Monday, 13 October 2008

Dystopian Dinner Party Schmooze

*You know what fits in between these stars*

Well it is 10pm and i am in bed, as is usual, but finding it difficult to wind down properly so I thought I would blog, which is less usual. Not so much in the hope of anyone paying the slightest bit of attention, but more in the expectation of opening a new line of thought. This is unlikely but not impossible.

I have a long and complicated relationship with 1984. It was my first literary love, and although I have had passionate affairs with other novels, notably The Information and Crime and Punishment, as well as an immensely satisfying fling with Middlemarch and something of a powerful one-nighter with Birdsong (and a less satisfying, drawn out affair with Atlas Shrugged), in addition to various flirtations here and there, it is to 1984 I return whenever I have a spare few minutes. As readers of this blog will now know, I have thought about it endlessly - and in the main, more for political reasons thab literary ones. In some ways I am only coming to appreciate the artistry of the novel, since as a bog standard novel, it fails (lacklustre characters, slightly jarring prose, curious plotting - check out the semi-magical transformation of Charrington, for example).

I don't make a secret of the fact that I think we are heading vaguely into the direction of a type of Ingsoc: a surveillance driven, penalty oriented kind of technocracy, in which rationing, reduced services, increased obligations and conformity will be the order of the day. Our rulers are not taking the same road as the Inner Party, though, they are dressing up their control in clothes of compassion: cameras to save lives, DNA databases to catch rapists, terrorism laws to save the country, draconian environmental laws to save the planet. Our authorities behave as just that, with little regard for any notion of service.

And so on.

But that aside, which is contentious and possibly (hopefully) wrong, the book deserves to be read as the work of art it is. Not a conventional one, to be sure. But there are little elements of literary substance that deserve to be picked up on.

For example: the theme of repetition that runs through the book: Julia sometimes repeats Winston's words, Charrington does, O Brien does, the fatal telescreen does. These are intimations of connection, of the kind of spirit which Winston attempts to invoke during his long torture. They are hints of a common humanity.

And the fish Julia describes during their first assignation, which makes Winston feel that he is being brought to the Golden Country of his dreams: living, gloriously ignorant of the Party, life surviving, outside the Party, regardless of its claims to absolute control over matter. Yes, if the Party want to believe that stuff about inventing reality, it can: but the fish and the river are still there, and life does survive.

Incidentally, mentioning Charrington's transformation (not an original idea of mine, but I can't remember where i read it - the reference has slipped my memory for a moment). There are hints of magic throughout the novel: the Party could not control with its technology without some kind of supernatural involvement; the insight O Brien has into the very words of Winston's thoughts is too clear for surveillance alone to have given him (and he claims to "always detect a lie"); the interpenetration of O Brien and Winston's very mind.

You could, I suppose, argue that these mean that the novel should be taken as a fable, or as a magic-realist novel, or even as a lazy satire. To me this latter is more likely: I think a subtext of the novel is that the Party is the direct inheritor of the Catholic Church, and these hints of supernaturalism are sly references to Catholic doctrine. O Brien certainly could be read as a kind of twisted confessor. I don't even need to mention the Party's sexual ethics.

I ought to leave you be now, as I can see you staring into your drink and longing to catch the eye of that rather attractive blonde woman you have been eyeing up for a while. No, it's ok, really. "It was nice to talk to you and everything but I must be-excuse me - Ah, are you?"

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