– George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) is justifyable regarded as one of the classics of 20th Century Literature, not just of Science Fiction, and presents one of the most horrific dystopias in literature.
Orwell is often regarded as a figure: a man of letters with a fascination for proletarian popular culture such as Boys Own adventure stories and saucy post cards; a man of the Left who was nevetheless one of its most vocal critics. This latter is only a contradiction, of course, if you see politics as a simple binary opposition between Left and Right: as soon as you incorporate the Libertarian-Authoritarian axis the contradiction resolves itself: Orwell was a Libertarian Socialist, opposed to both inequality and authoritarianism.
”The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 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 understand it.”
– George Orwell, ”Why I Write”
Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938)
Nineteen Eighty-Four is by no means the first dystopic novel: many of its themes and imagery had been explored in Yevgeny Zamyatin‘s Russian novel We (1921), Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World (1932) and Katharine Burdekin‘s Swastika Night (1937) . Yet Orwell’s dystopia is unequally chilling: few totalitarian worlds are so total. The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four is one in which not only actions, but thoughts are policed.
”Don’t you see the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we’re not far from that point. But the process will be still continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller…The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak.”
– George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (p.60-61)
Newspeak clearly has much in common with theory of Linguistic Determinism, or the ‘Sapir-Whorf hypothesis‘, and with the linguitic theories outlined by Valentin Volosinov in Marxism and the Philosophy of Language.
The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism
Nineteen Eighty-Four includes its own embedded text within a text, Emmanuel Goldstein’s The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.
”There were also whispered stories of a terrible book, a compendium of all the heresies, of which Goldstein was the author and which circulated clandestinely here and there. It was a book without a title. People referred to it, if at all, simply as the book…. A heavy black volume, amateurishly bound, with no name or title on the cover. The print also looked slightly irregular. The pages were worn at the edges, and fell apart, easily, as though the book had passed through many hands.”
– George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
In ”Metapropaganda: Self-Reading Dystopian Fiction: Burdekin’s Swastika Night and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1994) George McKay follows Michael Wilding‘s Marxist terminology in arguing that this text is in a dialectical relationship with the novel, but I would argue that it is dialogical in the sense of as Mikhail Bakhtin.
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Orwell, George (1935 ) A Clergyman’s Daughter
Orwell, George (1936 ) Keep the Aspidistra Flying
Orwell, George (1937) The Road to Wigan Pier
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