≡ Menu

乔治·奥威尔(George Orwell): 我为什么要写作

George_Orwell

乔治·奥威尔George Orwell,1903年6月25日-1950年1月21日),原名艾里克·阿瑟·布莱尔(Eric Arthur Blair),英国左翼作家,新闻记者和社会评论家。

奥威尔先生的《动物庄园》和《一九八四》两部小说是反乌托邦小说中寓意最深的小说。前者以动物童话的故事形式写出独裁政权的诞生及其荒诞,后者则是一个冰冷冷的极权政治的预言。

在《动物庄园》中,动物们写下七诫:1.凡靠两条腿行走者皆为仇敌;2.凡靠四肢行走者,或者长翅膀者,皆为亲友;3.任何动物不得着衣;4.任何动物不得卧床;5.任何动物不得饮酒;6任何动物不得伤害其他动物;7所有动物一律平等。

但是由于两只猪的相互倾轧,胜利者一方宣布另一方是叛徒、内奸;猪们逐渐侵占了其他动物的劳动成果,成为新的特权阶级;动物们稍有不满,便招致血腥的清洗;统治者需要迫使猪与人结成同盟,建立起独裁专制;农庄的理想被修正为"所有动物生来平等,但有些动物比其它动物更平等。"(All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.)

在《一九八四》(曾被改编成电影《一九八四》),书中描述了一个令人窒息和恐怖的未来极权社会。在这个极权社会里,不断有词语被禁止使用、销毁,有审查机构负责各种各样的审查,有专门负责监视人民的秘密机构。这个极权社会中最著名的标语是:BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU(老大哥在看着你)

在小说之外,奥威尔先生曾经写过一篇文章谈他自己为什么要写作,这也是很多写作者经常被问到的问题,转载这篇文章,可以作为一个终极的回答。

我为什么要写作 (英文版附后)

作者:乔治·奥威尔 译者:孙仲旭

从很小的时候起,可能是五岁或六岁吧,我知道长大后我要成为一个作家。在差不多十七岁到二十四岁之间,我曾试过抛却这个想法,但在抛却的时候我也意识到那是违背我自己真正天性的,而且迟早有一天,我会安顿下来写书的。

在家里的三个小孩中我排行老二,可是往上往下都有着五岁的差距。在长到八岁前,我几乎没有见到过我父亲。由于这个和其它的原因,我感到有些孤独。不久,我就具备了一些不为人喜的怪癖,让我在上学期间一直不受欢迎。我有了那种孤独小孩所具有的习惯,就是编故事和同想象出来的人对话,我觉得我在文学上的野心在开始之初是同被孤立和被低估的感觉混和着的。我那时就知道我能够熟练运用文字,而且具有直面不愉快事实的能力。我觉得正是这一点创造出了一个有点个人化的世界,在其中我可以找回信心,平衡在日常生活中的失意。尽管如此,我童年及少年期间所有的严肃作品--即出发点是严肃的--的总量不会超过六页纸。在四岁或五岁时我写了我的第一首诗,我妈妈记录了下来。我对它全都记不得了,只知道它是关于一只老虎的,它长着"象椅子那样的牙齿"--很不错的短语,可是我估计那首诗是对布莱克的《老虎,老虎》的抄袭之作。十一岁时,当一九一四年到一九一八年的战争爆发时,我写了一首爱国诗,在本地报纸上登了出来,两年后又登了一首,那是关于基钦纳①之逝的。在我长大了一点后,我时不时地写过差劲的而且是未完成的"自然诗",是乔治王朝时代风格②。我还试过写一篇短篇小说,结果遭到了惨败。那就是我那么多年的确写到了纸面上,而且是立意严肃的全部作品。

但是,在从头到尾的这段时间里,我从某种意义上来说也参与了文学活动。先是那些下单交货的东西,我可以很快很容易地写出来,也没感到有多大乐趣。除了学校的作业以外,我写过应景之作和打油诗,那些我能以如今看来惊人的速度写出来--十四岁时,我一个星期就写了一个诗剧,是仿阿里斯托芬③风格的。我帮着编过学校里的杂志,既有印出来的,也有手抄的。那些杂志是你能想象得到的滑稽无比,以致于让人同情的东西。我编那个比如今写最垃圾的新闻稿还要轻松许多。但与此同期,在十五年或更长的时间里,我以另外一种很不同的形式进行着文学训练:编着关于自己的连续"小说",那是一种只存在于自己脑子里的日记,我相信这是小孩子及青少年们都会有的习惯。在很小的时候,我经常幻想自己是比如说罗宾汉这样的人,幻想着自己在进行着令人心惊胆战的冒险,但是很快,我的"小说"不再有拙劣的自恋性质了,开始越来越多地成为单纯对自己所作所为和所见的描写了。一次有几分钟地会有诸如此类的东西进到了我的脑海:"他推开门进到了房间里,一束经过细棉布窗帘过滤过的黄色太阳光斜斜地照到了桌子上,上面有盒半打开的火柴,旁边是墨水壶。他右手插在口袋里走到了窗户那儿。在下面的街上,一只毛色是龟背纹的猫正在追赶着一片落叶。"等等等等。这种习惯一直持续到了我差不多二十五岁,贯穿了我的非文学生涯。虽然我不得不寻找合适的词,也确实寻找过,但是我好象是在违背意愿地进行着这种描写性尝试,是处于来自外界的某种压力之下。我约摸我的"小说"肯定反映了我处于不同年龄时所仰慕的作家的风格,但就我所能回忆起的,它总是具有一丝不苟的描写性特点。在我差不多十六岁时,我突然发现了单纯是单词本身的乐趣,即单词的发音和关联。如《失乐园》的这一行--

于是他不顾困厄,辛苦劳作着
度日;而困厄劳作也压迫着他。

这在现在看起来好象也并非是特别精彩的,但在那时却能让我浑身发颤;而且以"hee"来拼写"he"④更是增添了乐趣。至于需要描写事物,我那时已经全都知道了。所以如果说我那时就想要写书的话,要写什么则是已经清楚了。我要写数量极多的自然主义长篇小说,有着并非皆大欢喜的结尾。里面充满了细致入微的描写和极其贴切的比喻,同样也充满了词藻华丽的段落,其中所使用的单词部分是由于它们本身的发音。实际上,我完成了第一本小说《缅甸岁月》就相当接近于那种风格,那是我在三十岁时写的,但立意在那之前很早就开始了。我给出了所有的背景方面的信息,因为我不认为一个人在一点也不知道某个作家早期发展过程的情况下可以了解他的写作动机。他的写作主题是由他所生活的时代所决定的--至少在我们目前这个喧嚣和变革的时代是这样--但是在开始写作前,他会形成一种情感上的姿态,那是他永远不可能完全与之脱离的。当然,他有一样工作要做,就是控制好自己的性情,避免纠缠在某种不成熟的阶段,陷到某种不正常的情绪中去。但是,要是从早期所受到的影响中完全脱离的话,他就会扼杀自己的写作冲动。除了谋生的需要,我认为写作有四种最重要的动机,至少是对于非诗歌写作而言。这些动机在每个作家身上存在的程度不同,根据他所生活的外界环境它们所占的比例也会时时变动。它们是:

1.纯粹的个人主义。渴望显得聪明,被谈论,在死后被记着,报复那些在你童年时怠慢过你的成年人等等。装作个人主义不是个动机而且是个很强的动机,那是欺人之谈。作家跟这些人在性格上有相通之处:科学家、艺术家、政治家、律师、战士、商界成功者--简而言之,是人类中的全体精英。人类中的绝大多数并不是十分自私的。过了三十岁,他们几乎完全放弃了作为个人的感觉--他们主要是为他人而生,或者是在苦差中压得喘不过气来。但是还有另一小部分具有天分、随心所欲的人们,他们决心一辈子到底为自己生活,作家就是属于这类人。至于严肃作家们,我要说他们总的来说比记者更自负,更以自我为中心,虽然他们对金钱的兴趣要少些。

2.美学热情。即:对于外部世界之妙处的感知,或者是另一方面对词语和他们恰到好处的排列的美感的认知;对于一个发音对另一个发音的影响或是好文字的精当或是好小说的节奏所感到的愉悦;想与别人分享本人认为很有价值,不容错过的一段经历的渴望。美学冲动在很多作家那里是很不明显的,但是即使是个小册子作者或是课本作者也会有些爱用的词,这些词为他所偏爱并不是因为实用方面的原因;要么他可能会对印刷样式,边缘宽度等等有很强的偏爱。除了铁路时刻表之类,没有哪一本书完全不具有美学上的考虑。

3.历史冲动。即渴望看到事情的本来面目,发现真正的事实并且将其载存以供后来者使用。

4.政治目的--这里的"政治"是最广义上的含义。渴望将世界向某个方向推动,改变人们将会去努力实现的那种社会的概念。同样,没有一本书是完全不带一点政治倾向的。那种艺术应与政治无关的观点本身就是一种政治态度。

可以看得出来,这些不同的冲动一定互相在争斗不休,而且他们一定会在不同人那里,在不同时候波动不已。从本性上说--把"本性"当作你刚刚成人时所具有的状态--我是个前三个动机大于第四个动机的人。在和平年代里,我可能只会写些文字绚丽或单纯描写性的书本,也可能几乎从来意识不到自己所忠守的政治信念。的确,我曾被迫成为类似于小册子作者的人。一开始,我在不合适的职业上花了五年(驻缅甸的印度皇家警察),然后我经历了贫困和失败的感觉。这些增加了我对权力的天生恨意,也第一次全面意识到了工人阶级的存在,而在缅甸的工作让我对于帝国主义的本质有了点认识。但是这些经历不足以使我具有明确的政治倾向。然后就出现了希特勒和西班牙内战等等。到了一九三五年,我仍然未能作出明确的决定。我记得我当时写了一首小诗,它表明了我的两难心态。

我原应当个快乐的牧师
活在两百年之前
就不变的世界末日布道
看着我的胡桃树长高

但是生在,唉,极坏的时代
我错过了那个适意的避风港
因为我的上唇长出了胡须
而教士们脸都刮得光光

后来的日子仍是不错
我们曾是如此易于满足
我们把烦心事轻轻放下
周围环抱着的是丛树

我们曾不以无知为耻
欢乐如今却被我们掩饰
苹果树枝上的黄鹂鸟
就能让我的敌人们战栗

可是姑娘的肚皮和杏林
树荫下溪流里的斜齿鳊
马匹,在破晓时争斗的鸭子
所有这些都成了梦幻

禁止再次做梦
我们把欢乐粉碎或是藏起
马匹是由不锈钢所造
由矮个胖男人把它们骑

我就是那条永远不动的蚯蚓
一个没有闺房可以逞威的宦官
我象尤金·亚拉姆一样走在
牧师和政委-两人中间

政委正在给我算命
而收音机也在响着
牧师保证我会有辆奥斯汀七型车
因为克已奉公总会有收获

我梦到我住进了大理石城堡
醒来后发现这是真的
我生在如今可谓生不逢时
史密斯呢?琼斯呢?你呢?

西班牙战争和在一九三六年到一九三七年所发生的事改变了态势,此后我就知道我的立场如何了。从一九三六年以来,我所写的每一行严肃作品都是直接或间接反对极权主义而拥护我所理解的民主社会主义的。在我们所处的这个时代里,那种以为可以回避写这些题材的想法对我来说是胡说八道。每个人都以一种方式或另一种方式写它们,只不过是个简单的选择哪种立场和用什么方式写的问题。一个人越清楚地认识到自己的政治倾向,他就越可能达到既政治化行事,又不牺牲他在美学和智识上的一贯性。

我在过去的全部十年中想要做到的就是将政治性写作变成一种艺术。我的出发点总是感觉到党派偏见和不公。当坐下来写一本书时,我不会跟自己说:"我要写一本在艺术上完美的书。"我想写它是因为有某种谎言我想要去揭穿,有些事实我想唤起注意,我最初所关心的是让人们听到我的意见。但是如果同时没有一种美学感受的话,我就不能写一本书,甚或是一篇为杂志而写的长文章。任何人如果有心详细看一下我所写的东西,就会发现即使是彻头彻尾的宣传,里面还是包括很多一个专职的政治家会认为是与主题无关的东西。我不能也不愿抛弃那个我自孩提时期形成的世界观。只要我活着,我就会继续追求文字上的风格,继续热爱大自然,继续欣赏那些实在的东西及星星点点的无用信息。我想要压制自己这一方面是无效的。我的工作是将我根深蒂固的喜恶感与那些时代所强加给我们所有人身上,基本上是大众的、非个体的活动相调合。

这并非易事,它引出了结构及语言的难题,而且它以新的方式引出了真实性的难题。我可以举出一个例子说明出现的基本困难。我那本关于西班牙内战的书《向加特隆尼亚致敬》当然确实是政治性书本,但它主要的是用一定的超脱心态和对体例上的考虑写成的。我确实非常努力地想在其中说明全部的事实但又不和我的文学本能相悖。但是除了别的,这本书中还包括了篇幅很长的一章,里面全是引用报纸上的片断之类,是为托洛茨基主义者辩护的,他们被控与佛朗哥一起阴谋串通。很明显,这样的一章在一两年时间内任何普通的读者都会对其失去兴趣的,必定会因而毁了这本书。一个我所尊敬的批评家给我上了一课。"你为什么要把那些玩意儿放进去?"他说,"你把一本本来不错的书变成了新闻稿。"他说的不错,可是我只能这么做。我刚好知道清白的人们受到了错误的指控,而在英国有极少数人被允许得知这一点。要是我没有为之愤怒的话,我可能永远不会写那本书的。

这个问题还以这样那样的方式一再出现,而语言方面的问题与其相比不突出了,讨论起来也需要很长的时间。我只是要说在近几年我一直在努力写得不那么栩栩如生,而更追求准确性。不管怎么样,我发现了当一个人已经完美地形成了任何一种写作风格之时,他总是已经超越了这种风格。《动物农场》是我对自己所做的有完全清醒的认识,把政治目的和艺术目的混合在一起而写的第一本书。我有七年时间没有写长篇小说了,但是我希望在不久的将来再写一部⑤。它注定会失败的,每本书都会是失败的,但是我对要写什么样的书差不多是一清二楚的。回头看看前面的一两页,我看到我好象制造出了这样一个印象,即我写作的动机完全是热心于公众利益的,我不想让这一点成为别人对我最终的印象。所有的作家都是自负的、自私的,也是懒惰的,在他们所有写作动机的根子里面还有一个谜团。

写一本书是一场可怕的、令人疲惫不堪的挣扎,就象得了很长一段时间令身心痛苦的病症。如果不是存在某种他既不能抵抗又不能理解的魔鬼在迫使着他的话,他是不会做起这样一件事的。就人们所知,这个魔鬼只不过是跟让小孩子号啕以引起注意的同样一种本能。但同样正确的是,除非他在不停地奋力去淡化他自己的个性,那他就写不出任何具有可读性的东西。好的文字就象窗玻璃。我不能十分肯定地说出我的几种动机里哪一种是最强的,但是我知道哪一种值得遵循。回头看看我的全部作品,我看到当我缺乏政治目的时,写出来的书总是无一例外地没有生气,堕落成词藻华丽的段落,无意义的句子,装饰性的形容词,而且总的说来是自欺欺人之作。

①基钦纳(1850-1916),英国陆军元帅,第一次世界大战时因所乘巡洋舰触雷沉没而死。
②主要是指1910-1920年间的英国文学风格。
③阿里斯托芬(公元前448?-385?),古希腊诗人、喜剧作家,有"喜剧之父"之称。
④hee(他)是 he的古体写法。
⑤指作者于一九四九年出版的《一九八四》,本文写作于一九四七年。

Why I write

by George Orwell

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.

I was the middle child of three, but there was a gap of five years on either side, and I barely saw my father before I was eight. For this and other reasons I was somewhat lonely, and I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my schooldays. I had the lonely child's habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life. Nevertheless the volume of serious — i.e. seriously intended — writing which I produced all through my childhood and boyhood would not amount to half a dozen pages. I wrote my first poem at the age of four or five, my mother taking it down to dictation. I cannot remember anything about it except that it was about a tiger and the tiger had ‘chair-like teeth’ — a good enough phrase, but I fancy the poem was a plagiarism of Blake's ‘Tiger, Tiger’. At eleven, when the war or 1914-18 broke out, I wrote a patriotic poem which was printed in the local newspaper, as was another, two years later, on the death of Kitchener. From time to time, when I was a bit older, I wrote bad and usually unfinished ‘nature poems’ in the Georgian style. I also attempted a short story which was a ghastly failure. That was the total of the would-be serious work that I actually set down on paper during all those years.

However, throughout this time I did in a sense engage in literary activities. To begin with there was the made-to-order stuff which I produced quickly, easily and without much pleasure to myself. Apart from school work, I wrote vers d'occasion, semi-comic poems which I could turn out at what now seems to me astonishing speed — at fourteen I wrote a whole rhyming play, in imitation of Aristophanes, in about a week — and helped to edit a school magazines, both printed and in manuscript. These magazines were the most pitiful burlesque stuff that you could imagine, and I took far less trouble with them than I now would with the cheapest journalism. But side by side with all this, for fifteen years or more, I was carrying out a literary exercise of a quite different kind: this was the making up of a continuous ‘story’ about myself, a sort of diary existing only in the mind. I believe this is a common habit of children and adolescents. As a very small child I used to imagine that I was, say, Robin Hood, and picture myself as the hero of thrilling adventures, but quite soon my ‘story’ ceased to be narcissistic in a crude way and became more and more a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw. For minutes at a time this kind of thing would be running through my head: ‘He pushed the door open and entered the room. A yellow beam of sunlight, filtering through the muslin curtains, slanted on to the table, where a match-box, half-open, lay beside the inkpot. With his right hand in his pocket he moved across to the window. Down in the street a tortoiseshell cat was chasing a dead leaf’, etc. etc. This habit continued until I was about twenty-five, right through my non-literary years. Although I had to search, and did search, for the right words, I seemed to be making this descriptive effort almost against my will, under a kind of compulsion from outside. The ‘story’ must, I suppose, have reflected the styles of the various writers I admired at different ages, but so far as I remember it always had the same meticulous descriptive quality.

When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words, i.e. the sounds and associations of words. The lines from Paradise Lost —

So hee with difficulty and labour hard
Moved on: with difficulty and labour hee.

which do not now seem to me so very wonderful, sent shivers down my backbone; and the spelling ‘hee’ for ‘he’ was an added pleasure. As for the need to describe things, I knew all about it already. So it is clear what kind of books I wanted to write, in so far as I could be said to want to write books at that time. I wanted to write enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their own sound. And in fact my first completed novel, Burmese Days, which I wrote when I was thirty but projected much earlier, is rather that kind of book.

I give all this background information because I do not think one can assess a writer's motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in — at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own — but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape. It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, in some perverse mood; but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

(iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

(iv) Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time. By nature — taking your ‘nature’ to be the state you have attained when you are first adult — I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer. First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc. By the end of 1935 I had still failed to reach a firm decision. I remember a little poem that I wrote at that date, expressing my dilemma:

A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow;

But born, alas, in an evil time,
I missed that pleasant haven,
For the hair has grown on my upper lip
And the clergy are all clean-shaven.

And later still the times were good,
We were so easy to please,
We rocked our troubled thoughts to sleep
On the bosoms of the trees.

All ignorant we dared to own
The joys we now dissemble;
The greenfinch on the apple bough
Could make my enemies tremble.

But girl's bellies and apricots,
Roach in a shaded stream,
Horses, ducks in flight at dawn,
All these are a dream.

It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them:
Horses are made of chromium steel
And little fat men shall ride them.

I am the worm who never turned,
The eunuch without a harem;
Between the priest and the commissar
I walk like Eugene Aram;

And the commissar is telling my fortune
While the radio plays,
But the priest has promised an Austin Seven,
For Duggie always pays.

I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
And woke to find it true;
I wasn't born for an age like this;
Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?

The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one's political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one's aesthetic and intellectual integrity.

What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.

It is not easy. It raises problems of construction and of language, and it raises in a new way the problem of truthfulness. Let me give just one example of the cruder kind of difficulty that arises. My book about the Spanish civil war, Homage to Catalonia, is of course a frankly political book, but in the main it is written with a certain detachment and regard for form. I did try very hard in it to tell the whole truth without violating my literary instincts. But among other things it contains a long chapter, full of newspaper quotations and the like, defending the Trotskyists who were accused of plotting with Franco. Clearly such a chapter, which after a year or two would lose its interest for any ordinary reader, must ruin the book. A critic whom I respect read me a lecture about it. ‘Why did you put in all that stuff?’ he said. ‘You've turned what might have been a good book into journalism.’ What he said was true, but I could not have done otherwise. I happened to know, what very few people in England had been allowed to know, that innocent men were being falsely accused. If I had not been angry about that I should never have written the book.

In one form or another this problem comes up again. The problem of language is subtler and would take too long to discuss. I will only say that of late years I have tried to write less picturesquely and more exactly. In any case I find that by the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it. Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole. I have not written a novel for seven years, but I hope to write another fairly soon. It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I do know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don't want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

1946

THE END

____BD____
George Orwell: ‘Why I Write’
First published: Gangrel. — GB, London. — summer 1946.

Reprinted:
— ‘Such, Such Were the Joys’. — 1953.
— ‘England Your England and Other Essays’. — 1953.
— ‘The Orwell Reader, Fiction, Essays, and Reportage’ — 1956.
— ‘Collected Essays’. — 1961.
— ‘Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays’. — 1965.
— ‘The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell’. — 1968.

____
Machine-readable version: O. Dag
Last modified on: 2004-07-24

{ 0 comments… add one }

Leave a Comment