Doris Lessing takes on … pretty much everything and everyone, and also gives some great reading advice


I was talking with someone the other day, I can’t remember with whom, and we were talking about mainstream education, standardization, norms, etc. And I was reminded of something Doris Lessing wrote in the introduction to The Golden Notebook, talking about critics and their inability to write what they really think and to consider works of literature in any other way than as in comparison to other works of literature. She expands what she says into a deeper criticism of the factory model of education and the competition and value judgments it encourages. She writes:

It is not possible for reviewers and critics to provide what they purport to provide — and for which writers so ridiculously and childishly yearn.

This is because critics are not educated for it; their training is in the opposite direction.

It starts when the child is as young as five or six, when he arrives at school. It starts with marks, rewards, “places,” streams,” stars — and still in many places, stripes. This horserace mentality, the victor and loser way of thinking, leads to “Writer X is, is not, a few paces ahead of Writer Y. Writer Y has fallen behind. In his last book Writer Z has shown himself to be a better writer than Writer A.” From the very beginning the child is trained to think in this way: always in terms of comparison, of success, and of failure. It is a weeding-out system; the weaker get discourages and fall out; a system designed to produce a few winners who are always in competition with each other. It is my belief — though this is not the place to develop this — that the talents every child has, regardless of his official “IQ,” could stay with him through life, to enrich him and everybody else, if these talents were not regarded as commodities with a value in the success-stakes.

The other thing taught from the start is to distrust one’s own judgement. Children are taught submission to authority, how to search for other people’s opinions and decisions, and how to quote and comply.

Continue reading…    


I’m in a reading mood this week more so than writing, which is slightly inconvenient because I’ve got an essay deadline on July 30 and another deadline for a project proposal at the end of this week. But I’m not overly worried about getting them done, so for today at least I’m going with the flow.

On my list are some old favorites that I feel a push to reread (again, for the tenth time):

The Storyteller: Reflections on the Work of Nikolai Leskov, Walter Benjamin

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf

Free Time, Theodor Adorno (starting on p. 187)


Work schedule

Thinking a bit these past two weeks or so about rhythms of productivity in my research and writing: Since late April or so I’ve felt a kind of …. I don’t want to say lack of motivation, because it’s not that. My cohorts and I are shifting into a phase of hyperproductivity, to be expected as we’re on the brink of summer, so a lot of my time and mental space has been going into our collective work, which is linked with my research. And I’ve been plodding along on knitting the world’s most time-consuming scarf, and making bread a couple times a week, and working in the garden, and reading plenty. All of this, though, I’m doing without the same sense of urgency that I felt earlier in the year. I’m taking my time. It’s like entering a phase where you can’t handle much more mental input, and you aren’t quite in a phase of giving output, instead swimming about in that in-between time of reflection and rest. Maybe we could call it winter.

I’ve got taped to the wall above my desk several things that make me feel happy and inspired while I’m working: old photos of my grandmothers, a tiny Rhode Island flag, an epic manifesto that Mas and I wrote over a couple too many gin tonics a few Christmases ago… One of the artifacts is Henry Miller’s writing schedule (most of the points applicable to other kinds of creative work), and I think I like it so much because there’s both strictness and leniency to it — it demands personal discipline but also makes room for periods of winter.



1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.

2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”

3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

4. Work according to program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time.

5. When you can’t create you can work.

6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.

7. Keep human. See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

8. Don’t be a draught-horse. Work with pleasure only.

9. Discard the program when you feel like it — but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterward.

That’s all for now. I’m going to go work specifically on Numbers 1, 3, 6, 8, 10.


More links + call for submissions

To read: Work and Idleness in the Age of the Great Recession – a special issue of Periscope


Essays on Frugal Abundance: Degrowth: Misinterpretations and Controversies, part 1 of 4 (Serge Latouche, via the Simplicity Collective)


Urban Backyard Food Production as a Strategy for Food Security in Melbourne, Australia (Permaculture Research Institute)

Also, veering quite a bit off topic but it’s via a friend and the context of the journal is interesting: a call for submissions to Project Freerange


Heraclitus, the old pre-Socratic philosopher, said that you cannot step into the same river twice.

Sensuous and fluid yet powerful, raging and unforgiving – from Styx to bottled water, from great lake to babbling brook, from poetic vessel to trade route, water exists in a myriad of states and is characterized by its many forms and expressions, its imaginative potential and raw impact upon life on earth. Its changeable nature and ability to hold contradictions (it is both life-sustainer, provider of food and abundance yet bearer of disease and destruction) has leant water to art, metaphor, songs, philosophy, literature, science and a myriad of other disciplines. Revered in religious and cultural practice, yet continually degraded by industry and human activities, water has a symbiotic relationship with cities, politics and of course, pirates.

Freerange thought it was time to pay tribute to the most abundant substance on earth, the universal solvent. Water shapes landscape; it creates and reflects history. It defines where civilisations have established themselves and has forced them to move (whether through diversions, dams or rising sea levels). It has appealed to pilgrims, explorers, scientists, philosophers, weather forecasters, town planners and swimmers. And now with rising sea levels, pollution, increasing reports of natural disasters, water criminals, water degradation and privatisation, water is set to be the definitive resource of time to come.

So we are calling for submissions on the big issue for our next issue: Freerange Vol. 9: The Wet Issue.  We want to hear your thoughts, experiences and artistic expressions on water: from holy water to mythical flood, from ice cap to desert, from Moby Dick to naiads, from Atlantis to Venice, from resource to privatisation.

Some things to think about: Poseidon, armadas, treasures, foreshore and seabed, watery graves, climate change refugees, erosion, purification, Old Man and the Sea, astrology, battles on it and battles for it, tropical storms and big snows, river highways, irrigation, tears, Shackleton…..

Please send your abstract of 100-200 words by April 1 .