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16 March 2010 @ 07:42 pm
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

Hold your stones, I know I should have read this earlier in life. I just ... never got around to it. I do have an important point to make, though:

It must have been SO. DEPRESSING. to be George Orwell.

I found this book fascinating. It's probably common knowledge that it's about a dystopian future set in totalitarian London, where everyone is constantly watched for any signs of disloyalty to 'Big Brother'. Which lead me to ask: Who watches the watchers? And also, why did they wait seven years to pick up Winston? Aside from the lol!obvious narrative imperative, I mean.

It's really interesting to deconstruct this from the point of view of a twenty-first centurian, who doesn't WATCH Big Brother - god forbid - but is one of the small percentage of television viewers who knows the origin of the name. I was trying in my faily way to explain to Helen that I think our generation (and maybe all generations - Oscar Wilde did say 'The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about' a whole century or more ago) LOVES being watched. Celebrities publishing boring tell-alls of their boring lives. People posting vids of themselves singing or tying a ponytail on youtube. The voraciousness with which we consume memes here on lj that no one else really cares about, except for how interesting OUR version will undoubtedly be. We all want to be watched. Being watched validates our existence. Obviously I would not care for the usurpation of society by the crazy, but I kind of feel sorry for Orwell that he could never visualise a future wherein being watched might be a good thing.

Previously, on Book Glomp 2010:
The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov
I'll take you there, Joyce Carol Oates
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
The School for Husbands, Moliere
On Green Dolphin Street, Sebastian Faulks
The Famished Road, Ben Okri
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
Current Music: easy // dragonette
JRevalangui on March 16th, 2010 09:45 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't say a pathologic need to be paid attention to is a good thing, exactly, plus in the examples you give is always under the watched person's control to decide what they show (at least I hope they didn't film anybody in Big Brother's toilets, not to mention they did decide to go into the houses in the first place), what made 1984 so horrible was the absolute lack of control, even over what they thought the character's had.

This book depressed me so much when I tried to read it that I never finished it and then I tried to fix that by watching the movie, which somehow it's even worse (maybe it was the graphic torture). Do you think the writing itself is any good? Or it's just a an ideas-novel?
the zedmeisterzedmeister on March 16th, 2010 10:34 pm (UTC)
Right, it's the way they deliberately shaped society and language that was completely horrifying to me, not the constant watching.

The other day someone referred to something in an LJ post as "doubleplus ungood", and while I loved recognizing the reference, the fact that people were actually using that terminology, even in jest, made me uncomfortable.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on March 16th, 2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
I'm a bit 'meh' on the whole idea that anything could shape society so knowingly. This was mainly because the Party had no ideal that I could see, just the formless quest for 'power.' Mostly, people want to save other people from hell, or from the filthy homosexuals, or from the dirty foreigners. The Party managed to cleanse themselves of purpose, which made them slightly hollow to me.

I, for one, would never let that language change happen. Even IF rats ate my face!
JRevalangui on March 17th, 2010 11:07 am (UTC)
But that's what's so scary! That they emptied themselves and everybody else of individuality! Bad individuality at least is still human. It was like a mental genocide.

So basically the writing is ok but also really deppresing because it's designed to fit the story.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on March 16th, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
Oh, I obviously don't jive with the pathological part. But I do think it's an intrinsic part of human nature. I could go on and on giving examples I just come up with in my head. Also, in Big Brother the TV show, they did film in showers and hottubs and so on - it was shown after the watershed, lol. You can never be sure what face you present to a camera, so that kind of watching is just as intrusive - plus, people act differently around cameras.

The writing is nothing special, no. I think it's important that it was so scraped bare, though. Anything too fancy would have detracted from the action and the message. He got that right.
xoxo, Geralynnbuildyourwalls on March 16th, 2010 09:45 pm (UTC)
i remember i had to read this book back in high school and the part where the guy announced that they were watching the main character in the attic? i literally screamed into the room, "WHAT THE EFF?"
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on March 16th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
lol are you thinking of Anne Frank? Or do you mean the room Winston and Julia rented that turned out to be run by the Thought Police?
xoxo, Geralynnbuildyourwalls on March 16th, 2010 10:54 pm (UTC)
The thought police situation. It's been over 10 years since i've read the book -- I don't plan on doing it again anytime soon >.>
a kid on the lookout for transcendenceextemporally on March 17th, 2010 12:01 am (UTC)
DAVID BOWIE WROTE SOME SONGS ABOUT IT, I AM JUST SAYING. Um. I didn't really enjoy 1984, but that might have been because I was fifteen at the time. I enjoyed Down & Out in Paris & London much better!

Also this comic makes me laugh.
Sereniaserenia on March 17th, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
You're not alone - I didn't read this book until a couple of years ago. My husband did it in high school.

We are definitely a society of exhibitionists, at the very least in the mental sense. Gen Y seems incapable of having a thought without voicing it. I know I feel validated when I can share my thoughts and feelings with others, although that's probably because I spent my formative years being completely misunderstood, so now I overcompensate by my determination that everyone WILL understand what it's like to be me.
Yes, I do see a therapist. XD

I'm not one of the people who lives in fear of 'big brother watching you' - it really irks me whenever things like a national health card with medical history on it is suggested by a politician, and then gets jumped on by all the paranoid people. Seriously! I think it would be fantastically useful to have your entire medical history in one location, so if you see a different doctor, it's all there, and you don't spend your whole appointment explaining about the time you broke your arm when you were three, or forget to mention you're on a medication that might clash with something else.
meddie_flowmeddie_flow on March 17th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
Obviously I would not care for the usurpation of society by the crazy, but I kind of feel sorry for Orwell that he could never visualise a future wherein being watched might be a good thing.

It depends on who watches and what their intentions are.

What Orwell writes is dystopia, but things very similar have been known to happen in totalitarian regimes. No, they did not have two-way TV screens, but you would always be in fear that someone would TELL.

You could be imprisoned for keeping a diary, for knowing English, for not having "clean" (working class) origins, for putting a toe out of line. "Vanishing" was also a common practice in communist systems. They would force the movement of entire communities from one region to another on various causes.

Totalitarian regimes are based on theses that in theory would provide the well-being of the people, an ideal society etc. and in practice the system is manipulated, power is seized and the very ideals of the beginning are corrupted, misinterpreted.

The liberty of the individual is a very easy thing to destroy and so is the freedom of speech. The language has also been censored in communist countries, becoming what Francoise Dolto has theorized as "wooden language". For example, in the fifties, in communist Romania, you weren't allowed to publish books that did not have an optimistic, progressive message. Words like "death", "sadness", "graveyard" etc were being censored.

It seems that it's only about power in Orwell's narrative because the very beginning of the current regime are forgotten. History is permanently rewritten and very few remember the historical truth. In the dissident's book it says how and why it all began, if I remember it right.

It's easy to think Orwell exaggerates when all you've directly experienced is capitalism with its (arguable)liberties. But what he predicts in that book has happened in many European countries.

Of course being seen, being heard might be a good think in a society where human rights are REALLY respected. However, it functions as a warning that all the Romanians, for example, could see and hear before 1989 were two hours per day of patriotic television and the illegal radio channel Free Europe,broadcasting from France, which would denounce the atrocities and give hope to the people...