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Orwell Was Only Wrong About The Date.

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Before reading 1984 I had the feeling that instead of reading like a vision of a dystopian future it would read like a vision of a dystopian present, and I was not wrong. I don't think this is coincidence, I truly think he saw the writing on the wall, where society was heading. Great book.

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So what did happen in 1984 ...

Coal miners strike

Brighton Bomb

£1 note withdrawn

York Minster fire

Aids virus discovered

Apple Mac launched

Inflation 5%

Interest rates 9.5%

Average house price £37,182

and that Cindy Lauper kept boasting about doing it Time after Time!

330px-Cyndi_Lauper_Time_After.jpg

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Much of '1984' was intended as a satire on contemporary events.

What's interesting is how many of the 'predictions' have come true SINCE 1984, rather than before it.

Eg constant surveillance, computer generated entertainment, thought police (political correctness), an abandoned urban underclass, constant war, etc.

I remember when I first read the book in 1983 or so, thinking 'phew, well none of that's likely to come true then!'

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To be fair I think it was perfectly reasonable to think things were that way at the end of the war and the start of the cold war.

Reasonable, yes, but if any of Orwell's contemporaries had picked up the direction society was headed (being steered?) and expressed concerns about it they've been memory-holed. Huxley's obviously one but he was barking up a slightly different tree. On top of that, I have a sneaking suspicion that Huxley got a bit of a chubby on when thinking about technocratic dystopias.

Orwell is special imho.

Orwell's writing was influenced by his experiences as a Leftist in Spain, as well as his establishment background, and he was honest enough to call out both systems for what they were. And smart enough to pick out the common features and synthesise a universal portrayal of totalitarianism out of them.

I have a soft spot for Orwell because he comes across in his writings as being an informed, intelligent, thoughtful, decent man; flawed, but fundamentally decent. Many writers and journalists since Orwell have had pretensions of emulating him, few if any measure up. On thinking about it, he's the last of my teen heroes and that's survived the realisation that he was capable of being a bit of a kn0b, same as the rest of us.

A key element of Nineteen Eighty-Four that's frequently overlooked, particularly in contemporary corporate media references to the surveillance state, is that all the gizmos and physical coercion referred to in the book are not the primary tool of control. It's the Big Brother that gets put in your head that does most of the donkey work.

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Guest eight

I have a soft spot for Orwell because he comes across in his writings as being an informed, intelligent, thoughtful, decent man; flawed, but fundamentally decent. Many writers and journalists since Orwell have had pretensions of emulating him, few if any measure up. On thinking about it, he's the last of my teen heroes and that's survived the realisation that he was capable of being a bit of a kn0b, same as the rest of us.

I tend to have a very individualistic view of 1984. The dystopia is an unintended consequence; I think it's actually an allegory for middle class repression and the whole book is largely about the British class system, with the middle classes (in the form of Winston) painted as the perennial outsiders. They are cursed by having knowledge but being denied real power. They are impotent.

Animal Farm, on the other hand, I thought was just rubbish.

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Orwell's my favourite writer. I think I've read everything he wrote - all the novels and pretty much all the collected essays, articles etc.

I've also gone on 'pilgrimages' to Wallington, Herts, where he lived and Sutton Courtenay, Oxon, where he's buried.

What I really like is the way he skewers what we now call the 'loony left' mercilessly, but without becoming a 'swivel-eyed loon' of the right.

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It's the Big Brother that gets put in your head that does most of the donkey work.

Absolutely, and that's the most insidious part. Was Big Brother an actual person within the Party? It's an irrelevant question that misses the point that Big Brother's power was purely due to 'his' existence as a non-corporeal entity, more deity than politician. Michel Foucault has some interesting ideas pertaining to this kind of power:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discipline_and_Punish

Foucault's argument is that discipline creates "docile bodies", ideal for the new economics, politics and warfare of the modern industrial age - bodies that function in factories, ordered military regiments, and school classrooms. But, to construct docile bodies the disciplinary institutions must be able to (a) constantly observe and record the bodies they control and ( B) ensure the internalization of the disciplinary individuality within the bodies being controlled. That is, discipline must come about without excessive force through careful observation, and molding of the bodies into the correct form through this observation. This requires a particular form of institution, exemplified, Foucault argues, by Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon. This architectural model, though it was never adopted by architects according to Bentham's exact blueprint, becomes an important conceptualization of power relations for prison reformers of the 19th Century, and its general principle is a recurring theme in modern prison construction.

The Panopticon was the ultimate realization of a modern disciplinary institution. It allowed for constant observation characterized by an "unequal gaze"; the constant possibility of observation. Perhaps the most important feature of the panopticon was that it was specifically designed so that the prisoner could never be sure whether they were being observed at any moment. The unequal gaze caused the internalization of disciplinary individuality, and the docile body required of its inmates. This means one is less likely to break rules or laws if they believe they are being watched, even if they are not. Thus, prisons, and specifically those that follow the model of the Panopticon, provide the ideal form of modern punishment. Foucault argues that this is why the generalized, "gentle" punishment of public work gangs gave way to the prison. It was the ideal modernization of punishment, so its eventual dominance was natural.

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I tend to have a very individualistic view of 1984. The dystopia is an unintended consequence; I think it's actually an allegory for middle class repression and the whole book is largely about the British class system, with the middle classes (in the form of Winston) painted as the perennial outsiders. They are cursed by having knowledge but being denied real power. They are impotent.

Animal Farm, on the other hand, I thought was just rubbish.

That interpretation of Nineteen Eighty-Four can cheerfully co-exist with the more obvious takes. They don't strike me as being mutually exclusive.

Animal Farm is a straight parody of the Russian Revolution. If someone has no interest in that, much of the parody is going to be lost on them. Fwiw I wouldn't think twice about Orwell if that were his best work.

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Guest eight

Animal Farm is a straight parody of the Russian Revolution. If someone has no interest in that, much of the parody is going to be lost on them. Fwiw I wouldn't think twice about Orwell if that were his best work.

It's just that the allegory is too heavy handed for me. There's a brilliant critique within a narrative of Animal Farm in Martin Amis' Money where he is given the book to read to "prove" himself to a potential lover.

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To me, the proletariat in 1984 seemed to be better off than the middle classes in many ways. They had no Big Brother watching them, apart from the BB plants. Goods in short supply for the middle class could be obtained from the proles on the black market.

So true about language or rather lack of it being a source of control. Look at how many things we are not supposed to say now. A call for privacy = supporting peados. Wanting to limit immigration = being a racist. Believing in employing 'the best person for the job' = being sexist.

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being under a tyranny of state control is really only a problem for people who think.

Dogs thrive in it.

They dont care when you watch them, whatever they are doing. They shamelessly beg for handouts...they are grateful when you come home, they lap up the occasional walks...and they love you for it all.

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As someone mentioned earlier, he himself was partly rebelling against his middle class status. In order to get the benefits, fit into that status you have to toe the line. That is true whether it is the middle classes, or in the Party or the Church. The 'outside' and the 'inside' are often represented physically in these books also. But brutish freedom seems a fairly constant theme...one where the self imposed prisons of conformity and the mind are disgarded.

To conform, the 'rules' do become self imposed as to say certain things would rule you out of office as a 'liability'. But if you were further down the social order as unemployed or doing a menial job, you have always seemingly actually had greater freedoms to act and say exactly how you think (from a middle class perspective). I think this is under far more oppression these days as all digital discourse is captured and the education system, the surveillance system bent to even stop 'chanting' on the terraces or to express certain 'unsavoury' opinions.

The difference today seems to be the creep of this tyranny to cover everyone...or does it? Perhaps the middle classes and the Party, the Church has always tried to impose its will and its values on the 'proletariat'...albeit unsuccessfully even today.

EDIT: I keep mentioning Church here because I live in a small village. And I look at the outsized (albeit beautiful) Church that sits at its heart and in centuries gone by (less so today), that Church would have been the absolute centre of your life and represented the tyranny at the heart of life to conform and do the bidding of the 'Powers that Be' aided and abetted by all your God fearing neighbours. Being surrounded by active spies and informants on your doorstep in this example or in the East German/Soviet examples above, is slightly more concerning to me than the NSA stealing my data right now. Things could be and have been very much worse in history and in other parts of the world.

Well, 1984 is about totalitarianism. In the 30s, for many intellectuals felt there were only two choices - communism, or Roman Catholicism, the latter in collusion with Fascism. Some have said the name 'O' Brien' points to Irish catholicism and that O'Brien is a kind of catholic priest. Orwell argues for an older, Protestant idea of the free conscience of the individual, something of an 18th century idea. He was a practising Anglican until his late 20s, and asked to be buried according to the rites of the BCP (the vicar of Sutton Courtenay knew his work and offered to perform the service). So I don't think he was having a go at religion per se, only in its totalitarian form.

It's worth reading 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying' which in many ways explores similar themes to '1984' albeit in a contemporary setting - the hope in the 'proles', the party mentality of keeping up with appearances, the drabness, etc etc.

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Per the wiki entry on Nineteen ... f**k it... 1984...

P. H. Newby, reviewing Nineteen Eighty-Four for The Listener magazine, described it as "the most arresting political novel written by an Englishman since Rex Warner's The Aerodrome".

They should put that on the front cover of all future editions.

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