It is a commonplace of criticism that George Orwell is a kind of literary lodestone that attracts readers and writers from all points of the compass. He draws conservatives and liberals, Freudians and existentialists. He fetches professors of English, history, political science, and sociology. Orwell x 8, a collection of papers read at Lakehead University in 1984, is just one of numerous examples. J. M. Richardson, the editor of the volume, notes that in that year Bernard Crick, Orwell's official biographer, was "scheduled to speak at approximately twenty such events in North America alone." The result of all this activity in and out of the universities is that it has become extremely difficult to say anything quite new about Orwell, but some of the eight contributors to Orwell x 8 manage to do so.
Patricia Vervoor's article, " 'Benefit of Clergy': Opposition to Salvador Dali," is particularly fresh. In his long review of Dali's first autobiography, Orwell discusses both the man and his paintings and drawings, some of which appear as illustrations to the book. Vervoor demonstrates that Orwell confused the historical sequence of earlier artists, got some of the influences on Dali wrong, knew very little about surrealism, and could not tell good composition from bad. She recognizes, however, that Orwell raised some larger questions: how did Dali find [End Page 736] a public, and what is to be done about an artist like him? Orwell concludes that one ought to admit that an obscene book or painting is not made less obscene by its artistic merits. He considers, however, that censoring anything short of the pornographic postcards once sold in Mediterranean seaports is a very dubious business.
Vervoor directs the reader's attention to an irony of high caliber. Before "Benefit of Clergy" was published in Dickens, Dali and Others, Orwell added the following footnote: " 'Benefit of Clergy' made a sort of phantom appearance in the Saturday Book for 1944. The book was in print when its publishers . . . decided that this essay must be suppressed on grounds of obscenity. It was accordingly cut out of each copy, though for technical reasons it was impossible to remove its title from the table of contents."
David A. Nock opens "George Orwell as Sociologist Manqué" with a pair of startling statements: "Orwell was a sociologist manqué . . . and not a novelist at all." Because Orwell never attempted to be a sociologist, the word manqué seems oddly used, and to dismiss Orwell's fiction is arbitrary in the extreme. Nevertheless, the article makes a new point of considerable interest. From the Twenties to the Forties some of the University of Chicago sociologists were writing about the same subjects that Orwell wrote about in Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier. They were mainly interested in the poor, tramps, and delinquent gangs, and they studied them by living among them. As Nock puts it, the city of Chicago was their laboratory. In 1923 the University of Chicago Press published Nels Anderson's The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man, and in 1943 William Whyte's Street Corner Society. Anderson came from a line of hoboes but Whyte, like Orwell, was from the middle class and knew noming of "marginally employed" young Italo-Americans before he moved among them, learning Italian the better to talk with them.
In The Diminished Self: Orwell and the Loss of Freedom, Mark Connelly says that Orwell was not a philosopher but a political reporter. (Indeed, Orwell did not care much for philosophical writing, and in a review of a book by Bertrand Russell, he declared that he wished that philosophy had never been invented.) It follows that comparing Orwell with Nietzsche, Heidegger, Jaspers, and Sartre is hardly to the purpose.
Connelly, however, has a candidate of his own—Roderick Seidenberg, whose Posthistoric Man: An Inquiry "provides a workable framework for an examination of Orwell's central concerns." According to Seidenberg, in the prehistoric...