THE PROSE BRACKET: HOLMES VS. ORWELL

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Eric Blair changed his name to George Orwell to hide from Stalin. 

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

–George Orwell

A dinner party is the last triumph of civilization over barbarism. Conversation depends on how much you take for granted. Vulgar chess-players have to play their games out; nothing short of the brutality of an actual checkmate satisfies their dull apprehensions. But look at two masters of that noble game! White stands well enough, so far as you see; but Red says, Mate in six moves;—White looks, —nods;—the game is over.

–Oliver Wendell Holmes

George Orwell is famous for expounding the truth of government control: lying that blatantly misleads and so breaks the will of resistance.  It’s a two step process. A lie—so obviously a lie, that it is also a form of oppression. The imposition of totalitarian thuggery on a sovereign nation—the Soviet state, in the modern era of advanced communication—and spying—caught the attention of an eccentric, rough-and-ready-yet-awkward, British Empire civil servant, who was born in India, and who served in Burma in the Imperial Police: yes, that’s right— George Orwell himself was an Orwellian Policeman who worked for the British Empire.

George Orwell was working towards a British identity in a H.G. Wells/Bertrand Russell free love, atheistic, homophobic (he called friend and associate Stephen Spender a “pansy”) socialist-but-watch-out-for-the-Soviet-Reds, keep-a-patronizing-eye-on-the-English-working-class, whip-the-school-boy-when-necessary, ramble-in-the-woods, tinker-in-the-garden, blow-up-a-chemistry-set, play-a-prank-or-two, good-cup-of-hot-tea-and-milk, traditional England, sort of way. He loved London. He hated Moscow. Orwell is a great deal simpler than he might seem. To be an eccentric Englishman is to be, quite matter-of-factly Orwellian, through and through—if you haven’t met one of these types, already.

Orwell is that special kind of hero to every western, post-War intellectual—the anti-Stalinist Leftist. He wrote two classics exposing, first in a fairy tale, and then in a dystopian thriller, totalitarian, ideological, mind control, Soviet-style, Communism—or, the CIA Deep State, if you like. He was deeply involved in working class, leftist, journalism and politics, and his two famous books were probably good because, in both, he was able to take a holiday and write fiction to indirectly say what he otherwise strenuously and directly said, and lived: shot in the throat by a sniper in Spain while fighting against Franco, threatened and decried by Stalinists, fighting for socialism, surviving the blitz, writing non-fiction, working part-time jobs, falling ill a lot, chasing women, traveling, and playing a tramp (spying) in poor districts as a journalist.

Writing Animal Farm must have been a lark for this non-stop, chain-smoking, frail, driven, adventurous, wreck of a man who died at 46.

He wrote the Alice in Wonderland of the 20th century about the Soviet Union.

He updates the Victorian classic with absurdism still the underlying trope:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (1984)

Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Fire Side Poet who knew Emerson, who lived in Massachusetts, a physician and man of letters, is the American 19th century liberal, ready to join the English and punish the Russians and Germans. Checkmate is moves away, but as certain to come as high tea. Holmes is the brilliant 19th century, free-thinking American—not quite the same thing as an early 20th century, free-thinking, British eccentric, but close. We assume there is much too much evil in the world—so no need to play out the chess match. Accept the match is over.  The U.S. and Britain are to rule the world.  Haven’t you heard?

But what is this? Neither Red nor White have surrendered!

They are still playing!

After numerous overtimes, steady Holmes edges eccentric Orwell!

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TRAVIS NICHOLS PLAYS HIS FINAL CARD, AND THE THUMBS ARE DOWN AT LAST!


“…to-day the editor of Harriet holds a show of his own, and wins applause by slaying whomsoever the mob with a turn of the thumb bids him slay…”
……………………………………………loosely adapted from Juvenal, Satires (III.36)

For a beautiful example of everything George Orwell tried to expose in Politics and the English Language, read The Poetry Foundation’s letter just posted on Blog:Harriet [click here]

In the Letter, the Editors try to cover up the appalling mess Travis Nichols made out of what had been one of the most vibrant poetry discussion sites in America.

Today Harriet is at Zero!

Yes, the Like/Dislike thumbs are down at last, having served their purpose — which was simply to remove four figures, Thomas Brady, Alan Cordle, Desmond Swords and Christopher Woodman.

Now with Harriet on her back in the blood soaked dirt, weakly raising her left hand for mercy, Travis’ hysterical fans indicate no mercy — and the stunt becomes a fait accompli. Harriet is dead now for sure.

Of course there’s no mention of any of that in the letter. Just spin, faulty figures, bluff, and bravado — like the last administration on the state of Iraq in the months following the invasion!

Indeed, not one word of this Poetry Foundation letter is truthful. Like the stats in it — foully cooked! Everybody knows you can cut the stats on a blog in a thousand different ways, and not one of them will give you a true figure. Travis has cut the Harriet stats all in his own favor — and just look at him up there in the picture to see where he’s at!

And dear Catherine Halley, the On-Line Editor at The Poetry Foundation, you should be ashamed to add your signature to that letter. You did your best to prevent the debacle, we know that, and are tremendously disappointed in you for capitulating now.

We’d love to post a list of the myriad voices who have vanished from Harriet since the ugly puscht, lending us their support through their silence.  Those of you who know the Blog can trot out their names with ease. Their absence cries shame on you, Travis and Catherine. Shame on your petty vendetta.

And shame is the word.

Thomas Brady,
Alan Cordle,
Desmond Swords,
Christopher Woodman

THE GOOD BAD POEM

One can, perhaps, place Kipling more satisfactorily than by juggling with the words “verse” and “poetry” if one describes him simply as a good bad poet.
………………………………………………………………George Orwell

Mr.[T.S.] Eliot describes Kipling’s metrical work as “verse” and not “poetry,” but adds that it is “great verse,” and further qualifies this by saying that a writer can only be described as a “great verse-writer” if there is some of his work “of which we cannot say whether it is verse or poetry.”

“At his worst, and also his most vital, in poems like “Gunga Din” or “Danny Deever,” Kipling is almost a shameful pleasure, like the taste for cheap sweets that some people secretly carry into middle life.  But even with his best passages one has the same sense of being seduced by something spurious, and yet unquestionably seduced.  Unless one is merely a snob and a liar it is impossible to say that no one who cares for poetry could get any pleasure out of such lines as:  “For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:/Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!” and yet those lines are not poetry in the same sense as “Felix Randal” [Hopkins] or “When icicles hang by the wall” [Shakespeare] are poetry.

“There is a great deal of good bad poetry in English, all of it, I should say, subsequent to 1790.  Examples of good bad poems–I am deliberately choosing diverse ones–are “The Bridge of Sighs,” “When all the World is Young, Lad,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Bret Harte’s “Dickens in Camp,” “The Burial of Sir John Moore,” “Jenny Kissed Me,” “Keith of Ravelston,” “Casabianca.” All of these reek of sentimentality, and yet—not these particular poems, perhaps, but poems of this kind, are capable of giving true pleasure to people who can see clearly what is wrong with them.  One could fill a fair-sized anthology with good bad poems, if it were not for the significant fact that good bad poetry is usually too well known to be worth reprinting.  It is no use pretending that in an age like our own, “good” poetry can have any genuine popularity.  It is, and must be, the cult of a very few people, the least tolerated of the arts.  Perhaps that statement needs a certain amount of qualification.  True poetry can sometimes be acceptable to the mass of the people when it disguises itself as something else.  One can see an example of this in the folk-poetry that England still possesses, certain nursery rhymes and mnemonic rhymes, for instance, and the songs that soldiers make up, including words that go to some of the bugle-calls.  But in general ours is a civilization in which the very word “poetry” evokes a hostile snigger or, at best, the sort of frozen disgust that most people feel when they hear the word “God.”

“If you are good at playing the concertina you could probably go into the nearest public bar and get yourself an appreciative audience within five minutes.  But what would be the attitude of that same audience if you suggested reading them Shakespeare’s sonnets, for instance?  Good bad poetry, however, can get across to the most unpromising audience if the right atmosphere has been worked up beforehand.

“The fact that such a thing as good bad poetry can exist is a sign of the emotional overlap between the intellectual and the ordinary man.  The intellectual is different from the ordinary man, but only in certain sections of his personality, and even then not all the time.  But what is the peculiarity of a good bad poem? A good bad poem is a graceful momument to the obvious.  It records in memorable form–for verse is a mnemonic device, among other things–some emotion which very nearly every human being can share.  The merit of a poem like “When all the World is Young, Lad” is that, however sentimental it may be, its sentiment is “true” sentiment in the sense that you are bound to find yourself thinking the thought it expresses sooner or later; and then, if you happen to know the poem, it will come back into your mind and seem better than it did before.”

……………………………………………………………………..–George Orwell, 1946

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