Last night, I picked up a book. And when I say a book, I mean two books. One was new and the other old; one's silver and other gold. After nearly a decade, I read Shooting an Elephant again. The essential pathos of someone trapped in a system not of their making, whose identity and behaviour is dictated by unspoken rules, is palpable through out the story. I never got the message with the clarity that I do now - but I was a teenager then.
To see Orwell as merely the author of 1984 and Animal Farm is to do him injustice. Reading through his essays, especially the Lion and the Unicorn throws new light at his ability to communicate adeptly and adequately. Without turning any flowery phrases, he manages to paint a vivid picture of England at war. The part one starts off very directly with "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.", before attacking the essential rationalization of patriotism. But even more cynically, the second part is titled Shopkeepers at War, talking about the private economy's reaction to war (Lend to Defend; Drink Guinness).
I was half-way through "Prevention of Literature", when I switched to the other book. In one of those lapses of judgement (you know the kind), I had bought a copy of Salmon of Doubt. If not for the essays liberally sprinkled throughout the book, I would have regretted that decision. Unfinished books are not meant to be read - for instance, I have read every P.G Wodehouse novel/short-story except for Sunset at Blandings. Hidden in the pages of Salmon of Doubt, between articles for boys' weeklies and random musings about technology is a transcript of an extempore speech.
The speech is titled Is there an Artificial God?. The speech, just like all of his works, is splattered with inconsequential references. For instance, it gets on its way with the following phrase.
I just want to mention one thing, which is completely meaningless, but I am terribly proud of - I was born in Cambridge in 1952 and my initials are D N A!
But it soon settles down into an exploration of man's progress and perhaps for a bit, the lack of it. The ages of sand sequence points out the cornerstones of the last four centuries of human progress - telescopes, microscopes, silicon chips and fibre optics. A quick dip into a quantum universe and back to challenging religious dogmas. To climb out of that argument only to throw in a strawman of money being a completely fictious entity. Eventually concluding that we humans live in a world mainly of our creation - inside our heads or outside.
Reading somehow does not seem to be quite the one-way process most people imagine it to be.--
The possession of a book becomes a substitute for reading it.
-- Anthony Burgess