On Nineteen Eighty-Four: Orwell and Our Future

On Nineteen Eighty-Four: Orwell and Our Future

On Nineteen Eighty-Four: Orwell and Our Future

On Nineteen Eighty-Four: Orwell and Our Future

Synopsis

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Fouris among the most widely read books in the world. For more than 50 years, it has been regarded as a morality tale for the possible future of modern society, a future involving nothing less than extinction of humanity itself. Does Nineteen Eighty-Fourremain relevant in our new century? The editors of this book assembled a distinguished group of philosophers, literary specialists, political commentators, historians, and lawyers and asked them to take a wide-ranging and uninhibited look at that question. The editors deliberately avoided Orwell scholars in an effort to call forth a fresh and diverse range of responses to the major work of one of the most durable literary figures among twentieth-century English writers. As Nineteen Eighty-Fourprotagonist Winston Smith has admirers on the right, in the center, and on the left, the contributors similarly represent a wide range of political, literary, and moral viewpoints. The Cold War that has so often been linked to Orwell's novel ended with more of a whimper than a bang, but most of the issues of concern to him remain alive in some form today: censorship, scientific surveillance, power worship, the autonomy of art, the meaning of democracy, relations between men and women, and many others. The contributors bring a variety of insightful and contemporary perspectives to bear on these questions.

Excerpt

George Orwell remains at the center of modern political life, just when we might have expected him to depart. In the popular mind, Orwell is the great dramatizer of Cold War values, as seen from an anti-Soviet viewpoint. Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, right at the start of the Cold War, has come to be regarded as one of the great exposés of the horrors of Stalinism. Countless American schoolchildren, required to read the novel in high school, identified with its depiction of the struggle of the lone individual against an omnipresent, omnivigilant state that conducts a systematic and relentless assault against truth, against history, against normal human relationships, and, above all, against the very existence of the individual will. The novel’s chilling ending, in which Winston Smith comes to love Big Brother, and thus ceases to be himself, has been seen as a morality tale of the grim future that was possibly in the works for all denizens of the planet, a future involving nothing less than extinction of humanity itself.

But Orwell did not lose his power with the collapse of the Soviet system. Indeed, the new era of ever-vigilant technology seemed to give new relevance to his ideas, just when their specific political occasion had apparently vanished. The conference from which the papers in this volume derive, held in 1999 to celebrate the novel’s fiftieth anniversary, set out to ask what it is in the novel that has enabled it to transcend its occasion, what enduring suggestions for our present and future it offers. Starting from the novel’s continued ubiquity as a linchpin of popular culture, it set out to probe beyond the Cold War reading of the novel to ask what themes have attached it so securely to the American unconscious, and whether, in fact, it does remain of relevance to our thinking in a changed world situation. Nineteen Eighty-Four was published simultaneously in England and the United States in 1949. It has been continuously in print in English from that day to this and has been translated into virtually every European and Asian language. It must be among the most widely read books in the history of the world.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.