Monday, January 22, 2007

Orwell from Kabul to Baghdad

Here's a small extract from the Daily Texan of John Rodden's interview with me in 2004, at a conference on Orwell. Click to see Christopher Hitchens and Todd Gitlin and others. It was only a year after the invasion of Iraq, so the full Orwellian horror of the direction the Bush administration was taking was not so clear - but I think I got the drift right.

BTW, My chapter on Orwell and the British Left is in the soon forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Orwell that John edited. Click to see details or order.

You will note that Orwell has become common property with everyone claiming his approval - and since he is dead, he cannot argue. Personally, however, I suspect that when he saw the "Orwellian" techniques of lies, distortions and Big Brother tactics used to herd America to war, and certainly when he saw the neo-colonial attitudes of the White House and the Pentagon on the ground in Iraq, he would have been withering in his denunciations.

Posted: 1/22/07
Down and out in Kabul and Baghdad
UT The Daily Texan - Austin,TX,USA
The following excerpts come from a series of interviews conducted in 2003 by John Rodden, a UT professor of communication studies, for his book "Every Intellectual's Big Brother," which was published by the University of Texas Press. The book explores the many adoptions, political and intellectual, of the author George Orwell. Dennis Wrong is a professor emeritus from New York University, Anthony Stewart is a professor of English literature at Dalhouse University in Nova Scotia, Ian Williams is a journalist with The Nation, Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism at Columbia University.

Q: Is there any value in playing the parlor game of "What would Orwell say today?"

Dennis Wrong: It is very difficult to do so, given what a contrarian figure Orwell was. In the most recent case, the war in Iraq, it seems to me that Orwell can be used on all sides of the argument…

Anthony Stewart: If Orwell were alive today, he would have been in agreement with the invasion of Iraq, because he supported Britain entering into the Second World War. … He'd be unpopular with large groups of academics and intellectuals - and he wouldn't care.

Q: Do you believe that Orwell is still politically relevant today?

Ian Williams: I think Orwell is actually more relevant than ever before. He wasn't talking merely about communism. He wasn't talking merely about fascism. He wasn't talking merely about Stalinism, he was talking about totalitarianism and the totalitarian mindset. And I think there's lots of evidence that the totalitarian mindset to varying degrees is still around. Saddam Hussein. North Korea. Even here it's very difficult to read the pronouncements of John Ashcroft and Homeland Security without having twinges of worry about what people would accept here in terms of social control. You see people being locked up. There's something Orwellian, or maybe a cross between Orwell and Kafka, about people being dropped off in places that aren't officially part of the United States, because they're officially part of Cuba, not allowed to see lawyers, not knowing what they're charged with, what their status is.

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