Some Utopian Studies

Jacobs, Naomi 2007. Dissent, Assent, and the Body in Nineteen Eghty-Four. Utopian Studies 18(1): 3-20.

A series of bodies mark the progression from hope to despair in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell proffers several versions of an oppositional body capable of resisting dystopia: first, Winston's rebellious body that refuses to submit to the everyday discomforts of life, then Julia's naked body in lovemaking, and finally the powerful body of the proletarian mother singing at her household drudgery. But in Winston's emanciated body after torture, Orwell's final vision is of the body as inherently flawed, permeable, incapable of sustaining any enduring opposition to social control. Together, these bodies appear to comprise a persuasive anatomy of the powers and limitations of the human body and, indeed, of the human being. However, I will argue that the devastating pessimism of Orwell's great novel is based upon an inconsistent and ultimately impoverished model of the body. Orwell underestimates the body's recuperative powers as well as the extent to which the meaning of bodily experience is malleable, shaped by social relation. A disjunction between his rhetoric about the body and his representation of it underpins these limitations in his great work. (Jacobs 2007: 3)
So, adjective + 'body' yields some kind of typology? What are the criteria for bringing out these exactly "bodies"? Why not "drunk body" when Winston drinks Gin? Why not "careful body" when he approaches Julia at the cafeteria? This seems all too arbitrary. I can only hope that Naomi Jakobs elaborates what she means by Orwell's "rhetoric about the body".
The problem of the body is central to utopian literature, which attempts to reconcile the desires of individual bodies with the needs of the body politic; at the heart of the utopian endeavor is the projection of new ways to manage populations of human bodies and to re-form the individual body, with its inchoate and often antisocial drives. In any vision of an orderly world in which suffering is minimized and pleasure maximized, the materiality of the body comes to the fore - both as an obstacle to success in its stubborn disordeliness, and as the territory upon which any new order must ultimately be mapped. The body itself must be the locus of utopian or dystopian transformation, whether that transformation is to be brought about by liberating the body or by more effectively subduing it. (Jacobs 2007: 3)
Winston is inchoate and antisocial. But does the materiality of the body come to the fore in 1984? Right now I'd say this is more relevant to Brave New World. When it comes to orderliness and subduing then Zamjatin's We would be more interesting. Although some elements of it - such as morning exercises and constant surveillance - are present in 1984, it lacks extreme homogeneity and literal glass houses.
In our own century, the body has continued to be characterized as a source of liberatory energy. Though the mind may be corrupted or contaminated by societal constraints, a fantasy has survived that the body can retain its purity and serve as a reservoir of natural virtue, a motivating force for action against totalitarian control. Perhaps the most familiar version of this view focus on the sexual aspects of bodily experience: for example, the links drawn between political and sexual liberation by fin-de-siecle anarchists, psychologist Wilhelm Reich's argument that sexual repression supports fascism, or D. H. Lawrence's utopian claims for the powers of eroticism to regenerate not only the individual, but society (Koh). In dystopian and anti-utopian fiction, this conflation of erotic and utopian energy is clearly present in works such as Zamyatin's We, where D-503's love for I-330 leads him to question the social order, or Ayn Rand's Anthem, where love similarly leads the protagonist to break with a collectivist society that restricts erotic connection. (Jacobs 2007: 4)
"I hate purity, I hate goodness! I don't want any virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone to be corrupt to the bones." [Winston] / "Well then, I ought to suit you, dear. I'm corrupt to the bones." [Julia]
However, such concepts of the revolutionary body tend to rely upon a naturalistic notion of the body as "the pre-social, biological basis on which the superstructures of the self and society are founded" (Shilling 41). As the considerable theoretical work on the body in recent decades has argued, to see the rising of the body as a throwing off of social meanings or strictures is to neglect the ways in which the body expresses and responds to social meanings in the construction of which the body itself has been implicated. The body may be, as Nicholas Mirzoeff comments, "a key site of that resistance provoked by any exercise of power" (11), but it is so precisely because it is also the site of that exercise of power. These issues contribute to the fissures in Orwell's dystopian logic. (Jacobs 2007: 5)
Why does this sound like we're dealing with chunks of meat, though? A body always belongs to someone or is someone. The bold passage could very well read "the ways in which people express and respond to social meanings in the construction of which they themselves are implicated". Without selves, we are left with automatic processes - the body expresses and responds because it just does. It becomes a site, a territory, a material, lost of what makes human bodies interesting in the first place - that they are human, that they contain complex nervous systems capable of learning and communicating. The body does express and respond, but that is mere Secondness. It is Thirdness that I am after.
Although Orwell is justly famous for his evocation of the practical techniques and psychological effects of totalitarian rule, the body is central to his explorations of the workings of power. He begins his novel by establishing in striking vividness the bodily discomforts of life under Big Brother. In this fictive world, the body and its sensitivities are brutally repressed. The physical discomforts and displeasures are unremitting: bad smells, bad food, coarse fabric, and ugly surroundings. The human body itself has been degraded, and a debased physical type dominates: "Nearly everyone was ugly ... small, dark, and ill-favored" (52-53). Winston himself is gray, thin, ill, and prematurely aged. (Jacobs 2007: 5)
If this truly were so then it should come as a surprise that the concept of facecrime has gained very little attention (as compared to thoughtcrime).
But for Orwell as for others, the body serves as a symbol of the social order, and a degenerate social order must produce an inferior physical type. Thus the citizens of Oceania - like those of a British industrial city - display in their very flesh the corruption of the regime. (Jacobs 2007: 5-6)
Paraphrasing the vulgar saying "does the carpet match the drapes?" we may now ask, "does the individual body match the state of society?"
The prevailing weakness, sickness, or "softness" of the bodies Orwell describes may be understood against the background of the ostentatiously healthy and powerful bodies of fascist and Stalinist propaganda. (Jacobs 2007: 6)
A worthwhile point for a discussion of literary "realism" - in this specific case against the background of Soviet Realism.
As Mirzoeff notes in his discussion of Nazism, totalitarianism is "profoundly distrustful of the body as the individual expression and component of the body politic, fearing that it might harbour all manner of weakness and corruption" (91). Under late capitalism, this distrust takes the different form of an obsessive concern with and self-policing of the body, which is re-created as spectacle and object for consumption; the body's drives are channeled into the self-hypnosis of the health club, the consumerist trance of the shopping mall. Capitalist propaganda presents young, hard, "good" bodies as images of individual freedom and happiness, while in fact individuals under late capitalism become increasingly less healthy. Similarly, totalitarian propaganda presents healthy bodies as images of national strength and productivity, while in fact individuals under totalitarianism endure a debilitating lack of access to the food and medicines needed for good bodily health, and a restructed access to physical pleasures generally. (Jacobs 2007: 6)
This distrust seems quite natural, perhaps even as a variant of the Christian "denial of the body". As Winston himself explains at some point, love (sexuality) is the greatest weapon against totalitarian control. There is probably self-policing in some form or measure in all societies. In Orwell's 1984 it takes on the characteristic of self-censure (a la Scheflen), e.g. avoidance of facecrime. The question of healthy bodies as representation is still relevant today - the border guards around North Korea are chosen for their height, musculature and health on both sides.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the political logic of these denials of the body is laid out explicitly. By denying a satisfying bodily existence to its members, the Party intensifies the importance and effectiveness of Party-designed experiences such as the group ecstasy of the Two Minutes' Hate. The only love allowed, that for Big Brother, is also the only pleasure allowed (Paul Robinson 152) other than the sadistic pleasure of hatred. There is certainly a bodily component in the latter, but it is brief; these frenzied expressions of loyalty to the Party provide but a temporary distraction from the endless discomforts and physical self-restraint to which the citizens then return. (Jacobs 2007: 6)
I believe that the Two Minutes' Hate should be viewed in its historical context - in comparison with the actual exercise of hate-mongering to British soldiers to make them hate the enemy. This called a public outcry in Orwell's days, which is most likely why it is included in 1984. In the universe of 1984 it may indeed serve the purpose of channeling bodily pleasures, though. Winston cannot help himself but to chant along with others - a symptom of mass hysteria (perhaps Elias Canetti should be consulted?).
To all outward appearances, the bodies of Party members have been successfully controlled by Party discipline. Doublethink requires denying the reality of bodily experineces, rejecting the "evidence of your own eyes and ears" (60), as Winston says. And orthodoxy, or at least the appearance of orthodoxy, requires repressing any unsanctioned emotion or impulse. According to Goldstein's book, "A Party member is required to have not only the right opinion, but the right instincts" (174). Yet the body cannot be so completely controlled. (Jacobs 2007: 6-7)
This is the stuff of facecrime. But I think this is best approached in terms of ideology and perhaps Bourdieu's doxic situation. It is up to my study to make out how much of this repression (regulation, as I call it) and control there is.
When Winston refers to "the mute protest in your own bones" as a source of knowledge that things were once better than they are now (63), he is experiencing what Alison Jaggar calls "outlaw emotions" - those feelings at odds with what we expect to feel or believe we ought to feel. Such emotions can "provide the first indications that something is wrong" with accepted understandings of the world and contribute to the development of oppositional subcultures (Jaggar 161). It is at the prompting of such outlaw emotions that Winston writes "Down with Big Brother" in his diary, his hand moving without the direction or even the assent of his mind, as if his dimly-felt rebellious impulse could be brought to consciousness only through an independent act of the body. Through its engagement with the physical realities of this world, Winston's body knows things his conscious mind has suppressed. Such 'tacit knowledge ... does not result from the transferring of data from one mind or book to another or from tracing the logic of a syllogism. Rather, it arises from, and through what Polanyi calls 'indwelling,' or the active engagement of the body with the factors comprising our subsidiary awareness" (sorri 19). (Jacobs 2007: 7)
It seems a bit at odds with what we know from real-life totalitarian regimes. For example, one North Korean woman reportedly (in a recent Daily Show interview with a woman who visited NK) thought constant hunger was normal and didn't doubt in her government until the moment that she got a food package from South Korea and saw the expiration date on it - the very fact of there being an expiration date, the idea that food can be in surplus, that it is not eaten right away, sparked her doubt. It's similar to how physiological arousal and emotions are viewed nowadays - hunger itself is just hunger, just as adrenaline rush is just an adrenaline rush; until, that is, when the person conceptualizes his or her hunger or, in those experiments, what may have caused the arousal - whether it is attributed to the injection and matter-of-factness or to the uncomfortable social situation in which the subject is placed after the injection. In the same line of thought we find discourse on surprise as an emotion, or rather a precursor of emotion - because surprise lasts for a flash, only to be replaced by an evaluation - whether the surprising phenomenon is good or bad. Likewise, the goodthinkful think that their sorry situation is actually good. Human mind is malleable.
At a very basic level, then, Winston's first acts of resistance to the regime are motivated and manifested by his irrepressible body. He is quite aware that these outbreakings of bodily energy are dangerous. "Your worse enemy ... was your own nervous system" (56) he thinks, in reference to individuals who cannot control their facial expressions and so make their unorthodoxy visible as "facecrime" to the Thought Police. Even when the face is successfully controlled, "you could not control the beating of your heart" (67). Instinct, then, is more powerful than intention, driving the body to act against reason; this is both the body's virtue and its ultimate vulnerability. (Jacobs 2007: 7)
Now I think this aspect could be explained well with reference to (Freud's) "psychohydraulic" theory of emotions (according to Ruesch).
The instinctive responsiveness of the body leads Winston to begin his first tentative gestures of resistance in the solitary physical act of writing down his thoughts and experiences in the forbidden journal. (Jacobs 2007: 7)
I have considered dealing with the diary-writing aspect in conjunction with Zamjatin's We and Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, both of which are written in diary form, just as Orwell's 1984 was supposedly intended at the beginning, and in terms of autocommunication (one of my favorite topics). It is interesting that between these dystopian works, the significance of the journal/diary increasingly lessens. We know of Underground Man only because he wrote his journal. D-503 wrote a journal, but it is unclear (to me) whether the whole work is a journal. And what role does the journal play in 1984? In any case this matter can be dealt with in terms of autocommunication and in all cases the journal is written exactly because of solitude - Winston is not sure for whom he writes his journal, as it often is (I pondered the question of "addressee" often when I kept a daily diary-like blog myself as a teenager).
In the novel's representation of the liberatory potential of sexuality, the disrobing of Julia's body plays a crucial role. When first seen, Julia emblematizes the nature of bodies under the rule of Big Brother: dressed, like all other members of the Outer Party, in drab work clothes that obscure her individual features, she is yet marked out from the crowd by the crimson sash of the Junior Anti-Sex League, which displays both her sexuality - the curve of her womanly body - and her sexual unavailability. In a fashion described so well by Foucault, desire is created by its proscription; the sash that seems to mark Julia's submission to the anti-erotic policies of a Party that aspires to "abolish the orgasm" (220) also makes her an object of desire for Winston, whose sexuality is bound up in his nascent resistance to the regime. Thus, when he fantasizes Julia's clothes coming off, he thinks that the gesture of disrobing could "annihilate a whole culture" (29). To imagine the removal of clothing and the revelation of the hidden body as having such political power is to imagine the body itself as untouched by the layers of civilization that cloaks its "naked thruth." In this view, civilization, no matter how oppressive, can be thrown aside like a garment when the body acts upon its own "pure" desires. (Jacobs 2007: 7-8)
I planned to deal with this issue in a (sub)chapter titled "The perks of appearing goodthinkful" (against "The folly of being goodthinkful"). Julia's doubleact makes for an interesting case study of deceitful appearances, of conformity and subversion. And in the end isn't all culture something we throw off when we give in to animalistic "pelvic magic"? Sexual intercourse is largely a "reptilian" routine (although it is evolutionarily more archaic than the "reptilian brain").
To Winston, both the simple animal instinct - the act itself - and the primitive emotions and intimacies to which it gives rise carry a revolutionary potential, nurturing a place in the heart that the regime can never touch. Many of Orwell's readers have accepted at face value the text's characterization of sexuality as a natural, instinctive expression of animal nature. For example, Connelly states that "Sex is the most uniquely individual instinct and, liket he belief in the soul, a threat to the organization bent on destroying the self" (139). Similarly, Anne Mellor argues that "Sexual desire and consummation affirm nature over culture, human instinct over rational or technological control. ... Julia's celebration of her own body, of sexual desire, of the primal animal instinct of human beings, is thus a denial of all forms of mind control, a powerful political rebellion" (119). (Jacobs 2007: 8)
This I planned to deal with in a (sub)chapter titled "Motifs of anti-emotion (in dystopian films)". I believe this aspect in 1984 is the influence for so many modern dystopias bent to prove that emotions cannot suppressed because in the end "love conquers all". The most vivid example is Equilibrium, although it's far from the only illustration - The Giver is a recent example. The 1984-insipired Equals coming out in 2015 is - as far as I can make out - much about the same stuff (it will concentrate on Winston and Julia's love story instead of the "rewriting history" and "boot stomping on faces" ordeal). Now that I think about it, the Party's boot-in-the-face policy could be tied to facecrimes. In a simple reversal, it is the Party that commits a crime against the human face by stomping on it, for ever. It is also a matter of nonverbal ethics and quite gloomy in the prospect of future face-reading technology (if and when FACS becomes a "thing", if it already hasn't).
For all Winston's fantasies of disrobing, Julia's body is vaguely generalized as "white, youthful" (92). Although Winston believes that "the animal instinct, the simple undifferentiated desire ... was the force that would tear the Party to pieces" (105), their lovemaking is never describen in any detail. In fact, what follows is largely a clichéd romance of star-clossed lovers, who set up a monogamous love-nest complete with domestic trappings and quickly lose their sexual urgency. The revolutionary rhetoric in praise of promisquity is replaced by a nostalgic rhetoric extolling the virtues of private life, a stance hardly conductive to the common social action necessary if the regime is to be overthrown. (Jacobs 2007: 9)
This is quite in line with the discontent of some readers with Julia's character arc as such - in the beginning Winston is interested in Julia and her Weltanschauung, but this soon dissipates and is replaced by, well, "domestic trappings". I wonder how Equals will deal with the lack of description in the sexual intercourse department.
And indeed there is no direct link established between the affair and Winston's taking steps to join the Brotherhood. Julia has long indulged her sexual instincts to no political result. The two have only aimless discussions of the possibility of active resistance. In fact, Julia thinks the Brotherhood is a propaganda fiction, and Winston has no real reason to think otherwise. Had the "summons" never come from O'Brien, it seems likely that Winston and Julia's expression of their "animal instincts" would have brought about no result more dramatic than any of Julia's other exploits: a private rebellion with no ramifications beyond pleasure. Conversely, given Winston's unjustified trust in O'Brien and attraction to him, he might very well have accepted such a summons even had he never known Julia. Thus the claims for the revolutionary power of the body remain rhetorical ones, never embodied in action or description in a way that would grant them fictive force. (Jacobs 2007: 9)
Ah, so that's what she means by rhetoric of the body. Welp, as a self-identified anarchist, I feel that all talk of revolution is ultimately rhetorical in this sense. The revolution is the Second Coming of Christ for the oppressed and discontented.
When Winston imagines a revolution carried out by the proles, his optimism is once again founded in an unsustainable idealization of the body, for he believes that the proles' embodiment of human decencies is rooted in a blind, instinctual physicality. "If there is hope ... it lies in the proles," Winston had written in his diary. "They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies" (60). His own class, he imagines, will keep alive the mind as the proles will "keep alive the body." They are "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" (181) and who pass on "from body to body the vitality which the Party did not share and could not kill" (182). (Jacobs 2007: 10)
An interesting take on the mind/body dualism. But if the proles are the body and the outer party is the mind, what of the inner party? (Or should one lump outer and inner party together without distinction?)
As he had done with the desiring bodies of Winston and Julia' Orwell aligns the body of the prole woman, and by extension all the bodies of her class, with Nature. He makes them represent an irrational, rebellious life force with the potential to counteract the socially constructed mirage of totalitarianism. The body and its desires provide the impetus for opposition to the regime: indeed, the body's very lack of rationality becomes a virtue, for no reasonable person would be so foolish as to attempt to oppose the absolute power of the Party. (Jacobs 2007: 11)
Is it a mirage though? The torture sure is "all too real". It would be interesting to try out the TMS distinctions between culture/nature and culture/non-culture, but I'm not sure that these can be aligned with class distinctions pure and simple.
In the extended torture that follows his arrest, Winston learns first-hand that the power of the body to oppose the mind's will to resistance is stronger than the body's power to oppose the mind's will to submit. Discussing the political uses of torture, Renato Martinez has written that "the exhibition of pain is a language" (86). In addition to its functions of punishment and extortion of information, torture serves to communicate to the general public the power of the regime, its absolute right to treat the bodies of its enemies as it sees fit. But in Nineteen Eighty-Four, this communication is wholly private; the display is made only to the tortured himself; for the goal of this government is to win over souls, those "few cubic centimeters within [the] skull" that Winston had initially believed were his own (26). To the public is exhibited only the benevolent face of Big Brother, the penitent faces of the reformed rebels - never the destroyed body itself. Publicly, this regime exibits its power to reform and to forgive, rather than its power to destroy. Privately, the regime exhibits the effects of torture only to the subject of that torture. (Jacobs 2007: 12)
Contrastingly, Elaine Scarry writes that pain destroys language. And contemporary society displays an opposed attitude towards torture: it is not so much a language as a faux pas - a mistake, an error. I think this attitude comes from the knowledge that CIA's torture programs were far from successful.
Julia's loving body had been reduced to a phase, an occasional naked breast or soft, yielding waist; the prole woman's to her wide hips and tuneful voice. But Orwell describes in dreadful detail Winston's body after torture. The gray, dirty flesh, the "battered" cheekbones, the inflamed ulcer, the skeletal ribs and emaciated legs and "scraggy" neck; all are chronicled at length and with a clinical exatitude that grants great persuasive force to the dystopian view of the body as a treacherous entity that "swells up until it fills the universe" so that "In the face of pain there are no heroes" (86, 197). (Jacobs 2007: 12)
The body is treacherous in several senses. It betrays, as in facecrime. And it cannot be relied upon in the face of torture.
The rhetoric of representation in Nineteen Eighty-Four destroys all possibility of resistance to totalitarian oppression. In the everyday resistances of Winston's protesting body, in the brief utopia of eroticism when bodies are disrobed and touch each other tenderly, and in the vitality of the prole woman's sturdy physicality resistance seems possible. But in the protracted descriptions of a man being broken and then re-formed by pain, we are told that resistance is doomed. In this is the great failing of Orwell's great novel. For we know - as, of course, did Orwell himself - that minds do not always break under torture, that some people suffer appalling pain and fear and yet refuse to betray their loved ones and their comrades in arms. (Jacobs 2007: 14)
I think this is so because it is a tale of warning, not a tale of hope. It could also be mimetic of Zamjatin's We, which similarly ends not with the savages' (people outside the city walls) triumph over the city, but with the annihilation of fantasy, that which spurred D-503 to disobey the system.

Jacobsen, Michael Hviid 2004. From Solid Modern Utopia to Liquid Modern Anti-Utopia? Tracing the Utopian Strand in the Sociology of Zygmunt Bauman. Utopian Studies 15(1): 63-87.

UTOPIA LITERALLY MEANS 'NOWHERE'. Most often, however, utopian thought and practice have pointed to a 'somewhere', a tangible and definable expression of the 'nowhere' and have often been presented as a positive mirror image (a eutopia) or a deliberately distorted and negative picture of contemporary reality (a dystopia or anti-utopia), the 'here and now', but today these previously flourishing 'somewheres' everywhere appear to be gradually dismantling, dissolving, or disillusioned. Thus, as Bruce Mazlish recently and poignantly pointed out, "utopian thinking, except in the form of messianic or fundamentalist aspirations, appear either to take other shapes or be in the tepid condition or non-existent" (43). (Jacobsen 2004: 63)
Orwell's 1984, in this light, seems more like a negative picture of what could come in the future. As far as I know, it was meant as a tale of warning. Otherwise, I'd think that utopian thinking is still virile.
[...] the demise of utopia is primarily associated with the spheres of either politics or science, and particularly social science, which have become disenchanted in the process of 'de-utopianisation' and have lost the vision and utopias which for centuries guided the founders, pioneers and practitioners of these domains and pointed in the direction of 'the common god', the 'just society', etc. (Jacobsen 2004: 63)
I didn't know that social science had a utopian streak, although it does make sense. Even semiotics sometimes demonstrates a want to better society, as when Charles Morris or Jurgen Ruesch suggest that semiotics should be used to improve learning (in schools) and social administration (e.g. how to deal with delinquents and psychiatric patients).


Post a Comment