Re-membering the Future

Doris Lessing's 'Experiment in Autobiography'

in Critical Survey
Author:
Aaron S. Rosenfeld Iona College arosenfeld@iona.edu

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Doris Lessing's The Memoirs of a Survivor (1974) straddles various genres typically shunted off into the category 'science fiction' or 'speculative fiction'. Partly a dystopia, partly an apocalyptic text, and partly, in her own words, 'an attempt at autobiography,' the novel is difficult to classify. Indeed, the novel sparked disappointment and confusion upon its initial publication in 1974, with critics taking Lessing to task for exchanging the realist rigor of her earlier works for vague mysticism, and for producing a confusing work that alienated the reader. In fact, to call it a novel at all is something of a contradiction. Speculative fictions do not address the new; they address the future - the 'proleptic analepse of future history,' in the words of Bernard Duyfhuizen. And yet in the twentieth century we have embraced a number of future histories - from Zamiatin's We (1924) to Orwell's 1984 (1948) to Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (1963) to the experimental postmodern fictions of J. G. Ballard - as landmark novels. At the simplest level, these texts offer a critique of how we live and who we are now. Though they may not exactly be novels in the technical generic sense, we recognize that they speak in and to the present, if not of it.

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