Will Self, writer of occasional interest, has had a go at George Orwell. In an article on the BBC, (a somewhat ouroborostic bit of content given Orwell’s role in much the same sort of position for the Beeb), Self describes Orwell as a “Supreme Mediocrity”.

It seems pointless to rebut Self’s preposterously contentious article in any depth, given that the argument is based on a Will-full misreading of ‘Politics and the English Language’. He suggests that ‘the George Orwells of this world’ are cultural conservatives, reactionaries who ‘would rather peer at meaning by the guttering candlelight of a Standard English frozen in time, than have it brightly illumined by the high-wattage of the living, changing language’.

Orwell and his supporters may say they’re objecting to jargon and pretension, but underlying this are good old-fashioned prejudices against difference itself. Only homogenous groups of people all speak and write identically. People from different heritages, ethnicities, classes and regions speak the same language differently, duh!

…’prejudices against difference itself’! This is the sort of rhetoric one might use to lambast people who object to “txt speak”, or any other modern innovations they suspect of being a bit foreign or liked by the youth, as debasements of our great and noble tongue. It’s a fair point in some ways. Languages are living and changing (although one could begin to dim Self’s de-lux metaphor by asking why language needs to be examined at night time anyway).

However, none of this is relevant to a discussion of Orwell’s essay, because Orwell isn’t talking about demotic Anglo-Saxae, the vernacular, street speak, and especially not about everybody speaking in the same way. He is discussing obfuscation in political discourse, and the obfuscating political discoursers who create it. It’s in the title, duh!

Orwell’s target is the generators of phrases (and situations calling for phrases) such as ‘friendly fire’. Self’s a provocateur. And he has succeeded in getting me geed me up enough to write something. Gah!

Advertisements