Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Echoes of Your Footsteps on the Stairs

The point of this line*, is of course, that although it points to the love between Winston and Julia it really refers to the approach of Thought Police Agent Charrington. For the entirety of their love affair the sound of footsteps has haunted them, even if they have not thought of it: it is a bleakly cynical satire on adulterous relationships in a free society and a bitter denunciation of the impossibility of even innocent relationships in an unfree one. Indeed, since the moment Winston put frown to face, many years before he put pen to paper, he has awaited the moment of discovery. Critiques of Nineteen Eighty Four routinely, and rightly, comment on the paucity of Julia as a character and on the one-dimensional nature of their relationship. Of course, this is part of the point. Winston says: "I hate purity." He wants a relationship dominated by sexual attraction: remember he loathes Julia and is convinced she wants him to die, before she slips him the note. His hate turns to lust turns to love. His lust is rebellion (whereas for us it is the affirmation of our world's values - I think (shlock horror - Orwell was wrong here). For both Winston and Julia, lust is an affirmation of existence, love comes later, if at all. Though it does: in a riotous haranguing of the doctrine of ideology, the infirmity and yet strength of the body ("as applied to artsem") is enough to give Winston colour, vigour, to defeat his ulcers. His eventual love is defeated, not by weakness, but by sheer instinct.

There is a sequence in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight where the Knight, about to take his rightful execution, flinches as the blade is lifted. The Green Knight taunts him as a coward but the point is precisely that his reaction is not cowardice, but that of a living being, that of life in the onrush of death. There is nothing you can do. It is part of the glorious ache for freedom of life.

So it is with Winston. He loses nothing, does nothing, in Room 101 but succumb, briefly to the inevitable. It does not mean love does not exist, or freedom; it means that humanity is beautiful enough to be defeated by brutality. If it were not, it would live with brutality and be, itself, evil. Hence O Brien plays him the tape of his promising to "throw vitriol in a child's face" and breezily waves away his assumption of humanity. Winston, naively, as anyone (maybe - probably- I don't know) in such a world, assumes humanity comes from a single or the single deep feeling at one's heart. He carelessly discards other values - or, maybe more pertinently, has never known them.

He would not betray Julia. Of course he would; he says that only because it is uppermost in his mind, as it is in hers. She loves him, for reasons never quite made clear. He loves her too.

But he is not, until Room 101, properly confronted with what he knows the Party has held against him and all other Party members since time immemorial: the thing he *most* fears. This is no big deal as far as the Thought Police are concerned; it is just a matter of locating it in any individual.

*Which opens the possibility of a Mule type character (out of Asimov's Foundation) being the one to defeat the Party - perhaps??*

In that final place Winston merely accepts what he has so far learned and not quite revised properly; that the kind of love that is required is self-abasement, a kind of religious worship, but of the ecstatic, mystical kind, such that the personality is moved out. It is not betraying Julia that does this, that is just a side effect, it is the facing of one's worst fear.

So it is that fear is a vital element of life, for sound self-preservation reasons (we are organic and irrational after all, and *not* machines); for some that is avoiding jam, or The Jam, or spiders, or spider diagrams, or whatever. Facing our fears - and by extension, the "talking cure" is not the way to go - these things are suppressed for a reason.

Suppressing his fear of rats, he loves and enjoys Julia in a room he *knows* to be crawling with the fuckers. Face to face, as it were, he cannot exist at all. He is destroyed, not by his actof betrayal but by his entirely human, or even entirely animal, instinct. This is precisely what the Party are attempting to demonstrate: you are an animal, and a piss-poor one at that ("if you are a man, Winston, you are the last man"). Let us liberate ourselves from the purely animal in our enjoyment of your suffering. It is this which moves us beyond lust into a realm of abstract power. We have changed you, which is what we wanted to do; over and above the infliction of pain, it is the fact that we have changed you that matters. That, not the "making him suffer", gives power. We have power, we change you. We change all.

So the people who desire change desire power.

Sexcrime, like thoughtcrime, is insidious. It creeps slowly into your marrow until you no longer realise it is there, but it is sinking your blood into a firey earth. Sexcrime becomes your being, into your dreams and your work; it slow-burns your heart into nothing. Sexcrime is all, in a free society.

When you have had enough of thoughtcrime, that is.

*from the soundtrack to Nineteen Eighty Four (1984) by Eurythmics.

1 comment:

Crushed said...

The eternal conundrum, I guess.

I think Orwell DID touch on something very deep here, and it lies deep within the ascetic ideal and it's manipulation.

The ascetic ideal was, I think, born in an age when a man really was 100% responsible for his wife and kids. Without him, they starved.

Without contraception, this means effectively, the only way an insitution devoted to human progress can exist, in which its members are unburdened by a family to maintain- thereby giving them no time to serve their cause- is to enforce an ascetic ideal.

This is its primary purpose, but psychologically those of its adherants most devoted, would also find themselves heberally able to surmount desire itself- to conquer pleasure and pain. The aspiration to be the purely rational, was surely part of it.

However in time, this was abused as control over pleasure pain distribution (which underpins the nervous system of any power matrix) won over.
Sex has always been used as a control mechanism, but the degree to which it has been used as such in the West, is pretty much unparallelled.

Of course, this historical residue has aided totalitarian idealism. Modern societies do not ACTUALLY need Mosaic sexual values, but retaining control of the valve- effectively retaining the right to distribute pleasure, is such a powerful control mechanism, that it pays to continue to condition people that way.

And yet of course, it is possible for all the BENEFITS of an ascetic lifestyle to be acheived WITHOUT the necessary hardships any longer serving any purpose.

I would argue, of course that those who seek power for powers sake ARE of course follwing an animal instinct. It is the logic of the Silverback- the best way to protect yourself from harm, is to build a power matrix.
This is the POINT of power matrices ultimately, psychologically those who dominate them do so out of fear.

And perhaps the real point, is that INGSOC changes nothing, it is a regressive tendancy, designed to freeze the moment of a change at a certain fixed point.

I DO think that sexual liberation IS a powerful force for the better, because it DOES take away a whole set of their buttons.

And of course, by genuinely understanding sex, and not simply repeating outdated mantras, we DO understand ourselves, as animals, but rational ones.
And rational animals can't be controlled.

But we DO need more Julias!:)