Monday, February 24

One of my favourite writers, George Orwell, seems to be in the news an awful lot lately, generating so much controversy you'd swear it was the 1930s. Last year, Christopher Hitchens published Why Orwell Matters, a biographical essay on the continuing relevance of the novelist, essayist, broadcaster, activist. That seems to have triggered a debate in cultural magazines as well as daily newspapers. About a month ago, Louis Menand wrote an intrepidly obtuse piece of criticism in The New Yorker, and it wasn't long before an editor at The New Republic presented his rebuttal: "He [Menand] derides Orwell's linguistic contributions to modern liberalism--'Big Brother,' 'doublethink,' 'thought police'--as 'belong[ing] to the same category as "liar" and "pervert" and "madman." They are conversation-stoppers.' But why should some conversations not be stopped, not concluded with the demonstration that a man who was called a liar actually lied?" Then, a few weeks ago, I caught this remark in Canada's National Post, in a column arguing that Orwell's importance has fizzled now that the iron curtain is down: "Lacking a real-world reference point, students will in time find 1984's perfect dissection of the totalitarian state befuddling, nonsensical, a little bit silly even." I guess this guy doesn't bother reading any political satires that are now "out of date." Don't anybody tell Jonathan Swift.