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This article is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

The Commitment of Peter Weiss Michael Hulse


WHEN George Orwell, in an interview broadcast in December 1940, commented that 'every artist is a propagandist in the sense that he is trying, directly or indirectly, to impose a vision of life that seems to him desirable,' he was framing a definition which deliberately distinguished between two kinds of propaganda: the individual writer's world-view, and political agitation. 'Most political propaganda,' he said, 'is a matter of telling lies, not only about the facts but about your own feelings.' According to Orwell, no writer with 'any honesty or talent' can write political propaganda.

Orwell's statements on the relationship of art (and literature in particular) to propaganda at times appear inconsistent; as John Mander pointed out in The Writer and Commitment, 'He is quite capable of saying that propaganda is the ruin of art one day, and on the next that all art must have a political purpose.' This does Orwell an injustice, and piecing together his various statements reveals a stable coherence whose centre is a liberal rejection of intention. Thus in a 1941 broadcast entitled The Frontiers of Art and Propaganda Orwell expressed his awareness 'that propaganda in some form or other lurks in every book, that every work of art has a meaning and a purpose-a political, social and religious purpose-that our aesthetic judgements are always coloured by our prejudices and beliefs.' If this is the necessary corollary to the view that every artist is ...

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