After a couple weeks of catching up on some magazines, I’ve finally finished 1984.

And I have no idea what to do with it.

It’s absolutely horrifying. It made me incredibly angry.

It becomes, eventually, the story of a man succumbing to the mind- and spirit-crushing forces at work on him. And while I completely understand Orwell’s impulse to show us all the potential terrors of our ways of life and thought, I honestly can’t decide whether 1984‘s bleak ending is any more successful or truthful than the extraordinarily resolved endings I’ve discussed before.

Because, to me, the truth is always somewhere in between.

The next book on my reading list is the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina, An Ordinary Man (he was the man who inspired the movie Hotel Rwanda). And, 1984 aside, I can’t think of any situation more utterly inhuman than what he lived through. I think the hope that can be found in the midst of that incredible tragedy belies Orwell’s vision, as striking as it is.

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“Life must be understood backwards; but… it must be lived forward.”   Soren Kierkegaard

I’ve just started reading Orwell’s 1984, for the first time, and I almost had to put it down. It’s just too real, too true, too prescient, and I couldn’t get into the narrative because I was getting too angry about things happening now.

My mother, a friend and I had the same experience a few years ago at a Shaw Festival production of The Crucible…it’s about Salem, it’s about McCarthyism, and it’s about us, now.

I literally cried one day this past spring when Rage Against the Machine’s “Ghost of Tom Joad” came up on my mp3 player, for the same reason. How do we keep making these same mistakes? How do we keep allowing these same things to happen? How can these texts still be so relevant and necessary, and why can’t we learn?

Life must indeed be lived forward…but it takes the understanding we gain from recognizing our past.  So neither ignorance nor bland nostalgia will be of any use.

(The good news is, I’ve finally managed to limit these feelings enough to get through the book. I’m sure I’ll finish it soon.)