January 15, 2021

"In his illuminating book 'The Ministry of Truth' a biography of '1984' and its influence, Dorian Lynskey makes a persuasive case that..."

"... the novel is structured in a way that heightens its ambiguity. Yes, the brute force of totalitarianism is an inextricable theme, but the novel’s narration — with its texts within texts — also enacts its own phantasmagoria, a world where both everything is true and nothing is true. Lynskey credits Orwell with anticipating what Hannah Arendt would describe in 'The Origins of Totalitarianism,' published a year after Orwell died: 'The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.'"


The top-rated comment over there is: "To accuse the opposition of being Orwellian while actually being Orwellian has become the stock and trade of the right. How Orwellian." 

Does it make sense to refer to a "biography" of a book? Well, first, it's in the book's subtitle, "The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984." Second, "bio" means life, so we can understand the extended use of the term: It means that the book has a life. Third, I suspect the usage is explained in the book, and it's my blogging practice to buy the book in Kindle form so I can do a search when I have a question of this magnitude. 

But, wait. I'm reading the OED definition of "biography": "A written account of the life of an individual, esp. a historical or public figure; (also) a brief profile of a person's life or work. Later more generally: a themed narrative history of a specific subject in any of various written, recorded, or visual media." An example of that more general use is the 1999 book title: " H2O: a biography of water." And there's an 1848 book title: "The plant; a biography." 

So I don't have to buy the book, but I will. Such is my dedication to this blog. Here's the closest thing to an explanation for the use of the concept "biography" to refer to a book about a book:
There have been several biographies of George Orwell and some academic studies of his book’s intellectual context but never an attempt to merge the two streams into one narrative, while also exploring the book’s afterlife. I am interested in Orwell’s life primarily as a means to illuminate the experiences and ideas that nourished this very personal nightmare in which everything he prized was systematically destroyed: honesty, decency, fairness, memory, history, clarity, privacy, common sense, sanity, England, and love....

67 comments:

Lucid-Ideas said...

"The top-rated comment over there is: "To accuse the opposition of being Orwellian while actually being Orwellian has become the stock and trade of the right. How Orwellian."

Dictators can't get impeached (I'm talking about the first one), don't get their twitter turned off, their banking relationships terminated, and their vocal opposition's volume level intensified during the length and breadth of their presidency.

Talk about not knowing the difference anymore between true and false...

BidenFamilyTaxPayerFundedCrackPipe said...

To stomp on speech and call it "for your own good" is leftwing progressive.

roesch/voltaire said...

we are witnessing a masterful Russian operation in confusing truth, this from Alersandr Dougin"s book: Russia should use its special services within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke "Afro-American racists". Russia should "introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics".[9]
The Eurasian Project could be expanded to South and Central America.[9]"
One reason why I think QAnon is a Russian operation.

Howard said...

We live in Huxley's Brave New World, not Orwell's 1984. Social media is soma.

Temujin said...

The top-rated comment over there is: "To accuse the opposition of being Orwellian while actually being Orwellian has become the stock and trade of the right. How Orwellian."

Regarding the top comment in the NYT, since I don't open the NYT, I cannot comment there. But I will say here that it is nicely ironic that this comment is made a day after the New York Congresscreature, Alexandra 'Sandy' Ocasia-Cortez suggested that the Federal Government have a commission whose purpose would be to 'rein in' untruths in the media.

Perhaps we could call it the Ministry of Truth? I'm sure it would not stop at the media. My God. To say these people have zero self-awareness is not being fair to zero. They actually register negative on the self-awareness scale.

Gusty Winds said...

Of course Orwell, Rand etc…. will be misinterpreted. I suspect 1984 is well known probably just because of the 1984 Apple Mac commercial, and the term big brother. I don’t think many modern Americans have read it. I always though Animal Farm was better. It’s not ambiguous in its message events and characters. We are living it. From Rand, Ellsworth Toohey, the antagonist, is every liberal media propagandist we see on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX. Jennifer Rubin, Paul Krugman, Dan Rather…are all Ellsworth Toohey’s to the core.

Gusty Winds said...

The left has used the tactic of re-defining language. FREEDOM is now SELFISH. So it is no surprise that they will re-interpret Orwell. Szalai isn’t just re-writing history here, she is rewriting a book she knows NYT’s readers probably haven’t read nor really understand. Her approach to this is the second grade taunt of “I know you are but what am I”

This is the NYTs.

Sebastian said...

"people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.'"

Yes, the prog project depends on erasing the distinctions. But there are subcategories among the participants: the active erasers, the fellow-traveling bullshitters, the fearful greengrocers, and the nice people who don't want no trouble.

Object lesson: responses to Trump's "incitement."

"The top-rated comment over there is: "To accuse the opposition of being Orwellian while actually being Orwellian has become the stock and trade of the right. How Orwellian.""

Hey, hey. That erases the distinction between true and false: Orwellian actually refers to the erasure of distinctions by imposition, as language is used by Big Brother to construct a new reality and cow people into submitting. In the era of prog hegemony, the right couldn't do it if it tried. Trumpian bullshitting aside, the most useful part of the right today calls BS on prog BS. It is intolerable to them, as the Orwell sensitivity shows.

The left has to deny that Orwell, a man of the left, saw through their essential dishonesty and cruelty. The fact that they have to engage in denial shows the culture war is not completely lost yet.

Amadeus 48 said...

"stock and trade"--these buffoons can't even use a cliche right. It is "stock-in-trade" assuming that commenter and its fanboys are doing anything other than stringing meaningless words together.

By the way, to accuse the opposition of being Orwellian while actually being Orwellian has become the stock-in-trade of the left. How trite and tiresome.

Butkus51 said...

If you wave the American flag you're a Nazi. If you light it on fire, stomp on it, or whatever, you're a patriot.

Jack, the PBS guy, the squad.....all will have no problem creating concentration camps. Because Republicans are Nazis. The percentage of Dems in that category is probably pretty high at this point as well.

daskol said...

Cargo-cult progressivism means never having to think about censorship because your identity is defined by being someone who is against it, and you can wave around a totem like Orwell's book. People who do that are the good guys, and when you're one of the good guys, you do good. It's why they get so made when deplorables invoke one of their totems.

AlbertAnonymous said...

War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Freedom is slavery.

And we’ve always been at war with EastAsia, Winston....

Static Ping said...

While I believe Orwell denied this when asked, one of the interesting things about 1984 is the ambiguity of the situation. We only get to see this world through Winston Smith's eyes. He knows basically nothing that he has not witnessed personally, and to some extent he cannot even trust that. For all we know, Eurasia and Eastasia do not exist. Oceania could control the entire world. On the other end of the spectrum, Oceania could only be England. Or the rest of the world could be completely destroyed with Winston's world being one of the last bastions of civilization. For that matter, what Winston Smith thinks is England may not even be England. Truth is impossible to know.

The closest analog in the real world would be North Korea. Those who have escaped encounter quite the shock.

Oh well.

Michael K said...

They should read more of Orwell.

“The typical Socialist is not, as tremulous old ladies imagine, a ferocious-looking working man with greasy overalls and a raucous voice. He is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years’ time will quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and been converted to Roman Catholicism; or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teetotaller and often with vegetarian leanings, with a history of Nonconformity behind him, and, above all, with a social position which he has no intention of forfeiting.”

George Orwell

Fernandinande said...

"The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it."

Carol said...

I read that Orwell saw the totalitarian potential on both sides.

Not to go all "both sides" but that is my understanding of his intent.

Though I think the Stalin show trials go him going on the project.

chickelit said...

A while ago here I wrote a blogpost called "Eulogy For Mood" in which I tried to explain how the blurring between fact and fantasy is enabled by the death of the subjunctive mood in English. I don't think this is pedantic. The mood is more alive in other languages -- for example German-- in which journalists switch to it when writing about what was said and done. The subjunctive is mostly vestigial now in English. Lawyers use something like a replacement when they use words like "alleged," etc.

chickelit said...
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chickelit said...
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The Crack Emcee said...

The late Christopher Hitchens, an acquaintance and Orwell expert, reminded us there's a civil war going on - based on communication - but it was the late Andrew Breitbart who reminded us, especially culturally, that conservatives don't even fight back.

The Crack Emcee said...

My previous comment has been saved and will be visible after blog owner approval.

O-Kay.

BidenFamilyTaxPayerFundedCrackPipe said...

Big Trillionaire Tech, the media, and the Democrat Party ARE "The Ministry of Truth"

Narayanan said...

all this makes me curious if y'all know Ayn Rand had already written We The Living before any of these world events transpired??!!!

and USA publishers had rejected it for showing Communists in a bad light.

Ayn Rand’s working title for We the Living was “Airtight,” which she took from a line in the novel that expressed the attempt by the Soviets to prevent people from living as humans: “You’ve driven us all into an iron cellar and you’ve closed all doors, and you’ve locked us airtight, airtight till the blood vessels of our spirits burst!”

BidenFamilyTaxPayerFundedCrackPipe said...

Ah - the left's eternal boogieman and scapegoat for removing free speech in America.

RUSSIA!

Nonapod said...

"To accuse the opposition of being Orwellian while actually being Orwellian has become the stock and trade of the right. How Orwellian."

This is the top rated comment? How can people on "the right" be Orwellian when they're not actually in power? It's primarily people on the right who are currently being subjected to high tech speech suppression. It's people on the right who are being silenced, deplatformed, and losing job opportunities due to not holding the proper views. Are the NYT readership so dense that they're incapable of seeing the obvious here?

Howard said...

clich├ęs are my stock in trade

Narayanan said...

all these discussions make me wonder if any of y'all know Ayn Rand had already written and published We The Living before any of these world events transpired - historical and literary.

also her book was rejected by American publishers for showing Communists in bad light - while FDR was cosying up to Stalin.

Ayn Rand’s working title for We the Living was “Airtight,” which she took from a line in the novel that expressed the attempt by the Soviets to prevent people from living as humans: “You’ve driven us all into an iron cellar and you’ve closed all doors, and you’ve locked us airtight, airtight till the blood ves- sels of our spirits burst!”

DanTheMan said...

>>Are the NYT readership so dense that they're incapable of seeing the obvious here?

Politics is their truth.
Democrat good. Republican evil.

It's their worldview on EVERYTHING, because everything is now political.

BidenFamilyTaxPayerFundedCrackPipe said...

If Q-ANON is Russian - why not root it out. expose it? huh - FBI?

Funny how the answer is to stomp on the free speech of people who have nothing to do with Q-ANON.

Howard said...

Nonapud: Not in power = Republican Presidency, Senate and Supreme court. Your cult based on perpetual victimology is so ingrained, you can't even see the assets you had. No wonder you lost in November. Loser attitude leads to being losers. That's what you people learnt from the Trump Family Cult.

Howard said...

Don't look at the Q-Anon behind the curtain

mikee said...

Fiction is fun, but Gulag Archipelago is not.
Voices of Others is barely fiction, and is also not fun.
Enjoy thinking and speaking and writing about, and discussing, books while you can.

mccullough said...

The cliche is stock-in-trade, not “stock and trade.” How does one get a cliche wrong?

Narayanan said...

Gusty Winds said...
The left has used the tactic of re-defining language. FREEDOM is now SELFISH. …
-----------===========
FREEDOM is always SELFISH >>>> that is how individuals rationally seek to live their lives by their own effort and judgment.

totalitarianism demands sacrifice - I am surprised at you Gusty Winds: right after citing Ellsworth Toohey too

Matt Sablan said...

"Republican Presidency, Senate and Supreme court."

-- A Republican presidency were civil servants have admitted to lying to the president about *troop dispositions* and the FBI coordinated to bring down the president despite knowing that the "evidence" of their Russian collusion hoax was paid for by his political opponent, and paid to said Russians. A "Republican" Supreme court that wouldn't even hear the president's arguments, and a Republican Senate that has a reasonable chance of impeaching him.

Do you honestly not pay attention to the world around you to understand how political power is actually divided, or do you just go with the first thing you see and think? Because any level of analysis will show that Trump never really had the sort of unity and administrative freedom that Obama had -- Obama who remember fired an IG, spied on journalists, and had complete fealty from his Congressional and administrative team.

mccullough said...

I agree with Howard that we live more in Brave New World than 1984.

The Crack Emcee said...

mccullough said...
I agree with Howard that we live more in Brave New World than 1984.

You guys don't see how Inga's flipped on me? How I told you my own sister behaved?

It's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers".

Not Sure said...

Perhaps we could call it the Ministry of Truth?

That would be totally un-American.

We'd call it the Department of Truth.

Kai Akker said...

--- "To accuse the opposition of being Orwellian while actually being Orwellian has become the stock and trade of the right. How Orwellian."

No, how ungrammatical. The phrase is stock-in-trade -- i.e., the materials in which your business deals constantly. A clue to the intelligence operating behind that "wise" comment.

Kai Akker said...

Amadeus and mccullough already got there. The people personified by that commenter have no idea how little they know of anything, unfortunately for the rest of us.

Howard said...

Christopher Hitchens on the 60th Anniversary of 1984

Nonapod said...

We could argue about how much power Trump (or any president) truly had throughout his administration, about how much he could have truly done without resistance. We could argue about which side was the "victimized" throughout these past four years. But at this point anyone who is being honest and objective knows damn well who currently has the power now. And it sure isn't Trump or any of his supporters. Trump is the lamest of lame ducks, and everyone knows it.

The way those with the power behave toward those without it tells you everything you need to know about their true nature.

Howard said...

Nonapod: Reagan had very little power was an outsider in the Republican Party and got a ton of shit done. Trump was and is in over his head. Republicans still have oodles of power, but continuing down the Trump road will only diminish that. If you think you are a weak loser, you will be a weak loser.

mockturtle said...

It's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers".

Crack, I think of that almost every day. The big difference is that there are no tell-tale pods to alert us to danger.

mockturtle said...

Jack Dorsey in a leaked video from before Trump's Twitter removal:

“We are focused on one account [@realDonaldTrump] right now, but this is going to be much bigger than just one account, and it’s going to go on for much longer than just this day, this week, and the next few weeks, and it’s going to go on beyond the inauguration,” Dorsey added. “And we have to expect that and we have to be ready for that.”

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Static Ping said...

While I believe Orwell denied this when asked, one of the interesting things about 1984 is the ambiguity of the situation. We only get to see this world through Winston Smith's eyes. He knows basically nothing that he has not witnessed personally, and to some extent he cannot even trust that.

Hell, you can do that with any work of fiction. Ever ponder whether or not the Empire was totally justified in the destruction of the planet Alderasn because maybe it was a planet of cannibal vampires? We weren't shown any evidence of the Empire's oppressive cruelty in the original Star Wars. In fact, even though Tatooine was a certainly a backwater Luke seemed to be living a non oppressed life and Han Solo seemed to be able to operate with only a minimum of trouble. Sometimes you've got to be able to suspend your disbelief or what's the purpose of even engaging in reading fiction or watching a fictional movie?

Nonapod said...

Republicans still have oodles of power

The elected Republicans are more interested in perserving their positions of power. They see which way the winds blowing. They may have a little power but they're not doing anything good with it. And even if they did have some backbone, realistically there's very little they could do that couldn't be curtailed by the Democrats now.

And by the way, I personally don't think of myself as a loser. I think of myself as a realist. I do what I can and I try my best to argue my points in as clear a way as I possibly can. But I'm just one guy. And at this point, I'm very concerned about the path we're on. I'm not seeing any reassuring signs that things are going in the right direction. My best option is to keep making my arguments.

Narr said...

Hew Strachan wrote a book for the "Books That Changed the World" series entitled--

On War: A Biography. 2007. (Military historians are always ahead of the curve.)

Nabokov's Bend Sinister is an excellent depiction of the breaking-down of a rational man by the irrational will-to-power of a political cult led by a former schoolmate. VN's invented world is more fantastic and poetic, and less futuristic than Orwell's, but just as bleak about the possibilities. Published 1947.

NTTAWW Orwell.

Narr
I'm his #1 Fan

bonkti said...

I would love to see a biography of Homage to Catalonia. In recent editions, the quarter of the book that details the elimination of the native Spanish revolutionaries at the hands of Moscow have been moved to appendix. Adam Hochschild, who founded Mother Jones and who has written about the Spanish Civil War from a leftist perspective, was chosen to write the introduction to the current US edition. He explains that removing the problematic chapters is not memory-holing but, rather, "a rearrangement that did not unsay anything [Orwell] had written but that significantly altered the book's political emphasis."

Hochschild explains that the book sold 800 copies between publication in 1938 and Orwell's death in 1950, yet "Orwell wanted changes in the next printing, first outlining them in 1946, six [sic] years after he had published the book." Hochschild elides actual description of any communication between Orwell and his publisher, but writes "surprisingly, the British publisher ignored his wishes."

Hochschild concludes the matter writing, "An edition in the form Orwell wanted did not appear in Britain until thirty-six years after his death. This is the first time one is published in the United States." Hochschild's foreword is copyrighted in 2015.

stlcdr said...

I'd like to see examples of some of these Right Wing Orwellian tactics.

chuck said...

The ideas in 1984 can be found in Orwell's essays from the preceding decade. He was a intellectual of the left and his arguments were with others of the left. Occasionally the rest of the world slips in, the author of the stories in Magnet and Gem responded to his essay Boys' Weeklies and struck me as a very sensible chap.

sean said...

"Stock and trade"--Orwell himself, in "Politics and the English Language," mentions metaphors that are so dead that people misquote them because they no longer evoke any image at all. He mentions "tow the line" as an example; you also often see "reign in."

Dead metaphors are a symptom of bad writing, which is itself a product of sloppy, dishonest thinking.

tcrosse said...

"Stock and trade"--Orwell himself, in "Politics and the English Language," mentions metaphors that are so dead that people misquote them because they no longer evoke any image at all.

I could care less.

hombre said...

How telling that Democrats, the big government people, say that Conservatives, the small government people, are Orwellian.

How telling that Democrats, the authoritarian government people, say that conservatives, the limited government people are Orwellian.

But does it tell us that they are illiterate, delusional, stupid or all three? I believe my vote goes to the latter.

hombre said...

R/V @ 9:51.

Does anyone else see a monumental lack of self awareness?

Also, Q-anon is a Democrat/mediaswine straw man.

chuck said...

"a rearrangement that did not unsay anything [Orwell] had written but that significantly altered the book's political emphasis."

Orwell's hatred of Communism was birthed by his Spanish Civil War experience. I don't doubt that Hochschild "significantly altered the book's political emphasis". Orwell had no qualms about naming names when the search for Communist agents was underway.

Another writer whose Spanish Civil War experience changed his views was Dos Passos.

Rosalyn C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rosalyn C. said...

We see how truth is manufactured in the news media when people on different networks and programs repeat the same phrases over and over because they've been ordered to program their viewers. We see how so called journalist-commentators read the news interspersed with their own emotionally wrought opinions as if their emotions validate their opinions as facts. We must "believe" what they say. The game is who can manipulate the most people. Ultimately the goal is to eliminate the competition so only one point of view is heard.

This was a good interview with Christopher Hitchens at the 60th Anniversary of the publication of 1984. Crack inspired me to check that out.

Rusty said...

Blogger The Crack Emcee said...
"The late Christopher Hitchens, an acquaintance and Orwell expert, reminded us there's a civil war going on - based on communication - but it was the late Andrew Breitbart who reminded us, especially culturally, that conservatives don't even fight back."
See if you can dig up some of Jeff Goldsteins' old blog '"Protein Wisdom". He went through great lengths to show how the left hijacks language and what to go through to deconstruct it. Very sharp guy.

Static Ping said...

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said... Hell, you can do that with any work of fiction. Ever ponder whether or not the Empire was totally justified in the destruction of the planet Alderasn because maybe it was a planet of cannibal vampires?... We weren't shown any evidence of the Empire's oppressive cruelty in the original Star Wars. In fact, even though Tatooine was a certainly a backwater Luke seemed to be living a non oppressed life and Han Solo seemed to be able to operate with only a minimum of trouble. Sometimes you've got to be able to suspend your disbelief or what's the purpose of even engaging in reading fiction or watching a fictional movie?

This is a good point. Suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy good fiction. In fact, a sign of bad fiction is when you get to a point in the story where you start focusing on how such-and-such makes no sense as opposed to any narrative value.

That said, 1984 is a lot different that Star Wars. The Empire was never nearly as oppressive. The Empire has to control half the galaxy. If it wants to crack down on a particular system it can and will, but it does not have the resources to do so everywhere at the same time. For that matter, it does not have the resources to even monitor the entire empire, which is why the rebels could have secret bases. That was the point of the Death Star; rather than go full totalitarian on every system in the galaxy - impossible - the threat that your planet would suddenly explode (eventually) if you did not behave. They wouldn't have to be everywhere because the risk of revolt was simply too high. In this loose authoritarian structure there are lots of people who can slip through the cracks. If Luke is talking to some trader or smuggler or a rebel agent on Tatooine, a backwater of minimal interest to the Empire, he can have a reasonable belief that what he is told is at least somewhat true or, at least, not Imperial propaganda.

1984 is special in that the suspension of disbelief is a plot point. Winston Smith lives in a full totalitarian state where truth is irrelevant. As readers we cannot tell for sure what the truth is, but that is not unique because neither can Winston Smith or any other character we encounter. It is not clear if anyone in Oceania knows what the truth is, and if anyone does know they would never say it if a lie would be more effective. That's one of the reasons why the story is so powerful. The failure of the suspension of disbelief is what drives Winston to do something. Oceania is in a constant state of plugging the holes in the suspension of disbelief ,and, from what we can tell, are fairly successful at it. But then again, you don't really know. It is a story based on lies.

Jim at said...

"To accuse the opposition of being Orwellian while actually being Orwellian has become the stock and trade of the right. How Orwellian."

How in the hell is it possible to coexist with people this delusional?

Steven said...

You'd think someone arguing over what counts as "Orwellian" would notice that when Orwell wrote of truth-destroying tyrants real and fictional (in Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm, 1984), he wrote of the left.

But then, writing like you don't notice things like that is exactly what doublethink is for.

MikeD said...

I'll guess the "highest rated comment" is why our hostess will purchase this dumpster fire of "correct think"?

Lurker21 said...

"The Biography of a Book" idea lets you write about the history of a book from the author's first conception through the later influence of the book down to the present day.

It's also a great marketing gimmick.

I think it started with a book about a fish.

Which would you rather read? "Cod: The Fish" "Cod: the History of a Fish" or "COD: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World."

"A Biography" was more more eye-catching twenty years ago than just "The Fish" or "The History." By now it's become a cliche.

Narr said...

How about "My Cod: A Biography."

Narr
He said 'cod'

Hercules, not that one though said...

Ann- "So I don't have to buy the book, but I will. Such is my dedication to this blog."

Thank God. I don't have the strength to read the book. I'll wait for Ann's review.

Skippy Tisdale said...

After a lifetime in Washington, the restless, gabby man

They misspelled grabby.