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UTOPIA/DYSTOPIA - ORWELL > 1984 - Background and side-reading

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message 1: by Traveller (last edited Jan 22, 2015 06:20AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Dear friends
As Keith Booker mentions in his introduction to his excellent book Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide , (his other book on the subject, The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature: Fiction as Social Criticism is almost as cool ), fictional literature quite often plays a critical role in social criticism by opposing its imaginative visions to existing or potential ills and injustices in society. In addition, imaginative literature is one of the most important means by which any culture can investigate new ways of defining itself and of exploring alternatives to the social and political status quo.

Utopian and dystopian fiction is an ideal vehicle for social commentary, and has been used as such for longer than most of us would care to think.

One of the first fictional utopias that we know of, is the city of Callipolis, a philisophocracy which is reluctantly ruled by trained philosophers, in Plato's book The Republic.

Sir Thomas More's Utopia solidified the genre in 1516 and his name for the imaginary kingdom became the term used in reference to the genre more generally.

Later versions of utopias include Andreae's Christianopolis, Campanella's The City of the Sun, Bacon's The New Atlantis, Samuel Gott's New Jerusalem, Winstanley's The Law of Freedom in a Platform: Or, True Magistracy Restored Humbly Presented to Oliver Cromwel, General of the Common-Wealths Army in England. and to All English-Men My Brethren Whether in Church-Fellowship, Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, William Morris's News from Nowhere, Theodor Hertzka's Freeland, H. G. Wells's A Modern Utopia and Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia.

We are more familiar with Dystopian worlds these days, but they are basically just the other side of the same coin. They show us what the author thinks the world shouldn't be like, but by negative implication, that is actually also a suggestion of what he or she thinks the world should be like, do you agree?

...and with that, my initial introductory post for a new Dystopia/Utopia folder, which we are baptizing with a discussion of George Orwell's George Orwell dystopian novel 1984.

Orwell and 1984 are certainly worthy of being the first to populate this folder, and if you'll give me a bit of time, I will soon be back to tell you why I think so!

In the meantime, here is an article to whet our appetites for the discussion to come: http://www.theguardian.com/books/book...


message 2: by Yolande (new)

Yolande  (sirus) | 246 comments Thanks Traveller!


message 3: by Traveller (last edited Jan 23, 2015 12:23AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
You're welcome, Yolande. :)

As far as the historical background to 1984 is concerned, it is quite complex. Orwell, who was actually Eric Arthur Blair, an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic writing under the pen name George Orwell, was himself a very complex man, but what I personally like about him, is that I believe he was sincere, and he was prepared to change his stance as his political views expanded.

It is therefore hard to pinpoint Orwell's political position exactly. He was for instance, a monarchist and a liberal at the same time. He was a socialist who spoke out against the totalitarian aspect of the Lenin/Stalin regime.

Britain's history regarding communism/socialism/Marxism is also complex. Both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were based in Britain, and they founded the first nominally Marxist organization, the Social Democratic Federation, in Britain in 1882.

One of the factors that complicates the background of Orwell's novels Animal Farm and 1984, is that Britain and Russia were allies during WW1 and WW2. Consequently, especially Animal Farm, which was an obvious attack on the Lenin/Stalin regime, was not received very warmly at first.

More to come, but please feel free to post your own thoughts and possible references and so on, friends! It would be nice if we established a sort of reference thread that is not tightly tied to the actual reading of the novel. :)

PS., note to especially Dolors: did you know of Orwell's involvement with the Spanish Civil War? Sorry, I realize that most of you know most of this stuff already, I'm just jotting down stuff to sort of establish a background to the man and his times. We can add to each other's thoughts and ideas etc. as far as that is concerned. :)


message 4: by Saski (new)

Saski (sissah) | 399 comments Maybe most might know this stuff, but not all of us. I am learning so much. So what was Orwell's involvement with the Spanish Civil War?


message 5: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
LOL.. now you're making me think of the boy and the girl in In the Night Garden, Ruth! XD

I've been threatened with murder or torture by people here on my side if I spend one more moment on GR before doing some things I was supposed to do in RL, so I'll have to get back to you on that if I want to stay alive.... :P :P


message 6: by Saski (new)

Saski (sissah) | 399 comments No problem, I really didn't mean right now! ;P


message 7: by Karin (new)

Karin | 52 comments This is really wonderful information! This really helps deepen my understanding of the context and the conversations from which 1984 emerged. Extremely helpful.


message 8: by Traveller (last edited Jan 23, 2015 02:04AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Yaye :)

Here's a tidbit:
http://www.cbc.ca/books/2015/01/georg...

As we know, the novel 1984 describes a totalitarian government where people are watched with public cameras and so forth. That much has become true in a less creepy manner than it must have appeared to people living in the time that the book was originally published. (1949) After all, surveillance and security cameras have helped to apprehend many a criminal.

...but the creepier aspects in which being spied upon has become true in the way that companies like Google and Facebook spy upon users and collect information about them, right up to their physical location within an error factor of a few feet.

Have a look at this article for other ways in which the novel has creepily come true.
http://www.cbc.ca/books/2013/07/why-o...


message 9: by Yolande (last edited Jan 23, 2015 02:12AM) (new)

Yolande  (sirus) | 246 comments This is not really related to the novel but thought it would be interesting nonetheless.

I came across this article in which Orwell discusses his 11 rules for making the perfect cup of tea :)

http://www.brainpickings.org/2013/05/...


message 10: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Thanks Yolande, that's cute! For what it's worth, to me it sort of emphasises Orwell's Englishness. :)


message 11: by Saski (new)

Saski (sissah) | 399 comments Ugh! I distrust anyone who would cool down a perfectly good cup pf tea, especially with milk!


message 12: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Ruth wrote: "Ugh! I distrust anyone who would cool down a perfectly good cup pf tea, especially with milk!"

Then you would hate me, because I cannot tolerate anything hot in my mouth, not beverages or food, and I cool down my tea and coffee with lots of milk...if I have the tea black, I have to add cold water!


message 13: by Traveller (last edited Jan 23, 2015 05:54AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
To continue with Ruth's question about the Spanish Civil War, let me quote a section out of the foreword to my copy of 1984:
"Orwell’s politics were not only of the Left, but to the left of Left. He had gone to Spain in 1937 to fight against Franco and his Nazi-supported fascists, and there had quickly learned the difference between real and phony anti-fascism. 'The Spanish war and other events in 1936–7,’ he wrote ten years later, ‘turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I know it.’ Orwell thought of himself as a member of the ‘dissident Left’, as distinguished from the ‘official Left’, meaning basically the British Labour Party, most of which he had come, well before the Second World War, to regard as potentially, if not already, fascist. "

Right, before I continue, a few words about fascism, because it is a term that is hard to pinpoint.

Fascisms in its varying forms tend to have the following corresponding characteristics: that it is nationalist, militaristic, and supports the kind of personality cult that leads to totalitarian regimes run by charismatic dictators. Also, that it seeks to annihilate its opponents in a ruthless manner.

Almost all forms of fascism have a racist element which to a greater or lesser extent complements its nationalistic element; the latter which includes a mythology of racial/nationalistic ethnic superiority. Fascism also tends to be right-wing irrespective of its varying (usually antagonistic) stances on Socialism and Communism, in that it tends to conservatism; but it is also a ‘revolutionary’ or ‘radical’ conservatism in the sense that it seeks to idealize the culture, traditions and character of its nation to epic proportions. For instance, Hitler’s cultural hegemony and insistence upon the superiority of the Aryan race.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines fascism as:
"a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a decentralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition".

However, the Fascisms experienced by different nations also had a lot of differences depending on which country it manifested in. It manifested differently in respectively, Italy, Germany, France and Spain.
Robert O. Paxton in his book The Anatomy of Fascism, defines fascism as:
"... a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

(to be continued)


message 14: by Garima (new)

Garima | 12 comments Awesome work, Trav. I'll take in all the information here bit by bit. Message 3 is especially helpful.


message 15: by Traveller (last edited Jan 23, 2015 08:09AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Thanks, Garima. That's even only the tip of the ice-berg. :) Are you starting to see, though, why I can't help wondering if average student of around 13-16 years of age, might not have all of the background under the belt to appreciate all of the naunces of the novel?

I mean, many people in this day and age still think of Africa as a single country, don't know what a Tory is, won't be able able to show you were India is on the map, or Spain, let alone be au fait with Orwell's specific brand of early 20th century British democratic socialism, the latter of which I'm not even sure I am 100% sure of myself... ;) But I'm busy trying to form a better picture of Orwell's political thought in my mind, and I do think a lot of what he wrote is awesome.

In any case, be that as it may, I guess the novel does present a lot of material for discussion, which is obviously why it is often chosen as a set work for schools.

Also, I think 1984 is creepily of huge relevance apropos issues of privacy and personal rights as we are experiencing them in the information age today.


message 16: by Saski (new)

Saski (sissah) | 399 comments Traveller wrote: "Ruth wrote: "Ugh! I distrust anyone who would cool down a perfectly good cup pf tea, especially with milk!"

Then you would hate me, because I cannot tolerate anything hot in my mouth, not beverag..."



Lol! You and my wife, about hot (and cold) things in the mouth, anyway. Milk, though, is not tolerated in this house, except for guests, of course. She just waits. We never drink our hot beverages together.


message 17: by Saski (new)

Saski (sissah) | 399 comments Traveller, are you now or do you ever plan to be a teacher? :)


message 18: by Yolande (last edited Jan 23, 2015 02:14PM) (new)

Yolande  (sirus) | 246 comments I've always been irritated when seeing movies where they only refer to Africa as if there aren't a bunch of very different countries inside.


message 19: by Traveller (last edited Jan 23, 2015 08:31AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
In any case, the bit about facism is because anti-facism and anti-totalitarianism and the art of controlling the masses, is to a large part what 1984 is about, and like Orwell himself said, what happened in Spain, to a large extent helped to form his political thought. He fought on the Republican side in Spain which mainly fought against Spanish fascism and feudalism. Franco's form of facism was rather more forceful than that of Mussolini's (who is of course he father of fascism), as was Hitler's, though the focus of Hitler's destruction was a larger group of people and even more deadly.

Why I am saying all of this, is because many people see 1984 as simply another iteration of anti-Stalinism, which Animal Farm clearly was, but its not as simple as that...

Before I run the risk of digressing too much, I wonder if we should start focusing on the novel itself in this thread : https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...


message 20: by Garima (new)

Garima | 12 comments Traveller wrote: "Thanks, Garima. That's even only the tip of the ice-berg. :) Are you starting to see, though, why I can't help wondering if average student of around 13-16 years of age, might not have all of the..."

Students certainly tends to miss out a lot and in many cases...I guess, they probably don't feel like rereading it again. Orwell's writing is although resorts to an allegorical structure is pretty simple otherwise so maybe that's one of the reason to make it part of the curriculum. Re Information age, Imagine telling the students: Don't worry about that draft in your mail. Somewhere, somebody must have read it already ;)


message 21: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
I'm moving my comment here:
I wanted to mention that the word "Propaganda", was at a point in time not a dirty word - I mean, governments used the name openly, let's see:

The Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda was a Nazi government agency to enforce Nazism ideology.
It was responsible for controlling the German news media, literature, visual arts, filmmaking, theatre, music, and broadcasting. As the central office of Nazi propaganda, it comprehensively supervised and regulated the culture and mass media of Nazi Germany.

Then, The Republican faction (actually this was the non-facist side) in the Spanish Civil War had a Ministry of Propaganda during period from November 1936 to May 1937.

The Irish Republic had a Department of Propaganda, was established 1918 and renamed to Department of Publicity in 1921.

The Chinese Central Propaganda Department officially changed its English name to Central Publicity Department in 1998, while its Chinese name was unchanged.

Poland's ministry of information and propaganda was established in 1944.


message 22: by Derek (new)

Derek (derek_broughton) Ruth wrote: "Ugh! I distrust anyone who would cool down a perfectly good cup pf tea, especially with milk!"

Ditto.

Yolande wrote: "I've always been irritated when seeing movies where they only refer to Africa as if there aren't a bunch of very different countries inside. "

And of course, Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa might almost be two different continents.

No reference to We in the background, Trav? I didn't enjoy it, but there's no doubt that it made an impression on Orwell (I'll try to dig up my references from our discussion on We).


message 23: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
No reference to We in the background, Trav? I didn't enjoy it, but there's no doubt that it made an impression on Orwell (I'll try to dig up my references from our discussion on We). ."

Hey Derek! Nice of you to join! :))
Tssk, tssk, you didn't check all my links above, did you? I thought this summarized it nicely: http://www.theguardian.com/books/book...


message 24: by Derek (new)

Derek (derek_broughton) Here's what I said in the We discussion: "he had read We before 1984 was published: he wrote his own review of We in 1946 (I must say I agree with Orwell that "So far as I can judge it is not a book of the first order…")"


message 25: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
But also, re We, I have been starting to make connections in the actual reading discussion: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

One can definitely see a cross influence there - it's almost creepy; as if the two writers were sitting in class and given a similar topic for a creative writing piece. It might develop differently later on, but at the start it's pretty eerie...


message 26: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
I must have you know that I adored We! I even cried in it.... yes cried about twice even. So, whatch out not step on the fangirls' toes here. >:C


message 27: by Derek (new)

Derek (derek_broughton) Traveller wrote: "Tssk, tssk, you didn't check all my links above, did you? I thought this summarized it nicely: http://www.theguardian.com/books/book...
"


Clearly not :-) (Hey, there were a lot of links and I was way behind!) I should have caught on, because you posted that same link in the We discussion!


message 28: by Derek (new)

Derek (derek_broughton) Traveller wrote: "One can definitely see a cross influence there - it's almost creepy; as if the two writers were sitting in class and given a similar topic for a creative writing piece. "

Definitely. Many people have accused Orwell of simply ripping off We, and I don't buy that at all, but I have no doubt that he read the book, took what would work for him, and developed his own story.

As for how good We might be, I am still standing on the fact that there are at least three English translations, and I'm sure I had the worst... After all, I have problems with my tear ducts since having laser surgery on my eyes, and I cry at the drop of a hat (or even a feather), and We didn't make me cry.


message 29: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Did you ever finish We Derek? ..but yes the translation definitely made a difference.


message 30: by Derek (new)

Derek (derek_broughton) I didn't. I keep meaning to find another translation.


message 31: by Saski (new)

Saski (sissah) | 399 comments Just found this on the web: http://www.newspeakdictionary.com/ns-...


message 32: by Karin (new)

Karin | 52 comments Wow, great find, Ruth! Thanks for posting!


message 33: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Ruth wrote: "Just found this on the web: http://www.newspeakdictionary.com/ns-..."

Wow, that's a treasure trove; thanks Ruth! I especially love: joycamp - Forced-labor camp

Oh, joy!


message 34: by Saski (new)

Saski (sissah) | 399 comments Oh, good :) I was afraid I was putting up something that had already been put up.

I found it because I was trying to figure out the "rough quadrilateral with its corners at Tangier, Brazzaville, Darwin, and Hong Kong." (152)


message 35: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
No, it's an excellent resource, Ruth, thank you very much! I've looked through most of the terms by now - there's a huge amount of info there that I'd say is extremely useful as an adjunct to the novel. :)


message 36: by Leo (new)

Leo Robertson (leoxrobertson) | 2 comments Hiya,

I haven't been involved in these discussions but I came this video of Hitchens on North Korea that I thought would be some interesting stimulus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8-Vr...

And as side-reading, Hitchens' chat on 1984 is surely insightful (although I haven't yet read any!) :D


message 37: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Ah, thanks for mentioning and linking, Leo, will have a look!


message 38: by Paul Martin (new)

Paul Martin | 18 comments Everywhere I go on Goodreads, this "Leo X. Robertson" (couldn't he make up a better pseudonym?) has to spread his leftist secular fecking bullshit propaganda :-)


message 39: by Traveller (last edited Feb 07, 2015 11:43AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Tssk, tssk, sadly a lot of that going round... :P

That Dawkins man and that Hitchens man, ain't they jes' -well, they're goin' ta heeell, Ize tell ya...

Oh maaann, and that darn Hitchers fellar got a talk on Staaling too! Hmmmgff! darn lefty problee praised hun


message 40: by Traveller (last edited Feb 07, 2015 12:08PM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Actually his points on Stalinism is a pretty good talk.

I had a while ago started to believe that many early 20th century populations were not ready yet for democracy, which is why there are so many of them who seemed to fall into the lap of totalitarian dictators.

Oh wow, listened to his talk on North Korea, and it is truly chilling how close to the 1984 scenario it is there.. ....well those who say 1984 is outdated, there you go. Thanks Leo!


message 41: by Derek (new)

Derek (derek_broughton) Paul Martin wrote: "Everywhere I go on Goodreads, this "Leo X. Robertson" (couldn't he make up a better pseudonym?) has to spread his leftist secular fecking bullshit propaganda :-)"

Hey! Leo's my friend. Of course, I'm a fecking leftist, so you might have a point. otoh, I rarely agree with Dawkins and only somewhat more so with Hitchens. I find them both a bit too strident.


message 42: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
I have a strong suspicion that Paul might have been kidding Leo a bit there, Derek. (I hope so, anyway).

I seem to agree with the gist of what they both say, but The Hitch is a bit like a stuck record and they definitely are too strident, I agree - I'd even go as far as calling them too insulting. At least that riles up enough ire to bring them and their arguments into more prominence than had they been meek and polite? I don't know, it might be a deliberate ploy?

In any case, I can't fault the actual reasoning of their arguments, even if their way of putting it across might be a bit impolite.


message 43: by Paul Martin (new)

Paul Martin | 18 comments Traveller wrote: "I have a strong suspicion that Paul might have been kidding Leo a bit there, Derek. (I hope so, anyway)."

I was indeed. Now I will have to formally "become a fan" to make up for my rudeness.


message 44: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Paul Martin wrote: "Traveller wrote: "I have a strong suspicion that Paul might have been kidding Leo a bit there, Derek. (I hope so, anyway)."

I was indeed. Now I will have to formally "become a fan" to make up for..."


Heh, I thought Derek was being rather sweet there, though... ;D Would you ever come up for me, Derek? Heaven knows you immediately notice if I make any mistakes.... :P


message 45: by Traveller (last edited Feb 08, 2015 06:45AM) (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Paul Martin wrote: "Traveller wrote: "I have a strong suspicion that Paul might have been kidding Leo a bit there, Derek. (I hope so, anyway)."

I was indeed. Now I will have to formally "become a fan" to make up for..."


Oh, and mind your manners in future while you're at it! Heheheheh Big Brother is Watching! XD


message 46: by Derek (new)

Derek (derek_broughton) Traveller wrote: "I have a strong suspicion that Paul might have been kidding Leo a bit there, Derek."

I got that... And of course I'd stick up for you, Traveller.


message 47: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
I'm glad! I tend to stick up for my friends to a fault, actually...


message 48: by Paul Martin (new)

Paul Martin | 18 comments I tend to let my tea brew for way too long.


message 49: by Traveller (new)

Traveller (moontravlr) | 2523 comments Mod
Paul Martin wrote: "I tend to let my tea brew for way too long."

Tut. Tut. And what, if i may ask, is "too long"? ;)

I tend to go to bed too late.


message 50: by Derek (new)

Derek (derek_broughton) Traveller wrote: "Paul Martin wrote: "I tend to let my tea brew for way too long."

Tut. Tut. And what, if i may ask, is "too long"? ;)"


Long enough to get cold? I make expensive tea, and then ruin it by letting it stew - in winter it may well sit on the leaves on the gas stove all day.


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