Twenty-nine years ago while traveling across parts of Canada; I spent a few muggy summer days in Winnipeg, a city that struck me as being a down and out place. It was coincidence that in a downtown book-store I came across an 840 page collection of George Orwell writings that started with a personal documentary “Down and Out in Paris and London”. Ever since then, this book has been my favourite collection of short stories and other writings by the incomparable George Orwell. It has always struck me as regrettable that most everyone I have talked to about Orwell, knows him only for his famous fable “Animal Farm” and perhaps also for the his utopian story ” 1984″.
In the struggle to dominate the political sphere, language remains a powerful tool. In a globalized world, heavily shaken by security fears, language of the public discourse has been dramatically subverted as a partner of truth. Sounds and images occupy the foreground of political communication while language fragments serve to reinforce carefully crafted and technically produced interest-laden messages.
In 1945 Orwell wrote:
“Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind” (p.71)
The messages from faraway and nameless semi-desserts that reach us in our own evening news, during the frequent intermissions of the countless reality shows we are fed, are construed by a media machinery closely adapted to the needs of an invading army from the “land of the free”.
But it hardly matters how these messages are consumed: they always dehumanise the senders as well as the audience. Challenging such messages becomes a central task for a global, democratic civil society. Political writings in the tradition of Orwell can serve as critical reference points for freedom of thought for an informed democratic citizenry.
In Orwell’s time, the fight against fascism dominated all spheres of life. A fight Orwell partook in not through his writing but also as a combatant against the fascists in Spain. Many of the writings in the 1981 volume of collected works provide plain language accounts of these struggles. These writings are complemented by a fine selection of reviews of other authors and opinion pieces. The opinion pieces are probably my favourite of Orwell’s many writings. They provide insightful and well articulated views on topics as diverse as the wrongs of colonialism, the decay of language to yes, some political thoughts on the common toad.
In today’s world of omnipresent globalization and associated multitudes of political struggles, there is no doubt that George Orwell remains an important voice: his collected works ring out loud, still today.