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12/16/2015

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Thanks Louise. This is worth a read if you haven't seen it yet.

I have! I think you linked to it on FB once. But I'll read it again.

1984 has been very influential to me, even though I read it in high school. I think I may have read it twice, perhaps in college the second time. But not since. Still it's very vivid to me. The linguistic critique has proven to have lasting application, like the things it was critiquing. I read Animal Farm in high school, too, and don't really remember it that well.

I think that our current saturation in sex and the forbidding of sex except for procreation are two sides of the same coin, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if when people have sickened themselves with the first, they turn to the second. You see inklings of that already.

I think that list linguistics dos and don'ts is almost word for word what was in my college lit text, except the #6 escape hatch was not there. I've never been very sure that I agree with that list, which is probably why my writing isn't the clearest.

AMDG

Janet is always looking for an excuse to type the word "inkling" -- oops, I must be too!

Here is a compare and contrast of Orwell and Merton, specifically referring to "the list."

Not too long ago I decided to read: Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, and The Handmaid's Tale. I wanted to read them in order of publication (as I have typed them out) and sort of compare and contrast, see which ideas may have been picked up by the authors influenced by their predecessor(s), and also because I don't think I had read any of these until I took on this project - maybe 1984 in high school. I graduated that year, so it was sort of a big book, by maybe not. I was in AP English and I'm thinking that Orwell was read in the regular English classes.

What was the most striking about my reading list is that I thought the writing and stories were stronger with each book. Huxley was certainly the worst of the writers, Orwell the bleakest, Bradbury the most poetic, Burgess the most complex and interesting, and Atwood kind of blew me away.

I'm not trying to bash Orwell here at all, but I was bummed out after reading 1984. But since if followed Brave New World I was also happy that the writing was so much better. Burgess remains my favorite of the group - I really loved the language he made up for his main character and found the words so much fun to read.

I also have not read Animal Farm, and I need to. I believe I have another of his novels at home, Burmese Days, which of course I should read as well.

"I was bummed out after reading 1984."

Very pleased to hear you say so.

I really am not looking for an excuse to say "inkling," but I am looking for a an excuse to say, "Their mourning was as great as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo."

Except I don't want to be mourning.

AMDG

Janet, I do not normally associate you with unclear writing! I'm interested in your view of that list. I think it's just meant to preserve us all from the kind of hideous examples he refers to in the essay.

"I think that our current saturation in sex and the forbidding of sex except for procreation are two sides of the same coin"

I can't quite see it.

"and I wouldn't be at all surprised if when people have sickened themselves with the first, they turn to the second."

That certainly seems plausible.

I think it's really cool that Orwell himself is contributing to the discussion!

"Not too long ago I decided to read: Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, and The Handmaid's Tale. I wanted to read them in order of publication (as I have typed them out) and sort of compare and contrast"

Good idea, Stu! I might try that myself. I didn't like Atwood's story at all. Not sure if I could cope with "A Clockwork Orange." Is it worse in terms of violence than the others?

From the link Robert Gotcher posted:

"Like Merton, he identifies the stipulative definition as one of the main culprits: a word that ought to be descriptive, and so discussable, comes to be used evaluatively. “Fascism” means “politics I/we don’t like”; “democracy” means “politics I/we do like”."

Right.

"Orwell has some choice examples of which my favourite is “The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song”"

:D

Louise,

They're both Gnosticism.

AMDG

Oh, I meant to say something about "A Clockwork Orange." Ryan Croft really tried to get me to read that and I really tried, but I did not get very far at all. It was just too violent.

AMDG

Thanks Janet, re: Clockwork Orange.

I guess I can see that about the gnosticism, sort of.

Thanks for this, Louise. Orwell is one of those authors whom I'm always feeling I ought to read more of, but whom I never quite get to. A few years ago, apparently in a fit of delirium, I bought a big collection of his essays. It must have 1200 pages! No, 1400! So far I haven't read any of them.

Orwell is a valuable figure, it seems to me, because he doesn't quite fit any of our contemporary political categories. And his name always commands at least a certain amount of respect. He unnerves everybody to some extent. Mind, I'm not sure I could say just what his politics were. This is an impression.

Last year I tried watching the film version of A Clockwork Orange, and I couldn't get very far. I've no desire to read the book.

Nice to hear you say something kind about my countryman, Stu. I used to live just around the corner from Ms Atwood. She'd probably hate that I called her "my countryman".

Lord of the World should be in your list of dystopias, Stu!

Yep.

I only got to scan the article about Merton and Orwell, and now I have to leave and won't be back online until late or tomorrow. If I get what Merton is saying, I think he is right. ;-)
For one thing, I think in analogy, and I can't really write without it. And I'm also thinking that since what I write about has turned out to be for the most part spiritual, I'm talking about things that can't be pinned down in clear precise words because we aren't able to see them clearly.

Well, I have more to say, but have to go now.

AMDG

I've read all five of the dystopias Stu mentions, and 1984 and Brave New World are the only ones that have been of permanent interest. My view of Clockwork Orange could be subject to change, because I read it a long time ago and it didn't make a very strong impression.

As it happens my wife and I were listening to an audio version of Fahrenheit 451 on a long drive a few weeks ago, and it was pretty disappointing. I had read it in my teens and found it very powerful (was in love with the hippie girl, of course). I didn't much like the reading, so that undoubtedly had some influence, but still, the book just wasn't all that interesting--overwritten in the way Bradbury tends to do, very noticeably dated in many ways, as is probably almost inevitable, and just generally unconvincing. We ended up switching to something else, but it did have its moments, and I want to get it out of the library now and find out exactly what happens. Possibly my opinion could improve. Or maybe it should just have been left back there in my teens.

I read The Handmaid's Tale on the recommendation of a feminist friend--I mention that because I certainly would never have picked it on my own. Although it's well written, it's at the bottom of my list of the five, because the whole premise of the religious right creating a brutal totalitarian regime is just too silly. Perhaps if I had no idea of the political and religious context, and didn't know what Christianity was, I might think it was a good story. (I realize that many people on the left profess to live in fear of an American theocratic-fascist state, but I find it hard to take that seriously--it seems to me more a matter of enjoying the thrill of a scary story that you know isn't actually going to come true.)

You're welcome, Craig.

"Although it's well written, it's at the bottom of my list of the five, because the whole premise of the religious right creating a brutal totalitarian regime is just too silly."

Yes, that's what I thought.

I echo the recommendation of "Lord of the World," which I read and thoroughly enjoyed a few months ago.

Janet, I think that if one is going to write about anything at all which is somewhat spiritual or artistic or about beauty, Orwell's list probably can't apply. I take it his advice is more for essays along political and practical lines. Also, I think analogies could work even in such writing, provided the meaning is fairly clear. In such a case I guess one would try to let the meaning choose the analogy.

I will read Lord of the World, thank you all for the recommendation! I do understand that many of you do not like violence in literature but for the most part I guess I don't even notice things. That said, I just finished a Dennis Lehane novel (he writes Boston thrillers) and there was a description of violence towards a child that disturbed me so much that he has been moved to my list of never again. So A Clockwork Orange seems very fun in comparison, to me.

I don't really think of our own politics and religion as it is now in the 21st century world when I am reading fiction, and especially "speculative" fiction. I don't know why, but I suppose I get lost in the story and do no comparisons in my mind. I really love Margaret Atwood's writing, whether she is referred to as a feminist, or not.

I was thinking about how maybe we ought to throw Children of Men into that mix too. If you aren't familiar with it, there hasn't been a baby born in 20 years, and the last generation of young people gathers in violent groups. The reason I was thinking about this is that from what I see around me there seems to be a significant increase in miscarriage, stillbirth and infertility. I would love to see some statistics on this. It might just be a big coincidence and it might not be this way elsewhere, but there's a local parish where 3 women lost their babies at 30+ weeks in one month.

As for the group of irrational violent youth, well . . . .

I know my Christmas cheer is overwhelming.

AMDG

It wasn't because of the feminism, it was because of the craziness.:-) A dystopia is almost intrinsically a commentary on current society, and her take--unlike, say, Orwell's and Huxley's--just wasn't well grounded in reality. Though obviously the author and many other people disagree with me about that.

We cross-posted--I was replying to Stu, in case that wasn't obvious.

I am a lurking reader of this blog. I have wanted to respond most recently to the Jane Austen and Thomas Merton overviews but have followed my usual custom of absorbing passively, instead. I am very grateful to access the extract from Rowan Williams’ 2015 Orwell lecture (shared by Robert Gotcher in response to Louise's piece about Orwell). Thank you all for the 52 Authors series. The near completion of such a series about writers demonstrates that you who have taken part in this 2015 task are excellent writers yourselves.

I did not find Fahrenheit 451 dated at all, and find it anticipated cultural phenomena which were at the time it was written novelties or not yet present. (While we're at it, it is actually an edited assemblage of magazine fiction; it did not start out as a completed monograph).

I didn't know that--interesting. It does anticipate certain cultural phenomena, though I don't see any sign of a tendency toward the prohibition of reading and learning in general, which is the major feature of the story. Toward the suppression of unwelcome views, yes, but that's perennial.

Thank you, Mary.

Margaret Atwood is a strange one. Did you know she thinks wearing the niqab (full-face covering) is a manifestation of feminism?

which is the major feature of the story.

You need to read it again. The prohibition on reading is epiphenomenal. Read the fire captain's lecture to Montag. Read Clarisse's observations of her contemporaries to Montag. Re-read the scene with Montag reading poetry to Millie's friends. Re read the scene wherein Millie has her bloodstream pumped out.

Thanks for the comments, Art Deco. I may re-read Fahrenheit 451 again.

Janet - " The reason I was thinking about this is that from what I see around me there seems to be a significant increase in miscarriage, stillbirth and infertility. I would love to see some statistics on this. It might just be a big coincidence and it might not be this way elsewhere, but there's a local parish where 3 women lost their babies at 30+ weeks in one month"

That is highly unusual, I would think, and pretty disturbing. I hope it's not a sign of a general trend. It would indeed be good to get some data on it.

Thanks for you comment, Mary. It's much appreciated! I've really enjoyed the series too.

*your

Janet, maybe I'll add "Children of Men" to my list too.

I read F 451 a few years ago and really liked it. One thing I have discovered is that I just don't like listening to books by Bradbury. For some reason they are better read.

AMDG

I loved Fahrenheit 451 so am glad Art came along to defend it. Pretty sure I read that one as a teen-ager when I read a lot of Bradbury. He is a poetic writer for me. I was glad to revisit him in middle-age and find he was still magical. I think Neil Gaiman may be the nearest writer there is to him in contemporary fiction. At the time I thought that maybe the reason F451 was so wonderful for me was I really didn't like the previous two: BNW seemed to me poorly written, and 1984 was just so depressing (thank you, George!).

So apparently Atwood is sort of a nut, okay. I know little about her, except that other than Robertson Davies she is the only Canadian writer I can name. Alias Grace is absolutely outstanding, for anyone that wants a non-dystopic Atwood read. :) It is historical fiction.

It is pretty amazing that apparently all 52 weeks will be accounted for. Thank you all, and especially Mac as our host and coordinator! I have enjoyed each week and learned so much ... it seems like there was a Czech writer that I especially found interesting and would like to revisit. Maybe you can fill in the "lost" dates some time Mac, we can easily click on any author during the 52 weeks? There's sort of a blank time period in the schedule.

Week 25: Josef Skvorecky

AMDG

Let's see if I can do this:

Week 1: Flannery O'Connor



Week 2: Thomas Howard



Week 3: Salman Rushdie



Week 4: Mark Helprin



Week 5: Henri de Lubac



Week 6: Robert Scheckley



Week 7: P. G. Wodehouse



Week 8: Hans Urs von Balthasar



Week 9: Robert Blythe



Week 10: Larry McMurtry



Week 11: Imre Madach



Week 12: J. R. R. Tolkien



Week 13: Dean Koontz



Week 14: Rosemary Sutcliff



Week 15: Hilaire Belloc



Week 16: Madeleine L'Engle



Week 17: Christopher Derrick



Week 18: T. S. Eliot



Week 19: Etienne Gilson



Week 20: Penelope Fitzgerald


Week 21: Elizabeth Goudge



Week 22: Laura Ingalls Wilder



Week 23: Gillian Allnut



Week 24: Anne Pellowski



Week 25: Josef Skvorecky



Week 26: E. B. White



Week 27: Ross MacDonald



Week 28: W. S. Merwin



Week 29: Josephine Tey


Week 30: William Butler Yeats



Week 31: John Henry Cardinal Newman



Week 32: Thomas Mann



Week 33: Marion Montgomery



Week 34: G. K. Chesterton





Week 35: Sydney Taylor



Week 36: Charles Dickens



Week 37: Alexander McCall Smith



Week 38: Chaim Potok



Week 39: Graham Greene



Week 40: Mary Douglas



Week 41: Louise Fitzhugh



Week 42: Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J.



Week 43: Madison Jones



Week 44: Rumer Godden



Week 45: Jane Austen



Week 46: Leo Tolstoy



Week 47: Walker Percy



Week 48: Mary Renault



Week 49: Thomas Merton



Week 50: George Orwell




AMDG

Wow, thanks Janet.

You're welcome. If it would help for me to send the html, let me know.

AMDG

That's great, Janet!

I hope all the links work. I tested them, but after working on it a while, I was making some mistakes.

AMDG

All the links work. The only discrepancy is that Ronald Blythe appears in the list as "Robert Blythe".

Oh well. There's no way I can fix it without re-posting the whole thing.

AMDG

I'll fix it tomorrow.

Thanks Janet, that's fantastic! Now I can revisit Dean Koontz with ease. :)

I was wondering if you could put it on the sidebar somehow because this comment thread is going to disappear into the dark soon. I might put it on my blog too.

AMDG

Here it is fixed.

Week 1: Flannery O'Connor



Week 2: Thomas Howard



Week 3: Salman Rushdie



Week 4: Mark Helprin



Week 5: Henri de Lubac



Week 6: Robert Scheckley



Week 7: P. G. Wodehouse



Week 8: Hans Urs von Balthasar



Week 9: Ronald Blythe



Week 10: Larry McMurtry



Week 11: Imre Madach



Week 12: J. R. R. Tolkien



Week 13: Dean Koontz



Week 14: Rosemary Sutcliff



Week 15: Hilaire Belloc



Week 16: Madeleine L'Engle



Week 17: Christopher Derrick



Week 18: T. S. Eliot



Week 19: Etienne Gilson



Week 20: Penelope Fitzgerald



Week 21: Elizabeth Goudge



Week 22: Laura Ingalls Wilder



Week 23: Gillian Allnut



Week 24: Anne Pellowski



Week 25: Josef Skvorecky



Week 26: E. B. White



Week 27: Ross MacDonald



Week 28: W. S. Merwin



Week 29: Josephine Tey



Week 30: William Butler Yeats



Week 31: John Henry Cardinal Newman



Week 32: Thomas Mann



Week 33: Marion Montgomery



Week 34: G. K. Chesterton





Week 35: Sydney Taylor



Week 36: Charles Dickens



Week 37: Alexander McCall Smith



Week 38: Chaim Potok



Week 39: Graham Greene



Week 40: Mary Douglas



Week 41: Louise Fitzhugh



Week 42: Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J.



Week 43: Madison Jones



Week 44: Rumer Godden



Week 45: Jane Austen



Week 46: Leo Tolstoy



Week 47: Walker Percy



Week 48: Mary Renault



Week 49: Thomas Merton



Week 50: George Orwell




"except that other than Robertson Davies she is the only Canadian writer I can name."

Alistair MacLeod is very good. He wrote only two books of stories and one novel, but they're well worth reading.

Re: Bradbury, you may know that he and Russell Kirk were friends and correspondents. Back in 2006 a friend of mine was a Fellow at the Kirk Center in Michigan, and he invited me up for a long weekend, during which I had several opportunities to talk with Mrs. Kirk. In one of the conversations Bradbury's name came up. Mrs. Kirk described him as fairly apolitical, but "temperamentally conservative." You do get the sense from his fiction that he had some level of discomfort with certain aspects of modernity.

Yes, Janet, I was planning to put a list of the posts on the sidebar permanently (although you can get them all via the 52 Authors keyword, it's cumbersome). In fact for several months I updated the schedule page with links to the actual posts after they appeared, but of course I didn't keep it up. I hope you didn't type all that a second time!

I read one book by Robertson Davies quite a few years ago, and liked it, but not enough to seek out more.

Bradbury's temperamental conservatism does come out in his writing. You can certainly see that in F451. And by the way my criticism of it is not a rejection of his ideas, what he's saying about the state of the culture etc. It just isn't effective as fiction for me, at least as experienced through that recording. I'll see if it's better on the page.

Atwood, or rather The Handmaid's Tale, is the opposite, now that I think of it. Very effective artistically, not-takeable-seriously intellectually. I have no trouble believing some of her other novels could be excellent.

No, I have it in a hidden blog post. I just meant that hopefully that would help you do it.

Do you mean that you can get them all by searching for 52 Authors, because you can't. Several of them don't show up, and they are in a weird order. I had a really hard time finding the first one until I realized I could use the date.

AMDG

No, I mean clicking on the "52 Authors" tag or keyword or whatever it's called that's at the bottom of each post in the series. Or should be--it's entirely possible that I missed a few. But like I said that's cumbersome. It gives you all the posts themselves, not a list, in reverse chronological order.

Well now I feel like a complete idiot. ;-)

AMDG

I like this quote from Orwell, apparently, which was just put on my FB page by my friend, Rob:

"A question ... seldom asked by anybody, is why we are on earth at all, and, leading out of this, what kind of lives we want to live. Yet till we have an answer to this question we shall never solve our housing problem and are merely making it rather more likely that the atom bombs will solve it for us."

I have read the essay, "Politics" etc... printed it off the Internet and bound it -- but it's been a long time, and I would like to revisit it. It will be a joy. Thank you for the reminder and exhortation!!

I have difficulty believing that few people have ever asked why we are on earth, but if they want to know the answer to that question, I can tell them. There were plenty of people who could have given Orwell the answer, but he apparently closed his mind to them.

AMDG

You're welcome, Gretchen Joanna.

Yes, Janet, Orwell was lacking in this area. We should pray for his soul. And I also find it a bit hard to believe that anyone would never have asked why we are on the earth, but the kinds of superficial things that people talk about and their obstinacy in avoiding all serious discussion (I have known a lot of people like this) leads me to wonder whether they actually do.

Honestly, some of the most closed-minded people you'll ever meet are Australians.

I found an interesting essay on Orwell and his relationship with the Church of England at the Orwell Prize website, which has this:

Many were surprised that in his will, signed just before his death from tuberculosis in January 1950, he asked to be buried according to the rites of the Church of England. However, as he approached the Great Unknown, he could have been closer to his Creator than anyone imagined. In late 1949, in a letter from his hospital bed to Malcolm Muggeridge, he enclosed a newspaper advertisement which had, he said, upset him. It was for Wolsey socks, and read, ‘Wolsey socks — Fit for the gods.’ Wasn’t that blasphemous? he asked. It is just conceivable that for Orwell, the atheist and Old Etonian Cynic, his relationship with the Almighty had suddenly mellowed. One of his last hospital visitors noticed that he was reading the first volume of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
There's also this:
Blair’s paternal grandfather was Vicar of Milborne St. Andrew in Dorset. He himself was born in Bengal in 1903 and baptised at the Anglican Church of St John in the Wilderness in Motihari. Aged four months he was brought to England, settling with his mother and elder sister at Henley-on-Thames. Most biographers have him being first taught by Anglican nuns there, but diocesan and local records reveal that the only convent in Henley at that time was run by French Ursulines, forbidden to teach in France.

Having been educated by Catholic nuns in an all-girls school probably explains Orwell’s lifelong antipathy to the Catholic Church and perhaps also his acknowledged misogyny.

Catholicism, Frenchness, and all girls -- a dastardly trio ;-).

Well, the first two are certainly among the things that the English in general are inclined to dislike, or at least used to be.

Re Orwell's what's-it-all-for quote: I'm equally struck but in opposing ways by the fact that he considered the question so important (good) and the fact that he thought it "seldom asked" (?!?!?).

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