George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is 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-Four remain relevant in our new century? The editors of this book assembled a distinguishedGeorge Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is 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-Four remain 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-Four protagonist 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....
|Title||:||On "Nineteen Eighty-Four": Orwell and Our Future|
|Number of Pages||:||328 Pages|
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On "Nineteen Eighty-Four": Orwell and Our Future Reviews
Fifty years after it was first published, how much of 1984 could be considered dated, what could be considered prescient, what remained relevant and how strong a grip did it still hold on the imagination. Rather than asking Orwell scholars, the organizers of the 1999 conference decided to ask experts on several of the fields the novel most impinges on -language, mind control and propaganda, totalitarianism versus democracy, governance, surveillance and torture as tools of political repression- to present their thoughts on the continuing relevance of the novel and revise them in the form of the essays included in this book.Apart from Martha Nussbaum concluding essay, the rest of the essays are grouped into five partially overlapping categories:1. Politics and the literary imagination;2. Truth, objectivity and propaganda;3. Political coercion;4. Technology and privacy;5. Sex and politics.The first part, titled Politics and the literary imagination is the part closest to literary analysis and in it Richard Epstein's skeptical Does Literature work as Social Science? The case of George Orwell towers head and shoulders over the other three essays and includes an illuminating comparison of Orwell's work to Friedrich Hayek's socioeconomic oeuvre The Road to Serfdom. Margaret Drabble's well-written essay on Orwell's idiosyncratic use of “beastliness” in both of his novels, his essays and letters develops an interesting, if rather limited point, of literary rather than political nature.Truth, objectivity and propaganda and Political coercion arguably contain some of the best essays in the book: Puritanism and Power Politics during the Cold War: George Orwell and Historical Objectivity by Abbott Gleason, From Ingsoc and Newspeak to Amcap, Amerigood and Marketspeak by Edward S. Herman, Mind control in Orwell´s Nineteen Eighty-Four: Fictional concepts become operational realities in Jim Jones's Jungle Experiment by Philip G. Zimbardo and Whom do you trust? What do you count on? by Darius Rejali. Gleason does a wonderful job of explaining why Orwell was so deeply worried about the loss of a sense of objective truth, worries which in the light of the later development of some of postmodernism's more garish excesses certainly seem prescient today. Herman warns us that derivations of Newspeak and doublethink are alive and kicking and form part, not only of Stalinist Communism but also of 1984 -and present day- American mainstream society, in which political, social and economic euphemisms succeed in driving dangerous wedges between bland discourses and harsh realities. The two essays which make up the third part of the book, Zimbardo on brain washing and Rejali on modes of resistance to torture are the most chilling, the most memorable and worth reading and rereading -there is no doubt in these essays that Orwell still has a lot to warn us about.The power of parts two and three, makes part four somewhat anticlimactic, even though Posner's comparison of 1984 to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is an excellent essay, well worth reading. David Brin's The self-preventing prophesy; or, how a dose of nightmare can help tame tomorrow's perils, while interesting loses much of its impact because it revisits, in a minor key, ideas set forth by Epstein's previous essay.Part five, Sex and Politics underwhelmed me. Ever since I first read Orwell, Orwell's ideas on sex and totalitarianism struck me as unconvincing and naive. None of the essays included in this part managed to kindle my interest and I would whole-heartedly encourage the reader to skip them.Martha Nussbaum's concluding The death of pity: Orwell and American political life takes a long hard look at the uncanny relevance of Orwell to post 9/11 USA, where politics refuse to look at the new (and old) realities in the face, and the answer to terrorism becomes a slippery mass of slogans, the “Axis of Evil”, “war against evil”, a political project extinguishing compassion and replacing it with simple depersonalized forms of hate, aggression, triumph and fear, and a simplistic, primitive “us-them” view of the world. Nussbaum also manages to slip in, following the ideas of the well-known psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott on the maturation process, an analysis of Winston Smith as a borderline narcissist, living on the brink of collapse. Nussbaum does not get carried away; she also reminds us that US liberal values also emphasize service, sacrifice philanthropy, fair play and civil liberties. Therefore though many of Orwell's warnings are still timely, there remain elements which provide realistic grounds for more optimistic outcomes than those posited by the novel.One of the properties of a classic work of art is that it speaks to future generations who discover in it values that transcend the time and place it was written in. Orwell may have been warning us about the gross distortions of stalinist communism, but the world he depicts bears an uncanny resemblance to, say, Venezuela under Maduro, or for that matter any regime which succumbs to the temptation of distorting reality for political ends. On Nineteen Eighty-Four: Orwell and our Future is a thought-provoking book which helps the reader understand why the novel, for all of its weak points, is still relevant and still sounds warnings we ignore at our peril.
I was prompted by recent current events to take another look at Orwell, especially 1984. I recently reread it and wanted to take a "deeper dive". I picked up this book several years ago but it got diverted from my immediate queue. It is a fine book which I heartily recommend.It is important to note the circumstances under which this book came into existence. The initial stimulus was a 1999 conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of 1084. The book was eventually published in 2005, In between the conference and the publication, several events intervened, including the 9/11 attacks, the Patriot Act, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (among other events). The editor took efforts so that the book would also reflect these changes in the world and what they implied for an appreciation of Orwell's work. It is good that she did this.There are some caveats to my recommendation: 1) It is a book of essays about Orwell's novel 1984. Each presumes a thorough familiarity with the book, so if one has not read the book, these essays will not be as valuable as they could be.2) The essays were written by a collection of top scholars from several areas, including philosophy, law, literature, religious studies, psychology, and technology. Several of the authors are true polymaths whose knowledge goes well beyond conventional academic specializations. The editor is Martha Nussbaum, who is one of the top philosophers working today and one of the few people who could assemble the collection of scholars in this volume.3) The contributors generally have of University of Chicago affiliation of some sort, although not exclusively. This means very sharp thinking and writing, often of a highly critical bent. All of the interesting and challenging. Do some mental push-ups in advance.The book is a treasure trove of ideas about Orwell's masterpiece. Some of the essays address how relevant the book is to the current world - what did Orwell get right and what did he miss? Is the book still timely or has the period for fretting about totalitarianism passed? Was "Brave New World" more relevant than "1984" or are they both still valuable?There are also chapters on some of the philosophical issues often associated with the book, such as the nature of truth versus propaganda and doublespeak, the role of objective facts, and the importance of controlling the past via changing reality. There are powerful essays on the role of torture in the novel. The essays on the role of sex in the Oceania regime were really good and surprising to me.One of the most engaging chapters was the conclusion. Nussbaum says a lot here, including her thoughts on how the themes of 1984 apply to current American politics and society, even if the totalitarian vision of Oceania is not immediately approaching. She writes in terms that seem highly relevant to today's American political scene - almost eerie in her discussion of the increasing importance of narcissistic personalities in American culture and politics.It is tempting to characterize a collection like this as either conservative or liberal. I think that would be a big mistake with this volume. The contributors stake out complex positions clearly - one is free to disagree or agree with the arguments. When contemporary politics is raised - not frequently - there is plenty of critique to go around. There is a wide range of opinions in this volume.1084 is still among the top sellers on Amazon's literary fiction list and Orwell is still ranked at or near the top. This volume is helpful in understanding why.