We believed ourselves indestructible...watching only the madmen outside our frontiers, and we remained defenseless against our own madmen.
~Jacobo Timerman [Beware! Spoilers follow] To Julia,
Your question on my Comments section requires a long and thought-out answer.
It will take a while to list all my thoughts. I cribbed in the margins of my very fine 50th anniversary edition - which has extremely generous and tempting margins, lots of notes. And do not have time to go over all of them now. Maybe next Blog.
I was totally ignorant of what the conclusion to the book would be or where it would all lead. But I somehow intuited it would be a trick or surprise ending so I told all my friends not to spoil it. Since I figure I am the only educated or not-so -educated person in NYC not to have read "1984" or at least seen the movie or know the story, I was extremely pro-active in defending my opportunity to experience the book as a "1984" virgin.
I thought Smith would get to meet "Big Brother" and BB would be O'Brian. Or that it would be more like an action adventure science fiction at the end.
It made sense O'Brian was in on it. The only reason O'Brian had a different "look" than others was because he was more "normal," since he could be himself. And the only reason he could be "himself" is because of his comfort with the fraud. His comfort was not because he was anti-Establishment.
I was extremely uneasy during the interview between O'Brian, Julia and Smith. I realized, at that junction, O'Brian betrayed them. I wasn't surprised later when it was revealed that O'Brian helped to write the work of ""Emmanuel Goldstein." I had figured "Emmanuel Goldstein" was a fiction - as an "Osama bin Laden." Or as a "Snowball" in the Animal Farm - which I read 6 months or so ago .
I was frightened by the torture in the book and somewhat surprised that was what it devolved to.
The sexual element to the book surprised me from the very beginning sections. I am not conversant with much English fiction, so I don't know what the standard is for that, but the story seemed to waver toward soft porn.
I felt the story touched upon the issues between sexuality and politics. The torture had an overt S and M sexual quality about it to me - (which I will have to demonstrate by actually quoting passages, since I not sure that would be evident to everyone.)
I might be influenced by the fact that I've been lately reading some of Freud and the "Studies in the Psychology of Sex" by Havelock Ellis.
I think the end, when Smith falls in love with Big Brother, points to the principle that the obeisance to authority will have a sexual/ libidinal element for the masochist. That's why the love and the tear are necessary. That was O'Brian's triumph.
O'Brien's desire to control thoughts and emotions of his torture subject, and basically to destroy the person, is his denial of the existence of the human soul, perhaps since he doesn't have that. From this lacuna derives his desire to destroy that je-ne-sais-pas-quoi in every other person.
O'Brian is the classic anti-life fascist. In destroying the soul of all persons, one person at a time, he thinks he becomes the center of reality. The context of life, the larger reality, has no existence outside of himself.
This is what happens to the "human" when "humanism" is taken to an extreme. The human becomes the context for all else. Rather than the human taking place in the larger, universal and natural context. The human ego gets so big it distorts reality like a big black hole, caving in truth all around itself, so truth is no longer straight.
My theory is since the psychopath or sociopath (means the same thing, actually, by the dictionary) has no ability to love or to experience normal or common empathy they tend to rise to the top of social hierarchy because of their natural ruthlessness. All their natural energies are channeled to ruthlessness, since they are limited in their ability for authentic emotional expressions.
My conjecture is that this is not an illness, but is simply a natural and spontaneous variety of human - caused in some measure by the selection pressures of a special and closed breeding population among the ruling and wealthy classes. The psychopath exists at the far end of a natural continuum, throughout all classes, and are grown or thrive under favorable environmental and contextual conditions.
The psychopath realize they have a deficit, and are unlike and unacceptable to others, and take pleasure in truly harming those who are different from themselves - those who are feeling. Under O'Brien's mechanistic tutelage, Smith's own love instinct becomes subverted and channeled to his master and persecutor.
I think this dynamic occurs on a micro-scale in ordinary life. We have mini-Doms and mini-Subs. "1984" took it to the extreme, but in that extreme the phenomena becomes more defined. And the results of the smaller scale submissions to authority, perhaps mostly subconscious, results in the skewing of logic and truth, in the school, in the business and in the family life.
What a revelation to see this mental handicap and warping of logic by authority demonstrated on the grand scale now: the total ignorance of most pundits, commentators, academics, politicians, high school students, celebrities, scientists, so-called and self-considered intellectuals to the abrogation of Newton's Laws by the official explanation of the 9/11 World Trade Towers disintegration. And what that nullification must imply! In principle Orwell predicted it. Yet how subtle has been its manifestation.
This displacement of the natural love emotion, the subversion of it by pressure of necessity, is paralleled in the story of Smith's mother and sister. He can't experience family love, since the food shortage - biology itself and his instincts as a male (more aggressive), block it.
To me, O'Brien's "philosophy" reduces all of life to materiality. He's trying to capture the "soul" and somehow kill it, for reasons obscure. (It's impossible for an ordinary person to understand the "motivations" of a psychopath, those won't appear to make sense in any case.)
Are O'Brian's efforts to show the soul's subservience to materiality, and therefore its supposed nonexistence, because he is jealous of it?
He hates life both because he is a monster and he is a monster also because so. The "dynamics" of the complex are not dynamics. There is something static about the conditon - as pointed out by Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig in his study of the psychopath, "The Emptied Soul."
The "soul" is something he can never have. He wants to prove, therefore, it doesn't exist. Because by its very existence, it taunts him.
Some have asserted that Orwell was an insider and that the book was a Psyop - psychological operation. Could the torture in it be thought to condition people that torture is inevitable, much as all the torture in TV and in movies is set there lately to do? Perhaps Orwell wasn't a prognosticator or psychic, but was somehow privy to insider knowledge and plans?
The book seemed to move fatalistically, inexorably toward its one end. But the end seemed surprising and revelatory. Smith was at peace since he could finally love. I felt a tinge throughout of "black" humor.
I'm glad I read "Down and Out in Paris and London" last year, since it helped me understand Orwell's personality and to know some of the experiences which shaped him. As well, that book functioned as an historical document for me, a window onto another world.
Orwell died within a year of the publication of "1984."
"Animal Farm" was very influential to me and seemed to carry the same tinge of black humor, fatal inevitability, political insight and prognostication. That story was used against the Soviets in the feature length cartoon released in the late 50's, early 60's, which was sponsored by the CIA. In the cartoon the ending was changed. Pretty damn creepy cartoon. Not faithful to the book, or close to being as good.
I wouldn't say "1984" changed my whole view of the world. But the importance of the book has emerged for me after my view of the world had already been enlarged and deepened, as a result of my research into the "terror attack" of Sept, 11, 2001 NYC.
I also experienced a renewed or heightened interest in November 22, 1963, since studying 9/11. (Kennedy murder-day being the same day Aldous Huxley died. Next book to work on: "Brave New World," which I've also never read.) The Kennedy plot has new relevance and has now become current. Some of the perpetrators are still alive. May they have no peace.
"Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without an Number" by Jacobo Timerman is a book I highly recommend to you. It's a first person account of torture. A memoir. Very affecting.
In the same way that it's difficult to talk about, discuss or diagnose a psychopath it is difficult, I think, to write about the experience of torture. Both evade words.
This is the book that moves me, especially since Timerman foils his enemies by describing them. He brings shame onto them. And I believe some of them, after all, rue the fact he managed to slip away from their control and write for an international audience, referring to their ape-like countenances and comprehension skills.
I wonder how Orwell imagined it, without having endured it? And I wonder how true "1984" would ring to someone who actually has been tortured. And if it would, how did Orwell know it?
There are interviews in this movie, "The Pinochet Case," by Patrizio Guzman, with people who had been tortured in Chile by Pinochet. Many ex-tortured are left with feelings of shame. So I believe Orwell was correct in his depiction of torture as a psychological relationship between torturer and torturée - which in some strange manner is philosophical dialogue, which at it's core is about the destruction of the soul of the subject, and his or her subjugation to the control and power of the torturer. Timerman also alluded to philosophical conversations between himself and his captors.
I believe torture has absolutely nothing to do with gathering information, except that personal information is essential to the job of the destruction of the person and to the inflicting of gross radical harm.
There is a line in "The Pinochet Story" which sticks with me. ( I don't want to spoil it, since I really think you should see it if you haven't yet.)
The basic idea is that: though "they" or the torturer/political psychopath would like to exterminate us, (and the extreme of this is the despotic personality, who would like to be the last remaining living human, cf "Crowds and Power" by Elias Cannetti), that desire can never succeed. We will always be born anew.
Smith confronts O'Brian with a similar instinct/sentiment/conjecture.
A woman in the film refers to the on-going process of children being born and growing up. There are always spontaneous variations which arise in nature. And the human variety consisting of those with feelings will alway arise and persist, beyond the early victories of those who do not. Those who do not feel know they are a minority and therefore have to work harder, so their evident extreme drive.
Those with feeling possess superior judgment and will eventually learn how to rein and and limit the psychopaths who rule them, who are known for gaping lapses in simple judgment - (although more likely than average to be above average in intelligence). A machine cannot be built that possesses judgment, though that is the dream of the psychopaths. Eventually our tribe will win, Julia.