Friday, April 10, 2015

I is for INGSOC

April A-to-Z: must-read books

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
By George Orwell
(1903-1950) England

Doublethink… “War is Peace”… “Freedom is Slavery”… “Ignorance is strength”… “Who controls the past controls the future”… “Big Brother is Watching You”… telescreens… The Ministry of Truth… fictionalized history… the melding of super-states…

Orwell describes lives of absurd charade and control systems which contemporary thinking people realize so closely mimic our genuine living experience. We seem to know it and yet we don’t even dream of putting a stop to it. We seem to know that these principles have always dominated the world’s civilizations; monuments of heartless greed. Perhaps we just can’t imagine what good would come from revolution; how would the new power manage not to resemble the old? Or is it just that we are far too cozy to consider the discomforts of revolt – happy enough with our middle-tier slavery thanks to the under-appreciated luxuries bought for us from our bottom-tier machine slaves, and from the not-yet depleted boon of our unsustainable rape of nature’s resources and from exploitative global economics?

I read 1984 as an early-adolescent about the same time I read Fahrenheit 451 and The Running Man and only interpreted them as fascinating stories. I did not appreciate their cautionary relevance. Oddly though, my unconscious would not let me forget them. For many years following I constantly dreamed long epic dreams where I was fleeing the authorities in futuristic worlds where I sensed that everyone but I had gone insane. And I only interpreted them as interesting dreams. But those dreams kept these books, and similar others, in the back of my mind.

It seems to me now, that all Orwell had to do was take away the temporary comforts of exploitation and the environment of Nineteen Eighty-Four is precisely the mathematical forecast of our evolution of society. I think that his dystopian circumstances only look absurd because the suffering has been made appreciable with the material bleakness of their lives. How different is Orwell’s absurdity, in principle, from that of our own reality?

This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about their grandchildren, or someone else's.

Some praise for Orwell and Nineteen Eighty-Four which I find particularly interesting:

“Orwell’s Courage and Integrity shine from every page”—Daily Telegraph

“Orwell described the compromised lives we recognize as our own”—Andrew Motion, Observer

“He saw through everything because he could also see through himself. Many writers and journalists have tried to imitate his particular kind of clarity without processing anything like his moral authority”—Peter Ackroyd, The Times

“A writer who can – and must – be rediscovered with every age”—Irish Times

A passage:

   It was even possible, at moments, to switch one’s hatred this way or that by a voluntary act. Suddenly, by the sort of voluntary effort with which one wrenches one’s head away from the pillow in a nightmare, Winston succeeded in transferring his hatred from the face on the screen to the dark-haired girl behind him. Vivid, beautiful hallucinations flashed through his mind. He would flog her to death with a rubber truncheon. He would tie her naked to a stake and shoot her full of arrows like Saint Sebastian. He would ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax. Better than before, moreover, he realized why it was he hated her. He hated her because she was young and pretty and sexless, because he wanted to go to bed with her and would never do so, because round her sweet supple waist, which seemed to ask you to encircle it with your arm, there was only the odious scarlet sash, aggressive symbol of chastity.
   The Hate rose to its climax. The voice of Goldstein had become an actual sheep’s bleat, and for an instant the face changed into that of a sheep. Then the sheep-face melted into the figure of a Eurasian soldier who seemed to be advancing , huge and terrible, his sub-machine-gun roaring, and seeming to spring out of the surface of the screen, so that some of the people in the front row actually flinched backwards in their seats.


Li said...

One of my top ten favorite books of all time. Frightening how prescient he was.

cammies on the floor said...

Such a great book and one that makes people continually think.