Thursday, September 16, 2004

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four

Seeing its election time, and the campaign is proving so boring, not to mention the yawnable 'great debate', I decided to re-read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. It's the sort of book I don't think I'll ever get sick of reading.

This was Orwell's last book. He died too young, in his late forties. If he'd been granted another decade of life, God knows what other classics we would all have to enjoy.

There's not a page of Nineteen Eighty-Four that I don't find completely compelling. Just about everything he writes in it is relevant to today's world political situation. You often find yourself gasping at how prescient he is - or perhaps we should follow Shakespeare on this. 'The past is prologue.'

The totalitarian world he describes is one of English Socialism supreme, or Ingsoc in Newspeak. The Capitalism of yore has been completely discredited. Now the Party - and its supreme figure - Big Brother, run everything. Not only do they run things, they are in the middle of rewriting absolutely everything, all histories, to fit the Party program.

The main character, Winston Smith, works for the Party in the capacity of a rewriter of history.

A big part of the book is obviously about how dominant political parties rewrite history to suit themselves. The novel goes one step further in having an entirely new language brought in. The object of Newspeak is actually to make it impossible to disagree with the Party. All negative words - rather all heretical words - are in the process of being excised from the English language. Once this process is complete, it will be impossible to say or even think anything against the Party.

The proletariat of the novel, or proles, are always to be kept impoverished by a constant war economy. Without education, kept in a state of constant stupefaction, they are unable to think their way out of their present state and rise up against the state. Or as John Lennon sang in Working Class Hero, 'They keep you doped up on religion, sex and TV.'

Constant war is another major theme of the novel. There are three major super powers constantly at war with each other. But who is allied with whom constantly changes, and all the records have to be changed accordingly. George Bush recently let the cat out of the bag on this one when he smiled at an interviewer and said, 'it' can't be won, meaning the 'war on terror', which is really just another word for perpetual war against undefined, or constantly re-defined, enemies.

It makes one think of our current war in Iraq. No one mentions the fact that we were once allies with Saddam Hussein. The Murdoch media, it could be argued, is like one of the propaganda organs in Nineteen Eighty Four, which supports the Bush administration to the hilt.

Even the descriptions of the resistance movement in the novel, The Brotherhood, sound like our current terrorist menace. They are utterly nihilistic and call for suicide at any moment in service to the Brotherhood.

The descriptions of sexuality are amazing as well. Orwell describes the Party's wish to control sex, to the point of even abolishing the orgasm! 'Our neurologists are at work upon it now.' He says the party just wants nasty, brutish, perfunctory sex, with no eroticism. Indeed, eroticism is described as enemy to the party.

My favourite line is, 'The heresy of all heresies was common sense'. How much it describes our current day.

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