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George Orwell and the Federal Bureau of Investigation

At first, I should remark the extraordinary political and social relevance of George Orwell’s  themes. He condemned all dictatorships, both communism and imperialism. His critique was particularly corrosive because Orwell was independent from any power:

“I felt that I had got to escape not merely from imperialism but from every form of man’s dominion over man” (1). Orwell’s moral conscience prevented him from accepting any compromise, even though he was forced to admit that the world revolves around hypocrisy and falsehood. In Burmese Days he wrote without possibility of misunderstandings that,

“Even  those bloody fools at the Club might be better company if we weren’t all of us living a lie the whole time.” (2). According to Orwell, in our time it is however impossible to leave politics, because everything is a political issue. But,

“Political language, and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists, is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrases, some ‘jackboot, Achill’s heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno’ or other lump of verbal refuse, into the dustbin where it belongs.” (3). Starting from these philosophical premises, George Orwell became one of the best essayists and writers in English literature, and hence arose some Orwell’s  masterpieces such as  Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four.

As essayist, in his Political Writings Orwell stated:

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of  art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. 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 a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.”  (4).

As you will see,  his “scraps of useless information” gave many a whole lot of trouble, and Orwell was kept under strict surveillance, because everybody considered him an authority now. In fact, Orwell’s literary career had unexpected enthusiastic admirers in the United States, because of it was also followed with “passionate” interest by The Federal Bureau of Investigation, because it was not clear whether Orwell was a “Communist” or an “anti-Communist” writer. And so C.F. Downing in his Office Memorandum wrote:

“A writer, George Orwell, wrote a novel in which he depicted America in 1984. Orwell predicted that by that time the private life of Americans will be viewed by means of secretly placed television screens. ‘There will be no escape from these secret eyes; asleep or awake, outside or indoors, in bed or bathtub, the watchful eye will be trained on you’, writes Orwell; ‘nothing will be your own, private, exclusive, except a few cubic centimeters inside of your cranium […]’.In this book […] Orwell did not direct his satire against the U.S., and in view of Orwell’s previous anticommunist  writings, such as Animal Farm, published in 1946, the target would more likely appear to be Russia.” Then C.F. Downing added:

“In reporting a recent Soviet statement that the novel [viz. 1984] was written about the U.S., the New York Herald Tribune described it as a novel theory.” The New York Herald Tribune concluded by saying, that

“We can console the people of American big business that there is no field in the American life that never yet has suffered a decline, but is flourishing year after year. It is police surveillance and investigation, Indeed, in this field, America has surpassed the world, and has no equal”. (5).

That’s why Orwell found in the Federal Bureau of Investigation an avid reader of his novels.

Notes

1)      George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 1958, p. 148.

2)      George Orwell, Burmese Days, 2004, p. 49.

3)      George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” in George Orwell. A Collection of Essays, 1981, p. 171.

4)      Political Writings of George Orwell, Bookyards Library to the World.

5)      Office Memorandum, United States Government, Date: March 31, 1959, To: Mister Parson  From C.F. Downing, in Federal Bureau of Investigation, George Orwell, Part 1 of 1, Bufile Number: 62-69317 (Source: Internet Archive) pp. 1-2.

 

 

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