Book #115: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

1984author: George Orwell
language: English
length: 742 minutes (12 hours 22 minutes)
finished listening on: 12 October 2016

Cynics will say this book is ever more relevant today than ever. I’m not so sure, but it’s certainly a warning worth heeding. I’ve never actually read the book before now, but by that weird kind of cultural osmosis, I’m well aware of most of the aspects of the book – Big Brother, Room 101, and so on. As with the last review I wrote today, I’m going to assume that you are also aware of what happens in this book.

But it might be worrying that those concepts are known to me through early-2000s reality TV shows. Like our culture was trying to package up those concepts to be less scary or induce a different reaction. Like the whole concept of Newspeak. No, I don’t think our vapid culture is the same as the one depicted in this book – I think that’s exaggerating, but it’s useful to point out aspects that are similar, and conclude that we should work to change those aspects.

I’m not quite convinced by some parts of the book. I think it gets over-the-top at points. I don’t believe in the division of the world into three big empires, when I perceive the nationalism and the wave of independence of former colonies that happened after Orwell wrote his book. But those empires correspond to America, Russia and China, so perhaps it is accurate after all. It’s obvious that Orwell was warning about the rise of fascism and/or communism post-war (and that is indeed something we should be very worried about in today’s world), but it’s unclear what he would proffer as a decent replacement to those systems.

The book is well-written and doesn’t mess around in making its point, but at the same time, it’s repetitive, a habit that Orwell seems to have to try to get his point across by making it constantly. I found the interrogation scenes genuinely scary, though. At this point, hearing the characters explaining Ingsoc and why it’s a positive force for mankind made me feel a bit ill. The whole idea of making people genuinely believe what you want them to believe, through torture, is reminiscent of the “debate” around conversion therapy, and I’m quite glad that, while fascism is on the rise, and the new American administration is threatening their citizens with such treatment, I don’t see this having happened yet in my experience and my country, if it will at all. If it can at all.

That said, forced confessions are a big thing here in Japan. Just thought I’d throw that one out there. None of us are free from sin.

But exactly that – I’m not sure these things are realistic, to the level that Orwell writes about it. Newspeak as a concept is scientifically on very shaky ground – I firmly believe language-as-mind-control could not happen as described in this book, and most linguists would agree. Linguistic determinism was still having its heyday in 1949, I’m guessing, and I can excuse Orwell this infraction. The Newspeak words have to an extent entered the popular vocabulary, and I still see people talking about doublethink and double-plus-ungood things. It’s like child vocabulary.

Anyway, the audiobook presentation was a bit unemotional, but perfunctory. I enjoyed it overall, but mainly for the writing, not the performance. I think if you haven’t read this yet, you should. It’s unfortunately relevant to the modern day. Leave a comment if you agree or disagree!

One Response to Book #115: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

  1. Pingback: Book #116: Ultima (2014) | reuoq

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