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Book Review / Why I Write

Orwell was never going to get me to side with Democratic Socialism (as he understands it). He tried hard, he was very honest about his attempts to and his motivation, but sorry lad, you lost me. But it doesn’t matter, because I was perfectly happy to hear him out and try to understand why he supported it. And he was hilarious.

The thing is, if Orwell was just some random radical Socialist flag-waving pamphleteer no-one would have ever heard of him. And anytime anyone ever tries to monopolise on his name and assume his entire social and political viewpoint was ‘Socialism’ (as they understand it) to justify their own hollow views (of either side) then those people don’t understand him very well. He was a complex and passionate writer who was not bound by simple distinctions of expected political lines in the ground. Idiots on the Left and Right were prey to his ire if they exhibited the traitorous and cowardly actions that offended the fundamental British values he believed in.

Orwell was a patriot. This is important, because no matter what political leanings you had, including Democratic Socialism (as he understood it), if you were selling out your country’s people, you were a traitor. If you were frustrating the historical rights of your countrymen you were a traitor. He makes it clear he doesn’t believe patriotism and Conservatism are the same thing, unlike some modern Socialists. In fact, they were quite different in his eyes. And he certainly was not an all-embracing Leftie that assumed anything or one on the Left were a force for good. Why I Writeholds opinions that today would seem not only Right Wing, but probably extremist under our all-imposing Nanny State. So if you ever hear anyone say Orwell was anything in an effort to align his famous name to their ideology, then before you accept their truth of the matter, go and ask him for yourself in his own work, because he’ll tell you plainly. In fact, if you hear any famous name being branded like that, maybe do the same (from their work, not Orwell’s…).

“During the past twenty years the negative, faineantoutlook which has been fashionable among English left-wingers, the sniggering of the intellectuals at patriotism and physical courage, the persistent effort to chip away English morale and spread a hedonistic, what-do-I-get-out-of-it attitude to life, has done nothing but harm.”

Why I Write is important, but then I’d probably say that of any Orwell book. Whether you believe in his efforts or not regarding his political leanings, read them anyway. As many as you can. And read about the people he attacks too. Because the only diversity that should be embraced is diversity of opinion. It is the only thing that matters. The only thing will expand your mind and your ability to evaluate thought and meaning in your fellows thoroughly and honestly.

Plus, as I said before, Orwell was bloody hilarious.

“As for Baldwin, one could not even dignify him with the name of a stuffed shirt. He was simply a hole in the air.”

Like Christopher Hitchens, when you read his work you can almost imagine what he sounded like. No recordings, sound or video, seem to exist, but his persona is embedded in his work, just like Hitchens. You can see him driving his pen frustratingly along the page when he wrote about the irritating little politicians who tried to side with the Nazis, hair flopping about in annoyance.

In his final essay of the book, Politics and the English Language, you have the base layer for every single book on writing that exists. Including (and possibly especially) On Writing by Stephen King. Orwell got there first. He HATED the strangulation of English with saturating metaphors and overuse of flowery prose. He also hated the fact he knew he had probably done it in the essay (and his other essays, for that matter), but was happy to point out nobody’s perfect. But it is one of the finest pieces of writing I’ve read on the subject of unfussy writing, and avoidance of common and intrusive media and political language that infests our speech and prose. I expect any of the above is slave to it just like Orwell’s, but I’m only human (I bet he’d hate that one, too).

“It is easier – even quicker, once you have the habit – to say In my opinion it is a not unjustifiable assumption that than to say "I think"."

I suppose one question after reading this is why do I write?


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