1984: reading, revising and remembering

I’m wading into the backwaters of the blog – the posts I haven’t visited in a while.  The notion is to make the categories simpler – essentially, to pull together the blogthatwas and what I’m doing now.  But I’m feeling a little like a history rewriter, something out of 1984.

I had a grand plan, you see.  I was going to read 1984 in…1984! That would have been good.  But it didn’t happen.

I overlooked the fact that a) I was 10 in 1984, and the book was better for later and b) there would be school work.  And meals.  And a few other things to take up my time.

Part of the connection was that Orwell wrote 1984 on the Isle of Jura, where I go on holiday reasonably regularly.  He based himself up at the far north of the island, in a place called Barnhill, and wrote his novel there.

There’s been plenty said – in print, on screen – about why he chose Jura, whether or not he drew on the nature of the island, and islanders, in writing his book.  Which is part of what brings people to visit the island – though not the only reason.

I am not here to analyse that side of things – only to say that Jura is a place of beauty, and wonder.  And that it is also a challenging place to live, as many islands can be, especially those on the edge of the Atlantic.

And that, whatever your reason for going there, you should just go – because it works a place in your heart, and remains there, however long the gaps between visits.

Myself, I think that what Orwell was looking for was the equivalent of Having the House to Himself to write.  (I can relate to that.)

It is much easier to write when there is space to let your thoughts circle a little in the air, when you don’t have to have onlookers for your reactions – whether the words are flowing, or not.

But I have been thinking about 1984, mainly the aspects of writing, and rewriting, the news.  Each day, Winston Smith, the central character, is involved in this activity.  What happened yesterday, last week, is revised in favour of the standpoint the state has on it right now.

I think that sometimes, it can help to read a book purely for itself – rather than to see what else it draws on.  I didn’t know enough about the Soviet state propaganda at the time I read it to make all the connections – certainly, when I read Orwell’s other key read, Animal Farm, I didn’t know about how the characters resembled Soviet political figures.

Sometimes, it’s good to let the story ‘speak’ in its own right.  The message can still impact us.  And I could tell that continually altering history, and calling the new version ‘true’, was problematic to say the least.

By comparison, in the last couple of years, as information in archives goes beyond the restrictions of the Secrets Act (in the UK), a lot more has come out about the Allies’ work in the Second World War.

How certain things that we take for granted – America entering the war – were not as automatic as we presume.  (This relates to propaganda work going on to encourage America to join the Allies – though the experience of Pearl Harbour clearly had the greatest impact on that decision.)  So in my own lifetime, I’ve come to see ‘familiar’ history adjust a little.

But where I relate to Winston Smith just now is the impact of adjusting truth, and knowing what came before.  In some ways, Smith remains the repository for earlier truth – though in the world of 1984, he is unable to express that.

My own historical revisionism is much more limited.  I’m looking at some of what I wrote on a few occasions that I was tired, possibly unhappy.  I’m looking at whether it reads well.  Whether it’s worth reading again.  And whether I feel happy for someone else to read it (should they choose to go through the back catalogue, as it were).

A few posts have gone – because they felt more like a diary entry than a blog entry, if you see what I mean.  There are times when the solace of writing helps us, in the moment, but it is more like a mark on a wall: that day done.

We don’t necessarily go and look at all those marks on the wall – sometimes we know they’re there, but we choose to move beyond them.

There are plenty of authors who get rid of earlier works.  (There are equally plenty of friends, family, companions, who sneak those writings back, even after strict instructions.)  But those writings are drafts, private words, generally unpublished.

In the world of the internet, where everything is published, and available, we can also choose which of our words we want to stick around – and what can be acknowledged, privately, as another mark on the wall.

I’m grateful I don’t have to write with a fear of Big Brother looking over my shoulder, checking.  Part of stretching your wings as a writer is testing yourself as you write, doing things you don’t yet quite know how to do.

Some of them may work – and some may not.  That is OK.  Some situations we may choose to leave as private, only written down inside us.  That too is OK.

And other situations, other stories, remain ready inside – knowing that they will take flight some day.  And that, when you are trying out the title of writer, is very much OK.