Monday, October 09, 2006

Orwell overdose in progress

Reading a book of newspaper columns is like eating a whole bag of boiled sweets. The first one is refreshing. Your taste is whetted. Your juices run. By the tenth or fifteenth your mouth feels stiff with sugar and the flavour is all aftertaste, but some vestige of the original pleasure drives you* on. By the last one you are nauseous, and you get sicker at the very thought of the Fox's polar bear.

Last Wednesday I went to an interesting pub in Fitzrovia, met one of my favourite journalism tutors, and gave him £20. In return he gave me several drinks and the most gigantic bag of barley sugars, concealed under the title Orwell in Tribune. I'm more than halfway through the binge now; so far it's pure "As I Please" - that is, pure George Orwell newspaper miscellany - cut with just one pseudonymous Christmas article. And yet my appetite feels healthier than I could have imagined.

There are some things that start to cloy. The anti-Catholicism gets a bit old - it's not just Spain or even Spain and Beachcomber. The "brain-ticklers" were annoying even in the heavily selected Collected Journalism version. But the accretion of literary personality makes good all irritations. He toys, quietly, with the sort of leftist jargon he is more famous for flaying ("I am objectively anti-Brains Trust, in the sense that I always switch off any radio from which it begins to emerge"). He has an excellent running joke about top hats. And there is a care about epithets, preached and practised, that his admirers at the Daily Telegraph might have to call politically correct. He may enjoy winding up Catholics, but he never calls them Roman Catholics.

From the second "As I Please":

It is an astonishing thing that few journalists, even in the left-wing press, bother to find out which names are and which are not resented by members of other races. The word 'native', which makes any Asiatic boil with rage, and which has been dropped even by British officials in India these ten years past, is flung about all over the place. 'Negro' is habitually penned with a small n, a thing most Negroes resent. One's information about these matters needs to be kept up to date. I have just been carefully going through the proofs of a reprinted book of mine, cutting out the word 'Chinaman' wherever it occurred and subtituting 'Chinese'. The book was published less than a dozen years ago, but in the intervening time 'Chinaman' has become a deadly insult. Even 'Mahomedan' is now beginning to be resented; one should say 'Muslim'.

From the 36th:

Now, it seems to me that you do less harm by dropping bombs on people than by calling them 'Huns'. Obviously one does not want to inflict death and wounds if it can be avoided, but I cannot feel that mere killing is all-important. We shall all be dead in less than a hundred years, and most of us by the sordid horror known as 'natural death'. The truly evil thing is to act in such a way that peaceful life becomes impossible.

'Selective quoting of George Orwell' is not a contest that deserves prizes, but that aspect of him was new to me.

[Orwell in Tribune: 'As I Please' and other writings 1943-7, compiled and edited by Paul Anderson, London, 2006. Oh, just read it. Or just buy it and then read it.]

*I mean me, which is shaming.


HKM said...

does it include his film reviews? (can't remember if these were tribune or somewhere else -- but it was definitely wartime.) 'shamefully' left out of the collected eds.

jaspermilvain said...

I haven't run across any film reviews in here yet. But they must be in the Peter Davison multi-volume thingie, surely?

HKM said...

oh that! yeah probably. i have the old penguin ones from '68.

jaspermilvain said...

Then get out volume four and turn to the bottom of page 218. He doesn't seem to have rated his film-reviewing...

jaspermilvain said...

(Volume four in the Penguin, this is.)