Saturday, 21 January 2012

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Here is a book that surely must get more terrifying as the years pass by. It is awful, I hated it, but that is the point. It isn't a nice book. But it's good, which is why I hated it. It is absolutely brilliant, insightful and true. It brings home the ugliness of how our society operates, and the terror of what might be in the future. You can't argue that it's a Swallow vs. Flies situation when it really is happening. I feel like it would take some rather epic optimism to argue that in the future we'll all be Swallows and there aren't really any Flies. The Flies are crawling all over us.

At least that's how I feel at the moment. A little hopeless, which is partly owing to reading this, and partly because of living in a society of Flies. I really just would rather not. But such is life. I need to read some lovely books. I was planning on Discipline and Punish by Foucault, who wrote about the Panopticon. I am, I have to say, writing this from memory, so this may not be as accurate as it ought to be: the panopticon is a circular design for a prison, which allows the guards to observe, but the inmates to be unaware of it at any given time. So, the inmates have to behave all the time: safer to act as though you are being watched, whether you are or not. Like CCTV cameras: they may or not have film in it, and there may or may not be a hidden one wherever you may be. So best behave. Big Brother is watching. 

But, Discipline and Punish isn't a good book for me at this moment, nor was Nineteen Eighty-Four (but that obviously didn't stop me). It is one of those books everyone really ought to read, and frankly if you aren't vaguely considering suicide at the end of it, then Orwell hasn't done his job. It really ought to be read, this book. Perhaps not when you were fed up to start with, though.

I'll end with this, one of the more sickening passages from the book, from the fifth chapter of the first part (pg. 59 - 61 of the Penguin Modern Classic edition):
'It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and the adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn't only the synonyms; there are also antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word. A word that contains its opposite in itself. Take "good", for instance. If you have a word like "good", what need is there for a word like "bad"? "Ungood" will do just as well - better, because it's an exact opposite, which the other is not.
....
'Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we're not far from that point.
...
'By 2050 - earlier, probably, all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron - they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be.
A bitter end note, I know, but worth remembering Nineteen Eighty-Four has been banned in its time.

4 comments:

  1. "it's good, which is why I hated it" is pretty much the exact reaction I remember having the first time I read this, and the reason I haven't read it again since. Great review and I love/hate that passage you included at the end.

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  2. Cheers. Such a miserably brilliant book.

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  3. I've only read the first half of 1984, as I simply didn't have the time for it when I was reading it, but it certainly is chilling. The whole Newspeak concept is frightening, because I could see it happening so easily, and I can see how we could so easily let it.

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  4. Yep, exactly. And most of it IS happening. Saw a pic on Tumblr the other day with the caption "1984 wasn't supposed to be a how-to manual". But it is! Freaky. It is a very good book, though.

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