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Publisher: Basic Books 2002
Dedicated to: Robert Conquest - premature anti-fascist - premature anti-Stalinism - poet and mentor and founder of 'the united front against b*****it'.
There is a smidgeon of endearment when an author of the calibre of Christopher Hitchens reintroduces the last century author and conceptualist George Orwell to the world again. I half expected Hitchens to start accordingly - "This is George Orwell, you may have heard of him"; or a message such as; "Meet my mentor, he's the original 'hitch"'; although Orwell wrote prolifically his readership seemed to take on the notion Orwell was fictional, therefore trouncing the impression Orwell was provocative or a loose cannon - Hitchens has taken Orwell under his wing with this account of Orwell's ideologies. His nurturing manner is found to be rather fascinating to observe while bringing Orwell into the twenty first century, it is slightly unnerving at times as you expect a sting in the tail when Hitch is at his most playful. The duration of the book is 211 pages long (paperback), it could be deemed as an orthodox essay, or an elongated conversation fit for intellectual scholar lobes; that'd lick their lips at the shear weight of credible researched material that Hitchens without fail, abundantly delivers.
My first taste of Orwell like many schoolchildren was 'Animal Farm' - avidly used as mandatory reading material across school curriculums for years. I was twelve years of age and given this eye-opening firecracker of political awareness. Yet in the days of my youngster naivety, I found the talking animals bemusing even likeable and worse still tutors portrayed them so to the young audience, even comically changing vocals depending on what character was throwing in their two pennies worth. Orwell clearly lacked provocative muscle - misfiring on levels that only infuriated his intellect. Obviously his teddy bear facial features and grand dad posture played its visual part - naturally it would have been the perfect entity for a cuddly George Bernard Shaw - but Orwell was a political writing giant, his views were revolutionary, way before his time. He opposed capitalism, especially long term capitalism which was rife in the swinging 1920's when the young impressionable Orwell absorbed and noted and of course the realities of the crash, later on in that decade, when Orwell built his political stance and it flourished into all matters, including the best way to steam puddings. Now that in our midst another form of capitalism could derive - Hitchens sublime foresight in timing the publication of (Why Orwell Matters - published in 2002) is a gift to those who can see Orwell's relevance today; and it shouldn't be dismissed as opulent propaganda, according to; Christopher Hitchens.
Critics of Hitchens seemingly did turn a blind eye to the relevant exhumation of a long dead author who'd had a brief renaissance in 1980, due to the death of his wife Sonia who he married on his death bed in a damp Scottish room. She would have known him as Eric Blair - His pseudo pen-name 'George Orwell' is whom we know him as - (Orwell had greater foresight than I thought) His lifestyle was meagre compared to today's affluence and greed. Odious tasks of employment during the depression wasn't beneath the visionary, in fact he relentlessly loathed extremes of left and right persuasions, which later on the neo-conservatives typically misjudged and incorrectly stigmatised a positive ideology that labelled George Orwell as the father of the 'Cold War'. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Truth is not in the Tories DNA, evidently, not even in the last century. Orwell disdained over totalitarianism - his views notably were vigorously Liberal, more of a cantankerous Vince Cable, accessorised with an upper lip caterpillar. Deep down Orwell believed the good will always prosper or show it's opaque head of reason eventually, especially during the tough times of austerity, hardship and despair. The Edwardian period exemplified raw austerity, it embedded an ideology to Orwell which eased him, comforted him somewhat. Creativity flooded his opinions and the end products came out in his writing. The Edwardian Age was a time for reflection and great nostalgia as well as for learning for Orwell. It shaped one of the biggest political minds. Like Hitchens, Orwell was adaptive to cultures and gained a phenomenal amount of knowledge from learning different cultural traits at first-hand. Hitchens mirrored Orwell's occupational practices in an uncanny means in his own journals whilst mingling in secular groups also. Orwell's Asian links aren't well known - His fluency in Burmese and other regional language variants was highly admired in his inner circles, giving him an advantage foot-hold in that genre of cultural journalism.
My notion was that Hitchens delved into great meticulous details of historical artefacts to such minute precision; that any other ideology presented wasn't as believable - making the impact of Orwell's extremism appear insipid or diluted. Hitchens sporadically added his own signature witticism and analogy whilst portraying Orwell as a credible visionary in the twenty first century. It was an attempt of exhuming Orwell way beyond his capabilities. Was Hitch successful? Probably not too the extent he had envisaged. Whilst reading, I kept imagining myself at a dinner party absorbing all this one track information - delivered in a lecture styled format. One matter is for sure, I comprehend why Christopher Hitchens decided to exhume the remarkable manuscripts and journals; considering the Orwell discrediting writings from certain American journalists in American publications. It helped also that he viewed himself as a type of Orwell's protégé - and only he can unquestionably defend successfully such audacious offensive opposition; all done in an intellectually competent 'hitch' swagger.
'Why Orwell Matters' is read as a tribute in style to a man who was said to have shaped a generation's orthodox political opinion. "Common sense at the core of Orwell's politics"- according to Raymond Williams; documented in 1971. It is worth a mention that in Williams dialogues regarding Orwell's essays - he wasn't as complimentary - He disdained at the frequency that Orwell wrote on all subjects; (a jack of all trades, an expert in none) some avidly argue. Williams's claims: "When you look at different means to seek a popular culture Orwell sits on route - if you perhaps meander about researching for a better way of life, you'll find Orwell yet again with his flag". Recipes have also been given the Orwell treatment. These observations came about twenty years after Orwell's death in 1950. Then there was quietness - followed by a renaissance, several in fact; reminding the West that; "democracy good, totalitarianism bad".
Hitchens quest to correct the doubters of Orwell, rid him of the odious school-book frenzy that appears systematically in the west educational curriculum, is an endeavour to unchain Orwell from the hovering of youthful sniffling noses and free his ideologies up from those loathsome Conservatives whose bourgeoisie antics goes as far as marring an intellectual communicator, who for a myriad of decades has unwittingly been labelled, obtusely, the 'Father of the Cold War'.
Notably Orwell's suspiciously spy sounding 'The list' is a chapter in the book which brings to the fore an intellectual comprehension surrounding fascists, Stalinism and the Soviet Empire; there were ambiguities behind his opinions, as indicated in the publication 'Britain's Secret Propaganda War 1948 - 77' written by James Oliver in 1999. The secrecy the list entails figures amusingly in Orwell's eccentricity, the thirty five names delivered to Officialdom still is under lock and key. Hitchen sticks his neck out and stoutly announces Orwell was having a game with the establishment - feeding the fear for generations - only inane stupidity in the most upper of parliamentary hierarchies will engorge on its contents and spread the rhetoric as fact. As years pass by and the twenty first century is marred by wars and terror, the words of George Orwell is never far away - as if embedded in our DNA; his foresight enriched us, he understood humanism would never change. Handing out vibrant clarity to his politics and popular culture that'll endure time - Similar traits shared by two formidable intellectuals Christopher Hitchens and Eric Blair - Two of a kin.©1st2thebar 2012
Orwell and why he matters in the twenty first century?