Wednesday, June 25, 2008

An Orwellian Writer's Almanac tribute

I have buried in my stack of well-worn t-shirts, one I rarely wear. I displays a large caricature of a gaunt George Orwell. A cigarette droops from his lips, and a giant depiction of Big Brother looms behind him.

For some reason my hand went to it today, and I put it on even though it made me look slightly cartoonish. I’m wearing it now and will for the rest of the day, for reasons that follow....

Greeting the day with Orwell's image on my chest, I did my pre-Cheerios-and-coffee e-mail check largely to read the daily “Writer’s Almanac” from Garrison Keillor. Yes, you can have the written script of the NPR “Writer’s Almanac” e-mailed to you. I recommend it, though, as you will see, it needs to be read skeptically.

After offering the customary poem, the almanac launched into it’s main item:

“It's the birthday of the man who wrote Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949), George Orwell, born Eric Blair ….”

How serendipitous.

I’m noting in my PDA that June 25th is Orwell/Blair’s birthday. The note will include a reminder to wear the Orwell t-shirt to mark the occasion.

Keillor’s short sketch couldn’t possibly have done justice to Orwell’s sprawling, heroic life, although the item included a unfamiliar (to me at least) anecdote or two.

Sadly, Keillor also did Orwell an Orwellian injustice when he distorted a quote from Orwell’s famous essay, “Why I write.”

Here’s the quote as presented:

"Every line of serious work that I have written [since the Spanish Civil War] has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism."

And that’s where Keillor ended it, with a period. At the very least he should have inserted ellipses because here is the rest of the sentence:

“…against totalitarianism, and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.” (the emphasis is Orwell’s)

Yes, Orwell was a democratic socialist, and yes, my fellow patriotic Americans, democracy and socialism can be compatible. The question is, in light of our current predicament: Are democracy and capitalism compatible, if capitalism is indeed what our economy is? Or does capitalism simply buy off democracy?

If you read Orwell’s works and learn more about his life, you’ll understand why he was a democratic socialist.

Keillor would do well to do so.

Meanwhile, Happy Birthday, George.

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