02 Sep 2014

George Orwell, Literary Mediocrity

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Orwelltombstone

Will Self, the BBC Magazine, takes a potshot at the posthumous reputation of English Letters’ equivalent of Aristides the Just, the pious George Orwell.

Each generation of talented English mediocrities seizes upon one of their number and elevates her or him to become primus inter pares. Of course, these figures may not, in fact, be talented mediocrities at all, but rather genuinely adept and acute. However, what’s important is that they either play to the dull and cack-handed gallery, or that those who sit there see in them their own run-of-the-mill reflection.

The curious thing is that while during the post-war period we’ve had many political leaders, we’ve got by with just a single Supreme Mediocrity – George Orwell. …

It’s this prose style that has made Orwell the Supreme Mediocrity – and like all long-lasting leaders, he has an ideology to justify his rule. Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language, is frequently cited as a manifesto of plainspoken common sense – a principled assault upon all the jargon, obfuscation, and pretentiously Frenchified folderol that deforms our noble tongue. Orwell – it’s said by these disciples – established once and for all in this essay that anything worth saying in English can be set down with perfect clarity such that it’s comprehensible to all averagely intelligent English readers.

The only problem with this is that it’s not true – and furthermore, Orwell was plain wrong. …

As for most people who bother with the matter admitting that English is in a bad way – hardly. Since 1946, when Orwell’s essay was published, English has continued to grow and mutate, a great voracious beast of a tongue, snaffling up vocabulary, locutions and syntactical forms from the other languages it feeds on. There are more ways of saying more things in English than ever, and it follows perfectly logically that more people are shaping this versatile instrument for their purposes.

The trouble for the George Orwells of this world is that they don’t like the ways in which our tongue is being shaped. In this respect they’re indeed small “c” conservatives, who would rather peer at meaning by the guttering candlelight of a Standard English frozen in time, than have it brightly illumined by the high-wattage of the living, changing language.

Orwell and his supporters may say they’re objecting to jargon and pretension, but underlying this are good old-fashioned prejudices against difference itself. Only homogenous groups of people all speak and write identically. People from different heritages, ethnicities, classes and regions speak the same language differently.

Read the whole thing.

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One Feedback on "George Orwell, Literary Mediocrity"

Dink Newcomb

The guy who wrote this is the prime example of the other end of the education spectrum from the Trayvon Martins of the world. An over taught twat who was bent over a chair way too frequently to get huge torrents of caustic smoke blown forcefully up the ol’ poop chute. He learned those words and by God he is going to use them ALL because, darn it, “They sound so great when I say them.”
Read my lips!!!!!!!!!!
Some ideas are so powerful that they do not require beautiful flowing text to carry you along from spot to spot. I still remember reading that in ’62 at 15 and my mind burning with the fear/wonder/it can’t happen to me/but we just stopped this stuff cycle for days which tapered off only slowly



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