THE POST-IDEOLOGICAL MAN / Orwellian 2012
“The Post-Ideological Man,” in Ethel Baraona Pohl and Cesar Reyes (eds), Orwellian, Barcelona: dpr-barcelona, 2013.
Too often when we evoke the work of George Orwell, we refer only to his two masterpieces, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) which are the least autobiographic of his writings. It results from that an over-emphasis on the literal symbols of those two books. People see video-surveillance cameras in the street and they invoke Big Brother like if it miraculously put a spell on them. Those cameras, however, are only the spectacular part of a much broader biopolitical system that administrates and normalizes behaviors and desires.
Orwell’s own life is helpful here to determine potential means of resistance to such processes. Whether his books are simply inspired by his life, like for Burmese Days (1934), Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) and Coming Up for Air (1939) or frankly autobiographical like in Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) or Homage to Catalonia (1938), his narratives humbly offer us a testimony of uncompromising courage.
The post-ideology I am evoking in the title of my short text has nothing to do with the one our era chose for itself in a delusional or diverting attempt to declare “the end of history”. In that case, the post-ideology is an ideology itself. The example that Orwell gives us lies more simply in a systematic suspicion of any form of organization that has instigated a sort of moral tribunal within itself. That is why, for example, he always remained at distance of any form of communist or anarchist party even when he was fighting for the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista) during the Spanish Civil War. During the latest, he enrolled the militia “because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do[i]”.
We are far from the self-proclaimed post-ideology that ambiguously creates a dangerous relativism to avoid the difficult question of ethics[ii]. When he left for Spain, Orwell had no doubt that fighting against fascism is the only thing he has to do; for him it is “common decency[iii]”. The evidence of such a fight comes from his systematic refusal to compromise with his ethics, to the point that he could not possibly satisfy himself to write as a mean of resistance. When he decides to experience the life of the poorest in Paris and London, when he examines meticulously the life conditions of Lancashire working class or when he engages himself to a civil war in another country than his, writing is only a way to report retrospectively. Writing is never a substitute to fighting for him, on the contrary of what many of us are often telling ourselves. The post-ideological human is the one that does not need ideology to give him (her) excuses not to think and fight.
[i] Orwell, George, Homage to Catalonia, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. P6
[ii] The notion of ethics here has to be understood in an extremely distinct way from the one of morals.
[iii] Orwell, George, Homage to Catalonia, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. P50