READ ORWELL – I

I’ve mentioned that George Orwell is the best writer of the twentieth century, and most people never get past thinking, ANIMAL FARM(condemning Stalin) and 1984(condemning shrinking communications in a tri-polar world). Those are excellent books, each driving in demonic ways their points.

But Orwell wrote novels and books before World War II, and most of those make excellent reading. I recommend those. Where Orwell excelled was in preparation for the novels: essays. He wrote about almost everything with certainty and accuracy. He touched psychological and sociological issues beyond those found in novels and essays. Essays also discuss writing, business and politics. I wish I could write as well today, as topically, forcefully, completely and truthfully.

“The Prevention of Literature,” January 1946 is about the forces affecting writers and publishing. I’ll give background and a smattering. It’s the 300th anniversary of John Milton’s Areopagitica pamphlet in defense of freedom of the press celebrated by the group of British writers called PEN. Orwell is disappointed that this group of leftists are so far removed from reality they are dishonest. He’s a leftist himself but believes in personal liberty. The speeches at the PEN gathering include: Freedom of the Press in India; general comments on the goodness of liberty; no obscenity laws; and defending the Russian purges (1936-1939).

Orwell writes, “Of…several hundred people, perhaps half of whom were directly connected with the writing trade, there was not a single one who could point out that freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.”… “There was nothing particularly surprising in this.”

The writing trade “is under attack from two directions…it’s theoretical enemies, the apologists of totalitarianism, and…it’s immediate practical enemies, monopoly and bureaucracy…”

Orwell goes on to define and tell why writers are the most exposed artists – not painters, musicians, poets, sculpturers. He has choice words or criticism about poets and poetry, which go beyond Mark Twain’s, “Poets are too lazy to write complete sentences.”

About the monopolies and bureaucracies affecting writers, in 1946 Orwell writes,

“…apart from newspapers it is doubtful…whether the great mass of people in the industrial countries feel the need for any kind of literature…Probably novels and stories will be completely superseded by film and radio production. Or perhaps some kind of low-grade sensational fiction will survive, produced by a sort of conveyer-belt process that reduces human initiative to the minimum.

“It would probably not be beyond human ingenuity to write books by machinery. But a sort of mechanizing process can already be seen at work in the film and radio, in publicity and propaganda, and in the lower reaches of journalism. The Disney films…are produced by what is essentially a factory process, the work being done partly mechanically and partly by teams of artists who have to subordinate their individual style. Radio features are….So also with the innumerable books and pamphlets commissioned by government…Even more machine-like is the production of short stories…Papers such as the WRITER abound with advertisements of Literary Schools, all of them offering…ready-made plots….algebraical formula…packs of cards marked with characters and situations…to be shuffled…”

Orwell wrote this in 1946, and for the most part the world has seen literary production fall off since World War II. A friend of mine wrote read the first Best Seller of well-known author a few decades ago. She read the second book, and stopped a third of the way through. It was the first book rewritten; that author was writing FORMULA: This happens on page 24; that happens on page 67; crisis by page 189.

Has anyone ever gone to a film class or tried writing a screenplay. First advice: Read this book which is complete nonsense, unreadable by anyone with any ability to understand this language and any readingcomprehension. All the screenplay books are poorly written and full of crap. FORMULA for film is everywhere; there’s even a preferred word processing “format.” Yet, FORMULA is killing film. Every year Entertainment puts out the same films, different titles, different actors, different production people. Advertisements and promotion rely on the people involved in the production, not on the quality of the production, an expensive experiment. Entertainment is also trying to mine TV programs for films which fortunately has been unsuccessful. They’re going after the comic books. Except for characters in costume on Hollywood Boulevard I want everyone to know that Superman, Spider Man, Batman, Iron Man, and others I don’t want to know of, are NOT REAL. No one will fly through the air and save you, not Matt Damon playing Jason Bourne in Tangiers, not James Bond, not the next sequel hero. 

Orwell talks about totalitarianism and shrinking liberty of thought and action, and in his day the Soviet Union was a target just as been Nazi Germany. Today the Russians are flirting with that type of government and certainly the Chinese are living with it. But people of other nations are  confined within limits or norms whether it be from a strict religions doctrine, from social controls, from ignorance, from commercial controls and financial limits. Many of the latter countries are obscurantist, which will put back human beings there 1000 years. The tragedy is the rulers of those latter countries, sometimes aided and abetted by the totalitarian regimes, have no concern for their own people of their futures.

I want to know whether someone among the powers that be, dropped George Orwell into the Twenty-First Century, let him look around and take all the notes he wanted. He was to return to his time to warn people: This is not the best use of human and physical resources to produce what’s coming (in society called civilization). Orwell is focused on the tradition he came from – Western Culture. He uses it as an example. In another essay he identifies obscurantist forces affecting us in “Pleasure Spots.” It is a short essay, January 1946. I’ll quote,

“The music…is the most important ingredient…The radio is already consciously used for this purpose by innumerable people. In very many English homes the radio is literally never turned off, though it is manipulated from time to time so as to make sure that only light music will come out…I know people who will keep the radio playing all through a meal and at the same time continue talking just loudly enough for the voices and the music to cancel out. This is done with a definite purpose. The music prevents the conversation from becoming serious or even coherent, while the chatter of voices stops one from listening attentively to the music and thus prevents the onset of that dreaded thing, thought….It is difficult not to feel that the unconscious aim…is a return to the womb…

“The question…arises because in exploring the physical universe man has made no attempt to explore himself. Much of what goes by the name of pleasure is simply an effort to destroy consciousness…” 

Orwell describes more than half the people I know – whether they have the radio turned, whether it is DVD, whether it is a TV, whether it is at home, in the car, at the office or on the sidewalk.

Read Orwell.

 

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