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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Coming Attractions -- 1984

The novel for next month is George Orwell's 1984. I read Animal Farm in the context of attending a private, Christian (evangelical) high school. The general vibe I was always given is that Animal Farm was a treatise against both Communism and Socialism (the two were often conflated). Interestingly, Orwell was a Democratic Socialist. His critiques were not leveled against socialism or capitalism but against the abuses of totalitarianism found in 20th century forms of Communism and Fascism.

I think that our discussion of 1984 will be particularly timely, in light of many of the debates that take place in the current U.S. political climate. I often see ideological debates about the merits of socialism or capitalism. Discussions of the abuse of government are usually merely an attempt to criticize someone else's ideology. That is, I find it rare that we can put the labels "liberal"/Democratic or "conservative"/Republican aside long enough to have honest discussions about the degree to which government is intruding on freedom and civil liberties.

Jean Francois Lyotard some thirty years ago wrote his classic The Postmodern Condition, which has become a definitive postmodern text. Lyotard says that information will be central in the years to come. He goes so far as to say, "It is conceivable that the nation-states will one day fight for control of information, just as they battled in the past for control over territory, and afterwards for control of access to and exploitation of raw materials and cheap labor. A new field is opened for industrial and commercial strategies on the one hand, and political and military strategies on the other."

The central character of 1984 is Winston Smith. He works as in the "Ministry of Truth" to revise historical records in order to advance the propaganda of The Party. Knowledge, information, politics, government, and the struggle for freedom are all interconnected. This is as true today as it ever has been.

Happy reading.


Tuishimi said...

Animal Farm was one of the few "classical" books we were fed in High School that I actually enjoyed.

The various parallels and progressions intrigued me.

Jonathan Erdman said...

You were "fed" books in high school! Funny. An interesting way of seeings things, and a perspective very much Orwellian!

Can you remember more details as to why this book stood out to you in high school? Another blogger mentioned that his daughter (currently in high school) also listed 1984 as one of her most intriguing reads. I wonder what it is that appeals to a younger reader. Is it an eye-opening experience to realize that a government can be totalitarian? And then to realize that there are elements of totalitarianism around us? More subtle (but no less effective) mechanisms of control?

Tuishimi said...

I cannot really remember specifics (that was almost 30 years ago), I just remember liking that one. The book I disliked the most was Ethan Frome. I felt like dying by the end of that one. I had to read War and Peace for my Russian History book report and while it was long-winded, I'd rather that over the greyness of Ethan Frome. :)

tamie said...

Aw man, I thought that 1984 was April's novel of the month! I was going to read it! Wait, so....wait....what's April's novel? I am confused!