Tuesday, August 25, 2009

1984

So yesterday i finished reading 1984, a book written in 1949 about a future 1984 where the world is divided in three mega countries in permanent war. The book talks about Winston Smith a mid-level member of The Party, the dictatorial organization leading one of those 3 mega countries, and how he hates the establishment and how he tries to subvert the system. It also features "telescreens" a fictional two-way camera/television that sees everything and controls everyone.

The book is the first Orwell novel i read (though i read an adaptation for kids of Animal Farm when i was younger) and i found it rather interesting and as a classic in science fiction i think you should read it. The topics it covers are still up to debate: Are "low level classes" with less problems happier than people that know more? Do revolutions just mean changing who is in charge but "exploited people" remain in the same situation? Is government surveillance a good thing? Is torture a valid method to achieve government objectives? Is true love a thing that can not be destroyed?

16 comments:

Andreas said...

The most striking thing about 1984 for me is that it is very, very well written. It is fun to read because the author knows what and how to write.
That said, it seems like 1984 and Brave New World (boring book) are about equally correct in their depiction of "the future". I would recommend reading both :)

Anonymous said...

If you like this book and its message, also check out "The Society of Spectacle" by Guy Debord. Same effect as 1984: the older it gets the more truth it holds :)

Greetings

Jan

Matija "hook" Šuklje said...

If you haven't yet, read Cory Doctorow's brilliant Little Brother (free download, under CC license).

It takes a more modern and close approach to the same matter as Orwell's 1984. It incorporates many of today's technologies and shows many faces of the problem of fighting for privacy (by hacking or otherwise).

It's comprehensible enough to be read by a teenager with limited technological knowledge (it's primary target), while I know of at least one case of a technologically literate 25-year old, whose heart was pounding while reading it (namely, me ;)).

I'd also suggest to read both the foreword and the closing words.

Anonymous said...

The scary part about 1984 is that its "science fiction" future is already fully realized in many countries, especially in Orwell's homecountry. Also all of your questions were already implicitly answered by political actions, and all in ways which should worry us all if everyone would care enough to take notice. But the buildup of a citizens resistance is slow everywhere, its only very recently that formerly NGO-only movements for civil rights are entering politics, and we will see in the next couple years how that will go.

Dan Vratil said...

If you like the book, I can recommend you the movie too.
The atmosphere in the movie is great, so are performances of the actors. It of course does not cover all of the book's story and sometimes you could get lost in it (especially those who haven't read the book), but despite all these facts, it's a very good movie. It was filmed in early 80s and released...guest when :-) 1984.
I'm also looking forward for a remake of the movie that should come out next year.

Ian Monroe said...

Orwell's book A Homage to Catalonia is also well-written and interesting (despite being non-fiction). It provides the context to 1984, though I suppose its likely you already know about the Spanish Civil War. Either way Orwell provides an interesting perspective to that conflict. And well is a must-read for any Catalonian who is an Orwell fan I'd say. :D

Coincidentally I actually just recently started listening to an audio book of 1984. Its been 10 years+ since I read it, I figured it was about time. ;)

@Anonymous I think the most major theme of 1984 isn't total surveillance, but the warping of truth by government. From the US perspective, the vigorous journalism and lively political debate in the UK looks pretty healthy (when compared to our debates where one side simply denies facts, and the worsening state of investigative journalism). In short I think we're all doing pretty well compared to Oceania. ;)

Anonymous said...

Animal Farm is even better, I would highly recommend it.

Anonymous said...

Do revolutions just mean changing who is in charge but "exploited people" remain in the same situation?

It seems that way to me.
Case in point: The Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela.
This country has enjoyed the greatest income it has ever seen, yet poverty levels remain the same or worse than before.

wllacer said...

You make me feel old ... I read all of Orwell some 30 years ago, and were very important milestones in my intellectual journey.

Homage, Animal Farm and 1984, preferably to be read in this order (data capture, abstraction and generalization) can not be understood without their (barely) hidden references to the Myths of the Left of the mid century, and how their worst aspects have survived (rather improved) and become pervasive (Same holds for the Brave New World)

1984 message is not about tech (although most is reality today) but how a totalitarian regime uses Language, Propaganda and History rewriting to dumbfold and control everything, leaving no space to individual freedom.

Albert, don't ever try to "deconstruct" your home town "public opinion" using 1984 as a guide ...

esben said...

Well, I found 1984 to be ... inplausible. I don't believe a government could really redefine and redact language, especially in this day and age, except maybe for a very limited selection of topics.

Case in point: In this country an attempt to make a new set of comma rules were carried out, since very few uses the existing, complicated ones correctly (Denmark). It completely failed, very few people took any notice at all. And that was freaking commas! 1984 places far too much values in books, as an author is wont to do. At least that is my take.

Animal farm is great, though, because it shows how dangerous idealism can be, and how easy it is to become the very thing you despise.

Ian Monroe said...

@esben given the complete control the Party had over the 15% who were Party members (even more so over their children), it doesn't seem implausible that a new language could be imposed on them over the course of decades. Of course the plebs don't count, they're hardly people. ;)

Of course Orwell did have an ax to grind about what he saw as the weakening of the English language. Imagine if he was alive today and saw what teens are SMSing? O.O

wllacer said...

@esben
The "neospeak" was a direct pun on Soviet use of Russian, and how it was "molded" to the changing "realities" during the Stalinist (and latter) era. Same goes on with the history alterations (the Encyclopedia Sovietica even had a "manual update procedure": knife out relevant pages and substitute with the new fascicle ...)

We are living in "Politically Correct" times and this "neospeak" alterations are seen daily (f.i. -one of the most absurd- in your southern neighbour in many circles the gramatical clause 'man' -of "man spricht Deutsch- is deemed highly offensive, even when it has nothing to do with sex, sorry gender)

wllacer said...

@esben
Even one of the most brutal pages (the torture with the rat) had some real backing. Rumors had it as one of the "chefs d'ouvre" at the NKVD/SIM secret prisions in republican Barcelona, where Orwell's troksite friends where frecuent "guests" ...
If the exposés of them (called Checas in Spanish) after the war are only half true, even Orwell darkest pages are rosy ...
No need to remember the argentinians some years later

Anonymous said...

@Ian Monroe "In short I think we're all doing pretty well compared to Oceania."

That's what one likes to think before reflecting about what a huge effect all the "war on terror" vocabulary has made to law, civil right and all the reporting about those areas. 1984's reality feels alien and unlike now since it's described in a contrasting extreme way. Our own reality can't be contrasting unless we are reflecting. And it's no surprise that reflection today is not a widespread virtue while shelf-life of any and all information shorter than ever and barely anyone double checks or checks them for consistency with past information. 1984 is full of hints of what to pay attention on especially today, and there is a lot of worrying development for everyone to catch on. Most people just don't and don't want to do that.

Ariya Hidayat said...

Then do yourself a favor: read (the adult version of) "Animal Farm"! I'm sure you'd enjoy it as well :)

Anonymous said...

"I don't believe a government could really redefine and redact language, especially in this day and age, except maybe for a very limited selection of topics."

@esben, go to Spain and enjoy socialist neo-language. President Rodriguez Zapatero is a master manipulating reality and promoting neo-words.