pynchon on 1984

One of my favorite authors, Thomas Pynchon, was asked to write the introduction for the new Penguin edition of George Orwell’s novel, 1984. The UKs Guardian ran excerpts in todays issue. Among other things, Pynchon argues that the book isnt simply anti-communist. Some of it is very timely. Heres a sample.

Doublethink also lies behind the names of the superministries which run things in Oceania – the Ministry of Peace wages war, the Ministry of Truth tells lies, the Ministry of Love tortures and eventually kills anybody whom it deems a threat. If this seems unreasonably perverse, recall that in the present-day United States, few have any problem with a war-making apparatus named “the department of defence,” any more than we have saying “department of justice” with a straight face, despite well-documented abuses of human and constitutional rights by its most formidable arm, the FBI

Looking around us at the present moment in the US, for example, we note the popularity of helicopters as a resource of “law enforcement,” familiar to us from countless televised “crime dramas,” themselves forms of social control – and for that matter at the ubiquity of television itself. The two-way telescreen bears a close enough resemblance to flat plasma screens linked to “interactive” cable systems, circa 2003. News is whatever the government says it is, surveillance of ordinary citizens has entered the mainstream of police activity, reasonable search and seizure is a joke. And so forth. “Wow, the government has turned into Big Brother, just like Orwell predicted! Something, huh?” “Orwellian, dude!”

Well, yes and no. Specific predictions are only details, after all. What is perhaps more important, indeed necessary, to a working prophet, is to be able to see deeper than most of us into the human soul. Orwell in 1948 understood that despite the Axis defeat, the will to fascism had not gone away, that far from having seen its day it had perhaps not yet even come into its own – the corruption of spirit, the irresistible human addiction to power were already long in place, all well-known aspects of the Third Reich and Stalin’s USSR, even the British Labour party – like first drafts of a terrible future. What could prevent the same thing from happening to Britain and the United States? Moral superiority? Good intentions? Clean living?

I found this piece particularly interesting having just read the interview with Jeff Sharlet yesterday, the one in which he talks about the DC-area religious group, the Fellowship, that believes in paternal Christian fascism.

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 11, 2021 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

    – George Orwell, “1984”

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