Doris Lessing and the Nobel Prize

Usually after I post a particularly “down” blog entry, I get concerned emails from friends and family. It’s nice, knowing there are 1) people out there that care about me; and 2) people out there that actually read this blog. Thank yous all around.

After a moderately gloomy and relatively cynical music-industry-vs.-art conversation with Amanda in our kitchen, she emailed me some sobering words used by author Doris Lessing in her lecture for winning the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature:

We have a bequest of stories, tales from the old storytellers, some of whose names we know, but some not. The storytellers go back and back, to a clearing in the forest where a great fire burns, and the old shamans dance and sing, for our heritage of stories began in fire, magic, the spirit world. And that is where it is held, today.

The storyteller is deep inside everyone of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is attacked by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise . . . but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us – for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.

It’s a hopeful message, but it’s interesting how the media is only reporting on how winning the Nobel Prize has rendered Ms. Lessing incapable of writing. That the media frenzy surrounding the prize is exhausting and, well, they just won’t stop bothering her about it.

So I went and read her entire Nobel lecture, which can be found here. It is a long ride, with a great range of poignant emotion. In one section I found a comforting universality on the desecration of art through publicity, popularity and fame:

Let us now jump to an apparently very different scene. We are in London, one of the big cities. There is a new writer. We cynically enquire: “Is she good-looking?” If this is a man: “Charismatic? Handsome?” We joke, but it is not a joke.

This new find is acclaimed, possibly given a lot of money. The buzzing of hype begins in their poor ears. They are feted, lauded, whisked about the world. Us old ones, who have seen it all, are sorry for this neophyte, who has no idea of what is really happening. He, she, is flattered, pleased. But ask in a year’s time what he or she is thinking: “This is the worst thing that could have happened to me.”

Some much-publicised new writers haven’t written again, or haven’t written what they wanted to, meant to. And we, the old ones, want to whisper into those innocent ears: “Have you still got your space? Your soul, your own and necessary place where your own voices may speak to you, you alone, where you may dream. Oh, hold on to it, don’t let it go.”

It’s so hard for some to “hold on,” especially — if I may, apply this to music — with the way we consume music. Because it is an art that must be recreated live, performed and communicated with others, and how do you convince musicians that art is something that is true and pure if they don’t believe in art that way? When so often the worth in what you are doing can appear intangible if nobody is “talking” about it; if someone else isn’t telling you how amazing you are? Art is art, and regardless of the medium, if you like it then you have to hold on to it, tightly — either as consumer or creator — wheedling the life out of it just to bring some happiness and redemption into your own.

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