Booknotes+ Podcast: Dorian Lynskey, “The Ministry of Truth”

By | January 24, 2023

The language of 2023: “threat to democracy,” “Antifa,” “Stop the Steal,” “fascism,” “Proud Boys,” “Brexit,” “artificial intelligence,” “BleachBit.” Who understands all this? Where does the language come from? We asked British author Dorian Lynskey, our guest this week, to help us. His latest book is titled “The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984.” In the introduction, Lynskey writes that “The phrases and concepts that Orwell minted have become essential fixtures of political language, still potent after decades of use and misuse: newspeak, Big Brother, the thought police, Room 101,…doublethink, unperson, memory hole” and much more.

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[Music] Foreign The language of 2023 Threat to democracy Antifa Oath Keepers Stop the steel fascism brexit Weaponizing the government The proud boys artificial intelligence Bleach bed Who understands all this Where does the language come from We asked British author Dorian Linsky to Help us His latest book is titled the ministry Of Truth the biography of George Orwell's 1984. In his introduction Linsky writes the Phrases and Concepts that are well Minted in 1948 have become essential Fixtures of political language Still potent after Decades of use and Misuse Newspeak Big Brother The thought police Room 101 double think Memory hole and much more Dorian Linsky and your book and the Acknowledgments you write this Writing a book is a horrible exhausting Struggle like a long bout of some Painful illness George Orwell chimed in Why I write a book that he wrote earlier And then you say at the risk of Disappointing him I have to say that

Writing this book was for me was the Most rewarding and enjoyable experience In my life that was largely due to the Feeling that I was not alone Tell us more about why you you had a Different experience than he did when he Wrote 1984. Well all always uh seems to have a hard Time writing books I think Animal Farm Was the exception that was the only one That came quickly Um and this was one of the things that's So fascinating about it is it took him So long from first sketching out the Idea in 1943 to finishing it in 1948 All kinds of Um all kinds of events intervened he Lost his wife shortly after they'd Adopted a child so he became a single Parent he had an extraordinary amount of Freelance journalism to do just to sort Of uh to stay afloat financially before The success of Animal Farm And he suffered from tuberculosis and so He ended up uh finishing the book really Writing um the bulk of it on the island Of Jura which is a very Um a fairly inhospitable and remote Place while going in and out of quite Serious bouts of tuberculosis Um and was hospitalized for a period During the writing of the book and Finished it really uh at the end of his Tether health-wise he didn't he didn't

Believe he was dying Um but he was very sick and he just Found the whole thing rather miserable And perhaps part of it was the headspace You know of this world he was living in In airstrip one uh this very Bleak Dystopia Um and and even though he could kind of Take time off to sort of play with his Son and do some gardening and and feel The Sunshine it it was it obviously took A huge toll on him Before we get to George RR let me ask You about you first of all where are you Today I'm in London at home where were you Born Uh born in Norwich uh which I believe is It maybe sorry no it doesn't it's not Only just Colchester sorry I'll do that Again I was born in Norwich I was born In Norwich uh and grew up in southeast London and I now live in North London How did you get interested in writing In writing generally Um It was just it was something I certainly Did as a you know as a kid where you Just rip off uh stories that you like Adventure stories that you like Um and then as a teenager I became Interested in in journalism and then Went on to study uh English literature At University

And then came out of University and Became a journalist but always still Retained that interest in in literature And trying to combine that with Journalism as I went on do you have a a Full-time job or is this a freelance Experience for you writing books and Articles It's it's always been a freelance Experience which has enabled me to uh to Write articles but also move into books And podcasting what was your first book Uh that was 33 revolutions per minute a History of protest songs uh so I was Very interested in the intersection of Music and politics because most of the Journalism I did in my 20s and 30s was Music journalism Um and this was a way of writing about The The Wider world When did you first say to yourself I'm Going to write a book about George Orwell I became really interested in dystopian Fiction because it's so commonplace now And uh and rather cliched like we all Know the we all know the tropes of the Police state and surveillance Um and torture and these sort of hideous Future societies and I wondered where All that came from and it didn't start With Orwell But so much of what we read now flows From Orwell and so through an interest

In the genre I became fascinated by how How all well created this what is still I think the quintessential dystopia what Was he reading what were the political Points he was trying to make what were His personal experiences in everything That fed into the book and then all of The things that flowed from that book in The decades afterwards is his adapted Son of Richard still alive and were you Able to talk to him before you finished Your book Uh he is still alive Um but because he was so young at the Time you know he doesn't have a lot of Insight into into 1984 per se Um I did in fact meet him after after The book and he said nice I'm not sure If he'd actually read it but he said he Said nice things about it Um but because it was not a full Biography of Orwell himself it's a Biography of the book Um largely what I was using was Um archival research Orwell's writing Contemporary sources things like that We are going to talk to you about George Orwell and his and who he is but your Book is not as you say not a biography Per se what's the difference Well it's not the first time that Somebody's called something a biography Of a of a novel Um and I think that once you decide that

You're going to write the life story of A of a work of art Um it's sort of both Narrows what you Need to do and broadens it out so for Example there were there were some very Good biographies of George Orwell I Realized that I did not have to write About so much about his childhood or his Love life and all the things that are Kind of a biographer of Orwell would do But the life story of the novel takes You into uh adaptations it takes you Into David Bowie and Um movies like Brazil and Viva Vendetta You know and aspects of the Cold War and All of these other things that were Happening around Orwell and then Happened around the novel after his Death So it enabled me to go to all these Places that a burger of Orwell would not Would not go because obviously they're Going to stop when he died in in 1950 And I could go on because the book goes On You wrote about the famous Apple ad Tell us that story Oh so that's a fascinating ad because It's called 1984 where but actually if You look at the Um the tropes in it they they really Sort of go back more to to HG Wells it's Not really a representation of what Happens in the in the novel but there

Was this tremendous hysteria running up To the year 1984 about the novel and About predictions of the future it's Like anybody who wanted to say something About the future in you know 82 83 84 Would Peg it to this book and Steve Jobs And the Ad Agency child day that he Worked with sort of had this very clever Idea that they were going to present the The apple as this sort of um this agile Counter-cultural alternative to like the Bmos of IBM and this was going to be This empowering uh personal computer and IBM was going to be presented I mean Then it say that in the ad but that was The implication that that was big Brother there was this terrible kind of Of Sort of bureaucratic dystopian version Of computers there's a great deal of Fear about computers at the time and the Apple Mac was going to be presented as This device for liberation And so they got Ridley Scott to direct It and it's this um it's an astonishing Artifact it was actually only ever shown Once but became one of the most famous Uh and effective tv ads of all time who Is Eric Blair Well Eric Blair is uh the birth name of George Orwell How long did he have that hand Well he he actually kept it until he Died that is the name on his both his

Birth certificate and his gravestone Um but in the 1930s he felt that he Needed a pseudonym for for various Reasons partly because he feared that if He failed as a writer it would be a Terrible embarrassment to his family Um so he chose the name George Orwell Um the Orwell being a river in in Suffolk uh near where he lived uh where He lived for a while What does it mean to be orwellian Ah now this of course is a word that did Not exist in in Orwell's lifetime And I don't know whether you would have Been happy with it because of course What it means is negative there is a uh There's another use of orwellian which Means to write to think like George Orwell but that's been totally eclipsed By Um the meaning which it basically means Things that feel like 1984. Which is an extraordinary number of Things so his name is associated with Basically everything he hated Where did he grow up and what Experiences he have in his early life Both animal farm and 1984 were at the End of his life Um tell us more about his youth so he Was born in India Um Where his um where his father worked Then moved back to England

A very typical kind of writing writers Parents this crops up in a lot of Different writers biographies Um a very sort of charismatic and loving And supporting mother at a rather sort Of cold and distant father Um he decided not to go to he went to Eaton Um which he sort of hated and later Presented as a kind of mini police State Uh in a writing let me ask you though For Americans that don't know what Eaton Is explain please Oh okay so it's Britain's top it's Britain's top public school Um produced numerous Prime Ministers Including um David Cameron and Boris Johnson from what years to what years Are you taught at that school Does it go to the end of your uh high School years It does yeah he went to Um these sort of rather rather sort of Shabby private preparatory school which He he hated Um hated far more than Eaton he's and he Didn't he didn't hate so much as just Feel not quite at home there Well what does it mean looking back that Elders Huxley taught him at Eaton It's it's more of a strange coincidence Certainly he was that brought him into Contact with somebody of course who went On to write the other most famous

Dystopian novel of that period Brave New World but it was a very it was a very Brief acquaintance that Huxley wasn't There for very long he wasn't very well At the time Um and it certainly didn't seem to Um stop Orwell and Huxley from Criticizing each other's novels and sort Of rival versions of the future later on In fact this was a feature of Orwell's Life that his personal relationship with A writer did not prevent him from being Very harsh about them in prints if you Put students in one room and said you Read Brave New World And students in another room and you Read 1984 and you brought them together What would they more than likely say About the books that they read and What's the difference between the two of Them If you wanted to sort of really really Sum it up I suppose that Orwell's uh Vision Of a totalitarian future based on his His knowledge of totalitarian regimes in Russia and Germany Uh was that pain and fear would be what Kept people in line Now Huxley who was really basing Um His totalitarian World on um America Thought that it would be more cunning Than that it would be more subtle it

Would use pleasure it would sedate People with entertainment and sex and Drugs so that they would not Rebel And they continued to to disagree about This strongly or well criticized Huxley And said no you know there has to be That there has to be violence so there Has to be real oppression for you know For for power to sustain itself Uh and Huxley thought that Orwell had Just gone to you know just gone too far And said well okay this might have been What happened in under Stalin and Hitler But in the future as technology develops Um we will see that you know you can Oppress people in a far more cunning way Now what happened What was evident by the 1980s when People were still arguing about this There's a famous book Neil postman's Amusing ourselves to death Which came out of a conference on Orwell In 1984 with and his argument is that no No modern society is much more like Huxley and it's true that of course Modern democracies are much more like Like Huxley describes but what was Becoming apparent actually was that the The tyranny of the future and I think That you can actually see this in in Putin's Russia would be a hybrid It would not be as Bleak and joyless as The world that all well described but There would still be

There would still be violent oppression There would still be political prisoners And and so on so it's this sort of Merger where you get the brutality but Then you also get the entertainment and The distractions so the the answer that I I give to this is that well they were They were both right actually what the The the the modern the modern tyranny is A hybrid of those two Um techniques Which of those two novels would the Students you think prefer Just based on what you know about young People I mean 1984. like undoubtedly Um it's a better story it's a better Book The the Huxley was still he was Writing Rugby World in the 1930s and up Until that point most utopian and antide Utopian or dystopian novels were really Uh thought experiments they were kind of Essays disguised as novels So the action of bravely world is much Less convincing than the ideas Whereas all well actually read quite a Lot of thrillers And Adventure novels and had an Appreciation for Um for plots and emotion as well as Ideas so There it's just a much more exciting Reading you know it has twists it has This this this air of paranoia it has

Shocking developments and it has Characters that feel real in a setting That feels real You know one of his one of Orwell's Great kind of Sort of Simon said One of Orwell's real Strokes of Inspiration was to set it in the not so Distant future Yeah it comes out in 1949 it's set in 1984. Bravely world is set in the Distant future as most of those novels Were so it's a very kind of it's you Know it's always like you don't have to Worry about this this is something That's going to happen a few centuries From now and all I was going no you Really do have to worry about this Because this could this could happen in Your lifetime and he based The texture of the life of airstrip one On things that he had experienced you Know he it very much feels like post-war London this kind of exhausted bombed out Place all of the buildings that he Describes as part of the regime were Based on buildings uh that existed in London at the time so it just feels Vivid and real you know whereas bravely World feels more abstract You uh I mean look at Orwell's life Spent four years I believe in Burma as a Policeman Spent some time in northern England in

The poverty lived in the poverty areas What what in his life had the biggest Impression on him among the things we Just I just mentioned yeah I mean the biggest impression I think on Him in regards to 1984 was When he spent a few months in Spain Fighting in the Spanish Civil War on the Part of the Republic against Franco's Quasi-fascist forces And Orwell's had this sort of principle That he had to to write about something Convincingly he had to experience it So his first novel Burmese days is about His sense of guilt and complicity and Imperialism in Burma uh he was made Himself Um homeless for a while and wrote down And out in Paris in London he spent time In the north of England like you said in Order to ride the road to Wigan Pier and Then his other early novels were very Much based on his own life And so his only experience really of Political oppression and political Violence was that time that he spent in Spain And it was a real turning point for him Politically because he was a socialist He was never a A communist never supporter of the Soviet regime but he was a passionate Socialist and anti-fascist and he went To Spain in the

Understandable belief that he was going To be fighting uh on the right side What shocked him was that the Soviets Were supporting the um the Communists The international brigades Uh there And basically exported the paranoia and The persecutions that were taking place In Russia to Spain so that if you were a Trotskiest and Anarchist independent Socialist I.E all the people that Orwell Was fighting alongside then you needed To be defamed as fascist collaborators And Arrested and tortured and sometimes Killed And so there was a civil war going on Within the Civil War And this horrified Orwell As did the fact that he realized that The left back in Britain for the most Part didn't want to hear about it did Not want to print his journalism about It did not want to print the book that He was writing about it uh Homage to Catalonia Because it didn't fit it was very Inconvenient you know that that Leslie If you're a socialist or communist in Britain at the time you needed to feel That that Russia for all its you know Flaws was was broadly on the right side You know because Particularly if you were if you were

Anti-fascist and you saw that you know Hitler was the the real enemy and Orwell Realized that of course Hitler was the Enemy But so was so was Stalin that they were Almost two sides of the same coin that This was these they were two versions of What was at the time being uh described As totalitarianism And he later wrote that both Animal Farm Very obviously because it's a it's a Sort of an allegory about Soviet Russia And 1984 really flowed from that Revelation in Spain not just the Political Epiphany that he had but also his Experience of Barcelona When the Russian secret police were in Charge that was his experience of a Police state and it really was only a Few days But so much of that that that genuine Fear Comes out in 1984. When was he shot and where did the Bullet land and what impact did that Have on him So he he didn't really see much military Action because basically it was the Soviet-backed forces had all the um had The weaponry and equipment and the People that he was fighting with the Poom uh were very very poorly equipped So he didn't see much military action

And when he did because he was rather Reckless and gung-ho Um He stood up in a trench when he should Not have stood up and was shot in the Throat very nearly killed him And instead what it did was it Permanently damaged his voice So it gave him this rather sort of whiny Croaky voice which is unfortunate uh When he became during World War II Because he was too sick to sign up for The Army Um he decided he was going to help the War effort by working for the BBC But his voice was so um apparently so Unpleasant to listen to the people at The BBC worried that if he was allowed To keep broadcasting people would think That BBC didn't know what they were Doing And so he had to move behind the scenes And became a a really ingenious Um script writer and producer but was Not allowed back on air And in fact there are no uh extant Recordings of his voice so we only know What he sounded like from from written Descriptions and the memories of people He knew him so nobody today can hear his Voice No now maybe at some point somebody will Find some some lost recording but of Course the BBC didn't keep a lot of

Those recordings they didn't think they Would they didn't think they would need To they didn't think they were Significant and much of what he wrote Was was actually delivered by other People Am I correct and I read that he didn't Like his time at the BBC and left them Well he stayed there for two years and Actually produced a lot of good work Um he complained about it all the time Um complained about the the management Complained about the the atmosphere There complained they didn't have enough You know the right equipment that he was Broadcasting to people in India and There weren't that many people in India At the time with were radios so he Actually felt that what he was doing was Largely useless and yet if anybody else Criticized the BBC or criticized him for Working for them as part of the war Effort called him a propagandist he Would get incredibly defensive So there was a there was a pride there I Think the thing that I noticed about Reading through all wells work and Diaries and letters and so on is that he He did love to complain And yet often when somebody else did the Criticizing That was when his sort of this defensive Pride would kick in why did this BBC Think they needed to put a statue of him

Outside their building Which you have a picture of in your book Yeah Well he became I mean he's obviously Become this sort of Iconic figure in Britain and indeed Around the world As somebody that says Um that said and wrote about Inconvenient facts and so the the line I'm I'm paraphrasing here but the line On the statues of Freedom if speech Means anything it means the freedom to Tell people what they do not want to Hear Uh now ironically when he was at the BBC Um all his work had to go through Official senses it was part of the war Effort it was designed to it was soft Propaganders it wasn't like he was kind Of Um It was like hard military propaganda but It was sort of I suppose what we call Soft power presenting Britain to people In India reminding people oh well you Know how wonderful British culture is And how it is a beacon of freedom and And so on Um so of course he was not allowed to Tell people what they did not want to Hear And that's what that's one of the sort Of that's one of the paradoxes I'm glad

That there's a statue there but I do Find that quote rather funny What would uh George Orwell think of the United States Today right now if he saw what had been Going on here in the last four or five Years and what do you think of it what's It look like to you knowing all you know About 1984 Brave New World Animal Farm going I Can keep going you know this area so Well yeah Well I mean first thing to say is that Orwell Was rather anti-American did have a Rather condescending view of America and Never went there Um he had plans to go there in the late 1940s but Um he was too ill and then he died so he Never really experienced it and he just Had an awfully low opinion generally of Of American culture he liked Mark Twain Didn't like Hollywood didn't like comic Books didn't like American popular music So he was kind of a snob about it to be Honest Um but if we're talking specifically About the the period of the last few Years You know I very I was very loath to sort Of say what all well would have thought Because there's a long history of people Saying you know oh he would have

Supported the war in Vietnam he would Have opposed the war in Vietnam he would Have liked Kennedy he would have Disliked Kennedy in it and that whole Thing became rather fraudulent but I did Notice in his writing how often the type Of person that he disliked And the type of politics that he Disliked came out through Trump And and indeed the Republican party as a Whole You know that the Bullying he he said the sort of you know Fascism was very hard to Define Even back then But he said you know most people would See it as a sort of fascist as a synonym For a bully And there was a kind of An ugly nationalism that he he Absolutely despised even though he he Was quite patriotic He opposed that he said I get patriotism Which is a love of your own country is Very different to nationalism which is About the superiority of your country And therefore an aggression towards Other people He disliked I mean for a man of his time Obviously there were some some Prejudices that he'd grown up with but When he wrote about race Um You know he attacked racism he attacked

Anti-semitism It it seems to me that what has happened On the the right of American politics Is the kind of thing that he was trying To address in 1984. there's an Explanation that he wrote in a press Statement because a lot of American Reviewers assumed that Um What he was criticizing was uh socialism As a whole including the labor Government of Clement Atley And although I was horrified by this Because he considered himself a Democratic Socialist and he uh he put Out the statement going no no no no like For one thing I'm not just attacking I'm Attacking sort of stalinism but I'm not Just attacking the left and not Attacking socialism as a whole for Another totalitarianism can come in Different forms and he said there could Be an American version under the banner Of 100 americanism Um which was actually a phrase around Um during the 30s and 40s associated With America first So I mean it seems to me pretty clear That he would have disliked those Features oh I suppose what you could Call trumpism and also the blatant Bending Of reality The the phrase that kellyanne Conway

Came up with just in passing that became Totemic I think alternative facts You know the idea that you can just Rewrite Not just the past but the present to Suit your political agenda and then your Supporters will go along with it That is something that he that he Noticed And attacked frequently and maybe what Would have shocked him is the fact that So many people would go along with this Without Uh you know the secret police at their Door that they would choose to believe In things that were blatantly untrue They would not have to be forced into it You know at the tip of a night stick In any poll today of the American people Politicians are on the right down at the Bottom They also the public does not They believe they're not telling the Truth A substantial number of people in this Country do not believe politicians are Telling the truth or better put they lie And the reason I bring this up because In the introduction that you didn't hear I brought up a lot of the language That's in 1984. and Newspeak what's new Speak Oh Newspeak is the uh the kind of the New vocabulary that the regime is trying

To introduce which by narrowing the Range of voices so by narrowing the Range of Language it Narrows the range of thought And so it seeks to abolish words like Um you know Freedom democracy Like with without the so there are no Words even to express those Concepts so The concepts fade away and it's this Very crude condensed language word In from his perspective in this country For instance depending on what side You're on when you ask about our border Between the United States and Mexico one Side will say that the border is wide Open and we've had and it's true we've Had Millions come across that border the Other side in the name of our current President the border is secure right What would Orwell think of that kind of language And does that fit into Newspeak Not new speak so much but but what he Described in his essay politics in the English language and I think there's a Distinction to be made between the And he made this himself between the Normal lying and euphemisms Of political language that he pointed Out that people on all sides Use use euphemisms Bend language Reframe facts leave out the inconvenient Ones he's like well this is this is what

Politics does But what he's describing in 1984 is Based on what was happening in Totalitarian regimes where you are Literally saying you know that that Black is white That you were forcing people to confess To crimes that they you know didn't Commit That you are making up statistics yeah Pence two plus two equals five you know That you're essentially saying reality Doesn't matter the truth is whatever I Say it is and I think that is the Qualitative difference that you can and And fact Checkers have shown this that That Joe Biden or Barack Obama Of the democratic of the Democrat Politicians Will you know so I say things that are Not true or half true and and this is a Kind of you know a malaise of politics But that what someone like Trump was Doing was literally acting as if reality Was this kind of Play-Doh That he could mold however he he liked And I think that's the distinction I Mean oh I was very was very exacting was Very very critical so I think on that Issue of the Border yeah he would have He would have been critical of of both Those camps But I always I think it's it's so Important to say that what he was

Describing in 1984 was something much More pernicious Than the normal business of sort of Political dishonesty who who was in 1984 Big Brother What do you mean who did he represent Yeah Right because the Big Brother never Actually appears in 1984 he only appears As a poster he is referred to he doesn't Speak like like on the Apple ad where His face appears on the screen well That's not the case in the book in fact It's debatable there are so many things That are just debatable in the book Whether he is still alive whether he Ever existed whether he's just a symbol He was based partly on Stalin I mean More Stalin than most just this kind of Very dominating mustachioed figure his You know faces on every poster of course There are elements of Hitler in there as Well but he was meant to be the kind of The archetypal Dictator Of but it but but somebody who is Actually quite hard to to reach he was More of a a symbol than a human being That people were not knowing anything About his everyday life he was just the Face of power If you were in the same room with George Orwell and could see him physically what Did he look like I know the picture we

Always see of him but how tall was he How was he how big was he Because she needs to look up the height I can't remember exactly how tall he was I think I remember reading maybe in your Book he was 6'3 which you know and There's a picture in your book that Suggests that when you see him standing Next to other people He was he was he was a tall sort of Gangly Thin Man I mean this is one of the reasons he um He made a a great Target for a Spanish Sniper unfortunately He kind of had this Sickly sort of rattled air he always Seemed rather unwell he dressed rather Shabbily Did he smoke He smoked all the time I mean just uh he smoked so I went to a Ticket screen which of course did not Help uh with the tuberculosis and his General Um his General Health when did they find The tuberculosis realizing that he lived 1903 to 1950. where did they find out Well it was he was diagonal I mean he Obviously had it for a long time he was Diagnosed Um Hang on let me see when was he diagnosed Here Right sorry so he was diagnosed in

1938 because he had been coughing up Blood it was actually sent to a Sanatorium and and went to Morocco to Recuperate because there's a sense that The kind of warmer drier air would be Would be better for him so I mean he Really kind of struggled with it for Most of his writing career most of what He achieved was was under the shadow of Tuberculosis and between hospital stays But he didn't get really bad they didn't Come back in a big way until the late 40s while he was writing 1984. what year Did Animal Farm come out That was 45 he'd written it before But nobody wanted to publish it because It was obviously an attack on Stalin and At that time of course uh Stalin was was An ally of Britain and America So he had great difficulties finding a Publisher Why would a publisher I mean It gets back to the whole in our country First Amendment uh why would a publisher Be afraid of that Afraid Stalin come after him or you know What's the or them why would they not Publish a book like that in a free Society Well there were various reasons some People thought that it was just Politically unwise I think one of the one of the potential Publishers was warned off by the uh by

The British government and said like This is we don't want this to um we Don't want to alienate a military ally There were some people in publishing in Britain and America who were who liked Starlet you know with their own personal Politics meant that that this book sort Of disgusted them and they thought that This was an attack on uh on a socialist Hero And um He found it he found it ridiculous There's this great line where he says Imagine old Joe sitting in the Kremlin Reading animal farm and saying I don't Like this You know he just thought that he thought It was ridiculous and of course this This this experience of his struggle to Get it published Informed a lot of his writing on the Freedom of the press and freedom of Speech because he was Yeah he was literally he was a victim of Of censorship He had every right to complain about That Then of course it comes out And then sort of the world changes very Very quickly after the end of the second World war so Stalin goes from being this Heroic Ally Being you know the Cold War villain And then at that point

The CIA and other American government Bodies Love this book and want to have it Translated into various languages and Distributed in Eastern Europe So it goes from being unpublishable to Becoming one of the first cultural Weapons in the Cold War what do you make Of the quote out of Animal Farm all Animals are equal but some animals are More equal than others I mean a a classic line and one that's Sort of pre-figures the paradoxes in 1984. you know the idea that Animal Farm I see almost as this kind of Thematic prequel to 1984. it shows how The Revolution was betrayed it shows the Faith that people had in Revolution why People would have wanted a revolution You know it's not a defense of it's a Critique of Communism it's not a defense Of capitalism you can totally understand Why the animals wanted to overthrow uh This abusive farmer But what he does with the language and Animal Farm Is is really shows how inch by inch The the sort of staliness figure and pig Napoleon Makes people doubt their own memories Rewrite rewrites the um principles of The revolution And so they the animals don't realize The freedoms that are being taken away

From them they don't realize the lies That they're being told So in Animal Farm you get how the Revolution was betrayed and then 1984 You get the consequences of that and I Think in some editions of these books There's a real sort of visual blurring Between Napoleon and Big Brother Big Brother is almost what Napoleon becomes But obviously in in human form The word the two words memory hole from 1984 means what Oh so the memory hole is a literal thing In the ministry of Truth where uh Winston Smith the protagonist works when His job In the pre-digital era is constantly Rewriting back copies of the newspapers And so if a hero a former hero of the Regime It suddenly becomes inconvenient to Big Brother Um and is not just purged and murdered But has to be defamed all the old Articles about you know how wonderful They were during the during the war have To be expunged and Rewritten And therefore the original version gets Put down the memory hole And memory hole is an example of I think What makes 1984 such a famous book more Than the plot more than the characters More than even the the central themes Was how many words he invented

You know he comes up with uh he comes up With memory hole and Newspeak and Big Brother the thought police thought crime These are Were these are words and phrases that People use even if they've never read The book and even his way of Coining words in spite the word group Think the psychologists that came up With the word groupthink That was modeled on wrong think in 1984. So he sort of created not just these Words but a way of writing new words And that's what gives the novel this Incredible reach beyond the reach of a Normal work of literature that people Use words I see them literally every day For example on Twitter And they might not even know what the Memory hole originally was you know to Memory hold something now you don't Literally have a tube that you put a Piece of paper down so it's never seen Again Um so I don't even know whether a lot of The people using using these words know Exactly where they came from and what Their original meanings were and how Much they owed to to Orwell's Imagination In the introduction I said you were Going to help us understand Some of the language that we've been Living through here uh the January 6th

And then it's all reduced to a couple Words antifa Oath Keepers stop the Steal Of course brexit in your country Weaponizing government is another phrase It's been used in the last year or so And then just a short distance where I'm Sitting is a trial that's being held in The U.S District Court for people like The Oath Keepers and the proud boys And the proud boys are a group of men Mostly white men actually the leader is An afro-cuban by the name of Enrique Tario but they're they're being accused Of Seditious conspiracy and when you hear All this language from this country What's your reaction what does it how Does it fit in with what Orwell might Have started in 1949 Oh gosh Well some of it is very is ohalian stop The steel It's a phrase that out of context you Would think well of course we should Stop the steel you know we should have Uh you know free and fair elections but Then you realize the concept that there Was no Steel And so a lot of the time it's the the Language that is being used by or what I See a sort of anti-democratic forces is Of course the language of democracy and Freedom and that has always been that

Has always been the way nobody wants to Nobody thinks that they're the you know That they're the bad guys So what what I take from for more Wells Writing the journalism the non-fiction As well as 1984. is this much closer Attention to language And how it's how it's used what the Political purpose is you know sort of Out of this book I ended up co-posting And writing um a podcast called origin Story where me and my co-host Ian Dunn Look at The the origin Of phrases that get used like McCarthyism Fascism Um woke and so on you know where they Came from how they used How they're misused how the original Meanings are are often obscured Sometimes inadvertently sometimes Deliberately and so you take a word like Um like whoa which used to be a word of Pride and now is almost entirely an Insult and so when I watched the news Now not just the things you're Describing but you know my own country And and anywhere in the world You know you look at the way that Putin Called the invasion of Ukraine a police Action the way that he presents it as an Anti-fascist war and and and pretends That the Ukraine is riddled with

Fascists which it simply isn't there are You know smaller smaller numbers of Fascists in Ukraine than there are in Most European countries So I see it as a way of Um When you're really engage with how he Thought and what he was worried about It is a useful way of reading the world A sort of prophylactic way of reading The world that it gives you this Skepticism This all well-like skepticism about the Way that people use And abuse language and to be suspicious Not to be paranoid because then that can Lead you you know down the path of Conspiracy theorists and although I Think that Orwell did have a a bit of a Paranoid streak You know his skepticism he had a sort of Healthy skepticism and respect for facts Which prevented him from kind of going Too far down that path But I think it's so important to think About what what people mean when they Say certain things and how language can Be Used to mean the opposite of what you Think it means There's a picture in your book of the Jura house that he wrote the the 1984 in And you point out that the Jura house is On jurora is a Island off Scotland and

Then it takes a couple of days in his Days to get there from London uh paint Did you go there by the way to look at The house No unfortunately the house is not open To the public so I was told that I could Make this very long journey and then Stand on the road and look at the house And I just pictured myself spending all This time getting out there Taking a photo that I could find online And then coming back Um which is a which is a great shame It's it's used for like holiday rentals And and stuff and it would be nice if it Were kind of like a you know an open Like a a museum to Orwell But I I did a look it's gone but I did This explain what it was like at the Time how long did he stay there and it Was so far away from civilization who Was with him And what was the atmosphere in which he Finished this book how long how long did It take him to finish it the main Misconception I think about jira is it Was just this awful Um inhospitable hell hole And actually he went there in May 1946 This is after his wife's um Unexpected death during an operation So he was a widower with a young son And he went there with his sister Basically to get away from London and

Getting away from London meant getting Away from journalism He just wanted to write the book and he Felt that he needed peace and quiet and A friend no phone no no hot water I believe so I'm not sure yeah it was Pretty it was pretty primitive but it Was also very nice that the thing the Weather was quite temperate he loved Gardening he loved the outdoors he loved Going out on the water in his boat he Invited he was always inviting friends Up some of whom came some of whom just Thought they couldn't be bothered with The journey But this image of him as this sort of Lonely dying man on a kind of freezing Cold Scottish Island it's not true it Was actually quite the weather was Actually very nice a lot of the time he You know he hosted friends and family Members as often as he could he had a Nice time there Despite yeah despite the illness and Despite the Bleak subject matter so I Think jira gets a bit of a bad rap Because actually what he hated more was When he had to come down to London Because he wasn't he didn't spend all His time in jira the whole sort of next Three and a half years he came back to London for a period and London was what He really hated at that point he it was Yeah it was a pretty

Um pretty bleak impoverished place after The second World War He came back during the winter You know to him jira seemed like Paradise by comparison to to postwater London do you have any idea he died he Was 46 years old uh 1950 do you have any Idea how many copies of 1984 have been Sold and what's the current copyright Situation in case you happen to know That Well it's just come out of copyrights In Um Britain And I believe America so you can do all Kinds of things with 1984 now Um some of these things will probably be Quite Um bad but for a very long time his his Widow uh Sonia who he married very Shortly before he died she was extremely Protective she stopped all kinds of Things like David Berry wanted to make a Musical version of 1984 which I suspect Would not have been good and it is good That that Sonia stopped him from doing It but for a very long time Um there were things you couldn't do in 1984 the situation with the film rights Became very very complicated Um it sold tens of millions of copies I Mean just and it was a bestseller right From the start and it has never stopped Selling it clear of course never been

Out of print but it's always sold and Whenever there is a um political Um crisis or something that draws Attention to to the themes of the book The sales Spike again it spiked in the Week of Trump's inauguration for example But yeah now it's out of copyright there Are all kinds of additions I've written The full word to two to one edition Um and I wouldn't be surprised to see Um another film version I think the Scope for another film version even Though the one that came out in 1984 is Is excellent And there will probably be you know Possibly stage musicals and concept Albums and and God knows what else your Book is called the ministry of Truth Um we talked a tiny bit about it in the Beginning but what can people get from Your book that they can't get from a Normal book about Orwell Well what I hope is is a really deep Understanding of where this book came From you know that in a regular Biography 1984 is just passed to the story here it Is the lens through which I see his Entire life So I'm interested in okay what did his Experiences in Burma bring to this book What his experiences in Spain bring to The book what was he reading you know I Read

I try to read everything that he had Read pretty much that was relevant I Read every single word that he wrote and So I was picking out things in his Journalism that would just not be Relevant to most uh biographers but they Gave me a little clear I was like oh Okay I think this is an influencing idea If I think fourth where this phrase Where this idea comes from who was he Reading who was he talking to Basically tracking his thought processes And trying to um You know cross some misconceptions like The misconception that you know that he Was terribly miserable endure like the Misconception that he thought he was Dying in fact he was quite optimistic And didn't think that he was like the Misconception that 1984 is the digits of 1948 reversed and that it was basically A sort of you know just a satire on on Britain at the time Which it wasn't that's not why that's Not why he called it that So I just wanted to go so deep into the The ideas the origins of the book and Also the afterlife of the book and how Much it has been How influential it has been how many Arguments has it inspired there are People on the left who love it there are People on the far right who think that It is a book for them uh they cannot

They cannot both be right there are People that don't realize that he was a Socialist There's sort of no end to Um there's no answer the Misunderstandings about a piece of work This famous and what I wanted to do was Show people not necessarily my opinions About it But all that I'd learned about it and to Really put it in its context and to Inspire people to go back and read it With fresh eyes because people read it When they're young a lot of the time and They never go back to it because they Think I know what it's about And actually it's a much stranger and More provocative book than I think most People remember How about the title why did you choose The ministry of Truth That came quite late in the day that Came pretty much when I'd finished the Book and I suppose what I'd realize while writing The book is that the it means different Things at different times that when it Came out people saw it as very clearly a Book about totalitarianism and a book About Russia in many ways and then later on People thought that it was a book about You know computers and people thought it Was a book about surveillance and it's a

It's a book about all of these things And what I thought I thought what is it About now And why it's important in this era of Populism and online disinformation is It's about the fragility of Truth And how important it is to sort of Respect objective reality and how easily That can be manipulated by Bad actors in In politics And on social media and in so many other Places and I thought yeah that's it That's Winston's workplace in the book Is I think what the book what makes the Book so important at this time in History and maybe in 10 20 years Something else about the book will be What makes it important We're a little almost over time and I've Kept you a long time but I got to ask You one last couple questions Charles Dickens How much of this is dickensian based on The time that he spent with people in Poverty Oh that's interesting because he was a Big admirer of Charles Dickens right a Classic essay about him I think what really surprised me Was that everything that Orwell did and Everything that all well wrote Ends up in 1984 in some way there are Little bits of of everything and so The proles the world of the pros which

In some ways is the weakest part of the Novel but perhaps the most confusing Part because it's not quite clear what Their role is and what they're meant to Represent You know certainly again came from his Sort of first-hand experiences his his Reporting I mean it's certainly not like I would not call the Norful Dickensian But he had a he he was obsessed with Getting the texture of Life the texture Of ordinary things which is what sets it Apart from any dystopian novel written Up to that point which were very Abstract very ideas driven and just as Winston cherishes You know the the writing The feeling of writing on paper the Sensation of holding a paper weight Orwell wanted to get a sense of how does This world feel what does it sound like How does it smell and he drew all of That from his own experiences whether From working at the BBC or reporting in The north of England or just living in The part of London that he lived in and So everything in it feels real even Though that world is is so unreal Which feels like you live in it would You define The word Utopia and the word dystopian Sure so Utopia just meant Um no place you know a place that does

Not exist but it was also interpreted as Meaning the good place Um And this is this this was this was Coined centers Ago by Thomas Moore Became very very popular literary genre In the late 19th century inspired H.G Wells who've been inspired all well Um so that you basically it was way of People showing what their ideal society Would look like And then people responded to Utopias With anti-utopias and of course one Person's Utopia is another person's Dystopia some people would read like a Socialists conservatives would read a Socialist Utopia and think this sounds Awful I'm gonna write my own perfect World And the word dystopia even though it had Been around for a while nobody really Used it so they didn't use it in all World's lifetime he would have been very Confused uh to hear someone describe 1984 as a dystopia he would have just Called it a a like an anti-utopia and Dystopia literally means the bad place And that became more popular in the 1970s and now of course it's a Ubiquitous word you know nobody would Really think to just go back to Anti-utopia So that's what he was writing but it's Not what he would have called it

We're getting nearer your dinner time in London and we've spent about an hour and Five minutes with you but but I want to Remind the audience that the name of This book is the ministry of Truth the Biography of George Orwell's 1984 and Our guest has been Dorian Linsky and we Thank you so much for your time Oh thank you it's been great Thanks for listening to the book notes Plus podcast please rate and review book Notes plus and don't forget to follow so You never miss an episode Questions or comments we would love to Hear from you you can email us at Podcasts at C hyphenspan.org [Music]