En poursuivant votre navigation sur ce site, vous acceptez l'utilisation de cookies. Ces derniers assurent le bon fonctionnement de nos services. En savoir plus.

mercredi, 22 janvier 2020

Remembering Christopher Tolkien, 1924–2020


Remembering Christopher Tolkien, 1924–2020

J. R. R. Tolkien’s youngest son, Christopher, died on January 15 at the age of 95. Even in old age, Christopher cut a striking scholarly figure, sitting as he did in a green cardigan before a log fire. His reedy voice, occasionally crackling like the dry wood in the stone hearth at his feet, carrying with it subtle wisps of academic gravitas, as smoky shadows curled like grey-blue snakes around a towering bookcase filled with leather-bound tomes looming like Orthanc over his shoulder. Shelves stacked with studies of ancient texts like the Ancrene Wisse and the Ormulum. The whole scene — a sequence from a documentary entitled J.R.R.T: A Film Portrait of J.R.R. Tolkien (1996) — is somewhat reminiscent of the ominous expository chapter “The Shadow of The Past” from Tolkien’s magnum opus. A prescient image, given Christopher’s filial crusade to preserve the integrity of his father’s work and bring unpublished manuscripts like The Silmarillion (1977) and Unfinished Tales (1980) to light.

Christopher, born in Leeds while his father tutored at University there and later educated at Oxford’s famous Dragon School, joined the Royal Air Force and served in South Africa before lecturing at New College Oxford from 1964 to 1975 and publishing his own translation of The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise (1960). Described by his father as his “chief critic and collaborator,” he was warmly welcomed by such intellectual giants as C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Warren Lewis, and Nevill Coghill, as a junior member of the famed Inklings group that met at the Eagle and Child Inn on St Giles, Oxford.

Christopher only left his role at the thirteenth-century cloistered college to work on his recently deceased father’s papers in the mid-1970s. It was a decades-long and painstakingly laborious task that he maintained, with great stamina and energy right up until the end of his life. Christopher diligently edited the 12 volume History of Middle Earth, The Children of Hurin (2007), The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun (2009), The Fall of Arthur (2013), Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary (2014), Beren and Luthien (2017), and The Fall of Gondolin (2018).

Sadly, Christopher’s was unable to ensure the fidelity of Peter Jackson film versions of both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Speaking to Le Monde from his villa in the South of France in 2012, Christopher accused Jackson of having “eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25.” He continued:

Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of our time . . . the chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has gone too far for me. Such commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of this creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: turning my head away.

And indeed, that is exactly what he did by also refuting the recent and rather underwhelming Tolkien biopic starring Nicholas Hoult and Lilly Collins — a lead I shall follow when the Amazon serialization of the prequel to The Lord of the Rings hits the screens, a televisual spectacular allegedly focusing on the Second Age of Middle Earth and starring the Iranian Nazanin Boniadi and Puerto Rican Ismael Cruz Cordova, a somewhat incongruous piece of casting which will no doubt be supplemented by various south-east Asians and Africans over the course of the plot. Perhaps it is best that Christopher did not live to see his efforts sullied by such Hollywood virtue signaling.

So as per Bilbo’s Last Song, I say adieu to a great man who fulfilled the wishes of all Tolkien purists and hope that he may rest in the knowledge that his endeavors were not in vain.

Day is ended, dim my eyes,
but journey long before me lies.
Farewell, friends! I hear the call.
The ship’s beside the stony wall.
Foam is white and waves are grey;
beyond the sunset leads my way.
Foam is salt, the wind is free;
I hear the rising of the Sea.

Farewell, friends! The sails are set,
the wind is east, the moorings fret.
Shadows long before me lie,
beneath the ever-bending sky,
but islands lie behind the Sun
that I shall raise ere all is done;
lands there are to west of West,
where night is quiet and sleep is rest.

Guided by the Lonely Star,
beyond the utmost harbour-bar,
I’ll find the heavens fair and free,
and beaches of the Starlit Sea.
Ship, my ship! I seek the West,
and fields and mountains ever blest.
Farewell to Middle-earth at last.
I see the Star above my mast!


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2020/01/remembering-christopher-tolkien-1924-2020/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Christopher-Tolkien.jpg

jeudi, 09 janvier 2020

Orwell on Screen


Orwell on Screen

David Ryan
George Orwell on Screen
Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2018

This book took me down a rabbit hole when I discovered it last June. For several days I didn’t want to do anything but watch old television dramatizations and documentaries about George Orwell’s works and life. There have been a surprising number of them, and most of the key ones can be found online or in other digital media. A few, alas, have vanished into the ether, and we have to make do with David Ryan’s script synopses.

OOS-1.jpgTo his credit, Ryan does not spend much ink on critical analyses of the various presentations. That would make for a very fat and dreary book. In nearly every instance he’d have to tell us that the production was uneven and woefully miscast. I wondered if he was going to carp about the misconceived film adaptation of Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1997; American title: A Merry War). Not a bit of it; he leaves it to us to do the carping and ridicule. What he does provide is a rich concordance of Orwell presentations over the years, with often amazing production notes, technical details, and contemporary press notices. And if you don’t care to get that far into weeds, George Orwell on Screen is still an indispensable guidebook, pointing you to all sorts of bio-documentaries and dramatizations you might never discover on your own. This is particularly true of the many (mostly) BBC docos produced forty or fifty years ago, where you find such delights as Malcolm Muggeridge and Cyril Connolly lying down in tall grass and trading tales about their late, great friend.

TV and film versions of Orwell’s last novel (published as Nineteen Eighty-Four in England, 1984 in America) weigh very heavily in the text, and also take up a lot of viewing time when you try to sit through them all. Among the first entries were live teleplays, one broadcast by NBC in 1953 (for the Studio One series), the other staged and broadcast twice by the BBC the following year.  There was no videotape in those days, but we do have adequate if fuzzy kinescopes, recorded with a 16mm film camera aimed at a studio monitor. There were also radio adaptations in that era, including two riotous parodies by Spike Milligan and his Goon Show gang. And then, in 1956, came a big-budget feature film that was made in England but distributed under the American title 1984.

It raises some questions, this obsession with Orwell’s novel in the first half-decade or so after his death in January 1950. Was there a political motive at work, early in the Cold War? Was the book so rich in drama and human interest that everyone wanted to do it, the way all actors want to be Hamlet? I think the answer is much simpler. Live TV drama was a gaping maw that needed to be fed, and the hunger for scripts was intense, because radio drama was still very much a thing, too. (The first radio version was an American one soon after the book’s publication in 1949. It stars, incredibly enough, David Niven as a very suave-sounding Winston Smith.) Another reason for the abundance of 1984 productions might be that Orwell’s novel was that rare thing, a work of fiction that almost immediately entered common parlance, even among the many millions who never read the book. You’d have to go back to early Dickens or maybe Uncle Tom’s Cabin to find a novel with that kind of widespread impact. By 1950 anybody literate enough to read a newspaper knew who or what Big Brother was, and maybe could even appreciate jokes about “thoughtcrime” and “Room 101.”

Those two early teleplays, from NBC and the BBC, were melded together in a 1956 feature film, with Edmond O’Brien, Jan Sterling, Michael Redgrave, and Donald Pleasance (partly reprising his role from the BBC version). This version surpasses other screen adaptations in one respect: its exterior shots. It was made on location in London, and made use of recognizable landmarks and wartime bomb damage, giving us the dismal look and feel of the city in the novel. When there’s a celebration in Victory Square we don’t need to have it explained to us that this is really Trafalgar Square.

Balanced against this virtue are the movie’s oddities, and they are legion. Edmond O’Brien as Winston looks wasted and beaten-down, as Winston should, but here’s it’s as a paunchy and cirrhotic figure, rather than the gaunt and pallid nicotine addict in the book. Michael Redgrave wears a spaceship-commander uniform as the Inner Party bigwig O’Brien. Only in this movie they change his character’s name to O’Connor, because two O’Briens in the same film was thought to be too confusing for the audience.

And then there’s the problem of the finale. The novel’s finish was thought too downbeat, with Winston a broken man, drunk on clove-scented gin and separated from Julia, waiting for a bullet in the back of the head. So the director shot two different endings, one in which Julia and Winston get back together again, briefly, after which Winston finds redemption by cheering for Big Brother; and a second one in which Julia and Winston shout “Down with Big Brother” and start ripping down Big Brother posters. This “Down with Big Brother” ending is said to have been distributed in the British (and presumably European) market. I saw it on television someplace a long time ago and it was a real surprise: had I completely misremembered the ending?

*   *   *

Viewing the two teleplays and their mashup in the 1956 movie, one notices that, production values aside, the American “take” on the Orwell story was very different from the British one. American tastemakers conceived of 1984 as futuristic science-fiction. You see this in the lurid cover of the original Signet paperback, and in the posters for the 1956 film. The stark sets and random costumes in the 1953 Studio One production will put one in mind of something by Edward D. Wood, Jr. The designers were aiming for something like German Expressionism, but the effect is more like a cardboard dollhouse. While Big Brother posters are everywhere, “BB” is nothing like the mustachioed Stalin avatar that Orwell had in mind. Instead, “Big Brother Is Watching You” appears over a “hairless, freakishly distorted cartoon face [that] looks like something Mad magazine has commissioned from Picasso” (as author David Ryan puts it).


Speaking of Ed Wood: Lorne Greene plays a very fey O’Brien, rather like Bunny Breckinridge’s “Ruler” character in Plan Nine from Outer Space. He wears an ornate suitcoat, sort of early-Roxy-usher, to indicate his high status in the Inner Party. When he slips Winston Smith (Eddie Albert) his address and suggests they get together that evening, it looks to all the world like a homosexual assignation. And some of the costume choices suggest that the crew didn’t understand the book at all. Orwell put most of his Party members in “overalls”: meaning, the kind of onesie garment that flight mechanics would wear; like Winston Churchill’s “siren suit.” But the costume people at Studio One saw “overalls” and thought of farmers’ bib overalls. So Eddie Albert as Winston was going to go around attired in necktie and farmer overalls, foreshadowing his 1960s sitcom role in Green Acres. But it appears somebody caught the mistake at the last minute, and came up with a few grease-monkey outfits, so at least Winston and the male ensemble don’t look entirely foolish.

What I found most baffling and annoying about this 1953 NBC production is that it entirely ignores the significance of Emmanuel Goldstein in the Two Minutes’ Hate. There is no Goldstein; instead the giant telescreen shows us a beefy talking-head known as Cassandra. Perhaps the Studio One producers were chary of Goldstein’s Jewishness. Or perhaps they didn’t want to complicate things by alluding to the whole Trotsky-vs.-Stalin saga, or suggest that Orwell’s novel (author’s disclaimers notwithstanding) really truly was about Soviet Communism.

This coyness carried over into the 1956 feature film, scripted by the same scenarist, William Templeton. Once again, no Emmanuel Goldstein, no explicit suggestion of Communism per se. But this time they couldn’t call the telescreen traitor Cassandra, because in mid-1950s England “Cassandra” had a very special meaning: not the doomsayer of Ilium, but a popular, snarky columnist in the Daily Mirror. It would be like calling the Goldstein figure “Liberace.” So when the morning scrum at the Ministry of Truth gathers for their Two Minutes’ Hate, their wrath focuses upon a talking head called “the archenemy Kalador.” Kalador? Just a sci-fi-sounding name the writer or someone pulled out of the air. Inexcusable.

No such issues in the 1954 BBC teleplay. The costumers knew what “overalls” were, and the producers weren’t touchy about using the name Emmanuel Goldstein or alluding to Leon Trotsky. Here the Goldstein on the telescreen is even made up to look like Trotsky. This production is twice as long as the American one, and has sufficient time to develop minor characters and subplots. Winston Smith is played by Peter Cushing, which gives the drama something of a Hammer Horror aspect (after all, Nineteen Eighty-Four is indeed a horror tale). The real diamond in the cast, though, is young Donald Pleasance as Syme, the nerdy lexicographer who can’t stop talking about the wonders of Newspeak. In fact, I’m pretty sure he has more lines in this teleplay than he does in the book.

The BBC dramatization is also much more inventive when it comes to Room 101. NBC’s Studio One version briefly locks Eddie Albert in a cubicle with (unseen) rats. Eddie screams. Blackout. So much for the horrors of Room 101. But the BBC crew really went to town. They built a whole kludgy apparatus for the rats, involving a cage, a face mask, and a kind of plastic ventilation coil running between them (something like a supersized version of the Habitrail ducts that hamsters scamper around in). Unfortunately the rats weren’t at all fearsome or hungry when they shot this scene, so we end up with insert shots of peaceful lab rats sniffing around their cage. But you have to give the set techs an E for Effort.


The crucial difference between the 1953 American teleplay and the 1954 British one is how they approach the material. Once again, the American team thought they were doing science fiction. The British team dealt with it all as naturalistic kitchen-sink drama. This seems to me to be the only correct way to deal with Orwell. Those bedraggled Party members, sullenly putting in time at the Ministry of Truth; downing their disgusting grey stew at the canteen; maintaining themselves in a mild stupor with regular shots of cheap gin—this is pretty much wartime London as Orwell knew it and as the BBC crew remembered it. There’s very little here that’s futuristic.

Tellingly, when The Goon Show did their parody, “Nineteen Eighty-Five,” it was mainly a series of jokes about the food at Big Brother Corporation’s office canteen.

(over public address system) BBC workers. The canteen is now open. Lunch is ready. Doctors are standing by.


As I sat at my table eating my boiled water I began to hate Big Brother Corporation.

The “naturalistic” BBC television script had a long afterlife. After being presented twice in 1954 and parodied by the Goons in 1955, it was re-produced in 1965, for a series called The World of George Orwell. And when Michael Radford made his visually stunning feature with John Hurt and Richard Burton (filmed and released in A.D. 1984), the film’s mise-en-scène recalled the fetid atmosphere of the BBC teleplays rather than the confused, big-budget 1956 movie. What’s missing in the Radford version is a clear backstory, as reflected in the novel’s atmosphere of wartime privation and squalor. This was something easy to get across in the 1954 BBC teleplay, but it doesn’t really register in the Radford version, which seems to take place in an alternative reality that exists somewhere outside our own chronological scheme.

*   *   *

Finding the right tone for dramatizing Orwell seems to be more of an obstacle for scriptwriters than it ought to be. Nearly everything he wrote was a depresso-gram, highly resistant to playful optimism. Earlier I mentioned Keep the Aspidistra Flying, a woeful black comedy that is set in the 1930s but follows a similar plot arc to Nineteen Eighty-Four. Somebody made a BBC teleplay of Aspidistra in the 1960s, and that seems to have been pretty faithful to the book. I.e., it was a downer. It didn’t get revived or rebroadcast, and eventually the BBC lost or erased the tapes. When the property came up again thirty years later as a feature production, the decision was made to turn it into a frothy period piece about a carefree young couple (Richard E. Grant and Helena Bonham-Carter), and that’s pretty much what we got. The idea seemed to be that the only acceptable treatment of the 1930s was something out of Masterpiece Theatre.

Two of Orwell’s best and most adaptable novels, Burmese Days and Coming Up for Air, have never gotten anywhere near feature production. The first seems to be permanently trapped in development hell, while the second was made into a BBC teleplay way back in 1965 and hasn’t been heard from since.

And then there’s Animal Farm, filmed twice but very unsatisfactorily, once in cel animation (1954) and once in live-action-plus-CGI (1999). In both instances the directors/animators missed the essential point: that this is a talking-animal tale (“A Fairy Story,” Orwell subtitled it), and the talking animals need to have distinct, developed personalities. Those personalities get lost in these films. Because in the first production the animals don’t really get to talk, the whole drama being explained in voice-over narration. The 1999 production went to the other extreme, giving us an Uncanny Valley of “real” talking barnyard animals. Instead of Orwell’s fairy-tale anthropomorphized critters, we get grotesque close-ups of drooling dogs and snot-nosed hogs. The effect is horrifying. Any sympathy we might bring to Orwell’s delightful creations doesn’t stand a chance.

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2020/01/orwell-on-screen/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Orwell1.jpg

[2] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Orwell2.jpg

[3] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Orwell3.jpg

jeudi, 20 juin 2019

Your Nineteen Eighty-Four Sources in Full


Your Nineteen Eighty-Four Sources in Full

Connolly, Burnham, Orwell, & “Corner Table”

“In the torture scenes, he is merely melodramatic: he introduces those rather grotesque machines which used to appear in terror stories for boys.”
—V. S. Pritchett, The New Statesman [2], June 18, 1949

The torture section in Nineteen Eighty-Four[1] [3] was planned from the beginning, and intended to be the story’s core and culmination. The key influence here was James Burnham’s The Struggle for the World (discussed below), which George Orwell reviewed in March 1947, shortly before starting the first full longhand draft of the new novel. In Struggle, Burnham emphasized the likelihood of another World War within another few years, and probably even a war using the “atomic bomb.”

This found its way into Nineteen Eighty-Four, as did Burnham’s analysis of Communism (though Orwell didn’t call it that). Terror, torture, disinformation, humiliation: these are not unfortunate byproducts of Communist revolution, said Burnham, they are the system itself.

The original model for Nineteen Eighty-Four wasn’t as grim as that. It was frivolous, really, and written years and years before the Cold War was dreamt of. It was a little black comedy that used torture strictly for laughs. Titled “Year Nine,” Cyril Connolly dashed it off at the end of 1937.[2] [4] It appeared in The New Statesman in January 1938.

It’s a brief farce, less than two thousand words, yet in there are prefigured Big Brother, the Thought Police, Newspeak, and the Ministry of Love. To tell a brief story briefly: After happening upon a basement art exhibit, the narrator – an assembly-line envelope-flap-licker – is accused of thoughtcrime (approximately). He is arrested, severely tortured, and sentenced to excruciating execution.

Orwell was much impressed with it, and so were John Betjeman and others.[3] [5] Up to this point, Connolly was known mainly as an idler and failed novelist. Very soon, though, he published a memoir, Enemies of Promise, founded Horizon (“A Review of Literature & Art”), became editor of The Observer‘s book section (where he farmed out reviews to Orwell and Evelyn Waugh and Arthur Koestler), and was generally London’s number-one all-’round critic and litterateur.

From “Year Nine”:

As the hot breath of the tongs approached, many of us confessed involuntarily to grave peccadilloes. A man on my left screamed that he had stayed too long in the lavatory.

 * * *

Our justice is swift: our trials are fair: hardly was the preliminary bone-breaking over than my case came up. I was tried by the secret censor’s tribunal in a pitchdark circular room. My silly old legs were no use to me now and I was allowed the privilege of wheeling myself in on a kind of invalid’s chair. In the darkness I could just see the aperture high up in the wall from whence I should be cross-examined . . .

Our narrator (not a Winston Smith type, more of a garrulous Connolly/O’Brien) is sentenced to be “cut open by a qualified surgeon in the presence of the State Augur.”

“You will be able to observe the operation, and if the Augur decides the entrails are favourable they will be put back. If not, not . . . For on this augury an important decision on foreign policy will be taken. Annexation or Annihilation? . . .

Yes, I have been treated with great kindness.[4] [6]

There is a cultural time-stamp on “Year Nine,” clearly visible. The Moscow Purge Trials were underway and widely known about, but Connolly pins the Stalinist outrages in his tale – torture, forced confessions, anonymous denunciations – upon a cartoonish pseudo-Nazi regime, complete with Stroop Traumas, Youngleaderboys, and a population in thrall to Our Leader. (Connolly hadn’t a political bone in his body, but he posed as a Fellow Traveler, that being comme il faut.)

Conversely, when Nineteen Eighty-Four came out in 1949, it too drew on the Moscow Trials, and no one questioned (least of all Pravda) that Orwell was depicting a Soviet-style police-state. This happened even though Orwell slyly denied that it was about Communism. You can see this in the novel’s own disclaimers, and in external press releases that author and publisher sent out.

A curious legacy of “Year Nine” is that its Punch-and-Judy brilliance shines through the surface narrative of Nineteen Eighty-Four, giving the torture scenes a lurid “vaudeville” feel. Orwell probably didn’t intend the scenes in the Ministry of Love (Miniluv) to be black comedy, but that’s what he got, from O’Brien’s jabberwocky speeches, all the way to the rats in the cage-mask. (“‘It was a common punishment in Imperial China,” said O’Brien as didactically as ever.’”)

Lord of Chaos

Connolly/O’Brien is your emcee and Lord of Chaos in the Miniluv torture clinic. This is far from the standarGO1.jpgd crib-note interpretation of O’Brien (“zealous Party leader . . . brutally ugly”), but pray consider: a) Connolly was Orwell’s only acquaintance of note who came close to the novel’s description of O’Brien, physically and socially; b) if you bother to read O’Brien’s monologues in the torture clinic, you see he’s doing a kind of Doc Rockwell routine: lots of fast-talking nonsense about power and punishment, signifying nothing.

This is one reason why O’Brien fails as a villain. Villains must be monolithic. Here we have an Inner Party exemplar-cum-old Etonian who still boasts of his “antinomian tendencies” – a humorist and parodist, author of The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism as well as “Where Engels Fears to Tread”;[5] [8] in short, a louche Fellow-Traveler-of-convenience, renowned for self-indulgence and amorality. And thus he fits right in with what O’Brien tells us about the Inner Party ethos (do read the monologues): someone who’s amoral, capricious, and power-hungry (and a potential sociopath, if O’Brien’s description of the Party’s lust for power is anything to go by).

* * *

If Orwell wanted to put Connolly out of his mind while working on Nineteen Eighty-Four, he couldn’t, because he was forever revising an essay-memoir about the school they went to together between 8 and 14. It was the most miserable time of life for young Eric Blair (for such he was). He had probably started this memoir in the early 1940s, and still had the unpublished typescript with him in London when he was playing with notes and abortive chapters for his projected novel in 1945 and 1946. And then he brought it with him to the Isle of Jura, Inner Hebrides, in the spring of 1947, where he finally began to handwrite the first draft of The Last Man in Europe (as he was then calling the Winston Smith novel). He also revised the memoir, sending a carbon to his publisher in late May. Then, in 1948, when he was laid up with TB in a hospital near Glasgow and struggling to rewrite the novel with his writing arm in a cast, he revised the memoir yet again. It wouldn’t be published in Great Britain until 1967.

The memoir was Cyril Connolly’s idea. Connolly had put his fond-but-unnerving school memories into Enemies of Promise (which made him famous), and suggested his old schoolmate Blair might do the same: a companion piece or “pendant” to Connolly’s sardonic memoir. So Blair/Orwell decided to do a Dickens about his time as an upper-middle-class poor boy at St. Cyprian’s, enduring six years of oppression, humiliation, and petty tortures. He attended the school on reduced fees (as the Headmaster’s wife reminded him loudly and often) because he was expected to win a scholarship to Eton, and so bring glory and honor to St. Cyprian’s. From age 11 onward, Young Blair was “crammed with learning as cynically as a goose is crammed for Christmas” (as he wrote), mainly Latin and Greek.

This is the nearest thing to an autobiography we ever got out of Orwell, and the disgusted, sulky, sharp-eyed loner we see in his essays and Winston Smith is thoroughly recognizable as the boy at St. Cyprian’s. To make himself seem even lonelier and more miserable – or perhaps for some other motive – he cut Cyril Connolly entirely out of story.

At one point in the memoir, Orwell pulls back and says he doesn’t mean to suggest his school was a kind of Dotheboys Hall. Then he marches off again and tells us about the filthy lavatories and disgusting food, and how he once saw a human turd floating on the surface of the local baths in Eastbourne. On finally leaving St. Cyprian’s – off to Eton, but first a term at Wellington – he looked to the future with despair. “[T]he future was dark. Failure, failure, failure – failure behind me, failure ahead of me . . .”

Orwell’s publisher and friends thought the memoir was just too embarrassing and self-pitying to publish. It would be bad for Orwell’s reputation, they said, and probably libelous. So the perennial work-in-progress didn’t see the light of day until Orwell was safely dead and Partisan Review in New York ran a slightly altered version in their September-October 1952 issue. It ran for 41 pages, called St. Cyprian’s “Crossgates,” and used Orwell’s title: “Such, Such Were the Joys.”[6] [9]

* * *

You sometimes hear that Orwell plagiarized from another dystopian story, usually one set many centuries in the future, with little or no resemblance to Orwell’s. In 2009, on Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s sixtieth anniversary of publication, Paul Owen in The Guardian tried to make the case that Orwell “pinched the plot” from Yevgeny (or Eugene) Zamyatin’s early-1920s novel, We.[7] [10] As evidence, Owen says that Orwell read Zamyatin’s book three years before Nineteen Eighty-Four was published (1949). This is a lie by misdirection. Orwell had been making notes and outlines since at least 1944, and finished his first draft in 1947. He first heard of Zamyatin’s book in 1943, failed to find a copy of the 1920s English translation published in New York,[8] [11] and finally settled for a French one, his review appearing in early 1946.[9] [12] Owen’s biggest claim is completely wrong: “that Orwell lifted that powerful ending – Winston’s complete, willing capitulation to the forces and ideals of the state – from Zamyatin.” The ending of Nineteen Eighty-Four is in fact a retread of a novel ending that Orwell wrote in 1935.

GO4.jpgA good deal of Nineteen Eighty-Four, in fact, is a twisted retelling of Keep the Aspidistra Flying.[10] [13] Orwell wrote Aspidistra in 1935 during his Hampstead bookshop-assistant days, and was ever after ashamed of it. Never mind, it’s a beautiful piece of pathetic self-mockery, giving us a 1930s-model Winston Smith. Instead of surrendering to Big Brother at the end, the Winston-figure, Gordon, finally sells out to the “Money God” – and goes back to his job as an advertising copywriter. A happy ending, strangely enough.

In place of glowering Big Brother posters, Gordon is surrounded by vast images of “Corner Table,” a “spectacled rat-faced clerk with patent-leather hair,” grinning over a mug of Bovex. (Presumably Bovril + Oxo.) “Corner Table enjoys his meal with Bovex,” shouts the poster all over town. Everywhere Gordon is stared down by the Money God, in the guise of advertisements on all the hoardings. “Silkyseam – the smooth gliding bathroom tissue.” “Kiddies clamour for their Breakfast Crisps.”

Like Winston, Gordon is under constant surveillance at home (from his landlady) and takes his girlfriend out to the countryside, where they have sex on the wet ground. When he gets in trouble with the law, he wakes up in a jail with walls of “white porcelain bricks,” like the lockup at Miniluv. His O’Brien-analogue, an upper-class literary friend and little-magazine publisher named Ravelston, shows up and rescues him from the clink. Instead of taking him to a torture chamber, he puts Gordon up in his flat and gently badgers him to straighten out his life, which Gordon does eventually, but not just yet. Torture was different in the Thirties.

* * *

Connolly’s “Year Nine” provided an amusing, pocket-sized framework for building a terror-regime satire, while Keep the Aspidistra Flying gave the naturalistic “human” elements to be restyled for Nineteen Eighty-Four. The new novel also needed serious geopolitical underpinnings, and here Orwell leaned heavily on James Burnham. It’s long been known that Orwell took the “three super-states” idea from Burnham’s The Managerial Revolution (1941).[11] [14] Orwell and his publisher cited Burnham and that book when they wrote a press release in June 1949, explaining what Nineteen Eighty-Four was “about.” (Press interest was intense, and the hat-tip to Burnham looks suspiciously like a red herring.)

Burnham’s “three super-states” schema was the inspiration not only for Oceania-Eurasia-Eastasia, but most probably the entire novel; it was like a piece of grit in the oyster, waiting for the pearl to form around it. It became Orwell’s pet geopolitical concept, and from 1944 onward we find him continually dropping mentions of “three super-states” in his reviews, articles, and columns.

 [15]Nevertheless, it was a later book by Burnham, The Struggle for the World (1947)[12] [16] that really gave Nineteen Eighty-Four its horror and worldview. Here, Burnham argued that another World War was likely soon (say, 1950), and something nuclear would probably be in play. This provided the backstory to Oceania’s murky history of war and revolution, along with some early memories for Winston Smith. An “atomic bomb” – as we called them then – was dropped near London in Colchester. Burnham argued that a preventive war might well be necessary before the Soviets get the A-bomb. The rush of events soon outran that warning, needless to say.

But the really vital input from Struggle came from Burnham’s analysis of Communism. International Communism really, truly, does seek mastery of the globe, he maintained. He had made the argument a couple of years earlier, when he was with the OSS, but in 1947 it became the freshest insight in US foreign policy. Furthermore, he focused on a matter that most pundits feared to address, lest they look like unhinged extremists: the integrality of terror to the Communist apparatus. This was obvious to many people in those post-war years, but it was Burnham who took the logical leap and articulated the idea in a book: If your main activity is terror, then terror is your business.

GO84penguin.jpgTo repeat the obvious, Burnham was describing Communism, not some theoretical “totalitarianism,” as in some press blurbs for Nineteen Eighty-Four. As noted, Orwell explicitly disavowed any connection between his fictional “Party” and the Communist one. Nevertheless, the political program that O’Brien boasts about to Winston Smith is the Communist program à la James Burnham. It’s exaggerated and comically histrionic, but strikes the proper febrile tone.

First, some O’Brien:

Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery is torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. . . .

The espionage, the betrayals, the arrests, the tortures, the executions, the disappearances will never cease. It will be a world of terror as much as a world of triumph. The more the Party is powerful, the less it will be tolerant: the weaker the opposition, the tighter the despotism.[13] [17]

Now bits of Burnham:

The terror is everywhere, never ceasing, the all-encompassing atmosphere of communism. Every act of life, and of the lives of parents, relatives and friends, from the trivial incidents of childhood to major political decisions, finds its way into the secret and complete files. . . . The forms of the terror cover the full range: from the slightest psychological temptings, to economic pressure . . . to the most extreme physical torture . . .

* * *

It should not be supposed that the terror . . . is a transient phenomenon . . . Terror has always been an essential part of communism, from the pre-revolutionary days . . . into every stage of the development of the communist regime in power. Terror is proved by historical experience to be integral to communism, to be, in fact, the main instrument by which its power is increased and sustained.[14] [18]

Burnham and Orwell were of very different mentalities, the first always gushing theories with the fecundity of a copywriter dashing off taglines; while the second was constitutionally averse to abstractions and hypotheticals, much preferring near-at-hand things, such as the common toad. It’s striking that Orwell could not only find something useful and intriguing in Burnham, he honored him with a few of the most insightful and appreciative critiques.

JB-SW.jpgIn March 1947, while getting ready to go to Jura and ride the Winston Smith book to the finish even if it killed him (which it did), Orwell wrote his long, penetrating review of The Struggle for the World. He paid some compliments, but also noted some subtle flaws in Burnham’s reasoning. Here he’s talking about Burnham’s willingness to contemplate a preventive war against the USSR:

[Burnham sees that] appeasement is an unreal policy . . . It is not fashionable to say such things nowadays, and Burnham deserves credit for saying them.

But suppose he is wrong. Suppose the ship is not sinking, only leaking. Suppose that Communism is not yet strong enough to swallow the world and that the danger of war can be staved off for twenty years or more: then we don’t have to accept Burnham’s remedy – or, at least, we don’t have to accept it immediately and without question.[15] [19]

Orwell was just using moderation and common sense here, but what he’s suggesting is what in fact began to happen that year (1947). Instead of the predicted war of destruction; policies of “containment,” “rollback,” “interventions”; defense treaties (NATO); and targeted economic aid (Marshall Plan) might work at least as effectively against the Soviets, as well as being far pleasanter and more manageable.

Ironically, Orwell did not pay much attention to what was going on in the outside world that year or next; he had bigger things to worry about. But as the world moved on, it diverged more and more from the fundamental premises of Nineteen Eighty-Four. There wouldn’t be an “atomic war” in 1950 (war, yes; not atomic) and Soviet-style terror regimes weren’t going to swallow all of Europe, however likely that looked in the spring of 1947.


[1] [20] The actual title of the book on publication date was Nineteen Eighty-Four in London (Secker & Warburg) on June 8, 1949; and 1984 on June 13, 1949 in New York (Harcourt Brace). Orwell and his publisher slightly preferred the numerals, but chose to go with the words for the London edition. Orwell used both styles interchangeably – obviously one is more convenient to type. (George Orwell: A Life in Letters, Ed. Peter Davison [London: W.W. Norton], 2010.)

[2] [21] Cyril Connolly, “Year Nine,” collected in The Condemned Playground (London: Routledge, 1945), originally published in The New Statesman, January 1938. Connolly was inspired by a visit to the “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich, where he got the uneasy sense he was expected to leer with a disapproving expression.

[3] [22] Clive Fisher, Cyril Connolly (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995).

[4] [23] Connolly, The Condemned Playground.

[5] [24] Connolly, The Condemned Playground.

[6] [25] George Orwell, “Such, Such Were the Joys,” Partisan Review, Vol. 19, No. 5 (New York), Sept.-Oct. 1952.

[7] [26] Paul Owen, “1984 thoughtcrime? Does it matter that George Orwell pinched the plot? [27]”, The Guardian, 8 June 2009.

[8] [28] E. (or Y.) Zamyatin, We, tr. Gregory Zilboorg (New York: E. P. Dutton), 1924. This English-language edition was actually the first publication of We.

[9] [29] George Orwell, review of WeTribune (London), January 4, 1946.

[10] [30] George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, many editions. Originally: London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1936.

[11] [31] James Burnham, The Managerial Revolution (New York: John Day, 1941).

[12] [32] James Burnham, The Struggle for the World (New York: John Day, 1947).

[13] [33] Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part III, iii.

[14] [34] James Burnham, The Struggle for the World (New York: John Day, 1947).

[15] [35] George Orwell, “James Burnham’s view of the contemporary world struggle,” New Leader (New York), March 29, 1947.


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2019/06/your-nineteen-eighty-four-sources-in-full/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/6-7-19-33.jpg

[2] The New Statesman: https://www.newstatesman.com/books/2013/03/fitzgerald-woolf-and-j-g-ballard-five-classic-book-reviews-ns-archive

[3] [1]: #_ftn1

[4] [2]: #_ftn2

[5] [3]: #_ftn3

[6] [4]: #_ftn4

[7] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/6-7-19-40.jpeg

[8] [5]: #_ftn5

[9] [6]: #_ftn6

[10] [7]: #_ftn7

[11] [8]: #_ftn8

[12] [9]: #_ftn9

[13] [10]: #_ftn10

[14] [11]: #_ftn11

[15] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/6-7-19-41.jpg

[16] [12]: #_ftn12

[17] [13]: #_ftn13

[18] [14]: #_ftn14

[19] [15]: #_ftn15

[20] [1]: #_ftnref1

[21] [2]: #_ftnref2

[22] [3]: #_ftnref3

[23] [4]: #_ftnref4

[24] [5]: #_ftnref5

[25] [6]: #_ftnref6

[26] [7]: #_ftnref7

[27] 1984 thoughtcrime? Does it matter that George Orwell pinched the plot?: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2009/jun/08/george-orwell-1984-zamyatin-we

[28] [8]: #_ftnref8

[29] [9]: #_ftnref9

[30] [10]: #_ftnref10

[31] [11]: #_ftnref11

[32] [12]: #_ftnref12

[33] [13]: #_ftnref13

[34] [14]: #_ftnref14

[35] [15]: #_ftnref15

mercredi, 19 juin 2019

Anthony Burgess and Modernism


Anthony Burgess and Modernism

Anthony Burgess came of age as modernism was at its peak, and the movement influenced much of his writing. As a reaction against the realism of the late nineteenth century, modernist works of literature aimed to disrupt many of the established tenets of novel-writing and poetry. In novels, the omniscient narrators, the linear structures and the focus on external description of environments and characters were replaced with subjectivity, fractured plotlines and a focus on the internal thoughts of characters (the latter inspired by the rise in psychoanalysis of the early twentieth century). Modernist poets rejected the devices of the Romantic period, preferring to experiment with form, allusion and the patchwork technique of using many fragmented languages and registers. The whole modernist project could be summed up with Ezra Pound’s phrase ‘make it new’.

Burgess’s first introduction to a modernist text was his reading of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at the age of fourteen. He describes the most modernist section of the novel, the hellfire sermon, as fear-inducing, so important in his mind that it drove him back to the church for another try at Catholicism. It was in the early 1930s, still a student at school when he first encountered Joyce’s Ulysses, a moment he describes in conflicting terms. While Ulysses was a constant presence throughout his career, and his first novels attempted to superimpose a contemporary story onto a mythological framework (see A Vision of Battlements’ treatment of the Aeneid and The Worm and the Ring’s retelling of the Niebelungenlied, for example), he writes that the post-Ulysses novelist ‘is forced to pretend Ulysses does not exist’, and that Joyce’s achievements made him cautious about writing his own fiction.

Yet what Burgess takes from Joyce is the elevating of language above almost everything else. He writes, ‘If Joyce taught nothing else he certainly taught a rigorous attention to language – an aspect of the traditional British novel which is generally despised’. Throughout all of his fiction, Burgess experiments with language, sometimes in overt ways as in A Clockwork Orange and Nothing Like the Sun, and sometimes in more subtle ways in novels such as the Enderby books and One Hand Clapping.

Despite his early connection to Joyce, it was T.S. Eliot who galvanised Burgess’s artistic interest in modernism. He first read Eliot when he borrowed The Waste Land from the public library in Manchester when he was fifteen. For the young Burgess, this was a gateway to Dante and Baudelaire, and he strove to memorise the poem in its entirety. Some years later, on a trip to London in 1936, he bought Eliot’s Collected Poems: 1909-1935 at a bookshop on Charing Cross Road. He began reading the poems on the train back to Manchester, and was so taken with Eliot’s work, he began a musical setting of the songs in Sweeney Agonistes. The impact of Eliot’s work on Burgess is hard to gauge, though Burgess goes some way to explain the influence: ‘the tastes of most of us have been Eliotian for the past forty-five years. He was a maker in a double sense: he made not only his poetry but also the minds that read it […] To reject Eliot was to welcome anarchy.’

Burgess’s analysis of Eliot’s influence recalls his writing about Ezra Pound. He describes Pound’s Cantos and his Homage to Sextus Propertius as ‘immensely important, supreme examples of the development of an idiolect, a personal language, which became the language of a whole generation.’

It was with the voices of Joyce, Pound and Eliot in his head that Burgess began writing fiction and his experiments with form, narrative and language owe these writers a large debt. Burgess’s most clear experiment in modernist expression came in 1974 when he published Napoleon Symphony. As with Joyce’s work (and indeed his own early work), the novel rests on a mythic framework. Burgess maps the biography of Napoleon onto the myth of Prometheus, but in another layer of complexity, he also frames the narrative around Beethoven’s Eroica symphony (itself based on the Prometheus myth). The story is told in the high modernist style, linguistically complex and fragmented.

Throughout Burgess’s career as a writer his experiments in fiction have been heavily influenced by modernism, yet he also experimented with postmodern form, in particular in the playful MF, based on the post-structuralist theories of Claude Levi-Strauss. This makes it hard to categorise Burgess, though perhaps the best depiction of the push and pull the various literary movements of the twentieth century had on his work is in Earthly Powers. As his protagonist Kenneth Toomey arrives at his eighty-first birthday he has experienced the blossoming of the modernist movement and the explosion of postmodern culture. He is the ultimate twentieth century writer, and perhaps Burgess is thinking of his own creative maturation through the different movements of the century.

Graham Foster

Visit our exhibition ‘Anthony Burgess and Modernism’ exploring all of these themes in more depth at the Burgess Foundation, 17 June to 30 September 2019. Free and open weekdays 10am to 3pm, and in the evenings for events. Anthony Burgess’s books Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader and Flame Into Being: the Life of D.H. Lawrence are republished this month by Galileo. Click here for more.


jeudi, 02 mai 2019

Misreading Animal Farm


Misreading Animal Farm

If you’re seeing a lot of Nineteen Eighty-Four editions showing up in bookstores these days, it’s because 2019 marks the seventieth anniversary of the novel’s publication. And I suppose next year we’ll see even more Orwelliana, because we have the seventieth anniversary of George Orwell’s death in January, followed by the seventy-fifth anniversary of Animal Farm.

Of all the popular literature of the past century, those two books are among the ones that people in the English-speaking world are most likely to have read – or at least imagine they’ve read. (Notice I say the English-speaking world, thereby neatly skating around the juvenile fodder that pimply adolescents in America get assigned year after year – the Mockingbird one and the Gatsby one, and those books about prep-school boys in the 1940s.)

The Orwell storylines are starkly simple, easily put into one-line elevator pitches that anyone would recognize:

In a totalitarian hell, doomed lovers dream of rebelling, but get tortured and killed.

Animals take over a farm, but their cruel pig bosses make their lives harder than ever.

As with so many stories that are too easily simplified, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm are grossly misperceived in popular understanding and CliffsNotes-level criticism. Winston and Julia’s slave-state dystopia often got dismissed as a nightmarish vision of the future, or else an unsubtle condemnation of Stalinism. But really, it’s mainly a book about political propaganda: the slogans, the posters, the slant on the news (forever being rewritten to serve the party line of the day) – all inspired by Orwell’s own experience writing broadcasts at the Ministry of Truth (BBC Broadcasting House). And, of course, those inescapable telescreens continually shouting at you, like the hectoring CNN flatscreens that now disfigure every airport concourse and waiting area. Large chunks of the book are given over to discussions of how to enforce politically correct speech (herein called Newspeak), as well as a letter-perfect lampoon of a Marxist political tract called The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.

One could spend pages upon pages dissecting all the pastiches, black-comedy turns, and inside jokes that Orwell put into his Big Brother book, and no doubt I shall very soon. Today, though, I want to focus on the shorter, earlier book, the one with the talking animals. It covers many of the same themes that are expanded upon later, and like Nineteen Eighty-Four is stuffed with parody (Orwell actually writes two different “patriotic” songs for the animals to sing), and is itself an extended spoof of jolly children’s books about Life on the Farm with the Friendly Cow. There are long snatches of the narrative that are positively irenic: Boxer and Clover, the drayhorses, and Benjamin the donkey, all cheerfully working in the sunshine.

You can see why, in the original CIA-funded animated film of Animal Farm (1954), there was an irresistible push to tack on a happy ending, in which the animals mount another rebellion and throw out their pig masters. Presumably, this was a hopeful nod of encouragement directed at the new slave satrapies behind the Iron Curtain.

Animal-Farm-Poster.jpgWhen Orwell finished Animal Farm in 1945, it was a very bad time to promote anti-Communist books with talking animals. This one was too clearly an allegory about the Bolshevik Revolution and the Stalinist aftermath, as subtle as a cow-pie (one barnyard feature that does not appear in the book). Over two dozen publishers rejected it promptly; Churchill’s coalition government had been touting a pro-Soviet line since 1941. Against this background, Animal Farm was about as welcome as a sympathetic book review of Mein Kampf (which Orwell did in fact once publish, during the Phony War period).

Though he liked to describe himself as a Man of the Left, that was mainly window-dressing to maintain his literary viability. He was a socialist, but one with a very deep nationalist streak (as anyone reading “England, Your England” or “In Defence of P.G. Wodehouse” grasps immediately). He thought the Reds were gunning for him, figuratively and literally – and maybe they were.

Around the time he finished Animal Farm, he met Ernest Hemingway at the Ritz in Paris and asked to borrow a pistol, because the Russians had tried to kill him in Spain and still wanted him dead. Hemingway thought the old boy was overwrought, but found him a Colt .32. (This is recounted in Hemingway’s posthumous True at First Light.)

And yet, Animal Farm isn’t really a straightforward allegory about the Soviet Union. What it really is, is subtle propaganda that pretends to share the prejudices and idioms of a Parlor Pink or Fellow Traveler of the 1935-45 period. Orwell’s trick is what is known today in Internet culture as concern-trolling. Concern-trolling is when you insert yourself into an ongoing discussion or dispute, and feign sympathy with the participants’ viewpoint. Then, gradually and unctuously, you raise mild objections to the consensus belief. These quibbles confuse your interlocutors, sending the discussion off into a new direction. You might not get your new friends to reverse their opinions, but you’ve certainly planted some doubts.

The Leftist verities that Orwell pretends to endorse can be really preposterous. Yet even today, many people accept them unquestioningly as dogma. Some of the more egregious examples:

  1. The (Bolshevik) Revolution was a Good Thing.
  2. But it was betrayed and ruined by Napoleon the Pig (Stalin).
  3. The animals (Soviet people) were much happier and more prosperous after the Revolution than before.
  4. Religion (i.e., Christianity) is an unnecessary, false, wasteful distraction.
  5. After the Revolution, Animal Farm (Russia) was more enlightened than its rivals, which were cruel and corrupt, and oppressed their workers.

In order for Animal Farm to work as political propaganda, you pretty much have to accept most of these premises. You have to suspend disbelief and make yourself a wide-eyed fool willing to believe such obnoxious pap as, “Communism can build Heaven on Earth, but it’s never really been tried!”

Orwell completely avoids some matters that would have made his fairy tale unpublishable. There is the Jewish Question. Most of the leading Bolsheviks were Jews, and that is a very difficult fact to finesse. (Stalin, of course, was not; but his wife and best friend were.) Certainly, it must have been on Orwell’s mind throughout the writing. Perhaps this is why he made the lead animals pigs; for pork is most unkosher. Yes, the author is saying, the pigs are the Bolsheviks, so I’m not saying the Bolsheviks were Jews. (I am reminded that when Art Spiegelman drew his Maus graphic novel in the 1980s, he portrayed the Poles as pigs, thus emphasizing that they were very, very un-Jewish.)

AF-pig.jpgBut the use of pigs raises all sorts of other complications. All the male pigs but Napoleon, we are told, have been castrated. This fact is introduced late in the book, and rather obliquely: “Napoleon was the only boar on the farm.” But hold on: Napoleon has sired many porkers, presumably male often as not. Surely they’re still intact – some of them, anyway. Is Orwell just being forgetful, or does he fear certain distasteful matters will slow down the story?

The pigs bothered a lot of publishers’ readers when Orwell sent the typescript around. Jonathan Cape wanted to publish the book, but only if the pigs were swapped out for something else. “It would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs.”

Over at Faber & Faber, T. S. Eliot liked it, too, but turned it down with a perversely hilarious rejection letter, wondering why the pigs had to be villains:

[A]fter all, your pigs are far more intellectual than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm – in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public spirited pigs.[1] [2]

The Animal Farm/USSR analogy really goes off the rails with the depiction of the two rival neighboring farmers, Frederick and Pilkington. These stand in for Britain and France, on the one hand, and Germany on the other, in the years leading up to the Second World War. Like Oceania in Nineteen Eighty-Four, which is always at war with either Eastasia or Eurasia, the pigs at Animal Farm are forever making alliances with Frederick or Pilkington. Frederick and Pilkington, moreover, are forever scheming to overpower or swindle Animal Farm. And they often succeed, because the pigs are greedy and shortsighted.

But this is the reverse of what actually happened with the USSR and its geopolitical rivals and allies. From the 1920s onward, the Soviets were always trying to penetrate Western intelligence services and political parties. Conversely, there was little or no attempt on the part of Britain or France, or even Germany, to set up espionage networks in the USSR. So far from being a duped victim, perpetually gulled and taken advantage of, the USSR was always the sly aggressor. In every wartime conference where he showed up – Tehran, Yalta, Potsdam – Stalin was always the one who stacked the deck and came out with a winning hand.

At the end of Animal Farm, we see the farmers and pigs at table together, all looking very much alike. The suggestion is that the Revolution has failed because the neighboring farmers knew how to lead the pigs astray.

What Orwell is doing here, again, is inverting reality in a bid for sympathy, cozening us into believing that Britain and France – and Germany – were the bad guys all along. Of course, he didn’t believe this, but he needed a finish to the story, so he drove home the moral that the Revolution had been betrayed. Pigs are bad and humans are bad, but the doltish animals at Animal Farm are still idealistic and good.

It’s a weak, confused ending, and thoroughly dishonest. Orwell doesn’t believe it for a moment. He knows the Soviets are evil, murderous shits, and even now they’re out to kill him.

On the other hand, Animal Farm was written as a didactic fable. When you write talking-animal propaganda, you can’t be expected to tell the truth.


[1] [3] These quotations are taken from Jeffrey Meyers, Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001).


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2019/05/misreading-animal-farm/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/5-1-19-2.jpg

[2] [1]: #_ftn1

[3] [1]: #_ftnref1


lundi, 18 mars 2019

James Kent’s The Aftermath: Tragedy in the Ruins of Post-War Germany


James Kent’s The Aftermath:
Tragedy in the Ruins of Post-War Germany

“Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens.” — Genesis 19:24

Despite the fact that reviews of Rhidian Brook’s semi-biographical familial novel The Aftermath (2013) offered the tentative possibility of a balanced insight into one of the most apocalyptic and wholly unnecessary acts of brutality in the whole of the Second World War, I, being the cynic I am, still expected nothing more from the book’s screen adaption than the usual Hollywood-style travesty: a set filled with stilted stereotypes mouthing the predictable, formulaic script that reinforces the notion of a “just war” and exonerates the perpetrators because they were allegedly fighting a crusade against the completely unprecedented and unjustified victimization of the Jewish community by monstrous megalomaniacs in highly polished jackboots, driving about in sleek, black cars adorned with swastika pennants. But instead what I saw was, if a little too predictable and woodenly performed in certain parts, a reasonably well-crafted cinematic experience that supported a thin and slightly contrived narrative that, intended or not, subverted the paradigm of good Allies and bad Germans that the media and our educational institutions bombard us with every day.

aftermath.jpgCinematographer Franz Lustig’s opening scenes confront even the most unsuspecting and ill-informed audience with the sight of an almost obliterated Hamburg filled with crumbling buildings. Raw footage shows, or at least intimates, that a deliberate and premeditated plan had achieved its desired effect of sending Germany back to the Stone Age. This plan, codenamed Operation Gomorrah, which was at the time the heaviest aerial assault ever undertaken, was later called “Germany’s Hiroshima” by British Bomber Command. Reel after reel offers shocking images: black-and white photo montages of the chaff-filled skies and the abhorrent results of the merciless firebombing that had raised a four-hundred-and-sixty-meter scorching-hot tornado that reached temperatures of up to eight hundred degrees Celsius, and swept over twenty-one square kilometers of the city. Carried out by Lancaster, Wellington, Stirling, and Halifax aircraft, their blockbuster bombs turned asphalt streets into rivers of flame, asphyxiating young and old alike in a sea of carbon monoxide, and as one eyewitness later recalled, it “sucked people like dry leaves into its molten heart.”

These macabre and shameful acts – which were approved by Churchill’s Westminster clique –took place in late July and early August of 1943, and incinerated at least forty-two thousand civilians and injured at least thirty-seven thousand. The population and infrastructure of this once fine and free Hanseatic city, situated on the banks of the River Elbe, were deliberately targeted. This policy was repeated over and over again across many other unique and culturally rich medieval and Baroque German cities, most notably Dresden, where historians like David Irving, author of The Destruction of Dresden (1963), showed that the horrors and death toll were far higher even than in Hamburg and the rationale even less clear. The makers of The Aftermath include pitiful shots of a troglodyte-like people still shoveling the melted skeletons and ash-powder corpses of their neighbors and families out of the rubble-strewn streets, six months after the German surrender.

At this point, we are introduced to an idealistic British Colonel, Lewis Morgan, brilliantly acted by Jason Clark and probably the film’s most sympathetic character. We soon come to realize that he is deeply impacted not only by the death of his own son during a German air raid, but also by the things he has had to do on behalf of British intelligence as part of the war effort. As the Colonel leading mop-up operations, he has no doubt been at places like Bad Nenndorf, where German POWs were subjected to illegal torture at the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre (CSDIC) between 1945 and 1947. Morgan mutters, “We dropped more bombs on this city in one weekend than they dropped on London in the whole war.”

This is a throwaway line, but one that sets the tone for everything thereafter, implying the disproportionate scale of retribution suffered by German civilians: over 214,350 homes were destroyed by 22,580 tons of bombs that rained down on Hamburg. Among the incalculable losses was the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church), a marvel that was built in 1195 and was once the tallest building in the world. A surgeon with the US Air Force commented in January 1946 that the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki “were not nearly as bad as the fire effects of the RAF raids on Hamburg on July 27, 1943.”

Little wonder, then, that the subsequent episodic scene involves a young Werewolf operative being shot as he tries to escape after being caught following an act of sabotage (the Werewolves were a German guerrilla resistance force trained to fight behind enemy lines as the Allies occupied the country). His killer is another British intelligence officer called Burnham, who we discover later is a highly belligerent, aggressive, and boorish man who harbors a deep hatred for the locals, and whose wife, in a gossipy dialogue with Lewis Morgan’s recently arrived and sexually estranged spouse Rachael (Keira Knightley), warns, “Behind their smiles, their hatred is still there.” This is a suspicion that feeds Rachael’s already troubled soul as she continues to grieve for her lost boy and acts out her anger and frustration on the Lubert family, giving voice to unfounded prejudices such as, “When all is said and done, Germans are bad.” These statements ape the guidebook that her surviving son, Edmund (who is featured in the book but not the movie), is told to read, and which instructs members of the occupying forces and their families on how to deal with the population: “Don’t try to be kind – this is regarded as weakness. Keep Germans in their place. Don’t show hatred: the Germans will be flattered.”

aftermathbrook.jpgStefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard), a widower, and his daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann), are the people whose palatial home Rachael has in effect invaded when it is requisitioned by the occupying forces to billet the Morgans. Rachael insists, “I want them out!”, which means in effect expelling them to the refugee camps. She also asks them difficult questions about a certain portrait that had only recently been removed from a place of honor over their fireplace and hurriedly replaced by another painting. These are petty acts of spiteful sadism that were no doubt common practice and openly endorsed by the non-fraternization code at that time, but in the context of the film’s narrative clearly signals more about Rachael’s own insecurities than it does about any misdemeanors or malicious intent on the part of those in whose home she resides.

Rachael’s feelings of vengeful ill-will are not, however, shared by her husband, who offers several acts of kindness, like when he cradles the head of the dying Werwolf Burnham shoots, as well as his refusal to expel the Luberts from their home. These show him to be an honorable man. In one very revealing conversation with his young driver, he speaks of the shame he feels for the things he has had to do on behalf of His Majesty’s Armed Forces, and wonders how his wife would react if she knew the things he had done during the occupation. This is a refreshing and honest confession filled with a sense of sincere regret, compassion, and generosity of spirit that at first his wife understands, but which eventually drives an even bigger wedge between the two, who have been separated emotionally and physically as well as geographically for some time.

Despite the awful change in their circumstances and the obvious resentment they would very naturally feel, it is the Luberts’ quiet dignity in the face of suffering terrible injustice that makes the most positive impression. Herr Lubert is a handsome and, despite the deprivations of the time, well-dressed man trying to keep up appearances; almost a dapper gentleman, as the English might say in their more pungent moments. He is also a respected architect, who had once been very rich and well-connected at the Hamburg ports. His wife was killed in a British air raid. He is morally grounded, pragmatic, and upstanding, imbued with all those Prussian virtues we Anglos assume of the Germans. One suspects, however, that his political inclinations – if he has any at all – are probably more of the German conservative variety of the time, rather than National Socialism. He is made to answer the Fragebogen, which was a questionnaire issued by the occupying forces intended to determine the extent of a German’s collaboration with the Hitler regime consisting of 133 questions; this led to one being classified as black, grey, or white, with some intermediate shades. Stefan is confronted by the aforementioned Burnham, and there are hints that the British suspect that the deceased Frau Lubert was more involved with the former regime than her husband would like to admit. Burnham ignores the atrocities committed at the nineteen American Rheinwiesenlager camps, where the Red Cross was denied access and which some historians – such as the Canadian, James Bacque, author of Other Losses (1989) – believe that up to a million German prisoners-of-war were starved to death. Instead, he waves photos of the other camps in Stefan’s face and asks, “Did you know?” The scene ends with Stefan saying he wished “things could go back to how they were” and walking out, refusing to shake the hand Colonel Morgan offers in a gesture of solidarity and understanding.

The novel upon which the movie is based contains a similar, and rather marvelous, vignette set in a certification office: a cold, sinister gentleman, who could easily be a character from Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (1940) or George Orwell’s 1984 (1949), slowly turns the pages of a novel with gloved hands, O’Brien style, before he gives Stefan his clearance papers. At the same time, a nervous young woman who is also awaiting a decision is ominously told to come back for further interrogation. This proves that the stereotypes that we are all force-fed about the last European Civil War should no longer apply, and our deeply-held assumptions and prejudices need to be constantly challenged.

And challenge is what Freda, Stefan’s daughter, does best. It is as if she has become the repository for all the fallen Reich’s energy. In Brook’s text, she exercises using Thomas Mann’s voluminous book The Magic Mountain as a counterweight. “You should try Shakespeare, or perhaps the Atlas,” her father tells her after she flashes her knickers as a sign of dominance over Edward, and later delivers a chamber pot full of hot piss to his room.

In the film, it is obvious from the outset that the selection of Flora Thiemann to play Freda was a masterstroke of casting. With her natural good looks and pristine Gretchen wreath braids, she is a model for the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) in the mode of Ilse Hirsche, who was a member of the Werewolf team that executed Franz Oppenhoff, the Allied-appointed Mayor of Aachen. One can practically see her marching to “onward, onward, fanfares are joyfully blaring; onward, onward, youth must be fearless and daring; Germany, your light shines true, even if we die for you” as she walks about her house in her prim-pleated skirt, tailored blazer, and brown leather satchel at her side. Her wardrobe is so reminiscent of the BDM girls on parade in their navy-blue skirts, brown jackets, and twin pigtails. This is imagery that even Inge Scholl of the anti-Nazi White Rose group admitted had a “mysterious power,” and which mesmerized the public as they marched in “closed ranks, banners waving, eyes fixed straight ahead, keeping time to the drumbeat.” German girls were brought up on the principles laid down by their leader, Jutta Rüdiger, who made a speech in 1937 that set out the BDM’s goals:

The task of our League is to bring young women up to pass on the National Socialist faith and philosophy of life, girls whose bodies, souls, and minds are in harmony, whose physical health and well-balanced natures are incarnations of that beauty which shows that mankind is created by the Almighty . . . We want to train girls who are proud to think that one day they will choose to share their lives with fighting men. We want girls who believe unreservedly in Germany and the Führer, and will instill that faith into the hearts of their children. Then National Socialism and thus Germany itself will last forever.

These are the sort of girls who trained with small arms and fought side-by-side with their male counterparts of the Jungvolk in defense of the Pichelsdorf bridges in Berlin. Freda, literally brimming with the self-confidence and instinctive superiority that her heritage and upbringing bestows on her, seethes with resentment at her family and nation’s defilement at the hands of these interlopers. She steals a cigarette box and a treasured photo of Lewis Morgan with his deceased son, delivering them to a young man who is involved with the underground resistance, played by the up-and-coming actor Jannik Schuman (who was himself born in Hamburg in 1992). In a telling scene filled with emotion, he reaches into the dirt at his feet and, raising a clenched fist, lets the soil run between his clasped fingers, telling Freda that it is filled with the dust of their city and the bones of German girls just like her. A similar theme appears when Morgan is sent to interrogate an SS officer who is being imprisoned in the Russian zone and has clearly been ill-treated. His unrepentant adversary tells him that the Werewolves would come in the night to slit their throats and kill their women in revenge for what the Allies had done.


While Lewis is away doing his duty, his wife, who has been wandering aimlessly around the Luberts’ Elsinore-like mansion, slowly but surely overcomes her pre-conceived ideas about all Germans being evil. She goes on to have a torrid affair with the fair-haired widower, which involves Knightley delivering her stock-in-trade nude scene a la Atonement (2007). The resulting nerve-jangling question of, “Will she or won’t she run away with Stefan to start a new life?”, is the weakest thread in the film, but one which does facilitate a virtuoso cry from Jason Clark’s heart when he realizes he has been cuckolded. Simultaneously, Freda’s young beau puts a burning cigarette on Lewis’ much-loved photo of his lost son and loads a pistol in preparation for his assassination. The attack is botched, however, and only kills Lewis’ young driver. After a spine-tingling chase through snow-filled woods, the young German, trapped on an ice flow, screams contemptuously at Lewis, who is aiming a gun at him, to “Do it!” before drowning as the crack symbolically widens beneath him. Young Freda’s anguished cry of frustration then resounds through the dark northern cedars.

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2019/03/james-kents-the-aftermath/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/3-13-19-1.jpg

lundi, 19 novembre 2018

Colin Wilson’s The Outsider


Colin Wilson’s The Outsider

The following review was published in The European, a journal owned and published by Sir Oswald Mosley and his wife, Diana, between 1953 and 1959, in its February 1957 issue. It was signed only “European,” although it is now known this was a pseudonym used by Sir Mosley himself. Published only a short time after The Outsider [2] was first released in May 1956, it remains one of the best analyses of Colin Wilson [3]‘s most famous book, and was reprinted in the anthology Colin Wilson, A Celebration: Essays and Recollections (London: Woolf, 1988), which was edited by Colin’s bibliographer, Colin Stanley. The footnotes are Mosley’s own. The somewhat antiquated spelling and punctuation have been retained as they were in the original text.

It is always reassuring when men and things run true to form. It was, therefore, satisfactory that the silliest thing said in the literary year — the most frivolous and superficial in judgment — should emerge with the usual slick facility from the particular background of experience and achievement which has made Mr. Koestler the middle-brow prophet. He wrote of Mr. Colin Wilson’s remarkable book in the Sunday Times: “Bubble of the year: The Outsider (Gollancz), in which an earnest young man imparts his discovery to the world that genius is prone to Weltschmerz.”

Otherwise Mr. Wilson’s book had a very great success, and well deserved it. In fact, it was received with such a chorus of universal praise that it became almost suspect to those who believe that a majority in the first instance is almost always wrong, particularly when at this stage of a crumbling but still static society the opinion of the majority is so effectively controlled by the instruments of a shaken but yet dominant establishment. Why has a book so exceptional, and so serious, been applauded rather than accorded the “preposterous” treatment which English literary criticism reserved for such as Spengler? The first answer is that Mr. Wilson’s mind is very attractive, and his lucid style makes easy reading; the suggestion that this book is so difficult that everyone buys it but no one reads it, would brand the reading public as moronic if it had any vestige of truth. The second answer is that Mr. Wilson has as yet said nothing, and consequently cannot be attacked for the great crime of trying to “get somewhere”; somewhere new in thought, or worse still, somewhere in deed and achievement. What he has so far published is a fine work of clarification. A strangely mature and subtle mind has produced a brilliant synopsis of the modern mind and spirit. He does not claim to advance any solution, though he points in various directions where solutions may be found; “it is not my aim to produce a complete and infallible solution of the Outsider’s problem, but only to point out that traditional solutions, or different solutions, do exist”. No one could possibly yet guess where he is going, or what he may ultimately mean. He probably does not know himself; and, at his age, it is not a bad thing to be a vivid illustration of the old saying: “no man goes very far, who knows exactly where he is going”. What makes this book important is that it is a symptom and a symbol; a symptom of the present division between those who think and those who do; a symbol of the search in a world of confusion and menace by both those who think and those who do for some fresh religious impulse which can give meaning and direction to life. To achieve this, those who only do need sensitivity to receive a vision of purpose without which they are finally lost, while those who only think and feel require, in order to face life, the robustness and resolution which in the end again can only be given by purpose.

cw2.jpgMr. Wilson begins his “inquiry into the nature of the sickness of mankind in the twentieth century” at the effective point of the writers who have most influence in the present intellectual world. They are mostly good writers; they are not among the writers catering for those intellectuals who have every qualification except an intellect. They are good, some are very good: but at the end of it all what emerges? One of the best of these writers predicted that at the end of it all comes “the Russian man” described by Mr. Wilson as “a creature of nightmare who is no longer the homo sapiens, but an existentialist monster who rejects all thought”, As Hesse, the prophet of this coming, put it: “he is primeval matter, monstrous soul stuff. He cannot live in this form; he can only pass on”. The words “he can only pass on” seem the essence of the matter; this thinking is a chaos between two orders. At some point, if we are ever to regain sanity, we must regard again the first order before we can hope to win the second. It was a long way from Hellas to “the Russian man”; it may not be so far from the turmoil of these birth pangs to fresh creation. It is indeed well worth taking a look at the intellectual situation; where Europeans were, and where we are.

But who’er can know, as the long days go
That to live is happy, hath found his heaven.

wrote Euripides in the Bacchae,[1] [4] which to some minds is the most sinister and immoral of all Greek tragedies. For others these dark mysteries which were once held to be impenetrable contain the simple message that men do themselves great hurt if they reject the beauty which nature offers, a hurt which can lead to the worst horrors of madness. “Il lui suffit d’eclairer et de developper le conflict entre les forces naturelles et l’âme qui pretend se soustraire à leur empire” — wrote Gide in his Journal — “Je rencontrai les Bacchantes, au temps ou je me debattais encore contre l’enserrement d’une morale puritaine“. To anyone familiar with such thinking it is not surprising to find the dreary manias of neo-existentialism succeeding the puritan tradition.

Man denies at his risk the simple affirmation: “Shall not loveliness be loved for ever?” The Greeks, as Goethe saw them, felt themselves at home within “the delightful boundaries of a lovely world. Here they had been set; this was their appropriate place; here they found room for their energy, material and nourishment for their essential life.” And again he wrote: “feeling and thought were not yet split in pieces, that scarce remediable cleavage in the healthy nature of man had not yet taken place”. Goethe was here concerned with the early stages of the disease to whose conclusion Mr. Wilson’s book is addressed.

cw3.jpgThis union of mind and will, of intellect and emotion in the classic Greek, this essential harmony of man and nature, this at-oneness of the human with the eternal spirit evoke the contrast of the living and the dying when set against the prevailing tendencies of modern literature. For, as Mr. Wilson puts it very acutely: when “misery will never end” is combined with “nothing is worth doing”, “the result is a kind of spiritual syphillis that can hardly stop short of death or insanity”. Yet such writers are not all “pre-occupied with sex, crime and disease”, treating of heroes who live in one room because, apparently, they dare not enter the world outside, and derive their little satisfaction of the universe from looking through a hole in the wall at a woman undressing in the next room. They are not all concerned like Dostoievsky’s “beetle man” with life “under the floor boards” (a study which should put none of us off reading him as far as the philosophy of the Grand Inquisitor and a certain very interesting conversation with the devil in the Brothers Karamazof, which Mr. Wilson rightly places very high in the world’s literature). Many of these writers of pessimism, of destruction and death have a considerable sense of beauty. Hesse’s remarkable Steppenwolf found his “life had become weariness” and he “wandered in a maze of unhappiness that led to the renunciation of nothingness”; but then “for months together my heart stood still between delight and stark sorrow to find how rich was the gallery of my life, and how thronged was the soul of wretched Steppenwolf with high eternal stars and constellations . . . this life of mine was noble. It came of high descent, and turned, not on trifles, but on the stars.” Mr. Wilson well comments that “stripped of its overblown language,” “this experience can be called the ultimately valid core of romanticism — a type of religious affirmation”. And in such writing we can still see a reflection of the romantic movement of the northern gothic world which Goethe strove to unite with the sunlit classic movement in the great synthesis of his Helena. But it ends generally in this literature with a retreat from life, a monastic detachment or suicide rather than advance into such a wider life fulfilment. The essence is that these people feel themselves inadequate to life; they feel even that to live at all is instantly to destroy whatever flickering light of beauty they hold within them. For instance De Lisle Adam’s hero Axel had a lady friend who shot at him “with two pistols at a distance of five yards, but missed him both times.” Yet even after this dramatic and perfect illustration of the modern sex relationship, they could not face life : “we have destroyed in our strange hearts the love of life . . . to live would only be a sacrilege against ourselves . . .” “They drink the goblet of poison together and die in ecstasy.” All of which is a pity for promising people, but, in any case, is preferable to the “beetle man”, “under the floor boards”, wall-peepers, et hoc genus omne, of burrowing fugitives; “Samson you cannot be too quick”, is a natural first reaction to them. Yet Mr. Wilson teaches us well not to laugh too easily, or too lightly to dismiss them; it is a serious matter. This is serious if it is the death of a civilisation; it is still more serious if it is not death but the pangs of a new birth. And, in any case, even the worst of them possess in some way the essential sensitivity which the philistine lacks. So we will not laugh at even the extremes of this system, or rather way of thinking; something may come out of it all, because at least they feel. But Mr. Wilson in turn should not smile too easily at the last “period of intense and healthy optimism that did not mind hard work and pedestrian logic.” He seems to regard the nineteenth century as a “childish world” which presaged “endless changes in human life” so that “man would go forward indefinitely on ‘stepping stones of his dead self’ to higher things.” He thinks that before we “condemn it for short-sightedness”, ” we survivors of two world wars and the atomic bomb” (at this point surely he outdoes the Victorians in easy optimism, for it is far from over yet) “would do well to remember that we are in the position of adults condemning children”. Why? — is optimism necessarily childish and pessimism necessarily adult? Sometimes this paralysed pessimism seems more like the condition of a shell-shocked child. Health can be the state of an adult and disease the condition of a child. Of course, if serious Victorians really believed in “the establishment of Utopia before the end of the century”, they were childish; reformist thinking of that degree is always childish in comparison with organic thinking. But there are explanations of the difference between the nineteenth and the twentieth century attitude, other than this distinction between childhood and manhood. Spengler said somewhere that the nineteenth century stood in relation to the twentieth century as the Athens of Pericles stood in relation to the Rome of Caesar. In his thesis this is not a distinction between youth and age — a young society does not reach senescence in so short a period — but the difference between an epoch which is dedicated to thought and an epoch which has temporarily discarded thought in favour of action, in the almost rhythmic alternation between the two states which his method of history observes. It may be that in this most decisive of all great periods of action the intellectual is really not thinking at all; he is just despairing. When he wakes up from his bad dream he may find a world created by action in which he can live, and can even think. Mr. Wilson will not quarrel with the able summary of his researches printed on the cover of his book : “it is the will that matters.” And he would therefore scarcely dispute the view just expressed; perhaps the paradox of Mr. Wilson in this period is that he is thinking. That thought might lead him through and far beyond the healthy “cowboy rodeo” of the Victorian philosophers in their sweating sunshine, on (not back) to the glittering light and shade of the Hellenic world — das Land der Griechen mit der Seele suchen — and even beyond it to the radiance of the zweite Hellas. Mr. Wilson does not seem yet to be fully seized of Hellenism, and seems still less aware of the more conscious way of European thinking that passes beyond Hellas to a clearer account of world purpose. He has evidently read a good deal of Goethe with whom such modern thinking effectively begins, and he is the first of the new generation to feel that admiration for Shaw which was bound to develop when thought returned. But he does not seem to be aware of any slowly emerging system of European thinking which has journeyed from Heraclitus to Goethe and on to Shaw, Ibsen and other modems, until with the aid of modern science and the new interpretation of history it begins to attain consciousness.

cwb4.jpgHe is acute at one point in observing the contrasts between the life joy of the Greeks and the moments when their art is “full of the consciousness of death and its inevitability”. But he still apparently regards them as “healthy, once born, optimists,” not far removed from the modern bourgeois who also realises that life is precarious. He apparently thinks they did not share with the Outsider the knowledge that an “exceptional sense of life’s precariousness” can be “a hopeful means to increase his toughness”. The Greeks, of course, had not the advantage of reading Mr. Toynbee’s Study of History, which does not appear on a reasonably careful reading to be mentioned in Mr. Wilson’s book.

However, as Trevelyan[2] [5] puts it, Goethe followed them when he “firmly seized and plucked the nettle of Greek inhumanity, and treated it as the Greeks themselves had done, making new life and beauty out of a tale of death and terror”. Yet, in the continual contrast from which the Greeks derive their fulness of life : “healthy and natural was their attitude to death. To them he was no dreadful skeleton but a beautiful boy, the brother of sleep”. It is an attitude very different to Dostoievsky’s shivering mouse on the ledge, which Mr. Wilson quotes: . . . “someone condemned to death says or thinks an hour before his death, that if he had to live on a high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he’d only have room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, he yet remains standing in a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than die at once.” But is the attitude of the “once born Greek” so inferior to the possibly many times born ledge clinger? On the contrary, is not the former attitude a matter of common observation among brave men and the latter attitude a matter of equally common observation among frightened animals whose fear of death is not only pathetic but irrational in its exaggeration. Mr. Wilson’s view of the Greeks seems to rest in the Winckelmann Wieland stage of an enchanted pastoral symplicity. He has not yet reached Goethe’s point of horror when he realised the full complexities of the Greek nature and only emerged to a new serenity when, again in Trevelyan’s words, he realised: “they had felt the cruelty of life with souls sensitive by nature to pain no less than to joy. They had not tried to shut their eyes to suffering. They had used it, as all great artists must, as material for their art; but they had created out of it, not something that made the world more horrible to live in, but something that enriched man’s life and strengthened him to endure and to enjoy, by showing that new life, new beauty, new greatness, could grow even out of pain and death.

Jaeger[3] [6] quotes Pythagoras to express something of the same thought; “that which opposes, fits; different elements make the finest harmony ever”.

Were these “once born” people really much less adult than the Outsider in his understanding that “if you subject a man to extremes of heat and cold, he develops resistance to both”? Perhaps they even understood that if we subject ourselves to more interesting extremes we may learn to achieve Mr. Wilson’s desire (and how right he is in this) “to live more abundantly”. And Mr. Wilson certainly does not desire to rest in the Outsider’s dilemma; he is looking for solutions. In Hellas he may find something of a solution, and much more than that; the rediscovery of a direction which can lead far beyond even the Greeks.

As a sensitive and perceptive student of Nietzsche he is aware of Dionysus, but is not so fully conscious of the harmony achieved between the opposing tensions of Apollo and Dionysus. “Challenge and response” too, was more attractive in the Greek version; Artemis and Aphrodite had a charming habit of alternating as good and evil in a completely natural anticipation of Goethe’s Prologue in Heaven, which we shall later regard as the possible starting point of a new way of thinking, and of that modern writing of history which supports it with a wealth of detail. But we should first briefly consider Mr. Wilson’s view of Nietzsche and others who are rather strangely classified with him; it is a surprise at first to find him described as an existentialist, though in one sense it is quite comprehensible. For instance, Thierry Maulnier’s play Le Profanateur recently presented essentially Nietzschian thought in an existentialist form. But to confine Nietzsche to existentialism is to limit him unduly, even if we recognise, as the author points out, that definitions of existentialism have greatly varied in recent times, and also, as all can observe, that Nietzsche may be quoted in contradictory senses almost as effectively as the dominant faith of our time. The finer aspects of Nietzsche seem beyond this definition; for instance the passage in Zarathustra which culminates in the great phrase: seinen Willen will nun der Geist, seine Welt gewinnt sich der Weltverlorene, or again the harmony of mind and will in the lovely passage of Menschliches, Allzumenschliches which seems a direct antithesis of the currently accepted view of Existentialism: “The works of such poets — poets, that is, whose vision of man is exemplary — would be distinguished by the fact that they appear immune from the glow and blast of the passions. The fatal touch of the wrong note, the pleasure taken in smashing the whole instrument on which the music of humanity has been played, the scornful laughter and the gnashing of teeth, and all that is tragic and comic in the old conventional sense, would be felt in the vicinity of this new art as an awkward archaic crudeness and a distortion of the image of man. Strength, goodness, gentleness, purity, and that innate and spontaneous sense of measure and balance shown in persons and their actions . . . a clear sky reflected on faces and events, knowledge and art at one: the mind, without arrogance and jealousy dwelling together with the soul, drawing from the opposites of life the grace of seriousness, not the impatience of conflict: all this would make the background of gold against which to set up the real portrait of man, the.picture of his increasing nobleness.”[4] [7] But far more than a whole essay of this length would be needed to do justice to Mr. Wilson’s interpretation of Nietzsche and in particular, perhaps, to examine his possible over-simplification of the infinite complexities of the eternal recurrence. There is little enough space to cover the essential thinking of this remarkable book; and we must omit altogether a few of the more trivial little fellows who sometimes detain the author. Why, for instance, does he lose so much time with Lenin’s “dreadful little bourgeois”, who crowned the career of a super egotist with the damp surmise that the world could not long survive the pending departure of Mr. H. G. Wells? Here again Mr. Wilson is acute in linking Wells with greater figures like Kierkegaard in the opinion that “philosophic discussion was completely meaningless”. Kierkegaard was a “deeply religious soul” who found Hegel “unutterably shallow”.  So he founded modern Existentialism with the remark: “put me in a system and you negate me — I am not a mathematical symbol — I am.” Is such an assertion of the individual against the infinite ” unutterably shallow”, or is it relieved from this suggestion by the depths of its egotism? Such a statement can really only be answered by the unwonted flippancy of Lord Russell’s·reply to Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum“; “but how do you know it is you thinking”? Kierkegaard concluded that you cannot live a philosophy but you “can live religion”; but the attempt of this pious pastor to live his religion did not restrain him from “violently attacking the Christian Church on the grounds that it had solved the problem of living its religion by cutting off its arms and legs to make it fit life.” All these tendencies in Kierkegaard seem to indicate a certain confusion of Existentialism with Perfectionism — from which exhypothesi it should surely be very remote — but certainly qualify him as father of the inherent dissidence of modern Existentialism, and, perhaps, inspired M. Sartre to confer on the Communist Party the same benefits which the founder’s assistance had granted to the Church. All this derives surely from that initial impulse of sheer anarchy with which he assailed the Hegelian attempt at order. “There is discipline in heaven”, as one of Mr. Wilson’s favourites remarks (also more competence to exercise it, we may add) and we are left in the end with a choice between Kierkegaard’s great “I am” and Hegel’s majestic symbol in his Philosophy of History concerning the conflicting forces of the elements finally blending in a divine harmony of order. Yes, it is good that it is so plain where it all began; such pious and respectable origin. After the initial revolt against all sense of order it is not a long journey from “I am” to Sartre’s “l’homme est une passion inutile“, and to his hero, Roquentin, who finds that “it is the rational element that pushes into nihilism” and that his “only glimpse of salvation” comes from a negro woman singing “Some of these days”; yes, they certainly got rid of Hegel, but “these days” scarcely belong to Kierkegaard. Yet when they have reached “the rock bottom of self contempt ” they need again ”something rhythmic, purposive;” so man cannot live, after all, by “I am” alone. Sartre wanted freedom from all this and found that “freedom is terror”, during one of his all too brief experiences of action. Mr. Wilson comments with rare insight: ” freedom is not simply being allowed to do what you like”; ” it is intensity of will, and it appears under any circumstances that limit man and arouse man to more life.” If you do not “claim this freedom” you “slip to a lower form of life”; at this point the author seems to reach the opposite pole to the original premise of the existentialist theory. He states his position in this matter in a particularly fine passage: “Freedom posits free will; that is self-evident. But will can only operate when there is first a motive. No motive, no willing . But motive is a matter of belief; you would not want to do anything unless you believed it possible and meaningful. And belief must be belief in the existence of something; that is to say, it concerns what is real. So ultimately freedom depends on the real. The Outsider’s sense of unreality cuts off his freedom at the roots. It is as impossible to exercise freedom in an unreal world as it is to jump while you are falling.” How much nearer to clarity, sanity and effective purpose is this thinking than Sartre’s “philosophy of commitment”, which is only to say that, “since all roads lead nowhere, it is as well to choose any of them and throw all the energy into it . . .” It was at this point no doubt that the Communist Party became the fortunate receptacle of the great “I am” in its flight from the nightmare of the “useless passion”, and a few existential exercises in “freedom” from self were provided for Mr. Sartre until a change of weather rendered such exercises temporarily too uncomfortable. But again, yet again, we must seek freedom from our own besetting sin of laughing too easily and lightly at serious searchers after truth, when they on occasion fall into ridiculous situations; as Aristotle remarked to Alexander when the King caught him in an embarrassing position: “Sire, you will observe the straits to which the passions can reduce even the most eminent minds.” Despite all the nonsense, there is much to be said for Sartre. He is a great artist, one of the greatest masters of the theatre in all time. It is to be hoped that Mr. Wilson will one day extend his study of him to include Le Diable et le Bon Dieu. It is not merely a narrow professional interest which makes us regard this play as his greatest work — the incidental fact that in the first act he presents some of us as others see us, and in the last act as we see ourselves — but the manner in which he reviews nearly the whole gamut of human experiences in the body of the play. It is when he ceases to think and as a sensitive artist simply records his diverse impressions of this great age in an almost entirely unconscious fashion, that Sartre becomes great; so in the end, he is the true Existentialist.

cwb5.jpgBut Mr. Wilson moves far beyond Sartre in regarding the thinkers of an earlier period; notably Blake. At this point he recovers direction. The reader will find pages 225 to 250 among the most important of this book, but he must read the whole work for himself; this review is a commentary and an addendum, not a précis for the idle, nor a primer for those who find anything serious too difficult. The author advances a long way when he considers Blake’s “skeleton key” to a solution for those who “mistake their own stagnation for the world’s”. Here we reach realisation that the “crises of’living demand the active co-operation of intellect, emotions, body on equal terms”; contact is made here with Goethe’s Ganzheit, although it is not mentioned. “Energy is eternal delight” takes us a long way clear o the damp caverns of neo-existentialism and

When thought is closed in caves
Then love shall show its root in deepest hell

brings us nearer to the thought of Euripides with which this essay began. To Blake the greatest crime was to “nurse unfulfilled desire”; he was not only an enemy of the repressive puritanism and of all nature-denying creeds, but realised their disastrous effect upon the human psyche. He sought consciously the harmony of mind and nature, the blessed state the Greeks found somewhere between Apollo and Dionysus.

The law that abides and changes not, ages long
The eternal and nature born — these things be strong

declare the chorus in the Bacchae in warning to those who deny nature in the name of morality or reason.

A strait pitiless mind
Is death unto godliness.

Yet the great nature urge is not the enemy of the intellect but its equipoise and inspiration, declares the Bacchanal.

Knowledge, we are not foes
I seek thee diligently;
But the world with a great wind blows,
Shining, and not from thee;
Blowing to beautiful things . . . .

It is when intellect becomes separate from nature and combats nature that the madness, “the vastation” descends; the mind seeks flight from life in the womb-darkness whence it came; the end is under the floor boards, and worse, far worse. When intellect fails in a frenzy of self denial and self destruction, life must begin again at the base. Then the Euripidean chorus declares

The simple nameless herd of humanity
Has deeds and faith that are truth enough for me.

When mind fails, life is still there; and begins again, always begins again. Did these “once born” Greeks really see less than some of the wall-peepers, less even than the more advanced types considered in this fascinating book? Wretched “Steppenwolf”, you had only to look over your shoulder to see more constellations than you had ever dreamt. And it was no junketing cowboy in a hearty’s rodeo who wrote.

Not to be born is past all prizing
But when a man has seen the light
This is next best by far, that with all speed
He shall go thither, whence he came.

cwb7.jpgNo men ever had a deeper sense of the human tragedy than the Greeks; none ever faced it with such brilliant bravery or understood so well not only the art of grasping the fleeting, ecstatic moment, but of turning even despair to the enhancement of beauty. Living was yet great; they understood dennoch preisen; they did not “leave living to their servants”. Mr. Wilson in quoting Aristotle in the same sense as the above lines of Sophocles — “not to be born is the best thing, and death is better than life” — holds that “this view” lies at one extreme of religion, and that “the other extreme is vitalism”. He does not seem at this point fully to understand that the extremes in the Hellenic nature can be not contradictory but complementary, or interacting. The polarity of Greek thought was closely observed and finely interpreted by Nietzsche in diverse ways. But it was left to Goethe to express the more conscious thought beyond polarity in his Faust: the Prologue in Heaven:

The Lord speaks to Mephistopheles:

Des Menschen Thätigkeit kann allzuleicht erschlaffen
Er liebt sich bald die unbedingte Ruh;
Drum geb’ ich gern ihm den Gesellen zu,
Der reizt und wirkt, und muss, als Teufel, schaffen.

What is this but the definite statement that evil is the instrument of good? It is not only a better key to Faust than most of the tomes which have been written in analysis of this world masterpiece, but it is also the effective beginning of a new way of thinking. It was very obliging of Mr. Toynbee to collect so many facts in support of the thesis which becomes visible to any sentient mind in reading the first few pages of Faust, and his final intrusion of a personal opinion supported by belief rather than by fact detracts only slightly from his painstaking support for creative thought. “Challenge and Response” was born in Faust; and more, much more. Mr. Wilson moves towards this way of thinking on page 239 in the course of his study of Blake, and to us it is his most interesting moment. He writes “the whole was necessary” . . . “evolution towards God is impossible without a fall.” This passage follows the penetrating observation: “Yet it is the Outsider’s belief that life aims at more life, and higher forms of life” (our italics). At this point this interesting thinker and gifted writer reaches towards that decisive movement of European thought which began, perhaps, originally with Heraclitus and evolved through philosophers, prophets and poets, such as Goethe combined in his own genius, until it touched thinkers like Shaw and Ibsen in the modern age. This remarkable young man may end as the saint whom he suggests in his last line may be the Outsider’s goal, or worse, much worse, as just a success; yet the fact will remain that at this point he touched reality.

cwb8.jpgMay we end with a few questions based on that doctrine of higher forms which has found some expression in this Journal and in previous writings? Is it not now possible to observe with reason and as something approaching a clearly defined whole, what has hitherto only been revealed in fitful glimpses to the visionary? What are the means of observation available to those who are not blessed with the revelation of vision? Are they not the thoughts of great minds which have observed the working of the divine in nature and the researches of modern science which appear largely to confirm them?

Is it not possible by following such thinking and such observation of science to arrive at a new religious impulse? Can we not now see the wholeness, the harmony and the purpose of life by a process of normal thought, even more surely than the sensitive artist in the ecstasy of vision and at least as surely as the revealed faiths which have been accorded to some? Has modern man not reached the point where he requires neither prophets nor priests to show him truth ? Can he not now open his eyes and see sufficient truth to guide him, in the thought and discovery of the human intellect during nearly 3000 years of striving by the human will toward the light? Is it not at least clear that life began in a very low form and has reached a relative height by a process which it is easier to believe is inspired than the subject of an almost incredible series of chances? Is it not clear that a persistent and, in the end, consistent, movement from lower to higher forms is the process and purpose of life? It is at least what has so far happened, if we regard the process over an appreciable period of time. And if this be the purpose it solves the problem of the individual; he has no duty and should have no purpose but to place himself at the disposal and to the service of that higher purpose. It is true that the divine work in nature during the movement from lower to higher forms is apparently subject to restriction and almost to paradox. The reckless, brutal waste of nature in experiment with types which fail, the agony and useless extinction of a suffering child without trace of purpose and with still less trace of kindness or of goodness, etc., all indicate some failure of power, or lack of direction, which are not easily explained by any process of thought limited to the confines of this world. Even these phenomena of fitful horror are, of course, explicable if men be more than once born, and various degrees of solipsistic explanation could also exist. But in the light of this world and its observed events they are admittedly not easily explained in terms of coherent, and certainly not of beneficent purpose. Yet is it really necessary to be able to explain every method of the process in order to observe the result of the process as a whole? Aristotle helps us again to some extent: “the process of evolution is for the sake of the thing finally evolved and not for the sake of the process.” While, too, we cannot explain all the apparent freaks of nature — freaks of seemingly gratuitous horror — we can now in considerable degree explain the method of nature which to a large extent contains a purpose for suffering. Primitive types simply do not move except under the impulse of necessity. There can in the beginning be no movement from lower to higher forms except under the stress of pain. But there can and should come a point in evolution when man moves forward by motive power of the fire within and not by pressure of the agony without.

cwb9.jpgAt some point the spirit, the soul — call it what you will — is ignited by some spark of the divine and moves without necessity; yet, again it is a matter of common observation that this only occurs in very advanced types. In general it is only the “challenge” of adverse circumstance which evokes the “response” of movement to a higher state. Goethe expressed this thought very clearly in Faust by his concept of evil’s relationship to good; he also indicated the type where the conscious striving of the aspiring spirit replaces the urge of suffering in the final attainment of salvation: wer immer strebend sich bemüht, den können wir erlösen.  In the early stages of the great striving all suffering, and later all beauty must be experienced and sensed; but to no moment of ecstasy can man say, verweile doch, du bist so schön until the final passing to an infinity of beauty at present beyond man’s ken. Complacency, at any point, is certainly excluded. So must it be always in a creed which begins effectively with Heraclitus and now pervades modern vitalism. The philosophy of the “ever living fire”, of the ewig werdende could never be associated with complacency. Still less can the more conscious doctrine of higher forms co-exist with the static, or with the illusory perfections of a facile reformism. Man began very small, and has become not so small; he must end very great, or cease to be. That is the essence of the matter. Is it true? This is a question which everyone must answer for himself after studying European literature which stretches from the Greeks to the vital thought of modern times and, also, the world thinking of many different climes and ages which in many ways and at most diverse points is strangely related. He should study, too, either directly or through the agency of those most competent to judge, the evolutionary processes revealed so relatively recently by modern biology and the apparently ever increasing concept of ordered complexity in modern physics. He must then answer two questions: the first is whether it is more likely than not that a purpose exists in life? — the second is whether despite all failures and obscurities the only discernable purpose is a movement from lower to higher forms? If he comes at length to a conclusion which answers both these questions with a considered affirmative, he has reached the point of the great affirmation. The new religious impulse which so many seek is really already here. We need neither prophets nor priests to find it for ourselves, although we are not the enemies but the friends of those who do. For ourselves we can find in the thought of the world the faith and the service of the conscious and sentient man.



[1] [8] Professor Gilbert Murray’s translation.

[2] [9] Goethe and the Greeks by Humphrey Trevelyan, Cambridge University Press.

[3] [10] Paideia, 3 vols, by Werner Jaeger.

[4] [11] Professor Heller’s translation in his book The Disinherited Mind (Bowes and Bowes).


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2018/11/colin-wilsons-the-outsider-2/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/11-16-17-1.jpg

[2] The Outsider: https://www.amazon.com/Outsider-Exploration-Rebellion-Creativity-Cornerstone/dp/0399173102/

[3] Colin Wilson: https://www.counter-currents.com/2013/12/a-heroic-vision-for-our-time/

[4] [1]: #_ftn1

[5] [2]: #_ftn2

[6] [3]: #_ftn3

[7] [4]: #_ftn4

[8] [1]: #_ftnref1

[9] [2]: #_ftnref2

[10] [3]: #_ftnref3

[11] [4]: #_ftnref4

mercredi, 05 septembre 2018

A West Indian Hindu Looks at Islam


A West Indian Hindu Looks at Islam

V. S. Naipaul
Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981

The further to the political Right one gets, the easier it is to connect with the mentality and ideas of those of a Hindu background while becoming increasingly alienated from the Bible’s Old Testament and its vicious cast of desert-dwelling thieves, murderers, perverts, and swindlers. One example of this phenomenon is the late V. S. Naipaul’s (1932–2018) look at one prickly Abrahamic faith of the desert: Islam, entitled Among the Believers (1981).

among.jpgNaipaul had a unique background. He was of Hindu Indian origins and grew up in the British Empire’s West Indian colony of Trinidad and Tobago. Naipaul wrote darkly of his region of birth, stating, “History is built around achievement and creation; and nothing was created in the West Indies.”[1] [2] His gloomy take on the region is a bit inaccurate; the racially whiter places such as Cuba have produced societies of a sort of dynamism. Cubans did field a large mercenary force on behalf of the Soviet Union in Africa late in the Cold War, and the mostly white Costa Rica is a nice place to live. But Haiti is a super-ghetto of Africanism. In some cases, the West Indians can’t even give themselves away. At a time when the American people were enthusiastic for expansion, the US Senate bitterly opposed the Grant administration’s attempt to annex what is now the Dominican Republic. Who wants to take over Hispaniola’s problems?[2] [3] Naipaul’s prose is so good that he will be extensively quoted throughout this review.

In Among the Believers, Naipaul takes a look at the nations where Islam dominates the culture but where the populations are not Arabs. He wrote this book in the immediate aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, so we are seeing what happens when a people with a rich heritage attempt to closely follow the religion of their alien Arab conquerors. What you get is a people at war with themselves, and a people who, to put it mildly, turn away from the light of reason. He can express this in civilizational terms as well as individually. For example, in highly readable prose, Naipaul writes of a Malay woman who courts a “born again” Muslim man. Before she got with him, the young lady danced, dived, and went camping, but afterwards she took to the hijab and the drab long gowns, “and her mind began correspondingly to dull.”[3] [4]

When one reads Naipaul’s work, one comes to appreciate Islam; not the sort of pretend appreciation that virtue-signaling liberals have right up until a group of fanatics run them over with a car and then knife them to death as they lie injured [5], but an appreciation of just how terribly the Islamic worldview impacts all of society. After reading this book, one can see that Islam is the following:

  • Islam is the product of unfocused resentment and discontent made into a religion. Anarchism also qualifies as a religious form of undirected anger at unfairness. What I mean here is that it is clear that there are things in this world that are unjust. One way of reacting to life not being fair is to develop a worldview that supposes that it can cure injustice through a set of simplistic ideas married to cathartic violence. This worldview draws in the malcontents and the resentful. Islamic terrorists and the anarchist terrorists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are very similar. Ultimately, Islam requires “absolute faith . . . fed by . . . passion: justice, union, vengeance.”[4] [6]
  • From the perspective of a low-IQ non-white, Islam is an escape from the frightening world of advancing technology and market forces they cannot understand. It is escapism, pure and simple. Naipaul’s view of the 1978 novel Foreigner [7] by Nahid Rachlin is that of an escapist Islamic death pact. The protagonist retreats from a world of “intellect and endeavor” to one where the Muslim believer “will no longer simply have to follow after others, not knowing where the rails are taking them. They will no longer have to be last, or even second . . . Other people in spiritually barren lands will produce [modern equipment].”[5] [8]
  • This escapism is ultimately a project that leads to a nihilistic end. For example, Pakistan “had undone the rule of law it had inherited form the British, and replaced it with nothing.”[6] [9] To add to this idea, “The glories of [Islam] were in the remote past; it had generated nothing like a Renaissance. Muslim countries, where not colonized, were despotisms; and nearly all, before oil, were poor.”[7] [10]
  • Muslims take advantage of America’s foolish open immigration policies. “[T]he United States was more than a place to get an education. It was also – for the Iranian physician, as for the newly rich of so many insecure countries, politicians and businessmen, Arab, South American, West Indian, African – a sanctuary.” From the perspective of 1981, Naipaul is showing the initial infection of Third World pathologies in the United States before they manifested as clearly as they do today.
  • Islam carefully keeps old grudges alive. A family feud involving the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed led to half-trained Iranian pilots flying American-made Phantoms attacking Sunni Kurds centuries later. “To keep alive ancient animosities, to hold on to the idea of personal revenge even after a thousand years, to have a special list of heroes and martyrs and villains, it was necessary to be instructed.”[8] [11] Instructing believers in the ins and outs of these grudges takes a great deal of time away from instruction in other matters.
  • Islam is ultimately a suboptimal worldview for the creation and maintenance of civilization. Like apologists for Communism, apologists for Islamic societies insist that true Islam “has never been tried.”[9] [12]

Quite possibly the most interesting part of this book is Naipaul’s account of the Arab conquest of what is now Pakistan, but which was then called the Sind. Starting around 634, the Muslim Arabs began attempting to conquer the region. They launched at least ten campaigns over seventy years; all were unsuccessful. However, the Arabs eventually won. During the time of the Arab menace, the people of the Sind were weakened by a prophecy of doom, and palace intrigue had weakened their political elite. The Sind people were also awed by the apparent unity and discipline of the Muslims. The common people surrendered in droves, and the Sind’s King was killed in an avoidable death, or glory battle.

For the people of the Sind and their Hindu/Buddhist culture, the Arab conquest was a disaster. “At Banbhore [13], a remote outpost of the earliest Arab empires, you walked on human bones.”[10] [14] However, the Pakistanis today cannot admit to themselves that they lost their traditional culture. The story of the Arab conquest is told in a work called the Chachnama. Naipaul argues that the Chachnama is like Bernal Díaz’s great work, The Conquest of New Spain, except for the fact that the Chachnama’s author was not a soldier in the campaign as was Bernal Díaz; it was written by a Persian scribe centuries after the event. Like all things in Islam, the insights offered by the Chachama are dull at best, and “The intervening five centuries [since the publication of the Chachama] have added no extra moral or historical sense to the Persian narrative, no wonder or compassion, no idea of what is cruel and what is not cruel, such as Bernal Díaz, the Spanish soldier, possesses.”[11] [15]

IndiaWoundedCivilisation.jpgThe arrival of Islam to the Sind is the disaster which keeps on giving. Pakistan’s economy [16] lags behind India’s, although India has a large population of low IQ, low-caste people. Pakistan also cannot produce world-class cultural works like India does. There is no Pakistani version of Bollywood. The best thing the Pakistani government can do is to provide exit visas for its people to go and work elsewhere, as well as advice on the immigration laws of receiving countries.

Perhaps because Naipaul is from the West Indies – a Third World region which has long touched the more dynamic societies of the white man – he is able to so accurately describe the disaster of Third World immigration, especially as it applies to Pakistan and its pitiable people. He is worth quoting at length:

The idea of the Muslim state as God had never converted into anything less exalted, had never converted into political or economic organization. Pakistan – a thousand miles long from the sea to the Himalayas, and with a population of more than seventy million – was a remittance economy. The property boom in Karachi was sustained in part by the remittances of overseas workers, and they were everywhere, legally and illegally. They were not only in Muslim countries – Arabia, the Gulf states, Libya; they were also in Canada and the United States and in many of the countries of Europe. The business was organized. Like accountants studying tax laws, the manpower-export experts of Pakistan studied the world’s immigration laws and competitively gambled with their emigrant battalions: visitor’s visas overstayable here (most European countries), dependents shippable there (England), student’s visas convertible there (Canada and the United States), political asylum to be asked for there (Austria and West Berlin), still no visas needed here, just below the Arctic Circle (Finland). They went by the planeload. Karachi airport was equipped for this emigrant traffic. Some got through; some were turned back.[12] [17]

Once they got there:

. . . the emigrants threw themselves on the mercies of civil-liberties organizations. They sought the protection of the laws of the countries where the planes had brought them. They or their representatives spoke correct words about the difference between poor countries and rich, South and North. They spoke of the crime of racial discrimination and the brotherhood of man. They appealed to the ideals of the alien civilizations whose virtue they denied at home.[13] [18]

Naipaul shows that Islam is a tremendous, though retarding, metapolitical force that works its way into all areas of human societies: the law, philosophy, medicine, and even city planning. He shows the power of its simple theology over less intelligent, Third World minds. He shows its dark, violent core. Once the virus of Islam infects a society, whatever higher culture that society had is destroyed. Islam’s ultimate endpoint is a world of barren desert dunes squabbled over by uncreative, violent fanatics. In short, Islam is so powerful because it is fortified by its own failures and contradictions rather than defeated by them.

Naipaul’s criticism of Islam has drawn its own critics, such as Salman Rushdie [19] and the late Edward Said [20], but in light of the Global War on Terror and the rapid descent of many Islamic lands into even deeper, darker forms of barbarism, they have been given extended life by the imported lights of the white man’s science and technology, and Naipaul has become something of a prophet.

In conclusion, from the perspective of the white man who believes in civilization, Islam must be resisted by all means. Furthermore, “civil rights” is a tool of white displacement. Dismantling “civil rights” agencies is critical. Of the greatest importance, though, is to break free of the tremendous sense of guilt and self-loathing in the Western world. As long as whites continue to worship Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, and the rest of the pantheon of non-white idols, the dull, slack society of Islam will punch above its weigh.

Don’t let your nation become one of those counted as among the Believers.


[1] [21] Patrick French, The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), p. 203.

[2] [22] Unfortunately, the US did purchase the Danish Virgin Islands and capture Puerto Rico. The 2017 hurricane season was the scene of two vicious storms: one devastated Houston, Texas, which recovered rapidly. The other storm destroyed Puerto Rico, which took months to recover basics such as electricity.

[3] [23] Ibid., p. 302.

[4] [24] I’ve had to condense the prose here to generalize what Naipaul is saying about several Iranians during the Islamic Revolution. See p. 80 for the full quote in context.

[5] [25] Ibid., p. 15.

[6] [26] Ibid., p. 169.

[7] [27] Ibid., p. 12.

[8] [28] Ibid., p. 7.

[9] [29] Ibid., p. 124.

[10] [30] Ibid., p. 131.

[11] [31] Ibid., p. 133.

[12] [32] Ibid., p. 101.

[13] [33] Ibid.


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2018/08/a-west-indian-hindu-looks-at-islam/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/8-28-18-1.jpg

[2] [1]: #_ftn1

[3] [2]: #_ftn2

[4] [3]: #_ftn3

[5] group of fanatics run them over with a car and then knife them to death as they lie injured: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI72LK3Zhi8

[6] [4]: #_ftn4

[7] Foreigner: https://smile.amazon.com/Foreigner-Novel-Nahid-Rachlin-ebook/dp/B00AMQ3ERI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1534882077&sr=8-1&keywords=foreigner+nahid+rachlin

[8] [5]: #_ftn5

[9] [6]: #_ftn6

[10] [7]: #_ftn7

[11] [8]: #_ftn8

[12] [9]: #_ftn9

[13] Banbhore: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banbhore

[14] [10]: #_ftn10

[15] [11]: #_ftn11

[16] Pakistan’s economy: https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/india-vs-pakistan-economic-comparision-1497247847-1

[17] [12]: #_ftn12

[18] [13]: #_ftn13

[19] Salman Rushdie: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/sir-salman-rushdie-claims-i-was-just-fooling-around-as-his-ratings-of-other-authors-work-go-viral-10156390.html

[20] Edward Said: https://www.newstatesman.com/node/159123

[21] [1]: #_ftnref1

[22] [2]: #_ftnref2

[23] [3]: #_ftnref3

[24] [4]: #_ftnref4

[25] [5]: #_ftnref5

[26] [6]: #_ftnref6

[27] [7]: #_ftnref7

[28] [8]: #_ftnref8

[29] [9]: #_ftnref9

[30] [10]: #_ftnref10

[31] [11]: #_ftnref11

[32] [12]: #_ftnref12

[33] [13]: #_ftnref13

mardi, 04 septembre 2018

Tolkien’s Last Book: The Fall of Gondolin


Tolkien’s Last Book: The Fall of Gondolin

J. R. R. Tolkien (Christopher Tolkien, ed.)
The Fall of Gondolin
New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

The Fall of Gondolin is Tolkien’s final posthumous publication and the third of his “Great Tales,” alongside The Children of Húrin and Beren and Lúthien. It was compiled and edited by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien, and contains multiple versions of the story, accompanied by the younger Tolkien’s commentary and Alan Lee’s sublime illustrations, as well as a list of names and places, additional notes, genealogies, and a glossary.

The centerpiece of the book consists of the original story and the final version, written thirty-five years apart. Christopher Tolkien compares the two in his accompanying essay. All of the material here appears in other collections of Tolkien’s writings (e.g., The Silmarillion, The History of Middle-earth), but grouping them together in one volume allows the reader to compare them more directly and see how the story evolved.

Tolkien began writing The Fall of Gondolin in 1916, making it the first story belonging to the Middle-earth mythos that he ever wrote. Like the other “Great Tales,” it takes place during the First Age, about six thousand years before The Lord of the Rings. Its protagonist is Tuor, son of Huor and cousin of Túrin Turambar. He is visited by Ulmo, Vala of Waters and the “mightiest of all Valar next to Manwë,” who arises from the water amid a storm and instructs him to find Gondolin and tell Turgon, King of Gondolin, to prepare to battle Morgoth. He then embarks on his journey, guided by an Elf called Voronwë.

When Turgon rejects this advice, Tuor tells him to lead the Gondothlim to safety in Valinor. But Turgon insists on remaining in Gondolin. Tuor marries Idril, Turgon’s daughter; their son is Eärendel (later known for his sea voyages and for being the father of Elrond).

The hidden city of Gondolin was founded by Turgon and is located in Beleriand in Middle-earth. It is described as an idyllic city characterized by “fair houses and courts amid gardens of bright flowers” and “many towers of great slenderness and beauty builded of white marble.” Its inhabitants are Noldorin Elves, known for their skill in lore and crafts. They are similar to Europeans in appearance and are described elsewhere as having fair skin, grey/blue eyes, and brown, red, or silver hair. The Gondothlim are also known for their warlike prowess and are skilled archers. They were the only Noldor who did not fall to Morgoth (here called Melko/Melkor) after the catastrophic Battle of Unnumbered Tears. The location of their city remained unknown to Morgoth for nearly four centuries.

The enmity between Morgoth and the Noldor dates back to their days in Valinor. Morgoth envied Noldorin craftsmanship and lusted after the Silmarils (created by Fëanor, son of Finwë, High King of the Noldor). After sowing lies and discord among them, he destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor, killed Finwë, and stole the three Silmarils. Led by Fëanor, the Noldor rebelled against the Valar and pursued Morgoth, crossing the sea to Middle-earth. (These events are detailed in The Silmarillion.)

Gondolin is ultimately betrayed by Turgon’s nephew, Meglin, after he is captured by Orcs. Fearing for his life, he offers to reveal Gondolin’s location to Morgoth and ends up assisting him in his plan to capture the city. Christopher Tolkien calls this “the most infamous treachery in the history of Middle-earth.” Interestingly, Meglin is described as having a swarthy complexion and is rumored to have some Orcish blood.

Morgoth launches an attack on Gondolin with Balrogs, dragons, and Orcs. The ensuing battle is described at length in the earliest version of the story. The Gondothlim fight valiantly, but the battle is a decisive victory for Morgoth. The city goes up in flames, and Turgon is killed. Tuor, Idril, and Eärendel, along with other survivors – including the warrior Glorfindel (whose name means “golden-haired”) – escape through a secret tunnel and flee. They are ambushed by a Balrog and some Orcs. Glorfindel heroically battles the Balrog atop a precipice, perishing in the act. Thorondor (Lord of the Eagles) gives him a proper burial.

Tolkien began writing The Fall of Gondolin while in the hospital after having fought in the Battle of the Somme, and there are echoes of his wartime experiences in the battle scene. This passage evokes the horror of modern technological warfare:

Some were all iron so cunningly linked that they might flow like slow rivers of metal or coil themselves around and above all obstacles before them, and these were filled in their innermost depths with the grimmest of the Orcs with scimitars and spears; others of bronze and copper were given hearts and spirits of blazing fire, and they blasted all that stood before them with the terror of their snorting or trampled whatso escaped the ardour of their breath.

The fall of Gondolin marked Morgoth’s triumph over Middle-earth. He was not defeated until Eärendel persuaded the Valar to unite against Morgoth during the War of Wrath, ushering in the Second Age.

The essential story remains the same across each version presented here, though there are minor differences. The last version is most unlike the others. It depicts Tuor’s meeting with Ulmo and his journey with Voronwë in detail but stops abruptly upon his arrival at Gondolin. This is unfortunate, because it is the most well-written of the lot. The scenes depicting Ulmo’s appearance before Tuor (“clad in a gleaming coat, close-fitted as the mail of a mighty fish, and in a kirtle of deep green that flashed and flickered with sea-fire as he strode slowly toward the land”) and Tuor’s entrance through the seven gates of Gondolin are particularly striking.

As the last Elvish stronghold amid a sea of Balrogs, Orcs, and other mutant creatures, Gondolin cannot help but bring to mind examples of white enclaves located in non-white countries – the Germans in Jamaica, the Poles in Haiti, the Confederates in Brazil, and so forth. None of these groups still exist. It is a very grim prognosis, but whites under such conditions are doomed to the same fate as Gondolin (albeit through the subtler means of miscegenation), and such conditions will eventually become the norm if present trends continue.

I recommend The Fall of Gondolin to all Tolkien fans. The commentary and notes shed light on the story, and it’s interesting to compare the different versions side-by-side. Christopher Tolkien writes that this is “indubitably the last” Tolkien publication. It is really the end of an era.

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2018/09/tolkiens-last-book-the-fall-of-gondolin/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/9-4-18-1.jpg


mardi, 17 juillet 2018

Tolkien & the Kalevala


Tolkien & the Kalevala

Among the vast array of sources that influenced Tolkien in the creation of his legendarium was the Kalevala, a collection of Finnish folk poetry compiled and edited by the Finnish physician and philologist Elias Lönnrot. Much scholarship exists on Tolkien’s Norse, Germanic, and Anglo-Saxon influences, but his interest in the Kalevala is not as often discussed. 

kalevala.jpgThe Kalevala was first published in 1835, but the tales therein date back to antiquity and were handed down orally. The poems were originally songs, all sung in trochaic tetrameter (now known as the “Kalevala meter”). This oral tradition began to decline after the Reformation and the suppression of paganism by the Lutheran Church. It is largely due to the efforts of collectors like Lönnrot that Finnish folklore has survived.

Lönnrot’s task in creating the Kalevala was to arrange the raw material of the poems he collected into a single literary work with a coherent arc. He made minor modifications to about half of the oral poetry used in the Kalevala and also penned some verses himself. Lönnrot gathered more material in subsequent years, and a second edition of the Kalevala was published in 1849. The second edition consists of nearly 23,000 verses, which are divided into 50 poems (or runos), further divided into ten song cycles. This is the version most commonly read today.

The main character in the Kalevala is Väinämöinen, an ancient hero and sage, or tietäjä, a man whose vast knowledge of lore and song endows him with supernatural abilities. Other characters include the smithing god Ilmarinen, who forges the Sampo; the reckless warrior Lemminkäinen; the wicked queen Louhi, ruler of the northern realm of Pohjola; and the vengeful orphan Kullervo.

Much of the plot concerns the Sampo, a mysterious magical object that can produce grain, salt, and gold out of thin air. The exact nature of the Sampo is ambiguous, though it is akin to the concept of the world pillar or axis mundi. Ilmarinen forges the Sampo for Louhi in return for the hand of her daughter. Louhi locks the Sampo in a mountain, but the three heroes (Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen, and Lemminkäinen) sail to Pohjola and steal it back. During their journey homeward, Louhi summons the sea monster Iku-Turso to destroy them and commands Ukko, the god of the sky and thunder, to incite a storm. Väinämöinen wards off Iku-Turso but loses his kantele (a traditional Finnish stringed instrument that Väinämöinen is said to have created). A climax is reached when Louhi morphs into an eagle and attacks the heroes. She seizes the Sampo, but Väinämöinen attacks her, and it falls into the sea and is destroyed. Väinämöinen collects the fragments of the Sampo afterward and creates a new kantele. In nineteenth-century Finland, Väinämöinen’s fight against Louhi was seen as the embodiment of Finland’s struggle for nationhood.

It is likely that Finland would not exist as an independent nation were it not for the Kalevala. The poem was central to the Finnish national awakening, which began in the 1840s and eventually resulted in Finland’s declaration of independence from Russia in December 1917. It also played a role in the movement to elevate the Finnish language to official status.

The publication of the Kalevala brought about a flowering of artistic and literary achievement in Finland. The art of Finland’s greatest painter, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, is heavily influenced by Finnish mythology and folk art, and many of his works (The Defence of the Sampo, The Forging of the Sampo, Lemminkäinen’s Mother, Kullervo Rides to War, Kullervo’s Curse, Joukahainen’s Revenge) depict scenes from the Kalevala. The Kalevala has also influenced a number of composers, most notably Sibelius, whose Kalevala-inspired compositions include his Kullervo, Tapiola, Lemminkäinen Suite, Luonnotar, and Pohjola’s Daughter.

Tolkien first read the Kalevala at the age of 19. The poem had a great impact on him and remained one of his lifelong influences. While still at Oxford, he wrote a prose retelling of the Kullervo cycle. This was his first short story and “the germ of [his] attempt to write legends of [his] own.”[1] His fascination with the Kalevala during this time also inspired him to learn Finnish, which he likened to an “amazing wine” that intoxicated him.[2] Finnish was an important influence on the Elvish language Quenya.

In the Kalevala, Kullervo is an orphan whose tribe was massacred by his uncle Untamo. After attempting in vain to kill the young Kullervo, Untamo sells him as a slave to Ilmarinen and his wife. Kullervo later escapes and learns that some of his family are still alive, though his sister is still considered missing. He then seduces a girl who turns out to be his sister; she kills herself upon this realization. Kullervo vows to gain revenge on Untamo and massacres Untamo’s tribe, killing each member. He returns home to find the rest of his family dead and finally kills himself in the spot where he seduced his sister. The character of Kullervo was the main inspiration for Túrin Turambar in The Silmarillion.


There are a handful of other parallels. The hero Väinämöinen likely provided inspiration for the characters of Gandalf and Tom Bombadil, particularly the latter.[3] Tom Bombadil is as old as creation itself, and his gift of song gives him magical powers. The magical properties of singing also feature in The Silmarillion when Finrod and Sauron duel through song and when Lúthien sings Morgoth to sleep (as when Väinämöinen sings the people of Pohjola to sleep). Ilmarinen likely inspired the character of Fëanor, creator of the Silmarils.[4] The Silmarils are much like the Sampo in nature, and the quest to retrieve them parallels the heroes’ quest to capture the Sampo.

The animism that pervades Tolkien’s mythology (as when Caradhras “the Cruel” attempts to sabotage the Fellowship’s journey or when the stones of Eregion speak of the Elves who once lived there) also hearkens back to the Kalevala, in which trees, hills, swords, and even beer possess consciousness.

For Tolkien, the appeal of the Kalevala lay in its “weird tales” and “sorceries,” which to him evinced a “very primitive undergrowth that the literature of Europe has on the whole been steadily cutting away and reducing for many centuries . . . .” He continues: “I would that we had more of it left — something of the same sort that belonged to the English . . . .”[5]

The desire to create a national mythology for England in the vein of Lönnrot’s Kalevala was the impetus behind Tolkien’s own legendarium. Not unlike Lönnrot, he envisioned himself as a collector of ancient stories whose role it was to craft an epic that would capture the spirit of the nation. He writes in a letter:

. . . I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil), not of the quality that I sought, and found (as an ingredient) in legends of other lands. There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish (which greatly affected me); but nothing in English . . . . I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and the cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story — the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths — which I could dedicate simply to England; to my country . . . . The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.[6]

Tolkien had England in mind, but his mythology is one that all whites can unite around, in the same manner that the races of the Fellowship united to save Middle-earth. The heroic and racialist themes in Tolkien’s mythology are readily apparent, and the fight against the forces of evil parallels the current struggle.


The role of the Kalevala in Finland’s fight for independence attests to the revolutionary potential of literature and art. Tolkien’s mythology offers rich material from which to draw and indeed has already inspired many works of art, music, literature, etc., as Tolkien himself hoped.[7] Perhaps the revolution will be led by Tolkien fans.


1. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Story of Kullervo, ed. Verlyn Flieger (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), 52.

2. Ibid., 136.

3. Gandalf’s departure to Valinor also brings to mind when Väinämöinen sails away to a realm located in “the upper reaches of the world, the lower reaches of the heavens” at the end of the Kalevala.

4. Ilmarin, the domed palace of Manwë and Varda, is another possible allusion to Ilmarinen, who created the dome of the sky. The region of the stars and celestial bodies in Tolkien’s cosmology is called Ilmen (“ilma” means “air” in Finnish). Eru Ilúvatar also recalls Ilmatar (an ancient “air spirit” and the mother of Väinämöinen).

5. The Story of Kullervo, 105. This comes from his revised essay, which was written sometime in the late 1910s or early 20s.

6. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981), 144.

7. Here could be the place to note that a major exhibit of Tolkien’s papers, illustrations, and maps recently opened in Oxford and will soon be accompanied by a book (Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth).


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2018/07/tolkien-and-the-kalevala/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/jrr-tolkien1.jpeg

[2] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Museum.png

dimanche, 22 avril 2018

«Orwell reprochait à la gauche petite bourgeoise son mépris implicite des classes populaires»


«Orwell reprochait à la gauche petite bourgeoise son mépris implicite des classes populaires»

Entretien avec Kévin Boucaud-Victoire, auteur d'un ouvrage sur George Orwell

Propos recueillis par 

Ex: http://www.lefigaro.fr

FIGAROVOX/GRAND ENTRETIEN - Kévin Boucaud-Victoire présente dans un essai passionnant les multiples facettes de l'oeuvre de George Orwell.

Kévin Boucaud-Victoire est journaliste et essayiste. Il vient de publier Orwell, écrivain des gens ordinaires (Première Partie, 2018).


FIGAROVOX.- Vous consacrez un petit essai à George Orwell. Celui-ci est souvent résumé à ses deux classiques: La Ferme des animaux (1945) et 1984 (1949). Est-ce réducteur? Pour vous, Orwell est le plus grand écrivain politique du XXe siècle. Pourquoi?

Kévin BOUCAUD-VICTOIRE.- George Orwell reste prisonnier de ses deux derniers grands romans. Il faut dire qu'avant La Ferme des animaux, l'écrivain a connu échec sur échec depuis 1933 et la sortie de Dans la dèche à Paris et à Londres. Il y a plusieurs raisons à cela. Déjà, Orwell tâtonne pour trouver son style, et bien qu'intéressants, ses premiers écrits sont parfois un peu brouillons. Ensuite ses deux premiers grands essais politiques, Le quai de Wigan (1937) et Hommage à la Catalogne (1938) sont très subversifs. La seconde partie du premier est une critique impitoyable de son camp politique. Il reproche à la gauche petite bourgeoise son mépris implicite des classes populaires, son intellectualisme et son idolâtrie du progrès. Au point que son éditeur Victor Gollancz ne voulait au départ pas publier le livre d'Orwell avec cette partie, qu'il ne lui avait pas commandée. Hommage à la Catalogne dénonce le rôle des communistes espagnols durant la révolution de 1936. Il est alors victime d'une intense campagne pour le discréditer et doit changer d'éditeur pour le publier. À sa mort en 1950, les 1 500 ouvrages imprimés ne sont pas écoulés. Il a d'ailleurs aussi beaucoup de mal à faire publier La Ferme des animaux au départ. Ces deux ouvrages essentiels sont encore trop mal connus aujourd'hui. Je ne parle même pas de ses nombreux articles ou petits essais qui précisent sa pensée ou Un peu d'air frais, mon roman préféré d'Orwell, publié en 1939.

Sinon, l'Anglais a voulu faire de l'écriture politique une nouvelle forme d'art, à la fois esthétique, simple et compréhensible de tous. Aucun roman selon moi n'a eu au XXe siècle l'impact politique de 1984 et La Ferme des animaux. C'est ce qui explique qu'il a été ensuite, et très tôt après sa mort, récupéré par tout le monde, même ceux qu'il considérait comme ses adversaires politiques.

Vous jugez que l'utilisation qui est faite d'Orwell est une récupération politique?

Tout le monde est orwellien !

«Tout ce que j'ai écrit de sérieux depuis 1936, chaque mot, chaque ligne, a été écrit, directement ou indirectement, contre le totalitarisme et pour le socialisme démocratique tel que je le conçois», écrit en 1946 Orwell dans un court essai intitulé Pourquoi j'écris? Mais il a surtout été connu pour ses deux romans qui attaquent frontalement le totalitarisme. À partir de là, libéraux et conservateurs avaient un boulevard pour le récupérer. Ainsi, en pleine guerre froide, la CIA a produit une bande-dessinée et un dessin-animé de La Ferme des animaux, parfois en déformant légèrement son propos, diffusés un peu partout dans le monde. L'objectif était alors de stopper l'avancée du communisme dans le monde.

Depuis quelques années, «Orwell est invité à toutes les tables», comme l'explique le journaliste Robin Verner dans un excellent article pour Slate.fr. De l'essayiste Laurent Obertone à l'ENA, tout le monde est orwellien! Les récupérations ne sont pas que l'œuvre de la droite. Ainsi, depuis deux ou trois ans, Laurent Joffrin, directeur de la rédaction de Libération, s'est fait le héraut de la réhabilitation d'un Orwell de gauche. Pourtant, il a tout du prototype de la gauche petite bourgeoise sur laquelle a vomi l'écrivain dans Le Quai de Wigan, particulièrement dans les chapitres X à XIII.

Mais si Orwell est aussi récupérable c'est parce que la vérité était pour lui prioritaire, plus que l'esprit de camp politique. «L'argument selon lequel il ne faudrait pas dire certaines vérités, car cela “ferait le jeu de” telle ou telle force sinistre est malhonnête, en ce sens que les gens n'y ont recours que lorsque cela leur convient personnellement», écrit-il. «La liberté, c'est la liberté de dire que deux et deux font quatre. Lorsque cela est accordé, le reste suit», pouvons-nous lire aussi dans 1984. Après, je ne fais pas parler les morts, mais je doute qu'Orwell se serait insurgé contre le fait d'être cité par des adversaires politiques, lui qui avait des amis conservateurs ou libéraux.

Orwell n'est donc ni conservateur, ni socialiste?

On peut déjà relever qu'à partir de 1936, il s'est réclamé du socialisme démocratique plus d'une fois dans ses écrits. Malgré des penchants parfois conservateurs, il a aussi récusé appartenir à ce camp. Il écrit dans Le lion et la licorne, son deuxième plus grand essai politique, que son patriotisme «n'a rien à voir avec le conservatisme. Bien au contraire, il s'y oppose, puisqu'il est essentiellement une fidélité à une réalité sans cesse changeante et que l'on sent pourtant mystiquement identique à elle-même».

Orwell est un socialiste qui apprécie les traditions, se veut patriote, anti-progressiste et très démocrate !

Effectivement, Orwell est très complexe et un peu inclassable. «Trop égalitariste et révolutionnaire pour être social-démocrate ou travailliste, mais trop démocrate et antitotalitaire pour être communiste ; trop lucide sur la réalité des rapports de force entre les hommes et entre les États pour être anarchiste, mais trop confiant dans la droiture et dans le refus de l'injustice parmi les gens ordinaires pour basculer comme tant d'autres dans le pessimisme conservateur», écrit Jean-Jacques Rosat, un des grands connaisseurs actuels de l'écrivain. Mais pour lui, «le véritable socialiste est celui qui souhaite - activement, et non à titre de simple vœu pieux - le renversement de la tyrannie» (Le Quai de Wigan) et c'est comme cela qu'il se définit. Mais c'est un socialiste qui apprécie les traditions, se veut patriote, anti-progressiste et très démocrate!


Le philosophe Jean-Claude Michéa voit en lui un anarchiste conservateur. Partagez-vous cette définition?

En fait Orwell a utilisé cette formule, volontairement provocante, pour parler de lui jeune, quand il n'était pas encore politisé. Mais ensuite il ne s'est plus déclaré que socialiste. En fait, si Michéa a popularisé cette expression, il l'a reprise de Simon Leys, sinologue belge, deuxième biographe le plus important de l'Anglais, décédé en 2014. Leys explique dans Orwell ou l'horreur de la politique que si Orwell est socialiste, «anarchiste conservateur» est «certainement la meilleure définition de son tempérament politique». Ça peut sûrement sembler compliqué à première vue.

Dans Le Complexe d'Orphée, Michéa explique qu'il faut distinguer une pensée construite d'un tempérament politique, sorte d'inclination naturelle. Ainsi, il explique que le tempérament d'Orwell combine un «sentiment légitime qu'il existe, dans l'héritage plurimillénaire des sociétés humaines, un certain nombre d'acquis essentiels à préserver», avec «un sens aigu de l'autonomie individuelle (ou collective) et avec une méfiance a priori envers toutes les relations de pouvoir (à commencer, si possible, par celles que l'on serait tenté d'exercer soi-même).» Je pense qu'il est difficile de mieux décrire Orwell. J'ajouterais que l'un des intérêts de l'expression «anarchiste conservateur» se trouve dans son potentiel polémique: accoler l'adjectif «conservateur» à un intellectuel de gauche, rien de tel pour heurter les belles âmes.

Le professeur de philosophie Jean-Jacques Rosat conteste cette définition. Pourquoi?

Il y a en effet une petite querelle chez les orwelliens à ce sujet. En effet, d'un côté, il y a l'école Leys, Michéa, ou encore François Bordes qui qualifie Orwell de socialiste et d'anarchiste conservateur ou «anarchiste tory» en V.O. De l'autre il y a celle de Rosat et plus largement Agone, qui récuse le dernier terme. En 2006, dans sa préface à la traduction française de La politique selon Orwell de John Newsinger, Rosat accuse Leys et Michéa de fausser la compréhension d'Orwell. En 2011, il publie dans une revue d'Agone dédiée à l'écrivain anglais un article intitulé «Ni anarchiste ni tory: Orwell et “la révolte intellectuelle”».

Dans cet article très intéressant, il explique qu'à partir de 1936, Orwell n'utilise le terme que pour qualifier Jonathan Swift, écrivain qu'il admire, mais dont il s'oppose aux idées. Rosat rappelle qu'Orwell reproche à Swift d'être «un anarchiste tory, qui méprise l'autorité sans croire à la liberté, et qui défend une conception aristocratique tout en voyant bien que l'aristocratie de son époque est dégénérée et méprisable.» Le philosophe français rappelle que l'Anglais est bel et bien un socialiste. Pour lui, le définir comme anarchiste conservateur a deux conséquences néfastes. Cela le condamne «à être un penseur irrémédiablement incohérent, un penseur qui cache derrière une façade socialiste une attitude politique profondément différente.» Enfin, «si Orwell est fondamentalement un conservateur, tant comme homme que comme penseur, alors la gauche et l'extrême gauche ont eu raison d'avoir de forts soupçons à son égard dans le passé».

Il y a une compatibilité entre Orwell, farouche athée, et un christianisme radical c'est-à-dire qui va à la racine.

Alors que faut-il en penser? Déjà rappelons que Michéa écrit dans Le Complexe d'Orphée que Rosat a raison, si on reste sur le plan strictement politique. Il faut donc revenir à la distinction entre pensée construite et tempérament politique que j'évoquais plus haut. Pour trancher, je dirais que si Orwell est bel et bien un socialiste, le qualificatif d'anarchiste conservateur présente un intérêt essentiel pour comprendre ses positions qui peuvent surprendre dans son camp.

Vous n'hésitez pas à rapprocher Orwell de penseurs chrétiens comme Simone Weil, Bernanos ou Pasolini. Quels sont ses points communs avec ces derniers?

Pasolini n'était pas vraiment chrétien, puisque s'il appréciait l'Église catholique, il lui manquait la foi. Il y a aussi Chesterton, Orwell ayant été surnommé à ses débuts «le Chesterton de gauche». Mais effectivement, il y a une compatibilité entre Orwell, farouche athée, et un christianisme radical - c'est-à-dire qui va à la racine. Ces penseurs vont au bout de la logique des évangiles ou de l'épître de Jacques, en refusant la puissance de l'argent et la quête du pouvoir - la troisième tentation du Christ laisse entendre que le pouvoir terrestre appartient actuellement à Satan. D'ailleurs, cela me fait penser à Guy Debord, père du situationniste et athée militant, qui écrit dans une lettre: «Les catholiques extrémistes sont les seuls qui me paraissent sympathiques, Léon Bloy notamment.».

Pour être un peu plus précis, on retrouve chez eux ce tempérament anarchiste conservateur, que j'ai évoqué tout à l'heure. Il y a une remise en question radicale du capitalisme et du progrès. Ils sont aussi des précurseurs de l'écologie politique. Ce n'est pas pour rien qu'on retrouve Orwell, Weil et Pasolini dans Radicalité: 20 penseurs vraiment critiques (L'échappée, 2013), ainsi que dans Aux origines de la décroissance: 50 penseurs (L'échappée, Le Pas de côté et Ecosociété, 2017), en compagnie cette fois de Bernnaos et Chesterton. Enfin, ce sont des esprits libres, lucides sur les erreurs de leur camp. Orwell a critiqué le rôle des communistes durant la guerre d'Espagne, Weil certaines violences de ses camarades anarchistes et écrit une lettre à Bernanos, appartenant au camp d'en face, pour lui témoigner sa «très vive admiration». Bernanos a publié Les grands cimetières sous la Lune, un énorme pamphlet contre Franco, ses soutiens catholiques, et plus largement la droite. Pour finir, Pasolini n'a pas eu de mots assez durs pour les petits-bourgeois de gauche italiens, notamment en Mai 68. Autant de liberté intellectuelle et politique est assez rare aujourd'hui.


Vous voyez en lui un promoteur du «socialisme du vécu» et du «socialisme populaire». Quelles sont les spécificités de ces deux formes de socialisme?

Je rapproche le socialisme d'Orwell et celui de Simone Weil sur ce plan. En fait, je montre que ce ne sont pas les livres et la théorie qui ont converti Orwell au socialisme, mais ce qu'il a pu vivre, en Birmanie, dans les bas-fonds parisiens et londoniens qu'il a fréquentés, à Wigan, où il a côtoyé les ouvriers, et en Espagne. Il explique d'ailleurs qu'en Catalogne il a constaté que non seulement le socialisme était désirable, mais qu'il était en plus possible.

Orwell, comme Simone Weil, plaide pour que les socialistes partent du vécu des classes populaires.

Sinon, dans Le quai de Wigan, il affirme que «le mouvement socialiste a autre chose à faire que de se transformer en une association de matérialistes dialectiques ; ce qu'il doit être, c'est une ligue des opprimés contre les oppresseurs.» Pour lui, il doit accueillir «tous ceux qui courbent l'échine devant un patron ou frissonnent à l'idée du prochain loyer à payer». C'est en cela qu'il est vraiment populaire, alors qu'il constate que les socialistes appartiennent surtout à la classe moyenne éduquée. En fait, Orwell, comme Weil, plaide pour que les socialistes partent du vécu des classes populaires, qui ne se limitent pas qu'aux ouvriers, mais qui comprennent aussi les classes moyennes inférieures - des petits boutiquiers aux fonctionnaires -, en passant par les paysans.

Alors qu'en Europe la social-démocratie est en train de mourir pour cause de faillite idéologique, la pensée d'Orwell peut-elle inspirer une nouvelle gauche?

Je l'espère en tout cas. Sa critique du progrès par exemple me paraît essentielle. Il apparaît aujourd'hui évident que le progrès technique a «fait faillite», comme le disait Orwell, et n'a pas tenu ses promesses. Il a renforcé à la fois l'aliénation capitaliste et l'exploitation des classes populaires. «Si un homme ne peut prendre plaisir au retour du printemps, pourquoi devrait-il être heureux dans une Utopie qui circonscrit le travail? Que fera-t-il du temps de loisir que lui accordera la machine?», se demande Orwell dans «Quelques réflexions avec le crapaud ordinaire».

Son équilibre entre patriotisme et internationalisme me paraît aussi vital, quand la gauche s'est aujourd'hui parfois trop perdue dans un internationalisme abstrait, croyant que la nation renvoyait toujours aux heures les plus sombres. Ainsi, l'Anglais rappelle que «la théorie selon laquelle “les prolétaires n'ont pas de patrie” […] finit toujours par être absurde dans la pratique». La nation est le seul bien de ceux qui sont privés de tout et c'est aujourd'hui le seul cadre démocratique existant aujourd'hui. Enfin Orwell représente un socialisme qui reste radical, qui refuse à la fois de se compromettre dans l'autoritarisme, mais aussi avec le mode de production capitaliste, comme le PS depuis au moins 1983.

Comment expliquez-vous le succès de mouvement dits populistes auprès des «gens ordinaires»?

Le clivage gauche-droite ne fait plus recette.

C'est simple, le clivage gauche-droite ne fait plus recette. En France, comme à l'étranger, la gauche de gouvernement a oublié les classes populaires pour se concentrer sur les classes diplômées, plus progressistes et ouvertes, et les «minorités» - qui certes appartiennent souvent aux classes populaires, mais qui ne sont pas défendues comme telles mais comme des clients ou des consommateurs. La droite de son côté a souvent fait mine de défendre les classes populaires pour les trahir au pouvoir. Pourquoi les pauvres votent à droite et Pourquoi les riches votent à gauche, du journaliste Thomas Frank, donnent des clés très intéressantes pour comprendre.

À côté, la mondialisation néolibérale ne fonctionne plus. Les élites intellectuelles, politiques et économiques sont totalement déconnectées du peuple. Christopher Lasch, grand lecteur de George Orwell, le percevait déjà dans son livre-testament, La révolte des élites et la trahison des élites. Il expliquait que «les personnes qui se situent dans les 20 % supérieurs en termes de revenus», qui «contrôlent les flux internationaux d'argent et d'informations», «se définissent moins par leur idéologie que par leur mode de vie, qui les distingue, d'une manière de moins en moins équivoque, du reste de la population». Selon lui, ils n'acceptent plus «aucune des obligations que la citoyenneté dans une forme de cité sous-entend normalement», se sont «retirés de la vie commune et ne veulent plus payer pour ce qu'ils ont cessé d'utiliser».

Cette déconnexion est de plus en plus visible. En 2005, alors que presque tous les médias et les grands partis de gouvernement militent pour le «oui» au TCE, le «non» l'emporte. On a pu voir une vraie fracture sur les revenus et l'éducation dans le résultat du vote. La séquence qui suit est très intéressante, puisque le gouvernement de Nicolas Sarkozy et le parlement se sont ensuite assis sur cette décision démocratique en 2007. Les «mouvements populistes» capitalisent sur cette fracture et ce rejet des élites.

Ces derniers ne font-ils pas tout simplement preuve de davantage de «common decency» que les partis traditionnels?

Je n'en suis pas certain. Mais ils s'en servent en tout cas mieux. La droite dite «populiste» vante les valeurs populaires, souvent pour mieux les trahir. «Votez pour interdire l'avortement et vous aurez une bonne réduction de l'impôt sur le capital (…). Votez pour faire la nique à ces universitaires politiquement corrects et vous aurez la déréglementation de l'électricité (…). Votez pour résister au terrorisme et vous aurez la privatisation de la sécurité» écrit Thomas Frank dans Pourquoi les pauvres votent à droite? La victoire de Trump illustre parfaitement cette trahison constante. Le danger avec le populisme est qu'il utilise surtout le ressentiment - contre les immigrés ou les élites - que la «common decency», justement.

La droite dite « populiste » vante les valeurs populaires, souvent pour mieux les trahir.

Pourtant, je plaide bien pour un populisme, qui substituerait le clivage gauche/droite à un clivage peuple/élites ou classes populaires/oligarchie. Mais pour qu'il ait une chance de ne pas être juste un mouvement qui flatte les bas instincts populaires, il doit s'appuyer sur l'amour des classes populaires et l'empathie vis-à-vis de ce qu'elles vivent.

Orwell n'était-il pas avant tout un littéraire dont la particularité était justement de refuser toute forme d'idéologie et de pensée en système?

Tout à fait. Il se voulait d'abord écrivain. «Il me serait impossible d'écrire un livre, voire un article de revue de quelque importance, si cela ne représentait pas aussi pour moi une expérience esthétique», explique-t-il dans Pourquoi j'écris? Il se réfère bien plus à Swift, Dickens, London ou Wells qu'à Marx - qu'il n'a probablement jamais lu de première main - Engels ou Rosa Luxemburg. Cependant, il possédait une vraie pensée politique, non systémique, mais construite.

mercredi, 07 février 2018

Néo-totalitarisme: Huxley fait le point en 1957


Néo-totalitarisme: Huxley fait le point en 1957

Les carnets de Nicolas Bonnal

Nota : ce texte est long et dûment référencé. Il apparaîtra pessimiste à certains.

On est en 1957. Sputnik fait rêver les plus conditionnés, mais Aldous Huxley rappelle :

« En 1931, alors que j'écrivais Le Meilleur des Mondes, j'étais convaincu que le temps ne pressait pas encore. La société intégralement organisée, le système scientifique des castes, l'abolition du libre arbitre par conditionnement méthodique, la servitude rendue tolérable par des doses régulières de bonheur chimiquement provoqué, les dogmes orthodoxes enfoncés dans les cervelles pendant le -sommeil au moyen des cours de nuit, tout cela approchait; se réaliserait bien sûr, mais ni de mon vivant, ni même du vivant de mes petits-enfants. »

Il fait un constat après la guerre, comme Bertrand de Jouvenel :

« Vingt-sept ans plus tard, dans ce troisième quart du vingtième siècle après J-C. et bien longtemps avant la fin du premier siècle après F., je suis beaucoup moins optimiste que je l'étais en écrivant Le Meilleur des Mondes. Les prophéties faites en 1931 se réalisent bien plus tôt que je le pensais. L'intervalle béni entre trop de désordre et trop d'ordre n'a pas commencé et rien n'indique qu'il le fera jamais. En Occident, il est vrai, hommes et femmes jouissent encore dans une appréciable mesure de la liberté individuelle, mais même dans les pays qui ont une longue tradition de gouvernement démocratique cette liberté, voire le désir de la posséder, paraissent en déclin. Dans le reste du monde, elle a déjà disparu, ou elle est sur le point de le faire. Le cauchemar de l'organisation intégrale que j'avais situé dans le septième siècle après F. a surgi de lointains dont l'éloignement rassurait et nous guette maintenant au premier tournant. »

AH-MdM1.jpgLe communisme a facilement chuté partout finalement mais il a été remplacé parce que Debord nomme le spectaculaire intégré. Tocqueville déjà disait « qu’en démocratie on laisse le corps pour s’attaquer à l’âme. »

Le futur c’est la carotte plutôt que le bâton (cf. mes textes sur Tocqueville, Nietzsche ou le film Network) :

« A la lumière de ce que nous avons récemment appris sur le comportement animal en général et sur le comportement humain en particulier, il est devenu évident que le contrôle par répression des attitudes non conformes est moins efficace, au bout du compte, que le contrôle par renforcement des attitudes satisfaisantes au moyen de récompenses et que, dans l'ensemble, la terreur en tant que procédé de gouvernement rend moins bien que la manipulation non violente du milieu, des pensées et des sentiments de l'individu. »

La manipulation est donc à l’ordre du jour :

« Pendant ce temps, des forces impersonnelles sur lesquelles nous n'avons presque aucun contrôle semblent nous pousser tous dans la direction du cauchemar de mon anticipation et cette impulsion déshumanisée est sciemment accélérée par les représentants d'organisations commerciales et politiques qui ont mis au point nombre de nouvelles techniques pour manipuler, dans l'intérêt de quelque minorité, les pensées et les sentiments des masses. »

La clé du système est son renforcement par la démographie explosive :

« De plus, l'accroissement annuel lui-même s'accroît : régulièrement, selon la règle des intérêts composés et irrégulièrement aussi, à chaque application, par une société technologiquement retardataire, des principes de la Santé publique. A l'heure présente, cet excédent atteint 43 millions environ pour l'ensemble du globe, ce qui signifie que tous les quatre ans l'humanité ajoute à ses effectifs l'équivalent de la population actuelle des Etats-Unis - tous les huit ans et demi l'équivalent de la population actuelle des Indes. »

Huxley remet à sa place les blablas sur la pseudo-conquête spatiale :

« Une nouvelle ère est censée avoir commencé le 4 octobre 1957, mais en réalité, dans l'état présent du monde, tout notre exubérant bavardage post-spoutnik est hors de propos, voire même absurde. En ce qui concerne les masses de l'humanité, l'âge qui vient ne sera pas celui de l'Espace cosmique, mais celui de la surpopulation. »

Conséquence ? Les « trous à merde » de Donald :

« Les faits contrôlables semblent indiquer assez nettement que dans la plupart des pays sous-développés, le sort de l'individu s'est détérioré de façon appréciable au cours du dernier demi-siècle. Les habitants sont plus mal nourris; il existe moins de biens de consommation disponibles par tête et pratiquement tous les efforts faits pour améliorer la situation ont été annulés par l'impitoyable pression d'un accroissement continu de la population. »

Le « plus froid des monstres froids » (Nietzsche) va se développer. Une remarque digne de Jouvenel :

« Ainsi, des pouvoirs de plus en plus grands sont concentrés entre les mains de l'exécutif et de ses bureaucrates. Or, la nature du pouvoir est telle que même ceux qui ne l'ont pas recherché mais à qui il a été imposé, ont tendance à y prendre goût… »

Le Deep State (le « minotaure » de Jouvenel) est condamné à croître avec le totalitarisme dans les pays en voie de surpeuplement :

« Insécurité et agitation mènent à un contrôle accru exercé par les gouvernements centraux et à une extension de leurs pouvoirs. En l'absence d'une tradition constitutionnelle, ces pouvoirs accrus seront probablement exercés de manière dictatoriale. »

AH-TF2.jpgLa surpopulation américaine menacera la démocratie américaine (triplement en un siècle ! La France a crû de 40% en cinquante ans) :

« Pour le moment, la surpopulation ne constitue pas pour la liberté individuelle des Américains un danger direct, mais déjà la menace d'une menace. »

Eugéniste, proche de Carrel ici, Huxley annonce un déclin qualitatif de notre population et de notre intelligence, fait aujourd’hui reconnu :

« Malgré les nouvelles drogues-miracle et des traitements plus efficaces (on peut même dire en un certain sens, grâce à eux), la santé physique de la masse ne s'améliorera pas, au contraire, et un déclin de l'intelligence moyenne pourrait bien accompagner cette détérioration. »

Huxley critique froidement les progrès de la médecine (ou leur mauvaise gestion) :

« La mort rapide due à la malaria a été supprimée, mais une existence rendue misérable par la sous-alimentation et le surpeuplement est main- tenant la règle et une mort lente, par inanition, guette un nombre de plus en plus grand d'habitants. »

Huxley ici reprend Bernays sur la montée des élites :

« Nous voyons donc que la technique moderne a conduit à la concentration du pouvoir économique et politique ainsi qu'au développement d'une société contrôlée (avec férocité dans les Etats totalitaires, courtoisie et discrétion dans les démocraties) par les Grosses Affaires et les Gros Gouvernements. »

Notre auteur cite Fromm :

« …Notre société tend à faire de lui un automate qui paie son échec sur le plan humain par des maladies mentales toujours plus fréquentes et un désespoir qui se dissimule sous une frénésie de travail et de prétendu plaisir. »

Puis Huxley évalue la nullité des hommes modernes et par là se rapproche de René Guénon (voyez l’anonymat dans le règne de la quantité) :

« Ces millions d'anormalement normaux vivent sans histoires dans une société dont ils ne s'accommoderaient pas s'ils étaient pleinement humains et s'accrochent encore à « l'illusion de l'individualité », mais en fait, ils ont été dans une large mesure dépersonnalisés. Leur conformité évolue vers l'uniformité. »

Le futur est à la termitière :

« La civilisation este entre autres choses, le processus par lequel les bandes primitives sont transformées en un équivalent, grossier et mécanique, des communautés organiques d'insectes sociaux. A l'heure présente, les pressions du surpeuplement et de l'évolution technique accélèrent ce mouvement. La termitière en est arrivée à représenter un idéal réalisable et même, aux yeux de certains, souhaitable. »

Termitière ? Plus effrayant encore ce passage – car tous les mots sont rentrés dans notre lexique :

« Ainsi que l'a montré Mr. William Whyte dans son remarquable ouvrage, The Organization man, une nouvelle Morale Sociale est en train de remplacer notre système traditionnel qui donne la première place à l'individu. Les mots clefs en sont : « ajustement », « adaptation », « comportement social ou antisocial », « intégration », « acquisition de techniques sociales », « travail d'équipe », « vie communautaire », « loyalisme communautaire », « dynamique communautaire », « pensée communautaire », « activités créatrices communautaires »…

Car l’ingénierie sociale c’est la fin du christianisme et même du Christ :

« Selon la Morale Sociale, Jésus avait complètement tort quand il affirmait que le sabbat a été fait pour l'homme pour l'homme; au contraire, c'est l'homme qui. a été fait pour le sabbat, qui doit sacrifier ses particularités natives et faire semblant d'être la sorte de bon garçon invariablement liant que les organisateurs d'activités collectives considèrent comme le plus propre à leurs fins. »

En bon patricien britannique (voyez mon livre sur Tolkien, mes essais sur Chesterton), Huxley refuse cet assemblage :

« Un gouffre immense sépare l'insecte social du mammifère avec son gros cerveau, son instinct grégaire très mitigé et ce gouffre demeurerait, même si l'éléphant s'efforçait d'imiter la fourmi. Malgré tous leurs efforts, les hommes ne peuvent que créer une organisation et non pas un organisme social. En s'acharnant à réaliser ce dernier, ils parviendront tout juste à un despotisme totalitaire. »

Le futur indolore de la domination est programmé :

« Dans les dictatures plus efficaces de demain, il y aura sans doute beaucoup moins de force déployée. Les sujets des tyrans à venir seront enrégimentés sans douleur par un corps d'ingénieurs sociaux hautement qualifiés. »

AH-RMdM3.jpgDix ans avant Umberto Eco (voyez mon livre sur Internet), Huxley annonce un nouveau moyen âge, pas celui de Guénon bien sûr, celui de Le Goff plutôt :

« Les forces impersonnelles du surpeuplement et de l'excès d'organisation jointes aux ingénieurs sociologues qui essaient de les diriger, nous poussent vers un nouveau système médiéval. »

Huxley annonce la propagande à venir en occident :

« La propagande pour une action dictée par des impulsions plus basses que l'intérêt présente des preuves forgées, falsifiées, ou tronquées, évite les arguments logiques et cherche à influencer ses victimes par la simple répétition de slogans, la furieuse dénonciation de boucs émissaires étrangers ou nationaux, et l'association machiavélique des passions les plus viles aux idéaux les plus élevés… »

Huxley méprise la liberté de la presse en rappelant ce simple fait :

« En ce qui concerne la propagande, les premiers partisans de l'instruction obligatoire et d'une presse libre ne l'envisageaient que sous deux aspects : vraie ou fausse. Ils ne prévoyaient pas ce qui, en fait, s'est produit- le développement d'une immense industrie de l'information, ne s'occupant dans l'ensemble ni du vrai, ni du faux, mais de l'irréel et de l'inconséquent à tous les degrés. En un mot, ils n'avaient pas tenu compte de la fringale de distraction éprouvée par les hommes. »

On retombe dans le pain et les jeux de Juvénal :

« Pour trouver une situation comparable, fût-ce de loin, à celle qui existe actuellement, il nous faut remonter jusqu'à la Rome impériale, où la populace était maintenue dans la bonne humeur grâce à des doses fréquentes et gratuites des distractions les plus variées, allant des drames en vers aux combats de gladiateurs, des récitations de Virgile aux séances de pugilat, des concerts aux revues militaires et aux exécutions publiques. Mais même à Rome, il n'existait rien de semblable aux distractions ininterrompues fournies par les journaux, les revues, la radio, la télévision et le cinéma. »

Une prédiction (prédiction ou constatation ?) terrible :

« Une société dont la plupart des membres passent une grande partie de leur temps, non pas dans l'immédiat et l'avenir prévisible, mais quelque part dans les autres mondes inconséquents du sport, des feuilletons, de la mythologie et de la fantaisie métaphysique, aura bien du mal à résister aux empiétements de ceux qui voudraient la manipuler et la dominer. »

Le futur est à la « distraction ininterrompue » qui se mêlera à la propagande.

Huxley cite Albert Speer. Après Hitler on n’a pas arrêté le progrès.

« Depuis l'époque de Hitler, l'arsenal des moyens techniques à la disposition de l'aspirant-dictateur a été considérablement développé! En plus de la radio, du haut-parleur, de la caméra de cinéma et de la presse rotative, le propagandiste contemporain peut faire usage de la télévision pour transmettre non seulement la voix, mais l'image de son client et enregistrer le tout sur des bandes magnétiques. Grâce aux progrès techniques, le Grand Frère peut maintenant être omniprésent presque autant que Dieu. D'ailleurs, il n'y a pas que dans ce domaine que des atouts nouveaux ont été apportés au jeu du dictateur. Depuis Hitler, des travaux considérables ont été faits en psychologie et neurologie appliquées, domaines d'élection du propagandiste, de l'endoctrineur, et du laveur de cerveaux. »

Puis Huxley compare Hitler à Bernays, l’inventeur de la cigarette pour les femmes :

« C'est par la manipulation de « forces cachées » que les experts en publicité vous incitent à acheter leurs produits - une pâte dentifrice, une marque de cigarettes, un candidat politique - et c'est en faisant appel aux mêmes, ainsi qu'à d'autres trop dangereuses pour que s'y frotte Madison Avenue, que Hitler a incité les masses allemandes à s'acheter un Führer, une philosophie insane et une Deuxième Guerre mondiale. »

Après Hitler, la publicité commerciale. Huxley cite Vance Packard et ajoute :

« Nous n'achetons plus des oranges, mais de la vitalité. Nous n'achetons plus une voiture, mais du prestige. » Il en est de même pour tout le reste. Avec un dentifrice, nous achetons non plus un simple détersif antiseptique, mais la libération d'une angoisse : celle d'être sexuellement repoussant. Avec la vodka et le whisky, nous n'achetons pas un poison protoplasmique qui, à doses faibles, peut déprimer le système nerveux de manière utile au point de vue psychologique, nous achetons de l'amabilité, du liant, la chaleur… Avec l'ouvrage à succès du mois, nous acquérons de la culture, l'envie de nos voisins moins intellectuels et le respect des raffinés. »

AH-PP4.jpgHuxley n’est pas très optimise non plus sur l’avenir des enfants mués en de la chair à télé :

« Comme on pouvait s'y attendre, les jeunes sont extrêmement sensibles à la propagande. Ignorants du monde et de ses usages, ils sont absolument sans méfiance, leur esprit critique n'est pas encore développé, les plus petits n'ont pas atteint l'âge de raison et les plus âgés n'ont pas acquis l'expérience sur laquelle leur faculté de raisonnement nouvellement découverte pourrait s'exercer. En Europe, les conscrits étaient désignés sous le nom badin de « chair à canon ». Leurs petits frères et leurs petites sœurs sont maintenant devenus de la chair à radio et à télévision. Dans mon enfance, on nous apprenait à chanter de petites rengaines sans grand sens ou, dans les familles pieuses, des cantiques. Aujourd'hui, les petits gazouillent de la publicité chantée. »

Pas d’illusions sur les élections et la politique :

« Les partis mettent leurs candidats et leurs programmes sur le marché en utilisant les mêmes méthodes que le monde des affaires pour vendre ses produits… Les services de ventes politiques ne font appel qu'aux faiblesses de leurs électeurs, jamais à leur force latente. Ils se gardent bien d'éduquer les masses et de les mettre en mesure de se gouverner elles-mêmes, jugeant très suffisant de les manipuler et de les exploiter. »

Sur le lavage de cerveau pratiqué dans notre planète-prison, Huxley rappelle :

« Si le système nerveux central du chien peut être brisé, celui d'un prisonnier politique aussi. Il s'agit seulement d'appliquer les doses de tension voulues pendant le temps voulu. A la fin du traitement, l'interné sera dans un état de névrose ou d'hystérie tel qu'il avouera ce que ses geôliers voudront. »

Huxley explique pourquoi notre système de suggestibilité encourage le somnambulisme puis il rappelle tristement :

« L'efficacité de la propagande politique et religieuse dépend des méthodes employées et non pas des doctrines enseignées. Ces dernières peuvent être vraies ou fausses, saines ou pernicieuses, peu importe. Si l'endoctrinement est bien fait au stade voulu de l'épuisement nerveux, il réussira. »

Opiomanie ou toxicomanie ? Huxley rappelle ici le fameux soma de son roman :

« La ration de soma quotidienne était une garantie contre l'inquiétude personnelle, l'agitation sociale et la propagation d'idées subversives. Karl Marx déclarait que la religion était l'opium du peuple, mais dans le Meilleur des Mondes la situation se trouvait renversée : l'opium, ou plutôt le soma, était la religion du peuple. »

Huxley rappelle nos progrès en chimie du cerveau et il prophétise l’addiction américaine responsable aujourd’hui de dizaines de milliers de morts :

« …prenez le cas des barbituriques et des tranquillisants. Aux U.S.A., ces remèdes peuvent être obtenus avec une simple ordonnance de docteur, mais l'avidité du public américain pour quelque chose qui rendra un peu plus supportable la vie dans le milieu urbain et industriel est si grande, que les médecins ordonnent actuellement de ces spécialités au rythme de 48 millions de prescriptions par an. »

On contrôlera donc l’opposition politique par les tranquillisants !

« Les masses ne risqueront pas de créer la moindre difficulté à leur maître. Seulement, dans l'état actuel des choses, les tranquillisants peuvent empêcher certaines personnes de créer assez de difficulté, non seulement à leurs dirigeants, mais à elles-mêmes. »

On peut même gagner la guerre par les tranquillisants !

« Lors d'une récente conférence sur le méprobamate, à laquelle je participais, un éminent biochimiste proposa en riant que le gouvernement des U.S.A. envoyât gratuitement au peuple soviétique 50 milliards de doses du plus populaire des tranquillisants. La plaisanterie avait son côté inquiétant. »

Chez Huxley comme chez La Boétie le fond du problème n’est pas la malignité de la science ou des élites sinon la médiocrité de la nature humaine démontrée ici par la science...

« Les idéaux de la démocratie et de la liberté se heurtent au fait brutal de la suggestibilité humaine. Un cinquième de tous les électeurs peut être hypnotisé presque en un clin d'œil, un septième soulagé de ses souffrances par des piqûres d'eau, un quart suggestionné avec rapidité et dans l'enthousiasme par I'hypnopédie. A toutes ces minorités trop promptes à coopérer, on doit ajouter les majorités aux réactions moins rapides dont la suggestibilité plus modérée peut être exploitée par n'importe quel manipulateur connaissant son affaire, prêt à y consacrer le temps et les efforts nécessaires. »

AH-J5.jpgQuant au futur, no comment :

« La liberté individuelle est-elle compatible avec un degré élevé de suggestibilité? Les institutions démocratiques peuvent-elles survivre à la subversion exercée du dedans par des spécialistes habiles dans la science et l'art d'exploiter la suggestibilité à la fois des individus et des foules? »

Il reste que le futur, en 1957, c’est aussi, c’est surtout cent millions de couillonnes sur Instagram admirant et imitant Kylie Jenner. Huxley :

« Et l'uniformisation des êtres était encore parachevée après la naissance par le conditionnement infantile, l'hypnopédie et l'euphorie chimique destinée à remplacer la satisfaction de se sentir libre et créateur. Dans le monde où nous vivons, ainsi qu'il a été indiqué dans des chapitres précédents, d'immenses forces impersonnelles tendent vers l'établissement d'un pouvoir centralisé et d'une société enrégimentée. La standardisation génétique est encore impossible, mais les Gros Gouvernements et les Grosses Affaires possèdent déjà, ou posséderont bientôt, tous les procédés pour la manipulation des esprits décrits dans Le Meilleur des Mondes, avec bien d'autres que mon manque d'imagination m'a empêché d'inventer. »

Le monde une prison, conclue Hamlet avec Rosencrantz et Guildenstern.

Huxley poursuit cruellement par les banalités d’usage sur l’éducation qui nous rendrait résistant :

« Si nous voulons éviter ce genre de tyrannie, il faut que nous commencions sans délai notre éducation et celle de nos enfants pour nous rendre aptes à être libres et à nous gouverner nous-mêmes. »

Cette éducation (cf. la chasse aux fake news) peut aisément être recyclée en ce que l’on sait !

Il rappelle ce truisme :

« Les effets d'une propagande mensongère et pernicieuse ne peuvent être neutralisés que par une solide préparation à l'art d'analyser ses méthodes et de percer à jour ses sophismes. »

Huxley rappelle à temps que personne ne veut de contre-propagande !

« Et pourtant, nulle part on n'enseigne aux enfants une méthode systématique pour faire le départ entre le vrai et le faux, une affirmation sensée et une autre qui ne l'est pas. Pourquoi? Parce que leurs aînés, même dans les pays démocratiques, ne veulent pas qu'ils reçoivent ce genre d'instruction. Dans ce contexte, la brève et triste histoire de l'Institute for Propaganda Analysis est terriblement révélatrice. Il avait été fondé en 1937, alors que la propagande nazie faisait le plus de bruit et de ravages, par Mr. Filene, philanthrope de la Nouvelle-Angleterre. Sous ses auspices, on pratiqua la dissection des méthodes de propagande non rationnelle et l'on prépara plusieurs textes pour l'instruction des lycéens et des étudiants. Puis vint la guerre, une guerre totale, sur tous les fronts, celui des idées au moins autant que celui des corps. Alors que tous les gouvernements alliés se lançaient dans “la guerre psychologique”, cette insistance sur la nécessité de disséquer la propagande sembla quelque peu dépourvue de tact. L'Institut fut fermé en 1941. »

Huxley rappelle les raisons de cette timidité :

« L'examen trop critique par trop de citoyens moyens de ce que disent leurs pasteurs et maîtres pourrait s'avérer profondément subversif. Dans sa forme actuelle, l'ordre social dépend, pour continuer d'exister, de l'acceptation, sans trop de questions embarrassantes, de la propagande mise en circulation par les autorités et de celle qui est consacrée par les traditions locales. »

AH-Dm6.jpgDans son maigre énoncé des solutions (il n’en a pas), Huxley évoque alors la prison sans barreau (the painless concentration camp, expression mise en doute par certains pro-systèmes !) :

« Il est parfaitement possible qu'un homme soit hors de prison sans être libre, à l'abri de toute contrainte matérielle et pourtant captif psychologiquement, obligé de penser, de sentir et d'agir comme le veulent les représentants de l'Etat ou de quelque intérêt privé à l'intérieur de la nation. »

Huxley recommande de protéger les lieux publics et la télévision. Or on ne peut protéger les lieux publics et la télévision qui ne sont là que pour vendre et pour puer : il faut donc les éviter. Si ton œil t’est objet de tentation…

Il note justement que « les formes libérales serviront simplement à masquer et à enjoliver un fond situé aux antipodes du libéralisme », et que le futur n’est guère plus joyeux que le présent de Bernays : « Entre-temps, l'oligarchie au pouvoir et son élite hautement qualifiée de soldats, de policiers, de fabricants de pensée, de manipulateurs mentaux mènera tout et tout le monde comme bon lui semblera. »

Sur notre futur monopolistique, Huxley ne se fait guère d’illusions (qui s’en fait encore ?) :

« Mais c'est un fait historique aujourd'hui que les moyens de production sont rapidement centralisés et monopolisés par les Grosses Affaires et les Gros Gouvernements. Par conséquent, si vous avez foi en la démocratie, prenez des mesures pour distribuer les biens aussi largement que possible. »

Huxley, beaucoup moins méchant que ce que pensent pas mal d’antisystèmes, propose une solution de révolution médiévale digne de Chesterton et Belloc :

« Par conséquent, si vous souhaitez éviter l'appauvrissement spirituel des individus et de sociétés entières, quittez les grands centres et faites revivre les petites agglomérations rurales, ou encore humanisez la ville en créant à l'intérieur du réseau de son organisation mécanique, les équivalents urbains des petits centres ruraux où les individus peuvent se rencontrer et coopérer en qualité de personnalités complètes, et non pas comme de simples incarnations de fonctions spécialisées. »

Mais rien n’y fait (on est à l’époque du génial Mumford) :

« Nous savons que, pour la plupart de nos semblables, la vie dans une gigantesque ville moderne est anonyme, atomique, au-dessous du niveau humain, néanmoins les villes deviennent de plus en plus démesurées et le mode de vie urbano-industriel demeure inchangé. »

Huxley, qui finit par citer Dostoïevski et son grand inquisiteur, ne se fait guère d’illusions, sondages à l’appui :

« Aux U.S.A. - et l'Amérique est l'image prophétique de ce que sera le reste du monde urbano-industriel dans quelques années d'ici - des sondages récents de l'opinion publique ont révélé que la majorité des adolescents au-dessous de vingt ans, les votants de demain, ne croient pas aux institutions démocratiques, ne voient pas d'inconvénient à la censure des idées impopulaires, ne jugent pas possible le gouvernement du peuple par le peuple et s'estimeraient parfaitement satisfaits d'être gouvernés d'en haut par une oligarchie d'experts assortis, s'ils pouvaient continuer à vivre dans les conditions auxquelles une période de grande prospérité les a habitués. »

Les jeunes sont soumis, les ados sont pires que les autres, comme je l’ai constaté dans ma jeunesse et comme  le montrera le succès mondial de culture sexe, drogue, rock. Huxley :

« Que tant de jeunes spectateurs bien nourris de la télévision, dans la plus puissante démocratie du monde, soient si totalement indifférents à l'idée de se gouverner eux-mêmes, s'intéressent si peu à la liberté d'esprit et au droit d'opposition est navrant, mais assez peu surprenant. »

Il évoque les oiseaux (La Boétie évoquait les chiens) …

« Tout oiseau qui a appris à gratter une bonne pitance d'insectes et de vers sans être obligé de se servir de ses ailes renonce bien vite au privilège du vol et reste définitivement à terre. »

La suite est lyrique !

« Le cri de « Donnez-moi la télévision et des saucisses chaudes, mais ne m'assommez pas avec les responsabilités de l'indépendance », fera peut-être place, dans des circonstances différentes à celui de « La liberté ou la mort ».

Et le maître de conclure :

« Il semble qu'il n'y ait aucune raison valable pour qu'une dictature parfaitement scientifique soit jamais renversée. »

Demandez à Zuckerberg, à la NSA et à Monsanto ce qu’ils en pensent.

Sources complémentaires

Huxley – Le meilleur des mondes ; retour au meilleur des mondes (1957), sur archive.org

Nicolas Bonnal – Comment les peuples sont devenus jetables ; comment les Français sont morts ; la culture comme arme de destruction massive (Amazon.fr)

Umberto Eco – Vers un nouveau moyen âge (1972)

Bertrand de Jouvenel – Du Pouvoir (Pluriel)

Vince Packard – Hidden persuaders

Armand Mattelart – Histoire de l’utopie planétaire (la Découverte)

Chesterton – What I saw in America (Gutenberg.org)

Shakespeare – Mesure pour mesure ; Hamlet ; La tempête (inlibroveritas.net)

La Boétie – Sur la servitude volontaire (Wikisource)

Tocqueville – De la démocratie en Amérique (classiques.Uqac.ca)

Debord – Commentaires

mercredi, 31 janvier 2018

W.B. Yeats: Irish Revolutionary Conservative

“I do not appeal to the professional classes, who, in Ireland, at leastappear at no time to have thought of the affairs of their country till they first feared for their emoluments – nor do I appeal to the shoddy society of ‘West Britonism‘ – but to those young men clustered here and there throughout our landwhom the emotion of patriotism has lifted into that world of selfless passion in which heroic deeds are possible and heroic poetry credible.” – Ireland and the Arts. W.B. Yeats.

The political and cultural figures present in the early foundation of the Irish State present Irish liberals with some quandaries. Beneath the narrative of Irish independence being an inherently progressive movement betrayed by a post-Treaty “carnival of reaction”, lies an irreconcilable fact that the many of the figures driving separation from Britain belonged to a stridently conservative brand of thinking. Any budding conservative movement in Ireland should embrace these figures and cultivate a counter-narrative in response to the simplistic mistruths presented in works such as Ken Loach’s “Wind that Shakes the Barley”. Here, the Irish struggle is distilled down to a failed left wing revolt and those of a conservative inclination are portrayed as flagrantly unpatriotic and sometimes even at odds with Irish language revivalism.

The character of W.B. Yeats ranks perhaps first and foremost amongst those figures. Despite his Anglo-Irish background, he threw himself wholeheartedly behind not merely the political separation of his country from Britain, but the equally important task of forming a distinct Irish consciousness. First a political Tory committed to the cause of Irish freedom, he later became a reform-minded senator campaigning against the myopia of the Church-dominated Free State whilst simultaneously advocating for a more conservative state. Yeats, from the onset, strikes the modern reader as an enigma with his distinct brand of politics.

Yeats formed a central plank in what is now termed the Gaelic Revival, a cultural movement that emerged to fill the vacuum in Irish life after the fall of Parnell in 1891 with a yearning to revive the traditions and customs of Ireland in an increasingly anglicised world. In the minds of Yeats and fellow revivalists, Ireland was besieged under the weight of Anglo-American modernity. He recognised a state of affairs that could only be reversed by committed cultural nationalism in the fields of arts and education. Whilst officially apolitical, the Gaelic Revival would act as an incubator for most of the future revolutionaries who would eventually sever formal British rule in Ireland and nurture the early Free State.

ladygregory.jpgDespite cultural nativism being at its centre, Yeats’s Protestant background was shared by most of the leading figures of the movement. Among these were the Galway based aristocrat and folklorist Lady Gregory, whose Coole Park home formed the nerve centre of the movement, and the Rathfarnham born poet and playwright J.M. Synge, who later found solace in Irish peasant culture on the western seaboard as being a vestige of authentic Irish life amid a society of anglicisation. The poet’s identification with both the people and the very landscape of Ireland over the materialist England arose from his early childhood and formative experiences in Sligo, a period that would define him both as an artist as well as a man.

Yeats’s formal conversion to the cause of Irish separation came primarily through his relationship with the veteran Fenian John O’Leary, a minor member of the Young Irelanders. These were a group of mainly Trinity College based nationalists who split off from O’Connell’s Repeal movement. O’Leary had spent large tracts of his life in exile following the botched 1848 rebellion. Whilst abroad, he cultivated a distinctly cultured brand of Irish nationalism drawing not only on the recent traditions of the Young Irelanders but which also encompassed a wide range of influences stretching all the way back to classical antiquity. This form of nationalistic expression appealed very much to the twenty year old Yeats with its patriotic elements and emphasis on the individual in the shaping of history. Soon after his acquaintance with O’Leary, Yeats became a member of the fraternal organisation the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret oath bound group organised along semi-masonic lines counting the likes of Michael Collins and the leadership of the Easter Rising among their number and which played an often overlooked role in the securing of Irish freedom.

Whist being traditionally associated as a man of the right, Yeats did in fact rub shoulders with a group of left wing radicals in the form of the Socialist League, a bohemian group sympathetic to Irish nationalism and lead by the artist William Morris. The League attracted many Victorian artists to it’s ranks, including Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw. Though Yeats was sympathetic for a time to a form of socialism that would best promote the welfare of artists, he parted ways due to his disagreement with the “atheistic premises of Marxism” that the League embraced. Regardless of that, the League nurtured in Yeats a brand of politics that harboured respect for the individual within society, as well as furthering his disdain for the system of values of a decadent and increasingly mechanised England and the ascendant Catholic bourgeois in Ireland.

KOH.jpgDespite some apprehension about the nature of the Easter Rising, as well as a latent sense of guilt that his work had inspired a good deal of the violence, Yeats took a dignified place within the Irish Seanad. He immediately began to orientate the Free State towards his ideals with efforts made to craft a unique form of symbolism for the new State in the form of currency, the short lived Tailteann Games and provisions made to the arts. Despite his objection to anti-divorce legislation passed by the Free State and his defence of Republican prisoners, the writer Grattan Freyer details how the poet’s primary gripe with the new state was a failure to be sufficiently conservative, to cast off any trappings of liberalism inherited from England, and embrace some sort of aristocratic order (with Yeats no doubt playing a major role). In cabinet, he found minister Kevin O’Higgins (photo) as a potential ally and was so aghast at the young minister’s death at the hands of Republican gunmen that he penned his poem “Blood And The Moon” a defence not only of the ailing world of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy to which he belonged, but also to the poet’s brand of conservative politics.

Yeats very famously had a bumbling relationship with the Blueshirts Ireland’s proto-fascist movement, which was born out of Treatyite politics and disgruntled farmers’ anger at De Valera’s trade war with the UK. There appears even to have been a ham-fisted attempt by Yeats to fashion the Blueshirts in his image with what one would imagine to be humorous attempts made to lecture Blueshirt leader Eoin O’Duffy on finer points about Hegel by the Nobel laureate, who did still script several marching tunes for the movement. Yeats’ anti-communism fitted naturally with an already conservative outlook of life and with his Burkean understanding that any utopian vision regarding the perfection of man and the trampling down of supposedly oppressive hierarchies, rested not merely on flimsy axioms but on an inevitable mound of corpses. Regardless to the extent of his involvement with Irish fascism this was to be Yeats’ final venture into the world of politics, with the poet largely withdrawing into artistic solitude in his final years. He had left a considerable mark on the Irish state and Irish people as a whole, even if today, their primary understanding doesn’t go beyond the handful of traditionally learnt poems of the Leaving Cert.

In an era when the Irish appear to be jettisoning any form of national distinctness retained after 700 years of colonisation in favour of the bum deal of cosmopolitanism, and with conservatives driftless in the shadow of a fallen Church, the potential use of Yeats as a cultural icon is attractive. Within this dynamic figure we see a man motivated by a sheer love of one’s own country as well as a desire to see a newly independent Ireland fashioning an identity from the richness of her traditions. There is not an iota of doubt that the poet would find himself at home in the embryonic conservative movement embodied in a journal such as this, and in similar movements across the western world which are at odds with the current order of affairs.

We Irish, born into that ancient sect
But thrown upon this filthy modern tide
And by its formless spawning fury wrecked,
Climb to our proper dark, that we may trace
The lineaments of a plummet-measured face.”  -The Statues by W.B. Yeats

dimanche, 07 janvier 2018

Histoire et pouvoir: quand la fiction de "1984" devient la réalité


mardi, 21 novembre 2017

Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief


Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief

Evelyn Waugh (1903–1966) is probably best known today for Brideshead Revisited, his 1945 novel of fin-de-siècle longing and Catholic apologetics that has received both television and cinematic adaptations. He made his fame in the 1930s, however, by penning some of the most biting, satirical novels of the British upper class and its various hangers-on. Waugh was brutally honest about the inferiority of the Negro race and its incompatibility with Western civilization. In the world according to Waugh, wogs began in Calais, and the United States wasn’t far behind. Anglo-Saxon superiority was a given and prejudice (in the sense described by Robert Nisbet) kept the savages and the lower classes at bay. All this was done, though, with great wit and manners. Nowhere is Waugh’s satirical genius seen in better form than in his 1932 novel Black Mischief.

The novel begins with a civil war in the East African nation of Azania, a miserable typically corrupt African hell-hole whose current emperor is one Seth, a deluded ruler whose Anglophilia expresses itself in hare-brained progressivism and an affinity for ornate titles: “We, Seth, Emperor of Azania, Chief of the Chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas, Bachelor of the Arts of Oxford University,” etc. The native population of Azania on its own is unable to sustain any of the infrastructure or institutions of civil society. Seth’s advisor is an Indian, the head of the army is Irish, Armenians are tradesmen, Arabs are traders, Greeks tend to the engines of the Grand Chemin de Fer Imperial d’Azanie, Jews are money-lenders, and the clergy of the nominally Christian nation are Canadian, English, or American. Through a clever bit of subterfuge by General Connolly, the soldier of fortune commander of the Azanian Army, Seth ends up winning the civil war he had all but lost against his father, who, regrettably, is killed and eaten by the Azanian troops who do not understand the subtleties of the Geneva Convention. General Connolly has gone native and married an Azanian woman whom he affectionately calls Black Bitch.

EW-Bmis.jpgNews of Seth’s victory reaches London where Basil Seal, the ne’er-do-well son of the Conservative Whip and a classmate of Seth’s at Oxford, is recovering from a series of scandalous benders that have forced him to abandon his nascent political career. Desperately in need of money, Seal travels to Azania as a free-lance journalist. Within a short time of his arrival, Basil becomes Seth’s most trusted adviser and is put in charge of the Ministry of Modernization; in effect, Basil has become the real ruler of Azania since Seth spends his time immersed in catalogs and dreaming up more and more ridiculous “progressive” schemes for the betterment of Azanians, such as requiring all citizens to learn Esperanto. The natives who run the other departments are all too happy to refer all business to Basil.

Added to all this are the machinations of the British and French legations, the former of which is staffed by incompetents who have been sent to Azania where it is believed that they can do the least amount of damage. The French, however, are convinced that the British and the Americans are involved in grand espionage in order to shut out all French influence in the region. The situation is further complicated by Basil and Prudence, the daughter of the British envoy, falling in love and the wife of the French envoy engaging in an affair with General Connolly.

A new coup against Seth is plotted when his opponents discover that an aged brother of his grandfather is still alive who has a legitimate claim to the throne of Azania. Just as the coup is about to begin, two British ladies from an ASPCA type organization arrive to investigate allegations of animal cruelty. The natives mistakenly believe the ladies are there to promote animal cruelty, so they brag to them about how horribly they mistreat their farm animals. The coup takes place during a festival for birth control, another “progressive” scheme hatched by Seth who wants to promote sterility among his people. I will leave it up to the readers to discover on their own how the coup turns out, but I can report that the ending is unexpected, and if you’ve ever read Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus you might get a hint of what to expect.

Amazingly for a novel in which the nigger word [3] is so liberally used, Black Mischief is readily available on Amazon.

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2017/11/evelyn-waugh-black-mischief/

dimanche, 19 novembre 2017

Deux vidéos sur Aldous Huxley


Qui était Aldous Huxley ?

Une vie une oeuvre: Aldous Huxley

France Culture - Une vie une oeuvre : Aldous Huxley

mardi, 24 octobre 2017

Oscar Wilde in America


Oscar Wilde in America

Roy Morris, Jr.
Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013

Oscar Wilde arrived in America in January 1882 as a young man of 27. Over the course of the next eleven months he would travel 15,000 miles across the country, delivering a total of 140 lectures primarily on the English Renaissance, the Pre-Raphaelites, and the decorative arts. He encountered a motley cast of characters throughout his travels, ranging from politicians, reporters, and prominent literary figures to miners and cowboys out West. It was in the West that he found the audience most receptive to his ideas.


His lecture tour recalls the lyceum movement that flourished in the early nineteenth century, which entailed the establishment of hundreds of organizations across the country that sponsored public educational programs and provided venues for traveling lecturers and entertainers. Morris’s book chronicles each leg of Wilde’s tour in detail. The usual sequence of events that unfolded in each city upon his arrival lends itself to repetition, but the subject matter is interesting enough that the book remains engaging. It also benefits from the inclusion of a handful of Wilde’s characteristic witticisms (e.g., upon visiting Cincinnati he remarked: “I wonder no criminal has ever pleaded the ugliness of your city as an excuse for his crimes!”).

By 1882 Wilde had not yet distinguished himself as a playwright and poet (he had written only one play, almost never performed today, and a short poetry collection) but was already a figurehead of the Aesthetic Movement on account of his colorful personality and skill in self-promotion. He set off for America at the request of the English impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, who had produced Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience and wanted to promote the play in America by showcasing Wilde as a real-life Bunthorne who would familiarize Americans with aestheticism, which the play was meant to satirize. Wilde embraced the role and used it to his advantage. His flamboyant persona attracted the attention of Americans of all stripes, and his lectures regularly drew large crowds.

Wilde grew to be a polarizing figure who was both admired and reviled. As his fame increased he was invited to many social events, where his witty repartees made him a popular guest. Conversely he was often ridiculed in the press: the Chicago Tribune deemed him “a twittering sparrow come to fill his maw with insects” and the Washington Post printed a drawing of him beside a primitive-looking character, “Mr. Wild of Borneo,” suggesting that he represented a decline in human evolution (also inviting comparison to the “Wild Men of Borneo,” a pair of mentally retarded midgets who featured in P. T. Barnum’s freak shows). In Boston he was mocked by Harvard students and criticized by Henry James, who called him a “fatuous fool.” Wilde thrived on the controversy.

Overall he was greeted with the greatest enthusiasm not in the universities or salons of the Eastern cities, but in the West. Wilde likewise preferred the West to the East:

I am especially delighted with the West, it is so new and fresh, and the people are so generous and free from prejudice. In the older cities in the East, the people are enveloped in a perfect mist of prejudice, quite unlimited; they have imported so many Old World ideas, absurdities, and affectations, that they have lost all sincerity and naturalness.

The “prejudice” he mentions likely refers to ideas about class and social conventions. His criticism of such prejudices did not prevent him from disparaging Chinese art and tapping into anti-Chinese sentiment in San Francisco (though Chinatown intrigued him): “Don’t borrow any Chinese art, for you have no need of it any more than you have need of Chinese labor.” Wilde was popular in San Francisco and described it as his favorite American city.

Interestingly he also sympathized with Southerners, comparing their attempt to secede from the Union to Ireland’s struggle for independence. On his tour he encountered the Confederate general P. G. T. Beauregard, who showed him the sites of New Orleans, and Jefferson Davis himself, whom Wilde called “a man of the keenest intellect.”

But most interesting is Wilde’s encounter with silver miners in Leadville, Colorado. Leadville was notable for being one of the world’s largest silver camps as well as for being the hometown of John Baker “Texas Jack” Omohundro, a famous cowboy and friend of Buffalo Bill, and the outlaw Doc Holliday, who took part in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The town was the site of regular gunfights and Wilde brushed up on his shooting skills before arriving.

His first appearance in Leadville was at an opera house, where he lectured on Renaissance art to a fascinated audience. The author relates an anecdote: “After Wilde invoked the name of Renaissance goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, the miners wanted to know why Wilde hadn’t brought him along. When Wilde said that, regrettably, Cellini was dead, they wanted to know who had shot him.” Wilde was then taken to the depths of a silver mine, where he drank whiskey with the miners, who pronounced him “a bully boy with no glass eye” and gave him tips on silver mining.

Wilde’s persona as an effete dandy seems incompatible with the image of manly frontiersmen, but it is perhaps not surprising that his ideas resonated with the miners.

Oscar Wilde I have nothing to declare except my genius-8x6.jpg

In spite of his foppish appearance, Wilde was described as a man of a vigorous, hearty temperament who possessed a firm handshake and readily engaged in fistfights when challenged. Physically he was described as being six foot three, though thin, with broad shoulders and strong arms. He was an avid drinker and could outdrink most. (He also held realistic views regarding differences between the sexes that would be considered politically incorrect today.)

Moreover Wilde’s worldview was fundamentally anti-bourgeois. His devotion to beauty transcended economic and moral concerns. This led him to criticize the modern, capitalist conception of work, which he believed was inherently antithetical to the creative process. He believed that “a man’s work should be a joy to him” and that one should subordinate himself not to “work” but to higher ideals.

Wilde stated that the intent of his lecture tour in America was “to make art not a luxury for the rich but, as it should be, the most splendid of all the chords through which the spirit of any nation manifests its power.” His idea of a political utopia entailed liberating the working class from their slavery to machinery, which would grant them the opportunity to create art and reach their fullest potential. This was an era in which workers in both America and Britain endured terrible conditions, working long hours and receiving little pay. Thus Wilde was an egalitarian, though his beliefs bore scant resemblance to the leveling force of modern progressivism, as he believed that ultimately one should aspire to attain higher levels of being (the idea that absolute ideals, such as beauty, exist and that one should strive toward them runs counter to egalitarian relativism). The political system he envisioned was one that would enable each individual to pursue self-actualization, thereby ennobling the soul.

Wilde believed that this could be accomplished through future advances in technology:

Under proper conditions machinery will serve man . . . The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.[1]

The author notes that Wilde “sounds a little like Marx” in his essay on socialism (“The Soul of Man under Socialism”), but it would be more accurate to compare Wilde’s idea of socialism to the philosophy of Social Credit (apart from their very different approaches to private property) in that the Social Credit movement advocated the advancement of technology toward a similar end and proposed the idea of a “National Dividend” that would lend people the freedom to pursue artistic, intellectual, and spiritual endeavors.

Wilde’s views can be compared to those of William Morris, an English poet, painter, and textile designer associated with the Pre-Raphaelites (who in turn heavily influenced the Aesthetic Movement). Inspired by the workers’ guilds of the Middle Ages, Morris sought to restore dignity to work by promoting hand-craftsmanship and raising it to the level of art. Thus he came to reject the joint forces of modernity and capitalism.


The rugged individualism of the Wild West represented a similar rejection of bourgeois values. In the West, men were masters of their own fate. The notion of economic security was subordinated to the ideals of courage, adventurousness, and honor. Therefore the spirit of the frontier shared the same fundamental instinct as Wilde’s aestheticism. This also occurred to Wilde when he saw a sign in Leadville that read “Don’t shoot the pianist; he is doing his best” and was struck by the fact that in the Wild West, poor piano playing could be grounds for being shot. He declared that this was, in his words, “the only rational method of art criticism I have ever come across.”

Morris’s account of Wilde’s lecture tour in America also recalls an era in which artists and intellectuals engaged with the public on a much broader scale and assumed a level of public responsibility that one rarely finds among artists and intellectuals today. The tradition of the public intellectual remained a staple of American cultural life until it began to fizzle out by the latter half of the twentieth century. There are a number of reasons for this, from the increasing hyperspecialization of academia to the rapid growth of the Internet. But it can also be traced back to the contempt that most modern American intellectuals have for the majority of Americans. There is no bond that exists between them and the people because they entirely lack empathy for the common man. By contrast, Wilde was a populist: he hoped that “the masses [would] come to be the creators in art.” Modern leftists claim Wilde as one of their own but it is clear that were he alive today, his staunch populism and simultaneous aesthetic elitism (and his wit) would set him apart from the rest and perhaps would even render him a fellow traveler of the Right.


1. Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” 1891.



Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2017/10/oscar-wilde-in-america/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/DeclaringHisGenius.jpg

[2] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Oscar-Wilde-I-have-nothing-to-declare-except-my-genius-8x6.jpg

vendredi, 06 octobre 2017

George Orwell and the Cold War: A Reconsideration


George Orwell and the Cold War: A Reconsideration

[From Reflections on America, 1984: An Orwell Symposium. Ed. Robert Mulvihill. Athens and London, University of Georgia Press, 1986.]

In a recent and well-known article, Norman Podhoretz has attempted to conscript George Orwell into the ranks of neoconservative enthusiasts for the newly revitalized cold war with the Soviet Union.1If Orwell were alive today, this truly “Orwellian” distortion would afford him considerable wry amusement. It is my contention that the cold war, as pursued by the three superpowers of Nineteen Eighty-Four, was the key to their successful imposition of a totalitarian regime upon their subjects. We all know that Nineteen Eighty-Four was a brilliant and mordant attack on totalitarian trends in modern society, and it is also clear that Orwell was strongly opposed to communism and to the regime of the Soviet Union. But the crucial role of a perpetual cold war in the entrenchment of totalitarianism in Orwell’s “nightmare vision” of the world has been relatively neglected by writers and scholars.In Nineteen Eighty-Four there are three giant superstates or blocs of nations: Oceania (run by the United States, and including the British Empire and Latin America), Eurasia (the Eurasian continent), and Eastasia (China, southeast Asia, much of the Pacific).

The superpowers are always at war, in shifting coalitions and alignments against each other. The war is kept, by agreement between the superpowers, safely on the periphery of the blocs, since war in their heartlands might actually blow up the world and their own rule along with it. The perpetual but basically phony war is kept alive by unremitting campaigns of hatred and fear against the shadowy foreign Enemy. The perpetual war system is then used by the ruling elite in each country to fasten totalitarian collectivist rule upon their subjects. As Harry Elmer Barnes wrote, this system “could only work if the masses are always kept at a fever heat of fear and excitement and are effectively prevented from learning that the wars are actually phony. To bring about this indispensable deception of the people requires a tremendous development of propaganda, thought-policing, regimentation, and mental terrorism.” And finally, “when it becomes impossible to keep the people any longer at a white heat in their hatred of one enemy group of nations, the war is shifted against another bloc and new, violent hate campaigns are planned and set in motion.”2


From Orwell’s time to the present day, the United States has fulfilled his analysis or prophecy by engaging in campaigns of unremitting hatred and fear of the Soviets, including such widely trumpeted themes (later quietly admitted to be incorrect) as “missile gap” and “windows of vulnerability.” What Garet Garrett perceptively called “a complex of vaunting and fear” has been the hallmark of the American as well as of previous empires:3 the curious combination of vaunting and braggadocio that insists that a nation-state’s military might is second to none in any area, combined with repeated panic about the intentions and imminent actions of the “empire of evil” that is marked as the Enemy. It is the sort of fear and vaunting that makes Americans proud of their capacity to “overkill” the Russians many times and yet agree enthusiastically to virtually any and all increases in the military budget for mightier weapons of mass destruction. Senator Ralph Flanders (Republican, Vermont) pinpointed this process of rule through fear when he stated during the Korean War:

Fear is felt and spread by the Department of Defense in the Pentagon. In part, the spreading of it is purposeful. Faced with what seem to be enormous armed forces aimed against us, we can scarcely expect the Department of Defense to do other than keep the people in a state of fear so that they will be prepared without limit to furnish men and munitions.4 This applies not only to the Pentagon but to its civilian theoreticians, the men whom Marcus Raskin, once one of their number, has dubbed “the mega-death intellectuals.” Thus Raskin pointed out that their most important function is to justify and extend the existence of their employers. … In order to justify the continued large-scale production of these [thermonuclear] bombs and missiles, military and industrial leaders needed some kind of theory to rationalize their use. … This became particularly urgent during the late 1950s, when economy-minded members of the Eisenhower Administration began to wonder why so much money, thought, and resources, were being spent on weapons if their use could not be justified. And so began a series of rationalizations by the “defense intellectuals” in and out of the Universities. … Military procurement will continue to flourish, and they will continue to demonstrate why it must. In this respect they are no different from the great majority of modern specialists who accept the assumptions of the organizations which employ them because of the rewards in money and power and prestige. … They know enough not to question their employers’ right to exist.5

In addition to the manufacture of fear and hatred against the primary Enemy, there have been numerous Orwellian shifts between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. Our deadly enemies in World War II, Germany and Japan, are now considered prime Good Guys, the only problem being their unfortunate reluctance to take up arms against the former Good Guys, the Soviet Union. China, having been a much lauded Good Guy under Chiang Kai-shek when fighting Bad Guy Japan, became the worst of the Bad Guys under communism, and indeed the United States fought the Korean and Vietnamese wars largely for the sake of containing the expansionism of Communist China, which was supposed to be an even worse guy than the Soviet Union. But now all that is changed, and Communist China is now the virtual ally of the United States against the principal Enemy in the Kremlin.

Along with other institutions of the permanent cold war, Orwellian New-speak has developed richly. Every government, no matter how despotic, that is willing to join the anti-Soviet crusade is called a champion of the “free world.” Torture committed by “totalitarian” regimes is evil; torture undertaken by regimes that are merely “authoritarian” is almost benign. While the Department of War has not yet been transformed into the Department of Peace, it was changed early in the cold war to the Department of Defense, and President Reagan has almost completed the transformation by the neat Orwellian touch of calling the MX missile “the Peacemaker.”


As early as the 1950s, an English publicist observed that “Orwell’s main contention that ‘cold war’ is now an essential feature of normal life is being verified more and more from day to day. No one really believes in a ‘peace settlement’ with the Soviets, and many people in positions of power regard such a prospect with positive horror.” He added that “a war footing is the only basis of full employment.”6

And Harry Barnes noted that “the advantages of the cold war in bolstering the economy, avoiding a depression, and maintaining political tenure after 1945 were quickly recognized by both politicians and economists.”

The most recent analysis of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in terms of permanent cold war was in U.S. News and World Report, in its issue marking the beginning of the year 1984:

No nuclear holocaust has occurred but Orwell’s concept of perpetual local conflict is borne out. Wars have erupted every year since 1945, claiming more than 30 million lives. The Defense Department reports that there currently are 40 wars raging that involve one-fourth of all nations in the world — from El Salvador to Kampuchea to Lebanon and Afghanistan.

Like the constant war of 1984, these post-war conflicts occurred not within superpower borders but in far-off places such as Korea and Vietnam. Unlike Orwell’s fictitious superpowers, Washington and Moscow are not always able to control events and find themselves sucked into local wars such as the current conflict in the Middle East heightening the risk of a superpower confrontation and use of nuclear armaments.7

But most Orwell scholars have ignored the critical permanent-cold-war underpinning to the totalitarianism in the book. Thus, in a recently published collection of scholarly essays on Orwell, there is barely a mention of militarism or war. 8

In contrast, one of the few scholars who have recognized the importance of war in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Fourwas the Marxist critic Raymond Williams. While deploring the obvious anti-Soviet nature of Orwell’s thought, Williams noted that Orwell discovered the basic feature of the existing two- or three-superpower world, “oligarchical collectivism,” as depicted by James Burnham, in his Managerial Revolution (1940), a book that had a profound if ambivalent impact upon Orwell. As Williams put it:

Orwell’s vision of power politics is also close to convincing. The transformation of official “allies” to “enemies” has happened, almost openly, in the generation since he wrote. His idea of a world divided into three blocs — Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia, of which two are always at war with the other though the alliances change — is again too close for comfort. And there are times when one can believe that what “had been called England or Britain” has become simply Airship One.9

A generation earlier, John Atkins had written that Orwell had “discovered this conception of the political future in James Burnham’s Managerial Revolution.” Specifically, “there is a state of permanent war but it is a contest of limited aims between combatants who cannot destroy each other. The war cannot be decisive. … As none of the states comes near conquering the others, however the war deteriorates into a series of skirmishes [although]. … The protagonists store atomic bombs.”10

To establish what we might call this “revisionist” interpretation of Nineteen Eighty-Four we must first point out that the book was not, as in the popular interpretation, a prophecy of the future so much as a realistic portrayal of existing political trends. Thus, Jeffrey Meyers points out that Nineteen Eighty-Four was less a “nightmare vision” (Irving Howe’s famous phrase) of the future than “a very concrete and naturalistic portrayal of the present and the past,” a “realistic synthesis and rearrangement of familiar materials.” And again, Orwell’s “statements about 1984 reveal that the novel, though set in a future time, is realistic rather than fantastic, and deliberately intensifies the actuality of the present.” Specifically, according to Meyers, Nineteen Eighty-Four was not “totalitarianism after its world triumph” as in the interpretation of Howe, but rather “the very real though unfamiliar political terrorism of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia transposed into the landscape of London in 1941–44.”11 And not only Burnham’s work but the reality of the 1943 Teheran Conference gave Orwell the idea of a world ruled by three totalitarian superstates.

Bernard Crick, Orwell’s major biographer, points out that the English reviewers of Nineteen Eighty-Four caught on immediately that the novel was supposed to be an intensification of present trends rather than a prophecy of the future. Crick notes that these reviewers realized that Orwell had “not written utopian or anti-utopian fantasy … but had simply extended certain discernible tendencies of 1948 forward into 1984.”12 Indeed, the very year 1984 was simply the transposition of the existing year, 1948. Orwell’s friend Julian Symons wrote that 1984 society was meant to be the “near future,” and that all the grim inventions of the rulers “were just extensions of ‘ordinary’ war and post-war things.” We might also point out that the terrifying Room 101 in Nineteen Eighty-Four was the same numbered room in which Orwell had worked in London during World War II as a British war propagandist.


But let Orwell speak for himself. Orwell was distressed at many American reviews of the book, especially in Timeand Life, which, in contrast to the British, saw Nineteen Eighty-Four as the author’s renunciation of his long-held devotion to democratic socialism. Even his own publisher, Frederic Warburg, interpreted the book in the same way. This response moved Orwell, terminally ill in a hospital, to issue a repudiation. He outlined a statement to Warburg, who, from detailed notes, issued a press release in Orwell’s name. First, Orwell noted that, contrary to many reviews, Nineteen Eighty-Four was not prophecy but an analysis of what could happen, based on present political trends. Orwell then added: “Specifically, the danger lies in the structure imposed on Socialist and on liberal capitalist communities by the necessity to prepare for total war with the USSR and the new weapons, of which of course the atomic bomb is the most powerful and the most publicized. But danger also lies in the acceptance of a totalitarian outlook by intellectuals of all colours.” After outlining his forecast of several world superstates, specifically the Anglo-American world (Oceania) and a Soviet-dominated Eurasia, Orwell went on:

If these two great blocs line up as mortal enemies it is obvious that the Anglo-Americans will not take the name of their opponents. … The name suggested in 1984 is of course Ingsoc, but in practice a wide range of choices is open. In the USA the phrase “American” or “hundred per cent American” is suitable and the qualifying adjective is as totalitarian as any could wish.13

We are about as far from the world of Norman Podhoretz as we can get. While Orwell is assuredly anti-Communist and anticollectivist his envisioned totalitarianism can and does come in many guises and forms, and the foundation for his nightmare totalitarian world is a perpetual cold war that keeps brandishing the horror of modern atomic weaponry.

Shortly after the atom bomb was dropped on Japan, George Orwell pre-figured his world of Nineteen Eighty-Four in an incisive and important analysis of the new phenomenon. In an essay entitled “You and the Atom Bomb,” he noted that when weapons are expensive (as the A-bomb is) politics tends to become despotic, with power concentrated into the hands of a few rulers. In contrast, in the day when weapons were simple and cheap (as was the musket or rifle, for instance) power tends to be decentralized. After noting that Russia was thought to be capable of producing the A-bomb within five years (that is, by 1950), Orwell writes of the “prospect,” at that time, “of two or three monstrous super-states, each possessed of a weapon by which millions of people can be wiped out in a few seconds, dividing the world between them.” It is generally supposed, he noted, that the result will be another great war, a war which this time will put an end to civilization. But isn’t it more likely, he added, “that surviving great nations make a tacit agreement never to use the bomb against one another? Suppose they only use it, or the threat of it, against people who are unable to retaliate?”

Returning to his favorite theme, in this period, of Burnham’s view of the world in The Managerial Revolution,Orwell declares that Burnham’s geographical picture of the new world has turned out to be correct. More and more obviously the surface of the earth is being parceled off into three great empires, each self-contained and cut off from contact with the outer world, and each ruled, under one disguise or another by a self-elected oligarchy. The haggling as to where the frontiers are to be drawn is still going on, and will continue for some years.

Orwell then proceeds gloomily:

The atomic bomb may complete the process by robbing the exploited classes and peoples of all power to revolt, and at the same time putting the possessors of the bomb on a basis of equality. Unable to conquer one another they are likely to continue ruling the world between them, and it is difficult to see how the balance can be upset except by slow and unpredictable demographic changes.

In short, the atomic bomb is likely “to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging ‘a peace that is no peace.’” The drift of the world will not be toward anarchy, as envisioned by H.G. Wells, but toward “horribly stable … slave empires.14

Over a year later, Orwell returned to his pessimistic perpetual-cold-war analysis of the postwar world. Scoffing at optimistic press reports that the Americans “will agree to inspection of armaments,” Orwell notes that “on another page of the same paper are reports of events in Greece which amount to a state of war between two groups of powers who are being so chummy in New York.” There are two axioms, he added, governing international affairs. One is that “there can be no peace without a general surrender of sovereignty,” and another is that “no country capable of defending its sovereignty ever surrenders it.” The result will be no peace, a continuing arms race, but no all-out war.15


Orwell completes his repeated wrestling with the works of James Burnham in his review of The Struggle for the World (1947). Orwell notes that the advent of atomic weapons has led Burnham to abandon his three-identical-superpowers view of the world, and also to shuck off his tough pose of value-freedom. Instead, Burnham is virtually demanding an immediate preventive war against Russia,” which has become the collectivist enemy, a preemptive strike to be launched before Russia acquires the atomic bomb.

While Orwell is fleetingly tempted by Burnham’s apocalyptic approach, and asserts that domination of Britain by the United States is to be preferred to domination by Russia, he emerges from the discussion highly critical. After all, Orwell writes, the

Russian regime may become more liberal and less dangerous a generation hence. … Of course, this would not happen with the consent of the ruling clique, but it is thinkable that the mechanics of the situation may bring it about. The other possibility is that the great powers will be simply too frightened of the effects of atomic weapons ever to make use of them. But that would be much too dull for Burnham. Everything must happen suddenly and completely.16

George Orwell’s last important essay on world affairs was published in Partisan Review in the summer of 1947. He there reaffirmed his attachment to socialism but conceded that the chances were against its coming to pass. He added that there were three possibilities ahead for the world. One (which, as he had noted a few months before was the new Burnham solution) was that the United States would launch an atomic attack on Russia before Russia developed the bomb. Here Orwell was more firmly opposed to such a program than he had been before. For even if Russia were annihilated, a preemptive attack would only lead to the rise of new empires, rivalries, wars, and use of atomic weapons. At any rate, the first possibility was not likely. The second possibility, declared Orwell, was that the cold war would continue until Russia got the bomb, at which point world war and the destruction of civilization would take place. Again, Orwell did not consider this possibility very likely. The third, and most likely, possibility is the old vision of perpetual cold war between blocs of superpowers. In this world,

the fear inspired by the atomic bomb and other weapons yet to come will be so great that everyone will refrain from using them. … It would mean the division of the world among two or three vast super-states, unable to conquer one another and unable to be overthrown by any internal rebellion. In all probability their structure would be hierarchic, with a semi-divine caste at the top and outright slavery at the bottom, and the crushing out of liberty would exceed anything the world has yet seen. Within each state the necessary psychological atmosphere would be kept up by complete severance from the outer world, and by a continuous phony war against rival states. Civilization of this type might remain static for thousands of years.17

Orwell (perhaps, like Burnham, now fond of sudden and complete solutions) considers this last possibility the worst.

It should be clear that George Orwell was horrified at what he considered to be the dominant trend of the postwar world: totalitarianism based on perpetual but peripheral cold war between shifting alliances of several blocs of super states. His positive solutions to this problem were fitful and inconsistent; in Partisan Review he called wistfully for a Socialist United States of Western Europe as the only way out, but he clearly placed little hope in such a development. His major problem was one that affected all democratic socialists of that era: a tension between their anticommunism and their opposition to imperialist, or at least interstate, wars. And so at times Orwell was tempted by the apocalyptic preventive-atomic-war solution, as was even Bertrand Russell during the same period. In another, unpublished article, “In Defense of Comrade Zilliacus,” written at some time near the end of 1947, Orwell, bitterly opposed to what he considered the increasingly procommunist attitude of his own Labour magazine, the Tribune, came the closest to enlisting in the cold war by denouncing neutralism and asserting that his hoped-for Socialist United States of Europe should ground itself on the backing of the United States of America. But despite these aberrations, the dominant thrust of Orwell’s thinking during the postwar period, and certainly as reflected in Nineteen Eighty-Four, was horror at a trend toward perpetual cold war as the groundwork for a totalitarianism throughout the world. And his hope for eventual loosening of the Russian regime, if also fitful, still rested cheek by jowl with his more apocalyptic leanings.


1.Norman Podhoretz, “If Orwell Were Alive Today,” Harper’s, January 1983, pp. 30-37.

2.Harry Elmer Barnes, “How ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ Trends Threaten American Peace, Freedom, and Prosperity,” in Revisionism: A Key to Peace and Other Es­says (San Francisco: Cato Institute, 1980), pp. 142-43. Also see Barnes, An Intel­lectual and Cultural History of the Western World, 3d rev. ed., 3 vols. (New York: Dover, 1965), 3: 1324-1332; and Murray N. Rothbard, “Harry Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War,” in Harry Elmer Barnes, Learned Crusader, ed. A. Goddard (Colorado Springs: Ralph Myles, 1968). pp. 314-38. For a similar anal­ysis, see F.J.P. Veal[e] Advance to Barbarism(Appleton, Wis.: C.C. Nelson, 1953), pp. 266-84.

3.Garet Garrett, The People’s Pottage (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1953), pp. 154-57.

4.Quoted in Garrett, The People’s Pottage, p. 154.

5.Marcus Raskin, “The Megadeath Intellectuals,” New York Review of Books, November 14, 1963, pp. 6-7. Also see Martin Nicolaus, “The Professor, the Policeman and the Peasant,” Viet-Report, June-July 1966, pp. 15-19; and Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983). [6]Barnes, “‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ Trends,” p. 176.

6.Barnes, “‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ Trends,” p. 176.

7.U.S. News and World Report, December 26, 1983, pp. 86-87.

8.Irving Howe, ed., 1984 Revisited: Totalitarianism in Our Century (New York: Harper and Row, Perennial Library, 1983). There is a passing reference in Robert Nisbet’s essay and a few references in Luther Carpenter’s article on the reception given to Nineteen Eighty-Four by his students at a community college on Staten Island (pp. 180, 82).

9.Raymond Williams. George Orwell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971), p. 76.

10.John Atkins, George Orwell (London: Caldor and Boyars, 1954), pp. 237-38.

11.Jeffrey Meyers, A Reader’s Guide to George Orwell (London: Thames and Hud­son, 1975), pp. 144-45. Also, “Far from being a picture of the totalitarianism or the future 1984 is, in countless details, a realistic picture of the totalitarianism of the present” (Richard J. Voorhees, The Paradox of George Orwell, Purdue Uni­versity Studies, 1961, pp. 85-87).

12.Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (London: Seeker and Warburg, 1981), p. 393. Also see p. 397.

13.George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, 4 vols. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), 4:504 (hereafter cited as CEJL). Also see Crick, George Orwell, pp. 393-95.

14.George Orwell, “You and the Atom Bomb,” Tribune, October 19, 1945, re­printed in CEJL, 4:8-10.

15.George Orwell, “As I Please,” Tribune, December 13, 1946, reprinted in CEJL, 4:255.

16.George Orwell, “Burnham’s View of the Contemporary World Struggle,” New Leader (New York), March 29, 1947, reprinted in CEJL, 4:325.

17.George Orwell. “Toward European Unity,” Partisan Review July-August 1947, reprinted in CEJL, 4:370-75.

dimanche, 13 août 2017

The Plumed Serpent: D.H. Lawrence on Radical Traditionalism


The Plumed Serpent: D.H. Lawrence on Radical Traditionalism

We must change back to the vision of the living cosmos; we must.
The oldest Pan is in us, and he will not be denied.

The Plumed Serpent is the story of an Aztec pagan revolution that spreads through Mexico during the time of the Mexican Revolution (the 1910s). Published in 1926, it also has themes of anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism, romanticism, nationalism, and primal and traditional roles for men and women.

The protagonist is 40-year-old Kate Leslie, the widow of an Irish revolutionary. She’s not particularly close to her grown children from her first husband, and seeking solitude and change in the midst of her grief she settles temporarily in Mexico.

Soon she meets Don Ramón Carrasco, an intellectual who’s attempting to rid the country of Christianity and capitalism and replace them with the cult of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl (“the plumed serpent”) and Mexican nationalism. He’s assisted in his vision by Don Cipriano Viedma, a general in the Mexican army. Ramón provides the leadership, poetry, and propaganda that helps the movement take off, and Cipriano lends a military counterpoint.


Ramón writes hymns, then distributes copies to the villagers who quickly become fascinated by the idea of the old gods returning to Mexico:

Your gods are ready to return to you. Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc, the old gods, are minded to come back to you. Be quiet, don’t let them find you crying and complaining. I have come from out of the lake to tell you the gods are coming back to Mexico, they are ready to return to their own home.

The Mexican commoners flock to listen as hymns are read (Mexico’s illiteracy rate was about 78 percent in 1910) (Presley). Soon the villagers are inspired to dance and drum in the native trance-inducing style that’s foreign to Christian worship, and they refuse the Church’s orders to quit listening to the Hymns of Quetzalcoatl. According to Smith, Lawrence was “interested in two related concepts of male homosociality: Männerbund and Blutbrüdershaft,” and there certainly are aspects of this in The Plumed Serpent among the Men of Quetzalcoatl. Ramón also employs an array of craftsmen to create the aesthetics for the Quetzalcoatl movement—ceremonial costumes, the Quetzalcoatl symbol in iron, and traditional Indian dress that’s adopted by the male followers.

Orchestrating a Pagan Revolution

The Plumed Serpent has been called D. H. Lawrence’s “most politically controversial novel” (Krockel). Despite its fascinating plot and the brilliant prose readers expect from Lawrence, it’s been called every name modernists can sling at a book—fascist, sexist, racist, silly, offensive, propaganda, difficult, an embarrassment. So many people have slammed the novel that when literary critic Leslie Fiedler said Lawrence had no followers—at a D.H. Lawrence festival, no less—William S. Burroughs interrupted to say how influenced he was by The Plumed Serpent (Morgan).


A primary reason Lawrence’s book is criticized is because his vision for Mexico may have been inspired by a trip to the Weimar Republic in the 1920s, after which he spoke positively of the growing völkisch movement and its focus on pagan traditions, saying in a 1924 letter: “The ancient spirit of pre-historic Germany [is] coming back, at the end of history” (Krockel). This is a misguided view because the Quetzalcoatl movement has none of the vitriol and racism that later characterized National Socialism (a Christianity ideology). Instead, the Quetzalcoatl leaders’ plan is to unite the various ethnicities in Mexico into one pagan culture, and whites living in the country will be allowed to stay if they are peaceful.

In The Plumed Serpent, Ramón speaks of the need for every country to have its own Savior, and his vision for a traditional, anti-capitalistic society includes a rebirth of paganism for the entire world:

If I want Mexicans to learn the name of Quetzalcoatl, it is because I want them to speak with the tongues of their own blood. I wish the Teutonic world would once more think in terms of Thor and Wotan, and the tree Igdrasil. And I wish the Druidic world would see, honestly, that in the mistletoe is their mystery, and that they themselves are the Tuatha De Danaan, alive, but submerged. And a new Hermes should come back to the Mediterranean, and a new Ashtaroth to Tunis; and Mithras again to Persia, and Brahma unbroken to India, and the oldest of dragons to China.

Although Lawrence’s novel has been criticized numerous times for post-colonial themes, such is an intellectually lazy and incomplete reading. According to Oh, “What Lawrence tries to do in The Plumed Serpent is the reverse of colonialist eradication of indigenous religion. The restoration of ancient Mexican religion necessarily accompanies Lawrence’s critiques of Western colonial projects.”

Lawrence and Nietzsche: A Philosophy of the Future

Ramón performs public invocations to the Aztec god and plans to proclaim himself the living Quetzalcoatl. (When the time is right, his friend Cipriano will be declared the living warrior god Huitzilopochtli, and Kate is offered a place in the pantheon as the goddess Malintzi.) But Ramón’s wife is a devout Catholic and fervently tries to convince him to stop the pagan revolution. Nietzsche was a major influence on Lawrence by the 1920s, and Ramón’s harsh diatribe to his Christian wife sounds straight out of The Genealogy of Morals:

But believe me, if the real Christ has not been able to save Mexico—and He hasn’t—then I am sure the white Anti-Christ of charity, and socialism, and politics, and reform, will only succeed in finally destroying her. That, and that alone, makes me take my stand.—You, Carlota, with your charity works and your pity: and men like Benito Juarez, with their Reform and their Liberty: and the rest of the benevolent people, politicians and socialists and so forth, surcharged with pity for living men, in their mouths, but really with hate . . .

The Plumed Serpent has been compared to Thus Spoke Zarathustra as well. Both feature religious reformers intent on creating the Overman, both use pre-Christian deities in their mythos, and both proclaim that God is dead (Humma). (In a priceless scene, Ramón has Christ and the Virgin Mary retire from Mexico while he implores the villagers to call out to them, “Adiós! Say Adiós! my children.”) A brutal overturning of Christian morality is present in both narratives. In addition, Ramón teaches his people to become better than they are, to awaken the Star within them and become complete men and women.

The Plumed Serpent is an engaging handbook for initiating a pagan revival in the West. The methods employed by Ramón would be more effective in a rural society 100 years ago, but readers will likely find inspiration in the Quetzalcoatl movement’s aesthetics and success. It’s an immensely enjoyable read for anyone interested in reconstructionist paganism or radical traditionalism.


Humma, John B. Metaphor and Meaning in D.H. Lawrence’s Later Novels. University of Missouri (1990).

Krockel, Carl. D.H. Lawrence and Germany: The Politics of Influence. Editions Rodopi BV (2007).

Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs. W. W. Norton (2012).

Oh, Eunyoung. D.H. Lawrence’s Border Crossing: Colonialism in His Travel Writing and Leadership Novels. Routledge (2014).

Presley, James. “Mexican Views on Rural Education, 1900-1910.” The Americas, Vol. 20, No. 1 (July 1963), pp. 64-71.

Smith, Jad. “Völkisch Organicism and the Use of Primitivism in Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent.D.H. Lawrence Review, 30:3. (2002)

For more posts on radical traditionalism and Julius Evola, please visit the archives here.

mercredi, 12 juillet 2017

Animal Farm: Beware of the Language of Equality


Animal Farm: Beware of the Language of Equality

by Charles Johnson
Ex: http://www.eurocanadian.ca

The impulse for writing this brief essay comes from teaching the book for several years abroad. In my simple observations about the work, I've employed a medical analogy, whereby, Old Major is a social physician; his patient is the ailing, but equally oblivious, population of farm animals, and the illness is the daily life on that farm, owned by Mr. Jones. This analysis of Animal Farm follows a therapeutic progression: from a diagnosis, to a prescribed therapy, and ending finally in a description of a state of health that should result if the treatment is followed. In contrast to the usual interpretation of Animal Farm which highlights Orwell's famous quote that "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others," the message of this medical analogy is that those who control language control politics and power.

In this respect, I'm aware of how Orwell uses Old Major to dramatize Karl Marx's critique of the struggle between owners and workers. But Orwell goes further, with important insights for the Alt Right. Aware that "Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies," Orwell puts aside whatever his sympathies with the workers might be; he challenges the idea that "All animals are equal." First, he shows the failure of this idea by focusing on who controls language, and then he presents reasons why equality among all the animals might not be all that desirable. In doing this, Orwell went against the egalitarian impulses of his day, displaying an intellectual originality that is rightly admired but perhaps all too seldom imitated.

I. Diagnosis—Medical Analogy

What Old Major offers the other animals is a diagnosis of the exploitation and unfairness that infects daily life on the farm. He states:
We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength; and the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty.
Old Major educates the farm animals, making them aware that this is unhealthy. The animals "are forced to work," doing the most burdensome work to exhaustion, and in return, they only receive "just so much food as will keep the breath" in them — so that they can continue to work. As Old Major understands life on the farm, work is a major measure of value for most animals, and "the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered." Even at the end of a life-time of loyal labour on Manor Farm, animals don't get to enjoy retirement. Instead, they are mercilessly eliminated. Old Major assures Boxer that no animal is immune to this outcome: "the very day those great muscles of yours lose their power, Jones [...] will cut your throat and boil you down for the foxhounds." As with any good doctor, Old Major knows that it isn't enough to diagnose correctly the patient. The treatment must cure the illness.


II. Treatment

To treat the pandemic injustices of Manor Farm, Old Major prescribes the therapy of rebellion. Speaking to the animals gathered in the barn, Old Major says:
[W]ork night and day, body and soul, for the over throw of the human race! That is my message to you, comrades: Rebellion!
A reader might ask: Why do the ills of Manor Farm have to be treated by the harsh remedy of rebellion? Any increase in animal rights is a decrease in Jones' control. Any further sharing out of resources diminishes profit for Jones. Moreover, not yet unified with the other animals by hunger, the individual animal poses no threat to Jones. The lone animal can't stand against the immediate punishment of a beating or starvation. Divided, the animals don't have power. Without power, negotiation is impossible. Jones doesn't need to compromise, so why would he? People in power rarely like to share it. The only recourse the animals have, therefore, is to take and redistribute power through violent revolution. Old Major believes that this forceful redistribution of power on the farm will be the end of inequality and making of a society based on harmonious relations without exploitation.

III. State of Health

But having always experienced inequality, the animals don't know what equality is, so Old Major has to show them. He does so in two ways: he addresses all the animals by the revolutionary sobriquet of "Comrade." All the animals are "comrades." Therefore, according to Old Major, "all animals are equal." Old Major further shows this to be true with the power of the vote. Each animal has a vote. The donkey's vote is no less a vote than the horse's vote. A pig's vote is no more a vote than a sheep's vote. Simply put, a vote is a vote is a vote. All votes are equal; consequently, all animals are equal. Yet readers must acknowledge this animal egalitarianism is only Old Major's hope for the future and not quite the reality, especially under the rule of the pigs.

IV. Language as a Measure of Power—Breakdown of Egalitarianism

Language is a measure of power on the Animal Farm. The pigs give the sheep their slogans "Four legs good, two legs bad," and "Four legs good, two legs better." The sheep are incapable of coming up with their own slogans. They're illiterate and under the control of the pigs. The sheep mindlessly memorize and repeat slogans at the pigs' behest. If Wittgenstein is right when he claims, "The limits of my language are the limits of my world," then clearly the sheep have a small world. But even more revealing might be the application of Wittgenstein's idea to describe the relationships of power on the Animal Farm: the limits of language are the limits of power. It is, therefore, no accident that the sheep have the least language and the least amount of power while the pigs have the most language, and the most power. The pigs, after all, write and revise the rules that govern life on the farm for all the animals. However, language alone doesn't separate the pigs from the others.


V. Leisure

Snowball is able to become the hero of the Battle of the Cowshed not only because of language but because of leisure. Orwell describes an ordinary day on the farm shortly after the rebellion:
The pigs did not actually work, but directed and supervised the others. With their superior knowledge it was natural that they should assume the leadership.
The pigs do have language ability to a high degree above the other animals. This "superior knowledge" of language is what makes it "natural that they should assume the leadership." Of course, later Snowball clearly makes use of this "superior knowledge" of language by reading about the campaigns of Julius Caesar. Snowball 's learning allows him to organize and direct the animals to defend themselves against the attacking humans; however, without leisure, even the most useful books remain unread. Therefore, it is not insignificant that the "pigs did not actually work;" un-tired at night, the pigs are holed up in the harness-room, studying "from books." There's an undeniably intimate connection between leisure and learning that enables Snowball to be heroic. Even the modern story-tellers of Hollywood can't ignore this fact. That is why the bat-suited hero of Gotham is the leisured Bruce Wayne during the day. Moreover, the iron-clad Tony Stark is equally free from draining daily work when he's not putting in a shift as Iron Man. In understanding Animal Farm, we shouldn't overlook the importance of leisure. Orwell and Hollywood might agree at least on this point: leisure doesn't make a person heroic, but it is awfully difficult to be heroic without leisure. But leisure isn't the only resource where the animals are found to be unequal.

VI. Food

Food not only is the product of the farm, but it is also proof that the egalitarian revolution of Animalism has failed. When the animals returned from a long day's work in the fields, they realized that "the milk had disappeared." If life on Animal Farm were truly egalitarian, wouldn't each animal get a portion of milk? Of course they would. But that doesn't happen. As Napoleon said, "Never mind the milk, comrades!" This inequality with food resources continues throughout the novel. Though the "animals had assumed" that the windfall apples "would be shared out equally," they soon learned that "all the windfalls were [...] for the use of the pigs." And even as the farm faces the winter hardship of food shortages, not all animals make equal sacrifices: "[A]ll rations were reduced, except those of the pigs and dogs." There are many examples of inequality on the Animal Farm that result from power, greed and the pigs' preference for pigs over other animals on the farm. But the most formidable and unyielding source of inequality might be Nature itself.

VII. Nature Isn't Egalitarian

Maybe we would like to believe that the failure of animal egalitarianism wasn't inevitable. But the truth, however, might be that it truly was never possible. The pigs have a natural advantage the other farm animals lack. Orwell writes that the pigs "had taught themselves to read and write." This auto-didactic aptitude for reading and writing reveals more than a few not insignificant natural abilities that the pigs have. The pigs have a passion for learning, for teaching themselves new abilities without being prompted to do so by others; moreover, what the pigs teach themselves is equally important because "to read and write" is to have power over others on the farm. The other farm animals are aware that the pigs are "manifestly cleverer" and therefore, "should decide the questions of farm policy." Nature has made the pigs different. And as Freud observes:
[N]ature, by endowing individuals with extremely unequal [...] mental capacities, has introduced injustices against which there is no remedy.
Nature isn't egalitarian, and clearly the pigs have benefited in part from the lottery of chance. Their leadership is the reward for being "superior" to the other animals. Nature and the effort of the pigs have made the animals unequal. Nonetheless, the "remedy" of enforced equality under Napoleon's dictatorship may be far worse than the disease of Nature's "injustices."


VIII. Undesired Outcomes of Egalitarianism

The dream of Old Major's egalitarianism turns into a nightmare under Napoleon's rule, and disagreement is outlawed through violence. One of Boxer's favorite slogans is "Napoleon is always right." He speaks more truth than he understands. Napoleon is always right. If he isn't, he exiles you or kills you. All animals are equal under Napoleon because they're all unable to dissent. Conformity is the unwritten law of Animal Farm. And its immediate consequences can't be ignored: countless deaths and tyranny; however, its unseen insidious effects are more dangerous. Maybe the windmill really fell because Benjamin refused to speak up. Since he "could read as well as any pig," who is to say that he didn't recognize the windmill's flaw of thin walls. If he realized the flaw, could it be that he chose to remain silent out of self-preservation? The silence of conformity comes at a cost: progress. As William Blake writes, "Without contraries is no progression." Doubtless, dissent is essential for progress and a healthy society. Silence puts an end to progress, and the tyranny of Napoleon turns even language into a weapon against the unsuspecting animals.

IX. Language as a Tool of Control

If you can say it, you can think it; you can do it. For this very reason, Napoleon bans "Beasts of England." Having witnessed the execution of their comrades by Napoleon's dogs, the farm animals retreat to the knoll and sing the song as an act of solace. Shortly afterwards, Squealer arrives. Orwell writes:
He announced that, by a special decree of Comrade Napoleon, 'Beasts of England' had been abolished. From now onwards it was forbidden to sing it.
The root of resistance is language; rebellion can't flower without it. "Beasts of England" is a song of rebellion, but now that Napoleon is in control, he doesn't want rebellion. The language of rebellion makes rebellion possible. Language comes first; the idea exists in language and only then is action possible. However, Squealer assures the animals that rebellion is "No longer needed" because, of course, Napoleon doesn't want it. To kill the flower, Napoleon tears out the root. It's not that "the Rebellion is now completed," as Squealer states, but rather that Napoleon has simply made rebellion impossible by eliminating its language. When the language of freedom disappears, slavery will be inescapable.

Orwell's work is rare in the world of books, and we do him the honor he deserves by reading it and reading it again. In Animal Farm, while sympathizing with the exploited and the urge for equality, he warned against the manipulation of those in control of the language of egalitarianism, the naive denial of the inescapable reality that animals and humans are not naturally equal, and that we must be wary of those who will manipulate us with words to believe we can be equal while not allowing open discussion about nature's inequalities.

mardi, 23 mai 2017

D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature


D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature

Ex: https://dissidentright.com 

Out of a pattern of lies, art weaves the truth”

David Herbert Lawrence was born into an English working-class family on September 11, 1885.  After the First World War, he went into a voluntary exile from his native England, and travelled the world with his wife.  From 1922 until 1926, the Lawrences lived in the United States, wherein they resided mainly on a ranch in northern New Mexico.  While in the United States, Lawrence composed most of his short, but stunning book Studies in Classic American Literature.  In this all but forgotten work, Lawrence methodically marches down a line of classic American authors, and in turn, pierces the heart, bashes-in the head, rends out the soul, and furiously shakes the corpse of the unsuspecting greats.

Why is Lawrence so vicious with his literary prisoners?  Because, he claims, they are liars.  Benjamin Franklin lies about his ideal American citizen.  Hector St. John de Crevecoeur lies about the bliss and innocence of Nature.  James Fenimore Cooper lies about the Northeastern Brahmin’s veneration of Democracy and Equality.  Edgar Allan Poe lies about the limitless emancipatory effects of sensuousness, ecstasy, and love.  Nathaniel Hawthorne lies about the truth of spiritualism, saviourism, “Selfless Love,” and “Pure Consciousness.”[1]  Richard Henry Dana lies about man’s ability to know the sea and transcend the soil.  Herman Melville lies in his pursuit of harmony and the perfect relationship.  Walt Whitman lies about his belief in sympathy.

Lies!  Lies!  Lies!

For Lawrence, they are all lying, but they aren’t lying to their audiences. They are lying to themselves.  They each tell their own particular lies, but they all share in the big lies.  The lies that are today taken as fundamental American ideals:  Freedom, Democracy, Equality, Education, Equal Opportunity, and so on.  According to Lawrence, the white American puts undo importance on Knowing, self-consciousness, and the mind.  The white American intellectualizes with ideals, and tries to imprison feeling and “blood-consciousness.”  A primary example of this characteristic is the American ideal of Freedom.


Freedom is the ultimate American ideal, and it is the ultimate self-deception.  In the American conception, freedom is pure negation.  It is fleeing Europe, the homeland.  It is, at bottom, escape.  From what are Americans escaping, though?  Lawrence contends that the flight to America was due to the Pilgrim Fathers’ revulsion at post-Renaissance humanism.  The early American settlers fled Europe at the very moment their old masters were weakest:  when “kingship and fatherhood fell.”[2]

America is, as he puts it:

“A vast republic of escaped slaves.  Look out, America!  And a minority of earnest, self-tortured people.  The masterless.”[3]

All of the masterless are equal in their freedom.  Like Freedom, Lawrence rejects the notion of Equality, too.  Lawrence believes in a natural aristocracy, and argues that America has tried to level natural superiority and natural inferiority with the artifice of Equality.

From Lawrence, again:

“When America set out to destroy Kings and Lords and Masters and the whole paraphernalia of European superiority, it pushed a pin right through its own body, and on that pin it still flaps and buzzes and twists in misery.  The pin of democratic equality.  Freedom.”[4]

The American is on a never-ending quest after ideals, and he destroys, and kills, everything that’s in his path.  The American is led around by his mind-consciousness as opposed to his blood-consciousness.  These two forms of consciousness are the upper and the lower forces of Lawrence’s dualism.  The American has an unyielding belief in the former, and he is perpetually trying to know, understand, and reconcile his situation on the North American continent.  According to Lawrence, at the center of the white American’s urge to reconcile is the question of the races:  the red and white races, specifically.

To quote Lawrence at length:

“There has been all the time, in the white American soul, a dual feeling about the Indian.  First was Franklin’s feeling, that a wise Providence no doubt intended the extirpation of these savages.  Then came Crevecoeur’s contradictory feeling about the Red Man and the innocent life of the wigwam.  Now we hate to subscribe to Benjamin’s belief in a Providence that wisely extirpates the Indian to make room for ‘cultivators of the soil’.  In Crevecoeur we meet a sentimental desire for the glorification of the savages.  Absolutely sentimental.  Hector pops over to Paris to enthuse about the wigwam.  The desire to extirpate the Indian.  And the contradictory desire to glorify him.  Both are rampant still, to-day… I doubt if there is possible any real reconciliation, in the flesh, between the white and the red.”[5]

Fenimore Cooper tries to create a reconciliation between white and red in his Leatherstocking Tales, but Lawrence regards this attempt as only a wish-fulfillment.  Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook are bound together in manly, brotherly love, but neither brings forth issue, or marries.  Their reconciliation in the flesh means that they are isolated together, and thus the end of their respective bloodlines.  Their reconciliation is a false myth, but in the character of Natty Bumppo’s earliest incarnation, Deerslayer, Lawrence finds the “true myth” of the “essential white America.”[6]  This “intrinsic-most American” is the “man who turns his back on white society.  A man who keeps his moral integrity hard and intact.  An isolate, almost selfless, stoic, enduring man, who lives by death, by killing, but who is pure white.”[7]

This is surely a chilling, but heroic, image; nevertheless, the essential American who turns his back on white society certainly seems wanting in important qualities.  No less chilling and foreboding is Lawrence’s interpretation of the racial symbolism of Melville’s Moby Dick:

“What then is Moby Dick?  He is the deepest blood-being of the white race; he is our deepest blood-nature.  And he is hunted, hunted, hunted by the maniacal fanaticism of our white mental consciousness.  We want to hunt him down.  To subject him to our will…The Pequod went down.  And the Pequod was the ship of the white American soul.  She sank, taking with her negro and Indian and Polynesian Asiatic and Quaker and good, businesslike Yankees and Ishmael:  she sank all the lot of them.”[8]

This is no doubt a bleak, but understandable, prophecy for the white man.  If Melville foretold the demise of the white race in 1851, what can it possibly do to prevent its own destruction?  According to Lawrence, the white American, with his sententious mind-consciousness, is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of North America.  He is mocked and tormented by the ghosts of the conquered Red Indian.  As already noted, Lawrence holds out little hope for reconciliation in the flesh, but he does allude vaguely towards a possible “reconciliation in the soul.  Some strange atonement:  expiation and oneing.”[9]  Beyond this cryptic offering, Lawrence provides little elaboration.  Perhaps, Lawrence envisions something similar to the character of Tom Outland, in Willa Cather’s novel The Professor’s House, who feels a “filial piety” towards the New Mexican Blue Mesa and the ruins of the ancient pueblo people.  Then again, Outland’s lonely, monastic-like experience reading Virgil’s Æneid atop the Blue Mesa reminds one again of the essential white American turning his back on white society.


Alas, aside from strange spiritual atonements, switching over to a “blood-consciousness”, or some bizarre remarks about following Walt Whitman’s example “along the open road,” Lawrence presents few actionable answers for the plight of the white American.  However, one paragraph in the introduction of the book regarding the nature of freedom struck this reader as particularly powerful:

“Men are free when they are in a living homeland, not when they are straying and breaking away.  Men are free when they are obeying some deep, inward voice of religious belief.  Obeying from within.  Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose.  Not when they are escaping to some wild west.  The most unfree souls go west, and shout of freedom.  Men are freest when they are most unconscious of freedom.  The shout is a rattling of chains, always was.”[10]

Whether or not the white American will experience his freedom unconsciously in the near future is unknown.  The forces pushing anarcho-tyranny seem to make the white American consciously, and vigorously cling to any freedom he once thought sacred and his birthright.  But Lawrence is certainly right about one thing.  The perennial flight west is not a long-term strategy for him.  He will eventually have to settle, claim a space, a landscape, a community, and a mode of being that is his to defend, and not to cast away at the first sign of danger.  He will have to treat the North American continent not as a giant nature space to buzz around as he’s chased by those who are not his own, but as a place that contains a home, a Heimat even, where he can put down roots for his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

[1] D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (London:  Heinemann, 1924; republished in Phoenix edition, 1964), 86.

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Ibid., 5.

[4] Ibid., 41.

[5] Ibid., 34.

[6] Ibid., 59.

[7] Ibid., 60.

[8] Ibid., 152-153.

[9] Ibid., 35.

[10] Ibid., 6.

lundi, 27 mars 2017

J.R.R. Tolkien, le seigneur des écrivains


J.R.R. Tolkien, le seigneur des écrivains

Saison 7 de la Grande Librairie, reportage diffusé le 04 décembre 2014 sur France 5.

Il est l’auteur de deux œuvres cultes et le bâtisseur d’un monde qui a inspiré de nombreux artistes. Le génial écrivain britannique John Ronald Reuel Tolkien a traversé le XXe siècle en voyageant à travers les textes anciens et les langues. François Busnel parcourt sa vie et son histoire en compagnie de spécialistes et d’écrivains, dont l’auteur du Trône de fer, George R.R. Martin.

mardi, 21 mars 2017

L’antirussisme à la lumière de George Orwell


L’antirussisme à la lumière de George Orwell

par Nicolas Bonnal

Ex: http://www.dedefensa.org

Le général de Gaulle disait à Alain Peyrefitte sur cette rivalité russo-américaine qui l’énervait quelque peu : « les deux super-grands s’entendent comme larrons en foire. »

C’est l’historien Charles Beard qui a parlé au moment de la lugubre présidence Truman d’une guerre perpétuelle pour une paix perpétuelle. La guerre perpétuelle est celle que mène à tout moment l’Amérique dans telle ou telle partie du monde. Les Etats-Unis ont mené dans le monde 200 conflits comme l’a montré Oliver Stone dans son angoissant documentaire. Sept conflits ont été menés sous le prix Nobel de la paix Obama qui cherche à retourner au pouvoir ; son successeur intérimaire Donald Trump fait déjà la guerre au Yémen et menace l’Iran. Ensuite on verra. Pour prouver qu’il n’est pas un agent russe, Trump déclarera la guerre à la Russie !

La paix perpétuelle consiste à faire de ce monde libre un monde sûr pour la démocratie - dixit Woodrow Wilson qui laissa bolchévisme et fascisme s’installer en Europe ; ses héritiers ont imposé l’islamisme aux musulmans.

Revenons en 2017, cent ans après l’entrée en guerre des USA le 2 avril 1917.

Le pentagone a eu ses 84 milliards de rallonge et c’est très bien comme ça. On aura peut-être les guerres que désire l’Etat profond US, quoique George Orwell soit d’un autre avis. Car un autre historien, Harry Elmer Barnes, a établi en 1953 un lien entre la politique US (l’Amérique a la rage disait alors Sartre, aujourd’hui tout le monde la célèbre) et 1984.
Le livre de George Orwell redevient un bestseller, il y a de quoi. Souvenez-vous des déclarations hystériques du général Mad Dog Mathis au sénat sur la menace existentielle que font peser la Chine et la Russie sur l’Océanie orwellienne, pardon sur l’Amérique et son chenil européen peu éclairé en ces temps derniers.

Orwell a basé son Océanie sur l’Oceana de John Harrington un écrivain contemporain de Cromwell (il y a Orwell dans Cromwell) et inspiré par le modèle du sanhédrin et de l’oligarchie vénitienne. Orwell voit l’Océanie se heurter à Eurasia (la Russie) et à Estasie, une Asie unifiée par la Chine. Cela donne :

« … à ce moment, on annonça qu’après tout l’Océania n’était pas en guerre contre l’Eurasia. L’Océania était en guerre contre l’Estasia. L’Eurasia était un allié.  Il n’y eut naturellement aucune déclaration d’un changement quelconque. On apprit simplement, partout à la fois, avec une extrême soudaineté, que l’ennemi c’était l’Estasia et non l’Eurasia. »


Puis Orwell explique qu’on est toujours en guerre, ou en guéguerre (la Chine et la Russie sont pour l’Océanie US ou la France socialiste de plus gros morceaux à avaler que la Libye) contre des rivaux diabolisés par la bureaucratie de la haine.

« Groupés d’une façon ou d’une autre, ces trois super-États sont en guerre d’une façon permanente depuis vingt-cinq ans. La guerre, cependant, n’est plus la lutte désespérée jusqu’à l’anéantissement qu’elle était dans les premières décennies du vingtième siècle. C’est une lutte dont les buts sont limités, entre combattants incapables de se détruire l’un l’autre, qui n’ont pas de raison matérielle de se battre et ne sont divisés par aucune différence idéologique véritable.»

Cette interminable mais parfois léthale phony war sert à maintenir quiète la masse russe ou américaine plutôt pauvre. Voyez ce qui en résulte avec 93 millions d’adultes sans emploi et 50% de la population active à moins de trente mille dollars par an, une misère avec l’exorbitant coût de la vie US.

« Le but primordial de la guerre moderne, ajoute George Orwell dans son long chapitre IX de la deuxième partie, est de consommer entièrement les produits de la machine sans élever le niveau général de la vie. Le problème était de faire tourner les roues de l’industrie sans accroître la richesse réelle du monde. Des marchandises devaient être produites, mais non distribuées. En pratique, le seul moyen d’y arriver était de faire continuellement la guerre (…). L’acte essentiel de la guerre est la destruction, pas nécessairement de vies humaines, mais des produits du travail humain. »

La guerre aussi permet à l’oligarchie de s’enrichir (Silicon Valley, Lockheed, Booz Allen, Boeing, CIA, NSA, Goldman Sachs, Fed, Hollywood, Marvel). Orwell encore :

« En même temps, la conscience d’être en guerre, et par conséquent en danger, fait que la possession de tout le pouvoir par une petite caste semble être la condition naturelle et inévitable de survie. »

La guerre permet surtout de contrôler la population ; voyez Henry IV de Shakespeare et ces querelles à l’étranger (foreign quarrels) pour occuper les esprits agités (to keep busy giddy minds).

Comme vu chez Thucydide, le public se soumet au pouvoir en se soumettant à la guerre :

« Fanatique, crédule, ignorant… En d’autres mots, il est nécessaire qu’il ait la mentalité appropriée à l’état de guerre. Peu importe que la guerre soit réellement déclarée et, puisque aucune victoire décisive n’est possible, peu importe qu’elle soit victorieuse ou non. Tout ce qui est nécessaire, c’est que l’état de guerre existe. »

La folie de Mad Dog Mathis est aussi expliquée par Orwell. On sait dans le Deep State que ni la Russie ni la Chine ne sont dangereuses. On n’en est donc que plus hystérique. Orwell:

« C’est précisément dans le Parti intérieur que l’hystérie de guerre et la haine de l’ennemi sont les plus fortes. Il est souvent nécessaire à un membre du Parti intérieur de savoir qu’un paragraphe ou un autre des nouvelles de la guerre est faux et il lui arrive souvent de savoir que la guerre entière est apocryphe, soit qu’elle n’existe pas, soit que les motifs pour lesquels elle est déclarée soient tout à fait différents de ceux que l’on fait connaître. Mais une telle connaissance est neutralisée par la technique de la doublepensée. »

Mathis doit en rajouter.


Orwell établit :

« Aucun des trois super-États ne tente jamais un mouvement qui impliquerait le risque d’une défaite sérieuse. Quand une opération d’envergure est entreprise, c’est généralement une attaque par surprise contre un allié. »

Orwell rassure sur ces tontons flingueurs. On ne défouraille plus. La guerre ne serait plus dangereuse.

« Tant que les guerres pouvaient se gagner ou se perdre, aucune classe dirigeante ne pouvait être entièrement irresponsable. Mais quand la guerre devient continuelle, elle cesse aussi d’être dangereuse. Il n’y a plus de nécessité militaire quand la guerre est permanente. Le progrès peut s’arrêter et les faits les plus patents peuvent être niés ou négligés. »

Et on jouerait à la guéguerre avec 666 milliards par an alors ? Ces bases militaires sont des parcs d’attraction ? Et Philippe Grasset qui nous parle d’incapacité opérationnelle US systémique !

Par contre Orwell évoque la police de la pensée ; un coup de Decodex ici, un impeachment pour le candidat sibérien là, une omniprésence des bandeaux info dictés par la CIA partout.

« L’efficience, même l’efficience militaire, n’est plus nécessaire. En Océanie, sauf la Police de la Pensée, rien n’est efficient. »

L’inefficacité militaire US fut évoquée ici : on ne voit pas les USA et la valetaille croisée défier de vraies puissances. Orwell :

« La guerre donc, si nous la jugeons sur le modèle des guerres antérieures, est une simple imposture. Elle ressemble aux batailles entre certains ruminants dont les cornes sont plantées à un angle tel qu’ils sont incapables de se blesser l’un l’autre. Mais, bien qu’irréelle, elle n’est pas sans signification. Elle dévore le surplus des produits de consommation et elle aide à préserver l’atmosphère mentale spéciale dont a besoin une société hiérarchisée. »

L’antirussisme a un seul but clair : le renforcement de cette oligarchie et de son emprise sur son monde.


Guerre du Péloponnèse, I

1984, deuxième partie, chapitre IX

Perpetual war for perpetual peace; the costs of war (Mises.org)

Harrington, Oceana (Gutenberg.org)

Peyrefitte – c’était de Gaulle

Shakespeare, Henry IV, part 2, act 4, sc. 5

Therefore, my Harry,

Be it thy course to busy giddy minds

With foreign quarrels, that action, hence borne out,

May waste the memory of the former days

mercredi, 22 février 2017

George Orwell: l’intégrité de la pensée


George Orwell: l’intégrité de la pensée

Orwell fait partie de ces écrivains qui avec une acuité rare sut ne pas tomber dans les pièges qui bernèrent les plus grands et causèrent des montagnes de morts sacrifiés sur l’autel de l’idéologie. Il eut l’instinct de ne pas s’enliser dans les couloirs de l’utopie et le courage de dénoncer les travers des grands courants de pensée de son époque ; à l’heure où tant d’intellectuels, par complaisance ou par lâcheté, se font les serviteurs d’un système mystificateur, il est de bon ton de rappeler l’intégrité de cet homme pour qui l’engagement rimait avec honnêteté. Bien que disparu depuis plus d’un demi-siècle, il a toujours des choses à nous dire…

George Orwell de son vrai nom Eric Arthur Blair nait le 25 juin 1903   à Motihari dans les Indes britanniques, son père est fonctionnaire colonial chargé de la régie de l’opium, à l’époque monopole d’Etat. Il est issu de la petite bourgeoisie, sa famille bien que désargentée jouissant du prestige de l’Empire colonial. Orwell est intrinsèquement britannique, même clochard il conservait en toutes circonstances sa prestance british. Bien « qu’en bas de la bourgeoisie » son statut familial lui permettra de rentrer au collège d’Elton (il écrira sur ces années dans Le Ventre de la baleine), en contact avec l’élite anglaise de l’époque il est victime de brimades et se sent à l’écart car déclassé par rapport à ses camarades faisant partie du sérail. Durant ses études il se plonge dans Shakespeare, Lord Byron et surtout Dickens. Sa personnalité se fondera par la suite, il se cherche…Ses études étant un fiasco, ses parents n’ayant pas les moyens de l’envoyer à Cambridge, il va alors choisir de servir dans la gendarmerie nationale en Birmanie. Bien que très critique envers son pays, il est patriote et le sera durant toute sa vie. Il commence à écrire des poèmes, quelques récits mais ce ne sont encore que ses balbutiements…

Désillusionné, il se morfond en Birmanie, et est heurté par l’injustice du système colonial ; il a une fonction de répression et de maintien de l’ordre sans pour autant donner dans le manichéisme. Il a la dent dure tant pour les birmans que pour les colonisateurs, il critique l’avilissement subi par les birmans et les anglais installés qu’il juge déliquescents. Un sentiment de culpabilité voire d’expiation suscitant l’ordalie nait alors chez lui, celui d’être issu d’une famille ayant exploité les indigènes. Il y restera cinq années puis revient en 1927 en Grande-Bretagne, il découvre alors la plèbe et son sous-prolétariat qui le révulse et lui inspire de la compassion. Face à cette réalité qui écorne le mythe de son pays, ses valeurs se sont effondrées ; conscient qu’il participe à un système fondé sur les classes sociales.  Il éprouve alors le besoin de parcourir le monde pour se trouver et se ressourcer.


Il choisit alors Paris, passage obligé pour tout intellectuel ou artiste de l’époque, et se même au milieu populaire de la capitale. Il survit grâce à de petits boulots (plonge, cours d’anglais) et écrit dans quelques journaux… C’est la débrouille et une période de clochardisation difficile. Il fréquente un temps les milieux espérantistes, les milieux littéraires mais surtout cherche sa voie en écriture quand son ventre n’est pas vide. Cette expérience parisienne commence à le forger politiquement et devient socialiste ; il en profite pour choisir son nom de plume. Il est étranger aux avant-gardes de son époque bien qu’il croise quelques futures grandes personnalités littéraires de son époque. Son premier roman (largement autobiographique) est alors édité, bien que Dans la dèche à Paris et à Londres ne rencontre pas un succès commercial il suscite l’intérêt des mouvements de gauche pour qui il écrira quelques papiers. On lui colle alors l’étiquette d’écrivain de gauche bien que les nuances de sa pensée le mettent en marge. Son second roman Une histoire birmane est une critique acerbe du colonialisme qu’il a bien connu.

A la demande de son éditeur il est envoyé dans le nord de l’Angleterre où il côtoie les gens du peuple, au bas de l’échelle sociale, laminés par le chômage. Sa conscience politique s’affine avec Le Quai de Wigan où il traite de l’exploitation des bassins miniers par le milieu ouvrier pour qui il se prend d’amour, touché par sa grandeur malgré l’adversité. Durant toute sa vie, il y aura chez lui une fascination pour les corps suppliciés, des prolétaires ou celui des exclus. Composée de deux parties, la première sous forme journalistique et la seconde sous forme de pamphlet, il a la dent dure envers les institutions politiques œuvrant pour socialisme, créant une ligne de démarcation entre les intellectuels déversant leur idéologie et le milieu ouvrier en prise avec le réel. Son éditeur se désolidarise alors de lui, Orwell se dit socialiste, réceptif à l’anarchisme et se détache déjà très clairement des cerveaux staliniens ou trotskistes. Orwell partage la notion « d’Etat providence » ayant pour mission de subvenir aux besoins de ses citoyens, en termes de santé, d’éducation et d’emploi.

Il gagne alors l’Espagne en pleine guerre grâce à ses réseaux et  s’engage dans le POUM (parti ouvrier d’extrême gauche) récusé par les communistes aux ordres de l’Union Soviétique. Plusieurs camps s’affrontant en effet au sein des opposants à Franco, il est témoin des luttes intestines menées par les communistes. Hommage à la Catalogne racontera cette période de sa vie avec amertume… Il découvre alors le pouvoir de la propagande et les manipulations de la presse. Cela aura une incidence sur la création de 1984. Blessé sur le front, assistant aux basses besognes des milices communistes pour exterminer les anarchistes sous l’ordre de Staline, il regagne l’Angleterre une fois la victoire de Franco. Il prend alors conscience que la guerre n’est pas noble même si ceux qui sont sur le champ de bataille combattent souvent pour un idéal. Il est le premier à dénoncer les exactions et les trahisons des staliniens préférant détruire les groupes dissidents de gauche plutôt que de les triompher des franquistes. Il découvre la pureté tout autant que les salissures des idéologues. Lui qui nomme par « esprit de cristal » le meilleur de l’homme, découvre la noirceur de l’âme humaine bien que continuant à croire en l’homme en tant qu’individualité.


Un peu d’air frais sort en 1937 décrit avec nostalgie l’Angleterre des débuts de XXème siècle et de la nocivité du progrès tel que conçu par les idéologues. Une certaine forme de refus de la modernité nait alors chez lui car il pressent la naissance des totalitarismes et de l’aliénation des masses. Pacifiste, patriote et révolutionnaire à la fois, anarchiste dans sa méfiance envers les élites, conservateur car hostile à ce qui est présenté à tort comme le progrès, Orwell se singularise des mouvements intellectuels de sa génération. Orwell se débat avec ses contradictions, aime les femmes tout en étant misogyne, aime l’Humanité mais est habité par un  brin d’antisémitisme et de nationalisme.

Durant la seconde guerre mondiale, il officie pour la BBC. Souvent censuré pour ses opinions et ses critiques envers l’Union Soviétique alors alliée de la Grande-Bretagne, il démissionne fin 1943 pour rejoindre le journal travailliste de gauche The Tribune. Après la guerre, sachant que la tuberculeuse ne lui laisse que quelques années à vivre, c’est une course contre la montre pour parachever son œuvre politico-littéraire. Il écrit les deux ouvrages qui le consacreront : La Ferme des animaux publiée en pleine guerre froide, critique du stalinisme mais aussi d’une analyse peu flatteuse envers le capitalisme, et bien sûr le prophétique 1984 où il déploie sa haine du totalitarisme au nom du socialisme, dénonçant la manipulation des masses par le langage via sa simplification afin de réduire la capacité d’analyse (la fameuse novlangue). Pour rappel, Orwell était polyglotte, parlant couramment le français, à la recherche de la pureté et du mot juste dans ses écrits. Les mots n’ayant pas qu’une vocation fonctionnelle mais la mission de véhiculer la pensée sans distorsion. Il nous décrit dans 1984 un homme réduit à sa fonction où sévit une surveillance technologique liberticide des citoyens. Il décèdera à seulement 47 ans le 21 janvier 1950, seul dans son lit sans personne pour lui prendre la main, sa seconde femme fanfaronnant avec un de ses amants alors qu’il agonise.

Sa pensée heuristique restant d’actualité, un grand nombre d’écrivains ou intellectuels revendiquent son influence. En France, son plus grand représentant est sans nul doute le philosophie Jean-Claude Michéa. Messianique malgré lui, Orwell est toujours un grain de sable dans l’engrenage des puissants. Pour preuve, une campagne de presse diffamante relayée par nombre de grands quotidiens sur un Orwell qui en fin de vie aurait donné au Foreign Office les noms de compagnons de route potentiellement espions de l’Union Soviétique. Il n’en est rien, alors en fin de vie une amie et belle-sœur de son ami Arthur Koestler vint lui rendre visite au sanatorium où il était soigné afin de lui demander des noms d’intellectuels ou journalistes susceptibles d’écrire sur les exactions du régime soviétique à la demande d’un service gouvernemental anglais. Il lui donnera effectivement des noms… Parmi ces noms, il nommera des personnalités inutiles de contacter car peu enclins à saper le régime stalinien du fait de leur obédience politique. De là à en faire un délateur, il y a un monde ! On chercha donc à salir l’image de cet homme…Comme quoi il dérange toujours, son rayonnement étant une épine dans le pied des totalitarismes contemporains. Totalitarismes insidieusement cachés dans notre société dont nous portons les bacilles, qui ont su se travestir et sont toujours à l’ouvrage.

L’homme et l’écriture ne faisant qu’un, son œuvre puisa dans les expériences qui jalonnèrent sa vie. Eclairant le présent et le futur à la lumière du passé, méfiant vis-à-vis des idéologies d’où qu’elles viennent.  Orwell, témoin engagé de son Temps, ne tomba pas dans les pièges de son époque comme Céline, Drieu La rochelle, Sartre ou encore Aragon. Il sut ne pas se laisser berner par les endoctrinements et des luttes de salon, son intégrité l’amena à se faire des ennemis de son vivant mais le plus bel ami une fois quitté ce monde… Le jugement de l’Histoire.

Romain d’Ignazio.

jeudi, 01 décembre 2016

Henry Williamson, George Orwell, & the Pigs


Henry Williamson, George Orwell, & the Pigs

Henry_Williamson_by_Charles_Tunnicliffe (1).jpgToday is the birthday of Henry Williamson (Dec. 1, 1895 – Aug. 13, 1977)—ruralist author, war historian, journalist, farmer, and visionary of British fascism.

Two rather incongruous points of Williamson’s life stand out. One is that he achieved fame with what is usually regarded as a children’s book, Tarka the Otter (originally published 1927, with a movie version in 1979).

The other is that he was a friend of Lawrence of Arabia; and that it was on his way back from posting a letter to Williamson that T. E. Lawrence was mysteriously killed in a motorcycle accident. This was 1935. The matter under discussion in the correspondence was a request by Williamson that Lawrence join Sir Oswald Mosley in a campaign for European peace. Reportedly, Lawrence agreed.

Williamson was a prolific, compulsive writer (over 50 books, including posthumous volumes). Sometimes he is described as an author whose fame was consigned to “the memory hole” on account of his fascist associations and enthusiasm for National Socialism.

But this is very misleading. Even as an old man in the 1960s, Williamson was called upon by one of his old papers, the Evening Standard, to revisit and recount the 1914-18 battlefields of the Western Front [2], and ten years later he was engaged to draft a scenario for a long-delayed film version of Tarka. When he died in 1977 he merited a 1700-word obit in The Times [3] that described his great output and scarcely mentioned his “Fascist sympathies.”

Henry Williamson.jpgBlackshirt sympathies are really a side-note with Williamson, as they are with Yeats, Belloc, and Wyndham Lewis. If he is largely forgotten today, this is not because he went to Nuremberg rallies (nobody forgets the Mitfords, after all), but rather because of the peculiar nature of his output. Apart from his war memoirs, most of his writing consists of highly detailed close observation, with little direct commentary on the world at large. (The newspaper column at the end of this article is a good example of Williamson’s work. Taken in large doses, such detail tends to become tedious.)

A good contrast with Williamson is the case of George Orwell, whose pose as “a man of the Left” was purely for literary viability in the 1930s. From his social attitudes and military bearing, to his patriotic pronouncements (England, Your England) and anti-Stalinism—even his funny mustache—Orwell was a most unlikely “man of the Left.” Yet that is how he styled himself. Orwell even shared with Williamson a fondness for nature-writing, though their differences in approach are striking, as I will come back to.

First, though, I want to say a few words about Williamson’s ruralist books and journalism. He wrote in a time when nature-writing was a popular genre, and a mainstay of daily newspapers, particularly in England, much as wine columns seem to be today. I guess these “countryman” columns in London papers functioned as “breathers,” giving tram and Underground riders a break from the usual Fleet Street headlines and Oxo adverts. And maybe editors and press-lords believed thought that throwing in a bit of farming, foxes and foliage would raise the overall tone of their newspapers.

The most famous example of these “countryman” columns is the one Evelyn Waugh made up for his satirical novel, Scoop (1938). In Scoop, a newspaper tycoon wants to hire a fashionable young novelist named Boot to cover a civil war in Africa. By mistake he gets the wrong Boot. Not society star John Courtney Boot, but his impoverished hick cousin, William.

Shy, befuddled William Boot lives in deepest Devon where he writes a column called “Lush Places,” for the vulgar London newspaper The Daily Beast. (The title has since been repurposed for an even more vulgar webzine).

We get only one snippet of this impenetrably rhapsodic column, “Lush Places,” but that leaves us gasping for no more: “Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.”

Henry Williamson, you might say, was the real “Boot of The Beast” in Scoop. He was unworldly. He wrote “countryman” columns. He described, close-up, the behavior of the salmon and the otter, the “feather-footed vole” in the “plashy fen.” He lived out in Devon, later in north Norfolk, worked a countryman writer and farmer.

What a contrast with Orwell, who was not only a sort of war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War (for the Tribune, and in his memoir Homage to Catalonia) but made a special point of joining an eccentric faction, the POUM, that opposed Stalin but supported the Spanish Loyalists.

But Orwell’s mindset was not that far off from Williamson’s. They were near-contemporaries (Williamson: 1895-1977, Orwell: 1903-1950), and Orwell too often wrote about nature and farming.

One of Orwell’s best known essays, “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad,” is a mystical-whimsical contemplation on toad-spawning as an annual rite of spring:

Frequently one comes upon shapeless masses of ten or twenty toads rolling over and over in the water, one clinging to another without distinction of sex. By degrees, however, they sort themselves out into couples, with the male duly sitting on the female’s back. You can now distinguish males from females, because the male is smaller, darker and sits on top, with his arms tightly clasped round the female’s neck. After a day or two the spawn is laid in long strings which wind themselves in and out of the reeds and soon become invisible. A few more weeks, and the water is alive with masses of tiny tadpoles which rapidly grow larger, sprout hind-legs, then forelegs, then shed their tails: and finally, about the middle of the summer, the new generation of toads, smaller than one’s thumb-nail but perfect in every particular, crawl out of the water to begin the game anew.

I mention the spawning of the toads because it is one of the phenomena of spring which most deeply appeal to me, and because the toad, unlike the skylark and the primrose, has never had much of a boost from poets. [2]

Orwell constantly fantasized about living in the countryside, and even talked of becoming a farmer someday. Around 1936 he got as far as living in North Hertfordshire country store beside an estate called Manor Farm—a name he borrowed some years later when he penned a fantasy about a farm where all the animals, led by smart pigs, take control and rename the place Animal Farm.

roman-1984,M113634.jpgThe romance of the country permeates his other fiction. In one novel after another, Orwell’s human characters rouse themselves, suddenly and unaccountably, to go tramping through meadows and hedgerows. In A Clergyman’s Daughter the title character gets amnesia and finds herself hop-picking in Kent. The superficially different stories in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Keep the Aspidistra Flying both have romantic episodes in which a couple go for long hikes through idyllic woods and fields, where they marvel and fornicate amongst the wonders of Mother Nature. The middle-aged narrator of Coming for Air spends much of the novel dreaming of fishing in the country ponds of his youth, but when he finally takes his rod and seeks down his old haunts, he finds that exurbia has encroached and his fishing-place is now being used as a latrine and rubbish-tip by a local encampment of beatnik nature-lovers.

For Orwell, fauna and flora are never just interesting specimens by themselves. They are always somehow political and anthropomorphized, tied up with human associations. Toads having sex are like tiny people performing The Rite of Spring. The wild is a place where you can escape to make love safely, far away from the eyes and ears of your landlady or The Party (although Winston Smith does worry that there may be microphones hidden in the trees!). Despoiling your fishing hole is a Bad Thing not because of pollution or dead fish but because it insults your inner picture of the world.

In his abbreviated career, Orwell remained very much the urbanized literary man, never the countryman. He saw natural phenomena as things that had to be justified and rationalized in a utilitarian way, so they could fit into his world view. Or at least have some literary usefulness.

For Williamson, literary usefulness was pretty much beside the point. He received commissions and royalties from his columns and books, but basically he earned his living from the soil. For him, toads were toads and pigs were pigs. This was reality, and the important thing about his little piggies was that they were starving and needed to be fed, or else they would die.

Here, then, is a Henry Williamson column from the Evening Standard, early 1940. He is describing a scene on his north Norfolk farm. The column is followed by its then-worldly (but now extremely obscure) adjoining headline. Williamson’s agony over his hungry piglets describes a situation that could very well have occurred a millennium before.

Cold Comfort

Come with me into the open air this afternoon, and help me saw up logs for the hearths in the farmhouse below. It’s frosty, the pipes in the cow-house are frozen. 

Take this Norwegian saw, with its razor-thin serrated band, which will cut through a two-inch green bough in four strokes – or would, before someone used it for four-hundred-year-old oak posts. 

It’s pretty hard work, you say, using it now? Well, carry on, it will get you warm, anyway! 

Half an hour later, we are warm and glowing, although when we touch the blade of either saw with a finger, it sticks to the steel. That will tell how keen the frost is. 

It’s as cold as it was in the High Pyrenees, years ago with old Kit, when we climbed up all day stripped to the waist, and skied down at night, when the stars were flashing and the frosty snow-flakes glinted in the flashes of Sirius. 

Down there, before a typewriter, one shivers, although a rug is round the knees; out here, it’s grand, and the pile of logs grows higher. Forgotten for the moment are the problems of farming: the delay in delivery of the deep-digger plough; the pigs below which are being fed on sugar-beet tops and crushed oats, because there is no proper food available. 

Twenty-four little pigs – and for weeks I have not been able to buy any proper food for them. I can’t send them to market, either, for the market is closed to ‘stores’, owing to swine fever in the district. 

The food-merchants tell me they get supplies only with the greatest difficulty, and then in small quantities. 

Meanwhile my little pigs are half-starved, and I only hope that the R.S.P.C.A. won’t prosecute me for cruelty. 

However, let’s forget it for a while and saw some more wood. And when the arm is tired we’ll enjoy the view. Isn’t everything quiet? The gold of the sunshine seems frozen, immingled with the frosty air; hardly a sound. 

Even the sea is silent on the distant sands, where the geese wait until twilight to come in and feed on the clover in the fields. Let’s hope they leave some for hay next summer. Shoot them? You’ll be lucky to get within two hundred yards of them. They have sentinels out, watching with raised heads. 

Twilight comes suddenly, with purple-red afterglow of the sun hiding coldly behind the frosty fog creeping up the valley with still layers of cottage chimney smoke. The nip comes back to ear and finger-tips. The old car slithers over the rimed grass, drawing the trailer. And suddenly five airplanes roar overhead, low, from their vigil across the North Sea. One lags behind, the engines spluttering. It lurches through the air, so low that we can see one of the crew be- hind the crystal dome. 

Are they very cold in there? They fly on, and we go down to the farm to look at the little pigs. This is the age of endurance – for a better future, we hope.  

Wednesday, 17 January 1940  


1.  http://www.henrywilliamson.co.uk/hw-and-the-first-world-war [2]

2. Originally published in Tribune and The New Republic, 1946. Collected in In Front of Your Nose: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. 4.New York, San Diego, London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,  1968.



Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2016/12/henry-williamson-george-orwell-and-the-pigs/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/HenryWilliamsonPainting.jpg

[2] recount the 1914-18 battlefields of the Western Front: http://www.henrywilliamson.co.uk/hw-and-the-first-world-war

[3] The Times: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/alt.obituaries/fGODnHy747M