Thursday, October 22, 2009

modern essays: A RHETORICAL APPROACH - sampling 2009.10.22

I felt like changing up my reading this evening, and so drifted to my library and, more or less allowed my hand to randomly select Modern Essays: A Rhetorical Approach. It is/was a grade school/college reader, I think, that I picked up at my local library's semi-annual book sale for 25¢.

Most of the writers listed are, even if I've not read them, at least known to me. For example, E.B. White, Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, Dylan Thomas, George Bernard Shaw, and the like.

But what my random hands took me to was George Orwell's fascinating little piece called 'Marrakech' (pg 109). As noted elsewhere, I am a great fan of Orwell's writing, and this essay exemplifies why — he with brutal self honesty admits to possessing white man's blindness to the brown mans' slavery in Africa. And he observes that somehow this easy 'natural' blindness is a quality of being human that needs to be addressed.

It opens with a great short paragraph:
As the corpse went past the flies left the restaurant table in a cloud and rushed after it, but they came back a few minutes later.

And, of course, it continues brilliantly:
... when you see how the people live, and still more how easily they die, it is always difficult to believe that you are walking among human beings. All colonial empires are in reality founded upon that fact. The people have brown faces — besides, there are so many of them! Are they really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have names? Or are they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, about as individual as bees or coral insects? They rise out of the earth, they sweat and starve for a few years, and then they sink back into the nameless mounds of the graveyard and nobody notices that they are gone. And even the graves themselves soon fade back into the soil. Sometimes, out for a walk, as you break your way through the prickly pear, you notice that it is rather bumpy underfoot, and only a certain regularity in the bumps tells you that you are walking over skeletons.
He closes it with a revelatory self examination on the nature of poverty's invisibility when it applies to the colonized brown people:
... But what is strange about these people is their invisibility. For several weeks, always at about the same time of day, the file of old women had hobbled past the house with their firewood, and though they had registered themselves on my eyeballs I cannot truly say that I had seen them. Firewood was passing—that was how I saw it. It was only that one day I happened to be walking behind them, and the curious up-and-down motion of a load of wood drew my attention to the human being underneath it. Then for the first time I noticed the poor old earth-coloured bodies, bodies reduced to bones and leathery skin, bent double under the crushing weight. Yet I suppose I had not been five minutes on Moroccan soil before I noticed the overloading of the donkeys and was infuriated by it. There is no question that the donkeys are damnably treated...
And, finally:
This kind of thing makes one's blood boil, whereas—on the whole—the plight of the human beings does not. I am not commenting, merely pointing to a fact. People with brown skins are next door to invisible. Anyone can be sorry for the donkey with its galled back, but it is generally owing to some kind of accident if one even notices the old woman under her load of sticks.

Yup, I like Orwell.

This essay gets:


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