Sunday, April 18, 2010

Animal Farm

I find almost everything Chistopher Hitchens says about religion annoying if not positively offensive, but I still read him. The things he writes that I enjoy most — and often learn the most from — are essays about authors and their books like this one in The Atlantic, "The Dark Side of Dickens." Yesterday, in The Guardian, he returns to one of his favorite authors, George Orwell, and probably Orwell's most influential book, Animal Farm. Written during World War II and almost unpublished because of hostility from both the right and the left, it may be his most lasting achievement. Hitchens:
.... Probably the best-known sentence from the novel is the negation by the pigs of the original slogan that "All Animals Are Equal" by the addition of the afterthought that "Some Animals Are More Equal than Others". As communism in Russia and eastern Europe took on more and more of the appearance of a "new class" system, with grotesque privileges for the ruling elite and a grinding mediocrity of existence for the majority, the moral effect of Orwell's work – so simple to understand and to translate, precisely as he had hoped – became one of the many unquantifiable forces that eroded communism both as a system and as an ideology. Gradually, the same effect spread to Asia. I remember a communist friend of mine telephoning me from China when Deng Xiaoping announced the "reforms" that were to inaugurate what we now know as Chinese capitalism. "The peasants must get rich," the leader of the party announced, "and some will get richer than others." My comrade was calling to say that perhaps Orwell had had a point after all. Thus far, Animal Farm has not been legally published in China, Burma or the moral wilderness of North Korea, but one day will see its appearance in all three societies, where it is sure to be greeted with the shock of recognition that it is still capable of inspiring.

In Zimbabwe, as the rule of Robert Mugabe's kleptocratic clique became ever more exorbitant, an opposition newspaper took the opportunity to reprint Animal Farm in serial form. It did so without comment, except that one of the accompanying illustrations showed Napoleon the dictator wearing the trademark black horn-rimmed spectacles of Zimbabwe's own leader. The offices of the newspaper were soon afterwards blown up by a weapons-grade bomb, but before too long Zimbabwean children, also, will be able to appreciate the book in its own right.

In the Islamic world, many countries continue to ban Animal Farm, ostensibly because of its emphasis on pigs. Clearly this can not be the whole reason – if only because the porcine faction is rendered in such an unfavourable light – and under the theocratic despotism of Iran it is forbidden for reasons having to do with its message of "revolution betrayed". .... [more]
What I like about Hitchens is the quality he shares with Orwell: an unremitting hostility to political oppression.

[The book cover is from the edition I first read]

Christopher Hitchens re-reads Animal Farm | Books | The Guardian