George Orwell: A Literary Life – Peter Davison (1996)
It is said that everybody needs a hobby, but that is not to say you should be limited to only one. While some of my hobbies could be described as practical in their scope, such as learning a new language or exercising, over the last few years, I have increasingly found myself engaged in a number of much more infrequent and slow burning distractions from the monotonies of everyday life. One such hobby, which has now developed into more of a habit, is exclusively tasked with collecting materials written by or concerning the life and works of George Orwell. As with any respectable habit, there are of course, certain rules and restrictions I have placed on myself. For example, my purchases are restricted to second-hand book stores only, and there is no doubling up on editions – I have no need for three copies of a particular novel.
To say that I mention Orwell far too often is to push an open door, but someone needs to be obsessive about these kinds of things. I picked up this short book in a charity shop in Twickenham, South West London, and while it sat on the shelf for several months, I was able to read through it in only a couple of days. Interestingly, I paid £1.99 for this book in hardback and have since found copies selling online for up to £140.
Summary – Peter Davison dedicated 17 years of his life to compiling and editing the magnificent 20 volume Complete Works of George Orwell andwhen it comes to Orwell, he is most certainly the man. As opposed to a straightforward literary biography, George Orwell: A Literary Life examines the people, literature and experiences that influenced the author’s work as well his interactions with publishers and editors. This includes inquiries into Orwell’s relationship with his family and largely absent father, his constant battles with censorship, his career shaping experiences in the Spanish Civil War, and his work in the BBC during the Second World War. Davison explores the circumstances surrounding all of Orwell’s major works (including novels, essays and articles) as well as offering informed analyses of the texts themselves.
Verdict – I have read just about every word that Orwell put to paper, as well as the major biographies and literary criticisms, soit is a rather rare occurrence to discover something about Orwell not previously encountered. Davison’s book, however, while acknowledging the wealth of study on Orwell already in existence, is able to offer a number of interesting and fresh insights into the author’s life and work.
Particularly, I must applaud Davison’s efforts in dispelling the mistakenly accepted view of Orwell as both a puritanical figure and a misogynist. Davison is more than equipped to outline the humour and irony pervading Orwell’s work that literary scholars and critics consistently seem to overlook. As to the latter charge, Davison is methodical and sensible in clearing the waters, however, as he quite candidly admits, “Those who believe Orwell was a misogynist and contemptuous of women are unlikely to be convinced otherwise by evidence.”
In many ways, this book is almost a memoir of Davison’s experience collecting and editing The Complete Works of George Orwell and is a fitting introduction and companion to that collection. For a more comprehensive biography, I would recommend Sir Bernard Crick’s Orwell: A Life(1980).
Memorable Quote – (Given the current political climate, perhaps a quote from Orwell himself would be most fitting) “Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also… When the thing becomes possible, it is merely pathetic and disgusting.”
The Gulag Archipelago – Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1973)
The Mission – In an attempt to better keep track of my reading, I have settled on the idea that creating a short a post on the book with which I am currently engaged might prove a productive and useful undertaking. For the last 2 weeks, I have been spending every spare moment utterly transfixed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s TheGulag Archipelago, 1918 – 1956 (1973).
Summary – In this “experiment in literary investigation,” the Nobel Prize winning Solzhenitsyn details the brutal and truly terrifying realities of life in the Soviet Prison system during the first part of the 20th century. More than that, he soberly examines the potentiality for corruption and tyrannical cruelty that exists within even the most unassuming and ordinary of souls. For Solzhenitsyn, the workings of Soviet society are a horror show of denunciation, incompetence, betrayal, violence and misery with constantly changing rules and a total disregard for truth.
So shocking a revelation was The Gulag Archipelago that within weeks of its publication, Solzhenitsyn was arrested, deported from the USSR and stripped of his Soviet Citizenship. It would take another 20 years before his final return to Russia in 1994.
Verdict – I have read my fair share of anti-Soviet literature in the past, but the memory of this book will surely haunt me for years to come. I can be certain of that much. As a result, I can’t escape the thought that something very similar to Solzhenitsyn’s deeply disturbing testimony could very possibly be lurking just around the corner for Western Society. However, that is for another day and another article. Who knows who could be reading and preparing their denunciation against me? Until the day that the secret police drag me off for interrogation, I advise you to read this book and learn from it.
Memorable Quote – “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
How about my visitors? Have any of you read this book? What were your thoughts on finishing The Gulag Archipelago? Perhaps you could recommend the perfect book to follow this one.
It’s a miserable and rained-out day in West London and while we’re stuck in the flat, I’ve remedied to spend some time publishing a post. We were in East London last week to catch -up with our old Hackney neighbourhood and sure enough, I brought my camera for good measure.
We met my brother while we were out there and got to talking about all these photographs I’ve taken over the last few years. He raised the point that perhaps some could fall under the impression that I endorse the message of everything that I photograph and I think he may be onto something. Surely it must be known that just because I document something does not mean that I buy into its politics. However, I’m entirely willing to accept that I might give people a little too much credit. Nevertheless, I find his thoughts on this odd hobby that I have cultivated to be worthy of note and something to which I am sure I will return in my thinking.
If I’m honest, I don’t recall ever reading any satisfactory analysis on the politics of street art as yet. That may very well be because I don’t read any kind of art criticism at all anyway. I just take the pictures, I would much rather let someone else try and figure out what it all means. I could perhaps write a derivative, Orwell styled essay like his critical work on The Art of Donald McGillorSalvador Dali, but I doubt anyone needs or is willing to pay for something like that in this day and age. One thing I know for sure is that I really need to stop talking about George Orwell so bloody often.
Here’s everything I saw on that cold Sunday afternoon last week:
You know how it is, you’re in a second-hand bookshop on a Saturday afternoon, indifferently leafing through anything that comes to hand and, for whatever reason, you suddenly fix on something that catches you’re attention. I picked up a copy of Content Provider: Selected Short Prose Pieces 2011-2016(2016, Faber & Faber) by the comedian Stewart Lee and noticed that someone (Nigel) had gifted the book to his friend (Gordon). On the title page it reads:
There’s nothing new about this sort of thing, of course. I have dozens of second-hand books dedicated to all manner of friends, lovers and family on the shelf at home. What makes this book an exception, however, is that it looks like Gordon took the time to respond to his friend. The last page reads:
Gordon might not have gotten a laugh out of the book, but I certainly got one from his note.
It’s been a miserable few weeks of rain and wind in London this last month, but herself and I have no plans to let any of that get in the way of us enjoying the city. On Sunday we went to Brick Lane in the East End and in addition to taking a stack of photos of the all new street art that’s appeared since our last visit (and which I will post later in the week), we saw this guy belting out tunes to the Sunday afternoon crowd of tourists, traders and locals. I grew up listening to heavy metal, punk and hip-hop, so this was right up my street, but I understand that it’s not to everybody’s taste.
Please play the video with the volume turned up for maximum results. This guy was playing very loudly.
The performers name is Lewis Floyd Henry and If you like this and would like to hear more check him out here.
Accepting disappointment as sarcastically as possible.
Before the weekend, I asked you to submit questions that you would like me to ask David Attenborough if the chance arose at an event I attended to celebrate the remarkable success of Planet Earth II.
Well, unfortunately there was no Q&A section after the presentation so I didn’t get the opportunity to ask anything – in fact, I don’t recall Attenborough even speaking at all during the ceremony.
Secondly, I also hoped to get at least a decent photograph of the man, but sadly even that opportunity was crushed under the cruel wagon wheels of fate. The story behind my failed photo-op isn’t one of my most shining moments, but it is somewhat amusing in its piteousness.
As you would expect at this kind of event, the place was absolutely packed-out with people eager to get a glimpse of the Attenborough. Viewing space was in short, however, I had been fortunate in finding a sweet spot with a direct view of the stage on the bottom step of the building’s central staircase. By the time the presentation was ready to begin, the staircase was entirely full of spectators, but (of course) people still needed to use the steps to get about their business. To make their passage easier, whenever someone came down or wanted to get up the stairs, I jumped down from my step and allowed through access (as I recall, I was the only person making any effort to create a space for movement at all). Anyway, a lady comes down the stairs and I step down to let her through, but – wouldn’t you know it – she only goes and steps right into my spot. I was so shocked by the impropriety of such an action (and because I didn’t want to cause a scene), I found myself utterly unable to pull her up on what people from my neighborhood would call very not on behaviour. Please bear in mind that the event took place in my office, so I wasn’t going to shake the boat too much, especially considering I’ve only been here for a month. Oh well, c’est la vie, as the Dutch say. I got neither a question nor a photograph, but life goes on. I bet the lady who stole my place was able to take a good picture, although I hope not.
I was only going to post once today (a satirical notion I’ve had kicking around my head for a while), however, I just remembered that I will be attending a presentation on the highly successful BBC nature documentary series Planet Earth IItomorrow and Sir David Attenborough is set to appear as a special guest and speaker. As far as I know, there will be a Q&A session afterwards and I am very interested in asking a question. Then I thought about this blog and the very modestly broad global reach that I have built around it. So, here’s my thought; would any of my readers like me to ask David Attenborough a question for them tomorrow? I quite liked that idea. The internet can be used to do some pretty cool things and everybody likes those kings of things to happen from time to time, right?
Please write a question you would like me to ask Attenborough in the comments section and I will pick the best and, if I get the chance, I will get an answer for you. I will post everything he says in a new post. If I don’t get the chance then that’s that. I can try to approach him after, but bear in mind he’s a 90 year old man and I’d much rather not bother him, though I may try. I don’t know if I can promise much more.
I know it’s short notice, but surely you must have one question for the man who did this:
Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the latter half of Trump’s second presidential term that the United States found itself engaged in an irredeemably devastating and entirely one sided thermo-nuclear altercation.
With the luxury of hindsight, and the clarifying detachment permitted by the passing of time, it is only now that we can truly appreciate how entertainingly the whole affair must have transpired. It would certainly have made quite a picture on the screen, performed as it was like the comedic theatre of antiquity.
In one of fate’s cruelest practical jokes, the first round of warheads were – as a wealth of recent study has verified – strategically and systematically targeted at all Trump branded properties across the United States, including Trump International Hotel Waikiki, Hawaii, and Trump Waste Disposals, Alaska. In a blink of fractionally greater than an instant, the entirety of the President’s real-estate portfolio was scaled down to scarcely more than a scattered mess of dust and rubble. Before domestic intelligence services, the global markets, or news media organizations could even register such a sharp and violent calamity, a second batch of drops devastated every major metropolitan area between and along America’s two great coastlines in addition to all state capitals and a meticulous selection of tactical military installations across the country.
Subsequent deposits thoroughly disabled the nation’s travel infrastructure; ports and harbors smashed and surrendered to the water; airports reduced to little more than fused glass and evaporated tar; charcoal and warped metal all that remains of the once envied trans-continental rail road. In all (though exact estimates of the total payload are a matter of the wildest speculation at best) it can be asserted with some confidence that widespread and significant deposits were delivered consistently over a 5 day period. The result, as has been documented at length, the absolute and total mutilation of the American nation.
Perhaps the most unfortunate detail in this whole catastrophe was the absolute lack of anticipation and forward planning on the part of United States as well the international community at large. They foresaw neither what had hit them nor how meticulously the game would be dominated from move one. The prospect of counter-strike was an impossibility; the origins of the attack having gone completely unnoticed by all of America’s most advanced object-detection technologies. Few senior defence officials at the time could have considered the very notion as even remotely plausible. Quite simply put, this was the greatest global security and intelligence failure witnessed in the modern era. That is not to suggest that the existence of any such foresight would have made much difference to how events transpired. Consider, for example, the assertions of Isaiah Berlin in his exploration of Machiavelli’s philosophy: “To know the worst is not always to be liberated from its consequences.” Berlin may have conceded that such knowledge may nevertheless be “preferable to ignorance,” but it cannot be said for sure that had any kind of last minute revelation been offered, it would have changed matters in any significant manner. Of course, we will never truly know the available options because on that fateful November evening, the United States became the first casualty in what many view to be the most uncertain and terrifying period of instability civilization has yet encountered. To quote the remarks of the French political theorist Jean-Luc Bagoulette, “Global warming suddenly became the least of our concerns.”
Without doubt, the November Rain1 represented the single most devastating nuclear unloading on a single nation in human history and the magnitude of such an event cannot be overstated. Through cross-disciplinary study and forensic data collection from a wide and varying spectrum of sources, the expert consensus has calculated the total loss of life at just short of genocide with close to a 75% fatality rate. A digestible statistic through the lens of historical recollection, but a truly cataclysmic happening at the time. Try to imagine the irreconcilable disfigurement of the entirety of human existence and that is barely half of the psychological journey one would need to traverse in trying to understand the magnitude of such a happening. For those caught in the event, this was the absolute armageddon.
For the survivors, to leave the country was an absolute necessity and thus began the largest migration of refugees since WWII. Some were fortunate and had resources to move North to whosoever could host them. However, for millions of impoverished, sick, starving and dying unfortunates, the only viable route of escape lay across the southern border and through the harsh terrain of Mexico.
Despite many sincere and concerted efforts to the contrary, no direct link has yet been established between Trump’s domestic and foreign policies and the motivations behind the disaster. However, these factors are of paramount importance when addressing the months that followed. Consider a proposition: could those people who championed and implemented Trump’s policies regarding Mexico, those workers who fixed steel and poured concrete into the wall, to the whole economy it supported, could they ever have anticipated that this unrelenting structure, built so enthusiastically to keep the internationals out on one side, would serve the dual purpose of more than adequately keeping their compatriots trapped in on the other? How ironic that the difference of opinions on Mexican immigration that contributed in no small part to the outcome of the 2016 election would so define the fate of so many desperate American refugees such a short time in the future. In fact, the topic of Mexican immigration was even a great cause for amusement and mockery for a not insignificant number of American voters in the run up to the 2016 election. With this in mind, the subsequent actions of the Mexican government, and their prohibitions on any and all southerly migration, are of little surprise.
While a remarkable volume of literature has laid great emphasis on the seemingly random and unprecedented nature of the Great American Disaster (and certainly its causes are a source of much dispute in academic and public debate), in the interest of forming a rounded viewpoint of the event, it is first necessary to firmly establish a clear grasp of context in any mind committed to such investigation. If one is to learn anything from human calamity, first one must appreciate the social, economic and political circumstances with which it is irrevocably linked. In order to properly examine this particular episode in human history, we must first establish a starting point from which all subsequent events can be traced. For the Great American Disaster, there is no better a place to start than the 2016 presidential election and particularly the seminal role played by Hillary Clinton in what would become the nuclear ruin of the United States.
(To be continued.)
1.↩ The origins of this term have been widely disputed almost as long as it has been in use. It is speculated to have been coined by an inhabitant of Los Angeles, California, who, returning to the city after a weekend in the Nevada desert, noted a “heavy downpour” on his journey back across state lines. Interestingly, meteorological reports strongly suggest that it was not raining in or around the Los Angeles area at the time of the attack.
Forget 2016. It’s gone. Done. C’est fini. A dead parrot. It’s 2017 now and things are going to change around here. For starters, we won’t be taking any grumbling from any of you lot. It’s time to knuckle down and get a move, especially you at the back. I can see you. Heads down, we’re going to power on through this. We need a serious focus on hard work and productivity in 2017 if we’re going to get anywhere. Mark my words. Before we get to that, however, someone put the kettle on for a cup of tea. Some biscuits would be a good idea too. A slice of cake would be grand if you have it. Anything besides carrots cake and then we’ll get to business. Of course, a nap wouldn’t be the worst idea. So that we’re all refreshed for when we get going.
Following the indulgences of Christmas, it’s been a serious few weeks as I’ve been fitting into my new job and trying to get back into a healthy and productive rhythm once again. Marking the advent of a New Year, I recently transferred from wordpress.com to .org and one of the more playful differences between the two services is the ability to install a heap of plug-ins. These range from the productive and entertaining to the useless and annoying, so it’s taken me some time to figure out exactly what is and isn’t possible.
Thinking about time and how we move through life has been somewhat of a distraction of mine for the last several years and when the weather improves, I plan to take updated pictures of the historical locations I found in a published collection of old photographs of my neighbourhood (Chiswick Through Time, Carolyn & Peter Hammond). I had played with the idea of this quite trivial project a few months ago, but I was so busy with job and general life business that I never got round to embarking on the venture proper. I also couldn’t use the very handy image slider plug-in on my old plan. The plan, therefore, is to jump right into that as soon as the weather improves.
The below image is a mock-up of what I’m looking to do. I took this image as a test last summer:
In a recent post I discussed wanting to make a change to my life and, sure enough , I went and took the plunge. I no longer work with VICE News (the three hour daily commute was steadily eroding my will to live.) but have instead taken a post with the BBC. Since I was a kid, it’s been my dream and ambition to work at the BBC and now I can tick that one off the list. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. I remember well writing a post about my disappoinment at the closure of Television Centre, a few years on, however, things are starting to look a whole lot better. Although the old grounds are literally a building site at the moment, I’m told that three of the building’s historic studios are being refurbished and should be up and running again by 2018. Things are going to get very exciting.
Secondly, this adjustment should allow me the time to pursue more fruitful avenues. I have a stack of books to get through and also have a long-form post, more in keeping with the old spirit of this blog, in mind. I will most probably also be transferring this site onto wordpress.org in the new year (I’m not chancing anything else in 2016). This shouldn’t alter how the blog works, but will it certainly allow me to experiment a little more.
I still have a few photos that I took while working around Old Street and deliver them here for you.
WordPress tells me that I have now used up the entire 3Gb of storage offered on my plan. This means that if I wish to continue maintaining this site then I’m going to have to make a decision on what to do next. I can either fork out for a premium plan or transfer everything onto a WordPress.org domain. Either choice will mean having to spend money that I don’t have at the moment, for now, I guess I will just have to hold off on posting – or really make an effort to curate and clear out my media library of any pictures/media that I don’t use. I’ve said this many times before, but I really need to start writing with greater frequency. Perhaps limiting how many images I post will force me to put down the camera and pick up the pen a little more.
I have a few pictures that I was able to take yesterday as I was doing some overtime at the office. Enjoy.
It’s been somewhat of an eventful time as of late, culminating in an appointment and discussion with my neurologist about how we would move forward with a treatment plan for my Multiple Sclerosis. When he commended my level headedness through the process so far – from my initial bout with a sixth annular nerve palsy and speculative diagnosis two years ago, to the confirmatory case of optic neuritis I experienced earlier this year and the subsequent decision being made that I will require life-long treatment – my only thought was, “What other choice do I have?” I told him just that, prompting a repeat of his applause for my reticence in the face of what is becoming an increasingly unsavoury reality.
In truth, my only real concern is the possibility of side-effects to the medication and how these might stunt or impede my ability to do the things I most enjoy; music, reading, cooking, writing, running, working. Of course, there is nothing to be gained by worrying about such possibilities before absolutely necessary, and even then worry is sure to only hinder any sort of productive outcome to the matter. The whole affair put me in mind of the conclusion to Isaiah Berlin’s essay on the originality of Machiavelli in which Berlin contemplates that, “To know the worst is not always to be liberated from its consequences; nevertheless it is preferable to ignorance.” There are many bad things that could happen, regardless of my feelings on the case. Until the nasty bits reveal themselves, I have better things to be getting on with.
I had some free time after my appointment, and before I headed back to the office, I was able to snap some of the interesting street art around Shoreditch.
I posted yesterday, but since my new job is taking up nearly every moment of my day, I’ve decided to make a point of posting whenever I have even so much as a spare second. Even now I’m juggling this post with dinner in the oven, a blocked kitchen sink, and a stack of laundry to get through.
As I was heading back from lunch this afternoon, I jumped into an alley with the hope that I’d found a short cut back to the office. Of course, I was wrong. However, I do seem to have happened upon what looks to be a strong successor to the place that pretty much sparked my interest in London Street art (Stuckey Place in Camden, or as those familiar with this blog may know it, “Shit Alley”). While I had the time, I took my phone and snapped as much of the work on display as I could manage. I would stay and write some more, but I’m exhausted and I think I can smell dinner burning. Enjoy and tell me what you think:
After a short time away, your faithful corespondent is back at his blog. To be honest, it’s been a long month and I’ve barely had a moment to myself since September. All I have to show for myself as far as photography goes is a picture that I took a fortnight ago and that I’m using as the Featured Image of this post, it’s a terrible shot but I’ve been rather occupied these past few weeks. I left my old job in the last week of September and after a weekend break, I started my new job on the following Monday. As if that wasn’t hard going enough, in my first fortnight of the new job, I had two of my brothers visit London at the same time. If you know much about the Irish, you will know that when one of us finally reunites with a brother not seen in years, there’ll be a fine fit of stout drinking going on to mark the occasion. As soon as they went home, I was not far behind as I was asked to be the godfather for my brother’s first son. There was drinking and merriment that week as well, I can tell you. Add to that a thousand other things I’ve had to do and the horrible illness I caught from sheer exhaustion, I just haven’t had the time to sit down and write, or think about anything.
In one interesting turn of events, a video I filmed earlier this year and posted to this blog looks to have found itself some attention online. It currently has around 300,000 views on Youtube, which is very peculiar to me. Here’s a repost of the video for anyone who missed it the first time:
I’m looking to make a few changes in my life that will allow more time to write more essays, articles, short stories, etc. as I’ve been told that it might be a good area for me to pursue. We’ll see about that. I already feel like I’m juggling a dozen balls and I’m not sure if throwing a few more into the mix will do me any good.
Just before the Brexit referendum took place earlier this year, some of you may remember that I conducted a poll on my visitors to see if they could guess what the outcome would be. On that particular occasion, we got it wrong. We have a pool going on in the office about the US election and think that perhaps I will give another poll a try.
Who will win the US presidential election? Not who you would like to win, or who you will vote for, but who do you think will win?