Book Reviews & other random stuff

WE ARE THE DEAD…

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2009 at 12:04 am

A review of “Nineteen Eighty Four” by George Orwell.

I’m still unsure as to whether or not I actually enjoyed this book. Whilst the ideas and concepts spoke to me on an intellectual level, I found that I simply could not enjoy a book that was written almost in the form of a textbook. Indeed, part of it is actually a textbook – “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” by Emmanuel Goldstein. Nevertheless, the plot seemed to fill approximately a third of the book, whilst the rest was full of lectures about Ingsoc, the society of Oceania, socialism etc.

However, by the end of the book I still didn’t feel like I had learnt much more than what I already knew. The narrator says at one point, when Winston is reading “The Book”, that “the best books…are those that tell you what you what you know already.” I agree to a point; it is always great to see your thoughts written in a way that is “…more powerful, more systematic, less fear-ridden.” But I like to come away from a book with the feeling that I have learnt something. Even if it is just a piece of fiction that you read for fun, I normally feel like I’ve gained even a tiny piece of information that I didn’t know when I started reading.

Maybe I’m not as smart as I think I am, and most of the information went over my head. (I’m starting to think this more and more likely). Perhaps I just don’t know enough about socialism and totalitarianism to fully grasp the concepts, also very likely. However, I sometimes found it very hard to keep reading. At times I only did simply because I felt I should read this book.

When I first started reading “Nineteen Eighty Four” a few people around me started pondering how relevant or impactful it could be in today’s times, seeing as 1984 is already 25 years in the past. When the book was first released it was perceived in some circles as a prediction of what was to come. On the other hand, I feel it was meant more as a warning. As mentioned in the essay by Ben Pimlott at the start of my edition;

“… it is more than just a satirical attack, and much more than the product of febrile imagination. Though it contains a kind of warning, it is not prophecy… Neither is it much concerned with contemporary events. It is a book about the continuing present: an update on the human condition. What matters most is that it reminds us of so many things we usually avoid.”

And in this sense it is relevant to today. Simply ignore the date and focus on the society. Sure, if it was set in the 21st Century the technology may be different and Orwell may have focused on different aspects of the pre-Revolution society (note the significance of the top hats in the novel). But in all, the comments on the human condition will remain relevant as long as the human condition stays the same. A well known ideology is that of the end justifying the means. However, Orwell abolishes the end. The Party is revealed to have no end in mind; simply that “the object of power is power.” This philosophy will only ever work to demoralise society and keep the public in a state of suffering, which only serves the Party’s purpose further.

Also, it is evident in current times that aspects of “Nineteen Eighty Four” can be seen in modern society. Not only are some words in semi-regular use, such as Big Brother and Doublethink, but whilst reading you start to look around you with opened eyes. Would it be possible for “Big Brother” to be watching us now? Is the media merely propaganda that has no genuine basis in reality? Is it possible for records to be altered, so that we begin to doubt our own memory and begin to believe the altered record, simply because the majority does?

It is this last point that I am drawn to; it ties in with the concepts of postmodernism and absolute truth. If the “truth” only lies in the written and recorded accounts and in the memory, what happens when one, or both, is altered? If all records are altered and you must rely on your own memory, would you not begin to doubt the accuracy of your recollections? Then, this doubting would be multiplied if all of those around you believed the altered record. But then, on a small note this is already evident in society, and most likely has been since the start of any kind of recording of events.

Take, for example, a car crash; a red car and a blue car are involved in a t-bone accident. There are two witnesses and they both record their perceptions of the accident immediately after it occurred. Witness One writes that the red car ran a red light and was t-boned by the blue car as the blue car did not have the opportunity to serve and miss. Witness Two states that the blue car ran the red light and t-boned the red car, as the red car was unaware that the other car was approaching. Obviously, there are two “truths”. Yes, they may seem to be only perceptions; however to each witness they are definite memories and therefore truths in their minds. Now, imagine that Witness Two reads Witness One’s report. He begins to doubt and question his own memory of the accident – was the blue car really the one that ran the red light? Had he seen it wrong? Now, imagine that a separate entity wrote a report of the accident based on no genuine facts, which claims that the traffic lights failed and therefore neither car was at fault. This report is released to the general public and therefore assumed to be the factual account of the crash. The two witnesses will then be forced to further question their own reports, and may even become to believe the “general consensus” if particularly persuaded to.

Basically, if there was enough “evidence” to contradict your memories, who’s to say you wouldn’t believe them? Who couldn’t read this book without thinking, “wow, I wonder if I would believe it?”

In conclusion, I think I have managed to use a bit of Doublethink in my own life (the act of simultaneously accepting as correct two mutually contradictory beliefs); I believe that “Nineteen Eighty Four” is a great concept & a classic book, but at the same time I found it be very boring to read.
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  1. Just read Animal Farm instead.

  2. I have read Animal Farm for school. From what I can remember it was the same deal, great ideas but boring book….

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