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Classes in UK interested in email dialogue

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1984 will be the focus of our spring novel study session.

We will also be studying A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway. Any teachers interested in doing an email dialogue on topics relating to themes that drive these novels?

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Guest Andrew Moore

Interesting to see how 1984 looks twenty years after the novel's imagined setting. Orwell understands the power of the media, and of state propaganda. But he does not (understandably) foresee the technological developments that will enable states to broadcast over national borders, and allow individuals to have a free voice. Among the things that brought down the Berlin Wall was the evidence, on TV broadcasts, that life in the west was more comfortable than the East German state broadcasters had acknowledged.

As prediction of the future - our present now - Huxley is closer to the mark with Brave New World. We are lulled into complacency by material comfort and readily available drugs. Indifference, rather than apathy, is an easier means for the state to control a quiescent populace.

Orwell is also mistaken about the inventive faculty of human speech. One cannot regulate language while the spoken word is so prone to changing usage. Even if people want to obey the state, they will inadvertently bring slightly different meanings to a given spoken form.

Since the novel is largely a peg on which to hang the theory - which appears in the Appendixes - it perhaps does not have too much to say to us: far from being universal and enduring, it may be one of the dying echoes of the totalitarian states that were possible in Europe for a few decades, but now seem like a vanished nightmare.

What do others think?

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it may be one of the dying echoes of the totalitarian states that were possible in Europe for a few decades, but now seem like a vanished nightmare.

What do others think?

I'm not so sure that I don't live in a nation where a majority are left in a constant state of relative shortage and ignorance, where we are in a permanent state of war with an "imagined" enemy, and where the media is controlled to such a degree as to make the "the truth" more elusive than it ought to be.

Neither am I convinced by your faith in

the inventive faculty of human speech

I doubt the language the children I teach communicate in on a day to day basis could sustain much more than the simplest and most basic messages emotions and ideas - ironic that they appear to have created Newspeak all by themselves for the benefit of their masters.

I am sure also that the "Anti Sex League" has taken control of the Daily Mail :wacko:

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Guest Andrew Moore

Hi, Andy.

It's not faith, and I use "inventive" in a neutral sense. I do not often like what these speakers invent. If you prefer, you could describe it as a sort of degeneration - as traditional linguists once did, where some kinds of change were labelled catachresis (weakening).

This change is an objective fact, attested by everyday observation. That may be because the speaker cannot hold on to the sense of one term, or (this I think is very likely) resist the tendency to assimilate to what he or she hears.

I had a colleague in the school where I worked for many years, who could not utter a sentence without qualifying every verb with "actually". That is not so odd. But what I found after a few years, was that I could measure how recently any other teacher had been in her presence, by his or her tendency to do likewise. And once in a while I would ask them about this, and they had no idea how I knew they had been with her.

I see lots of bad stuff around me, but manifestly (unlike poor Winston) I have the means to find things out, to express my dissent without fear - maybe that's worse. O'Brien means quite seriously that it is important not to kill Winston before he can learn to love Big Brother (it's the thought that counts). The establishment in the UK (OK, Airstrip One of Oceania) does not care what I think. (Unless, that is, I am a scientist in Iraq, thinking about a weapon I might make.)

In Winston's world there is a shortage of basic foodstuffs, while everything is of a poor quality. I disapprove the practice of flying food zillions of miles for my immediate pleasure and convenience. But I think that supermarkets have given us immense choice, and this includes high quality at modest prices. I am old enough to recall a time when there was little food in the house, other than the ingredients of the next few meals - and my family was not at all poor (in a relative sense). This, by the way, is something that films and TV dramas always get wrong - they export today's plenty into past societies that simply did not have it.

Again, while we may imagine much about our enemies (like their employment of scientists making exotic weapons), there are people who wish us harm. Had George Bush not stolen the election, then maybe some of that harm would not have been so fervently wished, nor happened. But it's real now.

I think, in the novel, the enemy is not imaginary - but the reporting of the alliances and strategies is mendacious. Yet the fighting of the war is meant to continue - since this is the way to continue the shortage without losing the capacity of the Proles to hate the "official" enemy. Clearly there are people who would like to have always the convenience of using (real) terrorists to justify, by a non-sequitur, their pet remedy for the terror (bang them up without trial, say). This is perhaps what is so horrible about Israel's foreign policy. It provokes extreme reaction, which then gives a strong pretext for the building of yet more walls.

But seriously, my (our, your) potential for achieving whatever our talents allow - that is immense, by any kind of historical yardstick. I am angry with the Prime Minister, because he has forgotten the great hopefulness of the time when he was at university (he is my near contemporary). But I could not say that Britain in 2004 is a bad place to be. I don't fear a knock at my door. And if I screw up, then I have no-one to blame but myself.

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Of course "1984" like any work of fiction must reflect the era in which it was written. Neither of us I imagine ( :wacko: ) are old enough to remember 1948, the post war hardships and the immediate memory of war time propaganda. The immediate experience of these by Orwell is evident throughout the entire novel.

However I contend that some of the central themes ring true of today. I am interested in the idea of the "continuous war" and the ideological and material purposes such a notion is put to. It is potentially revealing for instance to observe how we all react when BA flights to the US are grounded for hours on end and yet no "suspect" or "culprit" is ever brought to account. Do we not lose our critical faculties in the face of the threat from this semi mythical enemy? Do we now "hate" Eastasia (arab muslims?) to the extent that we are incapable of seeing through the elaborate games of our leaders. With us being manipulated into a near constant state of fear it is easy for them to justify any action in our "defence". The motivation for this is surely one of pure power just as it was in the novel.

It is also interesting how events such as 9/11 are used by Western politicians to justify the most awful attacks on the very liberties and freedoms I used to believe rather naively the west at least it part stood for. In this ever worsening climate I am unsure whether you are right not to fear the knock at the door.

Attitudes to sex are also interesting in the novel. Pornography is mass produced to satisfy and placate the proles whilst inner and outer party members are positively discouraged from any ideas of sexual gratification carrying with it as it would "unreliable" loyalties. I am not suggesting that our society reflects the novel here but am intrigued by a comparable hypocrisy when I pick up a tabloid newspaper and find a virulent attack on child abusers/rapists/randy vicars etc. facing a photograph of a 16ish year old naked girl pointing to her breasts.

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