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  • George Orwell

  • was an English intellectual who died in 1950

  • and used literature for the only reason it ultimately really exists -

  • to try to change the world for the better.

  • He was, in the deeper sense, a political writer,

  • someone who wanted art to help us grow kinder, fairer, wiser.

  • In 1946, a year after the publication of

  • his momentously popular fable, 'Animal Farm',

  • he wrote an essay titled, 'Why I Write',

  • which laid out his approach with a characteristic clarity.

  • What I wanted to do throughout the past ten years

  • is to make political writing into an art.

  • My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship. A sense of injustice.

  • When I sit down to write a book, I don't say to myself, "I'm going to produce a work of art."

  • "I write it because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention,

  • and my initial concern is to get a hearing."

  • To understand why Orwell matters,

  • we therefore have to understand what this most political of writers loved,

  • and what he hated.

  • What he was in rebellion against, and what he championed.

  • This is what will give us the keys to understanding his remarkable work,

  • and painful yet deeply fulfilled life.

  • George Orwell always hated the social group of which he was, despite everything,

  • an exemplary member: Intellectuals.

  • From an early age, he had wanted to be a writer.

  • But George Orwell excelled at never quite belonging.

  • He was born in 1903 in India,

  • which was then part of the British Empire,

  • to economically fragile civil servant parents,

  • who fought for him to have a classic upper middle class English upbringing.

  • And then hoped he might become a doctor, or a lawyer.

  • They sent him to what turned out to be a crippling, mean spirited English prep school at the age of eight.

  • From where he won a scholarship to Eton.

  • But he turned against the values and spirit of the English public school system.

  • He never went to university, and after a stint as an imperial policeman in Burma,

  • he settled into the life of the odd-jobbing literary intellectual.

  • Working in a Hamstard book shop, reviewing other people's books,

  • and eventually, writing some of his own.

  • Nevertheless, Orwell's disdain of intellectuals was a constant.

  • He accused them of a range of sins, a lack of patriotism, resentment of money,

  • and physical vigor. Concealed sexual frustraion, pretension, and dishonesty.

  • He knew it all form the inside, but Orwell's greatness emerge from the rye determination

  • with which he recognized and came to triumph against such tendencies in himself.

  • "The really important fact about the English intelligentsia," he once wrote, "is their severance

  • from the common culture of the country.

  • In left wing circles, it's always felt that there's something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman,

  • and that it's a duty to snigger at every English institution from horse racing to suet puddings.

  • Orwell's generation of intellectuals, which had witnessed the First World War and the Great Depression,

  • was obsessed with airy, abstract, large schemes to redeem human kind.

  • Some were fanatical communists, others staunch defenders of radical capitalism, a few admired the new

  • authoritarian regimes of Italy, Spain, and Germany, and wanted something similar

  • to take hold in the anglophone sphere.

  • Orwell listened, and was for a time, a little seduced.

  • But he came gradually to champion something far more radical:

  • The tastes, opinions, needs and outlook of someone he called "the ordinary person".

  • A knowledge of ordinary life

  • came rather late to Orwell.

  • As a typical product of an English public school,

  • he was a little exposed in anyone below his own social class.

  • A tendency compounded by a naturally aloof, bookish and different manner.

  • A friend described him in age 25 as,

  • "remarkably muff eaten for one his age"

  • But Orwell set out to make up for his lack of knowledge

  • and gradually came to be the great defender

  • of what he repeatedly called ordinary life.

  • Life of people, not especially blessed with material goods,

  • but people who work on ordinary jobs

  • who don't have much of education,

  • who won't achieve greatness

  • and yet, nevertheless, love, care for others,

  • work, have fun, raise children, and have large thoughts about the deepest questions,

  • in ways that Orwell thought especially admirable.

  • Orwell's journey into ordinary life,

  • began in the spring of 1928.

  • When he left the privileges of his class behind, and went to work in series of menial service jobs

  • in the French and English capitals

  • experiences he was to recount in his book,

  • "Down and Out in Paris and London" published in 1933.

  • The book is filled with affection and portraits of life behind stairs in hotels and restaurants

  • and revels and camaraderie, humor and warmth.

  • of an assortment of cleaners or shoe rubbers, waiters, chefs

  • and the occasional prostitute tramp.

  • It was a side of life Orwell was further to investigate.

  • In a book chronicling his journeys around the industrial coal mining of Northern England

  • In a 1937 book titled,

  • The Road to Wigan Pier

  • again, without sentimentality or reverse snobbery,

  • Orwell casts the generous complex eye

  • over the people he met, and concluded that the average pulp in a coal mining village.

  • contain more intelligence, wisdom

  • than the British cabinet or the high table of an Oxbridge College.

  • Orwell especially liked the lack of prudishness and hypocrisy

  • among the ordinary people he met.

  • One thing one notices when he writes, if he looks directly at the common people

  • especially in the big towns,

  • is that they are not puritanical.

  • They are in veteran gamblers, drink as much as their wages will permit,

  • and devoted to boardy jokes and use, probably, the foulest language in the world.

  • Then, as now, there was plenty of information in the news about ordinary people.

  • But Orwell understood that these news tended to turn people into abstractions.

  • And he saw it as the role in his craft, literary journalism,

  • to flesh out the human beings behind the statistics.

  • And so, correct the prejudice and casual racism that circulated all around.

  • In an essay written on a trip to Marrakech

  • Orwell wrote sarcastically are the typically neo-colonial attitude of travelers

  • towards the local inhabitants.

  • The people here have brown faces

  • "There are so many of them, are they really the same flesh as yourself?"

  • "Do they even have names?

  • or they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff?"

  • about as an individual as bees or coral insects.

  • All people who work with their hands are partly invisible.

  • And the more important work that they do,

  • the less visible they are.

  • Orwell's love of the ordinary inspired his curiosity

  • about a range of themes not often considered in literature.

  • He thought about and wrote in praise of comics and country walks

  • dancing and flowers.

  • He wrote bravely in defense of English cooking

  • kippers, Yorkshire pudding, Devon shire cream, muffins and crumpets he wrote.

  • And then asked, where else other than English cooking

  • do you see potatoes roasted under the joint?

  • which is far in a way the best way of cooking them.

  • Orwell wrote tenderly in defense of Charles Dickens

  • at the time when this great writer

  • was considered low brow and too popular to win the esteemed intellectuals.

  • In a great essay of 1946,

  • Politics and the English Language,

  • Orwell stood up against the pros typical of intellectuals

  • high blown and full of long fancy words

  • and defended a simple, almost naive way of writing.

  • He outlined the list of rules for how to write well,

  • which included a complete ban

  • on fancy words like phenomenon,

  • categorical,

  • utilize,

  • inexorable and veritable.

  • Orwell revealed a hatred of foreign words like

  • status quo and deus ex machina.

  • And concluded,

  • There is really no need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in English.

  • George Orwell is today extremely famous for two books which played a very small part in his life.

  • if measured simply in terms of years

  • he wrote Animal Farm in 1945

  • when he was 42 and he published Nineteen Eighty-four

  • in 1949 when he was 45.

  • but he was dead in January 1950

  • at the age of only 46.

  • In other words, he had just four short years

  • being the Orwell we know today.

  • Nevertheless, these two books are anchored in deep thinking

  • that Orwell had done all his adult life

  • about how literature should be written in an age of movies and mass communication.

  • In short, he knew that the task of a writer

  • was to ensure that the most serious ideas should achieve mass popularity.

  • A double act, which required particular skill and intelligence.

  • Animal farm is a political trapped about how revolutions fall prey to counter-revolutions.

  • and turn their backs on their own original ideas.

  • It fairly maps out the progress of French Revolution.

  • the European Revolutions of 1848 and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

  • But, described like this, no one outside of the few academics

  • would ever bother to read it.

  • Orwell's genius was to hit upon of form the fable

  • which would carry his story to a mass audience and could be understood as he put it

  • by more or less, anyone.

  • So Orwell did what Aesop, Walt Disney, La Fontaine and Beatrix Potter

  • among many others have done.

  • Which is to tell a story about humans via animals.

  • In the process, Orwell revealed, the sins of the revolutionaries

  • are not limited to people involved in actual revolutions.

  • Indeed, that it's a permanent human possibility to believe when he's guided by high ideals

  • and then go on to betray them all.

  • Every time a revolution now goes wrong, people bring up Animal Farm.

  • And declare it to be ahead of its time.

  • So prescient.

  • This is the genius of Orwell's fable.

  • By cutting out all contemporary human references,

  • Orwell found a way to tell us about ourselves

  • for all time even for the future.

  • Having successfully reinvented the fable,

  • Orwell, in an astonishing burst of creativity,

  • then reinvented the science fiction novel.

  • As a boy, he'd loved the novels of H.G. Wells.

  • Especially, the Time Machine and The War of the Worlds.

  • Like Wells, Orwell seized upon trends in his own time

  • and try to imagine how they might develop over the long term.

  • His science fiction novel is set in Airstrip One.

  • A place once known as Great Britain,

  • but now a province of the super state of Oceania.

  • And locked in perpetual ideological conflict with two other blocks,

  • Eurasia

  • and East Asia.

  • Like all great dystopian novels,

  • Orwell's book was an attempt to warn his own society

  • about its own alarming trends.

  • For example, he could see that what can terrorize a country

  • is not so much outright torture or clumsy covert restrictions on free speech,

  • but a lulling of the citizenry

  • through sophisticated entertainment and empty-headed news reports.

  • all wrapped up in a constant reference to freedom.

  • So, In 1984, society is full of intriguing new machines

  • omnipresent screens which both addicted,

  • and at the same time watch over their citizens.

  • Julia, the leading female figure in the novel,

  • works in the department of government known as "Mini True"

  • which systematically distorts access to information in highly subtle ways.

  • To blind the citizenry to their enslavement,

  • Julia operates a machine that turns out porn novels.

  • alongside, films oozing with sex,

  • rubbishing newspapers containing almost nothing but sport, crime and astrology.

  • The people, however, don't feel they are enslaved.

  • As Orwell so well understood,

  • the really clever and scary regimes of the modern world

  • aren't the obviously dictatorial ones.

  • they are, the apparently, democratic ones

  • that give their citizens the distinct feeling that they are free.

  • Well in fact, blinding them

  • with constant sexual titillation, and sentimental distractions.

  • George Orwell had the wisdom to make himself remarkably future-proof.

  • He was weary of economic and political abstractions.

  • He start close to the truth of ordinary life.

  • The realities of sex, food, money, love and pleasure.

  • and he wrote with total clarity

  • about enduring eternal themes on human nature.

  • He is, perhaps, the most successful serious English-language writer of the 20th century.

  • and gives us the tools to continue to imagine

  • what writing should be in our own time.

  • Ultimately, Orwell's message

  • is the same as the plea that he discerned in all of Charles Dickens' books.

  • in the essay he wrote on him

  • namely, that human beings should behave better.

  • This, as he pointed out, is either a terrific cliche

  • or just about the most important instruction in the hole of life.

  • It was Orwell's genius to remind as that it is, of course,

  • very much, the latter.

George Orwell

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LITERATURE - George Orwell

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    Graeme posted on 2018/06/27
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