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16 May 2007


James Heartfield

By all means let's meet up and you can try your best to punch me in the face.

As to Orwell, no doubt he was more than a 'Cold War propagandist' but Cold War propagandist he certainly was.

The Foreign Office's Information Research Department "supported Burmese, Chinese, and Arabic editions of his Animal Farm, commissioned a rather crude strip-cartoon version of the same book (giving the pig Major a Lenin beard, and the pig Napoleon a Stalin moustache, in case simple-minded readers didn't get the point), and organized showings in "backward" areas of the British Commonwealth of a CIA-financed ... animated film of Animal Farm." http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16550

Rosie Bell

If someone writes a heart-rending fable about the betrayal of a revolution and that is then picked up by a bureaucracy for propaganda purposes that does not make the writer a propagandist. Would you say that anyone who wrote uncomplimentary accounts of the Soviet Union was therefore a cold war propagandist, because their works could be used in that way? A propagandist to me is someone like Orwell's very own Winston Smith working in a government organisation producing lies to order. So I don’t think you get out of being accused of airy dismissivism and Grievous Bloggily Harm is in order. Calling Orwell a “Cold War propagandist” is like calling Jane Austen a purveyor of chick lit because some idiot shoves pictures of simpering girls on the jackets of her novels.

As for the rest of your article I agree that Martin Amis should stop writing about politics, which always rings false and "got up" to me and should concentrate on writing on language and literature, which is his natural home.

James Heartfield

Granted that Orwell died to soon to be complicit in all of the uses that the IRD and CIA put his work to later on, he was not innocent of involvement, and not above giving them lists of suspect intellectuals (helpfully annotated with comments like "homosexual" and "Jew").

Orwell was of course a propagandist for the British Empire giving weekly broadcasts for the India Service (published as the War Broadcasts).

I have to concede that he was more than a propagandist, but as airy as my dismissal might have read, it is after some years I have come to my own conclusion that he just is not that good a writer - on which I guess we will have to differ.

James Heartfield

p.s. I agree with you that Thompson is a great historian, but Judt is surely right that Kolakowski had the measure of him as a polemicist

Rosie Bell

Anyone who wants to read up on Orwell's list should follow the link you provided. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16550. It's a stale controversy now.
As for him being "not that good a writer" well yes, we can agree to differ there.

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  • Rosie Bell

    Some song writing, some verse writing and too much blogging about culture, politics, cycling and gardening.

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