Monday, 4 February 2008

And The Clocks Were Striking Thirteen

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

And so starts George Orwell's "1984".

On each landing, opposite the lift-shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.

Orwell was writing it exactly 60 years ago this year, and it was published in 1949.The book is as apt today as it was when I read it in 1984.

He had been appointed to a sub-committee of a sub-committee which had sprouted from one of the innumerable committees dealing with minor difficulties that arose in the compilation of the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak Dictionary. They were engaged in producing something called an Interim Report, but what it was that they were reporting on he had never definitely found out. It was something to do with the question of whether commas should be placed inside brackets, or outside.

Following links from Wikipedia, there are copies from Australia and cartoon versions, even a radio play from 1949. I must re-read it before April this year. There was a good series on BBC2 recently about British Science Fiction. I think it came originally from BBC4. I used to read a lot of early sci-fi when I was travelling to/from school on the bus, but I think it was American early and "golden years" stories. Unlike tv programmes and fleeting media, I find that reading things stays more in my brain. But I'm sure that's just a sign of my age. But then again, what's the point in remembering tv programmes if you can't give a copy of the documentary to a mate - but you can point them to a book, or a film. We are losing information into the aether of marginal tv channels where the makers can generate extra revenue in the hope that we, the public, will follow. If the data is out there and we can't find it, then it might as well not exist and we should call the fire brigade.

There was a whole chain of separate departments dealing with proletarian literature, music, drama, and entertainment generally. Here were produced rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means

If you've never read the book, go to the library and get it. Go to a bookshop and buy it (maybe even from one of these cheap shops or charity shops). Or read the linked file text from Wikipedia. You won't regret it. Or you can get back to your entertainment, being happily advertised as "brain-dead tv".


Paul Webster said...

Great book. Orwell wrote it while staying at Barnhill, an extremely remote cottage at the northern (rugged with several capital 'r's) end of the Isle of Jura.

Amazing feat of imagination to be living in such an out-of-the-way place and to write about such a totalitarian society.

AktoMan said...

I suppose he'd been through a lot already - fighting fascism in Spain, a copper in India, and then Jura.