25 May 2005

Why I Write

There's an interesting semidialogue going on in the blawgosphere among the academics, all trying to determine why they write (or continue to write after achieving tenure, in any event). It's rather amusing, in a certain way, that they're struggling to replicate a master's work and apply it to themselves.

Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living.

  1. Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death… It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen—in short, with the whole top crust of humanity.…
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or a writer of texstbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons… Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.
  3. Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
  4. Political purpose—using the word "political" in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people's idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

George Orwell, "Why I Write" (ellipses mine, emphasis added).

Whether "lawyers" truly represent the "whole top crust of humanity" is probably a question better answered by a non-lawyer. In any event, though, the musings of Professors Froomkin, Madison (continued), and Ribstein all implicate Orwell's taxonomy.

And my own position? Of course, it varies from piece to piece; but, on the whole—including not just my blawg, but all of the other writing I do, ranging from academic to whatever—it's pretty balanced. (Any lawyer who claims that reason 1 isn't a substantial part of his/her own motivation is at best lying to him/herself!)