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Saturday, 19 August 2006

Outside The Whale...

On a hunch, I re-read the first part of Orwell's essay Inside the Whale. The hunch is good. He *so* would have blogged. In fact, at times it's like reading one of the better ones. (Well, I had to get a plug in somehwere...)

On Cyril Connolly and all the other shallowly 'socialist' ex-public school lot:

'Cultured' middle-class life has reached a depth of softness at which a public school education - five years in a lukewarm bath of snobbery - can actually be looked upon as an eventful period...It is the same pattern all the time; public-school, university, a few trips abroad, then London. Hunger, hardship, solitude, exile, war, prison, persecution, manual labour - hardly even words.

*Hardly even words*!

Or the Paris of the twenties:

The populace had grown so used to gruff-voiced lesbians in corduroy breeches and young men in Grecian or medieval costume could walk the streets without attracting a glance...

Or does this sound familiar?:

And you have this feeling because somebody has chosen to drop the Geneva language of the ordinary novel and drag the real politik of the inner mind into the open.

Or on Joyce:

The truly remarkable thing about Ulysses, for instance, is the commonplaceness of its material. Of course there is much more in Ulysses than this, because Joyce is a kind of poet and also an elephantine pedant, but his real achievement has been to get the familiar on to paper.

*Elephantine pedant*! But get the "kind of" as well. My point in quoting these is to emphasise the directness - almost conversational, at times - of the prose. I could quote at much greater length if time allowed, but it's first thing in the morning and I'm sure a quick skim over the first 7 or 8 pages of the essay by your good selves will reveal all the other observations I was going to highlight but which, through the gnawing of my hungover head, have evaporated into the ether.

I was hoping that a re-reading of Orwell would justify my inversion of his famous aphorism, coined in defence of Henry Miller's acceptance, to use Orwell's term, of what was for him "the modern age". For Orwell, this meant accepting "Hitler, Stalin, bombs, aeroplanes, tinned food, machine guns, putsches, purges, slogans, Bedaux belts, gas masks, submarines, spies, provovateurs, press censorship, secret prisons, aspirins, Hollywood films, and political murders". Substitute Bush, Blair and Bin Laden for Hitler and Stalin and bingo! - Plus ca change. Apart from the secret prisons, obviously. Guantanamo has, after all, been a fairly well documented "secret".

And I think it does. Justify the inversion, that is. Everywhere he is obsessed with the idea of the "ordinary man", whose day to days struggles - the hunger, hardship, solitude, and so on - inform their humanity and contrast so vividly with the concerns of the privileged literary elite. I think that on matters of popular culture, Orwell often seems very prescient and I think that this largely fearless and often embracing attitude of Orwell's toward the mundanities of ordinary (if not working class) life, gave him an "in" that others of his era lacked.

There's been an ongoing debate in the 'sphere and the Me-Jah Proper about the healthiness or otherwise of the blogging fraternity. I think you could argue the case that the best of us that I've come across - Mollster, The Spinster and others - are Henry Millers to the massed ranks of McEwans and Dejevskys and everyone with a vested interest in perpetuating the myth that *they* know better than the 2 million people who protested the Iraqi war and why we should just (b)log off and listen to what *proper* journos have to say. My personal view is that there is a great, seething sea of humanity out there, many members of which are taking the opportunity that technology is allowing them to discover and express their thoughts and feelings and, if you can get your head outside the overpowering drill noise of the organised Me-Jah, there is a real wealth of beauty, wisdom and kindness out there that you just won't find in the "legitimate" forums. After all, we're all Henry Millers - humans trying to (re)gain or retain our happiness and that sense of delight at being alive, regardless of the "affaires grandes" raging around us - trying to stay cosy in the belly of the whale. Only the McEwans, Dejevskys and Straight-Poor-Tarrs and The MeJah Proper represent another whale. Only theirs is one we can step out of at any time.

Well, imagine being inside *that*...

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