George Orwell, perhaps the greatest writer on political subject matters, suggested four motives for writing prose and that they exist in different degrees in every writer – proclaimed [like him] or self-proclaimed [like me]. The four motives that he provided are:
1. Sheer Egoism
2. Aesthetic Enthusiasm
3. Historical Purpose
4. Political Purpose
In that essay, George Orwell first described his formative years, and that how his ‘disagreeable’ manners made him unpopular and eventually a recluse who had habit of making up stories in his mind and holding conversations with imaginary persons. I tend to disagree with Orwell on ‘sheer egoism’ as motive. However, Orwell was clever enough to include that “they (the motives) exist in different degrees in every writer”, therefore, a writer writes with combination of four motives with one or the other motive taking centre stage, now and then, while other motives work on sidelines.
I would have much preferred if Orwell had meditated and written about “Who writes” instead of “Why I write”. Beneath the veneer of vanity and all other motives that maketh a writer lies a person with several vestiges, which are surgically removed, by the person, by putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Not that those vestiges are “removed”, rather those vestiges are given a separate existence, where they thrive or die, and the person lives on with the vacant spots of those vanished vestiges. Vacant spots don’t hurt much and their pain is easy to endure.
Orwell was an author who believed that writing has to have a purpose of public spiritedness. He hated purple prose, long winded sentences and I would go so far to say that he despised use of rhetoric, especially while writing about politics. In the end of the essay, Orwell confessed that “One would never undertake such a thing (writing a book) if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality.” He ends essay with the note that “where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.” Orwell found his main motive to be the political purpose. He laid down his own rules while besmirching the authors and the poets driven by motive of aesthetic enthusiasm.
Had Orwell attempted to thoroughly rip off the veneer of motives and tried to discover the person underneath, at which he hinted or tried to do while describing his formative years, he would’ve found that these purposes and these motives are merely for ‘grown-ups’. I find cart of whatever-I-write not driven by any of these horses of motives. I am privy to many of my friends’ personal writings. Some publish a blog only accessible to some select five or six people and some maintain a regular journal. They write beautiful poetry in Hindi and Urdu. They write most interesting anecdotes in more interesting manner. They care about the metre, the structure, the weight of the prose as much as it should matter, however none is driven by motive of conducting experiments with different styles.
All those writings of my friends, reveal a person that is hidden or shy or considers the world too frivolous or unbothered to listen, let alone understand, their observations or thoughts. Writing, at the end of the day, is an exercise in talking to yourself, a stroll through sometimes dry and sometimes lush valleys of your mind, probing your layers, touching your most hurtful and most humorous spots of memory and heart, and discovering your vestiges. Sometimes, we just want to talk, with no motive, and we want an interesting listener, who challenges us, our notions, proposes their notions, and agrees with our most ridiculous of assertions, thoughts and ideas while providing completely absurd reasons. In a nutshell, we crave a listener who is as absurd as you are, and as logical as you are. A listener who will go with you on mindwalk from heights of Descartes to the lows of Karl Marx without losing interest in you and your story.
More often than not, paper is that listener.
Very well put, thank you! I’m a deep fan of Orwell’s work, but I also feel that it’s missing something to feel that writing must serve some grander political purpose. I wrote a very political book, myself, but it was an exercise in exactly what you put so well: “In a nutshell, we crave a listener who is as absurd as you are, and as logical as you are.” I’m not a writer so much as a poet, it just so happens that some of my soliloquies are longer than others.
Thank you for reading and your comment! Long live our soliloquies