by Andrea Scrima
Twenty years ago, John Reed made an unexpected discovery: “If Orwell esoterica wasn’t my foremost interest, I eventually realized that, in part, it was my calling.” In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, ideas that had been germinating suddenly coalesced, and in three weeks’ time Reed penned a parody of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The memorable pig Snowball would return from exile, bringing capitalism with him—thus updating the Cold War allegory by fifty-some years and pulling the rug out from underneath it. At the time, Reed couldn’t have anticipated the great wave of vitriol and legal challenges headed his way—or the series of skewed public debates with the likes of Christopher Hitchens. Apparently, the world wasn’t ready for a take-down of its patron saint, or a sober look at Orwell’s (and Hitchens’s) strategic turn to the right.
Snowball’s Chance, it turns out, was only the beginning. The book was published the same year as Hitchens’s Why Orwell Matters, and the media frequently paired the two. In the years that followed, Reed wrote a series of essays (published in The Paris Review, Harper’s, The Believer, and other journals) analyzing the heated response to the book and everything it implied. Orwell’s writing had long been used as a propaganda tool, and evidence had emerged that his political leanings went far beyond defaming communism—but if facing this basic historical truth was so unthinkable, what was the taboo preventing us from seeing? Reed’s examination of our Orwell preoccupation sifts through the changes the West has undergone since the Cold War: its cultural crises, its military disasters, its self-deceptions and confusions, and more recently—perhaps even more troubling—its new instability of identity. The Never End brings together nine of these essays and adds an Animal Farm timeline, a footnoted version of Orwell’s proposed preface, and the Russian text Animal Farm originally drew from to more clearly assess the circumstances behind, and the conclusions to be drawn from, the book’s global importance. Read more »
by Andrea Scrima
Try it: try talking about the subject of reading without drifting off into how the Internet has changed the way we absorb information. I, along with the majority of people I know whose reading habits were formed long before the advent of digital magazines and newspapers, Google Books, blogs, RSS feeds, social media, and Kindle, usually feel I’m only really reading when it’s printed matter, under a reading lamp, with the screen and phone turned off. But the reality is that I do a vast amount of reading online.
Unsurprisingly, my attention span has gotten jumpy: I click from one article to another, suddenly remember a mail I need to write, consult the online dictionary on a browser that has at least thirty-five open tabs, and before I reach my destination, I see that I have several new Facebook notifications and check these first. By the time I click on the dictionary, a half hour has been lost and I can no longer remember the word I intended to look up. The result of all this is the humbling admission to a new handicap: the need for an Internet access-blocker with a Black List.
For my seventeen-year-old son and his growing brain, the potential for relentless distraction is far more pernicious. This is a kid who was read to every night of the first thirteen years of his life for at least an hour at bedtime, more often than not longer, and yet the dominance of smart-phone technology in his young life means that the greater part of his access to the world of ideas now takes place online.
I’m not going to explore the anxiety of parenthood in the digital age or argue the pros and cons of the Internet here; I myself am far too entrenched to ponder a life without it. But what strikes me is the profound change we’ve undergone in our collective ability to think critically. In an era of fake news and AI technology sophisticated enough to produce video footage that looks like the real thing, the conclusion I’ve come to is this: the ability to read is not the only thing we have to salvage for the next generation; we have to save, from oblivion, our ability to read between the lines. Read more »