Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Choosing among dystopias

Bob Wright, in a post on the Kindle:
Indeed, Orwell’s 1984, which envisioned video staying under the sort of centralized control that TV started out with, has in that sense proved way off. (Huxley’s Brave New World got more stuff right.)
Orwell was a literary genius, and much of his essay work is excellent, but we should be honest and admit that 1984 isn't worth much as a political polemic or as a human story. It is a work of literary genius, replete with so many indelible images and concepts, but it doesn't really understand power politics or individuals. Not only that, but it gets Communism wrong, not necessarily in the thrust of it but certainly in the details. The stuff pertaining to sex struck me as highly unlikely--in real life, more sex=more kids=more people working in collective farms or whatever. The Soviets were completely uninterested in curtailing sex, as were the Nazis and Ceaucescu, for that matter. A much better book on living under totalitarianism is Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler, a man who actually lived in such a society and wrote about it with far more conviction than did Eric Blair. Truth be told, Koestler's book is better in just about every way, especially in its grasp of Soviet ideology, so much so that it famously actually made some people become Communists after reading it! Talk about missing the forest for the trees.

On the other hand, while I think that Brave New World is in many ways a less successful novel, it is clearly informed by a much keener understanding of the human condition, and its susceptibility to ease, corruption, and comfort. People aren't going to stop having sex if the government tells them to--abstinence-only education is an obvious example of that. But if the authorities encourage full-on indulgence to keep people from thinking--now that's interesting territory. Orwell's futuristic society felt a little underdeveloped--clearly he was going for more of a religious cult flavor for the Big Brother worship, but I don't think he was entirely successful in that endeavour. That would explain the sex aversion, I suppose, but I guess I'm skeptical at the ability of anyone to diminish the appeal of sexuality. Many have tried, without much success.

All in all, 1984 was a book of its times, Brave New World is much more timeless, and Darkness At Noon is the best of them all.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.