Szyzygy's Blog

The Small Children and the Alligator

The concept of allegory is a familiar one and not difficult to grasp, being a metaphor, usually on the grand scale, in which a truth, or a series of truths, is propounded by a writer wrapped up in an altogether different guise. Teh literary canon (one of the more risible shibboleths once beloved of the intelligentsia, along with less noxious substances such as tincture of laudanum) is littered with obvious examples, and I will not bore you with the full enumeration of these, since, like Beelzebub’s minions, there are as many examples as there are grains of sand upon the strand. The obvious contender for this sort of detailed forensic examination is the writer Eric Blair’s everyday farmyard tale of simplistic anthromorphic terrorists and insurrectionaries, Animal Farm, a saurian monstrosity which toddlers are subjected to in the name of education to this day. Let us go then, you and I, and revisit this childish litany of political naivety masquerading as an incisive critique of a political regime, Soviet Russia of the 1920s and 30s.

Blair, obviously better known by his nom-de-plume of George Orwell, was a middling fair journalist with a less than obvious talent as a writer. His style was significantly flatter than a Dutch landscape, and his use of language flatter yet, to the extent that the critic Cyril Connolly, in his uneven but frequently brilliant dissection of literary failure,  Enemies of Promise, nails Orwell, and a couple of other contemporary notables (Hemingway, Fitzgerald) by pinning three paragraphs of this triarchy together and challenging the reader to differentiate them, a task, I would contend, and much the point that he was making, that is as futile and impossible as any Herculean labour, the greyness and mundanity of their collective prose rendering their collective outpourings as indistinguishable as a bowl of homogenous and primeval slime. Animal Farm thematically foreshadows the later dystopian novel, 1984, a book with more catch-phrases than Hamlet and a plot as rickety as the combined machinations of Messrs Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. This is not to say that Orwell’s writing is uninteresting, on the contrary, it is fascinating for a number of reasons, not the least being that it represents a nexus between full-blown literary modernism and the largely turgid bathwater which is the lasting legacy of mid-Victorian sensibility, that purple-prose period of penny dreadfuls passing themselves off purposefully as the acme of moral and cultural pronouncement. The moral pronouncement is still there engrained within Orwell’s ouevre, the post-colonial shackles of the mind are not thrown off that lightly, and yet Orwell unconsciously grasped at one of the essential tenets of modernism, that the liberating modernist point of view when applied to literature, like art once it had discovered the camera, no longer needed to obsess about the problems of verisimitudinal representation, but could, in fact, attempt to re-envisage and reinterpret reality from entirely new perspectives. Having got his hands around the throat of modernist pretexts however, he then made a fair fist of throttling the life from them. Not one to labour a point when it could be ground beneath a jackboot heel in perpetuity, his Animal Farm splendidly vents a modernistic middle class spleen in new and entirely predictable directions.

 Some dude¹ once opined that if God had not existed then He would have to have been invented and a similar argument could be made for the necessity for the creation of an allegorical piss-take of one of the most unpleasant and despotic regimes to have ever disgraced this planet. Nietzsche was on the money when he reported on the demise of the Almighty, and the plurality of toddlers subjected to this wall of tosh would undoubtedly similarly applaud the concept of Animal Farm becoming an unbook. The genie is however out of the bottle, and it is unlikely that Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, an altogether more sophisticated and harrowing allegorical take on the subject matter of Animal Farm than will ever be allowed to be mentioned, let alone examined, in schools will ever be allowed to replace it. Generations of pupils will continue to be force fed on this orthodoxy, and very few of them will ask the hard question – why? There is a simple answer for this, Animal Farm is as much a work of conservative state-centric propaganda as the promulgation of the works of the Baby Jesus. It propounds as its central argument a logical fallacy: that revolution inevitably and inexorably replaces one form of tyranny with another. Its moral, and the real allegory embedded within it, is self-evident: resistance, to paraphrase the Daleks, is useless. No message more suits the self-perpetuating corporatist state more conveniently than this; having intellectually emasculated the masses with this message imparted in prepubesence, mortgages and credit card debt will take care of the rest.

 Snowball looked at Napoleon; Napoleon looked at Snowball; in that moment both of them knew that they had rewritten history, shaken off the yoke of oppression, etc, etc.  It is a fact that most of the successful revolutions, in recent history at least, have been counter-revolutions.

¹ The late Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche of whom it can be said that there are proofs as to his existence….

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