On being foreign (it cuts both ways)

According to Jock Mccullock, writing on Colonial Psychiatry and the African Mind, “Doris Lessing’s quintet The Children of Violence … depicts Zambezia (Southern Rhodesia) as the most claustrophobic of societies.’ ( p 3).

It is interesting that Doris Lessing considered colonial society the most “claustrophobic”.  From personal experience of such a society I would say that for my parents generation there was some degree of truth to that, although “colonial society” is not that different from the rural British societies of the early 50s.  On the other hand, I am a bit wary of the degree to which those who want a cheap way to make themselves appear to be sophisticated and culturally knowledgeable tend to knock colonialism in order to score their social points.

Kristeva’s writing offers an alternative perspective: that a different culture may seem claustrophic just because one wasn’t born there. I see myself in this, but I also see the ideological “anti-colonials”, who are a formidable force.  She says:

Like a child that hides, fearful and guilt, convinced beforehand that it deserves its parent’s anger. In the world of dodges and shams that make up his pseudo-relationships with pseudo-others, hatred provides the foreigner with consistency. Against that wall, painful but certain, and in that sense familiar, he knocks himself in order to assert, to others and to himself, that he is here. Hatred makes him real, authentic so to speak, solid, or simply existing. Even more so, it causes to resound on the outside that other hatred, secret and shameful, apologetic to the point of abating, that the foreigner bears within himself against everyone, against no one, and which, in the case of flooding, would cause a serious depression. But there on the border between himself and others, hatred does not threaten him. He lies in wait, reassured each time to discover that it never misses an appointment, bruised on account of always missing love, but almost pleased with persistence — real or imaginary? — of detestation. (Strangers to Ourselves, p 13).

Could the claustrophobia Lessing experienced upon entering colonial society have been derived, at least in part,  from her sense of her own foreignness rather than being something completely objective, as she wants to imply?  I suspect there was a bit of subjectivity at work.

Lessons in Lessing

Dear Diary

Yesterday I did read various articles and extracts on and by Doris Lessing, yesterday.

I’d be interested to read more of the word of Ms Lessing. She does seem a little strident at times, but her analyses of social interactions may prove to be quite insightful. I’m also amazed at the apparent similarities between Virginia Woolf and Lessing. They both wanted to change society along more female-friendly lines.[editorial note:  I’m not sure what what insight led me to write this].

Suffice it to say that there are moments of insight in Lessing, but I’m not sure how politically contrived or psychologically likely — which is to say, how true to typical human developmental processes — they are. It is more than interesting that the social objectification of the young female, which she points to here: http://www.readinggroupguides.com/guides/martha_quest-excerpt.asp resonates with my own observations concerning myself here: am I a chair?