Thursday, December 30, 2010

Orwell Never Sleeps...

As anyone who reads this tripe regularly knows, I absolutely adore George Orwell. Not in that "I want to have his babies" sort of way (despite that such a thing would be physically impossible, even if he wasn't already dead) but because Orwell was, in my estimation, the Greatest English Writer Who Ever Lived.

Even when you don't agree with anything he's written (Orwell was a committed Socialist), you can still appreciate it. He was a virtuoso of the English Language, and even the stuff that makes you scratch your head, or want to shoot your cat, still holds your interest because of the flowing quality of the words. Orwell was precise; he used exactly the right words in order to convey his thoughts, making his intent unmistakable. He was the master of the metaphor, too.

But the most remarkable thing about George Orwell is just how relevant he still is, sixty years after his death. The subjects he wrote about, the stories he told, his commentary -- all products the 1930's and 40's -- could very well have been written just last week. Or yesterday. Or more likely, Tomorrow. Moreso than H.G. Wells, or Aldous Huxley, George Orwell wrote about Tomorrow Today, and in such a way as to cause one to come to the realization that just because something has already happened, it doesn't necessarily follow that it won't happen again; only the form and circumstances will be different.

Orwell, of course, did not set out to write in this way; he was not aiming at being the next Nostradamus, nor do I think he was trying to suggest to us, as the great Christian Theologians who almost kept us in the Dark Ages insisted, that "There is nothing new under the Sun...". I think, rather, that he'd figured out something that many of our so-called Learned Men still have not figured out; the world may change, but human nature does not. He was a man who set out to tell the Truth As He Saw It; it just so happens that most Truths are immortal.

Let's face it, ever since Bill Clinton, the word "Orwellian" has pretty much entered the lexicon of anyone capable of breathing without mechanical assistance, so even if you've never heard of him, you've heard of him!

If you're not familiar with Orwell's works, then I suggest you get yourself so as quickly as possible. Not so much because of what it may tell you about the world you live in, but mostly because it's just damned good reading, learning a thing or two, or just having something to think about on the side is just an added benefit.

Where most people usually become familiar with his works, it's because they were "forced" to read his classics -- Animal Farm, 1984, The Road to Wiggan Pier -- in school. It was an assignment, something they couldn't avoid, and I'll wager, because it had that quality it was something they never enjoyed. Because of that mindset, they probably never picked up anything with his name on it again, or ever imagined that there was more to the man than those three books.

Not true! I would suggest, if you can, that you get yourself a copy of George Orwell: Essays, from the Everyman's Library series of books. It is a collection of Orwell's short stories, essays, newspaper reportage, and book reviews, in which he discusses everything from how to make the perfect cup of tea, to the future of democracy in a world in which it would soon be easy to regulate thought, repress dissent, and co-ordinate every human activity through the power of government. I have to say, it's my all-time favorite thing to read, and I never tire of it.

Every so often, I break out my Orwell collection, turn to a random page, and then just read. Today, that random page happened to be an essay, written in 1946, about the possibility that Man would learn to control the Earth's climate, and what that would mean to him, personally. Naturally, he entitled it "A Bad Climate is Best" (Take THAT Al Gore!), because to Orwell, perfection was always a pipe dream, and it's pursuit a waste of time and energy, so why not learn to see the virtue even in those things that make us uncomfortable?

Unfortunately, I could not find this particular essay posted on the Internet, so I can't reproduce it easily here, which is a pity; Orwell even made the sad sight of a elm tree covered in a shaggy canopy of dead leaves sound somewhat romantic.

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