ORWELL

Orwell on Oscar Wilde’s Socialism

“Oscar Wilde’s work is being much revived now on stage and screen, and it is well to be reminded that Salome and Lady Windermere were not his only creations. Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism, for example, first published nearly 60 years ago, has worn remarkably well. Its author was not in any active sense a Socialist himself, but he was a sympathetic and intelligent observer; although his prophecies have not been fulfilled, they have not been made simply irrelevant by the passage of time.

Wilde’s vision of Socialism, which at that date was probably shared by many people less articulate than himself, is Utopian and anarchistic. The abolition of private property, he says, will make possible the full development of the individual and set us free from “the sordid necessity of living for others”. In the Socialist future, there will not only be no want and no insecurity, there will also be no drudgery, no disease, no ugliness, no wastage of the human spirit in futile enmities and rivalries.

Pain will cease to be important; indeed, for the first time in his history. Man will be able to realise his personality through joy instead of through suffering. Crime will disappear, since there will be no economic reason for it. The State will cease to govern and will survive merely as an agency for the distribution of necessary commodities. All the disagreeable jobs will be done by machinery and everyone will be completely free to choose his own work and his own manner of life. In effect, the world will be populated by artists, each striving after perfection in the way that seems best to him.

Today, these optimistic forecasts make rather painful reading. Continue reading

auschwitz

Literature & the Holocaust

This slightly over-written essay was published, in a worse form, in the Guardian in March 2015, and was also nominated for the Observer / Anthony Burgess Prize for Arts Journalism 2015.

In Bruegel’s painting The Triumph of Death, an army of skeletons cavorts on a blasted and desolated landscape — over there, a rustic fish-pond clotted with filth and corpses; here, a dinner party ruined, and a lady’s waist is girdled in a grinning stick-figure’s arms; a skeleton ebulliently disports himself with a fiddle. It’s a little fiesta of death, a brutal and wry vignette of the Last Judgement in all its febrile absurdity. It’s terrible and dramatic and very silly. It’s also, somehow, quite beautiful. It’s art.

Auschwitz, that other triumph of death, had no truth or beauty. The eschatology begun in 1941 for the Jewish nation was, compared with Bruegel’s painting, orderly and punctilious, and – this is its terror – it was boring. It simply happened, and happened, and happened. A vast bureaucratic machine – at enormous effort and cost, and to the detriment of its military goals – carefully manufactured the deaths of at least 6 million Jews and other categorised un-persons. Their demolition was performed systematically, according to staff numbers and schedules: it was for this reason that Hannah Arendt called Auschwitz “a corpse factory”. A modern, diligent production line conjoined to sadism and nihilism and blood-thinking — this compound is what made the Holocaust so singular and lethal.

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Shakespeare

Hello, and welcome

Devil’s Advocado is a little magazine — of politics and polemics, history and literature, mental health, atheism, feminism, and self-advertisement. It’s a place for mucking around, for debate, and for discursive writing. It’s a place to essay, essay, and essay again.

I intend – alas, what are the hopes of man? – to write well-crafted articles on some of the subjects below very soon, in addition to shorter, more regular posts. Most of them are subjects I’m trying to squeeze money from; but I hope that the scraps and fragments will still be quite interesting.

POLITICS & PUBLIC POLICY

  • A Sustained and Violent Attack on Iain Duncan Smith — a UK Conservative politician, and the sort of man who would willingly pay for the pleasure of selling his principles (if he had any). Supreme Architect of Universal Credit. For some reason, I want to write it in the style of one of John Aubrey’s Brief Lives.
  • Universal Income — an analysis of the policy, which has support from elements of the left and right, that all citizens should receive a monthly cash payment from their government, without means testing, in order to promote economic growth, minimise job losses with increasing efficiency of technology, and redistribute wealth. It is supposed to be, with the resulting abolition of most benefits, cost-neutral.

HISTORY

  • In Defence of Whig History a critique of the historian Herbert Butterfield’s book, his Christian agenda (‘hold to Christ, and for the rest be uncommitted’: not the most useful method for historians), and an analysis of the extent to which ‘Whig History’ can be defended.
  • Shakespeare in the Third Reich — a rather purely historical essay, based on research not widely available in English, into the ways in which the Nazi regime manipulated Shakespeare into a prophet of fascism; also, how this was resisted; and what it says about the relationship between art and tyranny.
  • David Hume, Historian — how Hume’s idea of history (in his History of England) is inseparable from, and essential to understanding, his philosophy; how the theory of history adumbrated by writers like Gibbon, Robertson, Voltaire, and Montesquieu, resulted to a large degree from their rejection of religion and of non-naturalistic causalities; how really wonderful, if wrong, Hume’s History is.

PERSONAL

  • Christmas as an Atheist
  • Anatomies of Melancholy: On Depression
  • Growing up in the Care System

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