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Friday, February 3, 2017

Allegory in the Age of Trump

Allegory Revisited

Temptations generously afforded by the D. J. Trump gang invite us to read or reread George Orwell's novel Animal Farm as a fine blending of artistic and political purposes.  Orwell suggested  in the essay "Why I Write" that such violation of New Critical dogma was his intention; there is profit to be had from respecting his intention.

The novel is an allegory, a literary descendent of those from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, although it is less friendly to four-fold readings (literal, typological, tropological, and anagogical) than its ancestors.  Literal and moral (troplogical) still have currency in the 21st century; typological readings depend on discovering connections between Old Testament and New Testament narratives, which sit well with current ideas about objectivity; anagogical readings require belief that there will be future events in Christian history.  It is safe to read Animal Farm literally as a fairy/faerie tale, as an open-ended story which in the words of Russell Baker (preface to the 1996 Signet Classics edition), offers "us a lesson about the human contribution to political terror that will always be as up-to-date as next year's election"(xiv).   Or as tomorrow's executive orders from the Oval Office.  Claiming that the story has moral properties requires us to walk in the combat zones of ethical criticism where traps of political correctness abound.  But traps are overwhelmingly "normal" in the Age of Trump, are they not? And Trump's spokespersons manufacture , it must be acknowledged, fantastic cognitive traps for everyone. The traps may wound you,  but they will not kill you.

If we put typological and anagogical modes of interpretation aside, a reading of Animal Farm enables us to gather ammunition for political warfare as we try to identify which members of the Trump gang are flesh and blood embodiments of characters in Orwell's allegory.  I will not deny you the pleasure of discovering what Edmund Spenser wrote in 1589 to Sir Walter Raleigh about "how doubtfully all Allegories may be construed" as he expounded his intentions in writing The Faerie Queene.  Were I to do so, you might curse with Calibanic glee and hit the wrong target.  Instead, I urge you to read Animal Farm and find out why when your nation truly becomes great again you must buy the post-truth of my saying that Kellyanne Elizabeth Conway  is the most recent reincarnation of Orwell's anti-hero Squealer and that the Commandment  ----ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS --  is knowledge that Moses refused to bring down from the mountain.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                            February 3, 2017

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