Feb 26 2009

Would George Orwell have blogged?

orwell.jpgMy instinctive feeling as a big fan of George Orwell and (as you see) of blogging is that the author of 1984 and Politics and The English Language, would definitely have been a blogger. (But he was also an anti-social git so perhaps he wouldn’t have Tweeted). However, others are less sure.

The George Orwell Prize is a splendid annual award to the best political writing of the year. Until this year it went to books and journalism but now they have stooped into the digital gutter to pluck blogging into their fold. (I am acutely conscious that Orwell would have been appalled at the metaphor-mangling involved in that last sentence).

As you see from the judges, this is a high-minded exercise that sees itself as a way of ‘preserving standards’. And every year it is, indeed, a useful reminder that loads of wonderful political writing is produced. This is despite the gloomy predicitions from people like, well, people like the Orwell Prize judges.

The list of bloggers this year is proof that the blogosphere has ‘matured’ sufficiently to meet their criteria. And there are some very good blogs on the longlist. I enjoy them all.

However, it is clear that the Orwell judges have a very literary, intellectual understanding of political writing and journalism. So no Guido Fawkes, for example.

But that is not to say that their list doesn’t have some great examples of how blogging is revitalising the English political language. Alix Mortimer’s prose may be full of lofty liberal distain and foreign words but it is absolutely her blogging voice:

“When you stop to think about all this for anything above twenty seconds, whoever you are and whatever your situation, you will realise that this is just a bit sick. When did we lose sight of the basic truth that house and flats are there to be lived in? It came back rather quickly to haunt one of the buyers, whose own house is now (ooh! the delicious irony!) in danger as a result of her failed buy-to-let experiment. There’s a decent chance she’ll lose it by 2009, or as she tremulously put it, “By this time next year I could be . . . homeless.” No, you terrifyingly self-absorbed baby-booming old baggage, you’ll be a private tenant. Come on in, the dry rot’s lovely.”

They also have a tendency to go on a bit. It is often essay-writing by default. I am not sure that 1400 words on Conservative european policy is classic blogging, but I have been known to over-write and some people say they like a bit more meat on their digital bone.

There is an MP and two BBC correspondents on the list, and inevitably, Iain Dale makes the cut. But would Orwell have  been a candidate were he around today?

Tom Colls has written a good feature for the BBC on precisely this question which quotes me in the affirmative:

“He was a contrarian, he loved a row and he didn’t mind people having a go at him..he would have blogged. Fact.”

Orwell biographer DJ Taylor is less sure:

“On the one hand he would have been interested in the democratic possibilities of it – anyone can do it as long as they’ve got access to a machine..On the other, the misuses to which blogging has been put certainly would have appalled him. There would, in all probability, have been an essay on Blogging and the English Language.”

For more on Orwell may I suggest this wonderful piece in the NYRB by Julian Barnes:

“One of the effects of reading Orwell’s essays en masse is to realize how very dogmatic—in the nonideological sense—he is. This is another aspect of his Johnsonian Englishness. From the quotidian matter of how to make a cup of tea to the socioeconomic analysis of the restaurant (an entirely unnecessary luxury, to Orwell’s puritanical mind), he is a lawgiver, and his laws are often founded in disapproval. He is a great writer against. So his “Bookshop Memories”—a subject others might turn into a gentle color piece with a few amusing anecdotes—scorns lightness. The work, he declares, is drudgery, quite unrewarding, and makes you hate books; while the customers tend to be thieves, paranoiacs, dimwits, or, at best—when buying sets of Dickens in the improbable hope of reading them—mere self-deceivers. In “England Your England” he denounces the left-wing English intelligentsia for being “generally negative” and “querulous”: adjectives which, from this distance, seem to fit Orwell pretty aptly. Given that he died at the age of forty-six, it’s scary to imagine the crustiness that might have set in had he reached pensionable age.”

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7 Responses to Would George Orwell have blogged?

  1. Guido Fawkes says:

    Iain Dale, intellectual? He will sue you for defamation.

  2. But would Orwell have wanted us to read The Road To Wigan Pier because is was on paper, or because of what it said about the state of Britain?

    Substance is important as well as form, so while it’s good that blogs are – rightly – being considered alongside other media platforms, we need to keep that perspective.

  3. Pingback: Longwinded. « A blog from the back room.

  4. Hi Charlie,

    Thanks for the kind comments about the Prize. Orwell is blogging – sort of – as we’re running his diaries from 1938-42 in real time (plus seventy years). It’s a bit egg-centric at the moment, but still an interesting insight: http://orwelldiaries.wordpress.com/

  5. Pingback: greenjournalism.co.uk » Blog Archive » Orwell Trust running ‘as live’ blog from 1939

  6. Pingback: Journalism and Public Relations at the University of Sunderland » Blog Archive » Orwell Trust running ‘as live’ Orwell blog… from 1939

  7. E goldstein says:

    Would Winston Smith have blogged rather than hid in the corner to write his diary?

    People have asked from a literary perspective, however what were Orwell’s feelings on technology? I am not sure he expressed an opinion either way.

    Technology did play a part in Orwell’s anti-humanistic creation Big Brother and it’s ability to control people. Liberation for Winston was a walk in the countryside and the singing of a nursery rhyme away from telescreens and listening mics.

    I suspect he would have been suspicious of technology as a whole and thus turned off from blogging.

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