Wednesday 26 October 2011

Orwell October: Essays

So, before I embarked on this month, I made this schedule of what I was going to post every day because 1) I'm cool (nobody say anything!) and 2) I knew I'd have so much to read and so many commitments that I just wouldn't do it all if I didn't have a plan. This worked out amazingly and relieved all kinds of stress that could have arisen so, you know, yay! So, for today, my plan was to review Essays by George Orwell, a Penguin Modern Classics editions of some of his many essays. I'm going to do this, because all hell will break loose if I deviate from THE PLAN (not) but I haven't read all the essays, not because of a lack of time, but because, what's the point of reading an essay on, say, Dickens, when I don't even want to read Dickens (someday maybe, Dickens people. But not today.) So yeah, my review is not really going to be extensive but, if you want to read essays on Dickens and stuff, then feel free to buy this book!

So, essays are kind of boring. They don't have to be, but they often are, and the only time they're ever good is when they're on a subject you're really really interested in and you just want to read as much about it as you can. Much of Essays is involved with literary criticism (which is fine, except that Orwell is mainly critiquing books and authors I haven't read, like Gulliver's Travels and Charles Dickens) and the rest is, predictably, about politics and stuff. With which, I have a similar problem as with Homage to Catalonia, in that they don't give enough context about the circumstances surrounding the politics, so that you can't really get a grip on whether you agree with Orwell or not. So, basically, I skipped all of these! But, if I ever need to know about any of the stuff he writes about in these essays, I'll know how to find them.

The best essays, I think, are the ones where he talks about his experiences in the Empire, in Shooting an Elephant (an essay so popular that I think the newest edition of Essays is called 'Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays'), as well as A Hanging which, despite a lack of hype, I actually think is better than Shooting an Elephant, since it sums up how Orwell felt about being involved in the killing of another human being (summary: not good). It's a period that he hasn't really written about too much (at least in what I've read which has been A WHOLE LOT) which I think is a shame because I feel like his time in the dying Empire caused the formation of many of his ideas about how the world should be, even if actual political input sharpened and improved such ideas. Anyway, I actually managed to get through these two essays in their entirety (they're not that long), so I'm thinking that makes them pretty good! (Because I'm narcissistic, apparently. Also I can't stop using brackets.)

So I did read some others, had a little skim of many of them, but my absolute favourite essay in the book was one called Notes on Nationalism. In this, Orwell not only makes a distinction between patriotism, which is mostly harmless love of a particular country that means you'll defend it against criticism; and Nationalism, which is more about the seeking of power, and about believing that your country (or political group, since nationalism isn't confined only to separate countries) can do no wrong in any circumstances. I found this completely wonderful and true, and it actually got rid of my hatred of patriotism (although I still think it's a bit silly, but still, harmless) and moved it on to nationalism, which, I'd agree, is a much bigger problem. Case in point:
"All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts... Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage- torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians- which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side."
I can't even begin to describe how accurate this is, but I think we know it's all true, right?! Like, people celebrating the fall of the twin towers in like Iraq or whatever is bad (which it is, by the way), but celebrating US army victories is ok that kill civilians (and, may I add, that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have killed ridiculously many more civilians than the 9/11 attacks) because... they're on our side?  I mean, I'm not even saying that's my side, but you all know what I mean right? Just YES, George, and also, can we stop doing this now? Thanks. (Also, if a bunch of rebels killed David Cameron and then tried to get images of his corpse on the telly, they'd be considered barbaric. But it's ok for us to have to see Gadaffi's dead body all the time? Granted he was a slightly worse leader than Cameron [it's pretty close] but this is STILL NOT OK. God!)

So, Essays. Not that great overall, but with a few bright spots, and, I'm guessing that pretty much everyone who picks it up would find at least one essay to fixate on and enjoy, especially if said essay allows them to imagine the current Prime Minister as a corpse. So, if you see it anywhere, scan the contents, see if anything takes your fancy and have a little read. I wouldn't bother buying it though, just because that's a lot of book to get through for the satisfaction that only a tiny percentage of it gives you. Unless, of course, you really really like essays, and then go for it!

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