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374 pages, Hardcover
First published January 1, 1941
X is true for the following reasons: A, B, C. However, D, E, F. Yet when we consider G, H, I, we are led to believe A, B, C, and furthermore, J, K, L.When reading Orwell's essays in this collection, one gets the sense that he is bending over backwards to both express his opinion as thoroughly as possible and yet be as charitable as he can be regarding the subjects he is writing about. Also, I felt when reading this that the writings seems astonishingly (for the most part) modern. But the truth is it's just plain good writing. Although many of the issues are preoccupied with the predominant issues of his epoch, namely, totalitarianism and freedom from such regimes, there is a kind of timelessness about the writing, topics such as the human struggle to be free, to realize a certain vision of politics, to choose this world or the next. This review doesn't do enough justice to the book, but definitely this will be one I will re-read later.
Not, of course, that Dali’s autobiography, or his pictures, ought to be suppressed. Short of the dirty postcards that used to be sold in the Mediterranean seaport towns, it is doubtful policy to suppress anything, and Dali’s fantasies probably cast useful light on the decay of capitalist civilization. But what he clearly needs is diagnosis. The question is not so much what he is as why he is like that. It ought to not be in doubt that he is a diseased intelligence, probably not much altered by his alleged conversion [to Catholicism, late in his life], since genuine penitents, or people who have returned to sanity, do not flaunt their past vices in that complacent way. He is a symptom of the world’s illness. The important thing is not to denounce him as a cad who ought to be horsewhipped, or to defend him as a genius who ought not to be questioned, but to find out why he exhibits that particular set of aberrations
…suppose that you have nothing in you except your egoism and a dexterity that goes no higher than the elbow: suppose that your real gift is for a detailed, academic, representational style of drawing, your real métier to be an illustrator of scientific textbooks. How then do you become Napoleon? There is always one escape: into wickedness. Always do the thing that will shock and wound people… Along those lines you can always feel yourself original. And after all, it pays!
There is a general resemblance which one can hardly avoid seeing, because the most impressive event in Tolstoy’s life, as in Lear’s, was a huge gratuitous act of renunciation. In his old age he renounced his estate, his title and his copyrights, and made an attempt – a sincere attempt, though it was not successful – to escape from his privileged position and live the life of a peasant. But the deeper resemblance lies in the fact that Tolstoy, like Lear, acted on mistaken motives and failed to get the results he had hoped for. According to Tolstoy, the aim of every human being is happiness, and happiness can only be attained by doing the will of God. But doing the will of God means casting off all earthly pleasures and ambitions, and living only for others. Ultimately, therefore, Tolstoy renounced the world under the expectation that this would make him happier. But if there is one thing certain about his later years, it is that he was not happy. On the contrary, he was driven almost to the edge of madness by the behavior of the people about him, who persecuted him precisely because of his renunciation
But there is also another moral [to Lear]. Shakespeare never utters it in so many words, and it does not very much matter whether he was fully aware of it. It is contained in the story, which, after all, he made up, or altered to suit his purposes. It is: “Give away your lands if you want to, but don’t expect to gain happiness by doing so. Probably you won’t gain happiness. If you live for others, you must live for others, and not as a roundabout way of getting an advantage for yourself.” Obviously neither of these conclusions could have been pleasing to Tolstoy. The first of them expresses the ordinary, belly-to-earth selfishness from which he was genuinely trying to escape. The other conflicts with his desire to eat his cake and have it – that is, to destroy his own egoism and by so doing to gain eternal life Of course Lear is not a sermon in favor of altruism. It merely points out the results of practicing self-denial for selfish reasons.