"Born out of My Ownself": (Re)claiming the Self in Doris Lessing's under My Skin, Volume 1, 1919-1949

Article excerpt

Summary

This paper seeks to explore how self-identity is (re)constructed through the narrative act of autobiography in Doris Lessing's Under My Skin, Volume 1, 1919-1949 (1995). The paper argues that the authentic self is born in the process of narrative writing and that the self coexists with other selves that are a result of socialisation. It also seeks to interrogate how this process of identity formation is realised through the prisms of memory, history, culture and social environment and the unconscious self. The fluid or provisional nature of identity, and the subjective nature of the above factors will be critically examined in an attempt to better understand the nature of life narratives in the broad scope of literary study.

Opsomming

Hierdie verhandeling poog om die (re)konstruksie van selfidentiteit deur die outobiografie as narratiewe handeling te ondersoek aan die hand van Under My Skin, Volume 1, 1919-1949 (1995). Daar word aangevoer dat die ware self uit die narratiewe skryfproses gebore word, en dat die self en die ander selwe wat uit sosialisering voortgespruit het, naas mekaar bestaan. Daar word ook ondersoek ingestel na die vorming van identiteit deur die prismas van geheue, geskiedenis, kultuur, sosiale omgewing en die onbewuste self. Die veranderlike of voorlopige aard van identiteit en die subjektiewe aard van die bogenoemde faktore word krities ondersoek om 'n beter begrip te vorm van die aard van lewensnarratiewe binne die groter bestek van literatuurstudie.

Introduction

Doris Lessing's Under My Skin (1995) is an autobiographical text that, true to its genre, attempts to mark the identity indices of its subject, not only from time of birth, but from genealogical roots up to age thirty. The text delves two generations into the narrator's ancestry before it focuses on her birth and early childhood. It further explores the development of the narrator's identity through adolescence and early adulthood within the contexts of the family, settler community and the colonial environment in general. The narrative also critically explores the responses of the subject narrator to the various influences from those people in her life, the ideologies of her day, literary consciousness and the effect of the two World Wars. These are critical factors in the construction of the narrator's self-identity.

The thrust of this present endeavour is to critically examine how the identity of the self is constructed both in temporal and spatial terms as revealed in this life narrative. The main objective is to critically examine the state of flux that is engendered upon the self in time and through time, and in different environments, by the various experiences that the narrator goes through. This is a particularly intriguing project as the volume under analysis covers the first twenty-nine years of Doris Lessing's life, and in spatial terms involves movements from England to Persia (now Iran), then back to England, to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and back to England. In between these major sojourns are trips to Cape Town, South Africa. Self-identity is always in the making, and how the self is negotiated and constructed in diverse cultural and geopolitical environments over a period of three decades calls for close scrutiny. Such a scrutiny of necessity must preoccupy itself with the critical question of agency, that is, how the subject of these experiences author and authorise her lived reality and self-identity. Lived experiences are subject to different interpretations at different times and in different contexts.

The genre of autobiography, which is a product of retrospection, involves construction and reconstruction of lived experience by the individual who is the subject of the narrative. In doing so the individual subject will be constructing a certain projection of the self out of the many possible "selves" that can be drawn out of those lived experiences. …