Saturday, April 24, 2010

TRUST THE TALE AND NOT THE TELLER


© 1949 Secker and Warburg. London
From orwell.ru
“Nineteen Eighty-Four (commonly abbreviated to 1984) is a dystopian novel by the English writer George Orwell, and first published by Secker and Warburg in 1949. The book tells the story of Winston Smith and his attempt to rebel against the totalitarian state in which he lives.
Along with Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four is among the most famous and most cited works of dystopian fiction in literature. Translations of the book are available in 15 languages and the novel itself has left a profound impression upon the English language: Nineteen Eighty-Four, its terminology and even its author have become bywords in discussions concerning privacy or state-security issues. The term "Orwellian" has come to describe actions or organizations reminiscent of the totalitarian society depicted throughout the novel.
In his essay Why I Write, Orwell clearly explains that all the "serious work" he had written since the Spanish Civil War in 1936 was "written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism". Therefore, one can look at Nineteen Eighty-Four as a cautionary tale against totalitarianism and in particular the betrayal of a revolution by those claiming to defend or support it. However, as many reviewers and critics have stated, it should not be read as an attack on socialism as a whole, but on totalitarianism and potential totalitarianism.
Orwell had already set forth his distrust of totalitarianism and the betrayal of revolutions in Homage to Catalonia and Animal Farm. Coming Up For Air, at points, celebrates the individual freedom that is lost in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four also reflects various aspects of the social and political life of both the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Orwell is reported to have said that the book described what he viewed as the situation in the United Kingdom in 1948, when the British economy was poor, the British Empire was dissolving at the same time as newspapers were reporting its triumphs, and wartime allies such as the USSR were rapidly becoming peacetime foes ('Eurasia is the enemy. Eurasia has always been the enemy').
There is also an extensive and institutional use of propaganda; again, this was found in the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin. Orwell may have drawn inspiration from the Nazis; compare the following quotes to how propaganda is used in Nineteen Eighty-Four:
1. “The broad mass of the nation ... will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” — Adolf Hitler, in his 1925 book Mein Kampf.
2. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” — Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.
3. “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” — Nazi Reich Marshal Hermann Göring during the Nuremberg Trials.”
(Charles' George Orwell)

© 1949 Secker and Warburg. London
From orwell.ru

With Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is particularly necessary to trust the tale and not the teller, but even this has its pitfalls. Interpretations of the novel already exist which blatantly ignore the intentions of the author by reinterpreting its manifest content without any obvious justification. But all existing interpretations of Nineteen Eighty-Four are unsatisfactory in one regard or another. For many years Nineteen Eighty-Four 'served as a sort of an ideological super-weapon in the Cold War', was used along with Animal Farm as propaganda in the Western occupied zones of Germany, which it was 'feared ... might be invaded by Soviet troops', and was later also made use of by West Germany as 'warning . . . about what a future under Stalin might be like'. There is much in the novel, of course, which allowed it to be interpreted as an attack on Soviet Communism and its allegedly aggressive intentions. Nonetheless, such an interpretation does not quite fit: Ingsoc has been established in Oceania by internal revolution and not by military invasion or external pressure. The model is Trotsky rather than Stalin.
Those who interpret Nineteen Eighty-Four as the product of the author's own neuroses, as in Anthony West's celebrated claim that Oceania was merely Orwell's prep school St. Cyprian's writ large, are on firmer ground in that such a view does not involve standing the novel on its head. Even so, it does not explain why the novel has been so enduringly successful and why 'dissident intellectuals' (in Eastern Europe) were '"amazed" that the writer who never lived in Russia should understand the system so well'. To those who knew nothing of St. Cyprian's and the details of his life, it seemed that Orwell was writing about a real and familiar world, not about himself.
Nineteen Eighty-Four has successfully recreated the idea of hell and endowed it with an immediacy and significance which Milton and Dante (whose Divine Comedy Orwell was reading in the last year of his life) can no longer command. Though for us, unlike Dante and Milton, hell and its demons are a fable, Nineteen Eighty-Four, by transcending the limitations of the cultural and political context of its immediate origin, provides an objective correlative of this century's 'return to what our nineteenth-century ancestors would have called the standards of barbarism'. Millions of human beings have been the trapped and helpless victims of the pitiless, relentless and yet frequently insouciant cruelty of their fellows: on the ground or from the air. Fiends could scarcely have had more immediate power or behaved worse.
(Malcolm Pittock, The Hell of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Essays in Criticism, April 1997)
Another facet of 1984 that I find fascinating is the relationship between Winston and Julia. Winston claims Julia is a "rebel from the waist down," engaging in promiscuity and hedonistic indulgences forbidden by the Party. She doesn't care about social injustice or defining "reality"; she only longs for what will make her feel good in the moment and only rebels far enough to get what she wants. By comparison, Winston is an intellectual rebel, constantly worrying over the issues of truth and freedom and the real, unvarnished past, but limited in how far he's willing to push the boundaries (until he meets Julia). Together, they make a complete rebellion--physical and mental, but apart they find themselves impotent to stand up to the Party.
A cautionary tale, social commentary, and exemplary example of dystopian fiction, 1984 is one of those perfect novels that not only entertains, but forces one to think about the danger associated with giving any one person or entity too much power or control over our lives.....Text posted by snat at LibraryThing.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is not and never has been just a year. Nor is the world portrayed by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four a place or even merely a set of political or social circumstances. Rather, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a state of mind, a way of being, an atmosphere in which the dark side of our nature lives and turns all around it darker still. It is a time or place which we create when we turn away from the light that is within us, within each individual self, to the empty darkness of group will and the psychology of "massmindedness". Thus do we create for ourselves to live in the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Orwell's "fiction" of a world in which, but for a lingering echo, individuality had all but passed into extinction, could have been set in any time or place where "massmindedness" is paramount and where the individual exists merely to serve the group. Throughout history, most religions have preached, most governments have practiced and most societies have been organized around such "massmindedness". So, it is only the calendar which might confuse and comfort us, which might convince us that Nineteen Eighty-Four was merely a gruesome story about a time and place that never was nor could ever be. But nothing could be further from the truth. And the simple truth is that Nineteen Eighty-Four is NOW.
(The Orwell Reader)

© 1949 Secker and Warburg. London
From orwell.ru

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, there are no heroes, except as an idea, an ideal may be said to be a hero. All of its characters are exceedingly human, and this is what makes Nineteen Eighty-Four both timely and timeless, both powerful and profoundly pathetic. Nineteen Eighty-Four is often upsetting, sometimes disheartening, but, when its main lesson is learned, never depressing. It is fundamentally a story of hope, of a truth which can be discovered (although too late for all concerned); a truth which can be seen by us and taken as not only our ideal, but as the practical guide by which, to a greater or lesser extent, we can avoid the very pitfalls which consumed Winston and Julia and O'Brien and Big Brother and even Emmanuel Goldstein, and liberate ourselves from the tyranny and ultimate destructiveness of the group and its massminded stranglehold on our minds, our hearts and our souls.
(The Orwell Reader)


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