I’m busy at work on my latest audio book which is the life of Edward Upward by Peter Stansky. Upward was ‘the fourth man’ in the literary grouping of WH Auden, Christopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender. He is in the literary shadows, but in the 1930s he was a massive influence on all the writers above and the decade itself.
He tends to be a somewhat overlooked now, but Stansky’s biography goes some way to restoring his reputation a little. His personality and writings were split between ‘Art and Life’ (the subtitle of the biography) that is, between his writing and his political life. Like George Orwell, he felt that given the politics of his era he had to be political though he never much enjoyed this activity. For his generation being political meant joining the Communist Party.
However, he was always conflicted because his imaginative, artistic self was drawn to writing a brand of surrealism or fantasy. With Christopher Isherwood, his life-long friend, he created ‘The Mortmere Stories’ which is what (along with his political and autobiographical trilogy The Spiral Ascent’) he is now most remembered for.
Stansky wrote a biography of Orwell years ago, which I read and very much enjoyed, so it was rather a thrill to be given the job of transferring this new biography, from the Enitharmon Press, into an audiobook.
In this era of the rise of the right in Europe and America, it’s good to be reminded of the values of the left and how essential the notion of fraternity, equality and community is over the I-generation’s focus on ‘me’ and ‘my rights’. Rights, in a sense, do need to be earned or at a minimum appreciated not as God-given, but as a human creation and one that needs to be fought for and then maintained. People have, and do, die to preserve these central values of decency to others, economic equality and justice.
Mobile phones and Facebook are a supplement to society, but true communion is made between human beings speaking and debating face to face. It is much harder to insult someone face to face, for various reasons: you can see the hurt you inflict, your own morality can be questioned because it’s not protected by anonymity, the reactions of your community can temper your disregard for others. etc. Of course, face to face contact can bring conflict too; it’s just that digital communication is more susceptible to certain abuses and can go much wider, much quicker. There’s a small clue in the phrase ‘going viral’, a few viruses do bring benefits, but most do not. As is becoming recognized, we need to be wary of technology dictating human actions rather than the reverse. I heard one teenager, on Radio Four recently, who banned her friends using their mobile phones whilst they were visiting her. It is a classic scenario these days to see a group of friends together, no-one is talking, and everyone is on their mobile! There are more important issues, but our technological attributes are symptoms of greater ills.