I had a strange day. Most of it was exhilarating, in the company of accomplished journalists and passionate students of journalism.
Much of the rest of it was profoundly confusing, reading about and trying to synthesize the goings on in Gaza. As said my friend whose uniqueness derives only partly from her combination of subject matter expertise and a lack of doctrinaire-iness on the Mideast, before hanging up this morning: “good luck with that.”
And then, in a fruitless effort to go to sleep I was reading for the nth time Lionel Trilling’s 1952 introduction to George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, which I am told my journo-friends is the lodestone of the disappearing breed which is the foreign correspondent. It’s also, according to the New Yorker (as well as to the jacket of the paperback edition I own), “perhaps the best book that exists on the Spanish Civil War.”
That’s a tough statement to debate when this is the only book I have ever read on the Spanish Civil War. And actually, I haven’t gotten to the book itself. Trilling’s piece is just that good. Honestly, buy the paperback just to read the intro. I think it’s one of the best pieces of literary criticism I’ve ever read (and yes, in critiquing a critique of something I’ve not yet read, I realize I am well on my way to becoming one of those people I have no time for). A slice that jumped me– particularly, I guess, given the sheer jangling ambiguity of today’s headlines from Gaza (not to mention Gitmo) : after Orwell was nearly killed reporting on the war (oh, and fighting Franco with the hand that wasn’t writing), even he gave up on detailing on the atrocities of Franco’s fascists and sneaked away to France. Speaking of the atrocities Orwell left uncovered in his wake, Trilling writes:
…but if one searches the liberal periodicals which have made the cause of civil liberties their own, one can find no mention of this terror. They were committed not to the fact but to the abstraction.
And to the abstraction they remained committed for a long time to come. Many are still committed to it, or nostalgically wish they could be. If only life were not so tangible, so concrete, so made up of facts that are of variance with each other; if only the things that people said were good were really good; if only the things that are pretty good were entirely good; if only politics were not a matter of power–then we should be happy to put our minds to politics, then we should consent to think!