Ezra Schwarcz Why I Write Like Joan Didion before me, I stole the title of my essay from George Orwell. But unlike her, I didn’t steal it because I like the sound of the words that share the same sound, but rather because there is no better way to display so clearly the purpose of this essay. “Why I Write” exemplifies Orwell’s brilliance in writing in a manner that explicitly articulates the author’s motivations and aspirations. In it, he discloses, “that of late years I have tried to write less picturesquely and more exactly’ (Orwell 5).
In other words, Orwell not only reveals his intent, where other authors compel the eader to make inferences, but he also chooses to write in a more documentarian manner, instead of the impressionistic, so that his style, in addition to his content, echoes his intent. This technique is sustained in his novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, both clearly infused with political purpose as well as artistic purpose, thus maintaining and perpetuating Orwell’s stylistic triumph along with his personal integrity.
In their essays, both Orwell and Didion, who builds on Orwell’s essay, aim to demystify the writing process by deconstructing their respective motivations for riting. While both authors write candidly and reflectively, neither can really say, despite their prominence as masters of the craft, from where, exactly, springs the source of their genius.
As a result, the reader is left with the suspicion that effective writing is mysterious, elusive, and only to be enjoyed by those with the acquired taste for sensory struggle, and perhaps a touch of masochism. Why some people gravitate to this experience is quite ineffable. But, as the medieval cleric, R’ Tarphon once advised, while we are not required to fulfill the task, we are not allowed to desist from t either; and, thus both writers reflect on what qualities tend to support successful writing. Orwell classifies these categories explicitly.
They are: 1) sheer egoism, meaning the desire for attention and recognition; 2) aesthetic enthusiasm, which refers to expressing one’s perception of beauty; 3) historical impulse, or the desire investigate and figure out the truth “for the use of the posterity’ (Orwell 3); and finally, political purpose, meaning the desire to influence people with one’s ideas and to even “push the world in a certain direction” (Orwell 3). Orwell goes on to say he is a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. Though, this is wholly ironic coming from the author of such polemical satires such as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, which are characterized by their political content. In her essay, Didion provides a motive for writing not mentioned by Orwell. She recalls that in college she found it difficult to process her thoughts, which were seemingly random and abstract. She writes, I knew that I was not a legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and
In other words, Joan Didion writes because of, and not despite of the fact that she has an inability to internally process her ideas. By writing, she can find out what she is thinking, what she is looking at, what she sees and what it means – and consequently, what she wants, and what she fears. While Orwell desires to “push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after” (Orwell 3), Didion argues that this is the most aggressive, or hostile aspect of writing.
She elaborates, “In many ways writing is the act of saying l, of mposing oneself on other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind” (Didion 1). Didion dramatically relates that writing is an “Imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space” (Didion 1). By reviewing essays that I have written in the past, I can see a pattern that most closely adheres to Orwell’s. On the other hand, as Didion has found, I hadn’t realized how passionate I had been with regards to the politics in my writing, until I had put my ideas into words on paper.
Therefore, I found that my motivation for writing is to make a olitical statement about things that are meaningful to me. For example, in my essay, The Business of Eating, the cynicism of the title points to the irony that Business is typically unassociated with Eating. I choose to write it that way because from the very beginning I want to establish that there is a problem; that this problem is caused by peoples’ accustomed manner of consumption, and consequently, we should change the way we eat.
The problem The Business of Eating discusses is initially discussed in Michael Pollan’s self-described “Eaters Manifesto,” in the book, In Defense of Food. Pollan shows that people are becoming sickened by food because industrial farmers in America misplace their focus on financial excess rather than a quality, healthy product and sustainable farming practices. In that essay, I state that “Our values are flawed, and we have forgotten what has been common knowledge throughout every culture that has ever existed” (Schwarcz; 2012, 5).
I add that it’s absurd that we reward the industrial farmers by choosing to buy their products, which kill our planet and everything within its ecosystem. The Business of Eating is thus an essay that is a learly infused with political purpose, as its sole drive is to change peoples’ attitudes toward food by bringing awareness to a majorly unseen problem. However, I hadn’t realized how important this topic was to me, and that I had so much to say about it, until I wrote it.
In my essay, Rethinking Ethics, I synthesize what I thought was the collective appeal of Globalization and its Discontents by Richard Locke, Compassion and Terror by Martha C. Nussbaum and The Sweatshop Sublime by Bruce Robbins; which is that we need to “rethink what it means to be ethical in a global rder” (Rethinking Ethics, 1). I agree with the authors arguments when I state bluntly that “l agree with these readings that make the claim for revising our understanding of key ethical and intertwined concepts… nd applying their contemporary implications to the reality of todays globalized world” (Rethinking Ethics, 1). Like The Business of Eating, Rethinking Ethics endeavors to bring awareness to an issue commonly overlooked so that the readers will see it as I do, and hopefully change their attitudes. Robbins, reconsidering of what is ethical is crucial in todays global nvironment, that narcissistic self-interest is wrong, writes that “consumer choices Ethics, 8).
The desired result of revising our understanding of ethics is to “challenge us to become more compassionate, aware, and politically active” (Rethinking Ethics, 8). Writing about these essays afforded me the chance to identify my politics with those thinkers who call for changes in our consumer behavior for the project of social justice. Perhaps my most controversial political work was my final paper for my high school American history class for which wrote a research paper called Justifications of the Iraq War.
It analyzes President Bush’s rationale for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which I argue turned out to be completely unsubstantiated. I write that According to Charles V. P?©na, a director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute, President Bush’s initial reason for conducting this offensive was Justified because he claimed that Saddam Hussein was in material breach of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441″ Oustiflcations of the Iraq War, 1).
UN Resolution 1441 stated that Iraq was in material breach of its duties to disarm and cooperate with inspections of weapon facilities. This lead President Bush to uggest, based on faulty evidence, that Iraq, a member of his self-coined “Axis of Evil,” possessed weapons of mass destruction, implying that America, or her allies, was in clear existential danger. As a quick digression, it is worth noting that the phrase “Axis of Evil’ reflected poorly on its [President’s] knowledge of geometry… n axis is a straight line between two points. North Korea, Iran and Iraq couldn’t form an axis” Oustifications of the Iraq War, 1). I claim in Justification of the Iraq war that there are only three rational Justifications for invading a foreign country: self-defense, eaning there is clear and present danger to you; law enforcement, meaning force used to maintain international peace and security; and the rescue of a general population, as Richard B.
Miller, the author of The Justifications of the Iraq War Examined, puts it, “to stop the oppression of a defenseless group, to protect humanitarian relief efforts, to help refugees escape from or return to their native country, or to help a fledgling independence movement” Oustiflcations of the Iraq War Examined, 57). However, there turned out to be no weapons of such destruction, thus elf-defense fails to satisfy my criteria as a Justification.
Additionally, there was no law enforcement needed because Iraq never really posed an issue to international peace and security??” President Bush exaggerated that point. And once those first two rationales began to be exposed as defective, the President “increasingly turned to the rescue rationale” Oustification of the Iraq War, 8). However I mention in the essay that the rescue rationale was also faulty. Perhaps it would have been Justifiable to invade Iraq and remove Saddam from power if Saddam continued human rights abuses. However, in March 2003, at the time of invasion, there was no evidence of any abuses.
In fact, “Saddam was locked in place by sanctions, surrounded by troops, and surrounded by no-fly zones in the north and south; so how could he have conducted military operations as he had done earlier? ” Oustiflcations of the Iraq War, 9). Like my other essays, the motive of this essay is clearly political. It’s purpose is to expose the fact that the United States did not satisfy any of the three appropriate justifications for declaring war on a foreign country, thus having no Justification for erhaps make us a little more sensitive and critical next time Congress debates a war.
Although you can say that there is evidence in my essays of “sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse,” to use Orwell’s phrases, and perhaps even the desire to make sense of my thoughts, as Didion observes, it remains clear that what really motivates me to write is political purpose that has personal meaning. For example, in my essay, The Business of Eating, I try to bring light to the problem that we are becoming sickened by what we are choosing to eat. In Rethinking Ethics, I use
Locke’s, Nussbaum’s and Robbins’ arguments to provide my own: that we need to reexamine certain concepts so that the we can truly understand what it means to be ethical in the world today. In my Justifications of the Iraq War, I expose the faulty rationale upon which our president led the United States into a pointless war, thus causing the reader to become more critical of his or her government and more sensitive to war. In so doing, I identified political arguments that are important to me, and hopefully, to my readers as well. Works Cited Orwell, George. Why I Write. Thesis. 1946. N. p. : n. p. , n. George Orwell. The Complete Works of George Orwell. Web. 13 Dec. 2012. Didion, Joan. Why I Write. Thesis. 1976. New York: New York Times Book Review, 1976. Print. Schwarcz, Ezra W. The Business of Eating. Thesis. Yeshiva University English Department, 2012. Print. Schwarcz, Ezra W. Rethinking Ethics. Thesis. Yeshiva University English Department, 2012. Print. Schwarcz, Ezra W. “Justification of the Iraq War. ” Thesis. Shalhevet High School History Department, 2009. Print. Miller, Richard B. “Justifications of the Iraq War Examined. ” Ethics & International Affairs 22. 1 (2008): Web. 22 Dec. 2012.