Danger of Extremism: A Comparative Study of George Orwell and Albert Camus as “Political”/“Literary” Writers

By Miho Takashima.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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The relationship between politics and literature, the social role of the artist-intellectual, these were the crucial questions which certainly concerned both George Orwell and Albert Camus. Voluntarily or inevitably, they became deeply involved with the controversial issues of their time. Through his diverse and extraordinary experiences, Orwell gradually came to see himself as a “political writer,” and both words were of equal importance to him. Camus, on the other hand, was and considered himself to be a born artist who, because of his very nature, could not separate himself from present reality. Also, the fact that the two writers lived in a time of social turmoil–the growth of Fascism, the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, the concentration camps and the threat of nuclear war–made it almost impossible for them to ignore social reality. They were, in Sartre’s words, “situés” in a collective-oriented world where they had little choice as individual human beings. However, among their many contemporaries who had chosen either to dissociate themselves completely from politics and to be confined to the ivory tower of artistic imagination, or to become martyrs, to sacrifice their careers and lives to fight for social justice, Orwell and Camus had tried to maintain their sense of balance between the extremes, and to remain lucid about both themselves and the world that surrounded them. In this paper, therefore, I would like to focus on the views of Orwell and Camus elaborated in their critical essays on totalitarian tendencies of their time. I shall also refer to their essays on the recurring theme of the relationship between literature and current politics, of the role of the writer, where the two writers’ fundamental views present the most vivid contrast as well as similarities.

Keywords: Orwell, Camus, Danger of Extremism, Politics and Literature

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp.405-414. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 916.422KB).

Dr. Miho Takashima

Associate Professor, Department of International Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, Meisei University, Hino-shi, Tokyo, Japan

Dr. Miho Takashima graduated from Sophia University, Tokyo, worked for Banque Nationale de Paris, Tokyo Branch, after which she went to England to pursue M.A. and Ph.D courses on cros-cultural studies at Essex University. Her Ph.D thesis was on a comparative study of George Orwell and Albert Camus. She returned to Japan after having been conferred a doctoral degree, and has been teaching comparative literature and culture at Meisei University, Tokyo since April 2003.

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