Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eric Arthur Blair and George Orwell

Chandrahas Choudhury had a good review of a new book "George Orwell Critical Essays". Key paragraphs:

  • “If ideas are the “characters” of essays, then the main characters of Orwell’s essays could be said to be four heavyweights: freedom, socialism, totalitarianism and language. Just as no family ever agrees on any one point, these four ideas also never work themselves, in Orwell’s writing, into some clear and consistent pattern.
  • The strongest of Orwell’s stresses (and hence the easiest argument to reproduce) was against totalitarianism, both of the communist and fascist varieties. As early as any other observer of his time, he grasped how the Soviet state was far more evil than the system which it claimed to refute, and that its “management” of thought and opinion could only end up making automatons of both the bureaucracy and citizens.
  • We know well today the truth of Orwell’s argument that the organized deception practised by totalitarian states is not a temporary expedient, but is something integral to totalitarianism”.
  • Orwell’s interest in language as an instrument of politics—as a means not for expressing but “for concealing or preventing thought”—is what animates his most famous essay, Politics and the English Language. Here, Orwell’s attack on bad, overwrought or obfuscatory English is not made just as a writer. He also sees that such language can be a result not just of incompetence or laziness, but of a deliberate intent to distort or mask the truth. Orwell proves that it is often in the interest of the state to only pretend to be giving information or to be demonstrating intent, or empathy, or solidarity (he cites the classic bureaucratic cliche, “we will leave no stone unturned”).
  • Orwell’s argument is of course aimed against the state and against the peculiar jargon of ideologies such as Marxism, of which he was a relentless opponent.”

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