Synopsis of Class: April 8, 1999

As I did with Brave New World, I used our last class on 1984 to shift "power" to individual students to see where conversation would lead. The following are the major issues raised by individual class members during this class:

Dan Bender got us started with the first clear signal that Winston and Julia have been "discovered":

Dan suggested that this passage indicates that the real moment of defeat for Winston is the semi-public declaration of defeat, for at this point he has given up his faith in his own power to change anything. Greg Carter pointed out that this passage recalls another passage much earlier on on p. 27: "Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death." That is, by being outside of society's limited definition of "normality," thoughtcrime appears to exist, to some extent, in that no-man's land outside ideology and thus could be said to approximate the place of death, which, we have argued, may also exist outside of ideology. The statement by O'Brien that the powers that be are, in fact, the author's of Goldstein's book of course complicates the possibility of this position.

Emily Rosko contributed to our discussion of language's role in the determination of reality (at least, of our perception of the "real"). The quotation she presented is on p. 47: "How could you have a slogan like 'freedom is slavery' when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking--not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness." Kelli Allen provided the perfect corresponding quotation in the Appendix on the "Principles of Newspeak": "The intention was to make speech, and especially speech on any subject not ideologically neutral, as nearly as possible independent of consciousness" (253). Jonas Moskowitz pointed out that these sorts of statements resemble similar ones by Heidegger.

Matt Wade discussed the breakdown of the family structure in 1984 as a result of anonymous denunciation (193). Krisitana Neff wondered if the same sort of breakdown in the family in our own society serves to facilitate hegemonic forces.

Rocky Moore brought up the issue of the proles and individualism, although Scott Seaman questioned to what extent the proles can be considered free, given that they are forced to spend their time simply seeking to survive. As in Brave New World, a situation is created in which there is no time for independent thought.

Levi Moore, Emily Rosko, and Tim Phelan followed on this discussion by questioning the very notion of individualism and resistance. How does one effect change in a system that coopts the very position of the "rebel" through advertising ("Think different" [Macintosh]; Generation Next [Pepsi]; the alternative music scene, etc.). As Graham Sadtler suggested, are we here being presented merely with the conformity of non-conformity?

One solution to the previous conundrum was offered by Marcus Knotts, Melissa Reimer, Eric Johnston, and Emily Rosko. Perhaps the most radical of acts in a postmodern society where we are conditioned not to notice the suffering and needs of others is simply to extend a helping hand to strangers. What is needed, perhaps, is simply a faith in the power of the individual to effect change, if only in local scenarios. The greatest danger in a carceral system is to forfeit one's share of power to the "machine" and thus to refuse responsibility for one's own participation in that "machine." The apathy of voters in our own democratic system was offered up as an example of this forfeiting of power.

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