I have been paying my respects to Doris Lessing this week and, in so doing, I have found for the first time in months a book that taunts, provokes and captures mood, attitude and life in exquisite detail and depth. It paints a picture, haunting and harrowing, of black and white life in the South African veldt. It is ‘Singing in the Grass’. I first read Doris Lessing when I was 15. I am so glad to be reading something again that has a voice which is intelligent, astute and describes so explicitly, but with such subtlety, the strictures that society lays upon the individual. Of course Doris Lessing describes the horrors of apartheid, but the perils of inequality, injustice thrive in society still as shown in Philip Doherty’s Play, The Circus of Perseverance, which I went to see this week in Cavan. Philip picks up the same theme: the coping mechanisms of ordinary people living within structures and strictures imposed by society. The play is good: witty, colourful and frenetic, and it was brilliantly performed. Today the books and plays I read or see are different to Lessing’s writing. The shape is different. They reflect a more piecemeal approach to life, but also have a worldly tone which is cynical. Maybe this reflects the schism and conflict between globalisation and individual responsibility. But, I guess, maybe this schism has always been there between the state and the individual…now it’s just growing. Maybe now, it’s less of a schism and more of a growing, unwieldy amoeba with ever lengthening tentacles which I know is a contradiction in terms. Maybe that’s my point.
Also this week, I have been working on an interesting Peace III funded project, writing up the experience and learning of people from Fermanagh and Cavan who have been meeting and learning about each other’s experiences of the Troubles in the border region. It never fails to amaze me, however many books I read, how difficult it is for people, every single one of us, to be truly at ease with difference, to live with people who have different views without feeling uncomfortable. In the past and still today, people go to war to defend beliefs structured and delineated by the society they live in, even if they are unsure that what they do is right (The German mini series, Generation War on RTE 2 at the moment is interesting in this respect). Forty years ago, The Grass Singing captured perfectly the delineations and veils society imposes on human nature. Today, The Circus of Perseverance shows the resilience of people left at the mercy of capitalist society. So this week I have been privileged to meet ordinary farmers and small business people in Cavan and Fermanagh prepared to challenge themselves, and their views by listening to each other and learning and in so doing look to alter our natural instinct to judge others according to our own familial and society’s values.