§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens

I love George Orwell, but I haven’t read 1984 and Animal Farm since I was 17—the summer before college—and I haven’t read the rest of his fiction at all. But I love the nonfiction. I taught “Shooting and Elephant” and “Politics and the English Language” to countless freshman and not only memorized important passages, but stored away their main ideas, about anti-colonialism and about deliberate obfuscation, among those very most important ideas to me. I recently read Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, and Homage to Catalonia and was convinced that Orwell matters significantly. So this book was a natural for me.

Hitchens’ writing and his arguments are sophisticated. I read this one like a text at school, looking up relevant stuff, marking passages, writing in the margins. It’s a little book. Hitchen’s goal was not a complete analysis of Orwell so much a plea to take this guy seriously, don’t let this 20th century writer fade away as relevant only to his own time (1903-1950—Orwell died of TB and he might have been saved had he been able to get the appropriate antibiotic from the US in the immediate post-war period).

Hitchens seems to think Orwell’s anti-colonial stance his most significant since that’s the first concept he tackles. So do I. I’m positive that “Shooting an Elephant”, which I read first in a Freshman English class myself, colored my view of colonialism, arguments about postcolonial literature, and about the third world generally. Before reading this book I’d have said my own anti-colonial bent was learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa; now I’d say the fire was probably lit by Orwell and that was a huge part of my motivation to join the Peace Corps in the first place.

Hitchens goes on to analyze how both the left and the right have used and abused Orwell as well as his ideas about America, “Englishness”, feminism, and anti-Communism. He typically deals not only with Orwell’s relationship with the ideas but how proponents of those ideas deal with Orwell. Finally he analyzes the fiction, convincing me to reread 1984 if not to read all the fiction. He even touches on Orwell and post-modernism in a chapter that not only rescues Orwell from the post-modernists, but causes me embarrassment at my initial enthusiasm for post-modernist analysis of literature and validates my current views that it’s just as well the academic world is getting over that craze.


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