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All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays

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As a critic, George Orwell cast a wide net. Equally at home discussing Charles Dickens and Charlie Chaplin, he moved back and forth across the porous borders between essay and journalism, high art and low. A frequent commentator on literature, language, film, and drama throughout his career, Orwell turned increasingly to the critical essay in the 1940s, when his most important experiences were behind him and some of his most incisive writing lay ahead. All Art Is Propaganda follows Orwell as he demonstrates in piece after piece how intent analysis of a work or body of work gives rise to trenchant aesthetic and philosophical commentary."how to be interesting, line after line."

Charles Dickens
Boys' Weeklies
Inside the Whale
Drama Reviews: The Tempest, The Peaceful Inn
Film Review: The Great Dictator
Wells, Hitler and the World State
The Art of Donald McGill
No, Not One
Rudyard Kipling
T.S. Eliot
Can Socialists Be Happy?
Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali
Propaganda and Demotic Speech
Raffles and Miss Blandish
Good Bad Books
The Prevention of Literature
Politics and the English Language
Confessions of a Book Reviewer
Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels
Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool
Writers and Leviathan
Review of The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
Reflections on Gandhi

374 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1941

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About the author

George Orwell

1,233 books41.5k followers
Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist. His work is marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language, and a belief in democratic socialism.

In addition to his literary career Orwell served as a police officer with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma from 1922-1927 and fought with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1937. Orwell was severely wounded when he was shot through his throat. Later the organization that he had joined when he joined the Republican cause, The Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), was painted by the pro-Soviet Communists as a Trotskyist organization (Trotsky was Joseph Stalin's enemy) and disbanded. Orwell and his wife were accused of "rabid Trotskyism" and tried in absentia in Barcelona, along with other leaders of the POUM, in 1938. However by then they had escaped from Spain and returned to England.

Between 1941 and 1943, Orwell worked on propaganda for the BBC. In 1943, he became literary editor of the Tribune, a weekly left-wing magazine. He was a prolific polemical journalist, article writer, literary critic, reviewer, poet, and writer of fiction, and, considered perhaps the twentieth century's best chronicler of English culture.

Orwell is best known for the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949) and the satirical novella Animal Farm (1945) — they have together sold more copies than any two books by any other twentieth-century author. His 1938 book Homage to Catalonia, an account of his experiences as a volunteer on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, together with numerous essays on politics, literature, language, and culture, have been widely acclaimed.

Orwell's influence on contemporary culture, popular and political, continues decades after his death. Several of his neologisms, along with the term "Orwellian" — now a byword for any oppressive or manipulative social phenomenon opposed to a free society — have entered the vernacular.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 137 reviews
Profile Image for Greg.
370 reviews110 followers
August 19, 2014
I exhort you to take a proper gander at All Art Is Propaganda.

I've read all of the essays but one, - Benefits of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali. I'm a bit essayed out after the two volumes, All Art Is Propaganda and Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays.

All the essays I've read in these two volumes are brilliant.

I have a problem with getting around to typing up reviews, I have a backlog to do. I'm getting there.

Added to review

Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool

Orwell writes that Tolstoy said Shakespeare was mediocre, and 'aroused in him "an irresistible repulsion and tedium." '
Orwell astutely observes that Lear is very similar to Tolstoy in later life.

Wells, Hitler and the World State

Orwell, unlike H.G. Wells' well-intentioned dismissive about Hitler, sees the threat as "Creatures out of the Dark Ages have come marching into the present, and if they are ghosts they are at any rate ghosts which need a strong magic to lay them".

Review of The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

from 1948 covers several of Greene's novels, including 'Brighton Rock' which Orwell sees as not very successful, which I agree with. Orwell makes some deadpan funny observations on the whole premise of 'Catholic Novels.'

Another great Essay is on Charlie Chaplin's film: The Great Dictator.

Reflections On Gandhi


No, Not One

The essay 'Reflections On Gandhi', in which Orwell looks at Gandhi's pacifism. This raises a lively discussion contrasting Orwell's other essay, 'No, Not One', which states an irrefutable argument against pacifism in a time of war with the Nazis. Gandhi's pacifism was against British Rule. Orwell notes "There is reason to think that Gandhi, who after all was born in 1869, did not understand totalitarianism and saw everything in terms of his own struggle against the British Government."

Orwell also asks "Was Hitler sane?"

While reading these two essays, which both focus on 'Pacifism', I thought, what a discussion it would be to sit around with some GR friends, especially those who's reviews I admire.

In the essay No, Not One Orwell reviews a novel 'No Such Liberty' by Alex Comfort, which sounds very interesting but doesn't appear to be easy to find. I think it is long out of print. Alex Comfort is the author of a book on a very different subject that was a bestseller in the sixties or seventies The Joy of Sex.

Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels.'

Swift's writing and his political views, Orwell writes "From what I have written it may have seemed that I am against Swift, and that my objective is to refute him and even belittle him."
This paragraph, and indeed the entire essay, focusses on an important point. That one can admire a writer's genius at the same time disagreeing or disliking what he is saying. Orwell raises the question: what is the relationship between agreement with a writer's opinions, and enjoying his work? The essay ends on a strong statement - "The durability of Gulliver's Travels goes to show that, if the force of belief is behind it, a world-view which only just passes the test of sanity is sufficient to produce a great work of art."

I have always loved and believed in diversity and have always believed in doubt, which I think of as a positive, not a negative. Question everything.

Profile Image for Theo Logos.
636 reviews102 followers
June 3, 2023
”Orwell is not afraid to be boring, which means that he is never boring.”

The above statement, taken from Keith Gessen’s introduction to this collection, is not strictly true. The first part is true — a collection that contains an essays on the cultural implications of boys’s weekly magazines, another on off-color postcards, and yet another on good bad books, proves it. (And no, none of them are boring.) Yet there were times when Orwell’s prolonged deep dives into his subject left me momentarily stupefied. Orwell sounds each subject to its deepest depths — an impressive display of erudition and insight — but sometimes I had my fill several pages before he concluded his essay. Despite this, the abundance of his clear-eyed brilliance far outweighed the moments of boredom.

Orwell covers much ground in these critical essays. His name has become nearly synonymous with his writings on totalitarianism, and there is plenty of that here, as in his essay Wells, Hitler, and the World State. Yet also collected here is his film review of Chaplin’s film The Great Dictator, and his scathing piece on Salvador Dali and his autobiography, an essay that was suppressed on the grounds of “obscenity.”

It is Orwell’s essays on writers that shine the brightest. He delves deep into classic icons of letters. Of Dickens he writes:

”Dickens seems to have succeeded in attacking everybody and antagonizing nobody.”


”He is all fragments, all details — rotten architecture but wonderful gargoyles”

He launches into Kipling with this:

“Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting. It is better to start by admitting that, and then to try to find out why it is that he survives while the refined people who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly.”

And he dismisses Wells with:

”Wells is too sane to understand the modern world.”

Both Henry Miller and Jonathan Swift received Orwell’s critical examination as well.

The final writer who is brilliantly revealed in these essays is Orwell himself. He does not hide in his work. His approach is clear eyed, unsentimental, and direct. He uncovers truths that were hiding in plain sight, and doesn’t give a damn for the artificial dichotomy of party opinion or the officially sanctioned or proper philosophies. He bravely slays sacred cows of all factions with abandon. He writes:

”To write in plain, vigorous language one has to think fearlessly, and if one thinks fearlessly one cannot be politically orthodox.”

Yet despite these admirable qualities, he also reveals himself as a bit of a prig, a chauvinist, and a nasty homophobe, proving that even nonconformist heroes have blind spots and never fully escape the foibles of their age.

Profile Image for Kristen.
544 reviews33 followers
April 8, 2018
As a title, All Art is Propaganda has a portentous quality that doesn't do justice to the sheer delight of Orwell's essays. Reading his straightforward prose style is like talking to a friend who just happens to have thought deeply about all levels of art, ranging from Charles Dickens and Salvador Dali to dirty postcards and boys' adventure magazines. Orwell does often bring politics into his criticism, but his approach is a lot more engaging and less bleak than you might expect. And despite (or maybe because of) the simplicity of his style, he has an gift for unique and memorable turns of phrase. Contrasting the inconsistency of Dickens's plots with the richness of his detail, for example, Orwell writes "rotten architecture, but wonderful gargoyles."

I had previously read many essays in this book in other volumes, so I focused mainly those that were new to me, along with a few favorites. There were a few essays I found less interesting, particularly those that weren't about any particular work, but rather about general questions like "can literature flourish under a totalitarian regime?" (Spoiler alert, no.) There are definitely more consistent Orwell essay compilations that would serve as a better introduction for a new reader. But for the Orwell essay aficionado, All Art is Propaganda is a solid and engaging compilation of his critical writing.
Profile Image for Douglas Wilson.
Author 286 books3,531 followers
December 8, 2014
This was really a provocative read. Orwell is such a clear writer, and independent thinker, that you find yourself fruitfully mulling over issues you have never really thought about before. This is a collection of essays and reviews, and is well worth every minute spent on it. Fantastic.
Profile Image for Faye.
419 reviews45 followers
April 1, 2019
Charles Dickens - 4/5 stars
Boys' Weeklies (read before in Decline of the English Murder)
Inside the Whale - 2.5/5 stars
Drama reviews: The Tempest, The Peaceful Inn - 3.5/5 stars
Film review: The Great Dictator - 3/5 stars
Wells, Hitler and the World State - 4.5/5 stars
The Art of Donald McGill (read before in Decline of the English Murder)
No, Not One - 3/5 stars
Rudyard Kipling - 2/5 stars
T.S. Eliot - 2/5 stars
Can Socialists be Happy? - 3.5/5 stars
Benefit of Clergy: some notes on Salvador Dali - 1/5 stars
Propaganda and Demotic Speech - 2/5 stars
Raffles and Miss Blandish - 2/5 stars
Good Bad Books (read before in Decline of the English Murder)
The Prevention of Literature (read before in Books v. Cigarettes)
Politics and the English Language (read before in Why I Write)
Confessions of a Book Reviewer (read before in Books v. Cigarettes)
Politics vs Literature: an examination of Gulliver's Travels - DNF
Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool - 3/5 stars
Writers and Leviathan - 2/5 stars
Review of 'The Heart of the Matter' by Graham Greene - 3/5 stars
Reflections on Gandhi - 2.5/5 stars
Profile Image for Tosh.
Author 13 books625 followers
June 21, 2018
Reading George Orwell's essays and reviews is not so much that I agree or disagree with him, but the fact that I admire his prose writing. In an odd way, he reminds me at times of Roland Barthes. Perhaps for the reason that I have been reading Barthes time-to-time the past twenty years or so. Barthes is a poetic and textural reader, and I feel that I'm dipping into a murky pool of different ingredients. Orwell looks at his subject matter in a similar vein as Barthes but is very much in defining what he sees in a clear and non-heady manner. It may just come down that one is British and the other is French. Still, Orwell's approach and thinking about the English language is very thoughtful, and especially in these times (like always) it's good to remind us how flexible language is, and it depends on how one uses the English language and for what purposes.
Profile Image for Scott Rhee.
1,846 reviews69 followers
February 20, 2017
“From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned...(p. 259)”

Let’s start with the basic definition of the word “totalitarian”: “adj.) of or relating to a centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life. (dictionary.com)”

Arguably, the country I live in and love---the United States of America---has never been a democracy. It is technically a republic. True democracies don’t exist because true democracies would inevitably crumble and destroy themselves. Such is the nature of the human condition: we all, secretly, hate those with which we don’t agree and, secretly, wish to see them proven wrong and/or permanently silenced. Anyone who claims otherwise---egalitarian do-gooders who believe that “everyone deserves to have an equal voice”---is lying to you and themselves.

George Orwell knew this. He spent his life writing about totalitarianism and its polar opposite philosophy, democratic socialism. He abhorred the former, but he knew the latter was a fairy tale. Socialism, as it was practiced by people claiming to be socialists, was fascism in disguise.

All the so-called Socialist regimes---Nazis, Soviets, Cuba, China---were perversions of true socialism. They paid lip service to socialist ideals while openly engaging in fascistic atrocities. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing.

But people who strived for true democracy weren’t much better. They were, according to Orwell, often people who felt themselves to be morally and intellectually superior. They were judgmental and self-righteous. They were, ironically, dismissive or indifferent to whole segments of the population that they felt were beneath them: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. (from “Animal Farm”)”

So it was for the nearly 70 years since Orwell’s death. Then, in November 2016, something strange happened. A man with absolutely no credible qualifications for any profession, let alone politics, was elected to the highest political office in the land.

Now, totalitarianism is the hot new buzz word, and Orwell is back on the bestseller lists.


“A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible. But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened...(p. 259)”

Donald Trump probably likes to think of himself as infallible. He certainly ran his campaign like he was infallible, often claiming that he knew more than military leaders, opponents, and his own advisors. He has yet to utter the three most important little words---”I was wrong”---in regards to anything.

So far, Trump has been wrong numerous times, but the journalists who have the audacity to fact-check him and suggest that he is less than factual in his assertions are written off as “fake news” and misleading the public. His antagonism towards the press is unprecedented, even when compared to Richard Nixon.

Thankfully, the press is putting up a pretty good fight against Trump, but it’s perhaps only a matter of time before Trump sets up his own Ministry of Propaganda. I’m sure Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway are working on it right now.

The attack on journalism is only one small part of Trump’s totalitarian war against freedom and autonomous thought. Don’t forget that the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities are also being considered for federal de-funding. Granted, the NEA and the NEH have been under attack by Republicans for decades, so there’s nothing really new there.

Still, it’s important to remember how important Art is to a culture’s health and stability, because Art is perhaps the most democratic of all endeavors. Freedom of expression is the bedrock of the foundation of this country. All other freedoms---of religion, of the press, of bearing arms---stem from this freedom.

Expression---of one’s feelings, opinions, criticisms---is where all Art comes from, which is perhaps why Orwell liked to repeat the phrase, “All Art is Propaganda”. Even the most innocuous and bland work of art is, essentially, political in that it is an expression, and extension, of the artist’s worldview. We can choose to dislike it, disagree with it, loathe it, but we can’t suppress it. Attempts to do so are what is called censorship.


“Then, again, every major change in policy demands a corresponding change of doctrine and a revaluation of prominent historical figures. This kind of thing happens everywhere, but clearly it is likelier to lead to outright falsification in societies where only one opinion is permissible at any given moment. Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth. (p. 259)”

“All Art is Propaganda” is Orwell’s collected critical essays, and they are perhaps as important today as they were when he wrote them, nearly 80 years ago.

Even the dated ones---the “current” book reviews of bestselling authors such as Henry Miller and Graham Greene or the movie review of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” ---have a contemporary resonance, illustrating how history isn’t that distant and the past isn’t always the past. Everything may change, but nothing ever changes.

Orwell was that rarest of intellectual writers, the one who secretly loathed intellectualism, at least the blatantly pretentious kind of intellectualism that he couldn’t stand among many of his contemporaries. His loathing wasn’t really much of a secret.

He wrote in a very succinct, straightforward manner, a trait most likely owing to his stint as a journalist. He never wasted five words when one word would suffice. Yet every word he wrote packed a wallop. Because every word he wrote came from a place that valued social justice and freedom of thought.

This is why it’s heartening to see Orwell back on the bestseller lists and popular again.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,378 reviews2,253 followers
October 15, 2021
I can't seem to get enough of Orwell's essays. That only leaves one collection to go.
Probably the greatest - certaintly British - essayist I've read and ever will. Some of those here I'd come across before in other volumes, and read two or three times already, so only focused on the essays I hadn't read - which was about two-thirds of the book. Such a wide array of topics here so things never became boring. He is simply one of those writers - whether fiction or non-fiction - that everyone should read.

Profile Image for Janelle Hanchett.
Author 1 book185 followers
June 19, 2020
I gave an Orwell book three stars. What a strange thing to do. And yet I stand by it. Sort of. Probably four and I’m just mad. Who cares about stars.

Anyway, I’m not a feminist running around seeking opportunities to grow outraged at the erasure of women writers, and I expect it when reading male authors of the 1940s. But I began this book on the day I finished reading Gaskell’s “North and South,” which is a Victorian novel that looks deep into England’s urban working class, cotton mill workers. Gaskell was a Marxist and wrote a searing and complex account of labor rights, unions, the proletariat and the ruling class.

The first essay in Orwell’s book states that there is “no English novel” that writes of England’s urban working class. He specifically cites cotton mills. In the context of critiquing Dickens for not being Marxist enough, Orwell argues that NOBODY writes those sorts of novels, almost as an excuse for Dickens.

Hence the three stars. It’s flat out ignorant if not wholly misogynistic. Either way, unimpressed.

This entire book on art straight erases female artists. They are non entities. Nothings. All men all day all the time. Of the two women writers he mentions in passing, one was so he could assert that he hopes Virginia Woolf’s work fades into oblivion.

I am writing my own essay in response to this book. It’s called “Turns out Orwell is something of a dick.”

Working title.

In other news, never read the nonfiction of your male novelist heroes from the past, apparently. Especially if you’re a woman writer. I’ll admit it. It stings. What these women went through to write those books, and they were just—erased.

This quote, though? Brilliance:

“It seems that in every attack Dickens makes upon society he is always pointing to a change of spirit rather than a change of structure. It is hopeless to try and pin him down to any definite remedy, still more to any political doctrine. His approach is always along the moral plane...

A “change of heart” is in fact the alibi of people who do not wish to endanger the status quo.”

HELLO, CENTRISTS. Same old shit with a better polish. Work out predatory capitalism on a moral plane. You know, nice guy up front serving the ruling elite.

Four stars. Just mad. Ya dick.

Profile Image for Farah Al-Shuhail.
38 reviews100 followers
December 28, 2013
تصبح الكتابة عملاً شاقاً حين تنتقد أحد أعمال كُتابك المفضلين. خاصةً وأن هذا العمل تحديداً موجهاً لجعلك أكثر وعياً بالأخطاء المرتكبة أثناء الكتابة النقدية. وهذا ما لا يعرفه الكثير عن أورويل, أنه إلى جانب كونه روائي بارع, فهو أيضاً ناقد وكاتب مقالات عبقري يتنقل في موضوعاته بين السياسة والسينما والفن والأدب. ويتسم بالكثير من الواقعية, التي قد تصل به إلى مرحلة السوداوية أحياناً, لكنه يعي رغم ذلك أهمية الحقيقة, ويعي قبل ذلك, أهمية اللغة في نقلها إلينا. ولأن أورويل يدرك أن الأدب الروائي هو نوع الأدب المفضل لدى العامة, صُممت رواياته لتناسب الفكرة التي تمحورت حولها مقالاته, أقتبس هذا النص من روايته 1984:

"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? ... Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller."

في نهاية الأمر, أتمنى أن تتلقى مقالات أورويل ذات الإهتمام الذي تلقته أعماله الروائية؛ لأنه يحمل رسالة تستحق النشر, ولأنه أحد الكتاب القلة الذين حين تقرأ لهم لا تملك سوا أن تتفق معهم.
Profile Image for الصفاء.
554 reviews348 followers
December 22, 2018
منذ قرائتي لروايتيه 1984 ومزرعة الحيوان، أعجبت بأسلوبه في الكتابة وقدرته على جمع بين الأدب والسياسة، لأجد هذا الكتاب وهو عبارة عن مجموعة مقالات نقدية تناولت مواضيع مختلفة مثل الكتابة واللغة والسياسة والدين والحياة والفن والموت وأكثر من ذلك بكثير.

تظهر هذه المقالات معرفة أورويل الواسعة بالأدب، فهنا ستجد نقد عميق لجميع مستويات الفن بدءا من تشارلز ديكنز وسلفادور دالي إلى البطاقات البريدية التافهة ومجلات المغامرات الخاصة بالأولاد. غالبا ما يجلب أورويل السياسة إلى نقده، لكن مقاربته أكثر جاذبية وأقل قتامة مما قد تتوقعه. يرى أورويل أنه لا يمكن فصل الأدب عن السياسة وينتقد بشكل شرس ميل الكتاب إلى النزعة السلمية، فهي مجرد قبول واستمرار للظلم والثورة ضرورية دائما للمجتمع من أجل التقدم والتحسن، ليس بالضرورة ستؤدي إلى السعادة لكن إلى نظام أفضل.


ما أعجبني في مقالاته هو انتقاده لنفسه وكونه يساهم أيضا في نشر البروباغندا، وقراءة أسلوبه النثري المباشر يشبه التحدث إلى أحد الأصدقاء، وبالرغم من بساطة أسلوبه، إلا أنه يمتلك قدرة على تحويل الكلمات إلى جمل فريدة لا تنسى. إن مجموعة الأفكار التي يشرحها أورويل في هذا الكتاب تتخطى الزمن.
38 reviews13 followers
October 27, 2016
Author 7 books13 followers
March 4, 2009

Orwell: All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays

In a column on the most famous essay included in this new volume, 'Politics and the English Language' (1946) Robert Fulford drops the rather original suggestion that Orwell's failure to notice Churchill's splendid wartime speeches--in an essay eplicitly devoted to rigorous analysis of double talk and obfuscation in the political rhetoric of his day--was a proof of Orwell's reverse snobbery. Que?

Truth is you could make a pretty good case for Orwell as both a snob and a reverse snob on the basis of any number of things he actually wrote. (Perhaps he was simply being narrowly self-consistent--his upbringing was shabby-genteel, either lower-upper or upper-lower class depending your pov--which afforded ample room to despise the true lower and true upper classes both.) But to argue he was expressing contempt for Churchill by not winkling him into an essay he couldn't have fit into logically--what possibly is the point? He wrote enough words actually about Churchill--admiring and critical both--if that's your litmus test for his response to the upper classes. What would he have accomplished by heaping praise on Churchill as a master political rhetorician in an essay otherwise completely taken up with negative examples? taken it down a blind alley for a paragraph or two before it to its proper course? And how could he possibly have praised Chruchill fulsomely enough to satisfy Rob, 63 years later?

'Most important, the English language had just given the greatest political performance in its history, turning away from England's shores the most formidable of all military machines, Germany's.
' In the hands [sic:] of Winston Churchill, language ralllied the British, sustained them through desperate years and led them to victory. It was the supreme political accomplishment of Britain in modern times.
'How could Orwell, writing at precisely that moment, have ignored this central fact of England's existence?'

--Robert Fulford, NatPost Mar 3, 2009

If this hyperbolic gush acknowledges Churchill's role in defeating Hitler, it's hard to imagine what Orwell or anyone, writing at the time with nothing but facts to go on, could have written that wouldn't have struck Fulford as grossly inadequate recognition? Did Churchill's speeches galvanize? yes. Was it the sole force that did? no, though it was a key focal one. At the base level what galvanized the British was simple recognition that Nazism was anti-human and a danger to life and alll human liberty. Was British resistance to Hitler crucial? yes. Was it sufficient? no, anymore than Churchill's language was sufficient in itself to defeat Germany's war machine. Troops moving over air, sea and land were also required, and support troops supplying them in a thousand areas. And they were galvanized, not hypnotically and zombifically driven, by Churchill's powerful rhetoric, and obliged to make complex decisions day by day, hour by hour, that Churchill's speeches could give them no specific guidance on. Some of the credit for their actions--my mother's and father's among the rest--belongs to them as free agents; they weren't simply windup dolls driven forward by a master rhetorician's impulsion. Churchill would have been repulsed by that suggestion, and so should every free citizen.

In one of his essays or columns during the war Orwell spoke of a most-probably-apocryphal story going round about one of Churchill's most famous speeches: ". . . we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!” It was widely rumoured that when he went off mike he added, "We'll throw bottles at the bastards, we've got nothing else." Orwell thought, rightly I'd say, that for such a story to circulate was a strong indication the depth and breadth of affection there was for Churchill, across all class lines. Even more interesting is how stark a topper it is, and what ferocity of resistance it utters. Churchill felt that impulse and fed it, but he didn't originate it: it came from a wider place than any individual, great or small, could occupy alone.

Profile Image for Gisela Hausmann.
Author 41 books364 followers
July 9, 2018
Though Orwell is famous for writing about political issues, every writer should read this book, because it’s not only about politics, this book is a lot about what writers think of other writers’ work.

George Packer’s fascinating introduction reveals that Orwell also reviewed books which I didn’t know. His thoughts are fascinating. Certainly, Orwell has a tendency to look at the world from a political point but he also notices when other writers or society itself ignores politics.

“... The Russian Revolution, for instance, all but vanishes from the English consciousness between the death of Lenin and the Ukraine famine—about ten years. Throughout those years Russia means Tolstoy, Dostoievski and exiled counts driving taxi-cabs...”

Reading Orwell’s words made me wonder what he write about today’s authors. How would he react to “50 shades” being a bestseller? What would he think of “The Handmaid’s Tale”? Would he like today’s review system?

Two essay’s amazed me:
In “Lear, Tolstoy, and the Fool” Orwell elaborates about Shakespeare. Even though I studied “Arts of Theater” I did not know that Tolstoy could not stand Shakespeare’s work. Hmm?!? I should have known about this but I didn’t.

Orwell points out there is no evidence or argument by which one can show that Shakespeare or any other writer is good.
Is it a damning or a comforting argument?
But, Orwell being Orwell doesn’t care. He wonders WHY Tolstoy did not like Shakespeare work.
I believe this is an important thought to ponder, especially for authors of this decade. These days, authors seem to group readers and reviewers only into two groups: “loved my work” or “is a troll.”

As a book reviewer myself, I was also riveted by Orwell’s essay “Confessions of a Book Reviewer”,

“... In a cold but stuffy bed-sitting room littered with cigarette ends and half-empty cups of tea, a man in amoth-eatem dressing gown sits at a rickety table...
Needless to say this person is a writer. He might be a poet, a novelist, or a writer of film scripts or radio features, for all literary people are very much alike, but let us say that he is a book reviewer...”

Orwell goes on to describe a shipment of five volumes and that the reviewer’s review of about 800 words is “expected to be in” by mid-day tomorrow. Today’s reviewers will grin at finding out how Orwell’s reviewer is expected to write the stale old phrases about books “no one should miss” and that the process is exceptionally thankless, irritating and exhausting.
Orwell proves foresight when he notes that books on specialized subjects ought to be dealt with by experts, and “especially novels” could be reviewed by amateurs.

Well, here we are. Amateurs review famous writers’ AND amateurs’ books. What would Orwell have thought about that? His “1984” has been reviewed more than 6,000 times, his “Animal Farm” close to 4,000 times, on Amazon.

Orwell writes that Tolstoy spent a lot of time denunciating Shakespeare, yet if he hadn’t also written “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace,” nobody would care, and his pamphlet about Shakespeare would be forgotten.

Which is a comforting thought. A master of writing, reading and studying others’ work, as well as reviewing the work, Orwell assures us that, in the end, it’s not about reviews and denunciations but about the quality of work.
Other fabulous essays that impressed me: “Inside the Whale”, “Wells, Hitler and the World, State”, T.S. Eliot”, “The Prevention of Literature”< and “reflections on Gandhi.”

I rented this book from the library but will buy it because following Orwell’s example I will study his work again, and again.
5 stars,

Gisela Hausmann, author & blogger
Profile Image for Siddharth Shankaran.
41 reviews6 followers
January 27, 2013
Critical essays from Geroge orwell depict his vast knowledge of literature, as well as his understanding of it perversion for "totalitarian" as well as other ends of repression. He is unflinching and severe in his critique of Fascism, Communist Russia and Left wing orthodox writers, Catholicism. His main concern is the abuse of power, which is concomitant with all systems of governance that is not liberal , and yet he understands that pacifism is not the way ahead for society, for it tolerates injustices, that violence is not alien to human condition but part of civilisation which necessitates it, in one form of other. The way ahead, he says is not a Yogic renunciation like that of Tolstoy or Gandhi, nor is it intellectual theorisation of kind say Communism as whole, but rather that of struggle, to the ideal of kind of Social democracy, and a liberal commitment to literature and its propagation.

His critical appraisal of Dickens, Kipling , Graham Greene gives a deep insight into his understanding of way literature is not separated from politics and any writer that tends to promote conservative pacifism over socialist democracy is merely accepting the injustices of world. HIs critical comment of lack of ability of Dickens to look beyond surface appearance is scathing attack on a figure as tall as Dickens, yet vey aptly reveals the problem with Dickensian literature. Speaking against Dickens he continues, "No one interested in landscape ever seen landscape. " With Dickens it is profusion of the surface description, but none about what is behind that surface appearance. Orwell's stand is that pacifism is merely continuation of injustice, revolution is always necessary for a Society to progress and improve, not necessarily to happiness, but to a better order. "All writing is propaganda, and a writer is always imposing his thought, politically ", is a strong theme that runs through all essays.

However, Orwell himself does not get over it, and as a writer he too is propagating a propagada, although cloaked in a liberal outlook. Yet, he doesn't deny that and is in debate with himself over the issue.Orwell in his essays is crisp, lucid and direct . He does not prevaricate , not does his dilly dally with unnecessary phrase ( an essay is dedicated to that art used by propagandist , especially Fascist and Communist). Not to be missed.
Profile Image for Art.
551 reviews17 followers
March 5, 2017
George Orwell perfected his plain style in the thirties, a style that resembles someone speaking honestly without pretense, writes Keith Gessen in the introduction.

All Art is Propaganda, this volume, includes essays where Orwell holds something up for critical scrutiny. Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays, the twin companion to this one, collects essays that build meaning by telling a story. These two books, one of narrative the other of analysis, include four dozen essays.

For the most part, Orwell lived in London and reviewed books. But, unlike other intellectual writers of the time, he experienced real life before he began thinking through a typewriter keyboard. He served in Burma, washed dishes in a Paris hotel and fought in the Spanish civil war. Over six feet tall, Orwell stood in a trench telling his fellow soldiers about brothels he visited in Paris when a bullet hit his throat, missing his esophagus.

The lesson of these essays: Look around you. Describe what you see. And tell the truth.

— Propaganda and Demotic Speech, summer 1944. Speeches and writing aimed at a large public needs to take ignorance of the masses into account, laments Orwell.

— The Prevention of Literature, January 1946. Orwell writes here about “the organized lying practiced by the totalitarian state.” Totalitarian states, he continues, demand a disbelief in objective truth. Those thoughts foreshadow the unrelenting tone and propaganda erupting from the new administration. Fortunately, only a third of the country believes it.

— Politics and the English Language, April 1946. Orwell bemoans the “catalog of swindles and perversion” committed against good, clear English. This essay crystallized his thoughts for “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” which he began writing a few months later.

Other worthwhile essays in here include “Good Bad Books” and “Confessions of a Book Reviewer.”
Profile Image for Jimmy Ele.
233 reviews88 followers
May 27, 2015
One of the most insightful books I have ever read. It ranges in its scope from the literature of Charles Dickens to the art and life of Salvador Dali. Orwell touches on the subjects of writing, language, politics, religion, life, art, death and so much more in between. Coming away from reading this book, I am increased in my admiration for George Orwell. I admire Orwell's staple books such as 1984 and Animal Farm (art in themselves) for the great books that they are, but after reading this book I admire George Orwell (the man) for the thinking and analytic human being that he was. The range of ideas that Orwell dissects in this book allows this book to transcend time, and speaks to me as directly as if he were in front of my face today. Overall an exceptionally engrossing read, and one I highly recommend for any writer or thinker.
Profile Image for Razi Shaikh.
92 reviews72 followers
September 27, 2018
'In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

"While freely conceding that the Soviet régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigours which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.'

This is a remarkable book, It's vivid, crisp and very persuasive.
Profile Image for Marks54.
1,335 reviews1,154 followers
August 19, 2020
During WW2, Orwell was paid to write essays, many of which were literary criticism and book reviews. This is the second volume of essays edited by George Packer and it focuses on his critical essays. Given that I have been hanging around Goodreads for a while, the question occasionally arises of “how does one go about writing book reviews?”. These essays provide some insight into how Orwell did it.

What a great idea for a book of essays. Anything that Orwell writes is interesting and well written. Now to have essays that display his approach to criticism. This of course is linked to Orwell’s regular concerns - politics is at the heart of modern literature - in the 1940s for sure — and as Orwell maintains, all art is propaganda. Political context goes with interpretation and criticism.

While the overall effect of the volume is great, there are some essays that were less effective, at least for my needs. I could have done without the essay on Dali and the one on postcards did not have much of an effect. The lead off essay on Dickens is really good and even enlightening, especially given that so much of Dickens is continually presented such that one almost takes it for granted. Some other essays are less effective, in part because I am not as well versed in the literature of the time as Orwell. The essay on Henry Miller (Inside the Whale) took some time to sort through, especially given the ranges of books and others that were in play. Some of the authors I knew of but had not read. Others are not as known now as they were when Orwell wrote. I have had false starts on Tropic of Cancer before but will likely try it again. I enjoyed the essay on Swift and Gulliver’s Travels. There are some essays on particular writers (Eliot, Kipling, Wells, Dali) as well as some general essays on writing (Politics and Language, Propaganda and Demotic Speech) that remain appropriate to writing in today’s political environment. One of my favorite shorter essays was “Can Socialists Be Happy?”

I have long admired Orwell’s work. This is only strengthened by the book, which helps me understand more about how he analyzed his targets and motivated his results.
37 reviews3 followers
February 1, 2021
Orwell is thought provoking, interesting, and worth reading, even when you disagree with him.
Profile Image for Karen.
53 reviews9 followers
January 26, 2021
I loved the essay on Dickens..and there is the famous quote:
"I have been discussing Dickens simply in terms of his “message,” and almost ignoring his literary qualities. But every writer, especially every novelist, has a “message,” whether he admits it or not, and the minutest details of his work are influenced by it. All art is propaganda. Neither Dickens himself nor the majority of Victorian novelists would have thought of denying this. On the other hand, not all propaganda is art. As I said earlier, Dickens is one of those writers who are felt to be worth stealing..."
Profile Image for Ollie.
446 reviews19 followers
June 20, 2018
I think it’s often missed that George Orwell was primarily a journalist and essayist, not a novelist. I didn’t forget that, I just didn’t know. I owe Orwell quite a bit, because it’s through reading 1984 that the floodgates of my voracious reading were opened. Before, I had been forced to read books, but now it became a hobby. Chomsky has lauded Orwell for his Homage to Catalonia and how well it depicted the Spanish civil war. It feels like a novel but is actually journalistic reporting. It’s engrossing and honest and easily accessible and that most definitely applies to this collection of essays All Art is Propaganda. Compelling title, I know.

It really can’t be understated just how funny, relevant, enjoyable, and accessible this collection of essays is. Here, Orwell discusses a variety of topics such as the complete works of Charles Dickens and how his Englishness is embedded in his works to the point where he’s unable to sympathize with the working man, to TS Elliott, to the idea of utopianism and how, ironically, our idea of a work-free utopia would be the opposite of what we would want. Wouldn’t we want a world where we would be free to create and be constantly occupied? Also discussed is the attack on intellectualism and how both the fascist and communists are guilty of this. It’s important to appreciate those who devote their lives to manual labor, but this shouldn’t also include vilifying experts in the field of science and literature. Then there’s his Reflections on Gandhi which accuses him of being a narcissist with misguided beliefs. He comes close to calling him a farce, which can be said for plenty of so-called spiritual celebrities nowadays. One would think Orwell hates these subjects he’s writing about, if it weren’t for the fact that he writes with such authority. His thoughts are distilled into the essentials and he knows exactly what he wants to say about them. He comes across as a curmudgeon, but undoubtedly a lovable one.

All Art is Propaganda is simply a delightful read. It’s all over the place, but with Orwell’s writing skills, you don’t really notice it. It’s Orwell’s opinions that are the real focus here, and this book is full of them.
Profile Image for Billie Pritchett.
1,087 reviews86 followers
June 29, 2016
George Orwell's book All Art Is Propaganda is one of my new favorite books. Published posthumously (I think), and mostly a collection of book reviews, Orwell is able to present his perspective on what he reads or thinks about in a deceptively transparent way. For example, one of the essays in the book is about Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, and this essay's and much of the other essays' argument structure seems to be:
X is true for the following reasons: A, B, C. However, D, E, F. Yet when we consider G, H, I, we are led to believe A, B, C, and furthermore, J, K, L.
When reading Orwell's essays in this collection, one gets the sense that he is bending over backwards to both express his opinion as thoroughly as possible and yet be as charitable as he can be regarding the subjects he is writing about. Also, I felt when reading this that the writings seems astonishingly (for the most part) modern. But the truth is it's just plain good writing. Although many of the issues are preoccupied with the predominant issues of his epoch, namely, totalitarianism and freedom from such regimes, there is a kind of timelessness about the writing, topics such as the human struggle to be free, to realize a certain vision of politics, to choose this world or the next. This review doesn't do enough justice to the book, but definitely this will be one I will re-read later.
1,152 reviews14 followers
January 6, 2016
Orwell's best known essay from this collection is "Politics and the English Language", his observation that vague, imprecise language can be used to serve the powers that be for their own nefarious purposes. It's a good essay, but it could describe half the works in this collection. Orwell paints with a broad brush and he follows astute observations (or painfully obvious ones) with faulty conclusions. Some of the best works treat "low brow" entertainment with respect as a better window into the common citizen's point of view than so called "high" art, or explain why Orwell likes a piece of art that is exceptionally flawed or communicates a worldview he disagrees with. "Politics" and an essay defending Shakespeare against Tolstoy (!) are worth a read. Read the rest too, if you like generalizations and lists of how many characters work in Dickens novels. This read wasn't a waste, but I expected more from a celebrated writer. Whatever paid the bills, I guess.
Profile Image for Sidharth Vardhan.
Author 23 books687 followers
August 8, 2016
“I often have the feeling that even at the best of times literary criticism is fraudulent, since in the absence of any accepted standards whatever -- any external reference which can give meaning to the statement that such and such a book is "good" or "bad" -- every literary judgement consists in trumping up a set of rules to justify an instinctive preference. One's real reaction to a book, when one has a reaction at all, is usually "I like this book" or "I don't like it" and what follows is a rationalisation.”

George Orwell' best works, almost all are about the way politics influence language and art. He himself wrote a lot of book reviews but his reflections here are the things we so often fee, and so rarely express. I like this essay, thats all I can say, the rest is rationalization.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 12 books30 followers
March 22, 2015
It was interesting to see his views from that time period, and scary how much of what he was saying politically could be applied to today. The wide range of topics makes this tricky to review, but I am struck by how well he writes an argument. He must use outlines, and I am envious of a time in history when people were so well read and contemplative.
Profile Image for Fraser Kinnear.
774 reviews38 followers
December 2, 2019
I’d already read many of these essays in other Orwell collections. As in elsewhere, this book contains “Politics and the English Language”, perhaps is his most famous essay, which was frequently recommended by Christopher Hitchens, and required reading for any member of Richard Holbrooke’s staff.

My favorite new essays were Orwell’s reviews of the works of Kipling, Eliot, Chaplin, Dali, and Tolstoy (there’s several others, like Dickens, that impressed me less). Any one of those mentioned are worth the price of admission, but the Dali and Tolstoy essays are worth remarking on.

For Dali, Orwell reviewed an autobiography that the great painter produced near the end of his life. Orwell was put off by Dali’s pornographic stories of violence and misogyny, and in reviewing, Orwell finds a position in the long debate over whether to separate art from artist:
Not, of course, that Dali’s autobiography, or his pictures, ought to be suppressed. Short of the dirty postcards that used to be sold in the Mediterranean seaport towns, it is doubtful policy to suppress anything, and Dali’s fantasies probably cast useful light on the decay of capitalist civilization. But what he clearly needs is diagnosis. The question is not so much what he is as why he is like that. It ought to not be in doubt that he is a diseased intelligence, probably not much altered by his alleged conversion [to Catholicism, late in his life], since genuine penitents, or people who have returned to sanity, do not flaunt their past vices in that complacent way. He is a symptom of the world’s illness. The important thing is not to denounce him as a cad who ought to be horsewhipped, or to defend him as a genius who ought not to be questioned, but to find out why he exhibits that particular set of aberrations

Orwell derives his own theory of the case from Dali’s book – that it’s an act of desperation. After citing Dali’s ambition and egoism, Orwell puts himself in Dali’s shoes:
…suppose that you have nothing in you except your egoism and a dexterity that goes no higher than the elbow: suppose that your real gift is for a detailed, academic, representational style of drawing, your real métier to be an illustrator of scientific textbooks. How then do you become Napoleon? There is always one escape: into wickedness. Always do the thing that will shock and wound people… Along those lines you can always feel yourself original. And after all, it pays!

Orwell’s study of Tolstoy is even more disarming. Late in life, Tolstoy published a since hard-to-find essay disparaging Shakespeare as being positively bad for art, using Lear as a case study. Orwell comes to the Bard’s defense, and through some sort of essayist jiu jitsu, points out that Tolstoy himself ironically was a manifestation of the character he thought he was disparaging as being unrealistic:
There is a general resemblance which one can hardly avoid seeing, because the most impressive event in Tolstoy’s life, as in Lear’s, was a huge gratuitous act of renunciation. In his old age he renounced his estate, his title and his copyrights, and made an attempt – a sincere attempt, though it was not successful – to escape from his privileged position and live the life of a peasant. But the deeper resemblance lies in the fact that Tolstoy, like Lear, acted on mistaken motives and failed to get the results he had hoped for. According to Tolstoy, the aim of every human being is happiness, and happiness can only be attained by doing the will of God. But doing the will of God means casting off all earthly pleasures and ambitions, and living only for others. Ultimately, therefore, Tolstoy renounced the world under the expectation that this would make him happier. But if there is one thing certain about his later years, it is that he was not happy. On the contrary, he was driven almost to the edge of madness by the behavior of the people about him, who persecuted him precisely because of his renunciation

Truly life imitating art, doubly strange that the art was trying to renounce the art, which itself was about the foolishness of renunciation for the wrong reasons! Or, as Orwell puts it later in the essay:
But there is also another moral [to Lear]. Shakespeare never utters it in so many words, and it does not very much matter whether he was fully aware of it. It is contained in the story, which, after all, he made up, or altered to suit his purposes. It is: “Give away your lands if you want to, but don’t expect to gain happiness by doing so. Probably you won’t gain happiness. If you live for others, you must live for others, and not as a roundabout way of getting an advantage for yourself.” Obviously neither of these conclusions could have been pleasing to Tolstoy. The first of them expresses the ordinary, belly-to-earth selfishness from which he was genuinely trying to escape. The other conflicts with his desire to eat his cake and have it – that is, to destroy his own egoism and by so doing to gain eternal life Of course Lear is not a sermon in favor of altruism. It merely points out the results of practicing self-denial for selfish reasons.

532 reviews
December 10, 2010
A really great book shows us how everything is great and worth to die for
Profile Image for Danielle.
345 reviews4 followers
December 14, 2017
A bit dry at times, but interesting to hear about WWII era through Orwell's POV; also interesting to see how a lot of his criticism of society and politics would still be relevant today.
Profile Image for Mark.
422 reviews14 followers
December 16, 2022
Like the Koran, this book of essays is mainly organized by longest first, instead of chronologically or by topic. The essays themselves range quite widely in value, from literary classics like "Politics and the English Language" to forgettable and very long essays about "boys weeklies" (newspapers) which are only of interest to antiquarians. A couple of essays I deferred reading until I've read the works referenced (especially the longest essay about Charles Dickens and another about Gulliver's Travels), and a few others referenced books or media I didn't care enough to look up. Of that majority which I read, there was only one real dud, "Good Bad Books", which borrowed the term from Chesterton but then lost itself in the weeds discussing tons of forgotten authors and books no one alive has read (outside perhaps some old folks in England). I'm much more interested in tracking down the Chesterton quote/essay than rereading that thing. And really that's the biggest weakness of the essay collection: most of them are reviews, not essays. As such, they're derivative (which is unavoidable, obviously), but that also greatly limits the accessibility of the collection. Unless you have at least a passing familiarity with many of the authors mentioned in it, you'll probably miss a lot from this book.

And that's kinda the problem with Orwell's work overall, is how dated it is. There's one especially ironic part near the beginning when Orwell is (rightfully) criticizing H. G. Wells' vision of a utopic future, he wrongfully says that Jack London's "Iron Heel" is proving more accurate than "Brave New World." He of course was writing from within the fog of war (WWII), so this is forgivable, but BNW has far outshone his own dystopia of 1984. Apart from the breathtaking prophesy about language, 1984's bulky and explicit approach to control really only criticizes 20th century totalitarianism, and it does nothing to help us today. The problem is that we know we are being surveilled, but we don't care. In 1984, it was some huge revelation, but today it's passe (because so popular).

To finish up that essay, the other important thing he pointed out was that Wells resisted admitting that the modernist experiment failed; more technology didn't instantly make the world better, and rationalism is not inherently moral. Basically, modernism worked until 1914, which I would agree is when it died for sure. The essay directly before that one was a review of Chaplin's The Great Dictator, and I'd have to basically agree with it. It is one of the better propaganda pieces I've seen, it is kinda crappy in terms of plot (well duh, it's a satire/dark comedy), and the speech at the end is stirring. There is one section in particular worth quoting at length, but I'm not patient enough to type it all out here. Basically, he remarks about that speech's power, especially in how it appeals to "the common man" who "sticks obstinately to the beliefs that he derives from Christian culture." I was glad to hear Orwell admit this, and he also helpfully called out "Marxism and similar creeds" which "consist largely in destroying your moral sense". Throughout this collection, Orwell not only talks the talk of being nonpartisan, but he lives it, equally at home criticizing the right and the left and everyone else.

This is on clear display in the next essay I read, this time about Rudyard Kipling, and it's both more merciful and more brutal than I expected. Orwell took T. S. Eliot to task for defending Kipling (an unapologetic imperialist and probable racist), but also gave Kipling credit for coining phrases and terms, of which very few he listed are still used (ironically enough). Orwell goes on to recycle the "good bad" poetry concept, and basically admits that that's the only type of poetry which the general population will be able to at least pretend to stomach (the rest they [often rightfully] gag at). He described these "good bad poems" as "a graceful monument to the obvious" and "such poems are a kind of rhyming proverb", which is a nice way to put it. Perhaps this is what some of the lest campy and less cliche popular music today could be considered. He ends that essay with a funny but true remark on conservatives:

Kipling was a Conservative, a thing that does not exist nowadays. Those who now call themselves Conservatives are either Liberals, Fascists, or the accomplices of Fascists.

I say this is true because in reality most people who call themselves "conservative" assume a "liberal" (broadly speaking) approach, not an aristocratic or monarchic approach. Oh well. The next essay is about late-life T. S. Eliot and is mostly Orwell bemoaning that Eliot's conversion to a fairly emotionless Christianity has sapped a lot of the vital strength of his poetry, but I think he misses something even more important. Laid out early in the essay are two quotations of Eliot's poetry, and the contrast is shocking; Eliot always had a little bit of abstraction in his work, but the older-life poetry was hopelessly abstract, and as such failed to draw on the imagination at all. You can't picture anything when it's just talking about "freedom" and "past" and "future" and "realized" and "defeated"; none of those convey anything concrete, and poetry like this dies in the ear that recieves it. It's in this essay that we get the eponymous title reference as well as an especially piercing (because coming from an honest non-Christian) critique of this unemotional Christianity which Eliot betrays, which in essence is all intellectual and is too timid to actually believe the things it claims. But in a witty turn, Orwell also jokingly says "every poet in our time must either die young, enter the Catholic Church, or join the Communist Party." This "settling down" so to speak is a lot truer than many people would like to admit.

The funnily-titled "Can Socialists be Happy" is next, which features a few main points of note:

- Heaven is really hard to picture and is invariably gaudy when done so, whereas hell is a bit easier
- Heaven traditionally was a relief, a cessation of evil more than a positive thing
- Thus the socialist utopia cannot be a positive creation, a hedonistic paradise, instead (and I'd violently agree here), happiness is only a side-effect, and thus "The real objective of socialism is human brotherhood". Now if only more people could take that advise.

The next essay was about Dali's Autobiography, and I had no idea he was such a perverted, sadistic man; I mean his paintings are weird, but anyone can do weird paintings. Dealt a bit with obscenity and intentionality but was essentially without a definitive conclusion. The essay after that (Propaganda and Demotic Speech) was basically a complaint that socialists/communists like to speak in oblong and stupid ways that the proles can't understand, and that's why a lot of propaganda fails, because it doesn't address the people where they are. As I've said before, Marxists and radicals really need to step their game up in terms of speaking and writing in a way comprehensible to the masses, otherwise they're not true Marxists.

Skipping a few essays, we get to "The Prevention of Literature", which is Orwell in his best mood: that of destroying political parties and defending freedom of thought. It's a bit long for what it's worth, but it has some very good moments, including the following:

- Just because Marxists say that they're on the side of the proletariat, doesn't mean they're actually helping them at all (important to note for Leftists today too)
- "Wherever there is an enforced orthodoxy--or even two orthodoxies, as often happens--good writing stops"
- Disney films are factory products and thus soulless
- In a similar vein, one can easily imagine a pack of cards which have characters and plots, and all you have to do is shuffle it and you'll get a story

The next essay is "Politics and the English Language", which I've reviewed elsewhere, so I'll leave that be. We get a break from the seriousness with "Confessions of a Book Reviewer", which was really funny at the start. After this is a longish rebuttal of [late-life, puritan] Tolstoy's disdain for Shakespeare, specifically King Lear, which Orwell handily disarms and even turns back on ole T, pointing out how Tolstoy's life actually mirrored Lear's. Orwell finds Tolstoy to be cantankerous and disingenuous, especially because he entirely glosses over the indisputable beauty of Shakespeare's plays and poetry, instead fixating on plot trivialities and morality. One especially piercing part comes near the end of the review:

Tolstoy was capable of abjuring physical violence and of seeing what this implies, but he was not capable of tolerance or humility, and even if one knew nothing of his other writings, one could deduce his tendency towards spiritual bullying from this single pamphlet.

Amidst all of this, Orwell muses about what makes liturature persist, and his assessment at the very end is perhaps too simple, but perhaps it's also exactly right: "There is no argument by which one can defend a poem. It defends itself by surviving, or it is defensible."

The last essay of note ("Writers and Leviathan") is a brutally dense barrage of quotable paragraphs, so I'll litter some below:

1) "every literary judgement consists in trumping up a set of rules to justify an instinctive preference"
2) "this book is on my side, and therefore I must discover merits in it"
3) "innumerable controversial books ... are judged before they are read, and in effect before they are written."
4) "we have the disadvantage of living among clear-cut political ideologies and of usually knowing at a glance what thoughts are heretical"
5) "they [radical leftists] always allowed it to appear that we could give up our loot and yet in some way contrive to remain prosperous."
6) "even if we squeeze the rich out of existence, the mass of the people must either consume less or produce more."
7) "the lowering of wages and raising of working hours are felt to be inherently anti-socialist measures, and must therefore be dismissed in advance, whatever the economic situation may be
8) "to accept an orthodoxy is always to inherit unresolved contradictions"
9) "the normal response is to push the question, unanswered into a corner of one's mind, and then continue repeating contradictory catchwords"
10) "To suggest that a creative writer, in a time of conflict, must split his life into two compartments, may seem defeatist or frivolous: yet in practice I do not see what else he can do. To lock yourself up in the ivory tower is impossible and undesirable. To yield subjectively, not merely to a party machine, but even to a group ideology, is to destroy yourself as a writer."

1-2 are basically what I believe about "rationality" right now, i.e. that it's a crock used to bully people who disagree with you and to justify your own crappy intuition. 3-4 are symptoms of living in such a hopelessly politicized world, and I really hate it. I've had to try to train myself to stop seeing things that way. It's something I still fall into all the time. I guess it's mainly the awareness and the slow progress at that point. 5-6 are the obvious problem that leftists aren't willing or able to address, i.e. that we need to either increase production or limit our consumption, but of course the first is out of the question (see #7), and the second is out of the question, because that would negate the entire materialist endeavor of maximizing pleasure. It's pretty hard to maximize enjoyment under austerity measures, if that's what you think is really important. 8-9 are good ole attacks on orthodoxy, but of course because Orwell isn't a christian he never qualifies this take by stating that if we really do have God's word, Revealed and Binding, then we do have a right to Orthodoxy of some sort, but whatever. He's on my side, so I'll justify whatever he says (see # 2). Lastly we have the hard pill to swallow of #10, and it's in the larger context of the following: "It is reasonable, for example, to be willing to fight in a war because one thinks the war ought to be won, and at the same time to refuse to write war propaganda." In essence, he's calling for nuance where most others don't even think of injecting any, and I think that's what Orwell's legacy should be. Not just the criticism of totalitarianism. That stuff's too easy, he just happened to do it eloquently. His real meat and potatoes is finding neglected nooks and crannies and making them thoroughfares. If he can make discussion of communism and of the surveillance state mainstream, perhaps he can also help save us from the shitfuck two party system we're imprisoned in. We can only pray and keep reprinting these essays (especially "Writer and Leviathan" and "Politics and the English Language").
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