On truth, language, and politics

According to this article George Orwell’s 1984 has climbed charts since the election of president Trump. What can this George Orwell’s 1984 tell us today?

First page

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were strik- ing thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an e ort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly

through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from enter- ing along with him.

e hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enor- mous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty- ve, with a heavy black moustache and rugged- ly handsome features. Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the li . Even at the best of times it was sel- dom working, and at present the electric current was cut o during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. e at was seven ights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the li -sha , the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.

Page 41

Everything had been different then. Even the names of countries, and their shapes on the map, had been di erent. Airstrip One, for instance, had not been so called in those days: it had been called England or Brit- ain, though London, he felt fairly certain, had always been called London.

Winston could not definitely remember a time when his country had not been at war, but it was evident that there had been a fairly long interval of peace during his child- hood, because one of his early memories was of an air raid which appeared to take everyone by surprise. Perhaps it was the time when the atomic bomb had fallen on Colchester. He did not remember the raid itself, but he did remember his father’s hand clutching his own as they hurried down, down, down into some place deep in the earth, round and round a spiral staircase which rang under his feet and which nally so wearied his legs that he began whimpering and they had to stop and rest.

Page 43

Since about that time, war had been literally continuous, though strictly speaking it had not always been the same war. For several months during his childhood there had been confused street ghting in London itself, some of which he remembered vividly. But to trace out the history of the whole period, to say who was ghting whom at any given moment, would have been utterly impossible, since no written record, and no spoken word, ever made mention of any other alignment than the existing one. At this mo- ment, for example, in 1984 (if it was 1984), Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no pub- lic or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along di erent lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. O cially the change of part- ners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. e enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.

e frightening thing, he re ected for the ten thou- sandth time as he forced his shoulders painfully backward (with hands on hips, they were gyrating their bodies from the waist, an exercise that was supposed to be good for the back muscles)—the frightening thing was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, IT NEVER HAPPENED—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?

e Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own

consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed— if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature al- terable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control’, they called it: in New- speak, ‘doublethink’.

Tasks

1. Why do you think that people want to read 1984 today?

2. What does the concepts double-think and newspeak mean? Do they speak to our time somehow?

3. What is the relationship between truth and power, according to Orwell?

Alternate task

Write a diary entry in the spirit of Winston Smith. Change setting to Sweden now, or continue the story and write the next chapter in the novel, inspired by what you read.

 

Chomsky’s analysis of the massmedia in the United States

5 reaktioner till “On truth, language, and politics”

  1. 1) The book is held in high regards by many and have been throughout most of the years past since its release. It is relevant as well as food for the mind – it beings up ideas and concepts you could try to spot within your own society. I personally believe that 1984 has climbed the charts recently due to a certain international security that has come with Donald Trump’s rise to power. Many are afraid of what laws he will pass, what his relationship to Russia is and what he, together with the mostly republican congress, can accomplish.

    2) ‘Double-think’ is the way the Party controls Ociania via indoctrinating the public to change the past. ”History is written by the victor.”, because if something happens and there are no records of the event there is no proof of it. If all the people involved in the event then proceeds to forget what happened, it never really did.
    ‘Newspeak’ is the language the Party is constructing, designed to remove the freedom of free thought and expression. They cut out words and substitute them with such that can only mean one cold thing. To the point where relaying information, thoughts and feelings that aren’t relevant ends up being pointless, because you simply can’t do it with the language.

    3) Fabricating the world and the truth around you is similar to playing as the GM: ”I think you’ve earned it, you suddenly found more rations or a treasure chest.” or ”I’m done with your attitude – that dragon you slew earlier? Yeah, that was a dream. Cross off the loot from your character-sheet.”
    By controlling the world around people you effectively control the people in it. The world to a person is what they perceive in their minds, and if you have the power over that… Then you have absolute power over them.

    Gilla

  2. 1) The book is held in high regards by many and have been throughout most of the years past since its release. It is relevant as well as food for the mind – it beings up ideas and concepts you could try to spot within your own society. I personally believe that 1984 has climbed the charts recently due to a certain international security that has come with Donald Trump’s rise to power. Many are afraid of what laws he will pass, what his relationship to Russia is and what he, together with the mostly republican congress, can accomplish.

    2) ‘Double-think’ is the way the Party controls Ociania via indoctrinating the public to change the past. ”History is written by the victor.”, because if something happens and there are no records of the event there is no proof of it. If all the people involved in the event then proceeds to forget what happened, it never really did.
    ‘Newspeak’ is the language the Party is constructing, designed to remove the freedom of free thought and expression. They cut out words and substitute them with such that can only mean one cold thing. To the point where relaying information, thoughts and feelings that aren’t relevant ends up being pointless, because you simply can’t do it with the language.

    3) Fabricating the world and the truth around you is similar to playing as the GM: ”I think you’ve earned it, you suddenly found more rations or a treasure chest.” or ”I’m done with your attitude – that dragon you slew earlier? Yeah, that was a dream. Cross off the loot from your character-sheet.”
    By controlling the world around people you effectively control the people in it. The world to a person is what they perceive in their minds, and if you have the power over that… Then you have absolute power over them as well.

    Gilla

  3. 1. Why do you think that people want to read 1984 today?

    Maybe because now, when Donald Trump became the new president, the feeling of insecurity has somehow grown. That everything Trump has said until now, has affected the world, but mostly the Americans, negative. The instilled security Obama got out of just being him, and by knowing what he was doing and saying, and by also having a good relation with other countries, it doesn´t exist with president Trump. This is why I think that so many people want to read 1984 today, because they can relate with todays situaiton, with the book.

    2. What does the concepts double-think and newspeak mean? Do they speak to our time somehow?

    ”Doublethink is the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinct social contexts.”

    ”Newspeak is a controlled language, of restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, a linguistic design meant to limit the freedom of thought—personal identity, self-expression, free will—that ideologically threatens the régime of Big Brother and the Party, who thus criminalised such concepts as thoughtcrime, contradictions of Ingsoc orthodoxy.”

    I couldn´t figure out on my own what this two concepts means, but after I read a bit more about them, I can really say that this could probably ”speak to our time”. I think it could be called ”propaganda”.

    3. What is the relationship between truth and power, according to Orwell?

    That those who have power, can make the truth up, so it suits them and what they´re doing. For example:

    ”The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed— if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth.

    Those who controls and decides things, can just remove and replace the truth with something other than the truth, so it becomes the new truth at the end. You can´t even trust yourself with what you know, because that can be a big, fat lie. But it can also be the truth, you can never now.

    Gilla

  4. 1. I think people are scared of the politics that we have today. If you look at the US president, Donold Trump and the way he try to hide trues, you will think why he do that and why he would control the society and the media. So therfefore people want to read this kind of books to understand what is going on and what should they do.

    2. Doublethink is the ability to hold two completely contradictory beliefs at the same time and to believe they are both true.

    Gilla

  5. 1. The story that 1984 tells is something that many people can relate to. Not in the literal sense but perhaps in the way we picture the future. The society in 1984 is built upon countless of lies. Nothing you hear or see can really be trusted. The party, the people in charge, have their own agenda. Their truth is the only truth, what they say should never be questioned because they are absolute.
    In ways you can draw parallels between the party and Big brother to Donald Trump and the way he chooses to lead his country. It is quite scary how he can blatantly lie to the public, and how he so frequently lies. It almost seems that he doesn’t care about how the world actually looks like. He doesn’t care about what is real and true, he only cares about the truth that makes him look favorable to the public. And he has no problems creating his own. He manipulates the minds of the US citizens in a way that the government in 1984 does, maybe not as aggressive but there are similarities. Who knows what the US will look like after his 4 years (maybe 8) as president.
    1984 is also an amazing book. It is one those stories that really makes you think. It makes you question almost everything, but in the absolute best way.

    2. If I remember correctly from when I read 1984 newspeak is simply the language of Oceania. It is almost the same language as English but there are words that differ. New words for phrases that no longer fit and/or support the idealogical standards of Oceania and ”the party”.
    Double-think is what it says. A way of believing in two different realities that contradict each other. Believing that two different truths are correct. Double-think is a way for The party to control their citizens.

    Gilla

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