George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

81.

Daniel Bell, New Leader (New York)

25 June 1949, p. 8

Daniel Bell (b. 1919), Professor of Sociology at Harvard, author of The End of Ideology (1960) and The Radical Right (1963).

When Thomas More in 1516 described an imaginary island, he called it Utopia, which in Greek means, literally, ‘nowhere. ’ The frightening aspect of George Orwell’s imaginary world is that it is somewhere— in and around us.

Nineteen Eight-Four pictures life thirty years hence under Ingsoc (English Socialism), a unit of Oceania, one of three super-states in a permanent war for world hegemony. Ingsoc life is dingy, but if drabness were the only constituent element of Orwell’s museum of horror, the novel and even Ingsoc life would be bearable. What makes it a shuddering, sickening, gripping spectacle is the remorseless piling on of detail upon detail, like a fingernail drawn ceaselessly across a blackboard, of a human society stripped of the last shreds of community, where even the sexual act is a cold, distasteful, jerky moment of copulation, performed because artificial methods are not yet sufficiently perfect to reproduce the species, and where fear and anxiety are the daily staple of life—not as in the concentration camps a dull and inured fear, but under the corrosive stimuli of hate, a high-tension, twitching exhaustion from which dreams and even sleep offer no escape.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is the story of Winston Smith, a member of the outer Party, and his downfall which started at the moment doubt first crossed his mind. Smith works in Minitrue, the Ministry of Truth; he corrects past records when the present fails to bear out party predictions, expunges the names of men who have been ‘vaporized’ and writes articles in Newspeak, the official language of Oceania (which has not displaced the vernacular but is used for all documents).

Smith’s tasks are central to the state, for the party slogan is: ‘Who controls the past, controls the future, and who controls the present, controls the past. ’

-262-

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