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:
“I find myself in front of the riot line, taking a blow to the head and a kick to the shin; I am dragged to my feet by a girl with blue hair who squeezes my arm and then raises a union flag defiantly at the cops. “We are peaceful, what are you?” chant the protestors. I’m chanting it too, my head ringing with pain and rage and adrenaline; a boy with dreadlocks puts an arm around me. “Don’t scream at them,” he says. “We’re peaceful, so let’s not provoke.”
“I’ve just watched the soi-disant “March for the Alternative” snaking its way across London. It is clear enough, from the banners and slogans, what the protesters are against: spending restraint, open markets, private enterprise, property rights, free contract, Tories, bankers and Nick Clegg. Fair enough. But what are they for? Their website suggests that they think the answer to our debt crisis is more spending. In fact, they don’t think we have much of a debt crisis. They want higher taxes, particularly for the rich, whom they expect to wait around meekly to be fleeced. And they insist that higher state expenditure (“investment”) will create more jobs. Why so half-hearted, comrades? Why not go all the way, nationalise every business, place every adult on the state payroll and confiscate all income? By your logic, it would surely make Britain the most prosperous country on Earth.”
The first is from New Statesman blogger Laurie Penny, the second from Dan Hannan MEP, who blogs in the Telegraph. Two ends of the political spectrum, two kinds of language, but both part of a combative, Anglo-Saxon-word infested, plebeian writing tradition that in the space of ten years has begun to swamp the polite, official media with its deference to experts, to everything “middle”, its restraint and euphemism.
George, you would have loved blogging: 99% of English literary novels are still tripe but here – in the world of the hyperlink – we are well and truly “inside the whale”; and English is definitely spoken without fear.
- “Orwellian” list of journalists nominated for 2011 Orwell Prize includes Guardian’s Rachel Shabi (cifwatch.com)
- Jewish writers up for Orwell prize (thejc.com)
- (Mini-)Variousness 35 (antigerman.wordpress.com)
- The Marxist Argument For Libyan Intervention (marccooper.com)
- New Statesman success at Orwell Prize (newstatesman.com)
- Spy behind Trotsky association ‘plotted attack from US pharmacy’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- Trotsky and the pop star (thejc.com)
- al-Poum (poumista.wordpress.com)
- Libya: Spanish echoes II (poumista.wordpress.com)