Sunday, December 15, 2002

Who Owns George Orwell?

Sunday, 15 December 2002

I've been thinking (this is something I do from time to time, believe it or not) about this question, on and off, for most of the weekend. Does he belong to the "left" on the basis that he was, after all, a socialist or does he belong to the "right" because he was, first and foremost a decent bloke who was opposed to totalitarianism in all its forms? Is the proper use of his literary corpus to dress up bad leftist writing with some of the good stuff or is it to dress up bad right wing writing with some good dirt on Stalinism in the 1930s and 40s?

The answer is he "belongs" to John Pilger, Tim Blair, Gummo Trotsky the pseudonymous captain of a fictitious clapped-out tug boat and to Professor Bunyip, a mythical Australian animal inhabiting a metaphorical billabong. He belongs to everyone who has the price of a copy of Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out in Paris and London, 1984 or Animal Farm. He belongs to anyone who has membership in a Public Library. He belongs to everyone who can read. And he belongs to no-one.

So I'm going to resign from the game of defending Orwell's ghost from those who would abuse his writing by quoting him out of context regardless of which side of the political spectrum they want to place themselves on. Orwell's writings are there for anyone who can get a hold of them and that is the way it should be. Professor Bunyip has read Orwell and so have I. In my case it helped form an attitude and a set of political opinions that make me identifiably "left-wing". In Bunyip's case it seems to have done the opposite.

Right now, that's my position on Orwell. I've read him, extensively but years ago. His writings have informed a lot of my political opinions. But no hyperlinks and above all no quotes: I'm well and truly sick of that part of the fight over the Orwell heritage. Read him for yourself. Form your own opinions. You'll get no "I understand Orwell but you obviously don't" from me. I'm sick of that too.

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