Storm Warnings: Science Fiction Confronts the Future

By George E. Slusser; Colin Greenland et al. | Go to book overview

One Man's Tomorrow Is Another's Today: The Reader's World and Its Impact on Nineteen Eighty-Four

Elizabeth Maslen

When politics meets literature, the kind of regime under which a writer is working can have a crucial effect on his or her choice of priorities, especially if the writer's views happen to conflict with those that prevail in places of authority. A writer may or may not have freedom to express these views openly, and this freedom, or lack of it, must inevitably influence any choice of literary form. When a writer lives in a climate where dissenting opinions can be expressed openly, without incurring penalties, then there is a choice between presenting ideas directly to the reader or through such forms of "oblique" writing as science fiction (or, as the Russians call it, naoútchnaïa fantáistika--scientific fantasy). If the writer lives under a repressive regime, then the choice is likely to be much more limited: if an individual is to survive, or at least survive as a writer, he or she can rarely express dissenting views directly, but must rely on some form of oblique writing, trusting to the reader's willingness and experience to interpret the underlying ideas as intended.

And it is precisely here that the writer runs into problems. Most schools of literary theory today tell us what the fates of Zamyatin We and Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four all too clearly demonstrate: that when the text leaves the writer's hands, it takes on a life of its own, as it were, and indeed can assume a number of different identities, depending on the circumstances and experience of readers at different times and in different places. To make a broad generalization which I shall be exploring more closely: under a repressive regime, readers who are seriously concerned with politics may become adept at interpreting literature which is ostensibly entertain

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