After the good life : squatting and the politics of the commons in The good terrorist

Bernstein, Sarah (2020) After the good life : squatting and the politics of the commons in The good terrorist. Studia Neophilologica, 92 (2). pp. 209-221. (

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This essay focuses on the representation of squatting as a form of ‘commoning’ in Doris Lessing’s The good terrorist (1985). It argues that the text’s centring of the act of squatting suggests a starting point for a politics rooted in everyday actions of home/making and community building, a model that relies on the power of the common – defined, following Raymond Williams, as what is ordinary and what is shared. Even as it posits the radical potential of squatting, the narrative’s imagining of gender politics, together with its ‘temporality of despair’, undermines the legitimacy of commoning as a sustainable form of social organisation. The article seeks to understand the conditions under which everyday life in Lessing’s London is brought about and sustained through a marking off of the possible and finds its historical analogue in the Thatcher-era slogan ‘There is no alternative’. The good terrorist is a narrative of ‘enclosure’ in which tragedies occur as the logical outcome of trying to find alternatives to the exigencies of the world as it is. It asks, if Lessing’s novel is one of ‘enclosure’, what might a novel look like that performs its opposite? Can we conceive a literature of the commons?