Why Orwell Hated the Cliche

For what would have been George Orwell’s 99th birthday, here are reflections on his relationship to writing and language from Lawrence Wright:

Orwell’s proposition is that modern English, especially written English, is so corrupted by bad habits that it has become impossible to think clearly. The main enemy, he believed, was insincerity, which hides behind the long words and empty phrases that stand between what is said and what is really meant.

A scrupulous writer, Orwell notes, will ask himself: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What fresh image will make it clearer? Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? The alternative is simply “throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you — concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear."…

…Orwell optimistically sets forward six simple rules to improve the state of the English language: guidelines that anyone, not just professional writers, can follow.

But I’m not going to tell you what they are. You’ll have to re-read [Politics and the English Language (PDF)] yourself. I’m only going to speak about Rule No. 1, which is never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.

For me, that’s the hardest rule and no doubt the reason that it’s No. 1. Cliches, like cockroaches in the cupboard, quickly infest a careless mind. I constantly struggle with the prefabricated phrases that substitute for simple, clear prose…

…"Political language,” Orwell reminds us, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits.”

NPR: Orwell on Writing: ‘Clarity Is the Remedy’

Lawrence Wright tells Terry Gross about the belief some Scientologists have that Hubbard will return to Earth:

There’s a widespread belief that he’s going to return, and every Scientology church and his several residences and so on, they have his office ready for him. His sandals are at the shower door. He’s got his cigarettes on his desk. In his residence in the Scientology compound in southern California there’s a novel beside his bed, and they change his sheets on his bed daily and they set a table place for him for one at his dining room table. So there’s a sense that he might come back at any moment.

The secret civilian effort to save five American hostages in Syria

The parents of five captives in Syria felt that the U.S. government had abandoned them. But they wouldn’t give up. Read Lawrence Wright’s exclusive report on

Diane and John Foley endured two kidnapping ordeals. Their son Jim, a journalist, was abducted in both Libya and Syria.

Art and Shirley Sotloff, with their daughter, Lauren. The Sotloffs considered raising a ransom to save their son, Steven, even though U.S. officials threatened them with prosecution.

Carl and Marsha Mueller, the parents of Kayla, who was kidnapped while doing relief work in Syria. Carl Mueller felt that Qatari officials—who offered to negotiate for her return—were more helpful than U.S. officials.

Nancy Curtis and her son, Theo Padnos. Three cousins joined her effort to save Theo. The group was called the All-Girl Team.

Photographs by Carla van de Puttelaar

Los islamistas querían reformar por completo la sociedad, de arriba abajo, imponiendo valores islámicos en todos los ámbitos de la vida, de forma que todos los musulmanes pudieran alcanzar la expresión espiritual más pura. Esto solo se podía lograr mediante una estricta imposición de la sharia, un código jurídico inspirado en el Corán y los dichos (hadices) del profeta Mahoma, que rige todos los aspectos de la vida.
—  Lawrence Wright, La torre elevada - Al-Qaeda y los orígenes del 11-S
We finally gained access to Hubbard’s entire World War II records [through a request to the military archives] and there was no evidence that he had ever been wounded in battle or distinguished himself in any way during the war. We also found another notice of separation which was strikingly different than the one that the church had provided.
—  L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, had maintained that he was blind and a ‘hopeless cripple’ at the end of World War II — and that he had healed himself through measures that later became the basis of Dianetics, the 1950 book which became the basis for Scientology. But New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright discovered documents that contradicted Hubbard’s statements.
I am the same age as Israel. I’m sixty-six. I grew up in the American South, the segregated South. Now we have a black man who is president. It was an age of apartheid, and now that’s over. It was an age of two superpowers frozen in a cold war, and now that’s resolved. So history marches on, except for this conflict, which seems to have a claim on being eternal. And it doesn’t merit that. These are 10 million people, the population of LA County, and look at all the trouble that has spilled out to the rest of the world because they can’t get their act together. I do have a feeling of urgency, and to some extent, desperation, that this problem is steering into a place where it could make what’s happened so far look benign.

[Abdullah Azzam] told stories of mujahideen who defeated vast columns of Soviet troops virtually single-handed. He claimed that some of the brave warriors had been run over by tanks but survived; others were shot, but the bullets failed to penetrate. If death came, it was even more miraculous. When one beloved mujahid expired, the ambulance filled with the sound of humming bees and chirping birds, even though they were in the Afghan desert in the middle of the night. Bodies of martyrs uncovered after a year in the grave still smelled sweet and their blood continued to flow. Heaven and nature conspired to repel the godless invader. Angels rode into the battle on horseback, and falling bombs were intercepted by birds, which raced ahead of the jets to form a protective canopy over the warriors.

- from Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower (p. 122)

L. Ron Hubbard, Church of Scientology founder and sci-fi writer, was born on this day in 1911 in Tilden, Nebraska.

“The baby boom eventually prompted Hubbard to order that no one could get pregnant without his permission; according to several Sea Org members, any woman disobeying his command would be “off-loaded” to another Scientology organization or flown to New York for an abortion.”
― Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

Scientology presents itself as a scientific approach to spiritual enlightenment, but its practices have long been shrouded in mystery. Now Lawrence Wright—armed with his investigative talents, years of archival research, and more than two hundred personal interviews with current and former Scientologists—uncovers the inner workings of the church. We meet founder L. Ron Hubbard, the highly imaginative but mentally troubled science-fiction writer, and his tough, driven successor, David Miscavige. We go inside their specialized cosmology and language. We learn about the church’s legal attacks on the IRS, its vindictive treatment of critics, and its phenomenal wealth. We see the church court celebrities such as Tom Cruise while consigning its clergy to hard labor under billion-year contracts. Through it all, Wright asks what fundamentally comprises a religion, and if Scientology in fact merits this Constitutionally-protected label. Brilliantly researched, compellingly written, Going Clear pulls back the curtain on one of the most secretive organizations at work today. Read an excerpt here:

Lawrence Wright tells Terry Gross about Scientology’s Operating Thetan Level No. 3:

When you get to Operating Thetan Level No. 3, there’s a big discovery that you have in Scientology. It was the most closely held secret in the church until it was put out and dumped into a courtroom in the ‘80s and all the copyrighted secrets of the church became public knowledge. At that level, Hubbard reveals that we are all infested with space aliens that are called 'Body Thetans,’ and they’re really the sources of all of the problems and fears and things that we have in our lives, and if you can audit yourself and discover these Thetans and expel them, it’s akin to casting out demons that you can free yourself to ever higher levels of spiritual accomplishment.“

image via Universe Today

Rosalynn was born in the house next door to Jimmy Carter, and he’s going to be ninety in October, so they’ve known each other almost a century. They know each other as well as any two people can. Everybody who ever worked with Carter knew she was his closest advisor, and that was true at Camp David. She’s the one who proposed it. There wouldn’t have been a summit at Camp David if Rosalynn hadn’t put it on the table. So she’s an unacknowledged piece of the peace process.
“Clear” and Present Danger: Alex Gibney on His Bold Scientology Doc

Though it helps humanize many current and former believers, Going Clear pulls no punches against Scientology’s biggest “celebrity megaphones” — especially its superstar public face, Tom Cruise. Both the book and film allege that Cruise, a close friend of Miscavige (who was the best man at the actor’s wedding), has benefited for years from a labor force of Sea Org clergy members. “I’m singling him out,” Wright says. “More people got interested in Scientology because of Tom Cruise than any other individual, and he knows what’s going on. He could effect change, and it’s on his shoulders that he should.”

Gibney is harsher still. “For [Cruise] not to denounce, or at least investigate, what’s going on seems appalling to me,” he says. “He gets a lot of money and a lot of privilege from a lot of fans, and the idea that allows the vulnerable to be preyed upon in his name seems reprehensible.” In fact, Going Clear claims that Cruise’s own ex-wife, Nicole Kidman, fell victim to Scientology’s excesses herself. According to high-ranking defector Marty Rathbun, the Church wiretapped Kidman as part of a multifaceted campaign to drive the couple apart when Miscavige felt she was pulling him away from his faith. Even to readers of Wright’s book, this is breaking news.

“That was something Marty told me in my interview,” Gibney says. “When he spoke to Larry for the book, emotionally, he still had one foot in the Church. [Rathbun] had been a key enforcer for them. To unravel those big lies takes years, and to undo the psychological damage that was done to him by the Church is a slow healing process. He was able to say things now about how aggressive the Church was, in terms of trying to get Cruise back, that he might not have been willing to say before.”

I interviewed Oscar and Emmy–winning director Alex Gibney, Pulitzer-winning journalist Lawrence Wright, and high-ranking Scientology defector Mike Rinder about their upcoming HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief for Rolling Stone. I’ve been working on this for a long time, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

anonymous asked:

Who would you say is the most boring President to read about?

That’s a good question because there are always interesting aspects to each of our Presidents, but I find President Carter to be the most boring. The negotiations over the Camp David Accords are pretty fascinating to read about – especially in Lawrence Wright’s excellent Thirteen Days In September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David (BOOK | KINDLE) which is also being adapted as a play – but I feel like that’s more because of Sadat (and Rosalynn Carter!) than the President. Sure, there are interesting things about Carter – mostly prior to and after his time in the White House, but he’s not one of my favorites to read about.



  • (TALK) (ART) Bisi Silva, founder and director of the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), in Lagos, Nigeria, presents “Curating in Africa: Towards a Polycentric Artworld.” UT ART building room 1.120, 5pm (free) (link)
  • (TALK) Lawrence Wright, who wrote that amazing piece about scientology for the New Yorker, speaks about his experiences as a journalist in the Middle East. UT AVAYA Auditorium, ACES Building, 7pm (free) (link)


  • (FILM) Vizontele, dir. Yılmaz Erdoǧan, 2001. UT WAG building room 201, 6pm (free) (link)
  • (FILM) Found Footage Festival 2011. Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, 7pm and 9:35pm ($10) (link)
  • (MUSIC) A Boy’s Life + International Waters + others. Mohawk, 9pm ($6) (link)


  • (TALK) Latitudes 3: Two-Day Symposium on Architecture in the Americas. UT, Goldsmith Hall, 12:50pm-7pm, continues Friday 4/1 (free) (link)
  • (TALK) (ART) Artists’ talk by photographers in Austin: 15 to Watch. Austin Museum of Art, 7pm ($?) (link)
  • (MUSIC) MEN + Romy. Beauty Bar, 9pm. ($10) (link)


  • (ETC) 9th Annual Austin Edible Books Festival, yummy reads and fabulous prizes. UTA building, 12:30pm-2:30pm (free) (link)
  • (TALK) Latitudes 3: Two-Day Symposium on Architecture in the Americas. UT, Goldsmith Hall, 1pm-7pm (free) (link)
  • (ART) Opening reception for 2011 Student Art and Design Exhibitions, dress up time for art students. UT VAC Building, 6pm (free) (link)
  • (MUSIC) Akron/Family + Delicate Steve (= sneak in for the opener, then leave). The Parish, 8pm ($15) (link)
  • (MUSIC) A Giant Dog early show + others at First Friday Frolic. Club Deville, 5pm ($3) (link)
  • (MUSIC) “Baroque,” a monthly dance party. Loft 718, 10pm (free/$5) (link)


  • (ETC) Austin Cactus and Succulent Society Show and Sale. Zilker Park, 2pm, continues Sunday 4/3 (free) (link)
  • (ART) Open studios/opening/arty folks. ARTPOST, 6pm (free) (link)
  • (ART) Opening reception of Chantelle Rodriguez exhibit. Co-Lab Gallery, 7pm (free) (link)
  • (MUSIC) Big Boi performs at UT’s 40 Acres Fest (not sure if they’ll be checking IDs but probably not). UT Main Mall, 7pm (free) (link)


photo cred: Big Picture


Essential viewing.