WRITERS AS POLITICAL FLORISTS: A CRITICAL REVIEW OF GEORGE OWELL’S ‘WHY I WRITE’

George Owell’s satirical novels Animal Farm and 1984 are a manifestation of the author’s dream “to make political writing into an art”. In his essay Why I Write, Owell shares that the most dominant reason is the political purpose. Aside from the need to make money, Owell writes; out of sheer egoism (just so he can feel self gratified for his work),because of aesthetic enthusiasm ( for the sake of art and the beauty of language), and in response to a historical impulse (to capture the past and the present for posterity).

In this review I focus on the Political purpose of writing and I also narrow down the broad categories of ‘Writers’ to creative writers only such as; novelists, poets, play wrights. According to Owell, when you start to write, you naturally are inclined to the other three reasons (sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm and historical impulse) however when you are exposed to life and after writing becomes your profession, your job; then you acquire a political orientation. You begin to consciously write with a purpose to drive the reader towards a particular direction, against/ for a dominant theory, practice or outlook. “No book is genuinely free from political bias”.

Although his work fits the traditional understanding of politics as that which concerns Government, States and Democracy, George Owell uses the word ‘Political’ in its widest sense. The personal is political is a phrase that was popularized by Carol Hanisch and that has acquired meaning outside the feminist movement over the years. It means that even issues that may be thought personal such as the choice of a partner, parenthood, beauty, diet, and a gazillion others, are in fact political because they exist in a kind of system that personal action is not enough or not exclusively possible when dealing with them.

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the tender beauty with which they craft their art, the way they weave a story as though it were encased in folds and folds of pearly petals, that you delight in laying apart, like a serenading lover

Arundhati Roy is one out rightly political writer. Before and after her novel The God of Small Things (which brought her world fame and wild wealth) in 1997, she authored countless political works (essays, a book, speeches, demonstrations). With her background, it is easy to understand why her fiction is ‘political’. The God of Small Things explores the subject of caste which in India is a highly political subject. But even then, the style in which she wrote the novel is ‘Floral’. The story is imbued in poetry, it is very personal, in fact semi-autobiographical, it evokes tears as you read, the structure is intricate, beginning at the end and ending in the middle. It is unlike anything political. If you did not know the caste system in India, you would only remember the novel as a remarkably beautiful, sorrowful piece of art on the theme of love and family.

When I refer to Writers as Florists, I have in mind the tender beauty with which they craft their art, the way they weave a story as though it were encased in folds and folds of pearly petals, that you delight in laying apart, like a serenading lover until you get to the ‘political bias’ of the work. For instance I had to reread A Room of One’s Own several times to understand what Virginia Woolf meant when she said, “…a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” She was requested to address the topic women and fiction, a clearly political topic. She however outdid herself with the aesthetics of languages, almost unnecessarily descriptive for a reader who wants to get an analytical perspective on women and fiction in the 1920’s. It turns out that even when asked to be political, writers cannot help being ‘florist’. Reading Virginia’s essay, you almost miss the humourous pun in ‘it is strange what a difference a tail makes’, (words she exclaims after seeing a tail-less cat) because you are questioning with a tint of annoyance why she is going on and on about dinners and tail-less cats instead of plainly addressing the topic.

We cannot afford to anticipate political bias or disregard a book because it lacks a political inclination.

The foregoing leave lingering questions; should the readers always anticipate a political theme in every work of art? or should a writer always aim at having a political bias in their work?.  The answer is a definite NO. Like Owell says, the other reasons for writing dwell in each writer in different degrees and sometimes, politics chooses the writer in the sense that it is hard to live in an age of say; dictatorship, patriarchy, inequality and say nothing about these evils in your work. So it may appear that writers inevitably have traces of political bias in their work.

For whatever reason each writer does what he/she does, we can only savour the art and be grateful for the artists’ generosity in sharing their creations. We cannot afford to anticipate political bias or disregard a book because it lacks a political inclination. Like Henry Miller said, to write to order( another’s instruction or expectation)is a castrating occupation, to be writing with a voyeur at the key hole takes away all the spontaneity and pleasure.

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