Friday, July 27, 2007

doris lessing




"Briefing For a Descent Into Hell" is one of Doris Lessing's masterpieces. Her incredible versatility has been manifested in a number of volumes that range from direct realism to an almost science fiction approach. This novel could be considered a somewhat sci-fi project, although she named it as part of her "Inner Space Fiction" works. (Already hinted at in her monumental "The Golden Notebook", a classic that tackles problems such as feminism, psycoanalysis, and marxism). The imbricate plot departs from the look inside the mind of a man who is supposedly crazy, monitored by psychiatrists in a mental institution. They try different drugs on him, while he travels through the seas... The incredible efforts they make in order to decode his personality and identity is donde in the novel through several tecniques (Dialogues between doctors and patient, collection of letters from several people the patient has known in his life -we later learn he is a Professor from Cambridge University-, etc).

"You will wake up, as it were, but there will be a period while you are waking which will be like the recovery from an illness, or like the emergence into good air from a poisoned one. Some of you may choose not to wake, for the waking will be so painful, and the knowledge of your condition and Earth's condition so agonising, you will be like drug addicts: you may prefer to continue to breath in oblivion. And when you have understood that you are in the process of awakening, that you have something to get done, you will have absorbed enough of the characteristics of Earth-men to be distrustful, surly, grudging, suspicious. You will be like a drowning person who drowns his rescuer, so violently will you struggle in your panic terror" (133).

Next, a letter sent to the psychiatrist, providing more data from the perspective of a student. This is what she says:

"While his remarks may have been scattered, there was an inner logic to them, a thread, which sounded at first like a repetition of certain words or ideas. Sometimes it seemed as if the sound, and not the meaning of a word or syllable in a sentence, gave birth to the next sentence or word. When this happened it gave the impression of superficilaity, of being 'scatty' or demented. But we have perhaps to begin to think of the relation of the sound of a word with its meaning. Of course poets do this, all the time. Do doctors? Sounds, the function of sounds in speech... we have no way yet of knowing--have we?--how a verbal current may match an inner reality, sounds expressing a condition? But perhaps this sort of thought is not found useful by you" (220).

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