Seventy years ago, #George_Orwell died. One of the most famous authors of the 20th century was only 46 years old. The socialist journalist and essayist, volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, opponent of imperialism and totalitarianism, is known to the general public for only two books, but what books! Orwell, whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair, still witnessed the success of “Animal Farm” (published in 1945); yet the triumph of his gloomy vision of the future in the novel “1984”, published in the summer of 1949, was lost on the British author, who was seriously ill with tuberculosis.
#Big_Brother – durable in the 21st century
“Big Brother is watching you” – the famous sentence from “1984” may have been aimed at Stalinism and fascism, at the surveillance state of that time. Yet the sentence has become more durable than ever in our 21st century.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” So casually begins in the novel “1984” what takes its course as a scathing satire in the British tradition of a Jonathan Swift. A page later, the reader knows what Winston Smith’s world is like every day, “The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made would be picked up by it; moreover so long as he remained within the field of vision, he could be seen as well as heard.”
Our thought police are called Alexa&Co.
The “telescreens” of our time are called Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. No “Thought Police” has to install them in our living rooms, we do it voluntarily and even pay for it. The harmless watches on our wrists, which control our health around the clock and are a data source every health insurance company would dream of? Or the CCTV in every corner of the UK, not to mention facial recognition on Chinese streets – isn’t all this Big Brother in digital perfection?
Winston Smith and Fake News
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” What about the “alternative facts” in Donald Trump’s realm? Or the “fake news” from Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s empire?
Winston Smith lives in Eurasia, which is permanently at war with Western Oceania and Eastern East Asia: Doesn’t this three-polar world seem very familiar to us, even without war (trade wars don’t count, do they?)? And the re-education camps that the Chinese regime has set up for the Uighur minority – what else but a huge brainwashing facility run by a veritable thought police! There will be no shortage of “Newspeak” in the Taklamakan Desert, either…
In France they read Orwell, and how!
In Germany, the winged words from George Orwell’s work have been well preserved. However, I think that the French are currently more thoroughly dealing with the writer. This may have something to do with the (as so often) heated imaginary and ideological debates there, or with the light-handed form of the essay.
In any case, there is no lack of essays, analyses, reviews and previews on the prominent author, and this has been the case for years. Let us mention here, by way of example and without evaluation, the philosopher Myriam Revault d’Allones (“La Faiblesse du vrai”, 2018), Stéphane Leménorel’s brief study “George Orwell ou la vie ordinaire” (2017) or Bruce Bégouts’ homage to Orwell’s “common decency” (“De la décence ordinaire”, 2008).
“If the 19th century was characterised by Balzac, the 20th influenced by Kafka, then the 21st century is the age of Orwell,” Nicolas Truong summed it up last Saturday in Le Monde.
Chinese, read Orwell while you still can! Americans, take a closer look at him, and the British are allowed to do so anyway. The French have long since been reading him; the Germans should do so again. Not only because the calendar sheet shows us the 70th anniversary of a great thinker and visionary’s death on January 21, 2020.
Foto: Ben Sutherland from Crystal Palace, London, UK [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]