Her publications include The Concept of Utopia. In this discourse, one of the most frequent objections to utopia is that it demands perfection of its inhabitants, and that this is inconsistent with the necessarily flawed nature of real human beings. Utopia may also then be seen as dangerous, for attempts to impose it will mean forcing fallible humans into the procrustean bed of an externally imposed system, resulting in totalitarian repression and violence. Even if it is not a conscious aim, it is an inevitable result of their good intentions. In a utopia real people cannot exist, for the very obvious reason that real people are what constitute the world that we know, and it is that world that every utopia is designed to replace.
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Undoubtedly, one major difficulty for this reading is the problem of nostalgia. Critics have long regarded Orwell as a writer obsessed with nostalgia, suggesting that it was his nostalgic, or indeed conservative, concern with the past that ultimately caused him to lose faith in the progressive, future-oriented politics of utopia. Originally coined from nostos return home and algia longing , nostalgia is inherently paradoxical in the sense that longing can make us more empathetic towards fellow humans, yet the moment we try to repair longing with belonging, the apprehension of loss with a rediscovery of identity, we often part ways and put an end to mutual understanding.
Algia—longing—is what we share, yet nostos—the return home—is what divides us. As I argue here, Orwell was adept at both types of nostalgia in different phases of his career. But it is the latter type of reflective nostalgia, and its endless process of longing for a different time, that energizes the complex temporality of utopia in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The most relevant context in which to read Nineteen Eighty-Four in this way is that of late modernism. Since the pioneering study of Tyrus Miller, the notion of late modernism has enabled scholars to trace the many ways modernism transformed itself after the radical aesthetic experiments of the s. Davis demonstrate, it is often difficult to separate the positive and negative aspects of a national community, especially in the concrete historical context of the Second World War.
In what follows, I will first consider the insistent presence of repetitions in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Still, Orwell was deeply troubled by a potential conflict between a reimagination of a self-contained nation and a commitment to anti-imperialism that required him to see it again within the global reality of continuing exploitation.
It was this conflict that led Orwell to defamiliarize the impulse of nostalgia, while also dictating his late turn to utopianism. The unbearable monotony of this life-world is also hammered home by the recurrent smell of boiled cabbage, which welcomes readers from the very beginning of the novel as we are introduced into this strange world. In spite of its setting in an imaginary future, the sheer force of descriptive passages like these has tempted many critics to read Nineteen Eighty-Four as a realist or naturalist novel.
At the same time, however, by repeatedly questioning the possibility that such truisms may be perceived and shared, the novel develops a self-reflexive, uniquely late-modernist concern about its own medium and audience.
As he goes on to write, moreover, the diary entry about the prostitute becomes increasingly fragmentary as it is interrupted by another fleeting recollection about his miserable life with Katherine, his now estranged wife, a piece of memory which is left unwritten by Winston but still narrated in the novel. Meanwhile, it is also through unexpected repetitions that the true significance of a fragmentary memory is disclosed. The aberrant function of repetitions in this text may be clarified by resorting to J.
The first model of repetition is grounded in the principle of identity that allows us to understand two certain events as copies of an archetypal model. Each thing.
A much later trivial event repeats some detail of the first and brings it back into mental life, now reinterpreted as a traumatic sexual assault.
The trauma is neither in the first nor in the second but between them, in the relation between two opaquely similar events. Although the scene does suggest that the experience of this repetition can be traumatic, it is important to understand that it is also enabling, in that it makes Winston recognize what he lost in the past and needs to relearn in the future.
The two types of repetition are often complexly intertwined in their relation to the past. Deleuze in fact argues that Freud himself understood the compulsion to repeat in terms of the first type of repetition. Such a model of desire as a return is, as Boym points out, akin to nostalgia understood as a restoration of the lost home Future of Nostalgia, 53— Against this, Deleuze proposes to reinterpret the Freudian repetition according to the second type.
What is primary instead is a Nietzschean vision of intensive difference that produces the image of the lost origin as an optical illusion. Thus, while desire is necessarily assisted by memory of the past, the object of desire is always being transformed by irreducible difference. We do not know when or where we have seen it, in accordance with the objective nature of the problematic; and ultimately, it is only the strange which is familiar and only difference which is repeated.
Nowhere is it clearer than in his first rendezvous with Julia. In an early scene of Part II, Winston is led by Julia into a natural clearing of a little wood to avoid the surveillance of the Thought Police.
The sunlight, filtering through innumerable leaves, was still hot on their faces. Winston looked out into the field beyond, and underwent a curious, slow shock of recognition. He knew it by sight. An old, close-bitten pasture, with a footpath wandering across it and a molehill here and there.
Surely somewhere nearby, but out of sight, there must be a stream with green pools where dace were swimming? But such an interpretation fails to attend to the enigmatic quality of this passage. Susan Stewart argues that a nostalgic narrative longs to reproduce and repeat a lost past by means of language, but such a longing always collapses because the very medium of its exercise presupposes the gap between signifier and signified.
According to Freud, the clash between illusory feeling and reality check is one of the fundamental causes of the uncanny. Significantly, this point also leads us to re-examine his politics within the context of late modernism. Among many reasons for his disagreement with left-wing intellectuals expressed in The Road to Wigan Pier , two points are particularly relevant to the present argument. The first is their concession to the ideology of imperialism. While they frequently ridiculed it, Orwell considered them to be complacent insofar as their comfortable lifestyle was itself dependent on the exploitation of overseas colonies.
But in their zeal for mechanical progress and industrial technologies, the intellectuals were busy propagating a worldview in which there would be no place left for such common humanity. Orwell insists on the fundamental conflict between different versions of socialism again in Homage to Catalonia Despite the strong element of anti-intellectualism in this critique, it is important to recognize that these two problems together also constitute a dilemma for Orwell himself as an intellectual; this is because to envision a truly mass socialist movement that reconciles intellectuals and the majority of people does not automatically lead to solving the contradiction between the aims of British socialism and anti-imperialism.
At a time when the future of the country was uncertain, his turn to the nation was far more radical a political position than those of most late modernists. The most serious problem in his proposal may be found in the compromise of his prewar anti-imperialism. In his blueprint for a coming socialist government, he suggests that it would not need to concede immediate independence to India and other colonies, since that would mean exposing those regions to the sure danger of invasion by the Fascist countries.
However sincere he might have been, it is difficult to resist the impression that his proposal for the British socialist federation was tainted by the desire to defend the hegemony of the British Empire.
From the middle of the war on, he came to recognize the failure of his political program, publicly acknowledging in the autumn of wishful thinking had misled him into overestimating the growth of popular support for the left. Nor was his critique of the Labour government established in July motivated by a retreat into conservatism. Even the problem of introducing Socialism is secondary to that.
For Britain cannot become a genuinely Socialist country while continuing to plunder Asia and Africa. Orwell was quite explicit in stressing the non-utopian nature of his revolutionary patriotism until the middle of the war. Wells; in fact, he saw the fascist regime as a perverse actualization of Wellsian scientific utopia. The failure of his revolutionary patriotism led him to a reconsideration of his former anti-utopianism and a renewed appreciation of utopian writers.
Obviously if you invent an imaginary country you do so in order to throw light on the institutions of some existing country, probably your own. In thus redefining utopia, Orwell in fact harked back to its original conception. In the words of Robert C. Satire and utopia are not really separable, the one a critique of the real world in the name of something better, the other a hopeful construct of a world that might be. The hope feeds the criticism, the criticism the hope.
While his wartime turn to the nation troubled his anti-imperial politics, it was also far more radical in its reimagining of the national community as a truly classless society. Yet in the postwar years, he became increasingly skeptical of the commitment to the nation insofar as it threatened to block the British people from a necessary recognition of the position of their country within the wider world.
Similarly, he was critical of the postwar Labour government precisely because of his radical demand for an authentically international socialism. Crucially, his postwar utopianism was not a function of optimism; rather, it was his recognition of the darker prospect of international politics that attracted Orwell to utopia as a critical form that sustains and is sustained by a future vision.
It is within this particular context that we can reread Nineteen Eighty-Four as a late-modernist utopia. Beyond the Golden Country If the utopian form traditionally employs a positive vision of the future to satirize the present, Nineteen Eighty-Four certainly turns its conventions inside out to foreground a satirical vision of contemporary world politics.
But this does not thereby make the novel anti-utopian. Depriving people of the chance to know foreigners is essential for the Party, since their ignorance makes it easier to manipulate their warlike sentiments. When he starts to write, Winston wonders for whom. His mind hovered for a moment round on the doubtful date on the page, and then fetched up with a bump against the Newspeak word doublethink. For the first time the magnitude of what he had undertaken came home to him.
How could you communicate with the future? It was of its nature impossible. Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him: or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless. Trapped in the antinomy of identity and difference, Winston is at first unable to imagine a bridge between the present and the future.
By contrast, his direct address to an ideal audience in the second quotation is well-nigh utopian in imagining a world of differences that can nevertheless be connected through an act of imagination.
This is despite the fact that his obsessive search for fragments of an authentic past turns out to be utterly futile. It is fair to consider that the failure of his wartime patriotism made Orwell keenly skeptical of the former type of nostalgia.
Indeed, it is exactly at the moment Winston and Julia indulge in the fantasy of restorative nostalgia in Mr. Of the two types, it is the first type of repetition that conspires to create the repressive regime of identity in Oceania. This repetition also threatens to abolish history itself as long as the very idea of history presupposes changes as well as continuities.
The timeless space inside the Ministry of Love torture chamber is only the most gruesome physical realization of this repressive identity. The enormity of this repetition is such that Winston himself cannot remain immune from its disabling effect. Yet the other, more subversive type of repetition is also entangled with the first type of repetition. To be sure, it is not unambiguously utopian; this uncanny repetition can be both traumatizing and pleasurable, as I have already shown.
But the ghostly image of similarity the effect of this repetition is also liberating as it helps Winston reimagine the possibility of generating a difference from within the seeming repetition of identity. Evoking an opaque similarity between the bird and the prole woman, the repetition of the song finally allows Winston to channel the affective energies of his nostalgia into a fleeting vision of a future.
Not even that. He was just singing. All round the world, in London and New York, in Africa and Brazil and in the mysterious, forbidden lands beyond the frontiers, in the streets of Paris and Berlin, in the villages of the endless Russian plain, in the bazaars of China and Japan—everywhere stood the same solid unconquerable figure, made monstrous by work and childbearing, toiling from birth to death and still singing.
Out of those mighty loins a race of conscious beings must one day come. Characteristically, it is the echo of the birdsong he once heard in the Golden Country that lures his algia longing towards the horizon far beyond the illusory object of nostos.
It is certainly going too far to say that this fleeting image of a global vision will immediately lead to a transnational solidarity of proles in a concerted revolt against the oppression; after all, Winston and Julia are arrested by the Thought Police soon after he has this vision.
It seems safer to note that this recognition of a sameness that sustains and is sustained by multiple differences within itself is inserted in the novel as a weak but indispensable hope against the nightmare world of global warfare. Insofar as the two types of repetition are tightly entangled with each other in the novel, the opaque similarity of singing people all over the world remains the effect of the uncanny repetition that shadows the repetition of identity. It is also significant that this utopian dream is imagined from within the increasingly desperate situation of the early Cold War that the novel satirizes.
Being in Utopia
Krishan Kumar (sociologist)