Eyes Like Blank Discs – The Guardian’s Steven Poole On George Orwell’s Politics And The English Language

January 21, ‘Orwell Day’, marked the 63rd anniversary of George Orwell’s death, Steven Poole notes in the Guardian. To commemorate 110 years since Orwell was born (June 25), BBC radio will broadcast a series about his life while Penguin will publish a new edition of his essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’. This essay, Poole comments, is Orwell’s ‘most famous shorter work, and probably the most wildly overrated of any of his writings’.

Why ‘wildly overrated’?

noted that the writing he admired was generally provided by ‘some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line”. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style’.

As for the mainstream productions of his day – the ‘pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos’:

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Whereas Orwell’s essay is the work of an impassioned, outspoken individual opposing 'the machine society’, Poole’s article is the work of a corporate professional operating ‘within the confines of an assigned ideology’.

Indicatively, Poole writes that Orwell’s essay ‘is savagely contemptuous of politicians and what they say’. True, but Poole omits to mention that it is also ‘savagely contemptuous’ of ‘pamphlets’ and ‘leading articles’ – that is, of Poole’s own profession. Clearly, it would have been absurd for Orwell to focus solely on the political abuse of language while ignoring mainstream journalism. But as we have documented many times, honest analysis of this issue is deeply problematic for any corporate media employee. Imagine Poole agreeing with, or even mentioning, this comment from Orwell's essay 'England Your England':


"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Of The Critical Spirit And The Corporate Professional

Poole provides his own examples of the modern abuse of language:

six media corporations closely allied to state power now control 90 per cent of what Americans read, watch and hear? The high-tech surveillance of an increasingly digitised world policed by untouchable killer robots fighting ‘perpetual war’ is also straight out of Orwell’s 1984.

By contrast, this mildly amusing episode of Poole’s Unspeak web-video series is closer to light comedy than to Orwell’s fierce political analysis.

Like so many corporate journalists, Poole writes with a detached, cynical tone. In our media culture, it is cool to mock, but decidedly uncool to become a ‘crusader’ for a cause in the way of Orwell, who was very nearly killed fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell was passionately engaged in attempts to change the world. He perceived suffering and injustice as his personal responsibility, his work was clearly driven by the intense anguish he felt.

But this is really not what the Guardian, or corporate journalism in general, is about. Why? Because journalists are employed professionals, 'part of the equipment hired by capital'. Poole, for example, is paid to write book reviews for his employer, the corporate Guardian. And yet he has the gall to suggest that Orwell’s ‘assault on political euphemism’ is ‘righteous but limited’.

Schmidt highlights the gulf that separates free-thinking dissidents like Orwell from the average media professional:

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