In 1940 the Nazis launched an airstrike against Britain, precipitating the Battle of Britain, though were ultimately unsuccessful at taking control. Hitler's Operation Sea Lion would've allowed the Nazis to use the English Channel amphibiously as well as by air, as they'd already posted a hundred-mile wide front across the other shore in France. The English knew it was coming. This was Orwell's orientation for writing this essay, because even though he was wrong about being invaded--England staved off the Nazi's efforts--his point was that normal paradigms need be suspended for more immediately practical ones.
In an earlier post I wrote about how many WWII reporters were so insulated from the front lines that it became almost cosmopolitan to write about the war. It wasn't real to them, it was just something sensational that happened during their lifetime because they never smelled the sulphur or stepped in entrails. The inevitable Nazi attack relinquished this type of luxury for the English. Imagine being in London, which is less than a hundred miles away from the English Channel, knowing that the Nazi's occupied the same distance across in France, as you were from the Channel itself. That's like being in New Haven and knowing the entire Massachusetts border was occupied by Nazis.
Orwell thus suggests to the editor: ARM THE PEOPLE. We can argue about gun control and the mental soundness of gun holders and weapon registration, etc., but it's important to keep in mind that those arguments only apply to non-war times. The English were staring down the barrel of the gun, and of course the military had its instructions, but the main concern was, "What do normal people do when their country is being invaded?" In America we've conveniently side-stepped that question because there have only been two strikes on our soil: Pearl Harbor and 9/11. They were strikes though, not invasions, and both sneak-attacks at that. So America has never been invaded, or had anything like the bloody history Europe has had. From the French Revolution to the Spanish Civil War to WWI & II to the Russian Revolution to the Middle East disputes, Europe (and the countries surrounding) have been in so many situations where not only are the militaries involves, but normal people, right on their own doorsteps. Americans have been lucky in this context, but this insulation has deprived us of a certain mettle. America has been historically most unified during war times--as national pride always spikes during war--however, I find it curious that it's always been on someone else's lawn. America's national pride has thus become more military-influenced and charged, rather than derived from rugged citizenship. The movie Red Dawn focuses on this, delving into how "normal" Americans would respond to war.
Orwell's physical preparations for the Battle of Britain are as follows: 1) Distribute hand grenades, 2) Distribute shotguns, 3) Block fields against aircraft landings, 4) Paint out place-names, and 5) Distribute radios. Each of these intuitively make sense, and I'm sure more can be added to strengthen them. However, I'll pick one out for some perspective. Blocking fields against aircraft landings would prevent hostiles from taking over the precious towns we call home. The closest thing we have to enemies of our towns are budget committees. We've gotten so used to being so truly unaffected by enemy hostiles that we argue and debate over frivolous matters like poor cell reception and neighbors blowing leaves across the property line. Whether or not England in 1940 banded together efficiently isn't the point, the point of the Battle of Britain is there existed a place where everyone knew that that battle's events could change the very fabric of their reality. That's a reality check, hence, having a lot at stake.
Our language describes two branches of reality: our inner reality, and outer reality. Inner reality is the simplest to us because it is the most intimate; our feelings, experiences, memories and habits are all rolled into this branch of reality. Unfortunately this is the branch of reality--though vivid and direct--is difficult, if not impossible at times, to convey to the second branch of reality, which is much simpler to convey using our language due to the concrete cues and myriad points of reference. Since our inner lives have no point of reference with other people's, it's difficult to use language to truly convey the experience and the meaning which are inevitably enveloped within our language. It's not impossible, but it's more of a hardware problem than a software problem. Ultimately, if we want to change the hardware, some of the software needs to adapt as well, to be more suited to convey language universally. This universality is--for Orwell--found in new words.
One of the problems with moving forward is that between our two minds--conscious and subconscious--our conscious is pretentious. It acts like it has more clout because it has more stage-time, but the truth of the matter is that without the set designers, electrical and sound specialists, and script writers, there is no show. Without the underlying, ambient mind, the conscious mind is simply a deliberate intellect channeled through a larynx, or whatever means of communication. When you communicate and take in information, is doesn't just kick around your intellect. It's absorbed in your subconscious, manifests in your dreams, and builds your unique, distinctive perspective. Page 261: "In a way this un-verbal part of your mind is even the most important part, for it is the source of nearly all motives. All likes and dislikes, all aesthetic feelings, all notions of right and wrong (aesthetic and moral considerations are in any case inextricable) spring from feelings which are generally admitted to be subtler than words." Subtler than words. This is a troubling statement, but not because I think it's false. It's troubling because of how starkly true it is. The vernacular is designed to describe the outer branch of reality, leaving the subtleties of our inner world without an effective canon of conveyance. We should be in desperate want of this canon, because as Orwell points out, our inner reality gestates our motives.
I'm not going to say writers of literature are all acutely aware of this, though I do think each serious writer of literature responds to this in some form. Orwell states that "coldly intellectual" writing conveys words' primary meaning as well as an anecdote describes a story. Page 262: "He gets his effects if at all by using words in a tricky roundabout way, relying on their cadences and so forth, as in speech he would rely upon tone and gesture." I find this problematic because many people manipulate their tone and gesture when speaking to emotionally persuade their audience because their argument or statement is weak in merit, rather than reflective of a weakness in the tools of conveyance. Orwell wants someone to create a different way, because "the art of writing is in fact largely the perversion of words, and I would even say that the less obvious this perversion is, the more thoroughly it has been done. For a writer who seems to twist words out of their meanings, is really, if one looks closely, making a desperate attempt to use them straightforwardly." so we have a human problem here as well, with audiences not bringing their share of intellect to the table, which forces--according to Orwell--the writer to do gymnastics to convey meaning. I'm not sure I agree, but he may be talking about nuances in a way I'm not familiar with, so it may be a lack on my part.
All this boils down to conveying intention. Clearly he desires a clearer way to communicate our intentions, finding faults in the hardware of our language. It's a close to a direct philosophical issue I've read from him so far. Do our words represent our meaning? Can they? I think they can, but that's not a question he asked because he simply put it on the doorstep of language, rather than objective philosophical tools, and our human nature. Personally I think he treaded into murky waters because he's trying to solve a philosophical question from a novelist's perspective. Yes, creating new words may help, but I don't think that's this issue's resolve. It's much more behavioral than that, but that doesn't mean it's subjective, either. We can use our language to represent our meaning, but since our emotions are ours alone, there's no way to guarantee our audience will experience the meaning like us. Is that even relevant, though? Language-play allows our audience--and us as the audience of others--to understand the meaning through the faculty of language. I'm not so sure Orwell's eye has isolated the core issue that he wants to isolate; emotions, intentionality, language, meaning? Intentionality is communicable and demonstrable, it simply takes clear, concise language. Emotionality is ethereal, therefore irrelevant when dealing with meaning because it applies to individual experience that we can't control or understand.
Orwell's solution literally hits home. He says that families compensate for this weakness by creating terms unique to their family unit, in which involves a meaning everyone acutely knows. Page 266: "The method of inventing words, therefore, is the method of analogy based on unmistakable common knowledge; one must have standards that can be referred to without any chance of misunderstanding, as one can refer to a physical thing like the smell of verbana." Granted, humans have uniquely different experiences for the simple reason that no one shares their physical point of view; such is evidenced by twins studies. However, don't humans have a finite set of compulsions and drives? Survival, sex, fight or flight, language... It's not like we operate on completely different paradigms here, we just bring with us unique subjectivities which we often hold out in front of us as qualifiers for individuality simply because they're unique to us. Problem with that thinking is that we posit that we're individuals without having an objective dialogue with ourselves that may prove or disprove it. So yes, families have a knack at communicating with new words, however it's asinine to suggest we should use that same common-knowledge paradigm to develop new words in the language. That's actually what's happening in modern America with 'words' like "LOL" entering the dictionary. What meaning does it have? To Orwell, it has tremendously effective meaning because it's common knowledge that it means "laugh out loud," tonally defined by laxity and indifference. When subjective micro-language devices are stretched to the macro level, they are a flash in the pan. Language becomes trendy, therefore useless within a short period of time. Again, maybe I'm misinterpreting him, but I think we may be better off approaching language from a perspective of "common capacity" rather than "common knowledge," because it objectifies the paradigm.
Orwell does indeed want to objectify thought and intention, as said on page 267: "What is needed is to show a meaning in some unmistakeable form, and then, when various people have identified it in their own minds and recognized it as worth naming, to give it a name. The question is simply of finding a way in which one can give thought an objective existence." However, using cinema and other overly concrete cues he endorses as the poster-child to clear communication and conveyance is missing the meaning boat because knowledge and meaning are abstract, and although can in part be communicated concretely, the essence is ultimately abstract, and thus treated with extreme care. If we move outward and simply create new words based on common experience, we misappropriate our human intellect, which operates via language, not a social network of common tongues.
Racism is a function of a body in power, insofar that assertions of one group's superiority aids in the subjugation of the "lesser." Without a large, governing body, racism has no relevance, function or practical application. Hence, it's about politics and economics rather than biology.
According to Orwell, the Western world isn't battling Socialism, it's producing cultures and governments that teeter between democratic Socialism and Feudalism, which he identifies as "some form of rationalized caste-society." (p. 254) Who cares? Well, the myths of racial superiority don't proportionately dissipate in relation to growing Socialist leanings. There is still production in a Socialist society, it's just planned and regulated, hence, Socialism makes for a marvelous template for racism because it requires a steady labor force. Enslaving people based on their race thus maintains the power of the dollar, a constant stream of workers, and the Socialistic trademark "feeling of community and family."
Religion is one device that drives modern feudalism, because "by the nineteenth century it was already in essence a lie, a semi-conscious device for keeping the rich rich and the poor poor. The poor were to be contented with their poverty, because it would all be made up to them in the world beyond the grave..." (p 256.) Influencing the economy is an effective way of segregating a society because ever since the Industrial Revolution and its myriad means of producing and obtaining commodities, people began attaching their self-worth and esteem to their ability to produce. It wasn't always this way; man-made Industrialism created problems on the human level that other man-made devices like religion were well-suited to address. Yes, it's capitalistic, but one doesn't have to be involved in capitalism to attach themselves to materials. Plus, international relations involve international economics, which, due to a trickle-down, affects non-capitalists capitalistically. Western religion and capitalism have become much closer than their creators may have intended.
Orwell points out how 19th century intellects detected this moral and intellectual breakdown and made some headway, but didn't solve it. It came back as though it had simply been pruned, regrowing with ferocity. Page 257: "So it appears that the amputation of the soul isn't just a simple surgical job, like having your appendix out. The wound has a tendency to go septic." So if we're to cure humanity's ills, we need to immediately replace what we excise with something functional and relevant, or else it will have been in vain. The micro-culture of Western economics, production and segregation has thus effected the macro-culture of the world, poisoning the human race's ability to function as distinct, self-empowered individuals. (That's not embellishment or a conspiracy theory; philosophers like Kristhoffer and Nietzsche, public intellects like Hitchens and Jensen, and a myriad novelists have made this observation long before I have).
Western civilization promotes Western religion, but unfortunately that undermines individual self-empowerment through believing that only God's word can be effective. That we will always be chasing our tails. Well, if we believe that, then we relinquish any incentive for a more reason-based paradigm. If our incentives are increasing our bankroll, segregating races and classes, and paradise after death, then it's no wonder why we trounce upon both human and non-humans alike. Page 258: "People sacrifice themselves for the sake of fragmentary communities--nation, race, creed, class--and only become aware they they are not individuals in the very moment when they are facing bullets. A very slight increase of consciousness, and their sense of loyalty could be transferred to humanity itself, which is not an abstraction."
Apparently before the Third Reich Hitler was as a charismatic young man with a ton of energy and a chilling ability to hold people's attention. He'd rant, he'd rave, he'd lecture histrionically, but that's not how he took power so quickly. This isn't new information, but post- WWI left Germany with major economic and identity issues. It was in want of an aggressive alpha male to reestablish the culture's sense of dignity, empowerment, and righteousness. And Hitler surely was self-righteous.
What he wasn't, was a scientist. Simply flipping through Mein Kampf may produce some of the fullest yawns of your life, however, if you flip to the 'Nation and Race' section, he demonstrates a fundamental lack of Darwinian awareness. Natural selection (or colloquially known--thus wildly misinterpreted--as "survival of the fittest") is simply the the recurrence of traits that demonstrate reproductive success in a local environment. So if thick eyelids help protect your eyes in a dusty environment, then v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y do your eyelids get thicker. If darker skin helps protect your body from harmful solar rays, then v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y does your skin darken. And if the environment is so hot and dry it cracks the earth, then creatures with the aptitude to burrow beneath the cracked earth during daylight hours are naturally selected as the fittest. (Survival of the fittest is a user-driven interpretation of Darwin's science, misunderstanding that the strongest are the most fit. Pitting gorillas against cockroaches, the former are less fit in almost every single environment, due to the cockroaches impressive adaption. However, since gorillas are physically stronger, many interpret them as more fit because they can mechanically smash the cockroaches to pieces.) Hence, evolution is objectively about breadth and adaption, not about a linear progression toward what we humans believe is better. At risk of being redundant, it is not human centric.
I'm no expert in evolution or biology, but that's the point. To get a grasp of their fundaments you don't need to be. Now that we're on the same page, let's go to Mein Kampf. Quoting Chapter 11: "The consequence of this racial purity, universally valid in Nature, is not only the sharp outward delimitation of the various races, but their uniform character in themselves. The fox is always a fox, the goose a goose, the tiger a tiger, etc., and the difference can lie at most in the varying measure of force, strength, intelligence, dexterity, endurance, etc., of the individual specimens. But you will never find a fox who in his inner attitude might, for example, show humanitarian tendencies toward geese, as similarly there is no cat with a friendly inclination toward mice."
First off, this is rampant with human centricity. Yes, foxes are foxes and geese are geese, but they are separate species. Jews, Negroes, Chinese, Caucasians are different racial qualifiers (race is simply a man-made concept used to separate humans via physical traits), yet are all of the same species. Second, there are plenty of displays of inter-species cooperation, we humans just don't like to pause our self-absorption to pay attention to nature. And third, of course a fox will not act in a humanitarian way toward a goose...it's not a human. It doesn't have the concept of or capacity for a human morality. Not to say all humans inform their moralities, but they at least have the capability. This doesn't make us better, because even though we have this moral capacity, we are the only species on earth to wage genocide. And rape.
Further down he writes: "The result of all racial crossing is therefore in brief always the following: A) Lowering of the level of the higher race, and B) Physical and intellectual regression and hence the beginning of a slowly but surely progressing sickness." I don't understand what a 'higher level' is. The ancient Egyptians lived for 3,000 years in a relatively unchanged culture, yet invented beer and built huge pyramids via simple technology and hard labor. The Native Americans created 700 languages and hunted-and-gathered for millennia, sans iPhones and facial wash, until the European settlers obliterated them. I don't think "higher level" is very well qualified.
Hitler's meteoric rise to power was in part due to having the right set of attributes in the right social milieu, and also, as Orwell writes on page 251: "because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don't only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags, and loyalty-parades." It's convenient to dismiss this, but do you think the current Thanksgiving Day Parade is held because people just loooove turkey, stuffing, and huge inflated cartoon characters? Orwell's right, the majority loves, although not necessarily every day lavish social conventions to release them from their daily struggle, monotony, and 'dues paid.' Hitler clearly exploited this, but since the Germans post WWI were so depressed, humiliated and forsaken, they were aching for some marching and flag-waving. And someone to blame.
Panning back to Henry Miller in the last section of this chapter, we look at writing in terms of why and what. Why write at all? What does writing accomplish? Miller's fatalism prescribes that writing about the decay of civilization will neither mean or change anything until the whole system is washed away. He doesn't ignore civilization, he continues to stare straight at it, but it produces this content quietism which Orwell describes as a different kind of irresponsibility. That's why the chapter title was chosen. Miller is Jonah, who was swallowed up by the giant fish, commonly known as a whale, and completely insulated from the world by warm, thick blubber. No matter what happened outside of himself, he just shook his head, unsurprised and apathetic. He was beyond the point of caring because civilization was beyond the point of saving.
The perception of writing's function has altered through time. In the previous section we read that the leading European writers in the early 20th century evaded politics in favor of less practical yet more refined ideals. Miller likely would not have a problem with them due to the fact that wavering politics and the war games they produced were a large part of our civilization's breakdown. He'd probably say they were saving energy and staying alive. Point is, writing about something isn't universal literary value. Orwell actually spends a lot of time here quoting authors with similar points of view as Miller, though in different degrees.
Orwell says one barometer of good writing is its survival through time. I'm not so sure I agree with this, because the Bible has survived (in its many, many editions), not because of uniqueness of allegory or explicit meaning, but because of the religious hysteria and communal momentum it's generated over two thousand years. Plus the guilt, fear and coercive mechanisms used to maintain old members and snare new ones. What we can draw from this is that we have social mechanisms that can either support writing, or mutate it in a way in which its message isn't perhaps what the author intended. Which brings us right back to Henry Miller. No matter how good or bad your writing is, humans are still reading it, capable of misinterpreting it and using it to propel their own selfish and destructive ideals. The sicker the civilization is, the more it misinterprets, using its subjectivity inappropriately rather than appropriately.
Literature is about affect, as much as, if not more than, effect. It's a mixture of subjective and objective truths. Audiences use their minds to read but their emotions to fathom and connect with characters and their often-murky situations. Page 244-5: "When, for instance, the drunkard seizes the black cat and cuts its eye out with his penknife, one know exactly why he did it, even to the point of feeling that one would have done the same oneself. It seems therefore that for a creative writer in possession of the 'truth' is less important than emotional sincerity...He also needs talent. But talent, apparently, is a matter of being able to care, of really believing in your beliefs, whether they are true or false...And with this there goes another consideration which is perhaps less obvious: that there are occasions when an 'untrue' belief is more likely to be sincerely held than a 'true' one." Sitting inside the warm, cozy whale, insulated from the world clings to un-reality, rather than the stark, ugly truth of the real thing. Miller's not necessarily unique in his pacifism, however, he is impressive in how he continues to look at civilization. Most people would simply ignore everything altogether at that point, forever sleeping inside the whale, but he cared just enough to stay awake and look, though shrug his shoulders indifferently upon seeing. Ironically, in order to do the mental gymnastics of being more effected than affected, he had to care a little bit. I suppose that's his writing compulsion surfacing behaviorally.
Orwell calls Miller an anachronism because in how war was at that time pushing for totalitarianism rather than democracy, based in the false belief that Socialism would "enlarge the atmosphere of liberalism." This effects literature in that it constrains it, because "the autonomous individual is going to be stamped out of existence. But this means that literature, in the form in which we know it, must suffer at least a temporary death. The literature of liberalism is coming to an end and the literature of totalitarianism has not yet appeared and is barely imaginable." (p. 247) Miller (and Orwell) know that the era for writer's is coming to a close, and the only valid paradigm left is a quietism until the system is replaced.
The early part of 20th century Europe was riddled with wars, mainly against tyranny. You've got WWI--known until WWII as the Great War--around 1915, the Russian Revolution around the same time, with the Spanish Civil War dovetailing WWII a few decades later. The solutions to autocracy were hotly debated, but unless one was in the inner party of a tyranny, it was almost universally agreed that tyranny was unsavory.
This unrest had a bearing on literature, because whether or not writers want to admit it, they by nature reflect and respond to social circumstances. Their outer-directed imaginations soak up what's going on around them and somehow incorporate it into a novel, essay, poem or song they're passionate about. It's the core of the axiom write what you know; what they know is what affects them.
Orwell says that up until the 1930's, the leading English writers are predominantly pessimistic, though not in the traditional use of the term. On page 228: "But what is noticeable about these writers is that what 'purpose' they have is very much up in the air. There is no attention to the urgent problems of the moment, above all no politics in the narrower sense. Our eyes are directed to Rome, to Byzantium, to Montparnasse, to Mexico, to the Etruscans, to the Subconscious, to the solar plexus--to everywhere except the places where things are actually happening. When one looks back at the 'twenties, nothing is queerer than the way in which every important event in Europe escaped the notice of the English intelligentsia." Their pessimism was accessed by default through their avoidance of conflict and a focus on literary techniques. They couldn't be bothered to approach this material, either because they thought it wasn't their venue, or they were fearful of exposure and persecution.
Early in the 1930's, the literary climate changed, "in other words, 'purpose' has come back, the younger writers have 'gone into politics.'" (p. 231) It takes them awhile, but the leading writers focus their attention not on their techniques or skills or whatever luxurious metaphysical puzzles they have, but on the social milieu that's changing the world in which they live. As a response to the right-wing imperialism and Fascism, writers were indoctrinated that if they weren't interested Left-Wing principles, they'd write badly. Problem with communism--the most popular form of the Left--is that it rids the two things the majority believes in strongest; patriotism and religion. The majority of humankind like to believe in something. Hence, people turned to the Roman Catholic Church due to its power and prestige, which to me is running from one autocrat directly into the arms of another.
The English weren't threatened on their own soil by the Central Powers, so their gripes were surrogate, though at least they responded to actual matters. They became coveters of the Russian Fatherland because it embodied the Communistic savior to the pressing autocratic threat. Orwell called it the "cult of Russia among the English intelligentsia." (p.236) Preceding the Great War war, literature was imbued with an anti-Fascistic energy, charged up by their beliefs and, of course, safety. Reality wasn't humbling them. Page 238-9: "The very people who for twenty years had sniggered over their own superiority to war hysteria were the ones who rushed straight back into the mental slum of 1915." They'd put themselves back in a cage.
This timeframe embodies the line all writers must toe. To be able to write, one needs freedom. To be a writer, one needs to have their mental senses open to the outside world. Their power is their sensitivity, but they need to steel themselves when presented with the woes, cancers, and cyclical patterns of civilization. If they publicly side with political parties, their freedom is threatened, "withering away their creative powers." (p. 239)
Orwell primarily references two books by Henry Miller; Tropic of Cancer and Black Spring. Both are written in the first person, which can be limiting due to the fact that we're deprived of a full, all-spanning point of view to provide us with objectivity. However, Miller doesn't care. He's not there to be objective or expansive. He's there to provide a slice of life through a nearly stream of conscious point of view. And I love it.
In Tropic of Cancer after Miller (as the protagonist) has written for a few chapters about debauchery, he writes in chapter three: "There is only one thing which interests me vitally now, and that is the recording of all that which is omitted in books. Nobody, so far as I can see, is making use of those elements in the air which gives direction and motivation in our lives. Only the killers seem to be extracting from life some satisfactory measure of what they are putting into it. The age demands violence, but we are getting only abortive explosions...The telephone interrupts this thought which I should never have been able to complete. Someone is coming to rent the apartment."
While he's examining civilization and how it's rotting away, we get this sense of paranoia. These sudden attention shifts set the landscape for his diatribes into debauchery and sexuality, as well as violent aggression. Miller's transparency, even if you don't agree with him or are offended, is laudable because so much of what we say and write in our civilization is rehearsed, risk-assessed, and socially affirmed. Although there are authors who attain authenticity other ways, simple dismissal of Miller on grounds of literary pornography are inappropriate. Orwell says on page 214: "But read him for five pages, ten pages, and you feel the peculiar relief that comes not so much from understanding as from being understood. 'He knows all about me,' you feel; 'he wrote this specially for me.' It is as though you could hear a voice speaking to you, a friendly American voice, with no humbug in it, no moral purpose, merely an implicit assumption that we are all alike. For the moment you have got away from the lies and simplifications, the stylised, marionette-like quality of ordinary fiction, even quite good fiction, and are dealing with the recognisable experiences of human beings."
I totally agree with Orwell in his interpretation of how Miller portray's ordinary, normal people. Fiction writers work so hard at trying to make dialogue and plot realistically sounding that the product is actually a derivative of reality, rather than true reality. (I touched upon this in the previous post). When you read dialogue on page, you're not reading real-life dialogue. Mentally it sounds like real-life, but only because it makes sense, is well paced, and we can intuit the tone and mood. People don't talk in real life like they do in literature. Most of the things we pass back and forth in real-life dialogue are simply interstitial relationship fluid: In-jokes, repeated clauses because with didn't hear, run-on sentences, misused words, poor grammar, overlapping dialogue and awkward pauses to re-align the conversation. If this stuff were published, no one would read because no audience cares about which coupons are up to date in the coupon envelope. Audiences do care, however, why one spouse always updates the coupons and the other is always unknowingly using the outdated ones. In real life not everything is as relevant, pertinent, and profound as it is in fiction. Miller bridges this gap. He puts real life on page, producing this guttural, primal product.
Page 216: "In Miller's case it is not so much a question of exploring the mechanisms of the mind as of owning up to everyday facts and everyday emotions. For the truth is that many ordinary people, perhaps an actual majority, do speak and behave in just the way that is recorded here. The callous coarseness with which the characters in Tropic of Cancer talk is very rare in fiction, but it is extremely common in real life; again and again I have heard just such conversations from people who were not even aware that they were talking coarsely." Hence, Miller's surrealism is ironically more realistic than many ordinary, academic and sterile works of fiction.
Serial fiction targeted toward boys in England in the 1940's used specific devices to simultaneously trap their attention, engage their fantasies, and politically indoctrinate them. It was a brilliant tactic because although the stories primarily involved death-rays, martians, anarchist gangs, etc., they also included aspects of the boys' public school lives like roll-call and smoking to pander to their current associations. The weeklies are thus a very effective means of propaganda because when the boys read the high-octane material, they become more open to the publisher's (and society's) ideal of what comprises a civilized, conservative man. Boys like adventures. It really doesn't matter what type, as long as the five senses are engaged more intensely than normal, there's some monster to slay or someone to save--including both is much more effective--and (from what I've drawn from the text) there's no hard moral choice to make.
It seems that the mood of the serial fiction is always confident--snobbish in many serials--because the adventurers inherently know right from wrong, and are willing to bound severe obstacles in the final act to right all wrongs. The readership of these things was broad, spanning across Europe, with young girls even reading them, despite being targeted to boys. On page 195: "In the Gem and the Magnet, there is a model for very nearly everybody. There is the normal, athletic, high-spirited boy, a slightly rowdier version of this type, a more aristocratic version, a quieter more serious version, and a stolid, 'bulldog version. Then there is the reckless, dare-devil type of boy, the definitely 'clever', studious boy, and the eccentric boy who is not good at games but posses some special talent." The list goes on. What I find impressive is how this contrasts with modern times where kids are (generally) told two things about the direction of their future: 1) They can be whoever they want, and 2) athletes and celebrities are the closest people to ideal role models. The first is vague, ambiguous, and nonsensical. The second is deceptive and lining them up for failure, relativism and disappointment because it's got a tinge of seriousness. The boys' weeklies are so fantasy-based, the boys have a better opportunity to understand the difference between reality and fantasy. Modern times is producing idealist narcissists without the fortitude to face the reality that they're never going to be an astronaut, be in the NBA, or be a rockstar.
These different personalities portrayed are thus extremely influential aspects of these weeklies. Each boy naturally has one of these due to the fact that the serials go into great depth about pretty much every nuanced personality trait. And there's no central leader-boy, preventing ego-wars. So the boy reading the material associates with the character he's most like, thrusts himself into the story, merging with the original character, allowing him to march around as that character (and the serial's plot line that week) until the next publication comes out. The advertisements show the audience is primarily under twelve, with less readership between eighteen and twenty two, and lesser even, girls. Women have their own serials, but they're not as popular because they're more realistic about class and social issues. Page 208: "Of course no one in his sense would want to turn the so-called penny dreadful into a realistic novel or a Socialist tract. An adventure story must of its nature be more or less remote from real life." So the serials targeted toward women weren't as popular.
The type of propaganda we're talking about here is propaganda of point of view. Mainly, status (gender, wealth), politics, and race, roughly in that order. On page 197: "In papers of this kind it occasionally happens that when the setting of a story is in a foreign country some attempt is made to describe the native as individual human beings, but as a rule it is assumed that foreigners of any one race are all alike and will conform more or less exactly to the following patterns:
Frenchman: Excitable. Wears beard, gesticulates wildly.
Spaniard, Mexican, etc.: Sinister, treacherous.
Arab, Afghan, etc.: Sinister, treacherous.
Chinese: Sinister, treacherous. Wears pigtail.
Italian: Excitable. Grinds barrel-organ or carries stiletto.
Swede, Dane, etc.: Kind-hearted, stupid.
Negro: Comic, very faithful.
Bear in mind that English underclasses and working class have their own fictional archetypes, however, are filtered through a different lens. A strong compulsion for patriotism developed during WWII, and even though the upper class was often the semi-villain in the serial, the serials portrayed England as positive and unified. On page 198: "But their patriotism has nothing whatever to do with power-politics or 'ideological' warfare. It is more to do with family loyalty, and actually it gives one a valuable clue to the attitude of ordinary people, especially the huge untouched block of the middle class and the better-off working class. These people are patriotic to the middle of their bones, but they do not feel that what happens in foreign countries is any of their business." In addition to England believing it's always right, it's very conservative, and according to Orwell, demonstrates why Left-Wing parties fail to produce an acceptable foreign policy. The Left Wing dislikes letting foreign countries deal with their own affairs.
The publishers of the serial fiction knew boys became men, and men didn't simply reach an age where they sloughed their points of view. They became indoctrinated through literature under the rouse of simple high-flutin' blood-and-thunder serials.
Dickens isn't philosophically resolute in his moralism, he's comical, reactionary, and metaphorical. Orwell even says he has "no constructive suggestion of what he's attacking, just an emotional perception something is wrong." (p. 182). Like all novelists he teases and insinuates what he hated and served it up on an accessible, feel-good platter. There are no inconvenient truths, no frightening reality checks, yet there is a universe written in the tone of his ideal of the moral good.
On page 182 Orwell says, "He is always preaching a sermon, and that is the final secret of his inventiveness. For you can only create if you can care." I can speak from experience that a writer's best writing stems from what they're passionate about. Some are more overtly passionate than others, and there's a tether between overall quality of the piece and the overtness, but Dickens, like any effective moralist, allows his ideal of moral good to softly permeate into the story. Dickens clearly cares about people, but he more so cares about he relationship between people, and how institutions in power affects them. An effective means to convey this is to incorporate money, which is a common theme (poor against rich) for Dickens, and Orwell illuminates how Dickens is always on the side of the underdog. Page 183 says, "What he is out against is not this or that institution, but, as Chesterton put it, 'an expression on the human face.'" This is terribly insightful because he understands that social institutions are simply a product of individual human wants gathered in a collective, rather than an independent body of anti-values. To change society, to support the underdog, to smash the aristocrats, is to reflect upon the incentives we each drive toward, and wonder if we would think and act the same if we had same social endowments as the upper class. If we're confident we wouldn't act the same, no amount of genteel seduction could sway us; we could be happy living poor. If we would think the same way, then it's on us as individuals. Society doesn't break us; it just enjoys putting us out of tune because we then think we need it.
On page 183-4, Orwell says, "No grown-up person can read Dickens without feeling his limitations, and yet there does remain his native generosity of mind, which acts as a kind of anchor and nearly always keeps him where he belongs. It is probably the central secret of his popularity." Dickens' tone is optimistic and comical, and his caricatured characters glow in a way that provides positive energy. Just look at the first paragraph of Chapter 2 of Dickens' Pickwick Papers:
That punctual servant of all work, the sun, had just risen, and begun to strike a light on the morning of the thirteenth of May, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, when Mr. Samuel Pickwick burst like another sun from his slumbers, threw open his chamber window, and looked out upon the world beneath. Goswell Street was at his feet, Goswell Street was on his right hand--as far as the eye could reach, Goswell Street extended on his left; and the opposite side of Goswell Street was over the way. 'Such,' thought Mr. Pickwick, 'are the narrow views of those philosophers who, content with examining the things that lie before them, look not to the truths which are hidden beyond. As well might I be content to gaze on Goswell Street for ever, without one effort to penetrate to the hidden countries which on every side surround it.' And having given vent to this beautiful reflection, Mr. Pickwick proceeded to put himself into his clothes, and his clothes into his portmanteau. Great men are seldom over scrupulous in the arrangement of their attire; the operation of shaving, dressing, and coffee-imbibing was soon performed; and, in another hour, Mr. Pickwick, with his portmanteau in his hand, his telescope in his greatcoat pocket, and his note-book in his waistcoat, ready for the reception of any discoveries worthy of being noted down, had arrived at the coach-stand in St. Martin's-le-Grand. 'Cab!' said Mr. Pickwick.
Pickwick had an ethereal glow. He burst out of bed like the sun, out-philosophised philosophers, reflected humbly about history, and efficiently "performed the operations" of shaving, dressing, and drinking morning coffee in under an hour because that's the appropriate time frame a great man spends on these things. On top of that, he carries his luggage out like an adventurer (to his credit, his is embarking on an adventure), with a telescope in his pocket and a note-book in hand. I assume a pocket telescope in the late 1820's was functionally modern day's binoculars, but still, you can tell he expects to see the crevasses of the moon, if not, unlock the key to world hunger. He will not accidentally discover anything.
Dickens truly cared for Pickwick's pursuit of great adventures, which is why he could imbue such a ridiculous character with such relevance. Pickwick's follies unwittingly champion the human drive to move forward, because he's not fearful of risk, status, or destitution. Surely Pickwick is a borderline Disney character, however, he represents human curiosity, arrogance, confidence and humor without really offending anyone, which keeps the reader engaged in the story rather than receding from it.
Part of what makes Dickens so memorable is his unnecessary detailing, which itself doesn't advance the story, however adds texture to the piece. In the passage quoted on 175, Dickens explains what's being served for dinner in the middle of a comical scene about a boy swallowing his sister's necklace. The food isn't a plot point, doesn't characterize, and can effectively be interchanged with any other food item. However, it adds an intangible quality because it somehow fits the style despite not fitting the context. I find it amusing how potency, simplicity, and relevancy are commonly taught as basic writing tools, indoctrinated as essential for writing a well-crafted piece. And Dickens is an example of a master breaking the rule. In terms of relevancy (one of my favorite criteria in which to edit a piece), on page 178 Orwell includes about twenty lines from Great Expectations, when the escaped convict Magwitch meets six-year old Pip and threatens terrible things unless Pip brings him food and a file to break the chain. Orwell says, "Here Dickens has simply yielded to temptation. To begin with, no starving and hunted may would speak in the least like that." It's true, people don't talk like that. But what Dickens was doing was transposing us inside Pip, using dialogue and description that "shows a remarkable knowledge of the way in which a child's mind works." So he could've chosen more realistic dialogue, something to the effect of "'Ey, kid, ge' me deez tings or I'll kill ye," but doesn't contriving an unseen demon capable of eviscerating Pip in his sleep incentivize him much more effectively? Thus, as readers, we feel that incentive. Novels at base are about producing effects in the reader, which is why we can sit all day and critique them, but wake up the next and be led back to the page for more.Dickens' characters are different than Tolstoy's, whom to Orwell, are more organic and in-development. On page 181, "His [Tolstoy's] characters are struggling to make their souls, whereas Dickens' are already finished and perfect. In my own mind Dickens' people are present far more often and far more vividly than Tolstoy's, but always in a single unchangeable attitude, like pictures or pieces of furniture...It is because Dickens' characters have no mental life. They say perfectly the thing that they have to say, but they cannot be conceived as talking about anything else. They never learn, they never speculate." Now, it's easy to be one-sided about the his characters' transparency, but if you go to the other end of the spectrum and look at an idiotic character like Don Quixote, you can see how the lack of character transparency can be frustrating and hold back the storyline. Someone so fickle is hard to connect with. Sure, uncertainty presents real-life scenarios, but despite what people think, literature is about the fictional representation of real-life scenarios, which is entirely different than reality. This is why Dickens' caricature characters withstand the test of time; they're aren't the only qualifier to story's procession.
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