I have posted three essays by Thomas Pynchon below:
A Journey Into The Mind of Watts, June 12 1966;
The road to 1984, from The Guardian May 3 2003.
What is interesting to me is the dispassionate presentation of difficult and disturbing material in a, we could almost say, 'carbon neutral' manner; and specifically, particularly, that what works for Watts & Orwell doesn't work quite so well for the death of Richard Farina. And I wonder if, maybe, there is a clue in that?
That's it gentle reader, you can move on now if you like.
But on the off chance that this just happens to interest you as well; here are some examples of competent and knowledgeable people speaking more-or-less dispassionately about the environmental disaster which rapidly overwhelms us:
Noam Chomsky, frail and old, at Occupy Boston, October 2011 (30 minutes);
Gwynne Dyer at BC Hydro Power Smart, October 2011 (skip to 'Keynote Address', 80 minutes including Q&A);
Naomi Oreskes in September 2010 at Bethune College of York University in Toronto - as a streaming video (90 minutes), or, best to open this in Internet Explorer and right-click the video link, 'Save Target As' and watch off-line to allow yourself some viewing control;
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in the US Senate, October 2011;
Adriana Mugnatto, at an event in July 2011 How Much Time?;
Lester Brown, in a March 2011 PBS film, Journey to Planet Earth - Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (90 minutes), or you can download it at IsoHunt (for as long as that lasts);
And most recently, a talk given by David Schindler at University College of UofT, info here; they say the video will eventually be available on-line - if and when that happens I will post a link.
The only ones who crack the façade in any degree are Adriana Mugnatto & Lester Brown. Adriana stifles it, Lester seems more comfortable with himself - maybe it is a function of age to be willing to weep in public. I wish I could provide videos of that estimable Dutchman, Yvo de Boer, weeping over Bali and Copenhagen ... maybe you remember ...
What was the point of all this? I seem to have forgot.
Oh well, sorry.
Any of the YouTube videos can be downloaded with KeepVid. The Internet is not an 'information highway', or if it is it is more like a toll road - and the powers that be control it, completely. Here, read and savour this and this.
We are living on borrowed time, in many ways.
The muses are poignant & penetrating, but equivocal.
Is she shading her eyes? Is she saying "Wait." (?) or some kind of "Hello." or "Goodbye." (?)
(After looking at the photograph for days ... I imagine she is looking directly at me saying, "I am as helpless as you are, my friend." Here.)
Yvo took himself off and joined KPMG. Keeping his place in the 1%. Good on 'im. I wonder what he is really thinking?
I often wish these days that I had been a fraction as clever - even to have put aside a small plot somewhere, just enough for a little garden to grub in, dibble and hoe, dig and delve.
In the Q&A session, Gwynne Dyer slides around copyright issues. An email to his site looking for details has gone unanswered so far. We know from a careful reading of Climate Wars that he likes his family vacations in the Carribean.
A friend of mine took one of Schindler's courses at UofA and tells me that he may be one of those who simply accepts human extinction as probable or inevitable and carries on - establishing a private peace.
That is about where I have gotten to as well; though the 'carries on' part is problematic with so many bridges burned. But you never know - I could tell you stories about shit-house luck.
Comics from the 10s:
The boy wants to work at what he likes, his life is at great risk.
He's been medicated. Soon he will come back to thinking about the only thing that matters.
Didn't I say so Ana?
A longish story in one photograph. No idea where it comes from. Just turned up.
Who can say exactly what is going on? They both seem to be wearing high-heels but the whole thing is full of ambiguity - except for a certain ... weary compassion. (?)
The FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) does up these graphs approximately monthly: Global Food Price Monitor & Food Outlook. You can submit your email and be notified of publication.
The downward slope is increasing, but not as steeply as the retreat from the 2008 peak.
A-and the IEA (International Energy Agency) puts out the World Energy Outlook annually, here's 2011, a watershed moment they are saying. You can watch this press release by Fatih Birol, their chief economist and main author this year. That is our Fatih to the right, looking very well fed and hob-nobbing with Henry Kissinger. If bureaucratic worms at this level are wringing their hands ... well, maybe it's a sign.
Surprisingly the Toronto Public Library doesn't seem to carry it, and even at half-price for low-income folks I can't afford to buy one (if I qualify). Here is the Executive Summary; the first statement of which (echoes of Alice in Wonderland) is:
“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re heading.”
(Speaking of Henry Kissinger, here's Bob: When You Gonna Wake Up ... unfortunately, 'believe in his power' is not really an option.)
1. A Journey Into The Mind of Watts, Thomas Pynchon, June 12 1966.
2. Introduction to Richard Farina's 'Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me', Thomas Pynchon, 1996.
3. The road to 1984, Thomas Pynchon, May 3 2003.
4. NZ feels the throttling effects of new maximalist copyright laws, Dwayne Winseck, November 8 2011.
5. Students marching against tuition fees met with 'total policing' tactics, Alexandra Topping & Shiv Malik, Wednesday 9 November 2011.
A Journey Into The Mind of Watts, Thomas Pynchon, June 12 1966.
The night of May 7, after a chase that began in Watts and ended some 50 blocks farther north, two Los Angeles policemen, Caucasians, succeeded in halting a car driven by Leonard Deadwyler, a Negro. With him were his pregnant wife and a friend. The younger cop (who'd once had a complaint brought against him for rousing some Negro kids around in a more than usually abusive way) went over and stuck his head and gun in the car window to talk to Deadwyler. A moment later there was a shot; the young Negro fell sideways in the seat, and died. The last thing he said, according to the other cop, was, "She's going to have a baby."
The coroner's inquest went on for the better part of two weeks, the cop claiming the car had lurched suddenly, causing his service revolver to go off by accident; Deadwyler's widow claiming that it was cold-blooded murder and that the car had never moved. The verdict, to no one's surprise, cleared the cop of all criminal responsibility. It had been an accident. The D.A. announced immediately that he thought so, too, and that as far as he was concerned the case was closed.
But as far as Watts is concerned, it's still very much open. Preachers in the community are urging calm -- or, as others are putting it: "Make any big trouble, baby, The Man just going to come back in and shoot you, like last time." Snipers are sniping but so far not hitting much of anything. Occasional fire bombs are being lobbed at cars with white faces inside, or into empty sports models that look as if they might be white property. There have been a few fires of mysterious origin. A Negro Teen Post -- part of the L.A. poverty war's keep-them-out-of-the- streets effort -- has had all its windows busted, the young lady in charge expressing the wish next morning that she could talk with the malefactors, involve them, see if they couldn't work out the problem together. In the back of everybody's head, of course, is the same question: Will there be a repeat of last August's riot?
An even more interesting question is: Why is everybody worrying about another riot -- haven't things in Watts improved any since the last one? A lot of white folks are wondering. Unhappily, the answer is no. The neighborhood may be seething with social workers, data collectors, VISTA volunteers and other assorted members of the humanitarian establishment, all of whose intentions are the purest in the world. But somehow nothing much has changed. There are still the poor, the defeated, the criminal, the desperate, all hanging in there with what must seem a terrible vitality.
The killing of Leonard Deadwyler has once again brought it all into sharp focus; brought back longstanding pain, reminded everybody of how very often the cop does approach you with his revolver ready, so that nothing he does with it can then really be accidental; of how, especially, at night, everything can suddenly reduce to a matter of reflexes: your life trembling in the crook of a cop's finger because it is dark, and Watts, and the history of this place and these times makes it impossible for the cop to come on any different, or for you to hate him any less. Both of you are caught in something neither of you wants, and yet night after night, with casualities or without, these traditional scenes continue to be played out all over the south-central part of this city.
Whatever else may be wrong in a political way -- like the inadequacy of the Great Depression techniques applied to a scene that has long outgrown them; like old-fashioned grafter's glee among the city fathers over the vast amounts of poverty-war bread that Uncle is now making available to them -- lying much closer to the heart of L.A.'s racial sickness is the co-existence of two very different cultures: one white and one black.
While the white culture is concerned with various forms of systematized folly -- the economy of the area in fact depending on it -- the black culture is stuck pretty much with basic realities like disease, like failure, violence and death, which the whites have mostly chosen -- and can afford -- to ignore. The two cultures do not understand each other, though white values are displayed without let-up on black people's TV screens, and though the panoramic sense of black impoverishment is hard to miss from atop the Harbor Freeway, which so many whites must drive at least twice every working day. Somehow it occurs to very few of them to leave at the Imperial Highway exit for a change, go east instead of west only a few blocks, and take a look at Watts. A quick look. The simplest kind of beginning. But Watts is country which lies, psychologically, uncounted miles further than most whites seem at present willing to travel.
On the surface anyway, the Deadwyler affair hasn't made it look any different, though underneath the mood in Watts is about what you might expect. Feelings range from a reflexive, angry, driving need to hit back somehow, to an anxious worry that the slaying is just one more bad grievance, one more bill that will fall due some warm evening this summer. Yet in the daytime's brilliance and heat, it is hard to believe there is any mystery to Watts. Everything seems so out in the open, all of it real, no plastic faces, no transistors, no hidden Muzak, or Disneyfied landscaping or smiling little chicks to show you around. Not in Raceriotland. Only a few historic landmarks, like the police substation, one command post for the white forces last August, pigeons now thick and cooing up on its red-tiled roof. Or, on down the street, vacant lots, still looking charred around the edges, winking with emptied Tokay, port and sherry pints, some of the bottles peeking out of paper bags, others busted.
A kid could come along in his bare feet and step on this glass -- not that you'd ever know. These kids are so tough you can pull slivers of it out of them and never get a whimper. It's part of their landscape, both the real and the emotional one: busted glass, busted crockery, nails, tin cans, all kinds of scrap and waste. Traditionally Watts. An Italian immigrant named Simon Rodia spent 30 years gathering some of it up and converting a little piece of the neighborhood along 107th Street into the famous Watts Towers, perhaps his own dream of how things should have been: a fantasy of fountains, boats, tall openwork spires, encrusted with a dazzling mosaic of Watts debris. Next to the Towers, along the old Pacific Electric tracks, kids are busy every day busting more bottles on the street rails. But Simon Rodia is dead, and now the junk just accumulates.
A few blocks away, other kids are out playing on the hot blacktop of the school playground. Brothers and sisters too young yet for school have it better -- wherever they are they have yards, trees, hoses, hiding places. Not the crowded, shadeless tenement living of any Harlem; just the same one- or two-story urban sprawl as all over the rest of L.A., giving you some piece of grass at least to expand into when you don't especially feel like being inside.
In the business part of town there is a different idea of refuge. Pool halls and bars, warm and dark inside, are crowded; many domino, dice and whist games in progress. Outside, men stand around a beer cooler listening to a ball game on the radio; others lean or hunker against the sides of buildings -- low, faded stucco boxes that remind you, oddly, of certain streets in Mexico. Women go by, to and from what shopping there is. it is easy to see how crowds, after all, can form quickly in these streets, around the least seed of a disturbance or accident. For the moment, it all only waits in the sun.
Overhead, big jets now and then come vacuum-cleanering in to land; the wind is westerly, and Watts lies under the approaches to L.A. International. The jets hang what seems only a couple of hundred feet up in the air; through the smog they show up more white than silver, highlighted by the sun, hardly solid; only the ghosts, or possibilities, of airplanes.
From here, much of the white culture that surrounds Watts -- and, in a curious way, besieges it -- looks like those jets: a little unreal, a little less than substantial. For Los Angeles, more than any other city, belongs to the mass media. What is known around the nation as the L.A. Scene exists chiefly as images on a screen or TV tube, as four-color magazine photos, as old radio jokes, as new songs that survive only a matter of weeks. It is basically a white Scene, and illusion is everywhere in it, from the giant aerospace firms that flourish or retrench at the whims of Robert McNamara, to the "action" everybody mills long the Strip on weekends looking for, unaware that they, and their search which will end, usually, unfulfilled, are the only action in town.
Watts lies impacted in the heart of this white fantasy. It is, by contrast, a pocket of bitter reality. The only illusion Watts ever allowed itself was to believe for a long time in the white version of what a Negro was supposed to be. But with the Muslim and civil-rights movements that went, too.
Since the August rioting, there has been little building here, little buying. Lots whose buildings were burned off them are still waiting vacant and littered with garbage, occupied only by a parked car or two, or kids fooling around after school, or winos sharing a pint in the early morning. The other day, on one of them, there were ground-breaking festivities, attended by a county supervisor, pretty high-school girls decked in ribbons, a white store owner and his wife, who in the true Watts spirit busted a bottle of champagne over a rock -- all because the man had decided to stay and rebuild his $200,000 market, the first such major rebuilding since the riot.
Watts people themselves talk about another kind of aura, vaguely evil; complain that Negroes living in better neighborhoods like to come in under the freeway as to a red-light district, looking for some girl, some game, maybe some connection. Narcotics is said to be a rare bust in Watts these days, although the narco people cruise the area earnestly, on the lookout for dope fiends, dope rings, dope peddlers. But the poverty of Watts makes it more likely that if you have pot or a little something else to spare you will want to turn a friend on, not sell it. Tomorrow, or when he can, your friend will return the favor.
At the Deadwyler inquest, much was made of the dead man's high blood alcohol content, as if his being drunk made it somehow all right for the police to shoot him. But alcohol is a natural part of the Watts style; as natural as LSD is around Hollywood. The white kid digs hallucination simply because he is conditioned to believe so much in escape, escape as an integral part of life, because the white L.A. Scene makes accessible to him so many different forms of it. But a Watts kid, brought up in a pocket of reality, looks perhaps not so much for escape as just for some calm, some relaxation. And beer or wine is good enough for that. Especially good at the end of a bad day.
Like after you have driven, say, down to Torrance or Long Beach or wherever it is they're hiring because they don't seem to be in Watts, not even in the miles of heavy industry that sprawl along Alameda Street, that gray and murderous arterial which lies at the eastern boundary of Watts looking like the edge of the world.
So you groove instead down the freeway, maybe wondering when some cop is going to stop you because the old piece of a car you're driving, which you bought for $20 or $30 you picked up somehow, makes a lot of noise or burns some oil. Catching you mobile widens The Man's horizons; gives him more things he can get you on. Like "excessive smoking" is a great favorite with him.
If you do get to where you were going without encountering a cop, you may spend your day looking at the white faces of personnel men, their uniform glaze of suspicion, their automatic smiles, and listening to polite putdowns. "I decided once to ask," a kid says, "one time they told me I didn't meet their requirements. So I said, "Well, what are you looking for? I mean, how can I train, what things do I have to learn so I can meet your requirements?' Know what he said? 'We are not obligated to tell you what our requirements are.'"
He isn't. That right there is the hell and headache: he doesn't have to do anything he doesn't want to do because he is The Man. Or he was. A lot of kids these days are more apt to be calling the little man -- meaning not so much any member of the power structure as just your average white L.A. taxpayer, registered voter, property owner; employed, stable, mortgaged and the rest.
The little man bugs these kids more The Man ever bugged their parents. It is the little man who is standing on their feet and in their way; he's all over the place, and there is not much they can do to change him or the way he feels about them. A Watts kid knows more of what goes on inside white heads than possibly whites do themselves; knows how often the little man has looked at him and thought, "Bad credit risk" -- or "Poor learner," or "Sexual threat," or "Welfare chiseler" -- without knowing a thing about him personally.
The natural, normal thing to want to do is hit the little man. But what, after all, has he done? Mile, respectable, possibly smiling, he has called you no names, shown no weapons. Only told you perhaps that the job was filled, the house rented.
With a cop it may get more dangerous, but at least it's honest. You understand each other. Both of you silently admitting that all the cop really has going for him is his gun. "There was a time," they'll tell you "you'd say, 'Take off the badge, baby, and let's settle it.' I mean he wouldn't, but you'd say it. But since August, man, the way I feel, hell with the badge -- just take off that gun."
The cop does not take off that gun; the hassle stays verbal. But this means that, besides protecting and serving the little man, the cop also functions as his effigy.
If he does get emotional and say something like "boy" or "nigger," you then have the option of cooling it or else -- again this is more frequent since last August -- calling him the name he expects to be called, though it is understood you are not commenting in any literal way on what goes on between him and his mother. It is a ritual exchange, like the dirty dozens.
Usually -- as in the Deadwyler incident -- it's the younger cop of the pair who's more troublesome. Most Watts kids are hip to what's going on in this rookie's head -- the things he feels he has to prove -- as much as to the elements of the ritual. Before the cop can say, "Let's see your I.D.," you learn to take it out politely and say, "You want to see my I.D.?" Naturally it will bug the cop more the further ahead of him you can stay. It is flirting with disaster, but it's the cop who has the guns, so you do what you can.
You must anticipate always how the talk is going to go. It's something you pick up quite young, same as you learn the different species of cop: The Black and White (named for the color scheme of their automobiles), who are L.A. city police and in general the least flexible; the L.A. county sheriff's department, who style themselves more of an élite, try to maintain a certain distance from the public, and are less apt to harass you unless you seem worthy; the Compton city cops, who travel only one to a car and come on very tough, like leaning four of you at a time up against the wall and shaking you all down; the juvies, who ride in unmarked Plymouths and are cruising all over the place soon as the sun goes down, pulling up alongside you with pleasantries like, "Which one's buying the wine tonight?" or, "Who are you guys planning to rob this time?" They are kidding, of course, trying to be pals. But Watts kids, like most, do not like being put in with winos, or dangerous drivers or thieves, or in any bag considered criminal or evil. Whatever the cop's motives, it looks like mean and deliberate ignorance.
In the daytime, and especially with any kind of crowd, the cop's surface style has changed some since last August. "Time was," you'll hear, "man used to go right in, very mean, pick maybe one kid out of the crowd he figured was the troublemaker, try to bust him down in front of everybody. But now the people start yelling back, how they don't want no more of that, all of a sudden The Man gets very meek."
Still, however much a cop may seem to be following the order of the day read to him every morning about being courteous to everybody, his behavior with a crowd will really depend as it always has on how many of his own he can muster, and how fast. For his Mayor, Sam Yorty, is a great believer in the virtues of Overwhelming Force as a solution to racial difficulties. This approach has not gained much favor in Watts. In fact, the Mayor of Los Angeles appears to many Negroes to be the very incarnation of the little man: looking out for no one but himself, speaking always out of expediency, and never, never to be trusted.
The Economic and Youth Opportunities Agency (E.Y.O.A.) is a joint city-county "umbrella agency" (the state used to be represented, but has dropped out) for many projects scattered around the poorer parts of L.A., and seems to be Sam Yorty's native element, if not indeed the flower of his consciousness. Bizarre, confused, ever in flux, strangely ineffective, E.Y.O.A. hardly sees a day go by without somebody resigning, or being fired, or making an accusation, or answering one -- all of it confirming the Watts Negroes' already sad estimate of the little man. The Negro attitude toward E.Y.O.A. is one of clear mistrust, though degrees of suspicion vary, from the housewife wanting only to be left in peace and quiet, who hopes that maybe The Man is lying less than usual this time, to the young, active disciple of Malcolm X who dismisses it all with a contemptuous shrug.
"But why?" asked one white lady volunteer. "There are so many agencies now that you can go to, that can help you, if you'll only file your complaint."
"They don't help you." This particular kid had been put down trying to get a job with one of the larger defense contractors.
"Maybe not before. But it's different now."
"Now," the kid sighed, "now. See, people been hearing that 'now' for a long time, and I'm just tired of The Man telling you, "'Now it's OK, now we mean what we say.'"
In Watts, apparently, where no one can afford the luxury of illusion, there is little reason to believe that now will be any different, any better than last time.
It is perhaps a measure of the people's indifference that only 2 per cent of the poor in Los Angeles turned out to elect representatives to the E.Y.O.A. "poverty board." For a hopeless minority on the board (7 out of 23), nobody saw much point in voting.
Meantime, the outposts of the establishment drowse in the bright summery smog: secretaries chat the afternoons plaintively away about machines that will not accept the cards they have punched for them; white volunteers sit filing, doodling, talking on the phones, doing any kind of busy-work, wondering where the "clients" are; inspirational mottoes like SMILE decorate the beaverboard office walls along with flow charts to illustrate the proper disposition of "cases," and with clippings from the slick magazines about "What Is Emotional Maturity?"
Items like smiling and Emotional Maturity are in fact very big with the well-adjusted, middle- class professionals, Negro and white, who man the mimeographs and computers of the poverty war here. Sadly, they seem to be smiling themselves out of any meaningful communication with their poor. Besides a 19th-century faith that tried and true approaches -- sound counseling, good intentions, perhaps even compassion -- will set Watts straight, they are also burdened with the personal attitudes they bring to work with them. Their reflexes -- especially about conformity, about failure, about violence -- are predictable.
"We had a hell of a time with this one girl," a Youth Training and Employment Project counselor recalls. "You should have seen those hairdos of hers -- piled all the way up to here. And the screwy outfits she'd come in with, you just wouldn't believe. We had to take her aside and explain to her that employers just don't go for that sort of thing. That she'd be up against a lot of very smooth-looking chicks, heels and stockings, conservative hair and clothes. We finally got her to come around."
The same goes for boys who like to wear Malcolm hats, or Afro haircuts. The idea the counselors push evidently is to look as much as possible like a white applicant. Which is to say, like a Negro job counselor or social worker. This has not been received with much enthusiasm among the kids it is designed to help out, and is one reason business is so slow around the various projects.
There is a similar difficulty among the warriors about failure. They are in a socio-economic bag, along with the vast majority of white Angelenos, who seem more terrified of failure than of death. It is difficult to see where any of them have experienced significant defeat, or loss. If they have, it seems to have been long rationalized away as something else.
You are likely to hear from them wisdom on the order of: "Life has a way of surprising us, simply as a function of time. Even if all you do is stand on the street corner and wait." Watts is full of street corners where people stand, as they have been, some of them, for 20 or 30 years, without Surprise One ever having come along. Yet the poverty warriors must believe in this form of semimiracle, because their world and their scene cannot accept the possibility that there may be, after all, no surprise. But it is something Watts has always known.
As for violence, in a pocket of reality such as Watts, violence is never far from you: because you are a man, because you have been put down, because for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Somehow, sometime. Yet to these innocent, optimistic child-bureaucrats, violence is an evil and an illness, possibly because it threatens property and status they cannot help cherishing.
They remember last August's riot as an outburst, a seizure. Yet what, from the realistic viewpoint of Watts, was so abnormal? "Man's got his foot on your neck," said one guy who was there, "sooner or later you going to stop asking him to take it off." The violence it took to get that foot to ease up even the little it did was no surprise. Many had predicted it. Once it got going, its basic objective -- to beat the Black and White police -- seemed a reasonable one, and was gained the minute The Man had to send troops in. Everybody seems to have known it. There is hardly a person in watts now who finds it painful to talk about, or who regrets that it happened -- unless he lost somebody.
But in the white culture outside, in that creepy world full of pre-cardiac Mustang drivers who scream insults at one another only when the windows are up; of large corporations where Niceguymanship is the standing order regardless of whose executive back one may be endeavoring to stab; of an enormous priest caste of shrinks who counsel moderation and compromise as the answer to all forms of hassle; among so much well-behaved unreality, it is next to impossible to understand how Watts may truly feel about violence. In terms of strict reality, violence may be a means to getting money, for example, no more dishonest than collecting exorbitant carrying charges from a customer on relief, as white merchants here still do. Far from a sickness, violence may be an attempt to communicate, or to be who you really are.
"Sure I did two stretches," a kid says, "both times for fighting, but I didn't deserve either one. First time, the cat was bigger than I was; next time, it was two against one, and I was the one." But he was busted all the same, perhaps because Whitey, who knows how to get everything he wants, no longer has fisticuffs available as a technique, and sees no reason why everybody shouldn't go the Niceguy route. If you are thinking maybe there is a virility hangup in here, too, that putting a Negro into a correctional institution for fighting is also some kind of neutering operation, well, you might have something there, who knows?
It is, after all, in white L.A.'s interest to cool Watts any way it can -- to put the area under a siege of persuasion; to coax the Negro poor into taking on certain white values. Given them a little property, and they will be less tolerant of arson; get them to go in hock for a car or color TV, and they'll be more likely to hold down a steady job. Some see it for what it is -- this come-on, this false welcome, this attempt to transmogrify the reality of Watts into the unreality of Los Angeles. Some don't.
Watts is tough; has been able to resist the unreal. If there is any drift away from reality, it is by way of mythmaking. As this summer warms up, last August's riot is being remembered less as chaos and more as art. Some talk now of a balletic quality to it, a coordinated and graceful drawing of cops away from the center of the action, a scattering of The Man's power, either with real incidents or false alarms.
Others remember it in terms of music; through much of the rioting seemed to run, they say, a remarkable empathy, or whatever it is that jazz musicians feel on certain nights; everybody knowing what to do and when to do it without needing a word or a signal: "You could go up to anybody, the cats could be in the middle of burning down a store or something, but they'd tell you, explain very calm, just what they were doing, what they were going to do next. And that's what they'd do; man, nobody has to give orders."
Restructuring of the riot goes on in other ways. All Easter week this year, in the spirit of the season, there was a "Renaissance of the Arts," a kind of festival in memory of Simon Rodia, held at Markham Junior High, in the heart of Watts.
Along with theatrical and symphonic events, the festival also featured a roomful of sculptures fashioned entirely from found objects -- found, symbolically enough, and in the Simon Rodia tradition, among the wreckage the rioting had left. Exploiting textures of charred wood, twisted metal, fused glass, many of the works were fine, honest rebirths.
In one corner was this old, busted, hollow TV set with a rabbit-ears antenna on top; inside where its picture tube should have been, gazing out with scorched wiring threaded like electronic ivy among its crevices and sockets, was a human skull. The name of the piece was "The Late, Late, Late Show."
Introduction to Farina's 'Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me', Thomas Pynchon, 1996.
In a dim way, I had been aware of Richard Farina before I actually met him. It was the winter of 1958, toward the end of the school semester, and I was a junior editor on the Cornell Writer, which was the campus literary magazine. At some point these stories and poems began to arrive. It was a radically different voice, one that seemed to come from the world outside, surer, less safe, of higher quality than the usual run of submissions. Not many of the staff could tell me much about this "Farina" character, except that he'd been away from Cornell for a while, out traveling around.
Soon, in the back spaces of classrooms I happened to be in, I would sometimes detect this dangerous presence, not wearing a jacket or tie, more hair than was fashionable, always sitting with the same group of people. Quiet, but intensely there, checking things out. Eventually I connected him with the other, literary presence.
We ran with different crowds, so our paths only crossed now and then. One day in the spring I was crossing the Arts Quad and spotted Farina, reclining on the green grass with an open book. We nodded, said hello. "Listen," Farina said, "I'm having a party Saturday night at my place on College Avenue, if you want to fall by." Which was how I first encountered his remarkable gift of civility. As we chatted, a strange thing was also happening. Coeds I had lusted after across deep lecture halls were actually altering course, here, out in the daylight, to stop and talk to Farina. He was inviting them to his party too. Oboy, I thought to myself, oboy.
1958, to be sure, was another planet. You have to appreciate the extent of sexual repression on that campus at the time. Rock 'n' roll had been with us for a few years, but the formulation Dope/Sex/Rock 'n' Roll hadn't yet been made by too many of us. At Cornell, all undergraduate women were supposed to be residing, part of the time under lock and key, either in dormitories or sorority houses. On weeknights they had to be inside these places by something like 11 P.M., at which time all the doors were locked. Staying out all night without authorization meant discipline by the Women's Judiciary Board, up to and including expulsion from school. On Saturday nights the curfew was graciously extended to something equally unreal, like 12 midnight.
Curfews were not the only erotic problem we faced -- there was also a three- or four-to-one ratio of male to female students, as well as a variety of coed undergarments fiendishly designed to delay until curfew, if not to prevent outright, any access to one's date's pelvic area. One sorority house I knew of, and certainly others, had a house officer stationed by the front door on date nights. Her job was to make sure, in a polite but manual way, that every sister had some version of a Playtex chastity belt in place before she was allowed out the door. Landlords and local tradesfolk were also encouraged to report to the Administration the presence of coeds in off-campus apartments, such as Farina's. In these and other ways, the University believed it was doing its duty to act in loco parentis.
This extraordinary meddling was not seriously protested until the spring of 1958, when, like a preview of the '60s, students got together on the issue, wrote letters, rallied, demonstrated, and finally, a couple of thousand strong, by torchlight in the curfew hours between May 23rd and 24th, marched to and stormed the home of the University president. Rocks, eggs, and a smoke bomb were deployed. Standing on his front porch, the egg-spattered president vowed that Cornell would never be run by mob rule. He then went inside and called the proctor, or chief campus cop, screaming, "I want heads! . . . I don't care whose! Just get me some heads, and be quick about it!" So at least ran the rumor next day, when four upperclassmen, Farina among them, were suspended. Students, however, were having none of this -- they were angry. New demonstrations were suggested. After some dickering, the four were reinstated. This was the political and emotional background of that long-ago spring term at Cornell -- the time and setting of Richard Farina's novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me
Not that this is a typical "college" novel, exactly. Farina uses the campus more as a microcosm of the world at large. He keeps bringing in visitors and flashbacks from the outside. There is no sense of sanctuary here, or eternal youth. Like the winter winds of the region, awareness of mortality blows through every chapter. The novel ends with the death of a major character.
Undergraduate consciousness rests in part on a set of careless assumptions about being immortal. The elitism and cruelty often found in college humor arises from this belief in one's own Exemption, not only from time and death, but somehow from the demands of life as well. It is Exemption -- in a sense which Farina interestingly broadens here -- that so perplexes and haunts the novel's main character, Gnossos Pappadopoulis.
For Gnossos, Exemption is nothing he can either take for granted or have illusions about. His life is a day-to-day effort to keep earning and maintaining it. In the course of the book, Gnossos looks at a number of possibilities, including Eastern religion, road epiphanies, mescaline, love. All turn out to have a flaw of some kind. What he's left with to depend on is his own coherence, an extended version of 1950s Cool. "Immunity has been granted to me," thinks Gnossos, "for I do not lose my cool." Backed up by a range of street-wise skills like picking locks and scoring dope, Cool gets Gnossos through, and it lies at the heart of his style.
There was a similar element of reserve to Farina's own public character. When he spoke, one of the typical expressions on his face was a half-ironic half-smile, as if he were monitoring his voice and not quite believing what he heard. He carried with him this protective field of selfawareness and instant feedback, and I never did see all the way through it, although I got to know him a little better during the '59 school year. We were never best friends, but we did like each other, and each other's writing, and we hung out some, at parties, at beer outlets on campus like the Ivy Room, or at Johnny's Big Red Grill (called Guido's in the book), which was the usual nighttime gathering place.
The eats and atmosphere at Johnny's were pretty much as Farina describes them. From time to time there'd be live l music. Peter Yarrow, later of Peter, Paul and Mary, had a standing gig there, maybe one of his earliest. He alternated with a rock 'n' roll group, all of them related, from the grocery across the street. In a few years these same two currents, modern folk and working-class rock, would flow together in what we remember now as the music of the high '60s. Farina's ear was taken not so much then by pop music as by more traditional American forms like jazz, and especially blues, both country and black. To the now canonized Buddy Holly he listened with some ambivalence -- evident in the novel -- but he did pay close attention to "Peggy Sue." It seems now that in the guitar break of that recording he may have caught something others didn't, some flash of things to come -- but this could also just be my own retro-fantasy. Two albums of the period I know he was crazy about were Mose Allison's "Back Country Suite," also mentioned in the novel, and the English version of Weill and Brecht's Threepenny Opera.
When it came to dancing, Farina went for Latin music. He was blessed, and knew it, with a happy combination of heritages. His mother was Irish and his father Cuban. He had relatives in both countries and had visited with them. It happened that in '58 and '59 there were a number of students from Latin America in the School of Architecture, and their circle was one of several that Farina could move in with some intimacy and ease. Their weekend parties were regarded as the best around. Farina danced a strange paso doble I've never seen since, and whose authenticity I can't confirm. But the women he danced with, though now and then puzzled, were certainly enjoying themselves, which was the whole point.
Each year on St. Patrick's Day, the tradition in the Architecture School was to construct a giant, what seemed like hundreds-of-feet-long, Chinese dragon, get as many folks under it as possible, and go running around the campus, in and out of classes and lectures, hands emerging from underneath the critter to grab and fondle the nearest coeds, many of whom had their hair tinted green. Everybody whooped it up all day long with oceans of beer dyed the same color. This was the one day, close to the Spring Equinox, when Farina's two ethnic sides swung into balance, and he could indulge both. He would end the day with a crowd of dragon personnel, all spattered green, dowrs at a venerable bar called Jim's, standing up on a table with a mug of green beer, quoting Garcia Lorca's "Verde, que te quiero verde...." This would produce a long series of toasts to everything green, cervezas verdes, conos verdes. "El barco sobre la mar," Farina hollered, "y el caballo en la montana!" Years later, in California, around sunrise on the morning of his marriage to Mimi Baez, we happened to stagger into each other in somebody's front yard, both hung over. It was somewhere out in the country, in the hills near Palo Alto. We then managed to have one of those joirit epiphanies. Farina was staring up one of the slopes nearby. A white horse was standing out on this very green hillside, looking back at us. Of course Farina and I were both thinking of Lorca's horse on the mountain.
Sometimes at college we also succeeded in getting on the same literary wavelength. We showed up once at a party, not a masquerade party, in disguise -- he as Hemingway, I as Scott Fitzgerald, each of us aware that the other had been through a phase of enthusiasm for his respective author. I suppose by then I was learning from Farina how to be amused at some of my obsessions. Also in '59 we simultaneously picked up on what I still think is among the finest of American novels, Warlock, by Oakley Hall. We set about getting others to read it too, and for a while had a micro-cult going. Soon a number of us were talking in Warlock dialogue, a kind of thoughtful, stylized, Victorian Wild West diction. This may have appealed to Farina partly as another method of maintaining Cool.
The first time I read Been Down. . . was in manuscript, an early drafts in the summer of 1963. I remember giving him a lot of free advice, though I've forgotten what it was exactly. But fortunately he didn't take any of it. He must have wondered if I thought we were still back in writing class. Later, having rewritten it, ten pages from the end of the final draft, his hand went out on him. "Did you hear about my Paralyzed Hand?" he wrote in a letter. "Why Tom old boy" -- Warlock talk -- "I woke up this here otherwise promising morning with a clump of inert floppy for a hand. Lentils. Lentils and some kind of exhaustion known only to nits in sedentary occupations. Me, the once hunter after restless game gone to seed in a J. C. Penney armchair covered by a baby blanket.... But the hand came back by pins and needles after a month and I got done...."
When I first read the book, I was comparing it with my own experience of the same place, time, and people. It seemed then that Gnossos and Farina were one and the same. It was also great fun recognizing the real-life counterparts of the other characters, being tickled by what he'd done with and to them. Now, nearly twenty years later, seeing a little further into his method, I think maybe it wasn't so simple. He didn't just take things that had happened and change names. He really worked his ass off, but the result is so graceful that the first time around I was fooled completely.
For many of the characters, Farina seems to have begun with the key traits that in their Cornell originals appealed to him most -- Drew Youngblood's decency, Juan Carlos Rosenbloom's manic bravado, Judy Lumpers's build -- and then from these cores gone on to develop each of them more fully. Presently, as characters will, each took on an inside the-novel life, separate from whoever they'd been outside it. There isn't much point Naming Names here -- they know who they all are and they walk among us, even today.
Gnossos himself is not Mr. Perfect, by any stretch. He has a short temper and a low tolerance for organized religion, national mythologies, incompetence, resignation, anybody from the American South, racist or not -- the list of resentments goes on. He is susceptible to the thrill of vendetta or karmic adjustment, an impulse I suspect isn't entirely absent from why Farina wrote the novel. Gnossos uses drugs and alcohol injudiciously, and gets publicly abusive with women, something I never saw Farina do. His own approach to women was never less than courtly and sensitive, though not without perhaps one or two jiveass moments.
The wolf story, for instance. This is one of Gnossos's encounters with homicidal animal life, the other being the monkey demon of Chapter 14. In the book, Gnossos tells the wolf tale to Kristin McCleod, a young woman he's falling in love with. He puts it in the form of a dialogue, in which Kristin, and we reading, are asked to provide the sense data -- the cold, the squeak of the snow, the Adirondack visuals. It is Farina's most perfected version of a piece whose early tryouts many friends first heard at Cornell, some more repeatedly than they really wanted to. He was in fact dismayingly successful with the wolf story, which he was using then mainly to hustle coeds, often those on whom one had sort of had one's own eye. Most of them, as I recall, went for it. Each time he told it, of course, he rewrote, so it got better and better.
The monkey demon or mandrill-at-the-window story didn't play as well. Some only thought he was being dramatic, others thought temporarily insane. When winter boredom set in there was always a chance of entertainment in sneaking up to Farina's window at unlikely hours and making what we imagined to be mandrill faces and sounds, in hopes of some reaction. But he would only half-smile, and shrug, as if to say, if you don't get it, you don't get it.
But it remains one of the most effective of the many dark scenes in this novel. The darkest of all, and I think the best written, is the sequence that takes place in revolutionary Cuba, in which Gnossos's best friend is accidentally killed. Although a few pages of campus rioting come later, the true climax of the book is in Cuba. Back in his Hemingway phase, Farina must have seen that line about every true story ending in death. Death, no idle prankster, is always, in this book, just outside the window. The cosmic humor is in Gnossos's blundering attempts to make some kind of early arrangement with Thanatos, to find some kind of hustle that will get him out of the mortal contract we're all stuck with. Nothing he tries works, but even funnier than that, he's really too much in love with being alive, with dope, sex, rock 'n' roll -- he feels so good he has to take chances, has to keep tempting death, only half-realizing that the more intensely he lives, the better the odds of his number finally coming up.
Close to the end of his last term at Cornell, Farina seemed to grow impatient. He had a job waiting in New York, and they didn't care, he said, if he got his degree or not. There may also have been some romantic disaster involving Kristin McCleod's original, though we never talked about it and all I heard was vague gossip. We were in one class together that term, and studied for the final at Johnny's Big Red Grill over bottles of Red Cap ale. Next day, no more than half an hour into the exam, I was scribbling away at an essay question, caught a movement, looked up, saw Farina handing in his exam book and leaving. He couldn't have been finished. As he came past I raised my eyebrows and he gave me that smile and that shrug. This was the last I saw of him for a while.
He went to New York, to Cuba, married Carolyn Hester, got a career in music going, toured overseas, lived in London, Paris, got divorced -- then it was back to California, Boston, California again. Sometimes we wrote letters, sometimes -- not often enough -- we'd run into each other. We talked on the phone the day before he died. His book had just come out. We arranged to connect in L.A. in a few weeks. The next evening I heard the news over an AM rock 'n' roll station. He'd been riding on the back of a motorcycle on Carmel Valley Road, where a prudent speed would have been thirty-five. Police estimated that they must have been doing ninety, and failed to make a curve. Farina was thrown off, and killed.
I called his house -- no answer. Called the AP in Los Angeles -- they couldn't confirm anything for sure. It never occurred to me to call the hospital up there. I didn't want to hear what they'd say. The only person I found in that night was a long-distance friend who'd also known him at Cornell. She didn't have any more solid news than I did. Both still hoping, hope fading, we talked for a long time, into the middle of the night, about Farina and the old days, in our voices the same mixture of exasperation and love most of us had always felt whenever his name came up. Finally, toward the end of the conversation, she laughed. "Just thought of something. If that fucking Farina," she said, "has only been seriously hurt -- if he goes up to the edge of It, and then comes back, you realize -- we're never going to hear the end of it."
The road to 1984, Thomas Pynchon, May 3 2003.
George Orwell's last book, 1984, has in a way been a victim of the success of Animal Farm , which most people were content to read as a straightforward allegory about the melancholy fate of the Russian revolution. From the minute Big Brother's moustache makes its appearance in the second paragraph of 1984, many readers, thinking right away of Stalin, have tended to carry over the habit of point-for-point analogy from the earlier work. Although Big Brother's face certainly is Stalin's, just as the despised party heretic Emmanuel Goldstein's face is Trotsky's, the two do not quite line up with their models as neatly as Napoleon and Snowball did in Animal Farm. This did not keep the book from being marketed in the US as a sort of anticommunist tract. Published in 1949, it arrived in the McCarthy era, when 'Communism' was damned officially as a monolithic, worldwide menace, and there was no point in even distinguishing between Stalin and Trotsky, any more than for shepherds to be instructing sheep in the nuances of wolf recognition.
The Korean conflict (1950-53) would also soon highlight the alleged Communist practice of ideological enforcement through 'brainwashing', a set of techniques said to be based on the work of I P Pavlov, who had once trained dogs to salivate on cue. That something very much like brainwashing happens in 1984, in lengthy and terrifying detail, to its hero, Winston Smith, did not surprise those readers determined to take the novel as a simple condemnation of Stalinist atrocity.
This was not exactly Orwell's intention. Though 1984 has brought aid and comfort to generations of anticommunist ideologues with Pavlovian-response issues of their own, Orwell's politics were not only of the left, but to the left of left. He had gone to Spain in 1937 to fight against Franco and his Nazi-supported fascists, and there had quickly learned the difference between real and phony antifascism. "The Spanish war and other events in 1936-7," he wrote 10 years later, "turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I know it."
Orwell thought of himself as a member of the "dissident left," as distinguished from the "official left," meaning basically the British Labour party, most of which he had come, well before the second world war, to regard as potentially, if not already, fascist. More or less consciously, he found an analogy between British Labour and the Communist Party under Stalin - both, he felt, were movements professing to fight for the working classes against capitalism, but in reality concerned only with establishing and perpetuating their own power. The masses were only there to be used for their idealism, their class resentments, their willingness to work cheap and to be sold out, again and again.
Now, those of fascistic disposition - or merely those among us who remain all too ready to justify any government action, whether right or wrong - will immediately point out that this is prewar thinking, and that the moment enemy bombs begin to fall on one's homeland, altering the landscape and producing casualties among friends and neighbours, all this sort of thing, really, becomes irrelevant, if not indeed subversive. With the homeland in danger, strong leadership and effective measures become of the essence, and if you want to call that fascism, very well, call it whatever you please, no one is likely to be listening, unless it's for the air raids to be over and the all clear to sound. But the unseemliness of an argument - let alone a prophecy - in the heat of some later emergency, does not necessarily make it wrong. One could certainly argue that Churchill's war cabinet had behaved on occasion no differently from a fascist regime, censoring news, controlling wages and prices, restricting travel, subordinating civil liberties to self-defined wartime necessity.
What is clear from his letters and articles at the time he was working on 1984 is Orwell's despair over the postwar state of 'socialism'. What in Keir Hardie's time had been an honourable struggle against the incontrovertibly criminal behaviour of capitalism toward those whom it used for profit had become, by Orwell's time, shamefully institutional, bought and sold, in too many instances concerned only with maintaining itself in power.
Orwell seems to have been particularly annoyed with the widespread allegiance to Stalinism to be observed among the Left, in the face of overwhelming evidence of the evil nature of the regime. "For somewhat complex reasons," he wrote in March of 1948, early in the revision of the first draft of 1984 , "nearly the whole of the English left has been driven to accept the Russian regime as 'Socialist', while silently recognising that its spirit and practice are quite alien to anything that is meant by 'Socialism' in this country. Hence there has arisen a sort of schizophrenic manner of thinking, in which words like 'democracy' can bear two irreconcilable meanings, and such things as concentration camps and mass deportations can be right and wrong simultaneously."
We recognise this "sort of schizophrenic manner of thinking" as a source for one of the great achievements of this novel, one which has entered the everyday language of political discourse - the identification and analysis of doublethink. As described in Emmanuel Goldstein's The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism , a dangerously subversive text outlawed in Oceania and known only as 'the book', doublethink is a form of mental discipline whose goal, desirable and necessary to all party members, is to be able to believe two contradictory truths at the same time. This is nothing new, of course. We all do it. In social psychology it has long been known as "cognitive dissonance." Others like to call it 'compartmentalisation'. Some, famously F Scott Fitzgerald, have considered it evidence of genius. For Walt Whitman ("Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself") it was being large and containing multitudes, for American aphorist Yogi Berra it was coming to a fork in the road and taking it, for Schrödinger's cat, it was the quantum paradox of being alive and dead at the same time.
The idea seems to have presented Orwell with his own dilemma, a kind of meta-doublethink - repelling him with its limitless potential for harm, while at the same time fascinating him with its promise of a way to transcend opposites - as if some aberrant form of Zen Buddhism, whose fundamental koans are the three party slogans, "War is Peace", "Freedom is Slavery" and "Ignorance is Strength", were being applied to evil purposes.
The consummate embodiment of doublethink in this novel is the Inner Party official O'Brien, Winston's seducer and betrayer, protector and destroyer. He believes with utter sincerity in the regime he serves, and yet can impersonate perfectly a devout revolutionary committed to its overthrow. He imagines himself a mere cell of the greater organism of the state, but it is his individuality, compelling and self-contradicting, that we remember. Although a calmly eloquent spokesman for the totalitarian future, O'Brien gradually reveals an unbalanced side, a disengagement from reality that will emerge in its full unpleasantness during the re-education of Winston Smith, in the place of pain and despair known as the Ministry of Love.
Doublethink also lies behind the names of the superministries which run things in Oceania - the Ministry of Peace wages war, the Ministry of Truth tells lies, the Ministry of Love tortures and eventually kills anybody whom it deems a threat. If this seems unreasonably perverse, recall that in the present-day United States, few have any problem with a war-making apparatus named 'the department of defence', any more than we have saying "department of justice" with a straight face, despite well-documented abuses of human and constitutional rights by its most formidable arm, the FBI. Our nominally free news media are required to present 'balanced' coverage, in which every 'truth' is immediately neutered by an equal and opposite one. Every day public opinion is the target of rewritten history, official amnesia and outright lying, all of which is benevolently termed 'spin', as if it were no more harmful than a ride on a merry-go-round. We know better than what they tell us, yet hope otherwise. We believe and doubt at the same time - it seems a condition of political thought in a modern superstate to be permanently of at least two minds on most issues. Needless to say, this is of inestimable use to those in power who wish to remain there, preferably forever.
Besides the ambivalence within the left as to Soviet realities, other opportunities for doublethink in action arose in the wake of the second world war. In its moment of euphoria, the winning side was making, in Orwell's view, mistakes as fatal as any made by the Treaty of Versailles after the first world war. Despite the most honourable intentions, in practice the division of spoils among the former allies carried the potential for fatal mischief. Orwell's uneasiness over the 'peace' in fact is one major subtext of 1984.
"What it is really meant to do," Orwell wrote to his publisher at the end of 1948 - as nearly as we can tell early in the revision phase of the novel - "is to discuss the implications of dividing the world up into 'Zones of Influence' (I thought of it in 1944 as a result of the Tehran conference) ..."
Well of course novelists should not be altogether trusted as to the sources of their inspiration. But the imaginative procedure bears looking at. The Tehran conference was the first allied summit meeting of the second world war, taking place late in 1943, with Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin in attendance. Among the topics they discussed was how, once Nazi Germany was defeated, the allies would divide it up into zones of occupation. Who would get how much of Poland was another issue. In imagining Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, Orwell seems to have made a leap in scale from the Tehran talks, projecting the occupation of a defeated country into that of a defeated world.
This grouping of Britain and the United States into a single bloc, as prophecy, has turned out to be dead-on, foreseeing Britain's resistance to integration with the Eurasian landmass as well as her continuing subservience to Yank interests - dollars, for instance, being the monetary unit of Oceania. London is still recognisably the London of the postwar austerity period. From the opening, with its cold plunge directly into the grim April day of Winston Smith's decisive act of disobedience, the textures of dystopian life are unremitting - the uncooperative plumbing, the cigarettes that keep losing their tobacco, the horrible food - though perhaps this was not such an imaginative stretch for anyone who'd had to undergo wartime shortages.
Prophecy and prediction are not quite the same, and it would ill serve writer and reader alike to confuse them in Orwell's case. There is a game some critics like to play in which one makes lists of what Orwell did and didn't 'get right'. Looking around us at the present moment in the US, for example, we note the popularity of helicopters as a resource of 'law enforcement', familiar to us from countless televised 'crime dramas', themselves forms of social control - and for that matter at the ubiquity of television itself. The two-way telescreen bears a close enough resemblance to flat plasma screens linked to 'interactive' cable systems, circa 2003. News is whatever the government says it is, surveillance of ordinary citizens has entered the mainstream of police activity, reasonable search and seizure is a joke. And so forth. "Wow, the government has turned into Big Brother, just like Orwell predicted! Something, huh?" "Orwellian, dude!"
Well, yes and no. Specific predictions are only details, after all. What is perhaps more important, indeed necessary, to a working prophet, is to be able to see deeper than most of us into the human soul. Orwell in 1948 understood that despite the Axis defeat, the will to fascism had not gone away, that far from having seen its day it had perhaps not yet even come into its own - the corruption of spirit, the irresistible human addiction to power were already long in place, all well-known aspects of the Third Reich and Stalin's USSR, even the British Labour party - like first drafts of a terrible future. What could prevent the same thing from happening to Britain and the United States? Moral superiority? Good intentions? Clean living?
What has steadily, insidiously improved since then, of course, making humanist arguments almost irrelevant, is the technology. We must not be too distracted by the clunkiness of the means of surveillance current in Winston Smith's era. In 'our' 1984 , after all, the integrated circuit chip was less than a decade old, and almost embarrassingly primitive next to the wonders of computer technology circa 2003, most notably the internet, a development that promises social control on a scale those quaint old 20th-century tyrants with their goofy moustaches could only dream about.
On the other hand, Orwell did not foresee such exotic developments as the religious wars with which we have become all too familiar, involving various sorts of fundamentalism. Religious fanaticism is in fact strangely absent from Oceania, except in the form of devotion to the party. Big Brother's regime exhibits all the elements of fascism - the single charismatic dictator, the total control of behaviour, the absolute subordination of the individual to the collective - except for racial hostility, in particular anti-Semitism, which was such a prominent feature of fascism as Orwell knew it. This is bound to strike the modern reader as puzzling. The only Jewish character in the novel is Emmanuel Goldstein, and maybe only because his original, Leon Trotsky, was Jewish too. And he remains an offstage presence whose real function in 1984 is to provide an expository voice, as the author of The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.
Much has been made recently of Orwell's own attitude towards Jews, some commentators even going so far as to call it anti-Semitic. If one looks in his writing of the time for overt references to the topic, one finds relatively little - Jewish matters did not seem to command much of his attention. What published evidence there is indicates either a sort of numbness before the enormity of what had happened in the camps or a failure at some level to appreciate its full significance. There is some felt reticence, as if, with so many other deep issues to worry about, Orwell would have preferred that the world not be presented with the added inconvenience of having to think much about the Holocaust. The novel may even have been his way of redefining a world in which the Holocaust did not happen.
As close as 1984 gets to an anti-Semitic moment is in the ritual practice of Two Minutes Hate, presented quite early, almost as a plot device for introducing the characters Julia and O'Brien. But the exhibition of anti-Goldsteinism described here with such toxic immediacy is never generalised into anything racial. "Nor is there any racial discrimination," as Emmanuel Goldstein himself confirms, in the book - "Jews, Negroes, South Americans of pure Indian blood are to be found in the highest ranks of the Party ..." As nearly as one can tell, Orwell considered anti-Semitism "one variant of the great modern disease of nationalism", and British anti-Semitism in particular as another form of British stupidity. He may have believed that by the time of the tripartite coalescence of the world he imagined for 1984 , the European nationalisms he was used to would somehow no longer exist, perhaps because nations, and hence nationalities, would have been abolished and absorbed into more collective identities. Amid the novel's general pessimism, this might strike us, knowing what we know today, as an unwarrantedly chirpy analysis. The hatreds Orwell never found much worse than ridiculous have determined too much history since 1945 to be dismissed quite so easily.
In a New Statesman review from 1938 of a John Galsworthy novel, Orwell commented, almost in passing, "Galsworthy was a bad writer, and some inner trouble, sharpening his sensitiveness, nearly made him into a good one; his discontent healed itself, and he reverted to type. It is worth pausing to wonder in just what form the thing is happening to oneself."
Orwell was amused at those of his colleagues on the left who lived in terror of being termed bourgeois. But somewhere among his own terrors may have lurked the possibility that, like Galsworthy, he might one day lose his political anger, and end up as one more apologist for Things As They Are. His anger, let us go so far as to say, was precious to him. He had lived his way into it - in Burma and Paris and London and on the road to Wigan pier, and in Spain, being shot at, and eventually wounded, by fascists - he had invested blood, pain and hard labour to earn his anger, and was as attached to it as any capitalist to his capital. It may be an affliction peculiar to writers more than others, this fear of getting too comfortable, of being bought off. When one writes for a living, it is certainly one of the risks, though not one every writer objects to. The ability of the ruling element to co-opt dissent was ever present as a danger - actually not unlike the process by which the Party in 1984 is able perpetually to renew itself from below.
Orwell, having lived among the working and unemployed poor of the 1930s depression, and learned in the course of it their true imperishable worth, bestowed on Winston Smith a similar faith in their 1984 counterparts the proles, as the only hope for deliverance from the dystopian hell of Oceania. In the most beautiful moment of the novel - beauty as Rilke defined it, the onset of terror just able to be borne - Winston and Julia, thinking they are safe, regard from their window the woman in the courtyard singing, and Winston gazing into the sky experiences an almost mystical vision of the millions living beneath it, "people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world. If there was hope, it lay in the proles!" It is the moment just before he and Julia are arrested, and the cold, terrible climax of the book commences.
Before the war, Orwell had his moments of contempt for graphic scenes of violence in fiction, particularly the American hard-boiled crime fiction available in pulp magazines. In 1936, in a review of a detective novel, he quotes a passage describing a brutal and methodical beating, which uncannily foreshadows Winston Smith's experiences inside the Ministry of Love. What has happened? Spain and the second world war, it would seem. What was 'disgusting rubbish' back in a more insulated time has become, by the postwar era, part of the vernacular of political education, and by 1984 in Oceania it will be institutionalised. Yet Orwell cannot, like the average pulp writer, enjoy the luxury of unreflectively insulting the flesh and spirit of any character. The writing is at places difficult to stay with, as if Orwell himself is feeling every moment of Winston's ordeal.
The interests of the regime in Oceania lie in the exercise of power for its own sake, in its unrelenting war on memory, desire, and language as a vehicle of thought. Memory is relatively easy to deal with, from the totalitarian point of view. There is always some agency like the Ministry of Truth to deny the memories of others, to rewrite the past. It has become a commonplace, circa 2003, for government employees to be paid more than most of the rest of us to debase history, trivialise truth and annihilate the past on a daily basis. Those who don't learn from history used to have to relive it, but only until those in power could find a way to convince everybody, including themselves, that history never happened, or happened in a way best serving their own purposes - or best of all that it doesn't matter anyway, except as some dumbed-down TV documentary cobbled together for an hour's entertainment.
By the time they have left the Ministry of Love, Winston and Julia have entered permanently the condition of doublethink, the anterooms of annihilation, no longer in love but able to hate and love Big Brother at the same time. It is as dark an ending as can be imagined. But strangely, it is not quite the end. We turn the page to find appended what seems to be some kind of critical essay, "The Principles of Newspeak". We remember that at the beginning, we were given the option, by way of a footnote, to turn to the back of the book and read it. Some readers do this, and some don't - we might see it nowadays as an early example of hypertext. Back in 1948, this final section apparently bothered the American Book-of-the-Month Club enough for them to demand that it be cut, along with the chapters quoted from Emmanuel Goldstein's book, as a condition of acceptance by the club. Though he stood to lose at least £40,000 in American sales, Orwell refused to make the changes, telling his agent, "A book is built up as a balanced structure and one cannot simply remove large chunks here and there unless one is ready to recast the whole thing ... I really cannot allow my work to be mucked about beyond a certain point, and I doubt whether it even pays in the long run." Three weeks later the BOMC relented, but the question remains, why end a novel as passionate, violent and dark as this one with what appears to be a scholarly appendix?
The answer may lie in simple grammar. From its first sentence, "The Principles of Newspeak" is written consistently in the past tense, as if to suggest some later piece of history, post-1984 , in which Newspeak has become literally a thing of the past - as if in some way the anonymous author of this piece is by now free to discuss, critically and objectively, the political system of which Newspeak was, in its time, the essence. Moreover, it is our own pre-Newspeak English language that is being used to write the essay. Newspeak was supposed to have become general by 2050, and yet it appears that it did not last that long, let alone triumph, that the ancient humanistic ways of thinking inherent in standard English have persisted, survived, and ultimately prevailed, and that perhaps the social and moral order it speaks for has even, somehow, been restored.
In a 1946 article on The Managerial Revolution, an analysis of the world crisis by the American ex-Trotskyist James Burnham, Orwell wrote, "The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society." In its hints of restoration and redemption, perhaps "The Principles of Newspeak" serves as a way to brighten an otherwise bleakly pessimistic ending - sending us back out into the streets of our own dystopia whistling a slightly happier tune than the end of the story by itself would have warranted.
There is a photograph, taken around 1946 in Islington, of Orwell with his adopted son, Richard Horatio Blair. The little boy, who would have been around two at the time, is beaming, with unguarded delight. Orwell is holding him gently with both hands, smiling too, pleased, but not smugly so - it is more complex than that, as if he has discovered something that might be worth even more than anger - his head tilted a bit, his eyes with a careful look that might remind filmgoers of a Robert Duvall character with a backstory in which he has seen more than one perhaps would have preferred to. Winston Smith "believed that he had been born in 1944 or 1945 ..." Richard Blair was born May 14, 1944. It is not difficult to guess that Orwell, in 1984, was imagining a future for his son's generation, a world he was not so much wishing upon them as warning against. He was impatient with predictions of the inevitable, he remained confident in the ability of ordinary people to change anything, if they would. It is the boy's smile, in any case, that we return to, direct and radiant, proceeding out of an unhesitating faith that the world, at the end of the day, is good and that human decency, like parental love, can always be taken for granted - a faith so honourable that we can almost imagine Orwell, and perhaps even ourselves, for a moment anyway, swearing to do whatever must be done to keep it from ever being betrayed.
NZ feels the throttling effects of new maximalist copyright laws, Dwayne Winseck, November 8 2011.
Changes in copyright laws are changing the Internet and how people use it, increasingly so since 2008, when the Recording Industry Association of America and International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI) set out on a quest to make “ISP and intermediary responsibility” the law of the land in one country after another.
The idea that ISPs should be required to block access to websites that facilitate illicit downloading and cut-off Internet service for those who use such sites is not a new idea. While politically impossible to implement during the 1990s, these days “the mood of change is clearly reaching governments,” states the IPFI approvingly.
In the last three years, Britain, France, Sweden, Australia, Ireland, South Korea and Taiwan have adopted new copyright laws in which “intermediary responsibility” and three strikes rules play starring roles. The U.S. Congress is also currently considering two bills that would extend intermediary responsibility beyond ISPs and websites to a slew of new actors – advertisers, search engines, banks and online payment services – by way of the Protect IP and Stop Online Privacy acts.
The most recent convert to the copyright maximalist faith is New Zealand. Its Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Regulations, 2011 kicked into gear in September. The law’s core features sets out a sequence of progressively more punishing measures: notices, potential fines up to $15,000 for repeat offences and cutting Internet service to repeat infringers.
(Luckily for Canadians, these rules represent a far more punitive approach to ISP responsibility than the approach contemplated by the Copyright Modernization Act (Bill C11) currently before Parliament.)
In the past few weeks, the first batch of infringement notices were delivered by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) to four of the biggest ISPs in the country: Telecom, Vodafone, Orcon and TelstraClear.
The notices target 75 IP addresses on behalf of Universal Music, but one serious question in this is just who does an IP addresses belong to: Individuals, a household, an office, or some other unit of organization? Until this issue is cleared up, whole households risk being removed from the Internet on account of one person on its IP who has run afoul of laws governing just one aspect of life online.
Even before Universal Music and the RIANZ entered the scene, New Zealand’s ISPs had noticed something critically important: a steep drop in international peer-to-peer Internet traffic. Orcon — a major ISP in the country — observed that international P2P Internet traffic fell by 10 per cent immediately after the new law came into effect. It was like somebody clamped down on the country’s Internet connection to the outside world. As the second biggest type of data traffic after streaming video from such websites as YouTube, the decline in Internet traffic is significant.
This is not the first time this has happened. Sweden saw Internet traffic plunge 30 per cent overnight after the country’s Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED) was implemented in April 2009.
From the view of the music and entertainment industries “virtually all P2P content is illegal,” as the IFPI declares. As such, declines in Internet traffic just indicate that the traffic was infringing. And as New Zealand’s Ministry of Economic Development stated, the new law is all about “stopping illegal peer-to-peer file sharing such as sharing movies via BitTorrent.”
But these self-congratulating claims ignore the fact that P2P serves many purposes other than just trafficking in ill-gotten media content, for example:
* The band Nine Inch Nails uses p2p to offer free downloads of their music.
* Akamai uses it to create content distribution networks for entities like Netflix, Facebook and Amazon that run parallel to the Internet so as to relieve congestion on the telecoms carriers and ISPs networks.
* The CBC used it in 2008 to deliver an episode of Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister via BitTorrent; the BBC still uses it for its iPlayer service.
P2P also underpins ancient pre-web 1.0 Internet functions such as Internet Relay Chat, the nasty bits of 4chan, online games and even the authoritarian-fighting Tor protocol used in the “Arab Spring” uprisings and by the hacktivist group, Anonymous, alike.
In the old days of the industrial media, content regulation was seen as more heavy-handed and less respectful to free speech concerns than structural rules that applied equally to all; today, app-specific regulation targeted at specific Internet uses stands in a similar place because, unlike a finely-tuned surgical procedure, it functions as a sledge-hammer, with a lot that is valuable smashed under its blows.
Supporters claim that the “graduated response” and digital intermediary strategy have a minimal impact on individual liberties, but a recent UN Internet & Human Rights minced no words when arguing exactly the opposite point of view:
“. . . cutting off users from Internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, is disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
Article 19 sets out worldwide standards for freedom of opinion and expression rights.
Some also argue that the copyright maximalist approach is a broadband Internet killer. Ericsson’s resident policy wonk, Renee Summer, made just this point in regards to New Zealand’s plans, warning “the new rules could slow down consumer demand on the Government’s ultra-fast broadband network.”
Swedish ISPs argued similarly in 2009, with one claiming “half the Internet is gone. If this pattern keeps up, it means the extensive broadband network we’ve built will lose its significance.”
The idea is appealing yet it may be too early to reach this conclusion, after all most countries have not carefully tracked the impact. Moreover, the Swedish case muddies the waters because a half-year after the new law was introduced, traffic levels climbed back to their original levels.
Whether this was because people simply returned to their old ways or as a result of the steep rise in bandwidth hungry TV and entertainment content (e.g. Netflix, LoveFilm, etc.) being delivered online is still an open question. Yet in all cases, significant changes had occurred nonetheless.
Now that ISPs are in the business of regulating information flows and user behaviours, rather than being neutral points of access to the Internet, we’re seeping people modify their Internet use in potentially negative ways. Is it good that users are adopting a slate of new tools – encryption, anonymity, and other means of circumventing the new rules – that reflected a tilt away from the open Internet towards a more closed system?
Changing people’s behaviour is not too be taken lightly and moving control from the edges of the Internet and putting it deeper into its central nodes by way of ISPs and an expanding array of intermediaries is no more palatable in the 21st century than 15 years ago when first trotted out in the teeth of fierce resistance. Thus, we need to look beyond the careful stage-managed introduction of new copyright rules to carefully assess their impact on the Internet and the ever-widening range of what we do online.
Going forward, all eyes should be on New Zealand.
Students marching against tuition fees met with 'total policing' tactics, Alexandra Topping & Shiv Malik, Wednesday 9 November 2011.
Large areas of city blocked off as 4,000 officers police largely peaceful protest but Trafalgar Square camp quickly cleared
Thousands of students and protesters marched through London to protest against tuition fees and the "privatisation" of the higher education systemon Wednesday, flanked by a huge police presence determined to ensure the violent scenes that erupted last year were not repeated.
Fulfilling their promise of "total policing", 4,000 officers took to the streets as Metropolitan police commanders blocked off large areas of the capital, bringing in dozens of mounted officers and blocking off roads with 10-ft high barricades.
Protesters from the Occupy movement – which has been at St Paul's since mid-October – set up camp in Trafalgar Square with the aim of remaining until the mass strike of 30 November. They were quickly moved on by police, who also announced "additional conditions" for the march after it had begun.
A group of 50 protesters who set up about 30 "pop-up" tents refused to leave and were arrested for contravening the Public Order Act, according to the police.
Minor clashes broke out during the march but highly organised police units acted immediately to disrupt the snaking line of protesters and block off areas of trouble.
Despite 24 arrests and intermittent attacks on police with bottles and pieces of wood the protest was largely peaceful. Last year 153 were arrested when protests spiralled out of control after a fringe group of protesters hurled missiles at police and occupied the building housing Conservative party headquarters, after up to 50,000 took to the streets.
Before the protests police warned that baton rounds of plastic bullets could be used to prevent disorder for "extreme" measures. They also sent hundreds of letters to anti-cuts activists arrested in connection with previous public disorder offences warning of the consequences of attending the student demonstration.
One group of about 30 protesters calling themselves the Black Bloc, with covered faces and matching black hoodies, linked arms and could be seen through the crowd on occasions but no major disturbances were reported.
Many on the march – which began outside the University College London campus at midday before travelling to Trafalgar Square then on to the City – complained of "intimidating" tactics by the police.
"People who were involved in the protests last year were sent letters, police are threatening to use plastic bullets – I think it's put a lot of people off," said Anthony, a 19-year-old Liverpool University student who did not want to give his surname. "People have been worried, I've been hurt by the police, I've got friends who have been injured by the police. But it's not going to stop us, we are going to keep coming back."
National Campaign against Fees and Cuts, which organised the protests, said 10,000 had attended; police put the number at about 2,500.Evidence from helicopter pictures suggested the figure was somewhere between the two.
One of the protesters who briefly set up in Trafalgar Square, calling himself Leon, said they wanted to "bring people together" in the space but were soon moved on.
At 2pm, two hours after the march had begun, police announced protesters had to restrict the rally to the route and were prohibited from entering seven areas of the city. Anyone who failed to comply would be "committing an offence and may be liable to arrest", said a police spokesperson.
As the march passed through London's narrower streets, accompanied by a bass-heavy sound system, tension between demonstrators and police mounted as police held the front of the march to keep the thousands of protesters on the three-mile route together. Plain-clothes officers made snatch arrests, sparking volleys of bottles and placard sticks at police. Similar skirmishes continued until the march reached its destination in the City of London.
At the end of the demonstration the crowd were released into the Moorgate area of the City of London, where protesters were informed that a dispersal order would begin at precisely 5.41pm. By 6pm the streets were clear.
Yasmin Elgouze, an A-level student, 17, said protesters would not be distracted by police "bully tactics". She said: "Today is not about violence, it's about talking. It is not a violent revolution it is a revolution of ideas. The majority of people are here to exercise their right to peaceful protest, not to fight."
Like many at the protest she identified with the worldwide Occupy movement, which has seen the occupation at St Paul's and dozens of cities around the world. "People are hugely discontented about what is happening in this country, they know it isn't right they have ideas about how it could be better and they want to discuss that."
Amid chants of "No ifs, no buts, no education cuts" and a variety of disparaging remarks about the educational backgrounds of much of the cabinet, a history student, Mohamed, 21, said the protests were part of a movement to raise public awareness. "It's an exciting opportunity for justice and fairness. Together we have the power to change things," he said. He was protesting against the "privatisation" of the education system as well as the hike in tuition fees, which are set to rise to a maximum of £9,000 a year at England's universities next year, he added.
"The white paper is set to turn our university system into a training ground for companies; education should be about the pursuit of knowledge."
Taking a break from loudspeaker duties, Becci Heangney said protesters needed to unite. "The government isn't listening," she said. "Everyone here needs to get involved in the strike on November 30, and support Occupy. That is what is going to make the government sit up and listen."Along the route workmen downed tools to watch the protest, some holding up placards and shouting support. Cab drivers caused tailbacks around Trafalgar Square after holding a "mass drive-in" to protest over licensing rules, while electricians, plumbers and engineers from across the country joined a rally at Blackfriars.
Michael Chessum of the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts, said university education was being reduced to a "consumer commodity". He said: "The government's higher education white paper is a chaotic, frankly kind of incompetent attempt to introduce a market into higher education. It will end higher education as a public service in the UK, it will introduce for-profit providers, it will mean a market in fees, and it will mean universities [...] may well be forced to close or to privatise."
By the early evening the protest was over, but those at St Paul's caught a surprise gig by Tom morello from Rage Against the Machine, who said he was there to "express his solidarity with the 99%." He said: "This is a worldwide class-based movement of people standing up against the oppression of corporate power. The lesson of the Arab spring is if you want change all you have to do is walk out of your front door and just do it."