George Orwell, WHY I WRITE

["See things as they are": what we see here is a yellow object on sand. Foto di Marzia Poerio]

In WHY I WRITE, a 1946 essay which gives the title to a collection of texts written from 1931 to 1946 (London, Penguin, 2004), George Orwell defines what characterizes his own work, but his reflections may be applied to a number of other writers.

He identifies "four motives for writing":

1. "Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death" (p. 4).

2. "Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement".

3. "Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity".

4. "Political purpose - using the word 'political' in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people's idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. [...] No book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude" (p. 5).

It is the persuasion of the present author that Orwell's views still probe our attitudes towards writing in the historical period in which we live, at least with regards to points 1 to 3 above.

What about point 4, though - the point on "political purpose?". Is it still possible to write politically today? Is it useful to do so? Is it fashionable to avoid reference to politics? If so, why so? Should the present writer answer these questions?

[Roberto Bertoni]