• CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2008

    This thread is for discussions about Page 63 of the online edition of The Golden Notebook, and the readers' comments. Please show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.

    • CommentAuthorKirsten
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2008
    It seems strange that so much has been written in the margin for this page, but so little has been posted in the forum. Let's change that, shall we? Naomi brought up the article in Telegraph on fiction (which I too thought of as I read this section) and she quotes: "Storytelling is one of humanity's oldest methods of possessing information and representing reality. The stories, poems and plays we categorise as literary fiction were once accepted in much the same way that scientific discourse is received as authoritative today."

    I took this to be a reflection upon the role of author within a given discourse, rather than a statement of fact worthy of resistance ("aaaaaaaargh"). That brief quotation was not long enough to flesh out such a claim, and it may be worth investigating. We can throw a little Foucault in here for context. <a href="">He writes:</a>

    <i>There was a time when the texts we today call "literary" (narratives, stories, epics, tragedies, comedies) were accepted, put into circulation, and valorized without any question about the identity of their author, their anonymity caused no difficulties since their ancientness, whether real or imagined, was regarded as a sufficient guarantee of their status. On the other hand, those texts we now would call scientific - those dealing with cosmology and the heavens, medicine and illnesses, natural sciences and geography - were accepted in the Middle Ages, and accepted as "true," only when marked with the name of their author. "Hippocrates said," "Pliny
    recounts," were not really formulas of an argument based on authority; they were the markers inserted in discourses that were supposed to be received as statements of demonstrated truth."</i>

    We can talk all day about the idea of "truth" in "fiction," but let's talk about this book specifically. Do we read this as a period piece, or do most of Lessing's characterizations of so-called women's issues live on today? Are we reading this book as past or present? Are women of different generations approaching it differently? Are there certain topics that have weathered the years better than others?

    I'm not sure Lessing is right to say "the function of the novel seems to be changing; it has become an outpost of journalism" - though there is a strong case to be made for this. The recent success of books like <i>The Kite Runner</i> (cited in the article Naomi links), which raise awareness and <a href="http://kenyonreview.org/blog/?p=1019">general empathy</a> to current social issues, seems to demonstrate a market for fiction that serves a purpose akin to journalism; in publishing, it seems likely that "timely" books gain sales when the news reinforces the idea that the topic of a book is relevant (it's funny that we rely on current events for <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/16/AR2008111602374_pf.html">book publicity</a>).

    But Lessing's sentence continues, "We read novels for information about areas of life we don't know," and I don't think current events are the only areas of life we'd like further explained. Surely there are more mysterious matters we want authors to investigate and represent, places where journalism just can't go.

    On the other hand, we're examining this book in terms of its relevance, judging whether it can be understood and embraced beyond a certain historical moment. I believe it is still intellectually and emotionally relevant, even if the scientific advancements (like the prospect of women being able to freeze their eggs) and newspaper headlines (as in the blue notebook, where Anna pastes in lines about the war) function less as an "outpost of journalism" than an archive of specific attitudes and fears in a single era. Journalism could arguably serve a similar archival purpose, but many articles seem too short to build the sort of intellectual and emotional complexity that might be presented in the form of a novel. As Naomi began to point out, the brief quotations in <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/3391740/Novels--better-at-explaining-worlds-problems-than-reports.html">this article</a> can scarcely engage with the question of the role of "truth" in fiction, and the authority of the author of a fictional narrative. But it is a lovely way to begin our own conversation.

    (Naomi asks whether passages from Lessing's novel are true, or just stated boldly. What kind of authority does Lessing have as an author? Do we take these as "statements of demonstrated truth"? Do they reflect or contradict the experiences of women in my/the younger generation? I hope we can continue to discuss fragments of a text to try to answer this question.)