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Excerpted from Open Democracy:
Doris Lessing: the Sufi connection
MUGE GALIN 12 October 2007

 ... A fundamental concept in Sufism is the idea of the seeker having direct access to God, with no intermediary; that is, inner transformation can only be experienced, not discussed. An equally central notion is the idea of developing a person's potential (as Lessing stated in a lecture on Sufism: "Man is woefully underused and undervalued, and he doesn't know his own capacities.")

These and other Sufi tenets informed such works as The Four-Gated City (1969), The Memoirs of a Survivor (1974), and the Canopus in Argos: Archives series (1979-83), among others; Lessing applied them to the lives of her characters, holding out the possibility of individual and global transformation and amelioration. Sufism was the resource that enabled her both to develop her vision of the earth and (in her experimentation with space fiction) to extend it to the universe. Here, by adapting traditional narrative methods (such as tales and fables) to modern fiction, Lessing discovered a creative vehicle to examine the layers of the human soul and to warn humanity that it is running out of time unless we "work" to develop ourselves.


 In this sense, Lessing fulfils a complex role, which combines the discipline of the novelist with the more ancient one of a message-bearer. This requires her to infuse her story-telling with a demand that both her fictional characters and her readers "surrender" to a higher will than their own, in a process that entails uncompromising independence (as in her oft-quoted injunction: "Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself").

There is rigour and risk here as well as compassion. Lessing's understanding of humans and their life-force - especially the belief that humans evolve through stress - means that she regards even war and natural calamity, even threats of nuclear catastrophe or a new ice age, as the raw material of human survival and growth. This deep commitment to human evolution in the broadest sense is as much biological as spiritual. It has enabled her to remain detached - to think for herself - the better to connect, and thus to illuminate the world and inspire her readers to undertake the difficult task of engaging in the "work" to develop their own capacities. The Nobel award is a just recognition of Doris Lessing's unconfined, protean achievement.


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