Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Literature and Reality

The first book I picked up after September 11 was The Plague by Albert Camus. I had read it some years before, but the sense of fear and anxiety induced by the attack and the subsequent anthrax episodes put my mind back to this seminal book of the 20th century. Bear in mind that the following notes were written back in October 2001.

I was compelled to reread this novel following the events of September 11. The sense of enclosure, fear of random death, the necessity for a will to continue mirror the situation in America over the last month, with the fear of anthrax substituted for the plague bacillus. The description of Oran at the beginning of the novel, its blandness and frivolity, not to mention a certain ugliness, again strikes a chord to an attentive American reader. Camus writes that
"[t]he evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance" and that "the most incorrigible vice [is] that of an ignorance which fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill."

Whether we can muster the courage and determination to meet our adversary head on, even with the knowledge of the fights futility, as Rieux does, remains to be seen. After our flag-waving, our bomb strikes, and our propaganda undertaken to accomplish our obscure objectives, we will understand the final lesson: that the plague never ends.

In February 2002, I reread George Orwell's 1984 and wrote the following notes. I will only say now that, with the Iraq War having been instigated in the interim as an endless war for all the wrong reasons, the complicity of the media in making Orwell's model of thought control as co-opted by the Bush Administration a reality is far from "subtle".

I reread this novel upon realizing the similarities between Bush's "War on Terror" and Oceania's never-ending war with Eurasia/Eastasia. Media manipulation today is more subtle than Orwell's "doublespeak", as is the Bush/Ashcroft campaign to erode the rights of the individual in America. Totalitarianism can creep up quite slowly, almost imperceptibly. The fears and tortures of Winston Smith are more terrifying now than they were when I first read this book in high school, simply because their potential reality is more imaginable than ever before. Didactic and perhaps a bit overwritten, 1984 has passed beyond literature into a state alarmingly close to today's reality.

A few weeks ago, a correspondent noted that I hadn't referenced 1984 on my blog (I had, in fact, made a reference several months ago to "chocolate rations" which might have escaped readers unfamiliar with the works of the fine Mr. Blair, but no matter). Perhaps this post seeks to remedy that deficiency in some small manner. A more considered, and wonderfully argued perspective on 1984 can be found here: http://www.janantoon.be/WP/?cat=12

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