July 31, 2020   |   by admin

This is the first volume in the series of novels Doris Lessing calls collectively Canopus in Argos: Archives. Presented as a compilation of documents, reports. Jul 22, Shikasta, the first in what would become five science fiction novels by Doris Lessing, begins with a journey in to the pre-history of the planet. Nov 18, Doris Lessing takes risks, but does not play games. One does not turn to her books for humor or wit or playfulness, nor will one find in them any.

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It forces us to look into the depths of the apocalyptic lessingg washing round us. It forced me, at least, to remind myself that all predictions of a worldwide cataclysm have so far turned out to be false. Until just lessin other day, however, such predictions were engendered not by material evidence but by heated imaginations.

From the Book of Daniel to the Book of Revelation, from the revelations of quakers and shakers to ghost-dancing Indians and cargo-cultic New Guineans, from the Son of Man to Charles Manson, apocalypse has been a pathos, a hunger, a wish, an expression of unendurable grievance or grief rather than a reasoned conclusion. It has been a desire parading as fear, yearnings disguised as warnings.

The giveaway, of course, is the accompanying fantasy of a saving remnant of the virtuous, among whom the predictor is prominent. The Days of Wrath, so apocalyptics tell us, will eliminate the bad guys and elevate the good guys, sole possessors of a pastoral paradise regained. But it is no longer just the crack-brained who imagine a global disaster slouched waiting for us to turn the next corner. Nothing short of a disaster, after all, is likely much to reduce the disastrous world surplus of births over deaths.

You don’t hear much talk anymore of a shikzsta government emerging to make peace and keep it, or to distribute resources so that everyone has enough and stays satisfied with it. Remember when even smart people used to think we would outgrow the murderous fanaticisms of nationalism and religion?

When was it 20 years ago? Ah, for the good old days, three decades back, when we children of violence could deny we were chips off the old block!

Shikasta by Doris Lessing | : Books

And then there is the bomb. My complaint, then, is not that Doris Lessing’s new novel the first of a tetralogy is a forecast of doom. She has been forecasting doom for a long time, now, ever more insistently these last dozen years or so. And she has had her reasons, those enumerated above.

My complaint, rather, is that our Grand Mistress of lumpen realism has gone religious on us. Her reasons are no longer historical but astrological. The great diagnostician of what ails us has become a symptom of it. At the turning point of her first novel “The Grass Is Singing,” the protagonist is finally able to look at herself “without a shadow of false hope, as honest and as stark as truth itself. In that same first novel the author asks rhetorically”What is madness but a refuge, a retreating from the world?


In Doris Lessing could say and point to her fiction as proof she meant it that “the realist novel, the realist story, is the highest form of prose writing. The sometime humanist, champion of responsibility, dramatist of modern humankind making and unmaking itself, the radical individualist who used to say that “what is dangerous is the inner loyalty to something felt as something greater than oneself,” has become a religious totalitarian.

Now, through her mouthpiece, the archangelic Johor, she tells us that “to identify with ourselves as individuals–this is the very essence of the Degenerative Disease. The great galactic empires in question are the benevolent Canopus, its ally Sirius and its rival Puttiora, from which criminals escape to colonize Shammat, planet of evil.

The novel is in the form of a primer for “first-year students of Canopean Colonial Rule,” dooris collection of documents, reports, diaries, letters, case studies, synoptic histories and explanatory notes, all relating to the planet Shikasta, which its inhabitants call Earth.

The story these documents tell is this; When, as a result of prolonged radiation from an exploding star in Andar, the proto-human inhabitants of Shikasta first show the potential of developing into “a Grade A species,” Canopus moves to absorb it into its empire. It incorporates Shikasta into the Lock, a network of emanations, a cosmic dance a radiation of SOWF, the “substance-of-we-feeling” that holds the Canopean empire together, doing good. Not only were there giants on earth in those days, there were also the Little People, from Sirius, who taught crafts to the slow-witted Natives, and a good time it was.

Harmonious vibrations from the shining and symmetrical cities, sjikasta to receive astral currents, drew animals to the suburbs, where lions lay down with lambs, for they, too, were vegetarian. The eight-foot-tall Leasing could each look forward to years of unrelieved health, virtue and happiness.

But then a disaster occurs, unexpected even by the omnific Lessihg sudden malalignment among the stars. The flow of SOWF is radically diminished. From then on, until after the lessng perhaps 10, years later, everything goes downhill.

Without that substance-of-we-feeling, Shikastans gradually become as we now are: We are vicious, but not to blame.

Her mood is like that of St. Augustine when he told the women who had been raped by barbarians not to worry: Most of the documents in “Shikasta” deal with the Penultimate Time and the Wrath, the second half of this century, that is.

Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta

It is a time of general breakdown and chaos, of revolution, terrorism, random slaughter and atomic warfare; of famine, epidemic and natural catastrophe; of poisoned air, contaminated water, death rays and deadly sound impulses; of paramilitary youth gangs, of a Chinese takeover of Europe, of such destruction that finally nothing remains “alive across continents but an occasional diseased animal, a demented child.

The malalignment becomes benign. There is once again enough SOWF to go around. The survivors instinctively rebuild their cities on the pattern of the First Time. They are once again healthy, virtuous and happy. From the First Time to the Last, Shikasta is busy with thousands of emissaries from outer space, which in this novel is a metaphor for religious or inner space. Envoys from Canopus bustle around on errands of mercy; those from Sirius engage in “breeding experiments”; those from Shammat sow discord and fatten on evil.


The busiest of the Canopean envoys is Johor, from whose reports we get much of the action.

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He is on the scene to decide who deserves to survive the Deluge a “useful means for separating the superior from the inferior” and to survive the Time of The Destruction by space ship of Cities, among them Sodom and Gomorrah. During the Wrath, incarnate as George Sherban, he works for “the preservation of adequate representative genetic material. Doris Lessing endorses Johor entirely for the wages of sin is deathbut not his old friend Taufig, who falls, through “pride,” to Shikastan enticements, becomes a lawyer, a figure in world politics, Satan’s realm.

He redeems himself during the Wrath when he teams up with Johor to save the white race from extermination by justly enraged third-worlders. Such, then, is Doris Lessing’s angelology. I disapprove of this novel, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it. This is not the first book of Doris Lessing’s to succeed, sometimes brilliantly, in spite of the author’s manifest intentions.

Once again, the natural storyteller triumphs over the prophet. Besides, there are ways of leaping interest transcendence that enable you to see what is transient more clearly, as in the theosophical excursions of D.

Doris Lessing’s satire has never been sharper, particularly of neo-Marxist jargon and the pretentions of the powerful. Chen Liu, the humane and cultured Governor-General of Europe, who in his letters home to Peking tries hopelessly to justify mercy on the grounds of expediency but still wastes no time in ordering the execution of troublemakers, is one of Doris Lessing’s best creations.

And her old secular realism would not have allowed for the scenes in Zone 6 where souls await reincarnationwhich have the eerie beauty of ancient Gnostic texts. It would not have allowed her glance to swivel so effortlessly back and forth in time and space.

But the new unearthly perspective reduces the size of her earthlings. Their fates too often seem beneath our concern. And that is sufficient reason in itself to regret that reality has grown soft for Doris Lessing, whose other main characters seldom failed to move us, one way or the other.

In describing the outlook of decent humans during the Penultimate Time, she finds words, I believe, for her own: His novel “Confessions of a Lady- Killer” has just been published.