Brave New World, 1984, #MeToo, The New Journalism, and Paprikas Csirke

by Daniel A. Kaufman

A remarkable IQ2 debate between novelist Wil Self and New Yorker essayist, Adam Gopnik, on the relative merits of Brave New World and 1984 in understanding our current world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31CcclqEiZw&index=11&t=0s&list=FLQzxHWvrODrO9oA35PHXsIQ

Interesting reflections on the #MeToo movement and the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s.

https://www.city-journal.org/html/sexual-revolutions-angry-children-15827.html

Two of the best documentaries on Hunter S. Thompson.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlAZV_EsSSE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laamYjSwcHI&index=263&t=0s&list=FLQzxHWvrODrO9oA35PHXsIQ

Two Essays By Joan Didion: “On Self Respect” (1961); “The White Album.” (1968-78)

https://www.vogue.com/article/joan-didion-self-respect-essay-1961

https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/currentstudents/undergraduate/modules/fulllist/special/en304/syllabus2015-16/didion_the_white_album.pdf

A Paprikas Csirke recipe that comes the closest to my mother’s and grandmother’s.

http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/chicken-paprika-paprik-s-csirke-226632

Tom Wolfe’s Famous 1972 New York Magazine Essay on the New Journalism.

http://nymag.com/news/media/47353/

17 Comments »

  1. These are terrific Dan !

    Watched the 1984-Brave New World debate (excellent), one Hunter Thompson Doc., am in the middle of Didion essays, and plan to get get to the Wolfe essay.

    Many thanks!

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  2. Isn’t Self just aping Neil Postman? I thought that it was Postman that originated the idea that Huxley provided a better mnodel for understanding changes in our sosciety than Orwell? I remember being impressed by ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’.

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  3. The 1984/Brave New World debate got me thinking about the two writers *as writers*. Both books are rich in ideas and as far as the ideas are concerned I don’t think it really makes sense to pit one set against the other. On the other hand, I think you can make judgments about the two writers’ comparative literary strengths and weaknesses.

    Both were excellent essayists, but Huxley was a better novelist. I don’t think there is any doubt about the quality of some of Huxley’s novels. Point Counter Point, for example. I was also impressed with some of his essays, especially the early ones. (He was probably the only English intellectual to be significantly influenced by Louis Rougier, by the way.)

    With regard to Orwell, I don’t remember 1984 well enough to make a judgment on its literary merits. Animal Farm is good, but is not a novel. I liked Keep the Aspidistra Flying, but mainly because at the time I first read it I identified with the main character. Stylistically it is rather flawed, I think. Wordy and repetitive.

    The ideas relating to Newspeak are certainly interesting and not irrelevant to what we are seeing today. Orwell was aware that natural language changes tend to be usage-driven and attempts at linguistic engineering have generally failed. But he saw what was happening in Russia and had a sense of the decadence of the English language of his time, of organic decay or decline (reflecting social ills).

    And we *are* currently seeing a degree of top-down pressure on usage. It was always the case that if you don’t conform to agreed ways of saying things, you don’t get published; but generally recent pressures have been more ideologically-driven than in the past.

    A final word on Huxley. My father loved his work and was always pushing me to read Brave New World. Obviously the book had meant a lot to him as an adolescent. Being a rather contrary teenager and young man, I didn’t get around to reading it until much later – after my father’s death in fact. I feel particularly bad about this, especially since I liked the book a lot.

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  4. I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on this. Orwell is the superior writer and not just by a little, but by far. “Coming up For Air,” “A Clergyman’s Daughter,” and “Down and Out in Paris and London” are much better from a literary perspective than anything Huxley ever did.

    Huxley’s writing is very didactic and lacks the straightforwardness and simplicity of Orwell’s prose. To suggest that Orwell’s prose is “wordy” isn’t just false, it is exactly the opposite of the truth. Orwell is one of the least wordy writers out there.

    That said, I think Huxley saw the long term future much more clearly than Orwell. Wil Self was absolutely correct in the debate, when he said that 1984 is really about 1948.

    Huxley was the better theorist/philosopher, but Orwell was the far superior writer.

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  5. I too vote for Orwell as the superior writer. His best book, in my opinion, is Homage to Catalonia.

    In college in freshman composition we used Orwell’s rules of style (from the essay Politics and the English Language) to learn to write. I have an oldish copy of the Economist (the British news magazine) Style Guide and they too use Orwell’s rules of style as their gold standard for good writing in English.

    For me perhaps the best essay in English is Inside the Whale where he contrasts Henry Miller’s hedonist attitude toward life with his own politically committed one, without really taking sides for one or another position.

    Some things about 1984 are about 1948, but some things like the two minute hate still ring true today. As in 1984 one has to keep up with the press daily to see whether China (Eastasia) or Russia (Eurasia) is the chief enemy, the object of the two minute hate.

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  6. Dan

    I did not say that Orwell was wordy and repetitive: I said that I found Keep the Aspidistra Flying wordy and repetitive. (Second time around, I heard it as an audio book, and its style really grated on me.) I have doubts about Orwell *as a novelist*. I certainly agree that his essays are models of clarity, and did not mean to criticize his other prose (reportage, memoir, etc.).

    I agree with you that some of Huxley’s fiction is didactic, but not all of it by any means.

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  7. Certainly, he is not of the literary caliber of the great modernists — Joyce, Faulkner, Kafka. He is not a master stylist in the manner of Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis. But he is a very good writer, and it really comes out in his non-dystopic novels. “Coming Up For Air” is my personal favorite. I think you would really like “Burmese Days,” which reflect his time in the Imperial Police force.

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  8. With Huxley’s fiction, there is Brave New World and then there is ‘everything else.’ and ‘everything else’ was pretty much in keeping with most of the fiction of his day – Waugh, Maugham, etc. Orwell was another matter. He tended to fit his prose to the subject matter. My personal favorite is Down and Out, which is as clean an expression of such experiences as one could want.

    However, I agree that Self makes the best case, although I’m biased in that I’ve thought the same for many years now.

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  9. I enjoyed Anthony Burgess’s thoughts on 1984, which make up the first half of his 1985 – the other half is his update of an extrapolation of trends he saw in 1985 (OK’ish). I probably would also support BNW, knowing how much it draws from JBS Haldane, Bernal etc. As to Newspeak,

    “Strangely enough, even during this period [80s-00s], when discussions of language and thought were about as respectable as discussions of flying saucers, the position was enjoying a revival in folk theories of politically correct speech. Terms like senior citizens, hearing impaired, and learning disabled were assiduously used instead of terms like old, deaf, and dumb.
    Interestingly, academicians – even while rejecting the hypothesis in their work – joined others in our culture in behaving as though they believed that language could shape thought.” [Gentner and Goldin-Meadow 2003].

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  10. I have read both Didion pieces now (the self-respect piece twice). I think I need to give the white album a second read before commenting, although the primary theme is made clear early on.

    Reading the self-respect essay I was struck by its direct opposition to the current positive psychology view. Self respect, for Didion rests on a capacity to squarely face, wrestle with, and take responsibility for our own faults and limitations, to consider ourselves as something other than the hero of our own narratives. In contrast, today’s instruction is to bathe ourselves in self-love so that we can see how everything we are and everything we do is already perfect.

    I thought the key insight was that if we skip over the discomfort of former mentioned process the self-image we create then becomes a prison of self-delusion, it becomes an image we can never meet as it is imaginary and we can then only live to convince others it is who we really are. There is an emphasis that real self-respect is not centered or dependent on the way we want others to see us. We should not be motivated by how shiny our superficial image will appear on a glance, but on some deeper sense of awareness of our values and capacities. Given how much our self-narratives tend to revolve around how we would like others to see us this important stuff to acknowlege.

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  11. ‘The White Album’ is a curious essay. It begins with a statement on the necessity of narrative–’We tell ourselves stories in order to live’, while emphasizing throughout how the world does not play itself out according to a meaningful script.

    Sometimes stories originating from a larger narrative are told about us and are told with too much certainty; the amazing psychoanalytic diagnosis giving to Didion is played upon throughout the essay. I found the content of that diagnosis juxtaposed against the MS diagnosis given in near complete ambiguity by her neurologist to be fascinating.

    We see the cultural narratives of the times sweeping up its participants at the loss of their own autonomy, and we see in the stories of senseless murder the murderers consoling themselves by finding a reason for all of life’s experiences. In the end, Didion provides no self-help plan and confesses that writing has not helped her to make sense of it all.

    So what are we to do? I do notice that Didion later wrote an essay on her MS experience in which she voiced that she would have like to have received less ambiguity from the professionals.

    ‘What I heard, however, particularly from medical professionals, was a version of “Yes, you have multiple sclerosis, but you are basically fine and, therefore, your life should not change nor should it be difficult to adapt to it.” That is wrong. The knowledge that one has a potentially serious and debilitating disease–no matter how benign a form it seems to be taking–does change one’s life and requires a significant adjustment. That knowledge is not easy to accept. Recognition of that reality by the medical profession would have provided a level of support that was missing for me. My adjustment might well have been easier and quicker. One can certainly overreact or make the disease the centerpiece of one’s life, and I am by no means advocating that, but the difficulty of coming to terms with it should not be understated.’

    I think ‘The White Album’ outlines a fundamental problematic that has no simple solution that can be filled by prescription.

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