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In fact, terminal illness roused in Orwell a rage to live—he got remarried on his deathbed—just as the novel’s pessimism is relieved, until its last pages, by Winston Smith’s attachment to nature, antique objects, the smell of coffee, the sound of a proletarian woman singing, and above all his lover, Julia.1984 is crushingly grim, but its clarity and rigor are stimulants to consciousness and resistance.I first encountered 1984 in 10th-grade English class.
Left-wing journalists readily accepted the fabrication, useful as it was to the cause of communism.
Orwell didn’t, exposing the lie with eyewitness testimony in journalism that preceded his classic book Homage to Catalonia—and that made him a heretic on the left.
Lynskey’s account of the reach of 1984 is revelatory.
The novel has inspired movies, television shows, plays, a ballet, an opera, a David Bowie album, imitations, parodies, sequels, rebuttals, Lee Harvey Oswald, the Black Panther Party, and the John Birch Society.
The message: “You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’ ”The argument recurs every decade or so: Orwell got it wrong. The week of Donald Trump’s inauguration, when the president’s adviser Kellyanne Conway justified his false crowd estimate by using the phrase alternative facts, the novel returned to the best-seller lists. We don’t live under anything like a totalitarian system.
“By definition, a country in which you are free to read Nineteen Eighty-Four is not the country described in Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Lynskey acknowledges.That January an ad for the Apple Macintosh was watched by 96 million people during the Super Bowl and became a marketing legend. But Orwell never intended his novel to be a prediction, only a warning.The Mac, represented by a female athlete, hurls a sledgehammer at a giant telescreen and explodes the shouting face of a man—oppressive technology—to the astonishment of a crowd of gray zombies. And it’s as a warning that 1984 keeps finding new relevance. An authoritarian president who stood the term fake news on its head, who once said, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” has given 1984 a whole new life. Not Room 101 in the Ministry of Love, where Winston is interrogated and tortured until he loses everything he holds dear.You have to clear away what you think you know, all the terminology and iconography and cultural spin-offs, to grasp the original genius and lasting greatness of 1984.It is both a profound political essay and a shocking, heartbreaking work of art. The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984, by the British music critic Dorian Lynskey, makes a rich and compelling case for the novel as the summation of Orwell’s entire body of work and a master key to understanding the modern world.Throughout the Cold War, the novel found avid underground readers behind the Iron Curtain who wondered, How did he know?It was also assigned reading for several generations of American high-school students.According to Lynskey, “Nothing in Orwell’s life and work supports a diagnosis of despair.”Lynskey traces the literary genesis of 1984 to the utopian fictions of the optimistic 19th century—Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888); the sci-fi novels of H. Wells, which Orwell read as a boy—and their dystopian successors in the 20th, including the Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924) and Huxley’s Brave New World (1932).The most interesting pages in The Ministry of Truth are Lynskey’s account of the novel’s afterlife.It has acquired something of the smothering ubiquity of Big Brother himself: 1984 is watching you.With the arrival of the year 1984, the cultural appropriations rose to a deafening level.