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So, I was recently referred to Doris Lessing's acceptance speech for a Nobel Prize in Literature, and on one hand it's a touching story of how people from impoverished areas in India and Africa continue to read literature and try to 'educate' themselves even under adverse conditions such as lack of potable water, or exterme poverty.

But are all forms of knowledge useful when your basic needs are not being met?

One of the women in her speech is pregnant "with two kids clutching at  her legs', and a house with insufficient plumbing, and she is reading Anna Karenin.  She goes on to say that such treasures of literature are being discovered in these poor regions, and that we in the richer regions are not appreciative of these great works... 

Her ending quote:

"That poor girl trudging through the dust, dreaming of an education for her children, do we think that we are better than she is – we, stuffed full of food, our cupboards full of clothes, stifling in our superfluities?

I think it is that girl and the women who were talking about books and an education when they had not eaten for three days, that may yet define us. "

Hmmm.  I think that reading great literature is fine, but if I had two hungry children, with another along the way, and no plumbing...  I would go out to find a way to feed my children, and get some decent plumbing.

The basic necessities of life are not 'great stories' from dead authors.  They are still food, clothing, shelter and then love.

Perhaps I am being too sensitive, but I think Ms. Lessing's priorities are upside down.

I, for one, am grateful for the farmers, and the plumbers, the carpenters and the electrical engineers.  The people who do the work to make life so easy that we can read books leisurely without worrying how are basic needs will be met.

Jonathan Starr

Posted on Monday, December 17, 2007 8:54 PM Critique , Personal , Language , Politics | Back to top

Comments on this post: Doris Lessing and Why Literature is Overrated

# re: Doris Lessing and Why Literature is Overrated
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Thanks for looking my blog up... I am trying to add something to the community...

Wishing you the best in your new job

Left by Jonathan Starr on Dec 23, 2007 1:03 PM

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