Read Nineteen Eighty-Four (dystopian novel written by George Orwell) by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Nineteen Eighty-Four (also stylised as 1984) is a dystopian social science fiction novel and cautionary tale written by the English writer George Orwell. It was published on 8 June 1949 by Secker & Warburg as Orwell’s ninth and final book completed in his lifetime. Thematically, it centres on the consequences of totalitarianism, mass surveillance and repressive regimentation of people and behaviours within society.[2][3] Orwell, a democratic socialist, modelled the authoritarian state in the novel on Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.[2][3][4] More broadly, the novel examines the role of truth and facts within societies and the ways in which they can be manipulated.

While explore Audible, I stumbled upon an Orwell collection read by Stephen Fry.

One of the things that really struck me in this rereading was the use of Emmanuel Goldstein’s book ‘The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism’ to build out the world of 1984. This reminded me of the way in which Raphael Hythloday retells his experience of Utopia in Thomas More’s book. One of the odd consequences of this is that although it is easy to imagine another character living in Eurasia providing a similar recount of life, it feels difficult to understand how any other character might actually respond to this world. For example, how might the novel be different written from O’Brien’s point of view? Or Ampleforth the poet? Is Winston alone in his thoughts? Are there others who actually feel the same way? What do other’s actually feel? Here I am reminded of the paranoia captured in something like Stasiland or The Matrix, but also the modern world of ‘templated selves‘, the world of likes and continuous observation captured in something like The Circle and The Every.

Read 1516 book by Thomas More by Contributors to Wikimedia projects
I was inspired to reread Thomas More’s Utopia after reading Dave Eggers’ The Every. A part of me wondered if it was how I remembered it from twenty years ago. It was how I remembered it, but then I read Susan Bruce’s introduction to Three Early Modern Utopias and I discovered that there was much more to More’s text than I appreciated.

Bruce explores the many ways More’s text has been interpreted over time:

The text has generated diametrically opposed interpretations from its critics, ranging from the dubious claim that Utopia describes a real historical community to the assertion that it is only a literary game; and from readings which maintain that it is a vision of an ideal Catholic society to those which see it as a proto-Communist text.

Discusses utopian texts in general, she makes the connection between the fictional creations and the exploration of the New World. Although More’s text is sometimes construed as an ideal, it is not clear that this is what More was trying to achieve. This is something Terry Eagleton captures in his reflection on utopias:

Not all More’s proposals would delight the heart of Jeremy Corbyn. The perfection of his utopia is not tarnished in his view by the fact that it contains slaves. On certain festive days wives would fall down at their husbands’ feet, confessing that they have performed some domestic duty negligently. Adultery would be punished by the strictest form of slavery. One should recall that More, far from being the liberal-cum-existentialist portrayed in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, showed not the slightest compunction in torturing and executing heretics. In choosing one’s mate, men should be allowed to see their prospective wives naked, since who wants goods that aren’t on show? Feminists, however, should note that women would enjoy the same prerogative. Brothels would be abolished, but so would alehouses. There would be no lawyers (a generous-hearted proposal, since More was one himself), but no tolerance for those who waste time, either.

The other worldliness of the utopias served as a critique of the dominant ideology, often They often capturing what these societies are not. More’s Utopia is probably best appreciated as a provocation written to promote further debate.

For a different approach to utopians in general, Tom Hodgkinson unpacks the history of utopias before and after More’s Utopia.

📓 Utopias, Dystopias and Neartopias

Reflecting on the extremes of utopian and dystopian imaginings, Mike Caulfield calls for another possibility, Neartopias:

Neartopias are not utopias. They have problems. They have to have problems because problems are what drive plots. And on another level problems are just interesting in a way that non-problems are not. They also aren’t post-scarcity Star Treks, or visions of a perfect 6030 A.D. They are “near”-utopias both in the sense that they lack perfection and in that they seem near-enough to be achievable.
Neartopias also have blindspots. Each neartopia pulls from cultural assumptions that will be eventually — like all things — be revealed as problematic. The Golden Age of sci-fi produced some neartopias, for instance, but had a relationship with technological progress and industry, for example, that was — well, let’s say underdeveloped.

Reflecting upon The Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson reflects upon the break often associated with utopias:

One weakness I’ve become aware of is how often the authors of utopias set them after a break in history that allows their societies to start from scratch. In the 16th century, Sir Thomas More began the use of this device with a physical symbol: His utopia’s founders dug a Great Trench, cutting a peninsula in two and creating a defensible island. Other kinds of fresh start appear in utopias throughout the centuries, always clearing space for a new social order. Even Le Guin’s Annares is founded by exiles from Urras.