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.
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.
I wouldn’t have said “wrong,” exactly, but I know what Burt means.
When politics turns ugly, we seek out those writers who confront ugliness most trenchantly and directly.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…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.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.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…I shall not attempt in this paper to answer such questions as, “How good a poet is Yeats? ”—that is the job of better critics than I and of posterity—but rather to consider him as a predecessor whose importance no one will or can deny, to raise, that is to say, such questions as, “What were the problems which faced Yeats as a poet compared with ours? ” In most cases, when a major author influences a beginner, that influence extends to his matter, to his opinions as well as to his manner—think of Hardy, or Eliot, or D. Lawrence; yet, though there is scarcely a lyric written today in which the influence of his style and rhythm is not detectable, one whole side of Yeats, the side summed up in the Vision, has left virtually no trace. In so far as they are different, what can we learn from the way in which Yeats dealt with his world, and about how to deal with our own?Still, the passage implies that the Orwell we know best was not the only or inevitable Orwell.A different sort of voice survived inside him, effaced by political commitments.