La revista Intelligent Life dedica la portada de su primer número del año al escritor George Orwell. "Se cumplen 65 años de la muerte de George Orwell, y nunca ha sido más grande. Sus frases están en nuestros labios, sus ideas en nuestras cabezas, sus advertencias se han hecho realidad. ¿Cómo ha sucedido esto?", se pregunta Robert Butler. En el ensayo principal de la revista, Butler cuenta que Orwell publicó siete libros, cuatro de ellos novelas. No fue considerado un buen novelista hasta que Rebelión en la granja y 1984 transformaron su reputación.
La revista Intelligent Life dedica la portada de su primer número del año al escritor George Orwell. «Se cumplen 65 años de la muerte de George Orwell, y nunca ha sido más grande. Sus frases están en nuestros labios, sus ideas en nuestras cabezas, sus advertencias se han hecho realidad. ¿Cómo ha sucedido esto?», se pregunta Robert Butler. En el ensayo principal de la revista, Butler cuenta que Orwell publicó siete libros, cuatro de ellos novelas. No fue considerado un buen novelista hasta que Rebelión en la granja y 1984 transformaron su reputación. «Esos dos libros cambiarían la manera de pensar sobre nuestras propias vidas», escribe Butler, que subraya la vigencia del adjetivo ‘orwelliano’, utilizado para los Estados totalitarios o la limitación de las libertades de las personas. «Sólo otros dos novelistas han inspirado adjetivos tan estrechamente asociados en la mente del público con las circunstancias que se propusieron para atacar: Dickens y Kafka». Pero más que por sus libros, Orwell destacó por su labor como ensayista. Escribió sobre política, sobre la guerra, sobre escritura, sobre cómo preparar un buen té y numerosas reseñas. He terminado de leer Critical Essays (Harvill Secker, 2009). El periodista George Packer ha seleccionado críticas sobre El gran dictador o la obra de Rudyard Kipling y Charles Dickens. También hay reflexiones sobre los ‘buenos malos libros’, la relación entre la literatura y los regímenes totalitarios y el clásico ‘La política y el idioma inglés‘. Estas son algunas de las reflexiones que más me han interesado:
* A type of book which we hardly seem to produce in these days, but which flowered with great richness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is what Chesterton called the “good bad book”: that is, the kind of book that has no literary pretensions but which remains readable when more serious productions have perished.
* One of the advantages of good bad writers is their lack of shame in writing autobiography. Exhibitionism and self-pity are the bane of the novelist, and yet if he is too frightened of them his creative gift may suffer.
* Any writer or journalist who wants to retain his integrity finds himself thwarted by the general drift of society rather than by active persecution.
* Everything in our age conspires to turn the writer, and every other kind of artist as well, into a minor official, working on themes handed down from above and never telling what seems to him the whole of the truth.
* Literature is an attempt to influence the viewpoint of one’s contemporaries by recording experience. And so far as freedom of expression is concerned, there is not much difference between a mere journalist and the most ‘unpolitical’ imaginative writer. The journalist is unfree, and is conscious of unfreedom, when he is forced to write lies or suppress what seems to him important news; the imaginative writer is unfree when he has to falsify his subjective feelings, which from his point of view are facts.
* The history of totalitarian societies, or of groups of people who have adopted the totalitarian outlook, suggests that loss of liberty is inimical to all forms of literature. German literature almost disappeared during the Hitler regime, and the case was not much better in Italy. Russian literature, so far as one can judge by translations, has deteriorated markedly since the early days of the revolution, though some of the verse appears to be better than the prose.
* A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
* In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them.
* All art is propaganda.
* Dickens is able to go on being funny because he is in revolt against authority, and authority is always there to be laughed at.
* One can see the change in the prevailing literary attitude by comparing the books written about the Spanish civil war with those written about the war of 1914-18. The immediately striking thing about the Spanish war books, at any rate those written in English, is their shocking dullness and badness. But what is more significant is that almost all of them, right-wing or left-wing, are written from a political angle, by cocksure partisans telling you what to think, whereas the books about the Great War were written by common soldiers or junior officers who did not even pretend to understand what the whole thing was about.
* The first test of any work of art is survival.
* Almost certainly we are moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships — an age in which freedom of thought will be at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction. The autonomous individual is going to be stamped out of existence. But this means that literature, in the form in which we know it, must suffer at least a temporary death. The literature of liberalism is coming to an end and the literature of totalitarianism has not yet appeared and is barely imaginable. As for the writer, he is sitting on a melting iceberg; he is merely an anachronism, a hangover from the bourgeois age, as surely doomed as the hippopotamus.
* Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats. However, even the most flagrantly dishonest book (Frank Harris’s autobiographical writings are an example) can without intending it give a true picture of its author.