Title: Revolutions from the waist downwards: desire as rebellion in Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, George Orwell's 1984, and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World
Author(s): Thomas Horan
Source: Extrapolation. 48.2 (Summer 2007): p314. From Literature Resource Center.
Document Type: Critical essay
In her excellent study, Dystopian Fiction East and West, Erika Gottlieb suggests that twentieth-century dystopian fiction is partially defined by a terrible and irrevocable finality: "It is one of the most conspicuous features of ... dystopian fiction that once we allow the totalitarian state to come to power, there will be no way back" (4). I take issue with this conclusion, arguing instead that the major authors of dystopian fiction present sexual desire as an aspect of the self that can never be fully appropriated, and therefore as a potential force for political and spiritual regeneration from within the totalitarian state. This point is commonly made by a sexual relationship situated at the beginning of the story, which eventually develops into a subversive political conspiracy for revolution. Though these sexual liaisons are usually ill-fated, they suggest that sexual desire has a propulsive ability to promote change even when the sexual relationship itself is curtailed. Sex works as a portal through which the dystopian everyman at the center of the story glimpses the idea of both political liberation and a universal human dignity based on a newfound understanding of the sublime.
To better denote how sexuality works in the particular type of dystopian fiction with which I am concerned, I have coined the term "projected political fiction" (1) which refers to dystopian (2) stories that are both speculative and political. Authors of projected political fiction project a political system or philosophy with which they disagree into a futuristic story. Setting their stories in the future allows writers of projected political fiction to explore their immediate political concerns on a grander scale without appearing to exaggerate. Thus, like a conical beam of light emanating from a movie projector, these stories not only reach forward through the uncertain darkness to cast an image of what may lie ahead, they also widen the scope of that image to encompass all aspects of social, political, and economic life, including the way in which the members of these projected societies perceive and understand the past and their own future.
Projected political fiction is written for one of two not always mutually exclusive purposes: either it serves as a warning to the author's contemporaries to help them avert an impending governmental disaster, or it predicts what the seemingly unavoidable future will look like. George Orwell's 1984 is an obvious example of the cautionary form of projected political fiction, while Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is a more predictive dystopia. Since the 1890s, dozens of novels and stories fitting this paradigm have been written, but this paper will concentrate on three of the most prominent works of this genre: 1984, Brave New World, and Yevgeny Zamyatin's We. These particular books are seminal because their influence guided and shaped the development of this genre and changed forever the climate of Western political thought. Through these writings, words and phrases like "Big Brother," "two plus two equals five," "alpha-plus," and "Orwellian," along with the concepts that underlie them, have become a part of common vocabulary. Zamyatin, Huxley, and Orwell have been linked frequently in the past, but mainly through the question of influence. Orwell suspected that Brave New World was inspired by We, (3) while others have pointed out intriguing similarities between We and 1984. (4) Here, I want to make a different kind of comparison by exploring how sexual desire provides an opening out of the rigid structure of totalitarianism in the work of all three authors.
What clearly defines projected political fiction as its own genre is the way that illicit sexual arousal always precedes political awareness within the story. Each projected political fiction is plotted around an unlawful erotic relationship, which may or may not develop into love, between two characters: an orthodox character who either believes in the existing political system or has submitted to it without hope of deliverance, and a subversive, lascivious radical. As the story progresses, the docile character is first overwhelmed with lust for the rebellious character and then, once consummation has occurred, he or she (5) is won over to the hope provided by the renegade's heretical political philosophy. Even when, as in Brave New World, no radical seductive figure exists, forbidden sexual desire foments in the protagonist a political awareness of its own. Since the legally and socially permissible method of sexual contact is different in each projected political fiction, the nature of these salacious relationships varies to the point where in some of these stories the eroticism depicted would seem tame or even asexual by our own cultural standards. (6)
Picking up on a related idea, Gottlieb sees the solicitous bond of romantic love as the determining factor in these novels: "Falling in love with a woman who offers affection, passion, or simply an intimate bond is essential to the protagonist's awakening to his private universe, an essential step in building resistance against the regime" (Gottlieb 21). It is true that in some cases, 1984 for instance, a genuine and reciprocal love does eventually develop between the recalcitrant pair. But love always follows, rather than precedes, the sexual arousal and political awakening of the lovers. In some projected political fictions, love plays a minimal or even antagonistic role. For example, John the Savage in Brave New World is much more troubled by the thought, or, to his mind, the sin of wantonly bedding Lenina than by the idea of loving her. Likewise, in Zamyatin's We, D-503 loves the Benefactor and hates all that I-330 represents. When he first discovers her seditious intentions, he intends to hand her over to the police. But his lust for her makes him a coconspirator virtually against his will:
Her tone was so impudent, so full of mockery.... I always hated
her.... Suddenly her arm crept round my neck, lips touched lips, went
deeper, things got even scarier. I swear, this was a total surprise
for me, and maybe that's the only reason why. Because I could not
have. I now understand this with absolute clarity. I could not
possibly have desired what happened next.... I became glass. I saw
myself, inside.... I remember I was on the floor hugging her legs,
kissing her knees. And I was begging, "Now, right now, this
minute...." (Zamyatin 55-57)
D-503's abject, primal hunger for I-330 is based on animal attraction rather than anything as deep and sophisticated as romantic love. But though he loves his Benefactor and is cognizant of his own guilt throughout the story, years of control and conditioning have left him unprepared to cope with this overpowering lust. The story of D-503, like that of Winston Smith and John the Savage, indicates that the breaking of sexual taboos leads to political upheaval because whatever else they can control, governments--no matter how absolutely pervasive--can never fully regulate the sexual instincts and indiscretions of their citizens. As Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari insist in Anti-Oedipus, even a single instance of sensual passion is inherently and pervasively volatile:
If desire is repressed, it is because every position of desire, no
matter how small, is capable of calling into question the established
order of a society.... It is explosive.... Desire is revolutionary in
its essence.... No society can tolerate a position of real desire
without its structures of exploitation, servitude, and hierarchy being
compromised.... Sexuality and love ... cause strange flows to
circulate that do not let themselves be stocked within an established
order. Desire does not want revolution, it is revolutionary in its own
right. (Deleuze and Guattari 116)
Deleuze and Guattari argue that totalitarian institutions are perennially haunted by the incendiary specter of sexual desire because desire injects a volatile wildness into social and political entrenchment. Their conception of desire closely parallels what occurs in projected political fiction. The authors of this kind of dystopian literature root political insurrections in the potentially liberating instability induced by sexual passion.
Deleuze and Guattari make a good prima facie case, yet other theorists, like Michel Foucault, see desire as something that is systematically tamable. (7) Moreover, since projected political fiction is more commonly produced by male authors, this idea of liberation through sex also lends itself to a number of disturbing tendencies, including a juvenile attitude toward the female body, a reliance on sexist stereotypes, and, occasionally, a troubling link between desire for and violence toward women. (8)
But even when the revolution promised by illicit desire fails to be completely unprejudiced, authors of projected political fiction, like Zamyatin, Huxley, and Orwell, transcend the physical to present sexual desire as a catalyst for a spirituality beyond political change. Admittedly, as a socialist, Orwell in particular clearly believed that human development needed to move beyond organized religion, but he, like Huxley and Zamyatin, mourned the loss of the sense of universal human dignity that accompanied religious faith. As Winston says to O'Brien in 1984: "'There is something in the universe--I don't know, some spirit, some principle--that you will never overcome.' 'Do you believe in God, Winston?' 'No.' 'Then what is it, this principle that will defeat us?' 'I don't know. The spirit of man.' 'And do you consider yourself a man?' 'Yes'" (Orwell 273). Under torture, Winston has clearly abandoned the hope of overthrowing the Party by force, violence, or any political act. But even though he realizes that the humanity will eventually be expunged from his heart, mind, and body, he knows that some spiritual common worth may still remain among the living. In attempting to recreate the idea of this shared dignity, writers of projected political fiction typically rely on Judeo-Christian religious symbols and pastoral settings. It is this egalitarian, quasi-mystical, universal human nature that sexuality awakens in projected political fictions. Because every person has this spiritual space somewhere deep inside him or herself waiting to be unlocked by desire, these dystopic governments must be committed to the colonization of the sexual instinct right down to the last individual. (9)
In defining the scope of projected political fiction and in delineating its main characteristics, I first discuss We, followed by 1984, and finally Brave New World. My decision not to examine Zamyatin and Huxley's work in tandem may strike the reader as odd, not only because these novels were both published and widely read years before 1984 was even written, but also because there are enough shared similarities to invite a close comparison. Both We and Brave New World foresee a pain-free future in which the government controls humans by satiating rather than repressing their desires. As Herbert Marcuse explains in One-Dimensional Man, this sort of economic and social totalitarianism is just as insidiously effective as the overtly repressive variety:
For "totalitarianism" is not only a terroristic political coordination
of society, but also a non-terroristic economic technical coordination
which operates through the manipulation of needs by vested interests.
It thus precludes the emergence of an effective opposition against the
whole. Not only a specific form of government or party rule makes for
totalitarianism, but also a specific system of production and
distribution. (Marcuse 3)
In Brave New World especially, such a system of production and distribution determines the direction of society rather than the will of some despot or group of oppressors. In both books, sex too is commodified in this way. People enjoy sex for pleasure on a regular basis and have a right of sexual access to anyone they desire. To prevent childbirths not called for by the system of production, sex for procreative purposes is forbidden and unlikely due to conditioned birth control procedures. Any political investment in sexual reproduction is precluded by the state's farming and collective rearing of children in lieu of the nuclear family. In this way, the currency of desire is cheapened within the economy of the libido. Providing people with an endless variety of partners undermines dangerous passions for particular individuals before they can take root. The political implications of impassioned connections between individuals are prevented by the reduction of sex from the culmination of a desire for a particular person, to a common series of routine orgasms with an endless stream of faceless partners. What is missing in this gilded world is lust, the visceral chemistry of desiring a physical union with a particular person for no explainable reason. Lust threatens the establishment because every dystopian world is built on cold, methodical logic, and lust is fundamentally illogical. Though intercourse and other sexual acts remain, in projected political fictions, humanity has lost the irrational, ineffable passion to fuck.
Nonetheless, despite a shared use of sexual passion and other parallels, Huxley and Zamyatin are fundamentally different because Huxley is far more pessimistic about the future of our race. While there is enough room for political dissent in We to allow for a full-blown mass revolution to occur at the end of the novel, in Brave New World individuality has been so successfully undermined that, like an insect colony, people are mere programmed cells within a larger unified network. In keeping with this discrepancy, my focus shifts as the paper progresses from the least to the most repressive examples of projected political fiction. Moving from We to 1984 to Brave New World, the scenario becomes progressively more hopeless, while the importance of sexuality in generating a shift from the idea of political change to the hope of spiritual deliverance becomes increasingly critical.
Like its better-known descendent Brave New World, Yevgeny Zamyatin's We depicts a sterile, comfortable, plastic world existing 600 years in the future in which individuality has been almost completely eradicated. All of the action in the novel is confined to a single city separated by a glass wall from the surrounding wilderness. The government of OneState is premised on the belief that happiness and freedom are at odds with one another and thus freedom must be sacrificed for the sake of happiness. The OneStaters' understanding of the biblical story of Adam and Eve bears this out: "Those two in Paradise, they were offered a choice: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness, nothing else. Those idiots chose freedom. And ... for centuries they were homesick for their chains" (Zamyatin 61). The deity of this futuristic Eden is a superhuman dictator called the Benefactor who has been unanimously reelected for 48 consecutive years (Zamyatin 142).
The victorious few who triumphed in the 200 Years War that gave birth to OneState conditioned younger generations to think and behave as they did. But in the process, individuality was lost and humanity became just a sequence of uniformed "Numbers." Believing that this sequence contains the secret to a productive and happy life, the citizens of OneState, by order of the Benefactor, are engaged in the construction of a spacecraft called the Integral with which they hope to impose their way of life on the inhabitants of other planets. Having totally subjugated the people of Earth, the Benefactor seeks to extend his empire deep into the solar system and beyond. And his most loyal subject is the narrator of the story and designer of the Integral, D-503.
As with John the Savage in Brave New World and Winston Smith in 1984, D-503's sexual passion awakens his revolutionary impulses. The object of his forbidden monogamous desire is I-330, the leader of an extensive underground movement working to subvert the Benefactor's reign. I-330 proselytizes with her nubile body rather than verbal or written propaganda. In the first moment they share alone, I-330 reiterates the propaganda of OneState while changing from her government-issued uniform into a tight evening dress. D-503 is thus implicitly offered a choice between the orthodoxy he has always known and the sweetness of her flesh:
The dress was of very thin silk--I could clearly see that the
stockings were long and came way above her knees. And the neck was cut
very low..... "It's clear," she broke in, "that to be original means
to distinguish yourself from others. It follows that to be original is
to violate the principal of equality. And what the ancients called, in
their idiotic language, 'being banal' is what we call 'just doing your
duty.'" ... I remember how I was trembling all over. I should have ...
I don't know ... grabbed her. (Zamyatin 30)
It is D-503's obsession with I-330, an almost stock femme fatale, and not political consciousness, which binds him to her cause, eventually bringing him to the point where though he believes that he is doing evil in promoting the revolution, he resigns himself to it for the sake of his lust. "There was no saving me, not any longer. I did not want to be saved" (Zamyatin 179, emphasis in original). Sexual desire has deprogrammed D-503 essentially against his will.
As in Brave New World, the government of OneState recognizes that monogamy can undermine the state by introducing a competing familial loyalty, while sexual deprivation can induce volatile jealousy. The Lex Sexualis, or sexual law of OneState, therefore states that "any Number has the right of access to any other Number as sexual product" (Zamyatin 22). Furthermore, the number of weekly hours in which a Number can legally have sex corresponds to his or her physiological appetite: "They give you a careful going-over in the Sexual Bureau labs and determine the exact content of the sexual hormones in your blood and work out your correct Table of Sex Days. Then you fill out a declaration that on your days you'd like to make use of Number (or Numbers) so-and-so and they hand you the corresponding book of tickets" (Zamyatin 22). (10) Because sex is always so freely and readily available at precisely the right time, it is completely desublimated and thus both harmless to the government and meaningless to citizens.
Any dangerous sexual energy that lingers when the allotted sex tickets have been spent is dissipated through a punitive, ritualized public sacrifice known as the Justice Gala, which loosely resembles "The Two Minutes Hate" in 1984 and the orgy-porgy at the end of Brave New World. Whenever a Number breaks the law, he or she is melted into smoke and water before the entire city population by a device known as the Benefactor's Machine. One function of this spectacle is to cow the Numbers into obedience. It also serves to deify, and thus further empower, the Benefactor while reinforcing the philosophical premise on which his government rests: the needs of the individual must often be sacrificed for the benefit of the many: "When we sacrifice to our God, OneState, we make a calm, rational, carefully considered sacrifice ... the magnificent victory of all over one, of the whole over the part" (Zamyatin 45). But most significantly, the Justice Gala brings vicarious sexual satisfaction to the viewer as the Benefactor's rigid hand, an unmistakably phallic symbol, presses down on the lever and discharges a penetrating blast into the supine, sacrificial receiver: "The stone hand of the Benefactor, the unbearable blade of light, and up there on the Cube, the spread-eagled body with the head thrown back. I shuddered" (Zamyatin 54). Public executions in OneState tap into and release sexual tension through the spectacle of cruelty. The domination at the core of a sexual economy based on state-issued tickets is glaringly revealed through executions that resemble rapes.
This elaborate system for aligning sex to state power proves incapable of containing D-503's forbidden sexual desire. He becomes obsessed with becoming I-330's sole sexual partner, and O-90, a former partner of D-503, upon recognizing his love for I-330, becomes equally obsessed with having D-503's baby, which is of course a capital offense (Zamyatin 102-3). These characters ignore their society's moral law and the fear of execution solely for sexual reasons. When open revolution does break out at the end of the novel, civil disobedience is presented in sexual terms: "In several buildings I could see through the glass walls ... that male and female Numbers were copulating without the least shame, without even lowering the blinds, without so much as a ticket, in broad daylight" (Zamyatin 212).
The government's response to the rebellion is a public announcement that the population is suffering from a disease called "Imagination." The Benefactor is correct in realizing that the human capacity to imagine allows for the link between the organic act of sexual intercourse and the sublime realm of aspirations. A surgical procedure to disable the offending portion of the brain responsible for imagination becomes legally required of all Numbers, whether loyal to the Benefactor or not, by a specified day. The novel ends with the strong suggestion that everyone in the whole of OneState will soon be turned into a "human tractor" (Zamyatin 182) by this insidious procedure. Humankind's loss of imagination, the one attribute that clearly separates man from machine, would seem to signal the end of history. But through a theological motif which also develops in Brave New World, hope for humanity is preserved through the implied promise of a messiah.
The Benefactor, as Richard A. Gregg argues in his essay, "Two Adams and Eve in the Crystal Palace," is likened to the cold, vengeful Jehovah of the Old Testament: "the new Jehovah, as wise and cruel in his love as the Jehovah of the ancients" (Zamyatin 135). I-330, on the other hand, is depicted as a sort of pagan Christ figure, emblematic not of evil but of rebellion against a seemingly omnipotent force. Her speech to the rebels outside the city wall closely resembles the moment in a Catholic Mass where the wine is consecrated and the blood of Christ consumed: "She has a cup in her hands, a wooden cup.... She drinks from it with her red lips and hands it to me and I shut my eyes and drink ... greedily ... sweet, stinging, cold sparks" (Zamyatin 151). I-330 is also standing on a skull-shaped rock which recalls the passion at Golgotha, which means "the place of the skull": "a naked stone that looked like a human skull" (Zamyatin 149). Just as Christ resists the temptation to flee to safety when he prays in the garden in the hours before his capture, so too does I-330 refuse D-503's offer to escape into the depths of the forest. "'I-330, darling, before it's too late.... We'll go together, over there, beyond the Wall'.... She shook her head" (Zamyatin 157). I-330 is also associated with Christ through a dark cross which appears whenever her brow tenses: "I say nothing but merely look at her face: The dark cross on it is now especially vivid" (Zamyatin 157). Though I-330, like Jesus, is eventually tortured and executed, the promise of a second coming continues with D-503's unborn baby, which the pregnant O-90 carries in her when she escapes from the city with I-330's help. "So I (I-330) sent her (O-90).... She's there already, on the other side of the Wall. She's going to live" (Zamyatin 194). Whatever happens to D-503, the child he conceived with O-90 is beyond the grasp of the Benefactor's regime and is therefore a potential revolutionary leader for the future.
The two women who make this messianic child possible, I-330 and O-90, are really separate halves of the same complete woman. In her essay "The Golden Country," Elaine Hoffman Baruch argues this very point: "Like much of Western culture before him, he (D-503) splits the sexual object, and has two lovers: O-90 and I-330" (52). Baruch sees O-90 as a representative of the traditional submissive leading lady with strong maternal instincts, whereas the daring, seductive I-330 "comes from the femme fatale tradition of dangerous and alluring sorceresses" (Baruch 52). Though the roles they fit feel hackneyed and inaccurate, taken together these two characters serve as both the greatest threat to political stability and the surest gateway to the hope of quasi-mystical redemption. Like Julia in 1984 and Linda in Brave New World, they embody the stereotypical contrast between the male and female body, with the male body representing a controlled, rational, ordered environment while the female body reflects a mysterious, ungovernable, potentially dangerous space, offering always the possibility of upheaval and renewal, but in a marginally crude and dehumanizing way. I-330's promiscuity, for which she eventually pays with her life, brings subversive insight: "I (D-503) jumped up. 'This is unthinkable! It's stupid!... Our revolution was the final one'.... Her brows make a sharp mocking triangle: 'My dear, you are a mathematician.... Tell me the final number'.... 'But I-330 ... since the number of numbers is infinite, how can there be a final one?' 'And how can there be a final revolution?'" (Zamyatin 168). Though the triangle on her brow recalls the Christian Trinity (11), I-330 is mostly associated with the ungovernable through her close association with Lucifer. The rebels who follow her call themselves the "Mephi," which, as Vasa D. Mihailovich posits in "Critics on Evgeny Zamyatin," is undoubtedly a shortened version of Mephistopheles, the demon from Goethe's Faust (332). And the carving of a fallen angel on the skull shaped rock where the insurgents congregate bears this out. "Now I see the huge, familiar letters on the stone 'Mephi'.... I see a crude drawing of a winged youth with a transparent body and instead of a heart he has a glowing coal, blindingly crimson" (Zamyatin 151-152). As the first revolutionary and a clear underdog at that, the world's first fallen angel has become a hero to the human community beyond the wall of civilization. I-330 later confirms that Mephi is indeed the name of the winged youth, and that the name is of ancient origin: "'Mephi? It's an old name. Mephi is one who ... you remember, there on the stone, there was an image of a youth'" (Zamyatin 158-159). But though I-330's insurgents are clearly associated with the rebel angels, this novel should not be misconstrued as Satanic or evil in a moral sense.
Patrick A. McCarthy wisely points out in his essay, "Zamyatin and the Nightmare of Technology," that Zamyatin wanted the Mephi to emulate the uncompromising resistance to collectivism represented by Milton's Satan: "For Zamyatin, the true writer must be a heretic and revolutionary constantly in revolt ... against the dead alive people who are like machines ... [having] a Faust's eternal dissatisfaction with the present and the attainable" (122). Zamyatin seemed to view organized religion as a system begetting conformity and subordination to an omnipotent supreme order and therefore as something to be resisted, even against impossible odds. The Benefactor's speech to D-503 suggests as much: "'A true algebraic love of mankind will inevitably be inhuman, and the inevitable sign of the truth is its cruelty.... [People] want someone to tell them, once and for all, what happiness is--and then bind them to that happiness with a chain ... angels, the slaves of God'" (Zamyatin 206-207). Unlike Orwell, Zamyatin doesn't promise that revolution can make people happier or improve their standard of living; by giving them the ability to freely choose unhappiness, revolution will restore their humanity. Zamyatin's theology is the worship of the individual spirit that, against incredible odds, survives beyond the city walls. His story is the most hopeful of the novels in this study, because a sizable rebellion is still underway on the final page, a community of free people exists in the wilderness, and a likely messiah grows in the belly of O-90. This margin of hope steadily narrows in the progression from We, where mass rebellion is possible, to 1984, where individual rebellion is possible, to Brave New World, where even the concept of resistance is virtually impossible.
Unlike We and Brave New World, Orwell's novel is not concerned with the choice between happiness and freedom. The question of what mankind wants, needs, or deserves is irrelevant to the members of the ruling party in 1984; all they care about is preserving and increasing their own power. As O'Brien, a member of the ruling Inner Party, tells Winston: "The party seeks power entirely for its own sake. Power is not a means; it is an end" (Orwell 266). Furtherance of this end is achieved through oppression and deprivation, but more importantly, through a keen understanding and manipulation of the class system, a system which Orwell sees as endemic to human nature and not a social construct.
Through the putatively subversive "Book" that elucidates the workings of the INGSOC (12) government, Orwell asserts that since the earliest settlements, humans have always divided themselves into classes: "The essential structure of society has never altered. Even after enormous upheavals ... the same pattern has always reasserted itself" (Orwell 185). Orwell also recognizes that the seeds that produce enormous upheavals are always sown in the middle class because they are the only members of society with the perspective and incentive to connect small grievances to larger political issues. The middle class are by nature positioned to know and, at times, feel the frustrations of the workers, while they can just nearly taste the intoxicating perks that come with being rulers. These impulses, plus their education and financial means, make them the only ones capable of organizing large-scale uprisings:
For long periods the High seem to be securely in power, but sooner or
later ... they lose their belief in themselves, or their capacity to
govern efficiently, or both. They are then overthrown by the Middle,
who enlist the Low on their side by pretending to them that they are
fighting for liberty and justice. As soon as they have reached their
objective, the Middle thrust the Low back into their old position ...
and ... become the High. Presently a new Middle group splits off from
one of the other groups, or from both of them, and the struggle begins
over again. (Orwell 203)
Since the disaffected "Middle" is always the source of revolution, Orwell situates the illicit sexual relationship at the heart of 1984 within the middle-class Outer Party. By having the state focus so much time and attention on a single doomed romance between two middle-class lovers, Orwell demonstrates how an efficient regime can forget the proletariat, or--as they are called in this novel--proles, (13) and concern itself solely with monitoring, isolating, and disempowering the potentially dangerous middle class, which represents the only real threat to the state's authority.
Preservation of this order rests largely on governmental control of the sex lives of the members of the middle class. Sex, like everything else, is monitored through the telescreen, a descendent of the television that doubles as a video camera. Sex is only legal for procreative purposes and is otherwise a capital offense: "Sexcrime covered all sexual misdeeds ... fornication, adultery, homosexuality ... normal intercourse practiced for its own sake ... all equally culpable, and ... punishable by death" (Orwell 309). But the Party is not so naive as to think that by preventing sex it can prevent desire. The energy generated by lust, love, envy, perversion, and other dangerous passions is redirected into cathartic rituals of adoration for Big Brother, Oceania's putative absolute ruler: (14) "There was a direct, intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy. For how could the fear, hatred, and the lunatic credulity which the Party needed in its members be kept at the right pitch except by bottling down some powerful instinct and using it as a driving force?" (Orwell 134). As Blu Tirohl argues in his essay "We are the dead ... you are the dead: An Examination of Sexuality as a Weapon of Revolt in Nineteen Eighty-Four," the powerful human instinct which the party taps into for fuel is sexual desire: "The Party, it seems, reappropriates sexual energy for its own needs. As desire, or urge, would diminish after sexual intercourse the Party attempts to sustain in its members a state that permanently anticipates pleasure and then channels that energy for its own purposes" (55-56). Passion is morphed into patriotism. To this end, rallies, marches, public executions, gratuitously violent newsreels, and carefully contained, localized, intensive riots known as Two Minutes Hate are employed to channel primal tendencies toward hatred of public scapegoats and love for Big Brother. Winston collectively refers to these activities and institutions as "the great orgasm" (Orwell 180), while Julia simply calls them "sex gone sour" (Orwell 134). Misdirected sex is the energy on which propaganda and production depend.
But, as with the other books in this study, Orwell asserts that as much as totalitarian regimes need to control the flow of desire, they can never do so absolutely. Sexual hunger always reemerges as the catalyst for rebellious tendencies. Jenny Taylor points out in her essay "Desire is Thoughtcrime," that as with We, a sexual relationship is at the core of this novel. "It is the very centrality of the relationship between sexual and political repression in 1984 that makes the novel seem so recognizable today.... Its plot is almost identical to ... We ... a futuristic dystopia in which the hero D-503 is moved by desire to political rebellion by the Other--E-330 [sic]--though he finally betrays her" (26). Taylor's claims about the plot similarities between We and 1984 are exaggerated, but she is right about the central importance of desire in both novels. I would argue that like the relationship between D-503 and I-330, the sexual relationship in 1984 is again between an essentially orthodox, repressed character (Winston Smith) and a radical seductress (Julia).
Admittedly, calling Winston Smith orthodox is problematic since he abhors Big Brother and disbelieves in the principles of INGSOC. But at the beginning of the novel, he represents no real threat to the Party because he feels helpless and has completely resigned himself to the idea that resistance is futile. "Whether he wrote DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER, or whether he refrained from writing it, made no difference.... The Thought Police would get him just the same" (Orwell 20). Julia, on the other hand, firmly believes that she can get away with her subversive behavior and find happiness, not only for herself, but also for Winston. Tirohl rightly points out that though we first see Julia from the perspective of Winston's frustrated desire, it is she, like I-330, who takes the initiative to launch their sexual relationship:
Julia's seduction (it is she who makes the first move and subsequent
liaison arrangements) of Winston serves three functions for him.
Firstly, she provides an outlet for his sexual needs.... Secondly, she
demonstrates a failure in the Party to control her sexuality, since
she adores intercourse and anything which corrupts The Party inspires
Winston. Thirdly, she offers Winston loyalty and the message that he
is not alone in his thoughts. (58)
These are excellent observations, but Tirohl could extend his analysis even further. The satisfaction of Winston's lust does more than provide him with a companion for his bed and thoughts--it transforms him from a restless defeatist into a willing soldier for the Brotherhood. The satisfaction of an erotic fantasy begets a pragmatic optimism: "'In this game that we're playing, we can't win.' She would always contradict him when he said anything of this kind. She would not accept it as a law of nature that the individual is always defeated.... She believed it was somehow possible to construct a secret world in which you could live as you chose.... 'We are the dead,' he said. 'We're not dead yet,' said Julia prosaically'" (Orwell 136-137). Both characters, of course, realize that organizing an open rebellion is impossible, but while Winston dwells on the futility of overt resistance, Julia, perhaps naively, believes that they can beat the Party at its own game behind masks of seeming loyalty.
As a sexual creature, Julia's rebellion centers on subverting the Party's uncompromising code of sexual conduct.
With Julia, everything came back to her own sexuality.... She had
grasped the inner meaning of the Party's puritanism. It was not merely
that the sex instinct created a world of its own which was outside the
Party's control and which therefore had to be destroyed, if possible.
What was more important was that sexual privation induced hysteria,
which was desirable because it could be transformed into war fever and
leader worship. (Orwell 134)
It is exclusively through her promiscuity that Julia seeks to both satiate herself and enervate the Party. Each orgasm she enjoys siphons away energy that would otherwise be spent buttressing Big Brother and the state policies he represents. She is a revolutionary, but, as Winston says, a revolutionary only "from the waist downward" (15) (Orwell 157). Like I-330, Julia draws men first to her body and then to her beliefs. She admits to Winston that she has had "scores" of lovers before him and that they were all Party members (Orwell 126). At the beginning of the novel, Winston accepts that he will never have the chance to bed Julia in the same way that he accepts that achieving regime change is impossible. His thoughts regarding Julia are a mixture of frustrated lust and libidinal rage: "Vivid, beautiful hallucinations flashed through his mind.... He would tire her naked to a stake and shoot her full of arrows like Saint Sebastian. He would ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax.... He hated her because ... he wanted to go to bed with her and would never do so" (Orwell 16). These lurid thoughts, however, give way to dreams of consensual sex as Winston begins to recognize the revolutionary potential and significance of Julia's body. His fantasies about her begin to be set in the Golden Country, an imagined, pastoral utopia reminiscent of the forest beyond the Green Wall in We:
The girl with the dark hair was coming toward him across the field.
What overwhelmed him in that instant was admiration for the gesture
with which she had thrown her clothes aside. With its grace and
carelessness it seemed to annihilate a whole culture, a whole system
of thought, as though Big Brother and the Party and the Thought Police
could all be swept into nothingness. (Orwell 32)
Julia's exposed sensuality channels Winston's futile disaffection into impassioned hope. By tearing off her party uniform, she not only frees her body for penetration, she rends the fabric of cultural repression that binds the Party together. Julia's denuded sweetness offers more than a private paradise beyond the grasp of the Thought Police, it promises the obliteration of INGSOC. When Winston and Julia eventually do reach coitus, they experience it as an act of violent rebellion. "Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act" (Orwell 128).
The problem with Orwell's depiction of Julia is that it reflects a disappointingly immature and characteristically male attitude toward women. Like Bo Derek running on the beach in a swimsuit, the image of Julia trotting through the Golden Country is not that of a liberated woman, but of a woman liberated for men. Yet as Tirohl points out, Orwell's views of women and sex may have been a product of his Edwardian upbringing:
Orwell tends to reveal a restrictive view of women's sexuality,
intellectual capacity and political conscience.... Yet, in all other
descriptions of life in Airstrip One, Orwell is so precise, so
thorough, so insightful and so predicative of technological evolution.
It seems unlikely he could have been simply careless in his
description of the sexual revolt undertaken by Winston and Julia and
more probable that his restricted experience of women limited his
ability to offer a rounded description of them on the printed page.
This perspective, shared to a lesser extent by Zamyatin and Huxley, probably stems from notions of female sexuality that these writers developed as boys at cold-shower boarding schools. The experience of attending a public school clearly helped Orwell to capture with chilling authenticity the sense of repression, helplessness, and anxious worry that characterizes both school and dystopian life. However for a female reader especially, it must be troubling to see women couched in such blandly predictable and apparently sexist terms.
In Orwell's defense, remember that he, like Zamyatin and Huxley, wrote to think about and actively bring about the liberation of the individual, not to portray women as a means to an end. However limited their initial opinions may be, the men in projected political fictions become politically and spiritually like the women they are attached to, instead of molding women to become like themselves, as occurs, for example, in the fiction of D.H. Lawrence. Moreover, since all of these societies need to regenerate, it is difficult to talk of any kind of rejuvenating relationship other than the traditional sexual one, because it alone affords the possibility of natural procreation. In short, these stories are obsessed with the female body because it is where new life always begins.
Certainly, the relationship with Julia is a starting point for Winston. Rather than continuing to believe that he will be inevitably found out and liquidated, Winston begins to believe that he and Julia can share a future together, which catalyzes a complete change in Winston's lifestyle: "The process of life had ceased to be intolerable ... now that they had a secure hiding place, almost a home" (Orwell 151). This newfound optimism also leads Winston to avoid taking unnecessary risks, as he had once routinely done, so that he will not attract or provoke the Thought Police. Winston adopts Julia's conviction that they can carry on their affair undetected for an indefinite period. "At the sight of the words I love you (16) the desire to stay alive had welled up in him, and the taking of minor risks suddenly seemed stupid" (Orwell 111, emphasis in original).
Eventually, Winston imagines a whole network of illicit sexual affairs which he hopes can germinate into actual pockets of political resistance. "I don't imagine we can alter anything in our own lifetime. But one can imagine little knots of resistance springing up here and there--small groups of people banding together, and gradually growing, and even leaving a few records behind, so that the next generation can carry on where we leave off" (Orwell 156). These dreams of organized resistance are of course unrealistic, but they demonstrate how sex has changed Winston from a hapless victim of fear and propaganda into a daring revolutionary, inspiring him to openly confront O'Brien about the Brotherhood and thus unwittingly hasten his own arrest and incarceration.
Not surprisingly, just as it brought about the liberation of Winston's spirit, sex is the medium through which the Party reasserts its anaconda-like grip on Winston's soul. Though Winston suffers ineluctable physical torture at the hands of O'Brien, he responds with overwhelming feelings of desire. "He opened his eyes and looked up gratefully at O'Brien ... his heart seemed to turn-over. If he could have moved he would have stretched out a hand and laid it on O'Brien's arm. He had never loved him so deeply" (Orwell 255). This sexual experience, however, is a shared pleasure and transpires within a space known as The Ministry of Love. Like Zamyatin's Benefactor with his phallic machine, O'Brien's bedroom voice is described as "dreamy" (Orwell 259) as he explains his sadistic plans to Winston and dispenses electric shocks. As Winston, strapped to a table, writhes in bliss and agony, O'Brien beams with a "satisfied air" (Orwell 262) and even seems, at times, faintly on the verge of laughter: "There was a trace of amusement in O'Brien's face" (Orwell 263). The fetishistic relationship between Winston and O'Brien becomes an inversion of Winston's former affection for Julia. Whereas the radical Julia made a revolutionary out of the docile Winston through her nubile figure, the Stalinistic O'Brien relocates orthodoxy in Winston's heart through the erotic power of torture. "We shall squeeze you empty, and we shall fill you with ourselves" (Orwell 260). Like a yielding body being filled with semen, Winston's broken carcass is filled with the achromatizing dogma of the party.
It is at this point that the novel takes on a colonial dimension; whereas traditionally contested areas of the body include the mind, the hands, and the genitals, in 1984 the opportunity exists to colonize the entire self, liquidating the innate identity and replacing it with an automaton of the imperial state. On release from the Ministry of Love, Winston and Julia are veritable zombies. But it would be wrong to argue that on account of their fate, sex has led them to a political dead end. In an interview she gave to Geoff Hancock titled "Tightrope-Walking Over Niagara Falls," Margaret Atwood explains that like her own dystopia The Handmaid's Tale, 1984 actually ends with the promise of a successful revolution: "Orwell is much more optimistic than people give him credit for.... He has a text at the end of 1984. Most people think the book ends when Winston comes to love Big Brother. But it doesn't. It ends with a note on Newspeak, which is written in the past tense, in standard English--which means that, at the time of writing the note, Newspeak is a thing of the past" (Atwood 217). Orwell's post-narrative essay indirectly suggests that through the liberating power of a sexual revolution, reason and intellectualism will triumph over thought-control and violence. Remember that though Winston and Julia understand their likely fate, desire allows them to feel human, hopeful, and redeemed even under the bleakest possible conditions. Just how many other Oceanian couples are out there experiencing a sexual and political awakening of this kind is impossible to say. Like the scores of men whom Julia once seduced, it is still possible on Airstrip One for potential revolutionaries to be born, grown up, discover their sexuality, and--at least for a time--maintain personal relationships beyond the reach of the Party. Such radicals may eventually be caught and crushed. But their dreams remain possible on an individual level, just as in We, resistance was possible on a collective level. It is in Brave New World, the darkest of these projected political fictions, that revolution of any kind becomes virtually unthinkable.
Like We, Brave New World depicts a cushy society existing 600 years from the time of its composition in which the government controls people by satiating rather than repressing their desires, (17) especially their sexual desires. We and Brave New World share a single political philosophy: happiness and freedom are irreconcilable, so the government must choose to support one to the exclusion of the other. In both books, happiness is chosen. The denizens of World State are controlled through a methodology of debasing pleasure. Life is pampered and pointless; only the body politic moves in the direction of self-perpetuation. Through prenatal manipulation, drugs, hypnosis, and Pavlovian conditioning, the citizens of this postmodern London are bred to enter one of five segregated classes, each happy on its own level of mental awareness and physical ability. People are made to be contented with their employment, social status, recreational activities, and living quarters so that they can perform their small, predetermined functions within the vast societal machine. Everyone is so perfectly acclimated to her purpose in life, and the machine is so effective at producing perfect human types, that society perpetuates itself flawlessly without any conscious guidance.
Like other projected political fictions, controlling the sex lives of OneStaters is perhaps the largest and most aggressively pursued governmental concern in Brave New World. Yet, control is achieved through satiation rather than repression. By custom and law, people in Brave New World have unlimited access to each other's bodies. Giving people all the sex they want defuses the revolutionary danger implicit in sex by removing the element of desire. Instead of actively pursuing new avenues of sexual excitement, the inhabitants of OneState are sheepishly gratified by a state-controlled mating system. Huxley, like Zamyatin, demonstrates that revolutionary power lies not in the sexual act itself, but in the yearning for bodies and practices that are forbidden or inaccessible. In One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse argues that the frustration of sexual desire is, oddly enough, a positive and liberating force:
Libido transcends beyond the immediate erotogenic zones--a process of
nonrepressive sublimation. In contrast, a mechanized environment seems
to block such self-transcendence of libido.... It also reduces the
need for sublimation. In the mental apparatus, the tension between
that which is desired and that which is permitted seem considerably
lowered, and the Reality Principle no longer seems to require a
sweeping and painful transformation of instinctual needs.... The
organism is thus being preconditioned for the spontaneous acceptance
of what is offered.... One might speak of "institutionalized
desublimation." The latter appears to be a vital factor in the making
of the authoritarian." (74, emphasis in original)
According to Marcuse, in a world where strong sexual impulses often go unfulfilled because the culture and environment are resistant to them, these impulses beget dreams and desires that transcend the self, and the individual is encouraged to realize and struggle for something better than the status quo. However, in a society like World State, where satisfaction from the sex act is fully guaranteed by the state on a continual basis, intercourse is reduced to a purely mundane act which can ignite no aspirations. In Orwell's Oceania, sexual desire is consistently frustrated. Consequently, libidinal satisfaction becomes a fundamental goal that can serve as an opening to more ambitious dreams and sophisticated objectives. For example, Winston's passion for the seemingly unobtainable Julia leads him to envision an entire utopian landscape, the "Golden Country," where they can love but also live freely. But in Brave New World, associations between sex and freedom have been almost completely eradicated. Since desire is always potentially anarchic, it is eliminated through genetic engineering, conditioning, drugs, and hypnotic influence. Sex is reduced to the physical act itself. The idea is that when people get all the sex they want without any effort or exertion, sexuality is thoroughly desublimated. No concept of liberty or individuality can arise from lust because the constant gratification of sexual impulses precludes the hopes, ambitions, and desires which arise from the deferment of consummation. By making sex so easily and continuously available, the government fosters complacency and people become content with a public pleasure system that doles out orgasms like meal tickets. The political applications of desire are castrated.
Since desire can no longer exist between Onestaters, Huxley subverts the state system by introducing an outsider, appropriately called John the Savage. The centerpiece of Brave New World is the relationship between John and the genetically engineered Lenina. It varies somewhat from my paradigm of a sexual relationship between an orthodox and a revolutionary character in that although John starts out with genuine love and admiration for Onestate--"O brave new world that has such people in it" (Huxley 107)--Lenina is hardly a political radical. Yet, though Lenina is not a proactive figure like Orwell's Julia or Zamyatin's I-330, John's irrepressible lust for Lenina transforms him from an ardent admirer of his new home to a social and political malcontent. Since Lenina offers no revolutionary credo for John to adopt, he withdraws from World State instead of rebelling against it. And in allowing his peaceful emigration, the state treats him as a disaffected lover rather than a dangerous radical.
John's eventual decision to live as a recluse can be traced back to the personal philosophy he derives from an old, discarded copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. In this respect, Brave New World is very like 1984 in that both novels explore the strong bond between thought and language. In his essay "Brave New World Revisited," Huxley argues that memory, emotional responses, and behavior all depend on language: "Language gives definition to our memories and ... converts the immediacy of craving ... into fixed principles of feeling and conduct" (Huxley 86). Not surprisingly, the limitation of language is used in both Brave New World and 1984 as a tool for manipulating the citizenry. Heretical thoughts are controlled not simply through censorship, but through the eradication of potentially subversive words from the spoken language itself. By stigmatizing and suppressing words like "mother" and "father," the concept of the family unit becomes unthinkable for the Brave New Worldians in the same way that rebellion becomes unthinkable in 1984 through the reduction of English to Newspeak. Language can thus work as both a liberating and a limiting force.
John's process of linguistic self-discovery depends entirely on erotic experience. Practically from his infancy, John passively accepts his mother's prostitution and the anguish it causes, responding to both with confusion: "'Why did they hurt you, Linda?' 'I don't know. How should I know?... They say those men are their men'" (Huxley 97, emphasis in original). As he begins absorbing the language of Shakespeare, John is able to contextualize both his burgeoning desire and his latent rage. One day, when his mother neglects to close her bedroom door while engaging in intercourse with her boyfriend Pope, John's jealousy ignites a political epiphany and he rebels:
It was as though he (John) had never really hated Pope before; never
really hated him because he had never been able to say how much he
hated him. But now he had these words.... The door of the inner room
was open, and he saw them lying together on the bed.... The words
repeated and repeated themselves in his head.... The knife for the
meat was lying on the floor near the fireplace.... He ran across the
room and stabbed. (Huxley 101-102)
In this moment, John comes to understand both the tragic characters of Shakespeare and the tragedy of his mother's life. His Oedipal passion for revenge turns gray lines of Shakespeare on faded yellow pages into a living body of material knowledge. His newfound vocabulary also allows him to realize his love for Lenina, even as it causes him to misinterpret her conditioned sexual advances as deliberate licentiousness and condemn her under the Elizabethan moral code he found in Shakespeare, a code that has been extinct for nearly a thousand years. "'Damned whore!' ... The Savage pushed her away with such force that she staggered and fell.... 'Get out of my sight or I'll kill you.' ... The noise of that prodigious slap by which her departure was accelerated was like a pistol shot" (Huxley 149). Though the hapless Lenina has no ideology of subversion to offer John, his passion for her carries him to the brink of violent rebellion. Huxley's novel suggests that even where there is no subversive ideology to adopt, sexual arousal still breeds disaffection toward political subjugation. Not surprisingly, sexual desire is also the means by which John's spiritual beliefs take hold. At the end of the novel, John chooses God over comfort, withdrawing from World State to the lighthouse. Yet he is only able to make this choice after understanding his sexual desire for Lenina and the promise of fulfillment her body brings.
But Brave New World is not an endorsement of John's chosen ascetic lifestyle. By the end of the novel, John has retreated into an existence of cruel self-flagellation, which, though cathartic at first, ultimately proves unsustainable when he surrenders to the orgy in the heather. By becoming a suffering recluse who attempts to spend the rest of his life punishing himself for circumstances and feelings that are largely beyond his control, John contradicts the moral philosophy which Huxley puts forth in the first few lines of the foreword to his novel. "Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment ... repent, make what amends you can ... behave better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean" (Huxley xiii). Huxley has thus shown the reader two unhealthy societies in Brave New World, the soulless conglomerate of the civilized many and the masochistic madhouse of the savage one.
Brave New World is the darkest of all projected political fictions because hope has been eliminated along with politics and history. Even though desire for Lenina has caused the scales to fall from John's eyes, he cannot inspire and lead others because genetic and behavioral programming has made it impossible for Huxley's Londoners to understand anti-establishment rhetoric. Whereas We concludes in the midst of an open rebellion, and 1984 ends with the idea that even if they are eventually found out, recalcitrant characters like Winston and Julia are still out there and will continue to be born, Brave New World denies that our mass-produced descendants will be able to even understand the concept of freedom. In Huxley's nightmare world of the future, the sexual desire that awakens John to the horrors of World State proceeds from romantic devotion to an attempt at rebellion to an implied theology, which becomes the only remaining area in which a glimmer of hope can be located.
To this end, Huxley casts John the Savage as a John the Baptist figure, an outcast who lives and dies in frustration but suggests the promise of future deliverance. Both the New Testament John and the John of Brave New World were born of putatively infertile women to emerge from the wilderness pointing the way to salvation. Both openly and notoriously challenge the political systems they encounter, John the Baptist through his rebuke of Herod Antipas and John the Savage through his questioning of Mustapha Mond. Both assert their challenges on religious grounds. "I don't want comfort. I want God" (Huxley 184). And prematurely, both die for their beliefs under sexualized circumstances. John the Baptist is executed after Herod makes a rash promise to his alluring stepdaughter following a seductive dance. John the Savage executes himself after he is seduced in the heather. But just as John the Baptist was a harbinger of Christ, the life and death of John the Savage hints at the possibility of an eventual messiah.
Yet, what makes it all so scary is that when the messiah arrives, we might not want to be freed from the picturesque prison described by Huxley. Huxley himself acknowledges that his fictional world of sexual gratification, lasting youth, and narcotic ecstasy feels enticingly like a utopian ideal: "The termitary has come to seem a realizable and even, in some eyes, a desirable ideal. Needless to say, the ideal will never be realized. A great gulf separates the social insect from the not too gregarious, big-brained animal; and even though the mammal should do his best to imitate the insect, the gulf would remain" (Huxley, "Brave New World Revisited" 19). The idea of the gulf that surrounds and protects this incorruptible spiritual space is confirmed when Mustapha Mond admits that even he has come to believe that God exists (Huxley 180). But despite his awareness of the deity, Mustpha Mond--the most cognizant member of Huxley's dystopian society--still chooses the enslavement of pleasure over liberation among the exiles. His choice implies that the rejuvenating potential of spirituality can only arise at the end of political history. This is also reflected by the fact that the Savage, though he chooses God over comfort, quickly allows his political community of one by the lighthouse to degenerate into self-destructive debauchery. Brave New World is almost a Book of Revelation for the new millennium, a story which shows the final, dark stage of human development while pointing toward the theological hope of rebirth without actually representing it. Maddeningly, Huxley's projected political fiction refuses to answer the question of how renewal will take place, just as Zamyatin's refuses to give a clear picture of who the victor will be in the Memphi's revolution and Orwell's refuses to confirm or deny the existence of the Brotherhood. But an intangible hope is implied in all three novels, and it begins each time with an ungovernable sexual relationship.
Though their specific concerns and philosophies differ, all of these authors use the trope of the future to elucidate the interrelated sexual and political repression that they recognized in their own societies, and their concerns still resonate today. Even aside from efforts to legislate morality, consider our perverse cultural fascination with the sexual conduct of public figures and, even more intriguingly, our voyeuristic compulsion to spy on tawdry behavior through reality programs, web cameras, and increasingly even television news broadcasts. Fetishes of this kind are echoed in the covert, government-sponsored porn industry, pornosec, for which Julia works in 1984 and the literally sensational celluloid feelies of Brave New World. As Foucault would undoubtedly point out, our own obsessions have escalated in proportion to the various state-sponsored methods for restricting the sex lives of individuals (for example, laws regulating abortion and contraception, laws censoring the content and dissemination of erotica, and laws that deliberately persecute gay, transgendered, and bisexual citizens solely for their private sexual conduct (18)). These issues call for a renaissance of projected political fiction, a genre which ironically had its heyday in the first half of the last century. (19)
The year 1984 has come and gone. With market-based democracies dominating the globe at the start of the third millennium, the reality of political tyranny in the West has seemingly receded. Still, it behooves us to notice that the potential tools of tyranny are multiplying at an unsettling rate. In my office, there are no memory holes to incinerate incriminating or subversive documents, but, increasingly, all of our personal and public information is stored in electronic databases or networks that can be erased or altered with a few keystrokes. Books, which can be hidden or preserved, bear the durable mark of print, and must be found out and destroyed copy by copy are being replaced by more compact yet infinitely more fragile and malleable forms of digital media. This morning, no one issued me a ration of the "soma" so chillingly described by Huxley. But larger and larger segments of our population are being over-medicated with mood--and mind--altering prescription drugs approved by federal agencies. No one (not yet anyway) is watching me through my television or a glass wall. But my Internet browser leaves a trail, processed by corporate and governmental entities, as I surf from site to site on the World Wide Web, where our business and pleasure are increasingly found. The world may be a freer place than it was at the beginning of the last century, but projected political fiction reminds us that the tools of oppression still surround us and if memory, intellect, and emotion are ever fully assimilated, sexual desire may be our last hope.
1. I am not using the word "projection" in a psychoanalytic sense. Freudian projection, first introduced in "The Psychotherapy of Hysteria" (1895), refers to the tendency of individuals to unwittingly project their own personal faults or perceived failings on to other people or external institutions. I use this word in a wholly different, temporal sense to describe the way in which twentieth-century dystopian writers project their stories and ideas into the future for special emphasis.
2. Erika Gottlieb has pointed out that the term dystopia, meaning bad place, was introduced as an opposite to the idea of the utopia, or good place, by J. Max Patrick in 1952. While projected political fiction is certainly a kind of dystopian fiction, the specificity of this new label focus attention on the fact that in the twentieth century, writers of dystopian fiction became increasingly concerned with the political fate of all humanity. I believe that the old model of both utopian and dystopian fiction, in which an unknown land is discovered by a wayward traveler from contemporary society who returns to tell about it, largely fell out of favor after Samuel Butler's Erewhon because of its limitations in dealing with universal concerns.
3. In a review of We which appeared in Tribune on 4 January 1946, Orwell writes: "The first thing anyone would notice about We is the fact--never pointed out, I believe--that Huxley's Brave New World must be partly derived from it." This review has been reprinted in George Orwell, In Front Of Your Nose: the collected essays, journalism, and letters of George Orwell, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), 72-75. According to Jerome Meckier's essay, "Poetry In The Future, The Future of Poetry: Huxley, Orwell, and Zamyatin," Huxley would later deny having read We, both to Drieu La Rochelle and to Zamyatin himself.
4. In Meckier's opinion, "Orwell's borrowings resurrected Zamyatin's novel, whereas Huxley seems to have made unacknowledged use" (19). See also Mark R. Hillegas The Future as Nightmare: H.G. Wells and the Anti-Utopians (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), which, in chapter six, details the various similarities between 1984 and We and ascribes them to the heavy influence that H.G. Wells had on both writers.
5. Admittedly, in all three of the novels discussed in this study, it is a he, rather than a she, that is won over, but this is not universally true of projected political fiction. Jack London's Iron Heel, which is narrated from the perspective of a conservative middle class girl who marries a strapping proletarian revolutionary, is one notable exception.
6. For example, Lenina's craving for monogamy in Brave New World.
7. See Foucault's The History of Sexuality, volume I (New York: Random House, 1978), which argues--in part--that the sexual revolution was no true revolution, but instead played into the hands of the establishment: "Power over sex is exercised the same way at all levels ... whatever the devices or institutions on which it relies, it acts in a uniform and comprehensive manner.... From state to family, from prince to father, from the tribunal to the small change of everyday punishments, from the agencies of social domination to the structures that constitute the subject himself, one finds a general form of power, varying in scale alone" (84-85).
8. Margaret Atwood tried to buck this androcentic model of the dystopia by writing The Handmaid's Tale. In a BBC interview, partially excerpted in a recent article Atwood wrote for PMLA, Atwood asserts that though The Handmaid's Tale is not a feminist dystopia, it fills a need for a female perspective within the genre: "The majority of dystopias--Orwell's included--have been written by men, and the point of view has been male. When women have appeared in them, they have been either sexless automatons or rebels who've defied the sex rules of the regime. They've acted as the temptresses of the male protagonists, however welcome this temptation may be to the men themselves. Thus Julia, thus the camiknickers-wearing, orgy-porgy seducer of the Savage in Brave New World, thus the subversive femme fatale of Yevgeny Zamyatin's 1924 seminal classic, We. I wanted to try a dystopia from the female point of view--the world according to Julia, as it were. However, this does not make The Handmaid's Tale a "feminist dystopia," except insofar as giving a woman a voice and an inner life will always be considered "feminist" by those who think women ought not to have these things," Margaret Atwood "The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake in Context" PMLA 119.3 May 2004 (516).
9. This conception of sexual desire as a basic, untrainable, animal energy is presented by these authors as a universal truth, though it may in fact be constructed. These Dystopian writers felt that there had to be some aspect of humanity beyond the reach of power, and in their writings they settled on sexual desire. One of the obvious limitations of this model is its tacit denial of homosexual tendencies. These writers argue that sexuality is truly ungovernable and unpredictable, yet--in We and Brave New World--they also suggest that homosexual inclinations can be completely removed from the human psyche. If this aspect of human sexuality can be controlled by the state, it is plausible to think that the whole of sexual desire could be too.
10. The only real constraint on sexual activity is that a Number whose body chemistry calls for a high number of sex days may have to wait temporarily on the availability of a desired Number with a naturally lower sex drive. However, since the amount of available choices in the densely populated city is always fairly high, there is nothing in the story to suggest that such an inconvenience is even perceptible.
11. Thanks to my colleague Diana Edelman-Young at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for pointing this out to me.
12. The name of the ruling and only political party in Oceania, an abbreviation of English Socialism. Though a socialist himself, Orwell wanted to make clear that tyranny could come just as easily from the left as from the right.
13. As the ruling party of Oceania is socialist by philosophy if not by practice, leftist vocabulary is employed.
14. Stalin probably served as Orwell's physical and ideological model for Big Brother. It is also likely that within the story, Big Brother is a creation of the Party propaganda machine rather than a flesh-and-blood person.
15. Though this crude witticism may strike a contemporary reader as almost pejorative, Orwell uses it to convey Winston's frustration with Julia's lack of interest in political theory, and the corresponding, playful delight that Julia takes in Winston's frustration.
16. Though the sexual attraction between Winston and Julia does lead to romantic love, this is not always characteristic of projected political fiction. In We, it is unclear whether 1-330 ever fully reciprocates D-503's affections and in Brave New World, it is unclear whether a character like Lenina is capable of feeling and giving love in the way that we understand it. It is lust that consistently acts as the catalyst in these novels, not love.
17. It is much easier to understand Brave New World as a projected political fiction rather than a traditional dystopia, since the novel really constitutes a critique of the utopian ideal as opposed to a depiction of a clearly bad place. Because OneState is such a happy and attractive world, Huxley is really satirizing most people's idea of what paradise would look and feel like.
18 Most recently George W. Bush's ill-fated initiative to create a constitutional amendment to deny the fundamental right to marry to members of the gay and lesbian community.
19. The decline in the production of projected political fictions during the second half of the twentieth century may have to do with the inconclusive turmoil of the sexual revolution devolving into the moral majority of the Reagan-Thatcher era coupled with the emergence of AIDS. These factors worked to diminish our cultural belief in the redemptive potential of sexual desire.
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Source Citation (MLA 7th Edition)
Horan, Thomas. "Revolutions from the waist downwards: desire as rebellion in Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, George Orwell's 1984, and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World." Extrapolation 48.2 (2007): 314+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 12 Nov. 2012.
Gale Document Number: GALE|A168742956