Orwell, G., 2013. Politics and the English Language. Penguin Classics.
Text chosen by Jon Price
“Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of reality to pure wind” (Orwell, 1946).
The first Reading Group session of the new semester is coming up on Monday (29th September) and I would like to introduce George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”. The text can be found free online at:
There’s also a £1 edition of the essay available in Waterstones (or at least there was last time I looked) for anyone who might want a copy.
Orwell is now mainly known for his dystopian novels (Animal Farm, 1984) and his politics. A committed socialist and anti-fascist, he was a major voice in the British left during the 1930s and 1940s and fought as a volunteer for the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, where he sustained wounds which probably shortened his life. He famously wrote about these experiences in Homage to Catalonia, which also describes the political (and sometimes literal) in-fighting among the various anarchist and communist factions in the Republican armies. Several of his other books draw more or less directly on personal experience, particularly in relation to post-depression urban poverty (e.g. Down and Out in Paris and London; The Road to Wigan Pier). Orwell is also a noted essayist, reflecting on subjects ranging from literary criticism to his time as a policeman in Burma during the late 1920s. Another essay, My Country Right or Left, disputes the right wing’s appropriation of patriotism and asserts the importance of critiquing the country you love (while loving the country you critique).
Politics and the English Language, meanwhile, is an expression both of Orwell the literary stylist and Orwell the political journalist. It is at once a scathing attack on lazy or pretentious prose (and the lazy thinking it reveals), a wake up call in terms of how politicians use language to conceal and manipulate, and a manifesto for better writing. Particular targets include political euphemism and worn-out metaphors. Orwell is not only concerned with ugliness and deliberate deceit but also with imprecision and the erosion of meaning. As we all prepare to sharpen our pencils for a new academic year of reading, writing and sense-making, I offer Orwell’s 78 year old irritations both as guidance and entertainment.
If you want a further recommendation: like any good sermon – it’s short.
Please note the new reading group time: 1pm-3pm. We’re in G202, same room as last year.