The books you have, and choose to keep, say a lot about you.
My books are my companions, my conversation partners, my fellow travelers and my teachers. I love meandering through other people’s bookshelves and reading paragraphs, chapters, sometimes even the whole book.
This past weekend I picked up an old voice, in a new form: George Orwell. In Why I Write, a 1946 collection of short essays, Orwell expresses himself in a way I’d never heard him – as, well, just himself.
His raw honesty, tongue in cheek delivery, and sense of purpose are all qualities I’ve admired in him as a reader, but until this piece I never matched a part of my vocation with his. As he outlined in broad strokes everything from his personal ambition, to the nature of writers in general, to the notion of being a part of a nationality (English for him), his words resonated with me in a new, deeper vein.
First, he breaks writer’s motivations into three broad categories:
1 – Sheer Egoism;
2 – Aesthetic Enthusiasm;
3 – Historical Impulse;
4 – Political Purpose
For better or worse, I find these components pretty accurate. It takes a fair bit of initial pride to think you have something worth saying that should be written down and heard by all (or even some).
To commit to writing, however, takes a passion for language. For flow, cadence, vocabulary and beauty. Some might stop there, perhaps the more ‘artistic’ of writers or poets. Orwell adds two explicitly public aspects that move him beyond writing for writing’s sake. He feels responsible for acting in the world:
“My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to my self, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”
He is quick to state that if he had been born in peace time, his life would have been different – perhaps he would’ve been a vicar, content to live out his days quietly. However, he was not, and to write anything outside of that social justice impulse is unthinkable.
Yet, again, he hedges this passion with an awareness of human nature’s selfish motives and the continued mystery he finds in his role as a writer:
“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist or understand.”
As a fledging writer, Orwell’s brilliance is inspiring and edifying. He doesn’t attempt to glorify the position, but to couch it within real experience. To orient his own, and other’s, writing toward a clear purpose.
To find, in whatever sense, the efficacy of words to take ownership of “your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it.”
Even in blogging, something people tend to sneer at, it is that type of drive I seek and struggles I encounter. I’m happy that Orwell is my newest companion in that journey.
The Art of the Everyday – February 16: Shoulda, woulda, coulda – Tell us about something you know you should do . . . but don’t. [edit on this prompt: this year, I am writing! I should be working out more, but that’s boring]