Monday, April 14, 2008


So I realize that my last post might have been kind of weird (especially if, like Wes, you're wondering what this all has to do with the novel 1984). To be honest, it was really just me wanting to feel smart and to prove that I know enough about the Old Testament to point out Fromm's inaccurate statement.

Anyway, in continuation... I will be the first to admit that as a whole (and pretty much everything else that Fromm says other than that one statement in the beginning) is really insightful. (Actually, there was one more statement that I was curious about, but I'll save that for later.)

Fromm begins his commentary on 1984 by discussing a common perception of "end times" long ago. In Greek and Roman thinking (as well as the Old Testament), there was a hope that man will eventually be able to "create a world of justice and peace." This was the mindset for most of the world's history. And during the Renaissance, a form of writing developed to express how people thought things might work out. It was called utopian literature and was first seen in Thomas More's Utopia.

(Interesting fact: "utopia" literally means "nowhere.")

In this particular book, More "combined a most penetrating criticism of his own society, its irrationality and its injustice, with the picture of which, though perhaps not perfect, had solved most of the human problems which sounded insoluble to his own contemporaries." This society also catered to the "deepest longings of man."

This view of the future continued through the writings of the Enlightenment philosophers of the 1700's and the socialist thinkers of the 1800's, and really wasn't reconsidered until the end of World War 1.

It was then during that first world war that we began to realize what humans were capable of, and the hope that we had embraced so strongly began to fade. We saw millions die in the war, we saw Stalin drive a country mad, we saw Hitler demolish an ethnicity, we watched atomic bombs disintegrate populations.

It is precisely the significance of Orwell's book that it expresses the new mood of hopelessness which pervades our age before this mood has become manifest and taken hold of the consciousness of people.

Other books did the same: Zamyatin's We and Huxley's Brave New World. But I've only read 1984, so I won't talk about those.

This new genre was identified as negative utopian literature and marked the beginning of a new way of thinking. A loss of hope.

Fromm (keep in mind, he wrote this in 1961) also points out the paradox in this transformation: Our "hope-filled" time before WWI had economic justification for slavery & exploitation and science was looked to in order to make things better; it is here at the beginning of modern development that we find hope.

Then, when the hopes are realizable, when enough food could actually be made for everybody and war is unnecessary, when world peace begins to come within our grasp, "when man is on the verge of realizing his hope, he begins to lose it."

Interesting, no?

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