Doris Lessing : In the world, not of it

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1977

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For both the content and the design of The Four-Gated City, Briefing for a Descent into Hell, The Summer Before the Dark and The Memoirs of a Survivor, Doris Lessing borrows from the contemporary Sufi philosophy of Idries Shah. Within these novels she stresses the existence of the irrational while developing specific Sufi principles such as compartmentalizing and essence. More importantly, Lessing designs the four novels on the tripartite design of the traditional Sufi teaching tale. Contemporary Sufis believe that apprending the entertainment, instruction and Sufi levels of a tale simultaneously exercises the mind's potential for extrasensory powers and leads towards mystical Sufi awareness. Lessing's evolving design pushes her reading audience towards such an awareness. In The Four-Gated City she rationally educates the reader to contemporary Sufism through Martha Quest's experiences; only the brief Appendix requires the reader to apprehend the message of expanded awareness and extrasensory perception as the salvation of humanity. While continuing to offer a realistic argument in Briefing for a Descent into Hell, she creates a sustained reading experience in the irrational with only the hospital charts' comments relieving the symbolic Sufi vision of the main character. The Sufi level becomes more focused in The Summer Before the Dark where a dream resolution provides the solution to Kate Brown's dilemma. Lessing's most recent novel. The Memoirs of a Survivor, requires the reader to accept Sufi awareness. In providing no "realistic" end to the novel, she forces the reader either to reject the novel or accept the irrational ending.

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