One of my joys in reading comes from discovering a certain uniformity in a sequence of unrelated works. For example, I read Tolstoy's The Death of IvaOne of my joys in reading comes from discovering a certain uniformity in a sequence of unrelated works. For example, I read Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich after reading Kafka's The Trial and interpreted the latter work in terms of death. Perhaps I did so because of Ivan Ilyich or perhaps because a strange coincidence paired the two for me.
I conscientiously chose to read The Once and Future King after reading Don Quixote. I wanted to experience for myself the romance and chivalry that allegedly drove the Don mad. Let me say now and leave the matter to rest: the knights depicted in "The Sword in the Stone" cower over Don Quixote in absurd madness. Aside from the apparent silliness in their behavior, I wondered if the general folly of knight-errantry might derive from the erroneous idea that heroes can be bred, systematically and institutionally, generated by Man rather than Fate or Fortune. Knight-errantry, as it is described, seems like a manufacturing system which would render the hero's essence void of any genuine heroism. The rituals mimic the mythical plot line of the hero's awakening but the knighthood assembly line extracts the valor and essence of the profession that Don Quixote meant to observe. In the same fashion, as the church can pulverize and replace faith, manufactured knights result from a lack of the profession's true essence; a man-made substitution. They end up attracted to and focusing selfishly on refining their honor and deeds rather than on serving those in need of defense, a traditionally thankless and low station. A true hero rises from the dingy muck of modesty by the inexplicable power of aligned circumstances and character.
However, I had not counted on my recent reading of Joseph Conrad's The Hero with A Thousand Faces playing a much more tantalizing role in my encounter with Arthur and his knights. The reader immediately meets Arthur, or The Wart, who learns about society and the nature of Man under the tutelage of the magician Merlyn, not unlike Dante's journey through hell under the guidance of Virgil or the countless mythical guides leading the hero to his destiny. Merlyn also exists outside of time and space as, what Conrad might describe, an enlightened hero himself. But Merlyn does not shape the Wart for his own satisfaction or mold him according to his personal design. The hero lies in Wart, outside of time, and that hero needs release rather than construction. He must discover himself by his own volition and openness, not be shaped out of something else into the desired hero form.
Merlyn never fails to amuse, either, with his temperament and nonchalant approach to what the reader may consider as gravely consequential matters. He carries an air of carefree surrender; as if he not only knew but lived outside the illusory control which men seek. For one so wise and seemingly enlightened, he agitates easily and blunders about forgetting things. While imagining the archetypal mythical guide, I think of a serene and peaceful character whose every action holds efficient purpose. Merlyn introduces a human element which transform the guide into a relatable character rather than a hero's tool.
Arthur, as a pupil, seemed to embody a similar innocence. His nurturing lacked the discord of inner-conflict and even in his old age he seemed to cling to a kind of one-dimensional aspiration. After his tutelage under Merlyn, and to match the mythical hero archetype, he literally bends his will to inject life into society through the power of the throne. He accepts what he has learned and returns to society as a man ready to bring it out of the "Dark Ages". As a king, he challenges the status quo. But, arguably, he never has to deconstruct his Self.
Queen Margause, the Questing Beast, the incestuous nature of Arthur's firstborn, etc. point to the power of the feminine. But White then portrays the duality of the father god-head and mother earth through the love triangle between Lancelot, Arthur and Guenever. Arthur represents the paternal god-head for Lancelot and Guenver, Mother Earth. If the feminine symbolizes the earth, in mythical archetypes, Guenever's robbery of Arthur's love from Lancelot shows how the earth deceitfully takes God, knowledge and atonement from Man. Lancelot represents Man in his most complete and conflicted form; strong yet insecure and partially void. He portrays both virtue and vice, divinity and demon. The earth separates man from his ethereal Self, from his God, and Guenever, in Lancelot's mind, does just that. She stands between Lancelot and Arthur's heart. Yet man exists as a result, a consequence, of female and male, heaven and earth, God and the terrestrial womb. His life, however, yearns for atonement to God, the father, of whom Mother Earth denies.
This triangle models after the ideology which King Arthur spent his life perfecting and had to leave to other men to continue perfecting. His ideology sprouted from the idea that Might cannot equal Right. Therefore, he designed the Round Table and commissioned his knights to defend Right with Might. However, when the widowed and fatherless were avenged and defended, Might needed another outlet. Might lingered. Therefore the King decided that a spiritual quest for the Grail would occupy Might's ill nature for good. Yet these journeys, though good for some, only seemed to confuse and muddle his knights. Arthur's last great attempt at refining a peaceful civilization resulted in Law. With Law, Might was extracted from the muscles of the strong and injected into the tongues of the weak. As this age has introduced the Enlightenment of Reason, Arthur introduced the Enlightenment of Law. In both times, law and reason have been elevated beyond human control and manipulation (theoretically); have transcended above human mastery. Mankind had enslaved itself to the absolute powers of reason and law. Yet because the Law, an unbending and unmerciful master, rules over the love triangle of God, Earth and Man, the three must fight. Injustices must shrivel under the torrents of executed justice. A fourth power enters the web to create a square ruling over the actions and choices of the three. The only balancing factor is born of love; exacted through forgiveness. The love between the three trounces the demands of Law and forgiveness eases the seeming necessity of vengeance. Might disappears from existence. Possession dissipates like a mist in the breeze.
By forgiveness, the destroyer of Might, Man may unite with God, reach a hero's enlightenment, despite infidelity to the earth, perhaps original sin.
Or maybe the true Self, indistinct of gender or duality, exists as a cosmic unification of the three. Arthur's question: can such a cosmic balance of love and forgiveness bereft of Might and personal will reflect itself in the highest societies of Man?
This book embellishes the questing of humanity, the horrors and absurdities of wars and tilting knights, love and humility, honor and vanity, magic and adventure. For once, we might entertain ourselves with these episodes, but perhaps for the future we can envision ourselves living a civil perfection....more
I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men
I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning.
Down and Out in Paris and London - what a cliche title. Yet as you can see from the above epitaph, this account of the impoverished and employed slaves breaks so many popular assumptions about the depraved degenerates and wandering vagabonds of our societies. It is disheartening to even consider that the brilliant reason for presenting this account in a first-person narrative is not because it was necessarily experienced by the author (which it could have been) but rather so people will, for perhaps only a moment, put their prejudices aside and see the reality of this life; not only of its existence but of its essence.
Readers may note that while reading certain books, their mind may start wondering; reading the words but not registering them, then feeling like they're trying to recollect a particular thirty second period of a redundant commute. Orwell does not write these books. He has an incomparable talent.
The literary split of the narrative, obviously defined by the separation of the two cities, serves to clearly illustrate Orwell's thesis about social hierarchy and its inherent haughtiness. His experience in the Parisian restaurant industry serves as a metaphor for what is more literally articulated by his experience in London.
As a plongeur in Paris, the narrator describes first-hand how restaurants, and presumably other institutions of employment, prosper from the illusion of quality service and refinement. It is not only the tablecloths, lighting fixtures, waiter prostration, etc. that build this illusion, but the perspective of the patrons as well. Apparently it is rare, if not impossible, to find a French waiter in Paris. Why? Perhaps it is because they don't want to serve their own countrymen, feeling that it somehow is below their station as Frenchmen. However, I also wondered if it reinforces the prejudice of the French customer who may want to entertain the notion that other races are naturally created for servitude. If this is true, than why would a restaurant manager hire waiters who would turn the customer off to their illusory station and drive them from the establishment? It's in his best interest to reinforce the illusion of innate worth.
Orwell further explains how different posts find pride in their work; the cook in being a working man and not a server like waiters, a kitchen hand, or plongeur, only able to associate his pride with his willingness to do anything and do it efficiently. Despite having equal pride, fixed to various instances of human qualities, the caste system develops.
To my reading, these hierarchical systems, which organize the employees and define the relationship between employee and patron, are transient and bolster no claim to the innate worth of any class. Managers in restaurants are only powerful because their place within the system controls the money and labor; yet every link in the chain is important for the machine to work. Similarly, the divide between the rich, or even middle-class workers, and the tramps is necessary for the machine to work. The construction of the hierarchy props up a false sense of a person's intrinsic value. Even if that value is based on power, all one has to do is break down the social construct and the "powerful" become powerless beyond their own natural ability. Their worth, when isolated and removed from the system, is no different than the tramp or plongeur.
If race and nationality are bricks in the illusive value system, so is religion and charity. Orwell describes casual houses and Salvation Army locations as monetarily free, almost, but expensive in dignity, natural behavior and religious imitation. These prices, like money, only serve to make the benefactor richer in their own self-righteousness. If there goal was to simply feed and house the vagabond, one would think them satisfied to this end alone. When in reality, their satisfaction comes from knowing they "tried" to right the spirit of the tramp.
This compels me to discuss a much broader and equally fallible stigma. The attitude toward vagrancy, even today, is soaked with contempt. After all, homeless people are simply too lazy to get a job and waste all their money on intoxicants. It doesn't seem possible, within the realm of popular consciousness, to consider that these vagabonds are denied "conventional employment" because of stereotypes rather than merits. Regardless, to be shown anything less than shameless gratitude for the scraps from the higher class's table is blindingly infuriating. Why? Doesn't this mean that those of the higher classes see those below them as dependent children? or people who should see themselves as worthless parasites on society?
The most fortitudinous characters of the middle and upper classes wouldn't be able to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps from these horrid conditions and in the face of a scornful society which depends on instilling artificial value in place of natural worth. Furthermore, those who have nothing are shown to be sharing the pennies they have amongst themselves, caring for one another, while the "noble sympathizers" and "honorable souls" ask for a man's dignity in exchange for the same pennies which are of little value to them. What is valuable is reinforcing their own claim to a righteousness they have artificially defined themselves. Perhaps the higher classes are the dependent ones, the parasites on humanity. In order to justify their excess and simultaneously quench this ravenous desire to see themselves as "good" people, they feed on the drudgery and loathsome existence of the homeless. Those in higher classes will call those in the lower to pick themselves up, but what being would wish away their own sustenance? Consider this:
A plongeur is a slave, and a wasted slave, doing stupid and largely unnecessary work. He is kept at work, ultimately, because of a vague feeling that he would be dangerous if he had leisure. And educated people, who should be on his side, acquiesce in the process, because they know nothing about him and consequently are afraid of him.
To save their place in the hierarchy, the educated and wealthier classes depend on the plongeurs and degenerate of the world to stay in their place. If anything about this caste system was natural, it wouldn't necessitate this social "order" to maintain it. If there were anything real about the current system, the logical discord of discouraging vagrancy by encouraging inhumane practices, of putting out one fire with another, would not exist.
I know this sounds malicious; as though those in the upper classes are generally hateful. I don't intend to make that argument and neither does Orwell. This is as flawed in reasoning as to assume that all vagabonds are innately worthless. Yet this acknowledgement should not, and does not, serve as a crutch. It is not enough to settle for being "faultless" in driving this machine. The machine itself is absolutely corrupting for both the degenerate and the blessed. It is understandably attractive for those with power and assets and soothing for the "down and out" to be understood. Whether at fault or not, and whether victimized or not, it is important to see the other as they really are and not accept trivial prejudices that relieve us of natural responsibility for our fellow man.
Orwell's storytelling is fluid, captivating and oftentimes entertaining. His social philosophies are digestible and, in this case, very personable. But do these qualities matter if we pass them off? Is there any value if our ears are closed and our minds hardened? Simply put, can you walk in the soleless boots of a tramp, work in a sweltering cellar kitchen, and then look to the person who's place your taking and see your equal? Your self? ...more
What an excellent example of the power of dress, young Oliver Twist was! Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his only covering, he might
What an excellent example of the power of dress, young Oliver Twist was! Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his only covering, he might have been the child of a nobleman or a beggar; it would have been hard for the haughtiest stranger to have assigned him his proper station in society. But now that he was enveloped in the old calico robes which had grown yellow in the same service, he was badged and ticketed, and fell into his place at once - a parish child - the orphan of a workhouse - the humble, half-starved drudge - to be cuffed and buffeted through the world - despised by all, and pitied by none.
Dickens prefaces his tale of Oliver Twist by defending his portraits of vulgar "bad guys". Many of his readers criticized these portraits, claiming that he lacked sensitivity toward his audience - when, in fact, he rarely, if ever, spewed any vile or insulting language from the mouths of his criminals. However, while reading Dickens' peerless sarcasm regarding the obvious injustices experienced by young, innocent Oliver Twist, and noting the epigraphs introducing every new chapter, I couldn't help but think of Cervantes' Don Quixote. In Cervantes' preface, he dictates a conversation between himself and a friend who suggests that Cervantes litter his text with quotes from other notable works to bolster the academic dignity of his story. Cervantes then describes a man who literally embodies literary works to a fault. The educated writers and thinkers of the world, and in the story, condone such referencing in place of original genius and then rebuke a man who takes that motif too far. He mocks the very people who defend his novel as a great piece of literary history - then and now! In "The Art of Bookmaking", Washington Irving explores this same silly hypocrisy. Dickens might reflect this idea through his cynicism and satire in Oliver Twist. But his fight lies with social injustices and those we ought to consider "bad guys" rather than with the haughty qualifications of the educated. I began to imagine Dickens writing his preface, defending his presentations of Sikes, Fagin and Nancy, knowing full well that his audience most likely felt indignant about his portrayal of the porochial officers and matrons responsible for raising the impoverished innocents of England. Surely the public audience, in reality, held these selfless saints, devoted to rearing helpless children, in high regard and grew squeemish when reading Dickens' satirical chastisements. With an innocent, flabergasted countenance, Dickens would have stood in front of his critics, with eyebrows raised quizically and a hand held to his heart, asking them how they could possibly think he painted false images of criminals. The audience expects deplorable behavior from criminals, not from parochial caretakers. By logically assuming - since they could not possibly have any concern with his portrayal of parish officers when they talk of criminals - that his critics dislike his portrait of Sikes and the rest, he mocks his own audience who actually feel offended by his portrait of a system which they believe in, trust, and hide behind - thinking that only rotten children can fall through the cracks of such a generous and thankless system.
Though thoroughly entertained by Dickens' sense of satire when dictating the grossly corrupted system burdened with the rearing of unfortunate children, his tone also divulged his feelings on the subject of social poverty in England. The deplorable behavior of Mr. Bumble and his matrons, reminiscent of the Thenardiers in its shamelessness and cowardice, fuels the overwhelming sense of injustice and trajedy experienced by the most innocent of innocents - children. Dickens then plunges his knife deeper by allowing the board and Mr. Bumble to justify their actions as philosophers; men who know the humane secrets of molding respectable citizens from impoverished street rats. Nevermind that many of them die under their care.
As to Oliver, the nauseatingly innocent blubberer riding his wave of fate, he brings to life the echoes of fairy tale children such as Little Red Riding Hood or Snow White. He embodies a hope which others would seek to overpower, control or purge in order to calm their own rage for lacking it or having experienced failure at retaining it. In any case, that hope needs saving - a soft innocence caught in the balance between forces for degeneration and preservation. I believe Dickens intended to juxtapose Oliver with Nancy, who, as opposed to the Artful Dodger or Charley Bates, found herself displaced from her social position. She could look at herself and weep. And she could see Oliver as one not yet engulfed by their mode of life - as one left a way out even if only because the infection had not set in. Yet because of her position in life, deeply intrenched as opposed to Oliver, she felt unable to leave her life, whereas Oliver seemed so innocent that he couldn't even see, as Nancy did, the path before him. Oliver's inertia led him to his resolution, while Nancy exercised choice and abstained from freedom in order to redeem, and arguably sacrifice, herself. After all, if Nancy had not made her choice, what would have happened to Sikes? Or Fagin? Or Charley Bates? Or Oliver?
Some critics have voiced concern with Dickens' seemingly irresponsible use of chance in the story. And yet, dramatically speaking, those chances sparked the fuse of Fate - not a fate autonomous from the players on the stage. On the contrary, chance fell like a domino on the hearts of each good and evil person and directed them toward choices congruent to their character and eventually to the only resolution possible from their assembly. Of course, Oliver's presence at the robberies of the old gentleman at the bookstore and his use at the house robbery reek of unbelievable chance, but the ultimate chance of his birth into this particular world of characters could only lead him to this resolution; perhaps by a different set of circumstances, but eventually to the same resolution. No character can act contrary to his disposition - and if he can, it must be in his character to do so.
If no other possible resolution exists, the reader would undoubtedly argue that each character experience ultimately fell in accordance with what they deserved. I found one thorn on the rose. I wanted Oliver to break away from the degenerate world of criminality despite his impoverished origins or his mysterious parentage. Even children different from Oliver deserve a chance to grow into gentlemen. The enticing intrigue of Oliver's parentage seemed to lend credibility to the idea that a gentleman's birthright cannot remain undiscovered. Oliver's birthright should not save him - his existence as a person should. Did Oliver deserve his resolution because of his birthright and not because of his character? If so, should we say that Nancy deserved her resolution because of her tragic experience and ignore her character? Could Fagin and Sikes, who most likely resembled the Artful Dodger or Charley Bates at an earlier age, or maybe Oliver at an even earlier one, have deserved a similar resolution as Oliver if provided the same chance to break away from a criminal destiny mapped by an unjust social system? One might say to each what they deserved and I would suck air through clenched teeth and wince just a bit....more
Socialism? A bad thing?!? Actually maybe not. Though George Orwell penned Animal Farm during the rise of the Soviet Union, I got the distinct impressiSocialism? A bad thing?!? Actually maybe not. Though George Orwell penned Animal Farm during the rise of the Soviet Union, I got the distinct impression in this political "fairy tale" that he was not bashing the political state for its ideology, as I had expected, but rather pessimistically professing its doom; its destiny to fail. What I saw was its horrid desecration, which had brought the story full circle; from oppression to oppression - leading the reader to expect another revolution against the rule of the pigs. Personally, I am flirting with the idea that the only true realization of socialism may be in anarchy.
After the first Revolution, certain basic needs were met; namely to enjoy the fruits of one's own labor. Of course, this is a fundamental aspect of capitalism. But socialism, and Orwell, take this need to a larger scale,; for the group to enjoy the fruits of their labor as a whole. If we backtrack, however, and take this need, this ideal, back to a more primitive level of individualism, we can see the glimmer of anarchy - living off one's own spoils without leadership or government to get in the way; no human "masters". I think the problem with applying this ideal to a larger scope of a group or nation is that some sort of leadership is required to implement it and make sure it remains in place. This inevitably and unfortunately leads to corrupt aspirations and abuses of power. There in lies the problem of socialism; an incredibly benign and moral idea downtrodden by the heavy foot of human self glorification.
To be clear, I don't intend to liken socialism to anarchy. But I think the goal of every person is to earn his own keep with dignity. And I think that socialism provides this idiom when the group or nation is understood as one large individual. In reality, it is not and leadership and government is needed to maintain order; as if the leadership imposes itself as the brain of the large individual.
While reading I actual thought of a story from the Bible, when the prophet, or Seer as they called him at the time, discouraged the Israelites from crowning a king - that God was their king and they needed no other. I think this might be the only way that socialism might work! A nation of people would have to abide by a law, a moral code, unenforced or imposed by any government, in order to survive as an ideal socialist state. And if this is the only way it can survive, it would kind of look like anarchy, with the absence of government, just at a national or group level.
Anyhow, I am no political theorist but this was my reaction to Animal Farm; a pleasantly simple read, with character and ideological intrigue....more
Imagine a massive boulder suspended high above the ground; representing unparalleled intellectual exhilaration, the height of scholastic titillation.Imagine a massive boulder suspended high above the ground; representing unparalleled intellectual exhilaration, the height of scholastic titillation. The weight of the rock represents its significance while also showing its propensity to fall downward. And now you instantly realize its antithesis, as if it had fallen down, and you're left with a sickened heart and passionate sorrow. Yet somehow, both extremes are accepted to exist simultaneously; become inseparable and co-dependent, an addiction of the mind. This is 1984 - which I both vigorously love but utterly despise.
Throughout the narrative, I found myself, as in any good story, aligning against the establishment - cheering for the success, even if a martyred success, of the protagonist. Generally speaking, it seems that it's becoming more and more appreciated when a story does not follow the typical form of a problem overcome or defeated by its protagonist. 1984 not only satisfies this growing demand, it almost spits in your face; as if telling you that you never really wanted to see a protagonist fail at all - at least to this degree and to this opponent - to find that you, as the reader, were dooped all the same. And let me just say, the very last sentence metaphorically sums up Orwell's message beautifully.
Despite its demoralizing resolution, I very much enjoyed the political warnings and exaggerated (I hope) circumstances of the political order. To think that any of this was possible, in ideology or realization, is to feel the keenest fear of one's own species and of oneself. How could people be capable of the methodical deconstruction of all the good in humanity? And how could any one person not only accept it but promote it? Let's face it - the Party is BRILLIANT in understanding people and seeing what needs to be done to implement their order. To me, that is as fearful as the consequences of subversion.
At this point it is cliche, but this work is possibly one of the most timeless pieces I've ever read!...more
To introduce this edition of Burmese Days, Malcolm Muggeridge describes George Orwell as a self-contained dichotomy. In most of his published works, OTo introduce this edition of Burmese Days, Malcolm Muggeridge describes George Orwell as a self-contained dichotomy. In most of his published works, Orwell criticizes apparent social injustices but also abhors certain behaviors and choices of those under the powerful thumb. In other works, he rails against the imbalance of capitalism but warns against its solution - the terror of totalitarian regimes and their infant roots in socialism. While many readers may tire of Orwell's lack of conviction, I find honesty and clarity. So many writers struggle, almost unnaturally, to find the answer which would catapult them into history as a visionary hero. Orwell naturally cringes at injustices, even when one injustice seeks to trounce another. Like a King Arthur of old, Orwell discovers, rather than invents, the idea that justice exists in personally discovered truths which each person must embody and live without the control of outside forces; like a benign anarchy.
In British-occupied Burma, during the days of English imperialism in India, Orwell pits characters from both sides of the racial divide against each other and around Flory, a man obviously symbolic of Orwell himself - voicing the distress and injustices of the social outcast but with flaws of his own. Flory's ailment rises from a raging sense of loneliness while posted in Burma with the local English government. Yet despite his feelings toward the injustices in Burma, he pursues solace in someone only because of her skin color and country of origin. Under the surface, I think they both despise what the other has to offer.
But while Flory pursues his remedy, other men, proud of their English "club", rage violently and bitterly against the native people who represent the cause of their loneliness; spitting hateful slurs and harboring disgustingly little value for their lives. Yet even as Orwell paints a discouraging image of white men, Burmese officials and citizens exercise poor habits and deplorable means of rising to the top of the status quo.
Both sides are flawed but exist within one system.
The interminable argument over the white man's burden and the supposed "inferiority" of under-developed countries proves inconsequential when it comes to the good and happiness of the people involved. Whatever motivation inspires men, either the occupied or occupying, benign or ill-conceived, will not be more effective than a personal exercise of acceptance and integrity in unjust and imbalanced circumstances.
The book resolves beautifully, as only Orwell can do. His characters respond to circumstances invented by Orwell in the only fashion they can. As discouraging as the resolution may seem, it signifies the backward arrangement of power versus the simple, uncontrollable flow of justice. When men arrange the power system, right and wrong dissolve and those in power flourish while those out of power diminish. No sense of moral right can survive in such a system with rules which only work in favor of keeping the powerful in place. Because our world revolves around these types of systems, we can choose to participate or do what is right while in positions dictated by a twisted system. ...more