Politics and Language- Week 9 around the corner!

This week politics has been in the forefront of our thinking in 20th Century Literature with George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” revealing the extent to which so much of what we think and write is manipulated by “thoughts” which are not at all our own. To find the simple, direct and concrete way to speak our ideas and experiences is the challenge Orwell throws out to us in both his essay and his horror story 1984. If you want to watch a film version of this fable go here.

Today we added to this story by looking across at Hugo Weaving in V for Vendetta, a recent film designed to challenge Orwell’s premise that our thinking, our literary traditions, all that we value most, are directly threatened by the impact of government and the media. This is film really worth watching in its entirety.

Indigenous students were in their second and final residential this week attending 20th Century literature and with them we explored Language and Politics in Orwell and in Kim Scott. Kim Scott’s marriage of Noongar language with Standard English in That Dead Man Dance nicely illustrates how language used with real discrimination can challenge the stranglehold of a political view which marginalizes and suppresses. Indigenous people feel strongly that their brand of English has not been recognized as a valid, creative language in its own right, as a possible Creole. Their language is seen by most Australians as a bastard version of the Standard. Not so, and much otherwise! It is a beautifully sensitive fusion of Indigenous ways of seeing with the more poetic elements of  English. This Kim Scott, practices, embodies and demonstrates!

In Australian Literature we had a parallel journey in looking at Lisa Bellear’s amazingly rich short poem “Urbanised Reebocks” in which she uses language to divest herself of the trappings of a culture which separates her from her authentic past. Here language – in a truly Orwellian manner- is an agent of liberation from the stereotypes of thinking and behavior that – as many today pointed out- keep us ALL entrapped (“reebanned”). We are all hemmed in by the pressures of fashion and technology that make us clones of Big Brother advertising companies and media outlets:

“Urbanised Reebocks”

In a creek bed at Baroota

I lose myself amongst

the spirit of life of

times where people

that is Blak folk

our mob – sang and laughed

and danced – paint-em

up big, red ochre

was precious…. go on

remember –hear the

sounds of flattened

ground and broken gum



My feet slip out of their

urbanized reebocks/

of sadness, which

hides its loneliness

behind broken reebans


Uncloaked feet hit

the earth…

And it’s okay

to cry.


In her note to the poem Lisa says “I coined this word reeban – it comes from combining the words reebocks and raybans. I love wearing these types of shoes and sunglasses.”

We all noted how this fusion of words brought to life her sense of how that part of her which indulged the Reebocks and Raybans also was the agent for re-enacting the sense of ban –ishment from that side of her nature which was most authentic. Are we not all caught in this kind of trap?

Very Sadly Lisa Bellear died at a very young age a few years ago.

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