April 3, 2018

"Virtually perfect Orwellian ambivalences—(War is Peace, Love is Hate, Ignorance is Knowledge)."

That's second quotation the Oxford English Dictionary gives us for the word "Orwellian." It doesn't have the distinction of being historically first, like the Mary McCarthy quote I talk about here, but it's helpful in understanding the development of this now too-common pejorative. It's from Norman Mailer's 1959 book "Advertisements for Myself":

Gah! I feel like I'm taking the SAT. It's hard to read, and what meaning does jump out on first scan seems not worth the trouble. Yes, if this were the SAT, I'd have to read it for the extrinsic reward, but I read only for intrinsic reward now — unless I'm doing our taxes or heeding warning labels. So I had to stop. I only saw one word that I liked, "twigs." Too dry!

I switched to a review at the Amazon link (above):
If there's one human characteristic I've never been fond of it is the super egotistical one. The chest thumping, endzone dancing just kind of ruins it for me, regardless of the accomplishment.... 
Ha, I thought: Trump. Not that the guy was thinking of Trump. He wasn't. He was writing in 2015 and just happened to prefigure Trump. For no reason, I clicked on Amazon's "Look inside," and the first thing I see — it's before the title page — is this Mailer quote:
Mailer never ran for President. He wasn't that super-egotistical. But he did run for Mayor of NYC.

Here's that time I sat under a Normal Mailer for Mayor poster when I was 19:
Althouse in 1970, age 19
PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Cohen.

And here's George Orwell, "1984": "I’m due back at nineteen-thirty. I’ve got to put in two hours for the Junior Anti-Sex League, handing out leaflets, or something. Isn’t it bloody? Give me a brush-down, would you. Have I got any twigs in my hair? Are you sure? Then good-by, my love, good-by!"

45 comments:

D said...

I thought the week you wrote about a mayors office defending the taking down of a cemetery plaque would be the week when the tide would start to recede - even if only for a decade or so - but hats off to you today, in finding quite a few stories that suggest the water is still coming in hard.

Maybe in 30/40 years, when someone notes two or three different strands of crazy going on in the big wide world, some other person will text: "thats rather Althousian of you" and then someone else willl say: "ugh, please lets not over use that phrase." and then some old geezer will then chime in with; "ha! That sounds Althousian too!"

Ignorance is Bliss said...

For some reason I always think that picture would look at home in the Manson Family photo album.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, D.

Ann Althouse said...

@Ignorance

Whenever I put that picture up, someone inevitably says that.

Henry said...

Very appropriate to see the word "bullying" pop up in an Orwellian column.

You just need the word and the finger pointing.

* * *

It's sad that Orwell is reduced to aphorisms and a dystopian vibe. His real brilliance, in The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London, is close observation. Intellectuals and reactionaries trot out Orwell to bolster their hatreds, when their vanity would make him vomit.

Orwell hated reactionaries, but he was not kind to his own side either.

madAsHell said...

Whenever I put that picture up, someone inevitably says that.

The haircut makes you look submissive, and the photo cuts off your feet.

Joan said...

"Twigs" is indeed a good word.

Robert Cook said...

No, the person in that picture definitely does not look submissive.

David Begley said...

I don’t get it. Just because Young Althouse wore her hair in the fashion of the time she looks like a member of the Manson family?

That’s plain cruel.

William said...

Well, at least Mailer used the word as we have come to understand it. Nonetheless, what a huge pile of crap his words are. How it came to pass he never won a Nobel, I'll never understand. Probably that thing with his wife. That dialectic he tried to establish with her didn't bridge the gap between them. Stabbing your wife never leads to domestic harmony. However, the fucker stabbed his wife and got away with it. He's up there with Ted Kennedy.

Bay Area Guy said...

I like the Althouse photo circa 1970. That’s kinda how the hippie chicks looked back then, at least the good looking ones.

rcocean said...

I read Mailer when I was younger, trying to understand why he was so "great".

Now, I find him unreadable. An endless torrent of words, and all bullshit.

And yeah, he stabbed his wife, but it was all in jest, and anyway's he was Genius. So, it didn't matter.

And when Mailer got some killer out of jail -'cause he wrote a book, and the ex-con killed someone, well that was also OK too, because Mailer was a Genius.

Rob said...

When Mailer ran for mayor, his slogan was "No More Bullshit." He lost, and we've had almost fifty more years of bullshit.

Now I Know! said...

Oh god, not you sitting under the Mailer poster again! You put that up like every four months as if it is some big revelation about you or something.

Douglas said...

Just FYI, Prof. Althouse was quite the babe when she was 19.

Danno said...


Blogger Douglas said..."Just FYI, Prof. Althouse was quite the babe when she was 19."

And Meade would have been legally jail-bait for her.

robother said...

This use of Orwellian (esp. in conjunction with "future") captures the way I have understood and used the term for the last 45 years. Unlike Dickensian, Orwellian seems to be tied to the features of his "1984." Mary McCarthy is, as several commenters have noted, simply using it as a shallow signifier, and her misuse exposes her as being unfamiliar with 1984.

Charlie Currie said...

Goodbye my love
Goodbye
Ah, ha, ha, ha
Bye, bye

Jon Ericson said...

twig and berries!

Sebastian said...

Forget Orwell. I am shocked, shocked the phrase "virtually perfect" didn't chap anyone's ass.

D said...

Simple research suggests 7 times in 10+ years. And Now You Know! Hmmm - maybe Hell - if it still exists - is Other People, and a decade just seems like 4 months.

I presume the pic gets posted every now & then cause it is a way for the hostess to try to break the rh guy, see if he will take the bait and say something about how much better Agent 99 's hairdo was.

Luke Lea said...

That picture of Ann under Mailer is precious. It really made me laugh. And reveals a lot.

Amadeus 48 said...

Althouse— Now I Know! Is still pissed about that D+ you gave him in Con Law. He should have done the reading.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see that Norman Mailer was ignorant and not inclined to check quotations: The third entry in that list is actually "Ignorance is Strength." And by comparison "Ignorance is Knowledge" is a lot less forceful stylistically, so his prose sense could be improved too.

William said...

Althouse looks intense and moody. Definitely not someone who will take up knitting, but the law prof thing would be equally unpredictable. The abyss was a definite possibility. The race is tough to handicap at age nineteen.......Mary McCarthy shouldn't be judged on the sample Althouse gave earlier. It wasn't representative.. I haven't read her in years, but I do remember some lucid essays and some finely observed short stories. Mailer, too, had some okay stuff, but his worst was the most awful shit imaginable. All in all, he deserves to be remembered harshly.

Temujin said...

Mailer/Breslin. That still makes me laugh.

buwaya said...

Norman Mailer - "Ancient Evenings"
I rarely fail to finish a book, but that...

Trumpit said...

Professor Althouse was/is beautiful like my mother was. I don't get tired of that black & white photo of her. She had lovely long black hair in her youth like my mother did. When she turned to peroxide, I don't know. Hair is important to a person's self-image, especially a woman's, I dare say. My mother was sick from chemotherapy on 4-15-12, and was taken by ambulance to Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica (a very bad choice of L.A. area hospitals I now realize). She suffered hair loss due to chemo, which caused anemia, was brutal beyond words, and wasn't worth it. Her last words to me as the ambulance was about to take off were, "Get my wig.," which I did. I picked up her wig and a few other belonging the next day after she died from a morphine overdose that begin while I was at her bedside from a phone call to the ER nurses by a fiend of a doctor intent on getting rid of her.

Jon Ericson said...

Damn trumpit, you are a piece of work.

richard mcenroe said...

Even a New Yorker realizes the limits of his political ambitions once he stabs his wife in the stomach. Massachusettsiand and Arkansans on the other hand...

Trumpit said...

Jon Ericson,

Better than being a piece of dreck.

Jon Ericson said...

Wow.

mezzrow said...

Being only sixteen then, I'd have seen that Althouse as the quintessentially unattainable NYC art school chick that she undoubtedly was in 1969.

She's much more approachable these days, if only via blog.

Seems to be a lot of stream of consciousness going on. Before long the sixties will seem to most folks much like the Civil War did to us...

mezzrow said...

I couldn't finish Ancient Evenings, either. Harlot's Ghost, though. Finished that.

That was so good I always suspected someone else wrote it and put Mailer's name on it.

Bay Area Guy said...

Never impressed with Norman Mailer. Greatly overrated as a writer, and a violent schmuck in real life.

bolivar di griz said...

Its kind of verbose. So irony is a azeri animal rights activist shooting up the Youtube campus.

bolivar di griz said...

But I got through its 1300 pages, you might understand my interest.

Big Mike said...

You appear to be glowering at the photographer, which gives you the “Manson family” look. Otherwise it’s a “generic hippie chick” look. If we’d passed each other in the street back then I’d have thought “genetic hippie chick, probably working on a BFA,” and you’d have thought “generic computer nerd, probably spends his Friday nights on the computer lab.” And we’d both be right!

n.n said...

Friday from The Addams Family. You could be a Morticia, but you went blond.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Hey, Norm, mix your metaphors much?

Amadeus 48 said...

One of the effects of black and white film is that it made red look very dark. I believe that young Althouse had red hair and like many redheads, has gone white. Or maybe this is all Art.

Amadeus 48 said...

By the way, Althouse, what is going on with your left hand in that picture? Are you doing needlework or holding a bag of potato chips?

rhhardin said...

The young Althouse pic is perfect for the Deadpool dealing-with-the-girl scene

NEGASONIC: Can we go?

DEADPOOL: Look! I'm a teenage girl! I'd rather be anywhere than here. I'm all about long, sullen silences, followed by mean comments, followed by more silences. So what's it gonna be, huh? Long sullen silence, or mean comment? Go on.

NEGASONIC: You've got me in a box here.

SeanF said...

Sebastian: Forget Orwell. I am shocked, shocked the phrase "virtually perfect" didn't chap anyone's ass.

Maybe that's because there's nothing wrong with it...

William Chadwick said...

I liked Mailer when he ran for mayor because he came across as a straight-shooting no-BS kind of guy: in my mind, a typical New Yorker from the streets of Brooklyn. Never got around to reading anything he wrote, except "The Spooky Art," his book about writing, and I didn't get much from that. My main source of information about him is that book, published in the recent past, about the Mailer-Buckley friendship and correspondence. Very interesting, especially as Mailer got older and found himself increasingly alienated from the Left.

Re Orwell and Orwellian, my favorite Orwellianism is the labelling of any anti-statist thought or rhetoric as "hate" speech; the implication being, seemingly, that Statism=Love.