Saturday, 13 June 2009

She Blinded Me With Science

Time for another experiment, dear readers. This time, unlike my previous posts on the subject of mind-altering substances, this one is entirely serious. Doubtless it will come as no surprise to my remaining readers (ie Cheeks and Matt), but I, along with half the western world, have been prescribed anti-depressants. I wonder what took them so long. My fear of doctors, probably. But it seems that things I thought were normal - utter lack of interest in career, trouble sleeping, rubbish concentration - are symptomatic of depression, along with a number of other things I've generally lived with for a few years (no, being right wing is NOT one of them). It was a self-pitying email to my mother that finally persuaded me -or rather she did - to see a proper quack this week. So I have spent the day enjoying the various side-effects of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. I was warned that during the adaptation phase the symptoms for which I am being treated may increase, along with other, rather more interesting side-effects. I started on Thursday.

Since then I have experienced:

constant low level shaking;
constant drowsiness but inability to sleep;
increased depression and mild suicidality (a word I thought I had invented many years ago, but it turns out to be real) - ie silly fantasies which I remember now having as a teenager - don't worry dear reader, it's just like being fourteen again, or eighteen, in my case;
palpitations & general increased anxiety;
anorgasmia (don't ask);
bruxism -(weeping and)grinding of teeth(though I get this anyway).

And it's true. It does affect your driving. I was struggling to find third and fifth gears. Or maybe the transmission on the old Fiesta is giving out.

I haven't quit the booze, though I have cut it in half, and I think probably that has something to do with it. The quack said I didn't have to give it up but the pack's instructions are fairly brusque on the matter. So I guess I will try. I don't feel like a drink anyway. I feel like breaking up with my Stella...

In other words, whereas I didn't feel too bad, just generally rubbish, now I feel utterly crap.

You might wonder why you are being subjected to this. Well. I went to the quack's because I am utterly fed up with what Will Self correctly called The Talking Curse in his book of short stories, Grey Area, and my mum insisted I do something about it, making her about the fifth in line from the ex, my dad, my landlady and my sister's boyfriend (don't ask). Talking through problems often makes them worse, activates and doubles the bastards, increases self-absorption and pity. And I've been there and done that, endlessly.

So I wanted something chemical.

But I can't altogether get rid of the urge to talk about myself.

So here it is.

Hey ho. Ten O Clock and I'm blogging on my bed. Alone.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

That's Not All of It, By The Way

That's only some of the stuff I wrote about 1984. I'll post a few more all in due course. Meanwhile there's a government collapsing somewhere...

The Disappearance of Syme

This is an interesting moment in the book. Winston foresees it over lunch in the cafeteria - demonstrating a stronger grasp of the principles of Ingsoc than O Brien gives him credit for - but the lingering question is: why does this lover of Ingsoc disappear?

Winston's fear was that he was "too intelligent" - meaning that he understood what he was doing with the Newspeak dictionary, and why, but also that he spoke too clearly about the aim of the project: to narrow the range of thought by narrowing the range of vocabulary. Syme obviously thought - if he did at all - that his obvious goodthinking and his clear bellyfeeling of Ingsoc would keep him safe.

This is where he went wrong. He failed to exercise doublethink appropriately. In his conversations with Winston he should have made it clear that the aim of the reduction in words was to expand the range of goodthinkful ideas and to enable fuller discussion of the principles of Ingsoc, but instead he describes it in entirely oldthink terms: reducing the range of thought. As an Outer Party intellectual he should know that expressing truth can only be done with lies. Syme could have been promoted to the Inner Party, had they wished it; but instead, his open use of oldthink suggests that he is merely a cynic, and a genuine oldthinker. Remember that the greatest fanatics are the Inner Party members.

It kind of begs the question whether, in this case, it was necessary to have "the heretic here at our mercy", in the words of O Brien. What possible kind of re-education could Syme have needed? Apart from the obvious training in doublethink, it seems more likely to me that Syme, not in fact being guilty of an incorrect thought, would simply have been shot, no questions asked.

Could it be, however, that a clear understanding of the true principles of Ingsoc does itself constitute crimethink - when voiced by a member of the Outer Party? If this knowledge spread, then discontent and rebellion could follow throughout the Outer Party, leaving O Brien and his mates (of whom there are few) could be overthrown. The Party is a hierarchy, designed to freeze history with one group permanently in control - the Inner Party. Syme is not of the Inner Party, although one might question why such an intelligent character is not. It might be that Syme is not quite cynical enough, though his language does suggest it.

Most likely, the understanding of Ingsoc is crimethink when not tagged on to doublethink. Without that the danger of falling into contempt for BB is great. O Brien, being a fanatic, is in no danger at all: his doublethink strategies are excellent. Even here, though, O Brien is as clear as possible to Winston: "The object of power is power." O Brien seems to be able to face and discuss the evil at the heart of Ingsoc, and recognise it as evil, and know that he wants evil. Syme does not recognise that you need to hold this knowledge of evil and also to know it as good at the same time, in order to be truly goodthinkful. His words leave too much open to interpretation, too much that could make a Party member wonder or worry...

On the other hand, we know that Syme frequented the Chestnut Tree Cafe, and that he was too open in his conversations. It is possible that in fact, despite his instinctive goodthinking, he knew he was in danger and killed himself (as Winston knows that many disappearances are suicides).

In the main, however, the disappearance of Syme provides Winston (and the reader) with proof of the evil of Ingsoc; they even murder their own faithful. There were always excuses for the purges of the Soviets - that they needed to secure the revolution - but if you murder your own, you do that in a display of power only. I wonder in fact if it was meant to be another part of the game O Brien was playing with Winston: that Syme's death was nothing to do with Syme, or little to do with him, and everything to do with the thought-criminal, Winston? Clearly when he first speaks to Winston he mentions it deliberately, even teasingly.

The Inner Party like playing games with humanity. That is what they mean by pure power, which is their sole motivation. The games are fun, exciting, rewarding, like hunting. But instead of just killing, first you turn the quarry into whatever you want it to be.

Syme is not really a quarry: more of a diversion. He stands for the wholly contingent nature of humanity and life under Ingsoc. He doesn't even get to stay on the chess team.

While we are on this subject, we could read Parsons as a sort of obverse of Syme. His devotion to Ingsoc is clear, his energies are directed solely towards it. He is a stereotype (more properly a comic stereotype) of the stupid fat man, whereas Syme is thin, weedly, and wiry. Parsons, unlike Syme, who is vaguely solitary (although he does hang around with slightly undesirable elements) has a traditional family. Syme disappears while Parsons is seen in the cellars of the Ministry of Love, before a rapid despatch to Room 101. Parsons will presumably either be re-arrested later, or his strength and stupidity will be put to use in a labour camp. The problem for Parsons is that he has clearly spent his entire sublimating his hatred for Ingsoc into love of it. His rebellion runs deeper than Winston’s because it manifests itself when his conscious mind is not available. Indeed, one could speculate that Parsons has shut down his conscious mind to be rid of it – this of course would be an extreme example of crimestop. “It’s just a matter of reality control,” says Syme. Parsons will probably be rapidly re-arrested and executed, because his story is more fun than Winston’s. Winston was never really a Party man, while if someone as clearly devoted as Parsons could be a thought criminal, well....The Inner Party would love that, and the Outer Party would be terrified. Parsons is also the way that Orwell demonstrates the control of the family: his children are ideologically aggressive, suspicious and most of all, love only the Party. Mrs Parsons is a sort of standing satire – as it does not seem right to Winston to call her “comrade” because she is the last old style “wife and mother” – a type that would be more recognisable to Orwell’s intended audience than to us.

But that is by the by. Syme and Parsons are opposites and complements, in their intelligences and apparent devotion to Ingsoc. Typically enough, Syme’s crimethink is suggested, or implied, by a subtlety of depiction that matches his fluidity of mind (his discussion of the project in Oldspeak terms – see The Disappearance of Syme), while Parson’s crime is the cry of the idiot who does not know how to articulate his feelings: in his sleep, he simply shouts “Down with Big Brother”. Incidentally, one would have thought that Mrs Parsons would have noticed this....Can’t be long before she is arrested too.

Winston sees Ampleforth arrested, Syme disappearing, Parsons arrested: with Julia, that means that almost everyone he has a conversation with during Parts One and Two is arrested (except Mrs Parsons). The thought occurs: are these people really arrested for their own thoughtcrimes, or are they all, like Syme, meant as amusing ways of making Winston even more afraid of the power and ruthlessness of the Party?

After Room 101

Winston, purified, is supposedly filled with "ourselves" - meaning the desires and wishes of the Inner Party. He drinks, he gets up late, he hangs out in Chestnut Tree Cafe, he has a sinecure. He meets Julia and their meeting is awkward, punctuated by a lack of emotion, and precisely the inner hardness and separation that O Brien wanted and that Winston sought to escape from before the moment he first wrote in his diary.

In fact it is not quite the same, for Winston is now no longer aware of that isolation. He drinks heavily and he plays chess, and he worries about the news. His anxious thoughts are gone, but whether O Brien's confident statement that never again would Winston be capable of "ordinary human feeling" is correct is debateable. Take the drinking. He drinks heavily, freely, just like Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford, and countless others while waiting to be re-arrested and executed. But why the drink? If you were full of the Party following Room 101 there would be no need. Is Winston trying to hide something from himself - disgust? anxiety? Julia? Is he completely capable of those thoughts but merely repressing them? That is not quite what the Party wanted, of course. But the prevalence of “synthetic gin” in Oceanic society suggests that this is another area, like prostitution, where the Party knows that is ideology cannot sustain itself in purity for long – because humanity has not been crushed, not been stamped on, only repressed, and will survive. Sex is necessary, alcohol essential to hide the experiences, to fill the emptiness of the Party (and it is, “fear, rage triumph and self abasement”) an emptiness, just like it is in real life.

O Brien highlighted "fear, rage, triumph and self-abasement." He mentioned love of Big Brother and loyalty to the Party - but "everything else we shall destroy - everything."

From the final lines of the book, which contrast with an earlier segment, before he was arrested, Winston, in the bliss of the news of military triumph, imagines the "longed for bullet entering his brain" - he delights in this vision, this fantasy of his own death, "his soul white as snow".

With his tears of love for BB and his joy at the news, together with his conquest of the "false memory" that comes to him there of a happy moment of his childhood, Winston has been hollowed out. O Brien has his wish, and Winston finally belongs to the Party.

And so he wants to die: because the Party want him to die, because they have engineered him to desire death at the point of his "perfection" - which is now, the very end. It is a reaction to his self-discoveries here: there is no self. Only the internalised Party and that, as intimated here and throughout the book, is a kind of living death. But O Brien does not look or sound dead, you might argue. No, but then he is a power-mad loony (c Private Eye), and so his type, as we have seen for the last million odd years, flourish in societies which destroy normal human beings.

Incidentally, the final point of the novel is made: the love of the Party is death. The theme of the novel has been "thoughtcrime is death" - as a totalitarian warning; but now we learn that it is this evil and hollow Party that is death. It is a re-statement of the vital values of civilisation and freedom. As readers we knew this already, as Winston used to know - but the point is made with the self-sacrifice of the hero, who gives up, finally, any hero status he had, even in the physical act of survival (which was intended and controlled by the Party of course) - and is scooped out, once and for all.

There is nothing left to do except fulfil the dream, which, we must imagine, would take place at any point of the Party's choosing following this moment.


As no-one bought my Thoughtcrimes on 1984 book off of Lulu I've taken it off and I'll publish the original stuff here!

So here's a possible timeline for the novel.

1944 – Winston Smith born (probably). At this point the timeline has run more or less exactly the way ours has. Imperialism, the growth of socialist theory in the nineteenth century, World War I, the Russian Revolution, the Nazi seizure of power, World War II and later the atomic bomb on the two Japanese cities.

1945 – End of World War II. Winston remembers several years of peace in his childhood, because the atomic raid on Colchester came as a surprise. This (presumably) is a non-Marshall Plan Europe with heavy Soviet influence across the continent. It could be assumed that this period was hungry and tense until around 1950, when a few years of plenty set in: the ones Winston remembers as a child. Lemons were probably available in shops by then, for example.

1954 -55 Atomic Wars are fought between Europe, USA and USSR. Many major cities are devastated. This war Orwell clearly envisions as being fought with weapons of around 20kilotons – Hiroshima size. Small enough to leave some infrastructure intact, but large enough to devastate societies. These wars lead directly to Civil Wars, between the establishment (ie in the case of Britain the liberal democracy) and radical parties inspired by either the Nazis or the Bolsheviks or both (which is clearly the case with the Party). During the course of the Civil Wars, starvation becomes routine, the mess left over from the wars is not really dealt with, and the different sides begin the process of exterminating enemies (Winston’s memory of the ever present sound of machine gun fire). The wars lead politically to radicalisation (already far enough advanced to cause an atomic war), and perhaps psychologically to a deepening of the “hardening of outlook that set in around 1930” – as the desperation of survival would have been so much more intense after the radioactive aftermath of an atomic war. This could even be true physiologically: damaged psyches and minds could be the progenitors of true Party philosophy more than the ideology of the Nazis or Bolsheviks. The rearrangement into pan-continental power blocs begins to happen during the recovery period (ie probably almost as soon as the last bomb is dropped). It might be this struggle and psychological damage that causes O’Brien, probably in his early twenties at the time of the atomic wars, to carry the old, worn look that Winston notices so keenly. By the end of the wars, strong, radical parties of left and right are the only serious political movements. The Party is the strongest of these. It is probably an offshoot of a powerful pre-atomic war Communist Party.

1955-57 – The Civil Wars and the struggle for supremacy within the emergent Party and between different radical elements. The Party almost certainly possesses a strong paramilitary group as well as fearsome orators. Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford are leading lights in the struggle and eventual takeover. Rutherford’s cartoons inflame popular opinion. During periods of stability there are furious speeches and propaganda from the Party (and, one assumes, other radical parties – hence the “unintelligible proclamations...and gangs of youths in shirts all the same colour”). Starvation intensifies as no real recovery efforts are made. During this period the “confused street fighting in London itself” Winston remembers would probably have taken place. The Party takes sporadic control and begins eliminating opposition. Winston’s mother disappears, along with his sister, in 1954 or 1955. The latest possible date is 1956. His father had disappeared sometime earlier. Winston is removed to a “Reclamation Centre” – orphanages which grew up because of the Civil Wars).

1958-60 – The period of the Revolution. The Party defeats its enemies and takes control, though inconsistently at first and fighting continues. The Party then strengthens in control and eliminates the remnants of its enemies, begins purging itself and the population. Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford reach the peak of their power.

1958-59 – The Party already rewriting history, claiming in school textbooks to have invented the helicopter (by 1968-69 this has extended to the aeroplane). Winston is at school. Julia is born in either 1957 or 1958.

1958-59 (Assuming the dates in The Book are correct) - The Pan Continental Wars begin, to continue without interruption until 1984.

1960 - First development of Newspeak. The probable first mention of the word “Ingsoc” dates from this time. It could be that either the original radicals become secure enough to pursue their project more openly, or that idealists within the Party have been ousted by more cynical elements (ie in an analogue to the Left’s traditional view of the Russian Revolution). Most likely, Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford have simply tightened their grip and become extremely keen on power as a result.

1960-63 – First mention of totemic leader Big Brother.

1963 – Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford photographed at a “Party function in New York”. This date is significant because the three later confess to being on Eurasian soil at this time.

1965 – The second wave of Purges, led by the ideological associates of O’Brien. Last of the original Party leaders purged. Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford arrested. This is probably the time meant by The Book, when it says “...after the revolutionary period of the fifties and sixties, society regrouped itself, as always, into High, Middle and Low”. Namely, the defeat of the original, probably more idealistic leaders (idealistic in the O’Brien sense of not wishing to admit to their true motives- and hence the successors of the Bolsheviks and Nazis).

1966-67 – Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford re-appear. Winston sees the three in the Chestnut Tree Cafe. Rutherford’s cartoons still appear in The Times.

1968 – Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford are re-arrested and executed, the Party is now controlled by the same elite in perpetuity. Progress towards 2050 (total adoption of Newspeak and elimination of the past as an immutable object) commences in earnest.

1972-73 – Winston’s brief marriage to Katharine.

1973 – Winston holds the photo of Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford.

1977 – Winston dreams of a man saying “we shall meet in the place where there is no darkness”: the beginning of O Brien’s games with Winston, which he does not realise until he is arrested. Winston must therefore have already been identified as a thought-criminal.

1981 – Winston visits the Proletarian prostitute.

April 1984 – Everything kicks off.

Summer 1984 – Winston released.

March 1985 – Winston and Julia meet for the last time.