Friday, March 19, 2010

Nineteen Eighty-Four

In thinking about George Orwell's 1984, we discussed the Newspeak language that is a central piece of the ruling party's effort to control the ability of people to think for themselves.

Newspeak radically changes the English language so that any thoughts that the ruling party deems to be inappropriate (or "thoughtcrime") will not have words in Newspeak to express them.

My initial reaction was that the goals of Newspeak would work for a limited number of people, but would not work for an entire population because, ultimately, words are dependent on thoughts, feelings and ideas, and not the other way around.

Thoughts and ideas are the precursors to language.

The people most resistant to the aims of Newspeak would be artists.

To me, this is the work of an artist - to have thoughts and feelings outside the realm of language and culture and then to bring these ideas back to the community and express them in a way that other people can understand.

1984 - The Movie vs. 1984 - The Book

Another thing that we discussed was the translation of Orwell's masterpiece from print to the screen. I found the portrayal of Orwell's dystopia to be somewhat overwhelming on the screen and felt that, in a way, it overshadowed the ideas that had driven the print version.

To me, the real work of Orwell was in creating the world that the story takes place in. The story itself was a function of the creation of this world.

In doing a little online research today for writings about 1984 and the plot and its ending in particular, I came across an interesting piece of writing by Philip Palmer, a British screenwriter and science fiction author.

Palmer argues that 1984 is a work of science fiction despite some people's resistance to this idea.

He backs up his argument with a few key ideas:

First, this is a book based around concepts - speculations and extrapolations about a future world which are challenging and fasinating and would make the book worth reading even if it weren't so well written. Newspeak, IngSoc, the notion of a perpetual and non-existent war, the control of memory, the Two Minute Hate, the factories where fictitious news is created, Room 101 - these are all fantastic, audacious ideas that linger in the mind and the imagination long after the book has been finished....

Another key fictional strategy which we SF readers look for in our books is world building. This of course is a vital element of both the science fiction and the fantasy genres. A great science fiction novel will create a planetary civilisation, or even a galactic civilisation that is visualised and conceived in the finest detail ...

For all these reasons, it seems to me that 1984 is a great novel which is also a great science fiction novel. And even its flaws are typical of the flaws to be found in many otherwise fine SF novels; namely, a tendency to favour exposition about the minute details of the imagined world over dramatic development and character interaction.
Part of my dislike for the movie version of 1984 was the fact that, with the language and exposition stripped away, we are left with the plot, which I feel is a weak link in the original work.

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