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204

George Orwell's Very English Revolution

bookmarker.dellsystem.me/s/james-wood-george-orwell
5
terms
4
notes
Needs summary

Wood, J. (2012). George Orwell's Very English Revolution. In Wood, J. The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 204-226

207

[...] an actual revolution, in Russia, with its abuses of power and privilege, necessarily disappointed him, because it contaminated the ideal. Orwell became not so much anti-revolutionary as anti-revolution. He used an ideal revolution to scourge an actual one--which is a negative form of messianism, really.

When I first read 'The Lion and the Unicorn', I was so blinded by flag-waving lines like 'And if the rich squeal audibly, so much the better', and 'The lady in the Rolls-Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Goering's bombing planes', that I missed this incoherence. To someone surrounded by alien acres of privilege, Orwell's relentless attack on privilege seemed a necessary, obliterating forest fire: 'What is wanted is a conscious open revolt by ordinary people against inefficiency, class privilege and the rule of the old . . . We have got to fight against privilege.' Nowadays, I'm struck by the fact that throughout his work, Orwell is much more vocal about the abolition of power and privilege than about equitable redistribution, let alone the means and machinery of that redistribution. There is a fine spirit of optimistic destruction in his work, a sense that if we all just work hard at that crucial, negating 'shove from below', then the upper-class toffs will simply fade away, and things will more or less work out in the interests of justice. In 'The Lion and the Unicorn', there is a suggestive moment when Orwell writes that collective deprivation may be more necessary than political programmes: 'In the short run, equality of sacrifice, "war-Communism", is even more important than radical economic changes. It is very necessary that industry should be nationalised, but it is more urgently necessary that such monstrosities as butlers and "private incomes" should disappear forthwith.' In other words, let's agree to be a bit vague about the economic stuff, like industrial policy; and let's keep the serious rhetoric for the lady in the Rolls, about whom we can be militantly precise. [...]

i'll have to read more Orwell myself but this seems like an interesting and thoughtful analysis of his politics

—p.207 by James Wood 1 year, 11 months ago

[...] an actual revolution, in Russia, with its abuses of power and privilege, necessarily disappointed him, because it contaminated the ideal. Orwell became not so much anti-revolutionary as anti-revolution. He used an ideal revolution to scourge an actual one--which is a negative form of messianism, really.

When I first read 'The Lion and the Unicorn', I was so blinded by flag-waving lines like 'And if the rich squeal audibly, so much the better', and 'The lady in the Rolls-Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Goering's bombing planes', that I missed this incoherence. To someone surrounded by alien acres of privilege, Orwell's relentless attack on privilege seemed a necessary, obliterating forest fire: 'What is wanted is a conscious open revolt by ordinary people against inefficiency, class privilege and the rule of the old . . . We have got to fight against privilege.' Nowadays, I'm struck by the fact that throughout his work, Orwell is much more vocal about the abolition of power and privilege than about equitable redistribution, let alone the means and machinery of that redistribution. There is a fine spirit of optimistic destruction in his work, a sense that if we all just work hard at that crucial, negating 'shove from below', then the upper-class toffs will simply fade away, and things will more or less work out in the interests of justice. In 'The Lion and the Unicorn', there is a suggestive moment when Orwell writes that collective deprivation may be more necessary than political programmes: 'In the short run, equality of sacrifice, "war-Communism", is even more important than radical economic changes. It is very necessary that industry should be nationalised, but it is more urgently necessary that such monstrosities as butlers and "private incomes" should disappear forthwith.' In other words, let's agree to be a bit vague about the economic stuff, like industrial policy; and let's keep the serious rhetoric for the lady in the Rolls, about whom we can be militantly precise. [...]

i'll have to read more Orwell myself but this seems like an interesting and thoughtful analysis of his politics

—p.207 by James Wood 1 year, 11 months ago

(noun) a fancy word for boxer

208

His nicely pugilistic essay on Tolstoy's hatred of King Lear

—p.208 by James Wood
notable
1 year, 11 months ago

His nicely pugilistic essay on Tolstoy's hatred of King Lear

—p.208 by James Wood
notable
1 year, 11 months ago

(adjective) of or relating to shepherds or herdsmen; pastoral / (adjective) relating to or typical of rural life / (adjective) idyllic

213

the old bucolic town of Lower Binfield has unattractively expanded after the First World War and has 'spread like gravy over a tablecloth'.

—p.213 by James Wood
notable
1 year, 11 months ago

the old bucolic town of Lower Binfield has unattractively expanded after the First World War and has 'spread like gravy over a tablecloth'.

—p.213 by James Wood
notable
1 year, 11 months ago

(noun) the act of renouncing or rejecting something; self-denial

217

he seems, self-abnegatingly, to want to taste the sweat on the meat, as a salty political reminder.

on Orwell talking about chefs touching the steak being served to the patrons

—p.217 by James Wood
notable
1 year, 11 months ago

he seems, self-abnegatingly, to want to taste the sweat on the meat, as a salty political reminder.

on Orwell talking about chefs touching the steak being served to the patrons

—p.217 by James Wood
notable
1 year, 11 months ago

report or represent in outline; foreshadow or symbolize

218

he was greatly talented at describing closed worlds, and adumbrating their conventions

—p.218 by James Wood
notable
1 year, 11 months ago

he was greatly talented at describing closed worlds, and adumbrating their conventions

—p.218 by James Wood
notable
1 year, 11 months ago
219

[...] This semi-fictional England, beautifully described in 'The Lion and the Unicorn' and given body in his popular columns, was a rather shabby, stoical, anti-American ideally classless place, devoted to small English pleasures like marmalade and suet pudding and fishing in country ponds, puritanical about large luxuries like the Ritz Hotel and Rolls-Royces, and suspicious of modern conveniences like aspirins, plate glass, shiny American apples, cars and radios. There is an undoubted comedy in Orwell's never having realised that what was obviously utopia to him might strike at least half the population as a chaste nightmare.

—p.219 by James Wood 1 year, 11 months ago

[...] This semi-fictional England, beautifully described in 'The Lion and the Unicorn' and given body in his popular columns, was a rather shabby, stoical, anti-American ideally classless place, devoted to small English pleasures like marmalade and suet pudding and fishing in country ponds, puritanical about large luxuries like the Ritz Hotel and Rolls-Royces, and suspicious of modern conveniences like aspirins, plate glass, shiny American apples, cars and radios. There is an undoubted comedy in Orwell's never having realised that what was obviously utopia to him might strike at least half the population as a chaste nightmare.

—p.219 by James Wood 1 year, 11 months ago

(noun) the lower middle class including especially small shopkeepers and artisans

222

Orwell was suspicious of this indeterminate, petit bourgeois class, because it wanted to change itself first, and society second.

—p.222 by James Wood
notable
1 year, 11 months ago

Orwell was suspicious of this indeterminate, petit bourgeois class, because it wanted to change itself first, and society second.

—p.222 by James Wood
notable
1 year, 11 months ago
223

So the question that hangs over Orwell is the one that always hangs over so many well-heeled revolutionaries: did he want to level up society or level it down? The evidence points to the latter. The real struggle for this puritan masochist, the one that was personal--the one that was, ironically enough, inherited--was the struggle to obliterate privilege, and thus in some sense, to obliterate himself. This was, at bottom, a religious impulse, and was not always politically coherent. [...]

—p.223 by James Wood 1 year, 11 months ago

So the question that hangs over Orwell is the one that always hangs over so many well-heeled revolutionaries: did he want to level up society or level it down? The evidence points to the latter. The real struggle for this puritan masochist, the one that was personal--the one that was, ironically enough, inherited--was the struggle to obliterate privilege, and thus in some sense, to obliterate himself. This was, at bottom, a religious impulse, and was not always politically coherent. [...]

—p.223 by James Wood 1 year, 11 months ago
224

Orwell feared what he most desired: the future. But it is easy to gloat over Orwell's contradictions--to point out that he wrote so well about the drabness and horror of totalitarianism because he himself had a tendency to drab omnipotence; or that the great proponent of urban collectivity liked rural isolation [...]; or more simply, that the hater of private schools put his adopted son down for Westminster, one of the grandest london academies. So Orwell was contradictory: contradictions are what make writers interesting; consistency is for cooking. Instead, one is gratefully struck by how prescient Orwell was, by how much he got right. [...]

I like the sentiment

—p.224 by James Wood 1 year, 11 months ago

Orwell feared what he most desired: the future. But it is easy to gloat over Orwell's contradictions--to point out that he wrote so well about the drabness and horror of totalitarianism because he himself had a tendency to drab omnipotence; or that the great proponent of urban collectivity liked rural isolation [...]; or more simply, that the hater of private schools put his adopted son down for Westminster, one of the grandest london academies. So Orwell was contradictory: contradictions are what make writers interesting; consistency is for cooking. Instead, one is gratefully struck by how prescient Orwell was, by how much he got right. [...]

I like the sentiment

—p.224 by James Wood 1 year, 11 months ago