The mental disease of imagination…Twenty-seven years after the fateful year of 1984, we are still fascinated by George Orwell’s dystopic vision of rationalism gone mad, stark raving mad. There is always the temptation to measure how cold we are willing to be as we live down to his vision. Though Orwell as always been appropriated, sometimes hijacked by both left and right, their fraternal disagreements sometimes blind them to Orwell’s description of the most pervasive development of post WWII political thought; namely the bankruptcy of liberal rationalism and the totalitarianism it produces.
Orwell destroys the comforting and reassuring edifice most individual’s have constructed which posits that if only the weight of human institutions was more equitably distributed, individuals would finally behave decently and rationally. Orwell said, in effect, this was fantasy and escapism, a kind of procrastination that is no defense against invasions of the privacy of the individual spirit,. The concept of rationally perfectible institutions is at best an oxymoron and at worst a frightening and chillingingly dangerous belief of which the rationalist spirit of progress represents in fact the first step towards the very thing it aims to prevent. Later utopians, especially late Victorians seduced by the deceptively liberating potential of technology, were less profound in their understanding. They seemed to be unable to grasp one of Orwell’s central points: human experience and philosophical perfection are incompatible. Orwell did, and he turned utopia into dystopia. Like Lewis Carroll he looked into the mirror of cracked glass and stepped through the looking glass to parody rational beliefs to their logical conclusions. Technology, particularly related to communication and management transforms into a tyrannical instead of liberating force in 1984…
The utopia from which Orwell borrowed most heavily was Evgeny Zamyatin’s We. Zamyatin, a Russian novelist, underwent the enlightening experience of being imprisoned by the czar’s police in 1906 and by the Bolchevik’s in 1922, in the same corridor of the same prison. He seems, however, to have looked all the way back to Bakunin, the father of anarchism. Bakunin said “I do not want to be I, I want to be We, alluding to the anarchist’s sense of community as a defense against centralized state power. Hannah Arendt said in this period ,Nechayev had preached the evangel of the “doomed man” , someone with no personal interests, no affairs, no sentiments, attachments, property, not even a name of his own. The anti-human, anti-liberal, anti-individualist and anti-cultural instincts of the front generation , their witty and brilliant praise of violence, power and cruelty, was preceded by the awkward and pompous scientific proofs of the imperialist elite that a struggle of all against all is the law of the universe, that expansion is a psychological necessity before it is a political device, and that man has to behave by such universal laws.
Zamyatin foresaw the collapse of even the community into the state. His book was written in 1923 and set in the year 2600.The logic was that in Garden of Eden the individual was happy, but in an act of madness, he demanded freedom and was driven out into the wild. Now the Single State has restored his happiness by removing his freedom. People have numbers instead of names, and “The Benefactor” rules the “United State”. The narrator, D-503, is the mathematician designer of the first spaceship, soon to be launched carrying the message: “Long lived the United State. Long live the Numbers. Long live the Benefactor.” D-503′s only problem in this well-ordered state is that he suffers from the serious mental disease of imagination. Eventually, after committing the crime of falling in love with beautiful young I-330 and joining her in a rebellion against the “reason” of the United State, he is forced to submit to x-ray treatment that removes the brain center responsible for imagination.
D-503 then betrays I-330. Afterward, he writes:The handwriting is mine. And now—the same handwriting. But, fortunately, only the handwriting. No delirium, no absurd metaphors, no feelings: nothing but facts. Because I am well, I am entirely, absolutely well. I smile—I cannot help smiling: a kind of splinter was pulled out of my head, and the head feels light, empty. Or, to be more precise, not empty, but free of anything extraneous that might interfere with smiling (a smile is the normal state of a normal man). read more: http://www.scribd.com/doc/21957587/Yevgeny-Zamyatin-We In the end D-503 throws in his lot with law and order: ” I am certain we shall win. For Reason must prevail.”
Orwell first read Zamyatin’s book in 1945, when he was already making notes for 1984. Orwell concluded saying:What Zamyatin seems to be aiming at is not any particular country but the implied aims of industrial civilisation. I have not read any of his other books, but I learn from Gleb Struve that he had spent several years in England and had written some blistering satires on English life. It is evident from We that he had a strong leaning towards primitivism. Imprisoned by the Czarist Government in 1906, and then imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in 1922 in the same corridor of the same prison, he had cause to dislike the political regimes he had lived under, but his book is not simply the expression of a grievance. It is in effect a study of the Machine, the genie that man has thoughtlessly let out of its bottle and cannot put back again. This is a book to look out for when an English version appears. Read More: http://www.orwelltoday.com/weorwellreview.shtml
Aldous Huxley also seems to have appropriated from We for Brave New World. Zamyatin’s, Huxley and Orwell’s books all make similar assumptions about a technological utopia; that it has at last become possible, but that it also will be collectivist, elitist and incompatible with the ideas of freedom. In none of these d
pia’s is physical force the effective agent of control. It is course the ultimate threat, as it is in even democratic states, but not the proximate one. In Zamyatin’s and Huxley’s, the citizens are held down largely by a sort of synthetic happiness, a myth of contentment reinforced by material comfort in exchange for their freedom.
In Orwell’s 1984, the pessimist asserts that Oceana’s populace have lost freedom and happiness. For Orwell, the proximate agent of control is language. The myths of freedom an peace are kept alive by hollow language that has completely lost its meaning. …
Read More:http://books.google.ca/books?id=T3JlcbJyAsoC&pg=PA28&lpg=PA28&dq=bakunin+I+do+not+want+to+be+I++I+want+to+be+we&source=bl&ots=OcDi-gUXeS&sig=8D-bRHdEkxeVIc2l2xi9Rgyk0qo&hl=en&ei=0cOXTb2tJ-Tk0gHQu4SCDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false a
Orwell:The first thing anyone would notice about We is the fact–never pointed out, I believe–that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World must be partly derived from it. Both books deal with the rebellion of the primitive human spirit against a rationalised, mechanised, painless world, and both stories are supposed to take place about six hundred years hence. The atmosphere of the two books is similar, and it is roughly speaking the same kind of society that is being described though Huxley’s book shows less political awareness and is more influenced by recent biological and psychological theories. …
…So far the resemblance with Brave New World is striking. But though Zamyatin’s book is less well put together–it has a rather weak and episodic plot which is too complex to summarise–it has a political point which the other lacks. In Huxley’s book the problem of “human nature” is in a sense solved, because it assumes that by pre-natal treatment, drugs and hypnotic suggestion the human organism can be specialised in any way that is desired. A first-rate scientific worker is as easily produced as an Epsilon semi-moron, and in either case the vestiges of primitive instincts, such as maternal feeling or the desire for liberty, are easily dealt with. At the same time no clear reason is given why society should be stratified in the elaborate way it is described. The aim is not economic exploitation, but the desire to bully and dominate does not seem to be a motive either. There is no power hunger, no sadism, no hardness of any kind. Those at the top have no strong motive for staying at the top, and though everyone is happy in a vacuous way, life has become so pointless that it is difficult to believe that such a society could endure….
…The Machine of The Benefactor is the guillotine. There are many executions in Zamyatin’s Utopia. They take place publicly, in the presence of The Benefactor, and are accompanied by triumphal odes recited by the official poets. The guillotine, of course, is not the old crude instrument but a much improved model which literally liquidates its victim, reducing him in an instant to a puff of smoke and a pool of clear water. The execution is, in fact, a human sacrifice, and the scene describing it is given deliberately the colour of the sinister slave civilisations of the ancient world. It is this intuitive grasp of the irrational side of totalitarianism–human sacrifice, cruelty as an end in itself, the worship of a Leader who is credited with divine attributes–that makes Zamyatin’s book superior to Huxley’s…. Read More: http://www.orwelltoday.com/weorwellreview.shtml