To be strictly accurate, her latest book is set among a race of pre-people, as they emerge fumblingly into what we might think of as people-hood. Pieced together by a Roman historian from ancient records that are themselves the compilation of different strands of oral testimony, The Cleft is the story of our earliest ancestors, a slow-moving, semi-aquatic race of females. Lessing claims that the book was inspired by a scientific article in which it was asserted that the basic and primal human stock was probably female. They seem to lack the solidity of women, who seem to be endowed with a natural harmony with the ways of the world
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The questions that Lessing especially does not want to hear are, What is the story really about? What does it mean? In other words, we must take her stories at face value and see them as just that works of her imagination, nothing more. After finishing The Cleft, however, it seems impossible not to ask those questions. These scrolls are based on an oral tradition handed down through the ages.
Suppose our ancestors were females, Clefts, born in the sea, inseminated and nurtured by it. He dwells on gender and family issues in both time frames and invokes more questions. Are females inherently strong, maternal care-givers? Are males basically competitive, irresponsible dreamers? One of the main themes of The Cleft is that history is by nature subjective. It all depends on who is writing the history books. We all know that in the telling and retelling of an event, or series of events, there will be as many accounts as there are tellers.
Yet, he admits p. So, here is my question, not for Lessing, rather for her readers, for myself. Why Rome? Why is the fable of the Clefts and the Monsters set against the backdrop of the Roman Empire in all its glory?
Why is the story told by a man who despises the coliseum and its gory, violent rites, yet who admits to a voyeuristic, visceral thrill each time he attends? What is the significance of the Eagle, present in the ancient myth of the Clefts as protector of the males, as well as a revered species of Rome?
I think of my two poor sons, lying somewhere in those northern forests. Rome has to outleap itself, has to grow, has to reach out…Why should there ever be an end to us, to Rome, to our boundaries? Subject peoples may fight us, but they never can stop us. I sometimes imagine how all the known world will be Roman, subject to our beneficent rule, to Roman peace, Roman laws and justice, Roman efficiency…Some greater power than human guides us, leads us, points where our legions must go next.
And if there are those who criticize us, then I have only one reply. Why, then, if we lack the qualities needed to make the whole earth flourish, why does everyone want to be a Roman citizen? Lessing has said that if she wants to write about a subject or situation, she does just that.
Women and children first
The questions that Lessing especially does not want to hear are, What is the story really about? What does it mean? In other words, we must take her stories at face value and see them as just that works of her imagination, nothing more. After finishing The Cleft, however, it seems impossible not to ask those questions. These scrolls are based on an oral tradition handed down through the ages. Suppose our ancestors were females, Clefts, born in the sea, inseminated and nurtured by it.
The Cleft (2007): Doris Lessing
The Cleft is his translation of this document, with his comments and occasionally a modest bit of autobiography. Somewhere, sometime, creatures like a cross between women and walruses, called Clefts, heaved about on a seashore and had babies. They conceived by an unspecified mechanism of parthenogenesis, since there were no males. They did nothing but wallow, give birth, suckle and occasionally sacrifice a young female by pushing her off a high rock, also called the Cleft. It was an idyllic life.