer 2000): 110-113.

    Mosier, M. Patricia. “A Sufi Model For the Teacher/Disciple Relationship in the Sirian Experiments.” Extrapolation 32.3 (Fall 1991): 209-221.

    Perrakis, Phyllis Sternberg. “The Marriage of Inner and Outer Space in Doris Lessing’s Shikasta.” Science Fiction Studies 17.2 (1990): 221-238.

    —. “Reviews of Jeanette King, Doris Lessing and Jean Pickering, Understanding Doris Lessing.” Science Fiction Studies 19.1 (1992): 95-99.

    —. “Review of Margaret Moan Rowe, Doris Lessing.” Science Fiction Studies 22.2 (1995): 291-293.

    Roberts, Robin. “The Paradigm of Frankenstein: Reading Canopus in Argos in the Context of Science Fiction By Women.” Extrapolation 26.1 (Spring 1985): 16-23.

  6. I’m not sure that Bloom is one of those academics who think that SF and F can’t be real literature. In his book The Western Canon, Bloom includes titles by Mervyn Peake, John Crowley, Ursula LeGuin, and Tom Disch.

  7. Like Ted says, you’re doing Bloom a bit of a disservice. He’s expressed his admiration for the likes of Crowley and Disch. Also, while I like it that she’s absolutely out front about writing SF, Lessing’s ‘Canopus in Argus’ stuff has always looked pretty impenetrable to me, too. Iain R. Banks’s Culture novels – to name another writer working similar themes – aren’t going to get any competition from Lessing.

  8. Bloom also thinks that John Crowley’s book Little, Big is one of the great books of the latter 20th century, and is writing an introduction for a special edition of it. One of his favorite books is Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, which he has not only read hundreds of times (he says), but has also written what seems to be essentially a novel-length work of SF fanfic about, The Flight To Lucifer. So whatever Bloom’s problems with Lessing, I don’t think you can put them down to dislike of SF in general.

  9. Andrew: of course, most of those are inaccessible to most people reading this…

    Ted: I can’t see any reason to mention science fiction in that sentence except as an intensifier, though. If her writing is fourth-rate, it doesn’t matter what kind of fourth-rate it is, you can stop there, surely?

    A brief defence of Lessing’s sf here, and one Dr Roberts’ thoughts here. And, of course, Lessing’s reaction to the news she’d won here.

  10. Speaking in the abstract, I can imagine describing a work as exemplifying the worst of SF, not because SF is bad, but because it’s a more specific statement than saying the work exemplifies the worst of fiction.

    I don’t know how significant it is that Bloom mentioned science fiction when criticizing Lessing’s work. I just think the statement should be considered in the context of what else Bloom had said and written. On, it looks like he’s written introductions to SF novels and reading guides to SF for young adults, which is something I can’t picture, say, Jeanette Winterson doing.

  11. Harold Bloom seems to have made a habit of denigrating anyone who wins a literary award without his approval (see his reaction to Stephen King’s win awhile back, for example).

    Maybe we should just give all the literary prizes to Shakespeare…

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