Take a look at our new weekly article section. Right off the bat we’ve got editor Sean Preston’s answer to all of today’s problems in an article about the greatest humanitarian writer of England’s 21st century, George Orwell.
Moth-eaten, To and Fro.
By Sean Preston
ALL THAT HAS COME BEFORE has done so with its own date. I was born on January 12th 1984, my Father, May 28th 1959, and his Father, an equally inconsequential date in the mid-thirties. At this time comment was as rampant as it is today. We are all aware of the lineage of comment; from as many words you could scribble onto two sides to as many characters as you can fit into a text box. But at that time – the thirties – George Orwell was just starting to part comment in the way of the time. Orwell’s dates: his birthday, his first published article, his first published novel, and his death, are all irrelevant. What is relevant is whether his words are dated.
I have heard it said, more than once, not exclusively from those inclined towards the Left, “we could do with a voice of reason at the moment… a George Orwell.” I’ve nodded into a pint and thought to myself that, yes, wouldn’t it be great to have a George Orwell of today; a voice of reason, humanitarian common sense, and, as vitally, of trusted name and repute within society. It wasn’t until quite recently that I was reading a selection of essays and articles by Orwell that I realised that we have one. The name has been known to us for sometime in fact. Yes, George Orwell himself. Why is that he and his alumni of time gone by, continue to enjoy notoriety and draw fresh simpaticos? Because their work and message has resoundingly answered the toughest question time will ask: Is it dated?
No word can abate the plight of the quietly desperate, only action. But it can contest it, as it always has done, by securing a second thought from those that care to listen and are able to act en masse.
Why can’t I refer to Orwell as a relevant response to my problems, to society’s questions, and to the political turmoil of the now? We forget so easily. Politics and turmoil have, after all, forever and ever more been knitted together as closely as one date to the next. Things have not changed so much that the problems we faced at the start of the last century have been resolved. As you grow old, you understand why the outright lie that “nothing changes” feels as though it’s true: Oh, things have always been this way. Sadly, Orwell’s commentary has not extinguished the blaze of conflict, nor has it created a society in which our country enjoys a system that doesn’t leave behind the impoverished. No word can abate the plight of the quietly desperate, only action. But it can contest it, as it always has done, by securing a second thought from those that care to listen and are able to act en masse. So what struck me during my reading of Orwell’s early articles was how bleakly relevant they were, from schooling, healthcare and literature, to the gauche subject of war.
Orwell wrote, “Contrary to popular belief, the past was not more eventful than the present.” True, and so it is that the present is not any less eventful than the past. For as long as we wake we’ll continue to make decisions that affect the lives of others, each person feeling the effects of that decision to varied benefit.
I’ll start here by looking at the subject of writing, and more closely, the form that is review.
In a lighthearted scoff published in the Tribune, May 3rd, 1946, Orwell painted the picture of a book reviewer suffering chronically from a fear of doing. The description stinks of a Jerome caricature (and that’s unlikely to be by chance):
“He has lost this address book, and the thought of looking for it, or indeed of looking for anything, afflicts him with acute suicidal impulses.
“He is a man of thirty-five, but looks fifty. He is bald, has varicose veins and wears spectacles, or would wear them if his only pair were not chronically lost. If things are normal with him he will be suffering from malnutrition, but if he has recently had a lucky streak he will be suffering from a hangover.”
But it was the following that caught me as all too accurate, and, in regard to the delivery of the reviewist’s copy, left me a little bruised around the bridge of my nose:
“And yet curiously enough his copy will get to the office in time. Somehow it always does get there in time. At about nine p.m. his mind will grow relatively clear, and until the small hours he will sit in a room which grows colder and colder, while the cigarette smoke grows thicker and thicker, skipping expertly through one book after another and laying each down with a final comment, ‘God, what tripe!’ In the morning, blear-eyed, surly and unshaven, he will gaze for an hour or two at a blank sheet of paper until the menacing finger of the clock frightens him into action. Then suddenly he will snap into it. All the stale old phrases — ‘a book that no one should miss’, ‘something memorable on every page’, ‘of special value are the chapters dealing with, etc. etc.’ — will jump into their places like iron filings obeying the magnet.”
The key to what Orwell was suggesting is that every piece of art is capable of organically producing feeling within someone, even if just in the form of a passionate dislike. But to force that feeling in one person can only lead to a misleading review. I write this article because the feeling ‘took me’. We should look to encourage reactionary writing in place of the counterfeit review. Orwell knew that anything could be dissected, but pondered as to whether everything should be. True, there is something comforting to a writer that Orwell wrote of the downtrodden reviewer who finds that the same words will “jump into their places like iron filings obeying the magnet” with minutes to go before a deadline. Yes, we can find the words when forced, but what’s the purpose of redundant words, dated or otherwise, that are so mindlessly selected they’ve shed any meaning at all and will only ever end up being viewed as dated, if referred back to at all?