Teaching the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four for nearly a decade now, I find it a numerological fit to focus this year’s “BookTalk” on the classic Orwellian novel. 2014 marks thirty years from the fictional time of 1984, even though it truly stands for the constant future or a “1?84”, or 2084. To travel into the future, one enters the black hole of time travel narrative.
Dystopian stories offer a value comparable to any book of nonfiction, for sure. We have much to learn culturally, psychologically, emotionally, philosophically, morally, ethically, and in ways unimaginable. Every action includes an equal reaction, and our projected foreknowledge unknowingly influences each decision made in the present. We simultaneously veer into and away from the path that forks indefinitely.
“1984 V 1Q84” is a Kafkaesque trial, pitting three adversaries in a comparative brawl of literary analysis. George Orwell’s account of the future was rooted in post WWII, a nascent Cold War era realm of mutually assured destruction. Winston Smith, the weathered protagonist, rebels against Big Brother totalitarianism as brutal as the Man of Steel, Stalin, and as heavy as the Iron Curtain.
Our second contender enters at the ceremonial conclusion of the Cold War. V for Vendetta was developed through the 1980s and popularized in the early 1990s; and later to be reinvigorated through cinema by an audience of Millennials, it persists as the contemporary fore bearer of British prophesy. This most Thatcherian punk art wrapped in the guise of a graphic novel, struts across the current cyberspace like the chicken that hatched the post-9/11 world of Banksy-styled, Anonymous performance art crusaders seeking asylum in Putin’s Russia today.
And our third opponent performs a Black Swan dive into the murky present. 1Q84 opens the Pandora’s box of the twenty-teens. Surpassing the gall of North Korean reality control and Singaporean precision, Japan literally leads the globe as if more than time zones of separation held it just past the International Dateline and in some cloud floating around Mount Fuji, at least an age above us. Haruki Murakami’s multiculturally recognized masterpiece, translated into an English paperback of over 1,100 pages says it best:
“A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.” (Vintage International 2013)
Follow the white rabbit as we descend the downward spiral. The Past, the Present, and the Future align as we explore the time we live and love in and the time we fear happen. Like hours on the face of a clock, the next twelve posts will attempt to reconcile the newest narrative 1Q84—packaged in the plastic day of Hunger Games media, and fueled by Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale—with the progenitor, Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, all to be decisively leveled against the original genre mold of 1984.
Introductions — September 20
Part 1 — October 5
Part 2 — October 20
Part 3 — November 5
Part 4 — November 20
Part 5 — December 5
Part 6 — December 20
Part 7 — January 20
Part 8 — February 5
Part 9 — February 20
Part 10 — March 5
Part 11 — March 20
Part 12 — April 5
Conclusions — April 20
Listening to Leoš Janáček while reading the first chapter of 1Q84, readers can better appreciate the mood of the text’s opening. Things are not as they appear or seem; moreover, the ignorance of how we ended up in the present is even more elusive. The beauty of 1926 Czechoslovakia could very well be our current time, and a world war lurking around the bend.
“Don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.” (Page 14)
Murakami warns readers. He may draw upon an optical illusion more than irony, yet the theme of “2+2=5” is clear. Our dreams are a part of the same world that inhabit our fears. Humility serves as the best guide moving forward, for our vision is clearer when looking in hindsight. The rising sun may distort or blur our sight, especially if we look directly into it.
V is nowhere near as subtle. Obviously we wear a mask. In fact, you have to wear one in order not to be apprehended. V reveals a conspiracy in layers, like peeling an onion. Clever use of synecdoche illuminates the hands, eyes, nose, ears, and mouth of a nation’s faceless body. The public does not realize just how much it is under the thumb of, or under the crushing heel of, a tyrant veiled by freedom. We go from V for Victory, a euphemism for Socialism, to a V that is absolutely antagonistic, utterly versus. Winston is uncertain of the actual date and just as skeptical is he of the ministries and the Two Minutes Hate.
Eliminating the question of when, “who” takes stage. The female lead in 1Q84 laments her name, Aomame, which translates as “green pea.” American readers likely associate green with envy or greed or desire, in the vein of Great Gatsby. Internationally, green peas invoke genetic experimentation through the lens of Gregor Mendel. The future is trending towards a feminizing of the species.
In the other corner, V places the abuse of women front and center. Winston Smith struggles to see the unjust violence inflicted upon his mother or Julia until at least the very end, if at all. To Orwell a busty prole woman remains as a possible concession that women may be fortunate enough to have a resilience that only Voltaire’s Good Brahmin could have pity for.
Chapter one of V is titled “The Villain.” Winston questioned whether he was the rebel hero or not. Being the last man, whether in Europe or anywhere else, you have to question the will of the majority. V confidently declares that fighting as the minority is a villainous act in the eyes of the powers that be. This understanding and early acknowledgement makes way for immediate questioning.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway Public Corporation sounds as ironically vacuous as the Ministry of Love and as dubiously puppet-like as the nightly news. Keen to use a taxi cab as a transformative vehicle, Murakami uses the flow of traffic to show a future of overpopulation, congestion, density, and utter loneliness. A chute in which rolling stones gather no moss and are polished to a reflective state.
Aomame is late for a very important meeting. Someone is knocking at Winston’s door and he should not be home at this hour. The fireworks last night were no accident. How much of this was already planned?