Rereading 1984 – Part I

I’ve started re-reading 1984I’m really enjoying it. I’ll be doing a few more posts as I go, (edit: the next one is here) but I just wanted to jot down some quick observations.

One of the things that jumps out at me on rereading is how important writing is to the book. I’d remembered ‘doublethink’, and the way Orwell sees language as crucial to how a society works and a person thinks, but I didn’t remember that the physical act of writing was also key. It’s one of the first things we see Winston do, when he sits down to write in a diary, and it’s a crucial first step in his journey.

For some time he sat gazing stupidly at the paper … It was curious that he seemed not merely to have lost the power of expressing himself, but even to have forgotten what it was that he had originally intended to say. For weeks past he had been making ready for this moment, and it had never crossed his mind that anything would be needed except courage. The actual writing would be easy. All he had to do was transfer to paper the interminable restless monologue that had been running inside his head, literally for years. At this moment, however, even the monologue had dried up … He was conscious of nothing except the blankness of the page in front of him, the itching of the skin above his ankle, the blaring of the music, and a slight booziness caused by the gin. Suddenly he began writing in sheer panic, only imperfectly aware of what he was setting down. His small but childish handwriting straggled up and down the page, shedding first its capital letters and finally even its full stops. 

And from a little later:

He wondered again for whom he was writing the diary. For the future, for the past, for an age that might be imaginary. And in front of him there lay not death but annihilation. The diary would be reduced to ashes and himself to vapour. Only the Thought Police would read what he had written, before they wiped it out of existence and out of memory. How could you make an appeal to the future when not a trace of you, not even an anonymous word scribbled on a piece of paper, could physically survive? … He was a lonely ghost uttering a truth that nobody would ever hear. But so long as he uttered it, in some obscure way the continuity was not broken. It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage. 

Particularly in that description of writer’s block, and also in the questions of why writing matters in relation to readers, it’s easy to imagine Orwell, sitting and writing and thinking.


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