A little light reading

December 19, 2006 by barbara

by barbara

The last time I read George Orwell's "1984," it still seemed like futuristic improbability. I picked it up again a few days ago to read as I recover from the flu. (Pause for a chorus of, "Oh, you poor dear thing!") I would like to point out that "1984" is definitely not an antidote for Norovirus. Published in 1949, Orwell's eerie novel peppers the pages with ghosts of Christmas yet to come. And in some ways, it seems that the Orwellian Christmas time is here, now. Read on.

Orwell was an English novelist, journalist and essayist whose real name was Eric Blair (haven't done a genealogy search on Tony). According to Wikipedia, by the end of his life, "Orwell was a left-wing (though hardly orthodox) Labour-supporting democratic socialist . . . . He was also at least open to arguments from the free-market libertarian right." Orwell was 45 years old when he wrote "1984."

I am not the first person to draw parallels between Orwell's classic and the Bush dynasty, and I will not be the last. But it's an interesting and sometimes chilling exercise. Nearly everything written about "1984" describes it as dark and dystopian. (I had to look it up to be sure. Dire, grim. Indeed.)

By way of refreshing collective memory, "1984" chronicles a totalitarian society under the watchful eye of Big Brother. He is the benign face of the Party, revered by the lockstep citizenry. It is left to others to conduct each day's Two-Minute Hate on omnipresent telescreens that also monitor each citizen's every word, deed and thought. It's a society perpetually at war and about the business of rewriting history to suit the agenda of the Party.

It is a common and accepted part of life that colleagues may disappear without warning, to be imprisoned, tortured and vaporized for wrong-doing, large or small, actual or perceived.

The bulk of society's work is done by the 85% of the purposely uneducated and largely discounted population known as "proles" (think proletariat). All in all, it is, well, a dystopian work about a society completely purged of emotion, relational connections, personal ambition, compassion and history.

The novel's protagonist, Winston Smith, acquires a top-secret book (entitled "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism") that contains the only historical accounting of the lead-up to the present time that has not been purged or subjected to "Newspeak." What follows are excerpts from that book, which is excerpted in "1984."

"For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance."

{ ~ }

"Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak, there is no word for 'Science.' The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc (Newspeak for English Socialism). And even technological progress only happens when its products can in some way be used for the diminution of human liberty."

{ ~ }

"The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought."

{ ~ }

"The key word here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it also means the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink.

"The alteration of the past is necessary for two reasons, one of which is subsidiary and, so to speak, precautionary. The subsidiary reason is that the Party member, like the proletarian, tolerates present-day conditions partly because he has no standards of comparison. He must be cut off from the past, just as he must be cut off from foreign countries, because it is necessary for him to believe that he is better off than his ancestors and that the average level of material comfort is constantly rising. But by far the more important reason for the readjustment of the past is the need to safeguard the infallibility of the Party . . . . for to change one's mind, or even one's policy, is a confession of weakness."

{ ~ }

"Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them . . . . To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies'"all this is indispensably necessary."

I haven't finished the re-reading, but it is getting darker and more dystopian as I go. Something in all of the above suggests to me that those who believe Orwell was writing satire as well as a political commentary were probably right. The concept of blackwhite, doublethink, newspeak is ludicrous in the extreme. Or is it?

I believe I would label Orwell's "1984" a cautionary tale. Difficult sometimes to tell where fiction stops and reality begins. I can't help wondering if this novel has become the manifesto of the Bush administration. Assuming that the novel ever existed in the first place, of course.

The good news is that my next retro-read will probably be "Catcher in the Rye."

Posted in

Comments

Leftymn (not verified) | December 19, 2006 - 10:40am

"Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,/ The Gunpowder Treason and Plot... / I know of no reason/ Why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot... " an English rhyme

"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." V

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Anonymous (not verified) | December 19, 2006 - 8:48pm

...I suppose I believe you read the book.

However, no support for the 1) "Orwell's 1984 parallels the Bush dynasty", nor the 2) "I suspect '1984' is the manifesto of the Bush administration" theme is present.

Grade: D.

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Barbara Miller (not verified) | December 20, 2006 - 1:57pm

As a general rule, we don't bother with anonymous postings at Clotheslineblog. But since this particular posting illustrates my point perfectly (i.e., a nation of individuals in the throes of Bush babble syndrome), here are suggested next steps for the writer:

(1) Re-read "1984." (I suppose I believe you read it before.)

(2) Reflect on the past six years of the Bush administration's ministrations, and, in particular, the years since the 2004 election. Think double-speak, no-speak, a pseudo-benign leader unwilling to mix with the common folks, unwarranted war, war as a means to more war, torture, random revision of history, violations of personal liberties, etc., etc., etc.

(3) Re-read "A little light reading."

(4) Connect the dots.

(5) Think hard.

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regdbcvb (not verified) | June 6, 2007 - 6:38am

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