Thursday, April 12, 2007

Quote of the day, 4/12/07

Happiness is notoriously difficult to describe, and pictures of a just and well-ordered society are seldom either attractive or convincing. Most creators of ‘favourable’ Utopias, however, are concerned to show what life could be like if it were lived more fully. Swift advocates a simple refusal of life…The dreary world of the Houyhnhnms was about as good a Utopia as Swift could construct, granting that he neither believed in a ‘next world’ nor could get any pleasure out of certain normal activities. But it is not really set up as something desirable in itself, but as the justification for another attack on humanity. The aim, as usual, is to humiliate Man by reminding him that he is weak and ridiculous, and above all that he stinks; and the ultimate motive, probably, is a kind of envy, the envy of the ghost for the living, of the man who knows he cannot be happy for the others who–so he fears–may be a little happier than himself. The political expression of such an outlook must be either reactionary or nihilistic, because the person who holds it will want to prevent society from developing in some direction in which his pessimism may be cheated.

…In his endless harping on disease, dirt and deformity, Swift is not actually inventing anything, he is merely leaving something out. Human behavior, too, especially in politics, is as he describes it, although it contains other more important factors which he refuses to admit. So far as we can see, both horror and pain are necessary to the continuance of life on this planet, and it is therefore open to pessimists like Swift to say: ‘If horror and pain must always be with us, how can life be significantly improved?’ His attitude is in effect the Christian attitude, minus the bribe of a ‘next world’…It is, i am certain, a wrong attitude, and one which could have harmful effects upon behavior; but something in us responds to it, as it responds to the gloomy words of the burial service and the sweetish smell of corpses in a country church.

–Orwell, “Politics vs. Literature”

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