Sunday, May 22, 2011

Orwellian despair

I finished reading "1984" this afternoon, after a long nap. I see why this book has seared itself into the consciousness of millions of readers, even to this day. Orwell's powers of description were amazing. He described the details of feeling hunted by a cruel authoritarian government, even to the point of having to carefully guard every expression and movement; and the extended torture the main character endured in an ultimately successful attempt to brainwash him. There was an article in today's paper that described a certain political lobbying effort as "Orwellian."

Here is a description of this man, Winston, after spending unknown months or years in the torture facility (called the Ministry of Love, ha ha) for his actions opposing the Party. His captor and brutal torturer, for whom he feels a strange bond of affection, tells him that he, Winston, is the last man standing -- the final uncorrupted human soul -- and invites him to look at himself in the mirror. Here is an excerpt:

"a bowed, gray-colored, skeletonlike thing was coming toward him. ... The creature's face seemed to be protruded, because of its bent carriage. A forlorn, jailbird's face with a nobby forehead ... a crooked nose and battered-looking cheekbones above which the eyes were fierce and watchful. ... the truly frightening thing was the emaciation of his body. The barrel of the ribs was as narrow as that of a skeleton; the legs had shrunk so that the knees were thicker than the thighs."

I could go on, but that gives just a flavor of the power of his writing. The amazing thing was that after all this, and after a reprieve, then the worst sort of torture threatened, and a return to society, the main character still went on living. Why live in these circumstances? The Party did destroy his mind, ultimately, and force him to betray the woman he loved.

The author invited me into this dreary world, and I accepted and felt its lingering effects this evening. Can we say that humanity has made much progress away from totalitarianism and in another more positive direction, really? I told Austin that we have the means to end all of humanity's most pressing problems -- poverty, disease, warfare -- and yet those who have the greatest abundance of resources seem to be consumed with getting more and hoarding them. The same old story. You see this, for instance, in the anti-immigration bills that are in vogue throughout the country.

This evening, I was living from Winston's point of view, briefly, because it was so powerful I could not shake it off immediately. I was a wornout husk, useless to everyone, feeling strongly my own sins and inadequacy. Yet I still could go out walking. And on my walk, I still could invite God to be present with me. Seeing our beautiful tall trees waving in the breeze did help. They have survived more than one grim season of heat and drought. So long as there are lovely tall trees, there is hope for the human spirit as well.

Here was a thought I had, trolling up and down the driveway -- maybe I should lay off the wine! I am plenty melodramatic enough without it!

My spiritual guide wants me to journal about passages that deeply affect me, presumably from spiritual books -- though "1984" speaks to me as a deeply spiritual book. The trouble with this assignment is narrowing it down.

Did I mention my boys are turning 15 and 17? Growing up, they are. I think Austin spends more time away from home than here, already.

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