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'1984' writer Orwell's legend re-examined

Discussion in 'Channel Zero' started by Nic Thamaire, Jun 25, 2003.

  1. Nic Thamaire

    Nic Thamaire Elite Member

    Joined: Apr 20, 2000 Messages: 2,921 Likes Received: 9
    Orwell Legend Comes Under Review 100 Years On

    By Jeremy Lovell

    LONDON (Reuters) - Giant of 20th century political thought or sick and quirky loner -- the legend of British author George Orwell is coming under review 100 years after his birth.

    The man whose incisive brain gave the world Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four, in the process embedding the terms Big Brother and Thought Police into the English language, has been generally deified since his death in January 1950.

    But true to his own quip that "saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent," the Orwellian myth is coming under new scrutiny around the centenary of his birth in an Indian village on June 25, 1903.

    Recently unearthed documents show that the Socialist Orwell handed a list of 38 "crypto-communists and fellow travelers" to the Foreign Office months before his death from tuberculosis.

    Not only have some of the names on the list raised eyebrows, the fact that he handed it to a government department runs strongly counter to the anti-authoritarian reputation Orwell gained from both of his famous novels.

    Historian Norman Mackenzie said recently the inclusion of his and several other names on the list was proof that Orwell had lost his grip on reality as the TB disease advanced.

    "It's a very shaky list," he told the Guardian newspaper. "Tubercular people often get very strange toward the end. I am an Orwell man, I agreed with him on the Soviet Union, but he went partly ga-ga I think."

    A Washington Post article accused Orwell of being an anti-Semitic and friendless loner who dressed working class but spoke distinctly upper class and who was torn between his own Socialist leanings and his detestation of Stalinist Communism.

    Born Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari, Bengal to what he later described as a "lower-Upper-Middle-Class" civil service family, he was educated at Eton but instead of going on to university he spent seven years with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma.

    Returning to Europe in 1928 he spend the next four years delving into the underworld of tramps until, in an Orwellian quirk, poverty forced him to find a job as a schoolteacher.

    He used these experiences in his mostly autobiographical first novel Down And Out In Paris And London which he published under the assumed name George Orwell in case it bombed.

    Road To Wigan Pier was among the five novels which followed until Orwell went to fight in the Spanish Civil War in 1937.

    A year later, shot in the throat and disillusioned by the feuding between the supposed allies -- the Communists and the anarchists -- Orwell fled to London.

    During World War II he took various journalistic jobs including three years with the BBC whose bureaucracy proved a rich vein to mine for Nineteen Eighty Four, his last novel.
  2. TEARZ

    TEARZ Guest

    i love orwell. he must have been loco to hand over names.
  3. serum

    serum Elite Member

    Joined: Aug 9, 2000 Messages: 4,200 Likes Received: 138
    during the red scare walt disney handed over a few hundred names to the us goverment blacklisters anyone who was liberal, non racist, non anti semetic, rival animators, and any employees that left his company for his competition. a lot of artists had to relocate to europe because they could no longer work in the us again.
  4. rental

    rental Dirty Dozen Crew

    Joined: Jul 1, 2001 Messages: 7,641 Likes Received: 1

    or should it have been named 2003, the bush administration?
  5. Sean Daley

    Sean Daley Member

    Joined: Jun 11, 2003 Messages: 256 Likes Received: 0
    hmm crazy they thought he went? so crazy that thats what we're becoming... what was that rental?
    2003 Bush administration... hmm yes..
  6. BROWNer

    BROWNer Guest

    yea, i read about this the other day.
    i own it, but i must be the only dude to never
    have read 1984.
  7. SteveAustin

    SteveAustin Veteran Member

    Joined: Mar 12, 2002 Messages: 7,042 Likes Received: 2
    its been years since I read it...I'm thinking I should revisit it...now that I'm older.
  8. mental invalid

    mental invalid Dirty Dozen Crew

    Joined: May 11, 2001 Messages: 13,050 Likes Received: 8
    If It's 'Orwellian,' It's Probably Not

    In George Orwell's centenary — he was born on June 25, 1903 — the most telling sign of his influence is the words he left us with: not just "thought police," "doublethink" and "unperson," but also "Orwellian" itself, the most widely used adjective derived from the name of a modern writer.

    In the press and on the Internet, it's more common than "Kafkaesque," "Hemingwayesque" and "Dickensian" put together. It even noses out the rival political reproach "Machiavellian," which had a 500-year head start.

    Eponyms are always the narrowest sort of tribute, though. "Orwellian" doesn't have anything to do with Orwell as a socialist thinker, or for that matter, as a human being. People are always talking about Orwell's decency, but "Orwellian decency" would be an odd phrase indeed. And the adjective commemorates Orwell the writer only for three of his best known works: the novels "Animal Farm" and "1984" and the essay "Politics and the English Language."

    "Orwellian" reduces Orwell's palette to a single shade of noir. It brings to mind only sordid regimes of surveillance and thought control and the distortions of language that make them possible.

    Orwell's views on language may outlive his political ideas. At least they seem to require no updating or apology, whereas his partisans feel the need to justify the continuing relevance of his politics. He wasn't the first writer to condemn political euphemisms. Edmund Burke was making the same points 150 years earlier about the language used by apologists for the French Revolution: "Things are never called by their common names. Massacre is sometimes agitation, sometimes effervescence, sometimes excess."

    But Orwell is the writer most responsible for diffusing the modern view of political language as an active accomplice of tyranny. As he wrote in "Politics and the English Language," "Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

    That was an appealing notion to an age that had learned to be suspicious of ideologies, and critics on all sides have found it useful to cite "Politics and the English Language" in condemning the equivocations of their opponents.

    Critics on the left hear Orwellian resonances in phrase like "weapons of mass protection," for nonlethal arms, or in names like the Patriot Act or the Homeland Security Department's Operation Liberty Shield, which authorizes indefinite detention of asylum-seekers from certain nations. Critics on the right hear them in phrases like "reproductive health services," "Office of Equality Assurance" and "English Plus," for bilingual education.

    And just about everyone discerned an Orwellian note in the name of the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness project, which was aimed at mining a vast centralized database of personal information for patterns that might reveal terrorist activities. (The name was changed last month to the Terrorist Information Awareness program, in an effort to reassure Americans who have nothing to hide.)

    Which of those terms are deceptive packaging and which are merely effective branding is a matter of debate. But there's something troubling in the easy use of the label "Orwellian," as if these phrases committed the same sorts of linguistic abuses that led to the gulags and the death camps.

    The specters that "Orwellian" conjures aren't really the ones we have to worry about. Newspeak may have been a plausible invention in 1948, when totalitarian thought control still seemed an imminent possibility. But the collapse of Communism revealed the bankruptcy not just of the Stalinist social experiment, but of its linguistic experiments as well. After 75 years of incessant propaganda, "socialist man" turned out to be a cynic who didn't even believe the train schedules.

    Political language is still something to be wary of, but it doesn't work as Orwell feared. In fact the modern language of control is more effective than Soviet Newspeak precisely because it's less bleak and intimidating.

    Think of the way business has been re-engineering the language of ordinary interaction in the interest of creating "high-performance corporate cultures." To a reanimated Winston Smith, there would be something wholly familiar in being told that he had to file an annual vision statement or that he should henceforth eliminate "problems" from his vocabulary in favor of "issues."

    But the hero of "1984" would find the whole exercise much more convivial than the Two Minute Hate at the Ministry of Truth. And he'd be astonished that management allowed employees to post "Dilbert" strips on the walls of their cubicles.

    For Orwell, the success of political jargon and euphemism required an uncritical or even unthinking audience: a "reduced state of consciousness," as he put it, was "favorable to political conformity." As things turned out, though, the political manipulation of language seems to thrive on the critical skepticism that Orwell encouraged.

    In fact, there has never been an age that was so well-schooled in the perils of deceptive language or in decoding political and commercial messages, as seen in the official canonization of Orwell himself. Thanks to the schools, "1984" is probably the best-selling political novel of modern times (current Amazon sales rank: No. 93), and "Politics and the English Language" is the most widely read essay about the English language and very likely in it as well.

    But as advertisers have known for a long time, no audience is easier to beguile than one that is smugly confident of its own sophistication. The word "Orwellian" contributes to that impression. Like "propaganda," it implies an aesthetic judgment more than a moral one. Calling an expression Orwellian means not that it's deceptive but that it's crudely deceptive.

    Today, the real damage isn't done by the euphemisms and circumlocutions that we're likely to describe as Orwellian. "Ethnic cleansing," "revenue enhancement," "voluntary regulation," "tree-density reduction," "faith-based initiatives," "extra affirmative action," "single-payer plans" — these terms may be oblique, but at least they wear their obliquity on their sleeves.

    Rather, the words that do the most political work are simple ones — "jobs and growth," "family values" and "color-blind" not to mention "life" and "choice." But concrete words like these are the hardest ones to see through. They're opaque when you hold them up to the light.

    Orwell knew that, of course. "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle" — not what you'd call an Orwellian sentiment, but very like the man.

    Geoffrey Nunberg, a Stanford linguist, is heard regularly on NPR's "Fresh Air" and is the author of "The Way We Talk Now."
  9. BROWNer

    BROWNer Guest

    nice roe.
    i guess if your a big linguist prof its obvious, but
    for me, orwellian is still a perfect term for
    all levels of political deception, not just the 'crude' type..

    and.."the success of political jargon and euphemism required an uncritical or even unthinking audience: a "reduced state of consciousness," as he put it, was "favorable to political conformity." "
    that's still on point in my books, albeit more complex now.
  10. crave

    crave Veteran Member

    Joined: Jan 20, 2002 Messages: 6,728 Likes Received: 10
    i'm thinkin i should do the same. i remember it being a good read.
  11. seeking

    seeking Dirty Dozen Crew

    Joined: May 25, 2000 Messages: 32,277 Likes Received: 235
    honestly, i read about the first 1/4th of it, found it insipidly boring, and put it down.
    had ii read it in 1950, it would have been super fantastic im sure, but its kind of second nature now a days.. i duno.
    im told to skip ahead and ill like it again.

    we'll see.

    steinbeck is my fuckin man though.
  12. TEARZ

    TEARZ Guest

    good shit roe.

    when i think orwell, i think "homage to catalonia," one of the finest books i've read. read it if you can get through the confusing acronyms. i always found the word "orwellian" problematic- holla for some serious nerd shit that i realize as i'm writing thisjhjkasfhdjkfa
  13. I really have problems believing the story Thamaire posted...especially around now...anyway..i've always felt that the life of the artist is taken much more seriously than it should...all the myth..truths, lies and conections to ideologies and concequences are just defocusing the real power of works of art: the power to stand on their own..Whatever Orwell did in life sais to little compared to what his books did to western thought. As a matter of fact, i'd push things a bit further and ask you if you sincerely believe that big brother would exist if orwell didnt write about it...i believe that the biggest fear of a man, when displayed with the twisted beauty that qualifies art nomatter the subject can be another mans fantasy....anyway, the book is fine and although i read all of it at once what seeking said covers me completely...sometimes it feels like reading edisson's notes on electricity at night, with the lights and the A/C on.