What I Am Reading

1984 by George Orwell

I just finished rereading this historical piece of twentieth century literature some forty-five years on because I felt a need to view Orwell’s troubling masterpiece from the perspective of the recent future which coincidentally is where the story was set.

The interest to reread this novel I remember came not long after watching some old video footage during the 2016 presidential election run up where the late conservative political analyst, Andrew Breitbart was quoted, saying ‘politics is downstream from culture.’

I found that declaration to be extremely thought provoking. And as such it took a while for it to truly settle in, even so it was some months later that I knew I had some reading and studying to do to play catch up as to how Breitbart arrived at that conclusion.

Post-election, that statement from time to time surfaced in my conscious as I watched the US news and to my eyes saw an unrepentant varnishing of the truth by both sides. Current events were being shamelessly revised. It used to be politicians and social scientists waited the better part of a generation before monkeying with the history books but here the pundits were tweaking events real time.

Having just finished 1984 made me see how politics downstream from culture could be seen ironically as Orwellian as the notion gives rise to the implication that somehow culture must be managed to render the most political good.

Interestingly, 1984 has a parallel theme, ‘To control the present you must control the past’. Winston Smith – the central character, an Outer Party guy – works in the Ministry of Truth where his job is to revise history to better reflect the political present.

Orwell foresaw the invasion of social Marxism into a future modern society when he coined such terms and ideas as the Ministry of Truth, Newspeak, doublethink, thoughtcrimes and ingsoc (English socialism).

Here are a few quotations coming from O’Brian, the Inner Party man,  speaking to Winston Smith:

  • “One does not establish a dictatorship to safeguard a revolution; one makes a revolution in order to establish a dictatorship.”
  • “The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you understand me?”
  • “How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?” Winston thought,”By making him suffer,” he said.
  • “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face – forever.”

And of course much like stepping in dog shit, one does not so easily extricate themselves from such a sticky situation of trying to come to terms with mankind’s fascination with socialism. Which explains my next read, The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

I read somewhere a week or so ago that in order to understand socialism one had to read this book. I thought, ‘How hard can that be?’ A few months back I finished his splendid little novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and enjoyed it immensely.

Much to my surprise, The Gulag Archipelago is 3 large volumes of nonfiction; volume 1 is something like 700 pages. I am only 100 pages in and I can only say at this point that there is some seriously dense reporting going on here. It seems Mr. Solzhenitsyn  attempted (and succeeded) in both chronicling the entire history (1918 to 1956) of forced labor camps in the Soviet Union as well as capturing the accompanying large scale narratives of oppression and fear.

PS – I figured I needed a less intense afternoon/evening book so I decided to feather in The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I chose it because it was an available download with an interesting title. We’ll see how it goes.


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