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1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2 
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
I actually came onto this thread (now that I am reading part 2) to discuss Orwell's observation that Smith would be participating in "the solemn foolery of a 'discussion group.'" (p 139). Might be another case of his experience with religion resonating with things he learned about communism. Earnest efforts to "raise mass consciousness" are part of both, and lead to discussion groups which are really lectures.

The line between an effective way to organize people through "mythology" and an enlightened worldview is a thin one. It may be that the more effective early Christianity was at getting people to care for one another, the greater the chance that it would be coopted by the empire as a way to keep order. (One priest can do the work of 200 soldiers, as Harari put it). And as a result, the more likely that it would come to be a force for the interests of the ruling classes.

On the other hand, I am charmed by the idea of "solemn foolery." The fool in a medieval court is the one who can get away with telling the truth to the king, as "King Lear" immortalized. By telling all the truth, but telling it slant (Emily Dickinson) the fool is a figure for playful thought about the ways we have fooled ourselves. Orwell finds totalitarian society terrifying, and at the same time a little goofy. It is staffed by profoundly stupid people who have been lobotomized by fear, or who are the only ones who can sustain the insufferable monotony of party thought ("Ingsoc in relation to chess" is the title of the lecture he attended after the discussion group and a triple dose of gin.) Religion can be somewhat the same: despite ideology concerning transformation of the person, divesting ourselves of every petty earthly concern and salvation of our eternal soul, the practice of it may be about how many pot luck dinners are too many, and whether the budget can go up by four percent.

At a deeper layer there is a profound disgust by people like Orwell (Oxbridge, in a word) for the ordinary folks who do not have inclination to read the newspaper and think about how things really work and how they really should work. This is surely a Jungian shadow side to democracy's empowerment of the ordinary folk. People who would have, in Mozart's day, seen themselves as entitled to some share in nobility by virtue of their intelligence and responsible diligence, have trouble believing that it should be possible to turn the piloting of the whole ship over to a person with no qualification except the smallness of soul to appeal to other small-souled people. Too much emotional work is required to overcome the obvious implications of their own superior understanding.

All the earnest indoctrination to try to get people to understand what democracy requires gets upended by one ruthless demagogue. No wonder it all seemed like "solemn foolery."



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Robert Tulip
Wed Sep 19, 2018 11:09 am
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
Reading the first love scene between Winston and Julia brought an unusual train of thought. She is, more than anything else, a rebel. The fact that she glories in covering it up is, somehow, normal.

Now, Orwell(Blair) will have met women like that before (men, too, but apparently not sexually). And what they were rebelling against was propriety, normality, predictability, conformity. Today those women might have to get multiple piercings and shave off half their hair to get the same sense of self-expression. But in the time when Orwell wrote, society's conformity was very much in the hands of the church, and sex (especially willing, unpaid sex by women) was very much the terrain of rebellion against it. And all the more deliciously so for being private.

The sense of being watched, of having your thoughts policed, would have been part of the social environment that everyone took for granted. The church had no telescreens, but everyone would have been aware of possibly being seen going into some place they were not meant to be going with a person who was not their proper partner. I think it's a stroke of genius to enlist that secret rebelliousness in everyone as a way to feel his situation. Of course he makes good use of it in Part Three and that plan may have come before he realized he could use sex for a symbol of secret rebellion, but it may not have, too.

And then the part where the tender birdsong actually turns them to tender lovers, and his (slightly) old body finally responds. It's a beautiful road into the true humanity of the pair, and gives some substance to her "love" for him that probably amounted to spotting a fellow rebel up until that time.

His imagery of having dreamed the Golden Wood and the swift undressing by the girl is like a bit of magical realism, and serves to invite us to think in terms of symbols rather than just narrative.

And then comes the crushing declaration that "it was a political act." That they could not just be excited and adore each other with their bodies - it had to be mixed with hatred and fear and rebellion. Like the lovers in Master and Margarita, their souls had been degraded by the system and there simply was no way to totally rise above it.



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DWill
Sun Sep 23, 2018 2:53 pm
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
Chapter 3 of part Two is a quiet gem. Winston Smith reflects on the meaning of it all.

Smith believes they may have a year, or maybe five, before the Thought Police catch them. He was already rebelling against this by keeping a journal. But for him life is a matter of snatching a brief bit of self-assertion here and there, and it was all doomed.

Some of this may be because Orwell's health was not so good. He had a bout of dengue fever in Burma ("breakbone fever" it has sometimes been called) and was seriously ill back in Europe at least twice, with lungs that kept him out of the Army and a diagnosis of tuberculosis by 1947. He may have had some sense of being on borrowed time.

But Smith's resignation reminded me of a brief conversation I had once with an intelligent but unmotivated student, whose rich parents had put him in a different private school, more elite, from which he had been ejected (I never heard why). He was smoking off campus, which he knew was against the rules, (he was a resident student in the dorms) and quickly put out his cigarette when I showed up. I reminded him that breaking the rules was likely to get him caught, and he smiled his most charming smile and said, "Oh, you're always going to get caught." By implication, you were a kind of coward, or quitter, if you didn't go ahead and pursue your own pleasure despite breaking the rules.

Smith's fatalism reminded me of that determination. He says Julia is still young and expects something from life (she is 27, with "lines around her eyes" barely discernable). He, on the other hand, remembers passing up a chance to murder his dreadful drudge of a wife, who took all enjoyment out of sex and could not be imagined committing a thoughtcrime. She was Goodthinkful. Julia asks him why he didn't, and he can't really explain. From his jaundiced point of view on the other side of 40, he wishes he had.

But Smith believes in the cause. He relishes the hope that the Proles will rise up against their masters in the Party (can you imagine how that viewpoint must have hit the leftist community in the West? The Oppenheimer and Kim Philby and Arthur Miller believers who had always understood church and police to be enforcers against the people?) but sees that it can never happen. Yet to strike a blow, to continue to exert humanity in the face of the System, gives him a sense of purpose in life. There is not even a Harari myth, or counternarrative that he can sign onto - no freedom of thought means no narrative at all - just the levers of control.

Julia, on the other hand, believes in living. In being alive, and dedicating your powers to arranging little acts of pleasure-seeking in spite of every effort by the powers to subtract it from your life. Hysteria, the result of denied pleasure, is the Party's goal because it drives the hating and exercising and policing each other that make up the Party's structures of control. Talk about a sense of purpose without a sense of meaning! Deprivation of autonomy is complete.

In this same chapter is the observation that children may be loved by their parents (collectivism does not always endorse that) but the children will not love back, because they are enlisted in spying on their parents for the Thought Police. It's a chilling picture, and I have heard echos of it from North Korea, Cuba and Cambodia. But I don't really find it credible. To get such a thorough-going repudiation of human nature, as opposed to a portion of the population who can be twisted that way by their resentment of parental authority, I think you need more mechanism and intent than Orwell has assembled here.

Orwell married, but his wife died before their plan to adopt went forward. I think he might have had a more realistic picture if he had raised children. And I will take it even one step further and claim that all of these systems of social control are male impositions, and are not fully capable of subtracting the simple joy of raising children and the simple reflex of indebtedness to parents, from our animal life as humans. Nevertheless, any effort by the power structures that involves removing children from their parents, whether educating indigenous people for the dominant culture, or punishing refugees for thinking the country might endure them, or selling children on to another slaver, should be instinctively recognized as raw evil.



Mon Sep 24, 2018 6:00 am
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