Eric Blair

orwell-id-card

You warned us back in forty-nine
About the stamping boot.
The blow could come from right or left,
And render freedom moot.

We fought a frigid war for years
Against an iron curtain.
Your corpse became freedom’s hero,
And the freshman’s burden.

But die Mauer came down, and then
Your words seemed old and tired.
Your famous work a distant year,
No more to be admired.

Our victory seemed so complete –
History at its end!
But the coming years unfolded
In ways we didn’t intend.

We spent our aspidistral lives
In shopping, while asleep.
And sold our freedom on eBay
To a vain, huckster creep.

We thought that meanings chose the words
But we were so naive.
Our leaders tell alternate facts
And ask us to believe.

You never felt comfortable
Born in your evil time.
Perhaps we share a bond with you –
Our eras seem to rhyme.

What would you make of Amazon
And your resurgent fame?
And would you like the adjective
That we’ve made of your name?

We need you in an age like this,
Your words so clear and true.
For none should face despots alone  –
Not Smith. Not Jones. Not you.

Ignorance is strength

George Orwell

[Today’s prompt from The Daily Post: Devastation]

Over this past weekend, a dystopian novel first published in 1948 entered the bestseller list on Amazon. The “alternative facts” promoted by President Trump’s leading spokesperson has evoked comparisons to doublethink and newspeak, concepts introduced in George Orwell’s 1984.

I’m glad to see Orwell re-enter the public conversation. My doctoral dissertation in the 1990s relied heavily on the writings of Eric Blair, but as I studied and wrote I wondered if Orwell would remain intellectually and culturally viable in the 21st century. He had a lot going against him — deceased for almost half a century, the title of his most famous work evoking a year sinking further into the past, ridiculed by academics as a lightweight (“let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about” was a frequent punching bag for postmodern philosophers, who argued that meanings didn’t exist outside of language), castigated for his role as a government informer in his later years. Orwell seemed headed for the dustbin of history; I’d been fascinated by his work since high school and was still moved by his call for simple human decency in defiance of political oppression, and I regretted what I saw as his coming demise.

Well, perhaps that’s changing. Trump’s America is certainly no Oceania, but in less than a week we’ve seen this administration intimidate the press and attempt to control how information is communicated. The Conways and Bannons in the regime seem to realize that while any third-rate despot with enough guns can temporarily control a population by force, a tyrant who controls people’s thoughts can remain in power much longer — and what better way to control people’s thoughts, than to bring devastation to their language?

So welcome back, George Orwell. You felt out of time in your own age, and for all the wondrous technological advances since your passing, I’m sorry to say we’re no less fearful and brutal than what you remember. Maybe it’s that sense of alienation, your feeling of not belonging in an age like this, that gives you an insight that, for all your faults, make your voice still so valuable at this time.