Sunday, November 17, 2013

Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

Noting here the passing of Doris Lessing at a delay; this is written some time after the date of her passing on November 17. She touched quite a few members of our family over the years. My own encounter with Lessing took place quite late—when Daughter Michelle gave me Shikasta as a present. Eventually I read the entire series, titled Canopus in Argo: Archives. I’ve not read any of her other seventeen novels. I view the Canopus series as really meaningful fiction, call it science fiction. A major idea, present in that whole series is, SOWF. As for what that means, let me reproduce here the last two paragraphs of a post on another of my blogs (link):

In her science fiction novel, Shikasta, Doris Lessing tells the story of a galactic empire, but of a different kind. Multiple planetary settlements have taken place over many eons from the star system Canopus, in the constellation of Argos. All kinds of species have been, as it were, planted, and they are evolving. Sustaining their evolution is an energetic emanation called Substance-Of-We-Feeling, abbreviated SOWF. It isn’t necessary for simple survival, but it is what sustains harmonious development. All is well for a long, long time—but then the emissaries from Canopus notice that something very troubling has taken place. An unexpected cosmic realignment causes the flow of SOWF to thin. Another empire, Canopus’ enemy, Puttoria, attempts to exploit this situation. A degenerative disease begins to affect settlements, among them Shikasta (read Earth); it’s not a physical disease; it is the higher levels—spiritual life, community life—that are affected.

The story of Shikasta, of course, merits interpretation as a new or as a renewed revelation—this one emanating from Sufi roots. Doris Lessing was associated with the Sufi teaching projected by Idries Shah from Britain. When I first read Shikasta, I had to smile when I encountered SOWF; to me it was an obvious reference to Sufism; later I discovered that others had had much the same thought. Lessing’s series of novels, collectively known as Canopus in Argos, is the framing of a cosmology in modern terms, thus accessible to a secular and technological age. SOWF functions as Grace—a gift, a source of higher nutrition, regenerative, as Webster’s has it. Lessing’s intent, to be sure, is far from suggesting that God is a distant galactic civilization. The effect of her, alas, very difficult fiction is to make such ideas of a conscious and meaningful cosmic plan—in which, as it were, energetic emanations like Grace play a vital role—visible to modern minds and, when thought about, illuminative of ancient and by now moribund structures of belief we’ve come to dismiss as backward superstitions.

Farewell Doris Lessing. Your journey continues.

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