On 12 November 2011, Wembley Stadium hosted a friendly between the football teams of England and Spain. Amongst the usual pre-match shots of flags and anthem singing, the television cameras picked out one English fan in the crowd with a home-made placard commemorating the British volunteers of the International Brigade, who had fought for the Spanish Republic 75 years earlier. The incident was an example of how the Spanish Civil War has maintained its place in the British popular consciousness in a way that is perhaps only exceeded by the two world wars.
In recent years it has been the subject of popular history books and formed the backdrop to best-selling novels and an HBO made/Sky broadcast television series starring Nicole Kidman; meanwhile the often bitter debates between supporters of different Republican factions in 1936-39 continue to be played out on internet message boards. Despite this public and academic interest, only a small quantity of primary sources in English were freely available to researchers online – last year the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, added over 13,000 pages more. (more…)
If we are to turn to the great George Orwell in this hour of our NSA Deep-State Surveillance Machine disorientation – is it even possible that the Washington Post and the Guardian could have mucked things up this badly? – the overwhelming evidence is against the claim that it should be Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I set out my case in the Ottawa Citizen today: Big Brother Isn’t Watching You.If it’s Orwell’s guidance we need at the moment – and when would Orwell’s counsel not come in handy? -a far more pertinent text might be Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, the essay that synthesizes Orwell’s lifelong concerns about the mortal perils of euphemism and the virtues of precision and plain speaking.It was Orwell’s habit to rail, as he does in that essay, against the sort of rhetoric that can “make lies sound truthful.” To allow that journalism is quite capable of performing that ugly trick, too, is to be led directly to the sort of journalism underlying the NSA-PRISM rumpus at hand, which now consists mainly of a great unraveling of a whole lot of mischief made by the reliably sinister Glenn Greenwald, the creepy Laura Poitras and the sad little paranoid.I’m banging on a bit about Orwell in the Citizen today not only because everybody keeps bringing him up but also because I’m a bit of an Orwell anorak. I taught a course on Orwell’s life and legacy in my stint as the University of Victoria’s Harvey Southam-Stevenson Lecturer in Journalism a couple of years ago. Don’t get me started because I won’t shut up.Orwell’s legacy of integrity and honesty is not a torch that has been picked up by the Washington Post and the Guardian in recent days. Snowden can’t even claim to be a “whistleblower” in any conventional meaning of that venerable term. He has exposed no wrongdoing, shed light on no lie, and exposed no criminal act. There has been edifying contemplation and reflection, mind you. For instance Christian Caryl’s thoughtful and illuminating essay in Foreign Policy, composed around the question: What’s Worse? The NSA or the East German Stasi? Avert your gaze to avoid this spoiler: “Definitely the Stasi.”
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Michael Petrou, author of a book about the working-class Canadians who went to Spain to fight against Franco’s fascist uprising in the 1930s, makes a telling point about the parallels between that war and the current civil war in Syria. It has to do with what Petrou calls “the fallacy of non-intervention.”
That was the policy adopted by the democracies — including Canada — in 1936, when the Spanish general Francisco Franco, backed by his allies Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, launched a rebellion against Spain’s democratically elected government that eventually toppled it and enslaved the country.
We said it was a Spanish conflict, a civil war, and should be decided by the Spaniards. It wasn’t. The democracies might not have intervened, but other powers did. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany picked one side; Stalinist Soviet Union picked the other.
When the war began, the Communists were a minor force within Spain’s republican coalition. Then Spain’s presumed democratic friends deserted it, while the Soviet Union sent weapons and men. Soviet and Spanish Communist power consequently grew. By 1937, the Soviet NKVD and its Spanish allies ran secret jails in Madrid where they murdered political opponents from amongst their supposed anti-fascist comrades.
And in Barcelona too. Those who have read George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” (and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) will be familiar with that ugly chapter of the Spanish civil war.
Which brings us to Syria. It’s been two years, some 80,000 deaths, and hundreds of thousands of displaced. What began as a democratic uprising has become a civil war. Those against doing anything about it have cycled through various arguments, all of which miss a basic point. Non-intervention isn’t an option, because intervention is already happening. Saying you’re against intervention in Syria is like standing in the middle of a blizzard and saying you’re against snow.
- Does Spain’s History Provide a Lesson in Syria’s Civil War? (rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Syria: The Spanish Civil War All Over Again (pjmedia.com)
- Homage to Latakia: Comparing Syria and the Spanish Civil War (macleans.ca)
By ABHISHEK K CHOUDHARY | 1 April 2013Debapriya Mookherjee looks on as Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar bows before a bust of George Orwell during his 2012 visit to Motihari.IN 1983, British journalist Ian Jack travelled to the town of Motihari in Bihar to visit the place where George Orwell was born. In a piece published in 1984 in the Sunday Times, titled “In search of a Jaarj Arwil”, Jack recounted that locals were clueless that their town was the writer’s birthplace, and that it took a string of enquiries before he finally found the opium godown where Orwell’s father, Richard Blair, had worked as an employee of the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. Orwell, whose birth name was Eric Blair, was born in quarters nearby in 1903.
But Jack may have been exaggerating when he wrote: “I found that nobody, save the district magistrate, had ever heard of Orwell.” “The first time I read Orwell was in college [in the early 1970s],” recalled Debapriya Mookherjee, a soft-spoken businessman of 57, when I met him at his Motihari residence this February. But Mookherjee admitted that it was only after Indian publications ran accounts of Jack’s visit that he learnt that his hometown was also the birthplace of the author ofNineteen Eighty-Four. (more…)
Meanwhile, last month “marked the 130th birthday of pioneering Austrian sociologist, philosopher, and curator Otto Neurath, who in the 1930s, together with his wife Marie, invented ISOTYPE — the vintage visual language of pictograms that gave rise to modern infographics.” Check out some interesting examples via Maria Popova.
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From Lists of Note:
In 1946, George Orwell published ‘Politics and the English Language,’ an essay in which he criticises the bad habits of many writers and promotes the use of clear, unfussy language wherever possible. Towards the end of the essay, Orwell provides the following list of rules for writers.(Source: Politics and the English Language; Image: Orwell at work, via.)
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
In the February 1935 issue of Esquire magazine, an article by Ernest Hemingway appeared that was titled ‘Remembering Shooting-Flying: A Key West Letter.’ In it, Hemingway reeled off 17 books, all of which he “would rather read again for the first time [...] than have an assured income of a million dollars a year.”
That list can be read below.
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Far Away and Long Ago, by W. H. Hudson
Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
A Sportsman’s Sketches, by Ivan Turgenev
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Hail and Farewell, by George Moore
Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
La Reine Margot, by Alexandre Dumas
La Maison Tellier, by Guy de Maupassant
Le Rouge et le Noir, by Stendhal
La Chartreuse de Parme, by Stendhal
Dubliners, by James Joyce
Autobiographies, by W. B. Yeats
Early-1966, believing its contents to be “immoral,” the Hanover County School Board in Virginia decided to remove all copies of Harper Lee‘s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, from the county’s school libraries. As soon as she was alerted, Lee responded perfectly by way of the following letter, written to, and later published in, The Richmond News Leader.
Also sent, as mentioned in the letter, was a contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund — a project set up by the newspaper in 1959 to highlight/compensate for “official stupidities,” and which subsequently gave away copies of the banned book to all children who asked.
Editor, The News Leader:
Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board’s activities, and what I’ve heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.
Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that “To Kill a Mockingbird” spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is “immoral” has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.
I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.
Late-1914, an aspiring young writer named Max Fedder sent a copy of his manuscript, “A Journal of One Who Is to Die,” to Jack London, the author responsible for such works as The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and, most relevantly, Martin Eden — the bleak story of a young man battling to become a writer.
The brutally honest response he received can be seen below.
(Source: No Mentor but Myself: Jack London on Writing and Writers; Image: Jack London, via Answers.)
Oct. 26, 1914
Dear Max Fedder:
In reply to yours of recent date undated, and returning herewith your Manuscript. First of all, let me tell you that as a psychologist and as one who has been through the mill, I enjoyed your story for its psychology and point of view. Honestly and frankly, I did not enjoy it for its literary charm or value. In the first place, it has little literary value and practically no literary charm. Merely because you have got something to say that may be of interest to others does not free you from making all due effort to express that something in the best possible medium and form. Medium and form you have utterly neglected.
Anent the foregoing paragraph, what is to be expected of any lad of twenty, without practice, in knowledge of medium and form? Heavens on earth, boy, it would take you five years to serve your apprenticeship and become a skilled blacksmith. Will you dare to say that you have spent, not five years, but as much as five months of unimpeachable, unremitting toil in trying to learn the artisan’s tools of a professional writer who can sell his stuff to the magazines and receive hard cash for same? Of course you cannot; you have not done it: And yet, you should be able to reason on the face of it that the only explanation for the fact that successful writers receive such large fortunes is because very few who desire to write become successful writers. If it takes five years work to become a skilled blacksmith, how many years of work intensified into nineteen hours a day, so that one year counts for five-how many years of such work, studying medium and form, art and artisanship, do you think a man, with native talent and something to say, required in order to reach a place in the world of letters where he received a thousand dollars cash iron money per week?
I think you get the drift of the point I am trying to make. If a fellow harnesses himself to a star of $1000 week, he has to work proportionately harder than if he harnesses himself to a little glowworm of $20.00 a week. The only reason there are more successful blacksmiths in the world than successful writers, is that it is much easier, and requires far less hard work to become a successful blacksmith than does it to become a successful writer.
It cannot be possible that you, at twenty, should have done the work at writing that would merit you success at writing. You have not begun your apprenticeship yet. The proof of it is the fact that you dared to write this manuscript, “A Journal of One Who Is to Die.” Had you made any sort of study of what is published in the magazines you would have found that your short story was of the sort that never was published in the magazines. If you are going to write for success and money, you must deliver to the market marketable goods. Your short story is not marketable goods, and had you taken half a dozen evenings off and gone into a free reading room and read all the stories published in the current magazines, you would have learned in advance that your short story was not marketable goods.
Any time you are out here in California, I should be glad to have you come to visit me on the ranch. I can meet you to the last limit of brass tacks, and hammer some facts of life into you that possibly so far have escaped your own experience.
In October of 1949, a few months after the release of George Orwell‘sdystopian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, he received a fascinating letter from fellow author Aldous Huxley — a man who, 17 years previous, had seen his own nightmarish vision of society published, in the form of Brave New World. What begins as a letter of praise soon becomes a brief comparison of the two novels, and an explanation as to why Huxley believes his own, earlier work to be a more realistic prediction.
Trivia: In 1917, long before he wrote this letter, Aldous Huxley briefly taught Orwell French at Eton.
21 October, 1949
Dear Mr. Orwell,
It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.
Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.
Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.
Thank you once again for the book.
In September of 1848, the incredible Frederick Douglass wrote the following open letter to Thomas Auld — a man who, until a decade previous, had been Douglass’ slave master for many years — and published it in North Star, the newspaper he himself founded in 1847. In the letter, Douglass writes of his twenty years as a slave; his subsequent escape and new life; and then enquires about his siblings, presumably still “owned” by his old master. He even asks Auld to imagine his own daughter as a slave.
It’s a lengthy letter, but perfectly written and such a valuable read. The final paragraph is also exquisite.
I know I’ve been a slow blogging here lately. Here are some of the things I’ve been reading in my absence, if you know what I mean. Beatrix Campbell and the “invisible” women of Wigan Pier. Hitchens’s introduction to Orwell’s Diaries. Algeria: Fifty Years of Independence. An evening with the SWP. Malatesta on Bakunin as “too marxist”. Book notes: Michael Staudenmaier on the Sojourner Truth Organization. Back to that first International? In what senses can we describe certain political, religious and social movements of the English Revolution (1640-1660) as radical?
Below the fold, some of the gems from Entdinglichung’s weekly workers series. (more…)
On the morning of June 23rd 1937, George Orwell boarded a train at Barcelona station with his wife, Eileen, and two companions, John McNair and Stafford Cottman. The train was bound for the French border and Orwell (or Eric Blair – he had yet to adopt his now famous nom de plume) was posing as a wealthy English businessman travelling with his wife and associates. In reality, they were fugitives, hunted not only by the fascist forces they’d come to Spain to fight, but also by the communists. McNair was leader of a contingent of fighters organised by the Independent Labour Party (ILP) who had left England to try and stem the rising fascist tide. This small group of revolutionaries and idealists – one among many such groups from all over the world –included Orwell. Prior to boarding the train that morning he had spent much of the previous six months in the trenches until a sniper’s bullet pierced his throat. By the time he’d sufficiently recovered to leave hospital, the internal divisions within the anti-fascist forces had shattered whatever slim chances they’d had of defeating Franco and his allies. [READ THE REST, from Jim Bliss]
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Orwell on the 99%
An entry in George Orwell’s War-Time Diary for 3 June 1940:
From a letter from Lady Oxford to the Daily Telegraph, on the subject of war economies:
“Since most London houses are deserted there is little entertaining… in any case, most people have to part with their cooks and live in hotels.”
Apparently nothing will ever teach these people that the other 99% of the population exists.
Lady Oxford was Margot Asquith, widow of Herbert Henry Asquith, prime minister from 1908-1916.
HE was one of Britain’s leading political writers, famous for novels including Animal Farm and Burmese Days. But to a young Scottish junior doctor unaware of his identity, the quiet middle-aged man was just another patient. Within weeks, Dr James “Jimmy” Williamson found himself at the forefront of medical treatment in Scotland helping administer a revolutionary new “miracle drug” to George Orwell.
The author used his political and literary connections and royalties from Animal Farm to obtain the drug from the US. In 1948, Orwell, then 44, became the first person in Scotland to be treated with streptomycin, which was unlicensed in Britain and too expensive for the post-war government to ship in.
The writer, who had been living in a remote farmhouse on the island of Jura to help try to improve his health, was admitted to Hairmyres Hospital, near Glasgow, under his real name Eric Blair, for treatment for infectious chronic tuberculosis.
Professor Williamson, 91, from Edinburgh, recalled the novelist sitting in bed working on Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell jumbled the numbers of the year 1948 to produce one of the most famous titles of the 20th century, introducing words such as “Big Brother” and “doublespeak” to international audiences. “He’d been in the hospital for about two weeks for investigation of his tuberculosis before I arrived. I’d never heard of him. Then one of the nurses told me he was a well-known writer.
“I remember he was in a double room and he would be sitting up in bed with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth typing away most of the time. He smoked almost all the time, was sort of addicted to tobacco and rolled his own cigarettes. Lots of people in hospitals smoked in those days, even the doctors. The noise from the typing didn’t seem to cause any bother with the other patient and they got on very well together.”
Professor Williamson remembers Orwell bravely undergoing painful treatment. “We would chat about his condition and he would do what you wanted him to do. But he was highly strung and we had to give him treatment which involved air being injected into his abdominal cavity. This upset him a lot but he didn’t complain.”
However, more drastic remedies were required and in February 1948 Orwell wrote to his publisher David Astor saying his specialist had told him “it would speed recovery if one had some streptomycin. He suggested that you, with your American connections, might arrange to buy it and I could pay you.” Astor contacted Minister of Health Aneurin Bevan, who had been Orwell’s editor at the Tribune, checking this would not cause a political row.
But after a few weeks Orwell developed a severe allergic reaction to the drug and treatment stopped. Orwell donated the remaining supply to the hospital. Orwell’s health deteriorate further and he died in January 1950 – six months after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Iain Macintyre, a former vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and co-author of Scottish Medicine – An Illustrated History, which includes details of Orwell’s stay at the hospital, said: “There is an irony that Orwell, who wrote Animal Farm, was in a position to be able to take medical advice to go to Jura and then to obtain streptomycin.
“But when it’s your life on the line you try everything you can to save it.”
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever,” George Orwell wrote in “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” In “Animal Farm,” he concluded that revolutions are inevitably betrayed by their leaders. His novel “Burmese Days” ends with the hero killing himself because he is unfit to live in this sour world. He shoots his dog too.
As a rule, modern civilization disappointed Orwell when it did not actually sicken him. But in at least one respect he was way too optimistic. Bookselling, he wrote in Fortnightly in November 1936, “is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman.”
Jump forward three-quarters of a century, and a certain Seattle-based combine is being accused of exactly that. All sorts of merchants, but particularly booksellers, were infuriated by Amazon’s effort before the holidays to use shops on Main Street and in malls as showrooms for people to check out items before ordering them more cheaply online. The retailer’s refusal to collect sales tax is a persistent grievance. Independent booksellers have even been forced into the novel position of hoping that their one-time foe, Barnes & Noble, survives so that it can serve as a bulwark against Amazon. Publishers, if anything, are more fearful than booksellers.
Now take a look at the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek two weeks ago. It shows a book in flames with the headline, “Amazon wants to burn the book business.” What was remarkable was not just the overt Nazi iconography but the fact that it did not cause any particular uproar. In the struggle over the future of intellectual commerce in the United States, apparently even evocations of Joseph Goebbels and the Brown Shirts are considered fair game.
From Amazon’s point of view, the cover is incorrect even if you disregard any Nazi connotations. What would be the use to Amazon of a charred hulk? It does not want to destroy the book business, but simply to reinvent it — or, as its opponents would have it, seize control of it. (Amazon declined to comment.) [READ THE REST]
The house where Orwell was born on June 25, 1903 and spent his infant days till his parents migrated to England next year, vividly tell the story of neglect as thick vegetation has mushroomed in the six-acre premises.
The walls surrounding the house have been covered with piles of loose bricks, many of which have been taken away by the locals for their use. The vast open field in the walled structure where some dilapidate godowns (used during the British rule for storage of opium cultivated at the instruction of the colonial rulers) stand in dilapidated condition and the entire area is filled with garbage even as some unauthorised huts have sprung up.
All that is left to the memory of the legendary British author is his bust made of white stone and the foundation stone outside the gate of his house which get a symbolic facelift to mark his birth and death anniversaries.
The Rural Works Department (RWD) executive engineer Harendra Pratap said that Orwell’s house has been lying in a dilapidated state and the premises was encroached by local people. “We are unable to construct a proposed second gate at the structure due to encroachment by the locals,” he told PTI.
The Motihari Nagar Parishad Prakash Asthana also said that Orwell’s house has been lying in bad shape, but claimed that the renovation of the house will begin soon upon release of funds by the state government. There is definitely a project underway to renovate the house and give it a facelift as larger plan to development the British litterateurs house as a tourist destination, he said.
Bihar Art, Culture and Youth Affairs Minister Sukhda Pandey said that her department had released Rs 32.70 lakh to the district administration for beautification of Orwell’s memorial structure and construction of road, drainage and boundary wall sometime back and utilisation report sought. She said that a reminder will be issued soon to the district administration in this regard. On the encroachment in the British author’s house and the premises being used for residence by school teacher, Pandey said that she has also received complaints in this regard on which she has sought a report from the district magistrate. Maintaining that Orwell’s house was a treasure of Bihar, the Art, Culture and Youth Affairs Minister said that all steps will be taken for protection and development of the historical and monumental structure which, she said, will be developed as a tourist destination.
I went into many tea shops while I was in Myanmar. Each time, I looked around to see if any suspicious person was listening to my conversations with my tour guide and other people I got acquainted with there.
Teashops in this country, where freedom of speech has been restricted for many years, are places for not only relaxation but also exchanges of information, and I heard that secret police officers and tipsters were deployed to these places.
Several years ago, a U.S. female journalist published a report on Myanmar titled, “Secret Histories,” and its Japanese translation published by the Shobunsha publishing house drew attention from many Japanese readers. The writer followed in the footsteps of British novelist George Orwell (1903-50), who worked as a police officer in Myanmar for five years when the country was under Britain’s colonial rule. She identified Myanmar as a country with national monitoring under dictatorship that Orwell depicted in his futuristic novel “1984.”
The author wrote that she felt as if she had stepped into the world depicted by “1984.” She undoubtedly viewed teashops as the core of Myanmar’s monitoring network. Her book is subtitled, “Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop.”
However, Japanese experts agree that Myanmar is a loose society. “Although authorities regulate speech, ordinary people don’t feel the situation confining. It’s far from the world of ‘1984,’” says Toshihiro Kudo of the Institute of Developing Economies. I felt the same way.
A monitoring device called a “telescreen” has been extended throughout the society depicted in “1984.”
Sophia University professor Kei Nemoto says, “Britain, which has installed hundreds of surveillance cameras, is the democratic version of a country with national monitoring depicted by Orwell.”[...]
[T]here is no doubt that many difficult problems that Myanmar currently faces derive from Britain’s colonial rule. At the time, Britain gave important posts to ethnic Karens to repress ethnic Burmese. In other words, Britain ruled Myanmar by preventing different ethnic groups from joining hands in rising in revolt against it. The Burmese restored control over Myanmar when a democratic administration was formed when the country won independence. However, Karens and other ethnic minorities went into an armed struggle with the government to win separation and independence.[...]After Myanmar won independence and withdrew from the British Commonwealth, the socialist administration led by General Ne Win concluded that regulations requiring cars to travel on the left side of the road, a legacy of British rule, were inconvenient and dangerous, and switched to a right side of the road system, according to the guide. Some people say Myanmar did this as a result of fortune-telling, but it is widely viewed that it did so out of antipathy against Britain.
Pro-democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi wrote in her column in the Mainichi Shimbun in June 1996 that the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the military regime’s top decision-making body at the time, sounds as if its name had been given by Orwell, and sarcastically praised clauses in a law called, “Decree No. 1, 1990,” as great sentences like those by Orwell.
Suu Kyi studied in Britain and married a British national. It is natural that the leadership of the military regime, who had been eliminating the legacies of British rule, had antipathy against Suu Kyi who loudly called for Western-style democracy and talked about Orwell. [...]
Britain, Myanmar’s military regime and the Burmese dynasty did almost the same things. In the words of George Orwell, “Good is bad, Bad is good.” I think this is true.
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Although 1984 and Brave New World are hardly the only great dystopian novels of the 20th century (hi there, Margaret Atwood), George Orwell and Aldous Huxley may well have shaped most English-language readers’ nightmare visions of the future. So it makes sense to contrast Orwell’s world of constant war and government thought control with Huxley’s drug- and entertainment-pacified society. You may have done just that in a high-school paper, but the folks behind the documentary #Kill Switch have created a graphic that examines the ways in which each author’s predictions have come true over the past few years. Click here to see a larger version. [via BlackBook on Tumblr]
- Orwellianism in the consumer age (poumista.wordpress.com)
Here’s Richard King on Christopher Hitchens:
For Hitchens, who still considers himself a Marxist, it isn’t what you think that matters – it’s how you think. One of the finest pieces in Arguably is on the early journalism of Karl Marx. Here is the writer on the fact that Marx wrote some articles for the New York Tribune: ”If you are looking for an irony of history, you will find it not in the fact that Marx was underpaid by an American newspaper, but in the fact that he and Engels considered Russia the great bastion of reaction and America the great potential nurse of liberty and equality.”
The keyword here is ”irony”, by which Hitchens means not mere coincidence but that quality of contradiction and incongruity that has the power to capsize the ”official” narrative. Marx himself deployed irony in this way and so Hitchens is paying him an implicit compliment by identifying this aspect of his thinking. And, of course, in doing so he shows that a respect for the American ideal is congruent with the most radical philosophical elements. Not bad for a sentence of about 50 words.
Like Marx, Hitchens is steeped in literature. Indeed, he is the finest example we have of that vanishing breed: the political man of letters. Like George Orwell, he knows that a feeling for language is an invaluable tool when seeking to expose and counter the totalitarian world view. As he puts it in a piece on C.L.R.James, the Trinidadian Marxist historian: ”One notices time and again that [he] is moved to anger by the sheer ugliness and euphemism of the enemy’s prose style. His training in English literature was as useful to him as his apprenticeship in dialectics.”
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Orwellian 2: All his words and actions are forgotten, but the food he has eaten lives after him in the sound or rotten bones of his children
Inappropriate Plank: How much does free news cost?
Feeling hungry. Read Just add cheese:
Going in a bit of a different direction, I read a really cool quote I read today that I loved from the the opening of the book Heat, by Bill Buford and thought I would share….
“A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into; the other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time they come afterwards. A man dies and is buried, and all his words and actions are forgotten, but the food he has eaten lives after him in the sound or rotten bones of his children. I think it could be plausibly argued that changes of diet are more important than changes of dynasty or even of religion….Yet it is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners.”
- George Orwell,The Road to Wigan Pier.
“a real Socialist is one who wishes – not merely conceives it as desirable, but actively wishes – to see tyranny overthrown”. -George Orwell
First, some Orwellian material, and below the fold some other recent gleanings.
Customer: Do you have a copy of 1986?
Customer: Yeah, Orwell.
Me: Oh – 1984.
Customer: No, I’m sure it’s 1986; I always remember it because it’s the year I was born.
Do not buy this book if you’re expecting to find out anything at all about 1984, as this writer seems to have been living on a different planet. I was trying to do a bit of research into the influence of New Wave on cross-over dance music in the Mid-Eighties, but I found “1984” a complete waste of time… Jackson’s “Thriller”?(the soundtrack of the summer, and the biggest selling album of all-time) – not mentioned; Frankie Goes To Hollywood (their breakthrough year leading to world pop domination) – not a whisper; Style Council? (Not Paul Weller’s finest hour, but still an honest nod to the white soul roots of Mod culture) – you’d have thought they didn’t exist if you read this book. Nik Kershaw? Ray Parker Junior? Sister Sledge? Nope, nope nope. Instead this man seems to have moped around in his room and at work, watching some kind of depressing news channel (was his remote broken? This isn’t explained – but you’d have thought they’d have had MTV on at least one of the channels in his office). Orwell completely fails to capture the uplifting vibe that was the pop explosion of the summer of ’84… maybe he lived in Norwood. 0 Stars.
Oh, and don’t read “the Road to Wigan Pier” either, as we drove around for ages last August Bank Holiday before asking a traffic warden, who said that the sea was about 30 miles away, by which time it was too late. I don’t think Orwell had actually ever been to Wigan. What does he do – just sit in his room making this stuff up for kicks or something? 0 stars also.”
Or listening matter: Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, read by Jeremy Northam.
Two interesting uses for Twitter and Blogging.
Seventy five years on, the people behind the Orwell Prize website have been reposting daily extracts from George Orwell’s The Road To Wigan Pier. The format seems to suit Orwell perfectly, and to take one example – his description of Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, is evocative to anyone who has every visited a sight out of season.
A second use of this method comes from Alex Butterworth, who is tweeting a daily update of events at the Paris Commune, reproducing the voices of the participants – shame we know how it ended!
And a third to mark 200 years on from the days when the Luddites rioted across the north and the midlands - even would you believe, in Wilmslow!
Of course, the New Statesman has form. Back in the 1930′s it refused to publish George Orwell’s writings on the Spanish Civil War for fear of offending the Comintern and their local agents. Orwell never forgave the then-editor Kingsley Martin, a supple-spined “left” power-worshipper who seems to have uncannily prefigured both Peter Wilby (editor 1998-2005) and the present incumbent Jason Cowley.
The final straw, for me, came last week with an edition edited by upper class “wadical” Jemima Kahn, largely devoted to promoting the preening anti-semitic loon Julian Assange and other posh friends and relatives like her Tory brother Zac Goldsmith and her ex-hubby Hugh Grant. The high-spot of the issue is Jemima’s own interview with her friend Nick Clegg , who wails, “I’m not a punchbag: I have feelings.”
On the left there is a hero gap. Che is dead, Castro too old, Ortega is compromised, and Chavez is a bit of a buffoon. Enter Assange to fill the space. His appearance adds to the mystique. He is pale, and looks slightly alien and that along with his giant computer-like brain gives him the air of someone from a science fiction world, some sister planet of Vulcan where they have not evolved pointed ears. He came as the man of mystery and enigma.
Earnest Trotskyists: Lenin and James Connolly on the Dublin labour war of 1913. Peter Taaffe on Eric Hobsbawm. SOYMB on Chris Bambery. (OYMB not the earnest Trots – Bambery is!)
Alternative socialist traditions: Andrew Coates on GDH Cole, guild socialism and Blue Labour, and via him an interesting Guild Socialism blog, with posts on Karl Marlo and loads more.
Towards a theory of radical history: Dave Osler on generations, and the 2010 generation of radicals.
Unrelated: Dali and the Jews.
Related Articles (more…)
Photo from my current favourite blog, Bertram Online.
An individual, a group, a party, or a class that “objectively” picks its nose while it watches men drunk with blood massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive. – Leon Trotsky The Balkan Wars 1912-1913 (Sydney: Pathfinder Press, 1980), pp.292-293.
More surprisingly, Gilbert Achcar agrees with Matgamna. Jim writes:
Barry Finger comments on Achcar and “anti-imperialism”, here.
The Orwell Prize
I have no doubt George Orwell would have taken the same line as Matgamna and Achcar. I have little doubt he would not have been pleased with many of the recent Orwell Prize for blogging long listees. I suspect he would agree with HarpyMarx‘s assessment that “Orwell Prize blogger longlist, with 1 or 2 exceptions, is just full of media privileged luvvies or journos who should b in journo section!”
I think Orwell would not have been upset about Sunder Katwaler‘s or Cath Elliot’s longlistings (he would have liked Katwala on cricket I think, and taken up cudgels for Cath against the Morning Star). He would have been pleased about David Osler’s (second?) longlisting.
Getting myself longlisted yet again for the Orwell Prize (and good luck to all the real bloggers who don’t have a mainstream media pension, salary and self-censorship training to fall back on)… made me ask: what single bit of Orwell’s writing I would recommend to somebody starting a blog, or studying journalism?
Actually it’s Inside The Whale, where Orwell takes apart the literary industry of the late 1930s, concluding that of 5,000 novels published, 4,999 were “tripe”. He does this sandwiched between two lengthy eulogies to a book that, at the time of writing, was banned – and banned in the 1930s meant impounded at Dover and burned, to be found only in the secret cupboards of anarchists and wierdos.
The book in question is Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller – a strange choice of book to praise for a man who’d just come back from the Spanish Civil War and who, with the Dunkirk fiasco, believed Britain was entering a “revolutionary period”.
Musing on this very point, Orwell concluded that Miller had probably founded a new school of writing with this one book, and its successor Black Spring:
“In Miller’s case it is not so much a question of exploring the mechanisms of the mind as of owning up to everyday facts and everyday emotions. For the truth is that many ordinary people, perhaps an actual majority, do speak and behave in just the way that is recorded here. [...]
Orwell sensed that at some point people would start writing about ordinary life in ordinary language, dramatising the ordinary, peeling back layer upon layer of literary finesse, pretension, writing-school prose, irony etc.
The blog is the logical outcome.
And like the novels of 1940, the vast majority of blogs are mediocre, “tripe” as Orwell might have said. But they are mostly attempts at honesty – whether literary or non-fictional.
I give you two excerpts, both from fellow longlisters, writing about the same recent event: (more…)
Orwellia: In the news today, a rare first edition of Animal Farm, valued at close to a grand, was donated to an Oxfam bookshop, which is nice. The Orwell prize website has a very good Animal Farm page, with the proposed preface and some interesting video links relating to the animation.
Spain: Remembering Franco And José Antonio – Eamonn McD on the politics of memory and free speech in Spain.
what motivated you to live in Israel?
My wife and I were there in ’53. We lived in a kibbutz for a while and planned to stay, actually. I came back and had to finish my Ph.D. We thought we’d go back.
Was it the idea of the kibbutz, or was it the fact of speaking Hebrew, or what was it?
It was political. I was interested in Hebrew, but that wasn’t the driving force. I liked the kibbutz life and the kibbutz ideals. It has pretty much disappeared now, I should say. But that time was incredible in spirit. For one thing it was a poor country. The kibbutz I went to, and I picked it for this reason, was actually originally Buberite. It came from German refugees in the 1930s and had a kind of Buberite style. It was the center for Arab outreach activities in Mapam (a left-wing party, now deceased, affiliated with the kibbutz movement). There was plenty of racism, I should say. I lived with it. But mostly against Mizrahim (Jews from Arab countries).
When you think of the motivations of people like your parents or the people who founded those Mapam kibbutzim, you don’t think of those motivations as being inherently linked to some desire to oppress others?
By then I was old enough to separate from my parents. I’d been on my own intellectually since I was a teenager. I gravitated toward Zionist groups that were not in their milieu, like Hashomer Hatzair.
My father grew up in Hashomer.
I could never join Hashomer because in those days they were split between Stalinist and Trotskyite, and I was anti-Leninist. But I was in the neighborhood. It was a Hashomer kibbutz that we went to, Kibbutz Hazorea. It’s changed a lot. We would never have lasted. It was sort of a mixed story. They were binationalists. So up until 1948 they were anti-state. There were those who gravitated toward or who were involved in efforts of Arab-Jewish working-class cooperation and who were for socialist binationalist Palestine. Those ideas sound exotic today, but they didn’t at the time. It’s because the world has changed.
But there was an element of oppression I couldn’t get around. If you know the history, you know that most idealistic anti-nationalist settlers insisted on a closed Hebrew society, you can’t hire outside labor, that sort of thing. You could see the motivation. They didn’t want to become what the first settlers were: landowners who had cheap Arab labor. They wanted to work the land. Nevertheless, there’s an exclusionary character to it. Which then led into the policy of the state and became quite ugly later. So it was kind of an internal conflict that was never resolved.
More on the interview here.
Left sectariana: Phoenix Class War post their “joke of the day”, on the Maoist wingnuts of the American RCP at Burning Man festival (note: not to be confused with the British ex-Trotskiyist party of the same name).
Memoires of a democratic socialist: on Michael Foot, Tony Benn and Roy Hattersley.
Tory Francophones: Tawfiq Chahboune posts a quotation from George Orwell on Tory MPs cheering as British ships taking aid to Republican Spain were sunk by the fascist Italian navy – Tawfiq asks if anyone can corroborate this. The resulting comment thread is of an exceptionally high standard, in particular the contributions of Michael Rosen.
Death of an anti-fascist: In this comment thread, Nick Wright also posts the Morning Star obit for its former correspondent Sam Lesser. It’s an odd piece of prose, which manages to smuggle in a good deal of petty and vulgar sectarianism for an obituary. It is also (in typical Morning Star fashion), oddly reticent about Stalinism. It notes that Lesser “was sent by the Daily Worker to cover the 1952 show-trial of Czechoslovakian Communist Party general secretary Rudolf Slansky and 13 other party leaders – an experience which left a deep scar”, but does not explain how he lived with this pain during the subsequent three decades he continued with the Morning Star, including coverage of Budapest in 1956 (where he replaced the great Peter Fryer) and Prague in 1968.
The Spanish cockpit: Darren points me in the direction of a long text I’m not sure if I’ve linked to before: “Spain Turns’ by Roberto, from the International Review, Vol.2 No.3, New York, April 1937. It’s long, and most certainly worth reading. The Socialist Standard adds these further reading recommendations: From the September 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard: The Civil War in Spain; From the May 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard: The SPGB and Spain; From Issue 18 of the journal Subversion (published 1996): Spain 1936, The End of Anarchist Syndicalism?; From the August 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard: For Whom The Bell Tolled.
Petain and the Jews: Modernity points us towards recent research on Vichy France and its shameful record.
This week’s dose of anti-communism: Roger Scruton from 1991.
Also from the archive: The Western Socialist on the Yom Kippur War (1973).
Finally, wearing badges is not enough.