March 27, 2002

A LAUREATE DEBASES LANGUAGE :

Storm over Nobel Prize laureate's Auschwitz comparison : Portuguese author Jose Saramago commented that Israeli actions in the territories were a crime comparable to what happened in the concentration camp. (Israeli Insider)
"We must ring all bells in the world to tell that what is happening in Palestine is a crime, and it is within our power stop to this," Saramago said, when a delegation of members of the International Parliament of Writers (IPW) met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in Ramallah. "We can compare it to what happened in Auschwitz," the author continued. "Even if we consider the differences in place and time, it is still the same thing. From the military point of view... Ramallah is the barracks of the camp, and the Palestinians are the prisoners inside."

Whatever else you believe about the Middle East situation, it is necessary to acknowledge that Israel is trying to create a Palestinian state but that the Palestinians refuse to accept the offer. You may feel that the Palestinians deserve more, you may feel that they deserve all, but you can't deny that basic fact : Palestinians have been offered a state of their own. Hitler tried exterminating the Jews.

Here's what George Orwell had to say about this kind of abuse of language :

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because out thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.


Well, we aren't professionals and we're quite fond of "sentimental archaisms", so let me just say this : Jose Saramago's comparison of the current situation in the Middle East to the extermination of Jews at Auschwitz is foolish and he ain't much of a novelist either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 27, 2002 7:14 AM
Comments for this post are closed.