Sunday, April 23, 2017

Notes on re-reading Orwell

From Wikimedia.
I've been reading, and re-reading, Orwell this past week—some essays I'd never taken the time to read before, and others that I'd barely read since middle and high school. It is amazing to me that one author (and, in an American context, an English writer) should have been so much a part of my early formal education in English; amazing all the more that, at least to the best of my knowledge, he still is for many students—high schoolers, college freshman writing classes. Many high schools teach 1984 or Animal Farm at some point, and a number use a handful of his essays as models for expository writing: "Shooting An Elephant," "Politics and the English Language," "Why I Write." When I was teaching high schoolers the summers of 2013 and 2014, Orwell was in the readers.

Why? I suppose Orwell seems clear and accessible, not so far removed from the way we write now that a student has to engage in quite the amount of work involved in understanding the prose of Austen or Dickens. Those essays are also a good length for a manageable classroom discussion. "Politics" and "Why I Write" are reflexive in their subject matter. The novels are short, and ripe for introducing terms like metaphor, allegory, and irony. 1984 is pleasingly close to science fiction for those so inclined. Then there is ideology: in the American classroom, Orwell often gets painted as nothing more complicated than an anti-Communist—a picture which leaves out a lot, but which will not raise the hackles of parents or school boards. (If the average American better understood Orwell's politics, the chances are good he wouldn't be taught at all.)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Speech after long silence

Myron's Discobolus. The British Museum.
tum mihi prima genas vestibat flore iuventas,
mirabarque duces Teucros, mirabar et ipsum
Laomedontiaden; sed cunctis altior ibat
Anchises. mihi mens iuvenali ardebat amore
compellare virum et dextrae coniungere dextram;
accessi et cupidus Phenei sub moenia duxi.
ille mihi insignem pharetram Lyciasque sagittas
discedens chlamydemque auro dedit intertextam,
frenaque bina meus quae nunc habet aurea Pallas.
—Evander at Aeneid 8.160-68

Back then, the first blush of youth covered my cheeks with a flower.
& I stood in awe of the Trojan chieftains, & certainly in awe of
the son of Laomedon himself—but taller than all strode
Anchises. Oh my brain burned with young love
to go right up to that man & grasp his right hand in mine;
I drew near &, full of longing, led him under Pheneus' walls.
As he parted, he gave me his famous quiver, his Lycian arrows,
his cloak with the gold woven in, & the double reins of gold
which now belong to my son Pallas.

[Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young / We loved each other and were ignorant.—Yeats]