Sunday, March 20, 2016

Orwell, George (1948): 1984

What is it about?

It feels a little unnecessary to introduce such a widely known and appreciated book as 1984, but here goes. It is a dystopian novel which describes an authoritarian society Oceania. In this one-party society, surveillance is everywhere - i.e. the 'Big Brother' is always watching - and public opinion is heavily regulated and manipulated.

While the description of such a society is a significant merit in and of itself to capture our imagination concerning what it would be like to live in a society like or even closely resembling it, in my opinion the vastly greatest merit of Orwell in this book is in describing the means with which such a state of affairs is created and maintained.

Was it good?

Without doubt yes - and the word 'good' can't even begin to do justice to the book. In my list of the best or most important books I have read, this one would easily be in the top three, perhaps even number one. The embedded political commentary is just stunning and the literary elegance with which it is put forth is second to none. I seem to keep coming back to this book every other year or so.

The main take-away for me?

The main take-away for me was - once again - the means with which the dystopian society was put and is held together. The reason for this is that this allows one to reflect back to one's real-life societal context and see whether there are emerging or ongoing initiatives or trajectories that could point to Oceania.

For example, the notion of 'newspeak' (a language from which 'politically dangerous' words are being consciously removed in order to remove the possibility to speak and eventually even think about subversive ideas) is a very powerful reminder for us about the way words (concepts) are used to construct reality. While the 'strength' of this mechanism is subject to debate in academic linguistics and related disciplines (see e.g. here), I'm quite ready to subscribe to its basic reality. Here, consider for example the concepts 'racism' and 'immigration criticism' and their current usage.

Similarly, the notion of a 'thought crime' - a real crime in Oceania - is quite a powerful notion and can quite readily be reflect against current discourse about 'incorrect' socio-political opinions or mindsets. I emphasize here the notions 'thought', 'opinion' and 'mindset' - it's a different story altogether as to how or whether one acts upon one's thoughts.

Who should read the book?

Everyone, absolutely everyone. Moreover, this is a book everyone should read one every few years.

Indeed, in my opinion, this book should be part and parcel of core reading curriculum in every school system everywhere.

The book on 1984

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