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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ideas and ideology in Nineteen Eighty-Four

The 2nd section of Orwell's Nineteen Eight-Four becomes a political polemic, as the protagonist, Winston Smith, gets a copy of the secret manuscript that explains the theory of government, Ingsoc, that rules in Oceania. As Smith notes, he's aware already of all of the principles (as are we, from the excellent depiction of life in the Ministry of Truth in section one), but this manuscript, which he reads to himself and then reads aloud to his girlfriend, Julia, who falls asleep (me, too) puts it all into a theoretical construct. The theory is, so far as I can tell, pretty much standard Marxism - the class struggle, the exploitation by the capitalists of the working class and their labor, faith in the proletariat as the only force that can produce change, or revolution, the need for constant warfare so as to provide steady markets for otherwise useless manufactured goods (i.e., bombs and artillery). It seems that Nineteen Eighty-Four is Orwell's analysis not of the failures of Marxism but of the perversion of Marxism in the Soviet state. Good points all, but makes for dull reading at times. As noted yesterday, the challenge for contemporary readers is to elicit from the text the dangers still present - notably, what Orwell calls doublespeak - the ability to say one thing and mean another - blackwhite - the ability to hold contradictory ideas at the same time - and the revision of all past history to match the current ideological needs of the state: all of these phenomena have new life in the administration of 45. Section 2 ends w/ the arrest of Smith and Julia: they'd been spied on in their love-nest hideout, and the shopkeeper who rented them the space turns out to be a spy for the Thought Police (why the extraordinary interest in this couple - that's never made clear, except that we are to read them as representative of their society, just trying to live a life, not as extraordinarily bold or thoughtful members of the resistance).

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