Richard Blair, the son of George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm, was at the 2015 Annual Orwell Lecture at University College London to watch former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams’ lecture titled ‘War, Words and Reason’.
A packed crowd heard Dr Williams argue that the media “rose to the task” in reporting over the terrorist attacks in Paris. He described the news media as being influenced by author George Orwell’s famous essay ‘ Politics and the English Language’ published in April 1946.
Richard Blair, later, echoed these sentiments in relation to his father who died of tuberculosis on January 21st 1950, in the same building (the UCL hospital) where the lecture was being held.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Williams, now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, cited Orwell as being more relevant than ever to prevent a conforming “silent response” to terrorism – to “terrorists who have never said anything true or humane”.
Dr Williams said clear political writing “invites the reader to find new ways of speaking and to see more.” It enables us to follow what the terrorist might be saying and then “good writing enables good argument”.
In the lecture Dr Williams reflected on the works of George Orwell and the Catholic Trappist writer Thomas Merton who both argued that respectful “civil disagreement” was vital for a healthy, functioning society
Using George Orwell’s arguments about how clear language use in journalism he said, with such language, unwelcome truths can be told. He said terrorism can be explored and explained when we “learn to argue” and develop “a shared world and organisation” together.
George Orwell, the author of the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm had always argued for simple prose in journalism and political writing. He said good writing comes from a conversation that has already begun.
Orwell wrote that literature is not a luxury in society and we need the “pain and anger of actual dialogue”. Williams said we stole language, like Prometheus, from God because unquestioned power has no history and leads to “totalitarianism and triviality”.
The speech was greeted warmly by a crowd of over a hundred people at UCL where the former head of the Anglican Church said good use of language can prevent a “curious contemporary neurosis” where unwelcome truths are not expressed.
Dr Williams claimed poor political language cultivated “the habits of mind that make war inevitable” where people long for an end to complexity and hope for an end to passionate quarrels leading to the potential for totalitarianism.
Orwell’s essay on politics and the English language he said, still has a vital message to contemporary minds who may be in a state of ambiguity. Dr Williams said clear writing enables our “discovery of one’s mind. “I don’t know what I mean until I see what i said.”
Over the recent attacks in Paris he said we require “an obstinent attempt to make sense instead when “it’s so tempting to feel instinctively a revulsion against polarisation” of political events.
Good political writing was a way of recognising what one does not know as opposed to creating ambiguity with unclear prose leading to further discord.
After the lecture titled War, Words and Reason, Dr Williams said he was not advocating “sentimental illusions that all you had to do was be nice to people.”
Richard Blair, the adopted son was there with his own son, and spoke afterwards about Orwell’s life on the Isle of Jura in Scotland and how religion and politics had informed much of Orwell’s attitude to journalism and to his novels.
Seen below is toddler Richard at a time when Orwell was writing 1984 on the Isle of Jura and also suffering from the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him.