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Nabakov and Orwell: The Politics of World-Building Essay

Nabakov’s primary point in “Good Readers and Good Writers” is to embrace the notion that the best writers create new realities out of chaos in their writing. Good readers, then, must abandon traditional notions of history and socioeconomic theory, and approach works with a sense of imagination and a well-honed sense of aesthetics. Orwell’s famous “Politics and the English Language” bears certain similarities to this, and may well have been a precursor to Nabakov’s theories. Orwell believes that politics led to the over-complication of language, from flowery metaphors to indecipherable scientific jargon.

This seems readily apparent during election season, when candidates hide true perspectives and platforms behind a bevy of blinding buzzwords. However, it is important to note that what Orwell excoriates, Nabakov celebrates—after all, Nabakov insists that a good reader will have a good dictionary, the better with which to map out this new world that their favorite author is shaping. This is certainly true in a college education, where one cannot simply advocate simplicity and refuse to learn any complexity.

In Orwell’s defense, he was not attempting to offer criticism on a literary level, but wished to comment on the political rhetoric of the time, which then (as now) sought to use inflated phrases to inflate candidates who, in reality, were downright hollow inside. Nabakov advocates something closer to a cause/effect structure—he does not denigrate the (often complicated) politics embedded within literary fiction. Rather, he urges good readers to enjoy the stories they read as fantastic literature first, and political screed second.

Orwell would be unlikely to agree with this view, as his two most famous works (Animal Farm and 1984) serve as political warnings against Communism, and the stories wrapped around these warning are, for all intents and purposes, ornamental only. To extend the metaphor further, Nabakov’s theory stresses the necessity of the ornaments in order to appreciate the whole tree; viewing a story with a pre-packaged idea of what it means was just as unseemly to Nabakov as the reuse of political slogans was to Orwell: it is nothing more than an excuse to avoid original thought, which is necessary to good writers, readers, and politicians.


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