Noam Chomsky, Orwell, and the Importance of Caricature

“Caricature is an art, and not an easy one. But when well done, a very important one.”  –Noam Chomsky

 

Noam Chomsky on Orwell, caricature, and thought control in societies:

 

About Orwell’s 1984, I thought, frankly, it was one of his worst books. Could barely finish it. Some parts (e.g., about Newspeak) were clever. But most of it seemed to me — well, trivial. The problem is not a very interesting one; the modes of thought control and repression in totalitarian societies are fairly transparent. In fact, they often tend to be rather lax. Franco Spain, for example, didn’t care much what people thought and said: the screams from the torture chamber in downtown Madrid were enough to keep the lid on. It’s not too well known, but the Soviet Union was also pretty lax, particularly in the Brezhnev era. According to US government-Russian Research Center studies, Russians apparently had considerably wider access to a broad range of opinion and to dissident literature than Americans do, not because it is denied them but because propaganda is so much more effective here. Orwell was well aware of these issues. His (suppressed) introduction to Animal Farm, for example, deals explicitly with “literary censorship in England.” To write about that topic would have been important, hard, and serious — and would have earned him the obloquy that attends departure from the rules.

 

Caricature can be very well done. Swift is marvelous, for example. Animal Farm is pretty good, in my opinion. But 1984 I thought was a serious decline from his best work.

 

Caricature is an art, and not an easy one. But when well done, a very important one. As for dealing with Orwell’s problem,* I try to do it in the ways I know how to pursue; 1000s of pages by now. No doubt there are other ways, maybe better ways. But others will have to find what works for them.

*[Orwell’s problem: how is it that oppressive ideological systems are able to] “instill beliefs that are firmly held and widely accepted although they are completely without foundation and often plainly at variance with the obvious facts about the world around us?”

___________________

See also:

Cover for 'Fiction Gutted: The Establishment and the Novel'

by  Tony Christini


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5 thoughts on “Noam Chomsky, Orwell, and the Importance of Caricature”

  1. “..how is it that oppressive ideological systems are able to] “instill beliefs that are firmly held and widely accepted although they are completely without foundation and often plainly at variance with the obvious facts about the world around us?”

    This is a leading question. “Without foundation” in what sense? I think the “can’t cheat an honest man” formula transfers intact to the question of political seduction. The “foundation” of widely-accepted quasi-fascist belief, for example, is somewhere in the deluded self-interest of a people. The masses are a selfish voting bloc, I’m afraid…it takes a thorough education to open eyes about where self-interest is *really* served. The conundrum of relying on The State itself to provide such an education is beyond cruel.

  2. By “without foundation” Chomsky means without fact or sense. In a certain way, everything can be seen as selfish, but I disagree that “the masses are a selfish voting bloc” by and large. The polls show time and again the opposite. The majority has consistently been found in the polls in the last several decades to consider the Vietnam war immoral, a degree far beyond what officials and the privileged tend to call it, a mistake. Year after year the polls show the majority in the US wants a universal health care system like Canada’s. The privileged officials have continuously blocked it. The majority of people in the US, as polled, initially and always have been against the invasion and occupation of Iraq, except for a short time around the beginning of the ground invasion in 2003 when the media propaganda blitz was at its height. This enlightened, humane trend continues in issue after issue polled with very few exceptions, in my view. Gun “rights” is an exception. Of course, the privileged official view is usually the opposite of the majority/popular view and so far the privileged have been successful in retaining power and acting against the will of the majority of the people. The educated, more affluent tend to be more ideologically aligned with the rulers in holding retrograde unpopular views on key issues, views that serve wealth. On the other hand, truly quality education and literacy is in itself a good and can and does help people fight for their democratic rights and ideals.

  3. “The majority has consistently been found in the polls in the last several decades to consider the Vietnam war immoral, a degree far beyond what officials and the privileged tend to call it, a mistake.”

    I’d say that’s mostly due to the fact that “we” lost the war. Equally, I’d say that if we’d “won” Iraq, public sentiment would not be rising against it.

  4. Public sentiment and action helped force the end of the Vietnam war, made it happen sooner rather than later. And this, despite the status quo’s best and ongoing efforts to convince people to support the war.

  5. Please see our video interview with Prof. Noam Chomsky of MIT. Feel free to post this video on your site.

    The Real News Network team

    Geithner’s Plan is a Recycled Version of Bush/Paulson Program

    “The plan is a win-win situation for investors and a lose-lose situation for American taxpayers”

    With Timothy Geithner firing his opening salvos aimed at restoring America’s badly broken financial system and turning it into what he calls a “better, smarter, tougher regulation”, lobbyists and interest groups in Washington have already begun their efforts to modify and block certain sections of the new regulations that they see contrary to their interests.

    Today, the Real News Network, starts the first segment of a multi-segment interview with Prof. Noam Chomsky on Timothy Geithner’s recently announced plans for the banks and clearing of their toxic assets. In this interview Prof. Chomsky mainly argues that the plan keeps the institutional structure intact without any meaningful reforms in it. Geithner’s plan, based on Chomsky’s assertion, essentially bribes investors and bankers in return for opening the credit markets to consumers and businesses.

    Prof. Chomsky also states that Geithner’s plan avoids the measures that might get to the heart of the problem, therefore avoiding the costs of changing the institutional structure. In the course of the interview Chomsky points out to the sense of contempt and ridicule that bankers and financial managers have had for the public even in the face of receiving the TARP money. He then calls for a serious commitment by financial institutions and corporations to be responsible to their stakeholders with direct public engagement on how these institutions distribute their money.

    Watch the first segment of this interview on The Real News Network and stay tuned for the following segments:

    http://therealnews.com/t/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=3484&updaterx=2009-03-27+10%3A57%3A14

    Reza Akhlaghi
    The Real News Network

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