On books and writing and education

December 16, 2007

Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize speech is a wonderful and impassioned plea for the importance of education and telling our stories. In her speech she talks about illiteracy and the lack of books in Africa and compares the passion for learning with our comfortable complacency here – which is particularly apt at this time of the year.

The storyteller is deep inside everyone of us. The story-maker is always with us. 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, the storyteller, 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, what we are at our best, when we are our most creative.
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?

She’s not a fan of the time spent surfing and wonders

How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc?

But of course the irony is, that blogging and social media have become important ways of telling stories – and Lessing’s words will permeate many imaginations by virtue of bloggers picking up and sharing what she has to say. But I take her point – I love books – I love the kinaesthetic experience of holding a document in my hands – and while others herald paperless books – they miss the point. Reading is not a delivery mechanism, it’s an emotional and spiritual experience and that can certainly be enhanced by the digital revolution but not supplanted by it. Unlike Lessing I’m hopeful about the future of literature, and the book, and can only hope that digital and traditional ways of telling stories can continue to co-exist.

And we, the old ones, want to whisper into those innocent ears. “Have you still got your space? Your sole, your own and necessary place where your own voices may speak to you, you alone, where you may dream. Oh, hold onto it, don’t let it go.” There must be some kind of education.