on September 11, 2011
The title of this collection of Orwell's essays is taken from the initial entry discussing Charles Dickens and it is a well chosen title. The inability of artists to be completely apolitical is the theme that holds this anthology together as Orwell examines topics ranging from the art of Salvador Dali, to Swift's Gulliver's Travels to Graham Greene. The fact that Orwell left England to risk in life in the Spanish Civil War fighting for the republican forces only to memorialize his experiences in Homage to Catalonia, puts him in a unique position to examine the intersection of art and politics.
The acerbic wit and ranging intelligence of Orwell is on full display in this pages. In addition, his rabid fear and hate of totalitarianism that has made him a touchstone for intellectuals both left and right is also apparent in his lucid analysis of Gulliver's travels and the supposed "utopia" of the Houyhnhnms. Some of these essays are familiar, such as Politics and the English Language but others are more obscure, such as Benefits of the Clergy: Some Notes on Salavdor Dali which was censored for obscenity in 1946. My particular favorite is Confessions of a Book Reviewer, which lacks the strong political overtones of his other essays but gives a vivid image into the overlooked aspect of Orwell's life as a workaday journalist and book reviewer.
Despite not living to see the Cold War or the rise of religious fanaticism his thoughts and words still matter. For those who are unfamiliar with Orwell outside 1984 or Animal Farm, All Art is Propaganda provides a great starting point into the writings of one of the great political writers of the modern era.
on October 11, 2013
This collection of essays by George Orwell is part of a two-volume compilation. (The other volume is called Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays.) In a foreword to this volume, George Packer explains that the focus of All Art Is Propaganda is Orwell’s use of the essay genre as a means of holding something up for critical scrutiny. The theme of the volume, art as propaganda or as a tool for persuasion, recurs throughout these essays. We often think of propaganda in its perjorative sense; something used by the powerful to cajole the unthinking masses into actions that they would not normally undertake on their own. But for Orwell, "propaganda" is a neutral term. Any writing or other art that attempts to persuade, for good or ill, is propaganda.
Orwell’s essay on Charles Dickens introduces this theme: “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.” (p. 47) That the Dickens message is not always clear is illustrated by the fact that people of many conflicting political leanings have, as Orwell puts it, “stolen” Dickens. Both Marxists and Catholics have latched onto him as a spokesman. This essay seeks to understand the real Dickens.
Some other literary heavyweights get a thorough Orwell examination in ths volume: Henry Miller, Shakespeare, Kipling, T.S. Eliot, and Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy is known to have rejected Shakespeare as not even “an average author.” Orwell finds the root of Tolstoy’s displeasure with the Bard to be “the quarrel between the religious and the humanist attitudes toward life.” (p. 326) He sees in Tolstoy a writer whose religious orthodoxy makes it impossible to appreciate the sensuality and joy in living that we find in Shakespeare.
But Orwell’s critical eye is not only focused on the literary greats. “Boys’ Weeklies” takes a look at the amazing popularity of twopenny weeklies aimed a boys (sometimes called “penny dreadfuls”). These too, he finds, have a propagandistic motive. It is a motive more sinister than one might have suspected until you look into who owned and published these weeklies.
In “Raffles and Miss Blandish,” Orwell examines another popular genre: crime fiction. He decries their “vulgarisation of ideas,” “fearful intellectual sadism,” and “power-worship,” and he wonders what these trends say about British society.
Orwell does not limit himself to the art of writing. In “The Art of Donald McGill,” he examines the post card drawings of this popular artist. He looks at the obscenity of the post cards and wonders what it says about marriage and the stability of society. “Benefit of Clergy” is an analysis of the work of Salvador Dali. He sees in Dali’s work “a direct, unmistakable assault on sanity and decency,” and concludes that “a society in which they [artists like Dali] can flourish has something wrong with it” (p. 215).
Walt Whitman, Charlie Chaplin, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gulliver’s Travels, the Catholic Church, Soviet Russia, Gandhi, H. G. Wells, Hitler, Voltaire, Graham Greene, India and British colonialism, fascism, communism, and democracy, and, of course, boys’ magazines and detective stories. Orwell’s range of topics is seemingly endless. He was a man who hated orthodoxy and cant, who thought deeply about the act of writing and how the written word affected people, and who then wrote about all these things clearly, simply, and powerfully.
on September 28, 2010
This selection of essays provides excellent insight for anyone who appreciates the theories of George Orwell.
Readers will get a better understanding of class warfare, secrets of great communicators, totalitarianism, the effects of literature, and, of course, propaganda. I especially enjoyed his essay on "The Prevention of Literature", as it implies the ideas written into his masterpiece known as 1984.
I highly recommend this book to all writers and political thinkers.
on March 1, 2015
My previous exposures to Orwell consisted of Animal Farm and 1984. This collection of essays is just very good reading. I could see his thoughts that would lead to his two best-known books. His review of Gulliver's Travels, a favorite of mine, is what a review should be. He tears apart the book, and Jonathan Swift. He then says that if he could have only six books with him at the end of the world, that book would be one of them.
The only problem I had was with his review of British boys' magazines of the 1930's. I didn't know anything about them, so it took a bit of effort to understand what he was talking about.
Just a pleasure to read.
on February 26, 2015
When it comes to essays, Orwell has written the book, so to speak. All the prose is perfect, in that the information flows copiously and seemingly without effort. Most of the subject matter is presented seriously, but the writing is so good that very little effort is required on the part of the reader. The essays are almost all rather fast reads. Even though the topics covered in the essays are from the thirties and forties, everything seems fresh and interesting to read.
When one encounters writing that uses overly lengthy words or the passive voice, Orwell's model on how it should be done will come to mind.
on July 5, 2009
Offering a wide range of Orwell's essays, which were mostly written late in his remarkable life, this collection will stimulate your thinking about entertainment, writing, politics, and other topics. Orwell writes to make one think. Reading these essays is like having a provocative conversation with one of the most interesting and broad-spectrum minds of the first half of the 20th century. Definitely recommended.
on May 4, 2015
To Orwell we owe that wonderful line about "smelly little orthodoxies" that vie, by means of propaganda, for control of our lives . And it was Orwell, too, who pointed out so clearly that the decay of language and meaning manifest directly in a decline of thinking. George Orwell led what appears to be a desperate life of near poverty in which he survived on fees earned from reviewing books. He died young. TB, I think it was. But maybe he suffered for our redemption. His real name was Eric Blair. Thank you, Mr. Blair. Incidentally I routinely assign Orwell (and Aldous Huxley, too, Brave New World) as readings in my classes on Propaganda. Read this book at your peril because you will never think the same way again. I am Professor Brian Anse Patrick.
on July 30, 2014
Essays are truly the bread and butter for Orwell. Reading through these well thought, articulate, funny and well thought out essays, one gets the feeling of a highly cantankerous human being, one that gets angrier and angrier at the crimes culture is inflicting upon itself and fighting through a straight jacket with the pure truth of his words.
Yes, I haven't read any of the stuff he mentions here (beyond some Shakespeare). It doesn't matter. The way Orwell divides his intention and his mind on each subject makes them instantly familiar, as if I'm staring at the dirty postcards which he discusses in depth in one essay and can spot the obvious social and political ramifications of the dirty jokes printed on each.
He throws a mirror to the artifice of his times, shatters the mirror and uses the shards to cut through the ties that bound him to the insanity that oppressed him. I read this book in less than a week, even though I work 40+ hours a week.
I love Orwell's novels, but feel that this, and Homage to Catalonia, are far superior to Animal Farm and one or two steps above 1984.