Of course, a less politically driven Orwell might have been a less successful Orwell.And no era forces every writer to become public-minded (witness Emily Dickinson, whose radical inward turn coincided with the American Civil War).
I remembered, too, a forthright statement of political intention that I had once thought awkward.
After all, literary writers have a professional investment in remaining enigmatic.
By 2016 I had come to respect and even love “September 1, 1939”; after the election, for the first time, I found that I needed it.
Its portrait of the dictator who spouts “elderly rubbish…
Tellingly, itself was a pen name, a public mask adopted by the private man named Eric Blair. Lyons has linked the aims expressed in “Why I Write” with the “flatness,” the constrained simplicity, of Orwell’s fictional characters: “Like the writer of detective stories, [Orwell] may not wish to create any but stereotypes…
Essay On As I Walked Out One Evening Solving Acid Base Problems
because all of the characters are suspect of grave spiritual crimes perpetrated in a flat, two-dimensional world.” There were aspects of human character, including his own, that Orwell found impossible to integrate into his art.I understand why Burt set aside moderation and turned to Yeats; since 2016 I’ve turned more often to Yeats also, and to Auden and Brooks (early and late) and Adrienne Rich, Brecht and Baldwin and Orwell.* * * Recently I found myself teaching Orwell’s “Why I Write” (1946) to a class of undergraduates.Ambiguity keeps the critics and scholars intrigued. Why had he pledged his whole project so explicitly to a cause—to a campaign slogan, almost: “ As I reread the essay, I realized how much I had forgotten or overlooked.I understood for the first time how reluctant Orwell’s turn toward political writing had been, how he felt conscripted into it by historical circumstance.Ten years later, “September 1, 1939” and “The Shield of Achilles” rank not only among my favorite political poems but among my favorite poems of any kind. In fact, what was Auden thinking when, a quarter century after writing “September 1, 1939,” he denounced it as “infected with an incurable dishonesty”? In the end I sided firmly with the Auden who’d composed the poem, not the Auden who disowned it.The catalyst for my later essay was the 2016 presidential election, which—in my judgment then and now—installed a raving authoritarian in the White House.However diverse our fundamental beliefs may be, the reaction of most of us to all that occult is, I fancy, the same: how on earth, we wonder, could a man of Yeats’s gifts take such nonsense seriously?I have a further bewilderment, which may be due to my English upbringing, one of snobbery. Housman’s pessimistic stoicism seems to me nonsense too, but at least it is a kind of nonsense that can be believed by a gentleman—but mediums, spells, the Mysterious Orient—how embarrassing.Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself.The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.