Who we become when disaster strikes: Doris Lessing's The Making of the Representative for Planet 8/felaket bizi vurdugunda kime donusecegiz: Doris Lessing'in 8. Gezegen adli eseri.
The residents of Planet 8 are disoriented, and with good reason. Evolutionary change is so gradual as to be imperceptible to the subject, but the cataclysm which threatens the planet leaves relatively little time for adaptation. (2) Disorientation becomes a tool, whether for the residents of Planet 8 or for the reader, by which Lessing hopes to create a space in which to look at things differently, to think more objectively by avoiding the simple, reflexive formulas of day-to-day routine. (3) Lessing makes frequent use of such destabilizing situations, and Muge Galin (in a discussion of Lessing's interest in Sufi philosophy) relates this technique to Sufi teaching stories:
The Sufi teaching story aims to shake the audience's existing worldview to such a point that one stops looking at the world through any single lens. The story allows for no fixed points of reference, daring its audience to transcend rational boundaries. It aims gently to remove blinders, to show a greater picture of reality. (103)
The mental space thus created will, hopefully, allow for more critical, objective thinking, free from the "common sense" of everyday life and the influence of ideological inculcation. It is this sort of "disorientation" which is necessary if the teachings of Canopus are to be understood by the people on Planet 8, in order to comprehend the master plan of which Planet 8 is only a small part:
Solidity, immobility, permanence--this was only how we with our Planet 8 eyes had to see things. Nowhere, said Canopus, was permanence, was immutability--not anywhere in the galaxy, or the universe. There was nothing that did not move and change. When we looked at a stone, we must think of it as a dance and a flow. (Planet 8, 26)
Viewed as such, the fate of Planet 8 does not mean the death of a planet and its inhabitants, but a transition to another state of being, which in turn will evolve into yet another state of being (see 151-152). Rather than signal a cataclysmic final event, such transitions, Henri Lefebvre reminds us, always create new spaces (58), and Lessing's novel ends with a similar situation, a frozen world which is not dead, but changing into something else: "a swirl of gases perhaps, or seas of leaping soil, or fire that had to burn until it, too, changed ... must change ... must become something else" (161).
Planet 8 is a colonial planet, managed down to the smallest detail by the mother planet, Canopus, from its very inception: "Everything on Planet 8 that had been planned, built, made--everything that was not natural--was according to their specifications. The presence of our kind on the planet was because of them: because of Canopus. They had brought us here, a species created by them from stock originating on several planets" (11). This space has been created and set aside for them, since the arbitrary beginning of the history of Planet 8, and had never been questioned. Canopus's authority is derived through the logic of precedence, in the role of creator, in much the same way that religious or parental authority is established, with a corresponding control over the subject's environment, in other words, manipulation of time and space. The first time the residents do question the colonial power is when the emissary Johor tells them that they must build an enormous wall (without explaining why), though this period of "rebellion" is short-lived. If, in the past, the residents of Planet 8 have made the mistake of seeing their world as the centerpiece of human existence to which they identify, very soon they will make a similar microcosmic error, by seeing the wall and the space it defines as the central focus of their identity: "This wall had become our achievement, our progress, our summing up and definition" (13), as well as the implicit promise that Planet 8 has a future (18). Although the wall has taken up all of the spare time and surplus resources for a generation, its value, both real and symbolic, is not universally accepted; it is referred to as a "useless wall" (13), and later the residents admit to themselves that they have no real faith in the wall to protect them (22). They have invested much of themselves in something in which they ultimately have little confidence, and by extension their sense of stability regarding "where I stand," in other words their relation to the whole, has been shaken from its foundation.
This spatial metaphor of "position" can profoundly affect the subject's identity, since social position is often reified in the same way as social or economic class, for example (see Judith Butler 43, as well as Pierre Bourdieu 264). The residents of Planet 8 have begun to better realize that the continuing existence of their world is threatened, and despite the catastrophic consequences for the current population, this phenomenon (at least on a cosmic scale) is really quite ordinary. The mundane nature of the death of a planet does not lessen their suffering, however, as they are corralled into a smaller space by the wall, into which humans and animals must fit: "into where we were crowding, massed, jostling together, with so much less of food and pleasantness that our former selves, our previous conditions, seemed like a dream of some distant and favoured planet that we only imagined we had known" (22). The wall, of course, is not the only physical element which is transforming the available living space, as the snow has been falling in large quantities, enough to bury the wall (47) or to crack it in places (130; 135). This sudden climactic change alters the residents' conception of time as well, giving a sense of urgency to their situation, since "time" no longer seems endless, and to their living space too, giving rise to rapid adaptation in order to confront the harsh conditions. Clothes, houses and diets must be modified, agricultural practices altered to correspond to short growing seasons, and even the species of animals have changed, favoring large, furry creatures better able to withstand the cold (17; 19). The constraints of limited time have also created a feeling of guilt among the older members of the population, ashamed as they are about the lack of a proper inheritance for the next generation:
Our fault it was not; but we felt that it was. We were learning, we old ones, that in times when a species, a race, is under threat, drives and necessities built into the very substance of our flesh speak out in ways that we need never have known about if extremities had not come to squeeze these truths out of us. An older, a passing, generation needs to hand on goodness, something fine and high--even if it is only in potential--to their children. And if there isn't this bequest to put into their hands, then there is a bitterness and a pain that makes it hard to look into young eyes, young faces. (37-38)
As space becomes more and more crowded and food supplies more scarce, as time seems to be running out, the residents of Planet 8 become different people, their individual and collective identities evolving as a strategy for survival--exposure to new conditions creates these new people (see Theodore R. Schatzki 54)). In a discussion of the global expansion of capitalism, Anthony Giddens too speaks of time and space not simply in terms of the locus of social activity, but in terms of social change: "The interconnection of time and space can be explored in terms of the participation of social actors in cycles of social activity as well as at the level of the transformation of society itself" (179-180). As rates of intolerance, selfishness and violence rise, one recognizes the status quo which Lessing warns against--another strategy for survival is possible, as is seen later in the novel, and the difficult process of the death of a planet and its people becomes the training ground, the preparation, the "making" of the representative who learns another way to carry the promise forward.
If conflict seems to be a universal aspect of social life, even in times of relative peace and prosperity, the residents of Planet 8 now have to struggle more than ever before, among themselves and in relation to their colonial masters. As has been mentioned, the imminent catastrophe has circumscribed the population in terms of time and space--the snow no longer melts, living space has become crowded, food has become scarce, all of which stresses these people to breaking point. Among themselves, competition for scarce resources has meant an increase in violence and civil disobedience, and the necessity of committing administrative resources to deal with the problem:
Not long ago we had one Representative for the Law. Now there were several, because the tensions and difficulties made people quarrel where they had been good-humoured. It had been, before The Ice, a rare thing to have a killing. Now we expected murder. We had not thieved from each other: now it was common. Once civic disobedience had been unknown. (34)
Certain people have gone well beyond civic disobedience, having formed armed clans and declared war on other villages, forcing entry into scarce housing (59-60), and to resolve the problem clans and even families have been divided, dispersed by the Representatives into whatever shelter is available (61). Food riots, too, have become the norm (57). The fear of anarchy is strong among these people, as they grudgingly obey the directives, and for the first time the Representatives realize that they have no real means of forcing their will on the population--they've never had to think about it before, relying as they have on the universal acceptance of Canopus's symbolic power (61). The cold, starvation and violence have become so bad that death has become routine, even welcome in some cases, and the residents feel guilty about the ease with which a death is recorded now:
A child died, and we all knew we might be thinking secretly: So much the better; what horrors is it going to be spared, this unfortunate one! [...] And we know we were thinking: One less mouth to feed. [...] when a species begins to think like this about its most precious, its original, capacity, that of giving birth, of passing on an inheritance, then it is afflicted indeed. (57)
This affliction of an entire species signals a change in its self-perception, a change in how these people see themselves, especially in terms of their collective identity. The interests of the whole group have begun to erode, in favor of division into smaller, competitive, even predatory groups. In the struggle for survival, once again we see the status quo re-established among the population, a reaction based on fear and uncertainty regarding the future. These residents are also uncertain about their current relationship with Canopus, their colonial masters, and their largely powerless position leaves them waiting, vacillating between hope and despair.
"But where was Canopus?" is the question on everyone's mind (56), as they scan the skies waiting to be rescued by a fleet of spaceships. Waiting is an important element in the struggle for survival, waiting for a rescue that may never come, heedful of Canopus's command "to stay alive for as long as you can" (88), waiting to die. The people have become "a passive huddling population, sullen with inactivity" (62), wondering about the future and ruminating about who they had become:
Why did [Canopus] delay so, and make us wait and suffer and wonder, and doubt our survival? Make us disbelieve in ourselves and in them? What was the reason for it? [...] Yes, they had warned us, and made us prepare ourselves, and they had prescribed our barrier wall, and they had taught us how to change our habits--it seemed sometimes as if this was a change to our very beings, our inner selves (62-63)
And when Johor, the emissary of Canopus, finally does come, it is with the message that, still, one must wait (69-70). Episodes of hope, often seemingly unreal hope, alternate with despair among this population, even among the Representatives. As they come to realize that Canopus cannot, will not, come to rescue them, at least not in the way they expect (63; 71; 78), the residents of Planet 8 still, officially, expect a rescue and clear away snow from the tundra, so that the space fleet can land (104; 107-108). This waiting, this hope, this despair, is part of the formative struggle as the residents' identities evolve in the midst of catastrophe:
It is a very remarkable thing how ideas come into a mind, or minds: one minute we are thinking this or that, as if no other thought is possible to us; shortly after, there are quite different beliefs and possibilities inside our heads. Yet how did they get there? How do they arrive, these new notions, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, dispossessing the old ones, and to be dispossessed, of course, soon enough in their turn? I knew [...] changes were going on inside them that they were not conscious of. (142-143)
If identity is a continuous, unfinished process based on the subject's current environment, salvation too, reminds Johor, is not freely given by Canopus, but earned by those who suffer, those who struggle (83), and as the population dwindles and those who remain sink further and further into despair, lethargy and sleep, Representative Doeg's task is to mediate between the hopelessness of the people and the requirements of Canopus:
yet, in spite of the despondency and despair which every one of us now felt, and knew we all felt, it was necessary to confer, to measure our situation, and to rouse those slumbrous dazed ones who could not or would not rouse themselves. But what for? [...] And while we could see no sense in it, even a sort of cruelty, since the sleep and the lethargy were for protection, and because the people did not want to face what was happening--we had to do what [Johor] wanted. What Canopus wanted ... (132)
During this forced transition, this phase of resisting withdrawl from their dire situation, Planet 8 has become very quiet, first because the population seems to be always listening, expecting some news or information, and later because of the despair which has become the rule. Even the animals have left, to die (150). "Populations under threat," Lessing's narrator reminds us, "know silences that they understand nothing of in lighthearted times" (48-49). We must also remember, as the Representatives learn, that silence does not signal the end ("le silence n'est pas la fin," see Henri Lefebvre, 137).
Johor's ultimate goal, and the ostensible reason for all of the waiting, despair and formative struggle, is to teach the residents of Planet 8 that they are part of "an overall plan. A general Necessity," an idea which is not so easily received (28). Through the struggle, "they" and "we" are evolving, crossing once-distinct boundaries as collective and individual identities change and develop, a mutation between the Representatives and those whom they represent. Collective and individual, or universal and specific, seem to merge into a unitary identity which refuses classification into distinct categories:
The thought in our minds was that they were being changed by what we were forced to do; that we were being changed by their being made to stay alive when they would so very much rather have drifted away from our common effort into death. (136-137)
Identities change, and are replaced by others, and none of this seems unusual to the Representatives of Planet 8, who seem to understand that identity is in large measure a performance (and like all performances, temporary, based on needs as defined by the current context), as Liz Bondi reminds us: "the notion of identity as process, as performance, and as provisional" (97). Relatively early in the novel, one learns that while Representative Doeg is most often Doeg, he has at different times been Klin, Marl, Pedug and Masson, as the need has arisen (77), and a bit later, while complaining to Johor that one person is made to represent many, many others, Doeg feels "now familiar pressures, the announcement deep in myself of something I should be understanding" (89). Although he does not understand every detail of the universe and his place within it (and never will), the fact that Doeg recognizes that he should be understanding something is already a sign of deepened perception. Alsi, the animal-keeper, also changes her identity as a function of necessity, for the good of the group, and does so at Johor's request without thinking it odd; indeed, she has done so recently, in order to correctly record certain elements of their plight for the history annals which they plan to leave behind (117). Memory is the trace left by lived experience, and Doeg has a central role in this all-important element of identity:
It seems to me more and more impossible, wrong, that the actual doing of a thing, the living it, has as its shadow so fleeting and faint a record: memory. And I ask myself more and more, is this why we need Doeg? What is Doeg but an attempt, and even a desperate and perhaps a tragic attempt, to make the faint coloured shadow, memory, stronger? Give our memories more substance? Is that what Doeg is--and why you want me, now, at this time, to be Doeg? (122)
Doeg, of course, is only one example of Lessing's concern with questions of memory. Much of her work, especially in the Canopus in Argos: Archives series, deals with memory, and the role of memory in identity formation, the recollection of things which seem unimportant to those involved, as well as the fallibility and impermanence of memory. If memory remains a personal, individual affair, it rapidly becomes useless, lost to others in the community and even, given its fragile nature, lost to the individual. Memory in a general sense, or memories in the plural, more concrete sense, are useful only when they become collective, and are then recorded (in written or oral form) and passed along to the next generations; if not, each succeeding generation is condemned to repeat the same errors as it re-learns from scratch what previous generations have already experienced. Such re-evaluation of memory is the purpose of Johor's interview with Doeg, and the questions of collective identity which come up in the wake of this critical self-examination, an "identity analysis" of sorts as a means of achieving greater understanding, which Doeg demonstrates after coming out of "the time of deep inward pondering which I was not able to monitor or direct, for it had its own laws and necessities" (110).
First, Doeg remembers, his recollection moving from physical characteristics and genetic happenstance to insight regarding the big picture of what he calls "me-ness" :
I remember how the thought came into me that I, Doeg, was in the shape I am, with the features I have, because of a choice among multitudes. [...] all there is of you, of your memories, of your life, of your loves, of your family and children and your friends--all that there is this little feeling, here I am, the feeling of me--and yet it is not mine at all, but is shared, it must be [...] Meeting me, they do not know that I share what they are, their feeling of themselves; and I, meeting them, being with them, cannot know that we are the same. [...] a multitude of individuals thinking themselves unique, but each making, as we could see with our superior supervising eyes, a whole, an entity, moving as one, living as one, behaving as one--thinking as one. (110-112)
If, following Doeg's example, identity is often defined as relatedness and as difference, it is a difference within what Michael Keith and Steve Pile, discussing Laclau, call "located difference within a relational field" (see Michael Keith and Steve Pile, 28). Identity, especially what might be considered individual identity, is never possible outside of the larger social context: "Identity depends on conditions of existence which are contingent, its relationship with them is absolutely necessary" (Laclau, 21). The message for the residents of Planet 8 seems rather simple, namely that the context must be considered in the largest possible sense, although understandably those who receive the message are overwhelmed by it. Further, if identity requires an arbitrary closure (in the case of small social groups, for example, or the concept of "me"), this closure is much harder to achieve in the seemingly-infinite network of identity relations proposed by Lessing's novel (see note 4). (4) Closure is always arbitrary and artificial, and only seems to work if the "big picture" is ignored. Keith and Pile use the example of a photograph of a galloping race-horse to illustrate closure; it is a real picture, but ignores the possibility of movement (28). It is precisely this movement which must be encouraged if the Representatives are to understand their identity as fluid, dynamic and relational, and by necessity, always incomplete. The totalizing process of identity formation is, in Lessing's work, always a positive goal which can, at least theoretically, be achieved after much guided reflection and struggle; the key word is of course "process," striving toward an ideal but never quite reaching an absolute notion of truth, a traveller who never stops moving to say "here I am." A similar idea, exploited differently, is Frederic Jameson's notion of cognitive mapping, which treats the "world space of multinational capital" (54), and Keith and Pile go further, explaining that:
Cognitive mapping is in some senses recognized to be both unimaginable and impossible; it attempts to steer between Scylla and Charybdis, between an awareness of global processes and the inability to grasp totality. Nevertheless, it is also meant to allow people to become aware of their own position in the world ... (3).
Awareness of their position in the world, or in Lessing's space fiction, awareness of their position in the universe, depends on an understanding of their relation to and interdependence on others. In other words, what is being proposed is a strategy to resist identity closure, to strive toward a relational and representational identity in the largest sense without falling into the trap of the status quo, namely the formation of identity based on competitive, predatory groups, based on fear and distrust. Like Alsi of the novel, a subject who wants to transcend the barrier is asked to "accommodate the impossible" (119), to subscribe to a concept of totalizing identity.
If the residents of Planet 8 are overwhelmed by the immensity of the universe and their implication within it, their real initiation to accommodating and imagining the impossible is when Canopus delivers to them a sort of microscope, which changes forever their perspective and removes any stable reference points which they may have had:
But then there was a change, and it was when you, Canopus, brought the instrument that made small things visible--yes, Canopus, that was when a certain kind of naturalness and pleasantness ended. [...] we saw the substance of our bodies, and found that it vanished as we looked, and knew that we were a dance and a dazzle and a continual vibrating movement, a flowing. Knew that we were mostly space, and that when we touched our hands to our faces and felt flesh there, it was an illusion. (123-124)
Difficult though it may be, these people are learning new ways of seeing, and by extension new ways of thinking. They continue their learning process, becoming each other and freely exchanging identities as need be, asking themselves the continual question, "what am I, who am I, and what is my name? Or, what was our name?" (143-147). As they take the symbolic step of crossing to the other side of the wall, they cross as well the final barrier to understanding who they are, for physical death provides them with "new eyes" with which to perceive the universe, and the first thing which they notice is the beauty of the snow crystals which surround them, the same snowflakes which smothered Planet 8 (156). Although they are physically dead, they still exist; like Planet 8, they have passed from one state of being into another, a transition rather than a passage from life to death:
... if we had lost what we had been, then we were still something, and moved on together, a group of individuals, yet a unity, and had to be, must be, patterns of matter, matter of a kind, since everything is--webs of matter or substance or something tangible, though sliding and intermingling and always becoming smaller and smaller--matter, a substance, for we were recognizing ourselves as existent; we were feelings, and thought, and will. (158)
As the Representatives are swept up and away, the question is still hovering, "Who went? And what was our name?" (159).
Ultimately, Canopus has kept its promise, by rescuing the core identity of the people of Planet 8, the collective, representational essence of identity stripped of what can now be seen as superfluous. Human bodies, an enormous wall, even the planet itself have revealed their impermanence and mutability, as identity is shown to transcend the need for such material anchors, continuing to exist as a collective "me / we" even in their absence. "We, the Representative, many and one" (161), have been taken to Canopus to continue the process of instruction and growth, since even the residents of Canopus are never really at their final destination; the movement of identity never stops. The residents of Planet 8 have completed an especially difficult phase in their voyage toward understanding, passing through the predictable roles that we recognize, as members of competitive groups founded on fear. While none with their "old eyes" could have foreseen the result of their struggle and hardship, none with their "new eyes" would have refused the journey. New ways of seeing have resulted in a different conception of identity, away from a geographical form of social relations toward a sense of universal identity where individual and collective are inseparable, indifferent to the evolution of the material world, freed from the constraints of the status quo.
Bondi, Liz. "Locating Identity Politics." Place and the Politics of Identity. Eds. Michael Keith and Steve Pile. London; New York: Routledge, 1993. 84-101.
Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives. Eds. Craig Calhoun, Edward LuPuma and Moishe Postone. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (originally a Polity Press publication), 1993.
Butler, Judith. "Performativity's Social Magic." The Social and Political Body. Eds. Theodore R. Schatzki and Wolfgang Natter. New York; London: The Guilford Press, 1996. 29-47.
Eagleton, Terry. Marxism and Literary Criticism. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976.
Galin, Muge. Between East and West: Sufism in the Novels of Doris Lessing. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1997.
Giddens, Anthony. "Time-space, structure, system." Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure and Contradiction in Social Analysis. London: Macmillan; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. 201-210.
Hawkes, David. Ideology. London: Routledge, 1996.
Hazleton, Lesley. "Doris Lessing on Feminism, Communism, and 'Space Fiction.'" New York Times Magazine 25 July 1982: 21-29.
Jameson, Frederic. Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London: Verso, 1991.
Keith, Michael and Steve Pile. "Introduction Part 2: The place of politics." Place and the Politics of Identity. Eds. Michael Keith and Steve Pile. London; New York: Routledge, 1993. 22-40.
Laclau, Ernesto. New Reflections on the Revolutions of our Time. London: Verso, 1990.
Lefebvre, Henri. La production de l'espace. [4.sup.ieme] edition. Paris: Anthropos, 2000.
Lessing, Doris. The Making of the Representative for Planet 8. London: Flamingo, 1994 (originally published in 1982 by Jonathan Cape Ltd).
Schatzki, Theodore R. "Practiced Bodies: Subjects, Genders, and Minds." The Social and Political Body. Eds. Theodore R. Schatzki and Wolfgang Natter. New York; London: The Guilford Press, 1996. 49-77.
(1) For Ernesto Laclau, this paradox of negativity is the basis for objectivity: "It is not possible to threaten the existence of something without simultaneously affirming it" (27).
(2) In any case, the reader has the impression that time is passing quickly, and that this catastrophe happens in the space of one generation. The time frame is not specified, however, and we know from the body of Lessing's space fiction that the life-expectancy of a Planet 8 resident may be very long indeed. Even if this new ice-age takes thousands or even millions of years to develop, the point is still the same, namely that in cosmic or geologic time, it happens very quickly.
(3) Two of the best works which discuss the importance of day-to-day routine are Pierre Bourdieu, Le sens pratique, (1980): Paris: Minuit, and Michel de Certeau, L'invention du quotidien: arts de faire, (1990): Paris: Gallimard.
(4) Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe go even further, by suggesting that closure is impossible, with the resulting consequences on identity: "The impossibility of closure (ie. the impossibility of 'society') has up to this point been presented as the precariousness of every identity, which manifests itself as a continuous movement of differences" (122). See Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. (2001). Second edition (first published in 1985). London; New York: Verso.
Kimlik olgusunun Oznenin benlik duygusunun surekliligini saglama yontemi olarak maddi temeller ve cografi noktalar uzerine kuruldugu kabulunden hareket ettigimizde, Doris Lessing'in 8. Gezegen (1982) adli romani sabit ve kalici kimlik olgusunun bir yanilsama oldugunu ortaya koyar. Gezegen sakinleri, gezegenlerinin varligini tehdit eden buz cagindan gecerlerken, kimliklerinin statik olmadigini ancak uzlasma ve mucadeleye bagli olarak degisen bir surecten olustugunu fark ederler. Hatta daha derin bir seziye sahip olduklari bir asamaya geldiklerinde, aslinda kimligin her zaman baglantisal olan ve bireysel ile kolektif arasindaki son bulmayan gerginlikten ibaret oldugunu kesfederler. Kazandiklari bu yeni gOrme bicimleri, kimligin maddesel temellere duyulan ihtiyaci astigi ve bu temellerin yoklugunda bile kolektif "ben/biz" olarak varligini surdurdugu icin, maddesel dunyalarinin evrimine paralel yeni bir kimlik anlayisini kavramalari ile son halini alacaktir.
La fixite se resout en un noeud de mobilites. Henri Lefebvre
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