- Birthday, Books, Politics, Quotes, Reading, Writing

George Orwell on Liberty, Language, the Imagination, and More.

 

Happy birthday, George Orwell! Here are some quotes from the writer:

 

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

 

“The imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity.”

 

“It is not possible for any thinking person to live in such a society as our own without wanting to change it.”

 

“Society has always to demand a little more from human beings than it will get in practice.”

 

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

 

“The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.”

 

“Perhaps a man really dies when his brain stops, when he loses the power to take in a new idea.”

 

“Nevertheless, looking at the world as a whole, the drift for many decades has been not towards anarchy but towards the reimposition of slavery.”

 

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

 

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.”

 

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

 

“Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.”

 

“Political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness.”

 

“Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive voice where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

 

“War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.”

 

“Every war, when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defence against a homicidal maniac.”

 

“War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”

 

“The essential job is to get people to recognise war propaganda when they see it, especially when it is disguised as peace propaganda.”

 

“One is almost driven to the cynical conclusion that men are only decent when they are powerless.”

 

“All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.”

 

“Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

 

“A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves, and traitors are not victims, but accomplices.”

 

“Serenity is impossible to a poor man in a cold country and even his active thoughts will go in more or less sterile complaint.”

 

“Think of life as it really is, think of the details of life; and then think that there is no meaning in it, no purpose, no goal except the grave. Surely only fools or self-deceivers, or those whose lives are exceptionally fortunate, can face that thought without flinching?”

 

“It is a mysterious thing, the loss of faith⁠—as mysterious as faith itself. Like faith, it is ultimately not rooted in logic; it is a change in the climate of the mind.”

 

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

 

“The past is a curious thing. It’s with you all the time. I suppose an hour never passes without your thinking of things that happened ten or twenty years ago, and yet most of the time it’s got no reality, it’s just a set of facts that you’ve learned, like a lot of stuff in a history book. Then some chance sight or sound or smell, especially smell, sets you going, and the past doesn’t merely come back to you, you’re actually in the past.”

 

“Either we all live in a decent world, or nobody does.”

 

“[T]he existing social order is a swindle and its cherished beliefs mostly delusions.”

 

“Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.”

 

“Particularly on the Left, political thought is a sort of masturbation fantasy in which the world of facts hardly matters.”

 

“Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.”

 

“So far as I can see, all political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.”

 

“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. […] Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

 

“The whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish day-dream. Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also.”

 

“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”

 

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. This is an illusion, and one should recognise it as such, but one ought also to stick to one’s own world-view, even at the price of seeming old-fashioned: for that world-view springs out of experiences that the younger generation has not had, and to abandon it is to kill one’s intellectual roots.”

 

“Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the Earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us. It is not easy. It raises problems of construction and of language, and it raises in a new way the problem of truthfulness.”

 

“Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects.”

 

“If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves.”

 

“The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

 

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

 

“Certainly we ought to be discontented, we ought not simply to find out ways of making the best of a bad job, and yet if we kill all pleasure in the actual process of life, what sort of future are we preparing for ourselves? If a man cannot enjoy the return of spring, why should he be happy in a labour-saving Utopia? What will he do with the leisure that the machine will give him?”

 

“I have always suspected that if our economic and political problems are ever really solved, life will become simpler instead of more complex, and that the sort of pleasure one gets from finding the first primrose will loom larger than the sort of pleasure one gets from eating an ice to the tune of a Wurlitzer. I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and—to return to my first instance—toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.”

 

“A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him.”

 

“If you throw away your weapons, some less scrupulous person will pick them up. If you turn the other cheek, you will get a harder blow on it than you got on the first one. This does not always happen, but it is to be expected, and you ought not to complain if it does happen.”

 

“If you live for others, you must live for others, and not as a roundabout way of getting an advantage for yourself.”

 

“Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.”

 

“What is needed is the right to print what one believes to be true, without having to fear bullying or blackmail from any side.”

 

“What is needed is the right to print what one believes to be true, without having to fear bullying or blackmail from any side.”

 

“What is needed is the right to print what one believes to be true, without having to fear bullying or blackmail from any side.”

 

“One’s got to change the system, or one changes nothing.”

 

“A joke worth laughing at always has an idea behind it, and usually a subversive idea. Dickens is able to go on being funny because he is in revolt against authority, and authority is always there to be laughed at.”

 

“When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer.”

 

“As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.”

 

“History is written by the winners.”

 

“The important thing is to discover which individuals are honest and which are not, and the usual blanket accusation merely makes this more difficult.  The atmosphere of hatred in which controversy is conducted blinds people to considerations of this kind.  To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable.  It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel, or both, than to find out what he is really like.  It is this habit of mind, among other things, that has made political prediction in our time so remarkably unsuccessful.”

 

“This business of making people conscious of what is happening outside their own small circle is one of the major problems of our time, and a new literary technique will have to be evolved to meet it.”

 

“As time goes on and the horrors pile up, the mind seems to secrete a sort of self-protecting ignorance which needs a harder and harder shock to pierce it, just as the body will become immunised to a drug and require bigger and bigger doses.”

 

“The enemies of intellectual liberty always try to present their case as a plea for discipline versus individualism. The issue truth-versus-untruth is as far as possible kept in the background. Although the point of emphasis may vary, the writer who refuses to sell his opinions is always branded as a mere egoist. He is accused, that is, either of wanting to shut himself up in an ivory tower, or of making an exhibitionist display of his own personality, or of resisting the inevitable current of history in an attempt to cling to unjustified privileges.”

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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