Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Truthful expression or nothing

“Now, in all we say about literature, and (above all) in all that we say about criticism, we instinctively take the autonomous individual for granted. The whole of modern European literature—I am speaking of the literature of the past four hundred years—is built on the concept of the intellectual honesty. . . . The first thing we ask of a writer is that he shall not tell lies, that he shall say what he really thinks, what he really feels. The worst thing we can say about a work of art is that it is insincere. And this is even truer of criticism than of creative literature, in which a certain amount of posing and mannerism, and even a certain amount of downright humbug, doesn’t matter so long as the writer is fundamentally sincere. Modern literature is essentially an individual thing. It is either the truthful expression of what one man thinks and feels, or it is nothing."

George Orwell, “Literature and Totalitarianism” (June 1941), in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), 2: 134–35.