Doris Lessing: The four gated city

Termino The four gated city, la extraordinaria descripción que Doris Lessing hace de la evolución de Londres desde la posguerra mundial hasta 1969, año de publicación de la novela … pero con sorpresa final en forma de anticipo en clave de ciencia ficción de lo que acaecerá a nuestro mundo hasta 1997.

La perspectiva que adopta la narradora es fundamentalmente la de Martha, protagonista también de los 4 volúmenes previos de Children of Violence, en los que narra su vida The Four Gated City (Children of Violence)como miembro de la minoría blanca dominante en una colonia europea indeterminada en África. En este último volumen, Martha, ahora una divorciada de mediana edad, emigra a Londres sin decirnos en busca de que, y allí se integra en una familia pudiente y bien relacionada en círculos artísticos y políticos de los dos bandos dominantes que le otorga una perspectiva privilegiada y segura. Desde ahí verá la ciudad crecer desde la miseria y la ruina inmediatamente posterior a los bombardeos hasta la fiebre inmobiliaria de los años 60, que hoy sabemos que solo era el inicio de un crecimiento tumoral todavía sin detener. También seguiremos la utopía socialista que mueve a los laboristas de familia bien y su desesperación ante la dificultad de llegar al poder y ante la transformación pragmática del partido una vez en él. Ese ambiente queda perfectamente retratado en su percepción del ambiente dominante en las reuniones laboristas:

Oh how charming everything was! How urbane! How tolerant! What enchanting clothes people wore! What good cooks we were, what food we ate! How delightful that in any room were bound to be half a dozen black or coloured people, exactly the same as ourselves, and half a dozen working-class people, all as talented and as progressive, everyone effortlessly harmonious … which fact in itself seemed to proclaim the truth that soon, when the Labour Party got in, anybody at all, from Land’s End to John O’Groats, man, woman, Negro or docker, would have all the benefits of society that previously were associated with somebody like Mark Coldridge or like Graham Patten.

Pero no hay una crítica al alejamiento con respecto al “pueblo”, porque el “pueblo” es una construcción política de la que solo cabe esperar lo peor:

The fact is, anybody who has been tempered at all by the politics of the last fifty years is in a state of mortal funk because of ‘the people’ and what they (we) are capable of. The history of the twentieth century as far as we’ve got with it is of sudden eruptions of violent mass feeling, like red hot lava, that destroy everything in its path-First World War, fascism, communism. Second World War. There isn’t an administrator or politician anywhere that isn’t playing whatever hand he holds with one terrified eye always on the next emanation from ‘the people’ – yet he appears to hide it even from himself.

Es en este contexto que Lynda, la enferma mental de la familia, se revela poco a poco como una visionaria con una fructífera capacidad de introspección. Tras una discusión política, se da cuenta de que las opiniones, en el fondo, son solo el disfraz accidental de una fuerza espiritual mucho más profunda:

You can watch a thought in your head,’ said Lynda. ‘You see the impulse that starts it. Then the thought trickles across your mind, strongly or weakly according to the strength of the first impulse. But the impulse needn’t necessarily have bred that particular thought. Perhaps it could have bred another thought.’

Por eso el brutal instinto de conservación de nuestra sociedad la hace incapaz de mirar más allá de sí misma y, por tanto, de conocerse, destruyendo cualquier opinión:

… society’s never having been more shrilly self-conscious than it is now, it is an organism which above all is unable to think, whose essential characteristic is the inability to diagnose its own condition. It is like one of those sea creatures who have tentacles or arms equipped with numbing poisons: anything new, whether hostile or helpful, must be stunned into immobility or at least wrapped around with poison or a cloud of distorting colour.

Martha no pertenece a estos círculos sociales, su especial atalaya consiste en el empleo/relación que la liga a una influyente familia. Esta ambigüedad le permite estar presente a la vez en dos mundos que para los demás parecen mutuamente excluyentes: la sociedad y la familia. Si de las interioridades de la primera comparte con el lector su inapreciable conocimiento de primera mano, sus responsabilidades con respecto a la otra, y con respecto a sí misma y su siempre incierto proyecto vital la llevan a desarrollar numerosas reflexiones de gran valor. Por ejemplo, cuando ya hemos deducido que ha desterrado de su vida un nuevo proyecto matrimonial, nos explica por qué tal proyecto le parece insensato:

When you get to the point when a man is a sort of thing for keeping you quiet-do you know what I mean? You know, you’re in a bad mood, you just want to scream and throw cups, then you think, oh for God’s sake, why doesn’t he sleep with me and shut me up … Well, what I think is, it’s the end. I mean, who needs it?’

Well, quite so, when a woman has reached that point when she allies part of herself with the man who will feed that poor craving bitch in every woman, then enough, it’s time to move on.

When it’s a question of survival, sex the uncontrollable can be controlled. And therefore had Martha joined that band of women who have affairs because men have ceased to be explorations into unknown possibilities.

Más adelante insiste en que es la diferencia, la incompatibilidad, y no la similitud el cemento del enamoramiento:

Certain beliefs united them. One was that they were all absolutely unlike each other, since they came from various classes and one or two countries. This meant that they met with that curiosity held in check by well-exercised aggression that is the first requisite for falling in love.

Acerca de cómo el cuidado de los adolescentes revive la propia juventud:

How very extraordinary it was, this being middle-aged, being the person who ran and managed and kept going … it was as if more than ever one was forced back into that place in oneself where one watched; whereas, all around the silent watcher were a series of defences, or subsidiary creatures, on guard, always working, engaged with-and this was the point-earlier versions of oneself, for being with the young meant all the time reviving in oneself that scene, that mood, that state of being, since they never said anything one hadn’t said oneself, or been oneself.

La distopía final, leída hoy, supone un bajón en la enorme calidad del resto de la novela. Sí resulta en cambio sorprendentemente actual un agudo diagnóstico incluido como sin querer, de la trascendencia de la invasión de nuestros hogares por la televisión. Recordemos, en 1969:

For it was on television that had been created a continuous commentary or mirror of ‘real’ life. To switch on the set when the day’s viewing started, with one’s mind slightly turned down, or in a bit of a fever, or very tired, and to watch, steadily, through the hours, as little figures, diminished people, dressed up like cowboys or like bus drivers or like Victorians, with this or that accent, in this or that setting, sometimes a hospital, sometimes an office or an aircraft, sometimes ‘real’ or sometimes imaginary (that is to say, the product of somebody’s, or some team’s imagination), it was exactly like what could be seen when one turned one’s vision outwards again towards life: it was as if an extreme of variety had created a sameness, a nothingness, as if humanity had said ‘yes’ to becoming a meaningless flicker of people dressed in varying kinds of clothes to kill each other (‘real’ and ‘imaginary’) or play various kinds of sport, or discuss art, love, sex, ethics (in ‘play’ or in ‘life’). For after an hour or so, it was impossible to tell the difference between news, plays, reality, imagination, truth, falsehood. If someone—from a year’s exile in a place without television, let alone a visitor from Mars, had dropped in for an evening’s ‘viewing’ then he might well have believed that this steady stream of little pictures, all so consistent in tone or feel, were part of some continuous single programme written or at least ‘devised’ by some boss director who had arranged, to break monotony, slight variations in costume, or setting (office, park, ballet, school, aircraft, war), and with a limited team of actors-for the same people had to play dozens of different roles.