22 January 2008

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949

It’s getting harder to believe there was once a time when Nineteen Eighty-Four was just a useful piece of socialist political science fiction, a somewhat far-fetched thought experiment though clearly a proverbial canary in the coal mine to the British political intelligentsia. Instead the intervening years have seen us brought considerably closer to too many aspects of Eric Blair’s vision, particularly with respect to surveillance in the UK and the conduct of political hypocrisies on a global scale. As a warning Nineteen Eighty-Four continues to serve the Western world very well indeed, and one wishes Russian and Chinese literature could have come up with equally potent fables of their own that would have had a similarly enlightening effect on their own populations and a restraining effect on their leaders: the intervening sixty years since it was written have often resonated with sentences and passages from this book that could be read as historical fact in parts of the world – the excesses of Russian and Chinese communism particularly, the former which Orwell feared English Socialism had a real danger of resembling – or echoes of the world’s present nervous condition, in which realities are habitually fabricated for entire populations in a way that would horrify our ancestors. Necessarily (and thankfully) extreme, it has inevitably become one of the defining books of the twentieth century, and with the invention of Newspeak has also made a useful and indelible stamp on the English language and conceptual thought everywhere. Doubleplusgood.  PY

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