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December 13, 2005



I only got into Orwell in my thirties after spunking my twenties (not to mention my mental health) reading acres of Chomsky.

This "quoting Orwell betrays an intellectual poverty" schtick that I see all over has me, to put it mildly, fucked off. It just smacks of "Orwell? Oh, I was into him aaages ago" like he's some obscure indie band made good and the new fans are arriviste dickheads.


"I only got into Orwell in my thirties after spunking my twenties (not to mention my mental health) reading acres of Chomsky."

Well in readability terms, that would certainly come as a relief.

"Orwell? Oh, I was into him aaages ago" like he's some obscure indie band made good and the new fans are arriviste dickheads.

No, I'm not saying he became passe. It's more like embarrasmment at remembering how into those bands you were, when they, in fact, were never as good as you thought them to be.


It's not so much "quoting Orwell" that is the problem as claiming he would have been on your side without quoting him.


And tell me: were you a teenager when this infatuation began?

Oh yes. In the sixth form I graduated from Homage to Catalonia (which is still usable) to the Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters. Four volumes, straight through. I quoted their words of wisdom to anyone who'd listen (mostly my parents) - right from "George Orwell says there aren't any working-class socialists" to "George Orwell says you should let tea brew for five minutes".

Then I discovered Raymond Williams... but let's not go there.


"In the sixth form I graduated from Homage to Catalonia (which is still usable) to the Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters. Four volumes, straight through."

Damn, that was my trajectory too. With reference to what Justin was saying, I also recall a feeling that 1984 was a little too "obvious" and that you had to dig into the arcanae to get a feeling for the *real* Orwell. And to think I could have been having more sex. Possibly. Obviously, this response was me being a bit of a wanker, but there's no author I can think of who recruits this response more.

Backword Dave

Pretty much what D2 said. I'm still fairly into Orwell, as I think he still shows how to write essays. And I smart at Nabokov's dismissal of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" though I can see his point. However, Orwell is dead, and like all the dead, you know what they said, and you can agree with it or not. You have no idea, and no way of checking, whether they'd agree with you.

As for Chomsky, I was taught psychology by possibly the last behaviorist in this country. (I should note that I still admire him, and he encouraged me to argue against his positions, not that I needed much encouragement.) One legacy of that is that I'm now a little leery of Chomskian linguistics: a decade ago I thought I was merely too stupid; now I think that it can't be as complex as that. Jamie's already discovered Incompetent Design: why should the brain be any different? (A competent god would have used UNIX.) Anyway, Noam, unlike Eric, is short in the joke department, and I don't get the fuss.

Backword Dave

Though having mentioned the old butterfly collector and his literary opinions, I can't help wondering what he's say about Ian McEwan's Saturday. If Dostoyevsky rates B2, where do you go after Z26? Tell us Ian, which page is the kinky sex? The mention that women are weak? The obligatory fight scene to confirm the heterosexuality and manliness of our hero? What would Henry James (also dead, but if the decents can do this, why can't I?) say? Dear boy, have you thought about learning to write? Oh you did, and under Malcolm "Shagger" Bradbury. Well, with his reputation (what is the difference between Malcolm Bradbury and God? God is everywhere and Malcolm Bradbury is everywhere but here) he must have taught you so much. See, my mucker Joe [Jósef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski] spent his youth messing about in boats, and missed the university thing, but I suppose your etiolated typings keep South American loggers in work, so they're not a total loss.


I maintain that Orwell isn't in the top three English language essayists of the twentieth century; JM Keynes, JK Galbraith and Elizabeth David are all better.

I also always, reliably get confused as to which one is Ian McEwan, which one is Iain Banks and which one is the one who wrote the Inspector Rebus novels. There's also a mate of Martin Amis who writes books about walking round the M25 or something; isn't he involved in all this somehow.


That's Iain Sinclair, and as far as I'm concerned he's pretty damn good. Didnlt know he was a mate of Amis' though.


@Backword: It's years since I studied any linguistics, but I remember having the odd feeling that once you got from Chomsky's Universal Grammar phase to his LAD/LAS (Language Acquisition System) phase, the great canonical distinction between him and Skinner had been eroded quite a bit. So we have an innate ability to acquire language. How does that differ from having an innate ability to acquire knowledge (which includes language) through problem solving - isn't it just a particular case of the general principle?

@Orwell...I was exposed to 1984 at school, self-exposed to Homage to Catalonia, then read the essays. Strange to tell, our GCSE and then A-level Eng reading lists included '84, The Crucible, Julius Caesar, Richard II, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, the obligatory LOTF, and right at the beginning in year 9, The Wave. Seeing as we had Biedermann und die Brandstifter and Katharina Blum in German, everything we studied was about tyranny, one way or another.

I wonder if they were trying to tell us something?


I've never had the Orwell thing. Possibly shocking to say, but the only one of his I'm certain I've read is 1984. This despite having grown up in the same village as him. Not at the same time though, obviously. That'd make me all old and stuff.

Closest I've got to a literary obsession was around 15/16 when I picked up a copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and went on to read everything Milan Kundera had written over the course of the next few months - well, the stuff available in translation, at least. Then moved on to Skvorecky (The Coward and The Engineer of Human Souls, primarily, not so much his jazz stuff or detective fiction), started shunting around as many post-war Eastern European novellists as I could get my hands on, and then had a brief obsession wih magic realism via Borges thanks to an article I'd seen where Kundera was raving about him. Borges is the only one I'm still certain I like, as Kundera now seems a bit adolescent. But that's probably only because I was when I first read him...

Iain Sinclair I find a bit patchy, myself. But I do like the whole psychogeography idea, so I'll usually let slide my occasional dislike for his style...


The general Sinclair style seems to draw heavily on Arthur Machen's the Art of Wandering or the London Adventure. Being a bit of a sucker for "London Gothic" generally, I can get behind that. And of course, Peter Ackroyd's made an excellent living at it.


Damn, that was my trajectory too.

Never mind that - you've read The art of wandering?

Please don't tell me you're also partial to the Faust Tapes and Taking Tiger Mountain and A Humument and the Unconsoled and Stephen Conroy and Ian Hamilton Finlay and Chris Marker and Guy Debord. Because that would be worrying.


Not as a vocation, or perhaps that should be "not as an avocation" but I find that those titles have a curious yet sinister appeal.

Machen stems from by brief science fantasy period. I veered off shortly after that into crime fiction. Much more wholesome. Derek Raymond: yeah!

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