I’m ashamed to say that I succumbed to the headlines about Doris Lessing’s Nobel Acceptance Speech, ‘Lessing slams the inanities of the Internet’, they shouted, even in the Guardian, which published the speech in full. Before going off to read the whole speech as soon as I had time and attention to do it justice, I’d already been annoyed by the quoted sentiment and shared that annoyance with a few friends on my patch of the Internet, which, I feel – well, I would, wouldn’t I? – is an exceptional patch, where scathing generalisations don’t apply, where like-minded souls publish poetry and stories of the highest quality and have long, thoughtful discussions.
My annoyance and frustration remain: the frustration I feel with literate, deep-thinking friends who assume the Internet is not for them and don’t understand or believe that what I find there is something very different from the rush-from-link-to-link ethos they’ve heard about. It is a shame. Given time, and the persistence of a wide variety of online spaces, some of them may change their minds. Some, I expect, will never feel attracted to interaction via a humming metallic machine whose screen dazzles and tires the eyes. That’s understandable. And more than understandable if Doris Lessing, in her very old age, continues of the view that she has better things to do.
Now I’ve read the whole of what she wrote, I know the Internet is not the story here. The wretched story is that negativity makes good headlines and a provocative phrase that many readers will take personally makes a better news hook than powerful reportage of suffering elsewhere and a clear-eyed, frightening look into the future.
Now I’ve read the whole of it, I think she did herself and all of us proud, used the worldwide platform of her acceptance speech to say some things that really, really matter, and to say them as powerfully and beautifully as only a very great writer can.
We are a jaded lot, we in our world - our threatened world. We are good for irony and even cynicism. Some words and ideas we hardly use, so worn out have they become. But we may want to restore some words that have lost their potency.
… 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.
Indeed, those who wrote the headlines about her speech are a jaded lot.