"words [fall] upon the facts like soft snow"

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.
(George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language")
This wonderful essay by Orwell, which ought to be compulsory reading for everyone, was quoted by Anne Helene Guddal, one of the contributors in Prosopopeia. I hadn't read it before, until stumbling over it today by accident. In it, Orwell argues that the deprecision of the English language makes it easier to not think actively when involved in especially political but also regular discourse. He is a master of the essay, and he also plays with the form in some places, dropping examples of the bad writing which he is arguing against into his own argument.

It is frightening how true these words seem, in an essay which is 60 years old. The lines being spoken sound vaguely different, but it's still the same old play. We need more Orwells.


Blogger Mikkel said...

Yes, we need more intellectuals brave or stupid enough to grab a rifle and risk a bullet to the neck in the ongoing fight against fascism.

June 12, 2006 3:27 pm  

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