Burgess 1985 - reading group

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jef costello's picture
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Jul 1 2019 06:16
Burgess 1985 - reading group

This thread is for discussion of the book 1985.

I have put two rules below, but they can be changed, replaced, got rid of etc

- Read by date of 15th July

- No discussion of the text in the thread before then to give everyone a chance to read it.

Noah Fence's picture
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Jul 1 2019 10:10

Sorry, but no chance I’ll be able to read it that quickly. I’ll do my best though.

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Jul 1 2019 12:53

I thought you had already read it.

How long do you need? There's no rush, just think having a date would help.

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Jul 1 2019 15:59

I’ve read it multiple times but not for around five years. I have some problems with both long term and short term memory which hinders my ability to hold much information.
I’ll start it today and post a reasonable deadline tomorrow.

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Jul 2 2019 23:58

I’m starting with part 2 coz I don’t think I can face part one atm. I never liked it even when I liked the story a lot.
I’ll explain more about my relationship with this book and why I used to like it so much and how much it informed my politics for years once we’ve read it but I want to make it clear that since I discovered Libcom, and by default, libcom, I’ve read it once around five years ago and was surprised how differently I felt about it. Having started reading it again I’m amazed at how reactionary and stupid it seems! That said, Burgess was a great writer, A Clockwork Orange is an incredible book, and I’m sure the flow and humour in 1985 will still entertain me.
Anyways, I should have it finished soon after the 15th.

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Jul 9 2019 10:25

How are you guys getting on? I should be finished by the middle of next week.
Oh boy, I reckon you’re gonna have my guts for garters after reading this at my suggestion!

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Jul 9 2019 11:15

I started part 1 and gave up quickly. But I'll give it another go today.

zugzwang
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Jul 9 2019 11:46

Yeah I'm still on Ingsoc Considered, should have it finished before next week though. It is somewhat difficult motivating myself to read someone who thinks we should eat people to reduce population and I kind of wish we picked something else.

Quote:
Interviewer: Then another cultural check would be cannibalism?

A.B.: Well, this seems natural enough to me. It is probably always wrong, evil indeed, to kill one’s neighbour for whatever cause.

But as far as I know there’s never been any prohibition as far as eating the body of your neighbour is concerned, I can’t see any ground at all for imagining that cannibalism is evil. What harm is one doing? One is merely breaking certain taboos and these taboos are naturally highly irrational. But it may very well be that one of our solutions to the coming problem of famine is cannibalism, we may be going to our supermarkets and buying cans of meat which are called Mensch, or something like that, and these will be acceptable because we do, in fact, accept all kinds of nameless meats, seasoned with sodium nitrate, that we find on the shelves of supermarkets.

This may well happen and we may well so change our cultural thinking, our moral thinking, that we will accept it

It seems to me a far more reasonable solution than abortion which is genuine murder, and I do base my hatred of abortion on a very simple theory and that is, that everybody has a right to be born, but nobody has a right to live.

...

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Jul 9 2019 14:18

I’m just reading the novel, not part one.
Seriously though guys, if it’s that painful give it a miss. I still like the story and the style of writing but I can no see how ludicrous it is.
I first read it age sixteen when I’d just discovered what I thought was anarchism but was really just a rebellious individualism. From that point of view this story is a marvel! I can still enjoy because of my relationship with it and my young self.
After picking up these ideas I spent the next ten years spouting Stirneresque twaddle without never having read Stirner!
Anyways, A Clockwork Orange bears much closer scrutiny. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but to me it’s magic.

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Jul 18 2019 08:10

50 pages in, and I am still on part one Not enjoying this very much. I don't like the dialogue form either. Burgess isn't necessarily wrong about everything, just stunningly pompous.

Will be ready to talk about it soon, how are you all getting on?

Edit 65 pages in... to a 124 page first part.

Noah, why did you do this to us?

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Jul 18 2019 12:32

I’ve practically finished the novel part but couldn’t bring myself to read part 1. I never liked that part but if you think I should as a penance or for any other reason, just say the word and I’m on it.

Quote:
Noah, why did you do this to us

Sadism? Well, no. The answer to that can be found in my previous comment. As a young (ahem)’anarchist’ who’s only exposure to left wing politics was horribly right on middle class Tony Benn worshiping students and academics I developed a strong hatred of what I thought was the left and a very individualist position. I chanced upon this book in our local library just as I was having these experiences and forming my views. This book fitted the narrative forming in my mind at that time.
Even though I know it’s awful, I’ve still enjoyed reading it. I guess it’s part nostalgia, part enjoyment of ABs writing style and partly coz even against my better judgement and my now firm beliefs, I still have an individualist streak a mile wide.
I won’t say any more about the novel for now until (indeed, if)you read it.

zugzwang
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Jul 18 2019 20:40
Quote:
Will be ready to talk about it soon, how are you all getting on?

I was kind of hoping we had all forgotten about this. I'm still at the beginning of Ingsoc Considered.

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Jul 19 2019 18:12

Why are you doing this, Jef? It’s a horrible book, almost Thatcherite in many ways.

Devrim

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Jul 19 2019 18:42
Devrim wrote:
Why are you doing this, Jef? It’s a horrible book, almost Thatcherite in many ways.

Devrim

I agree Devrim, it’s shockingly bad. Yet I’ve still enjoyed reading it again. I also agree that Jeff and Zugzwang shouldn’t do it to themselves.

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Jul 20 2019 00:31

I think it came out in the late 1970s. I read it at about that time. He had a few interesting comments on Orwell’s book, but the novel part is horrific. It’s full of petite bourgeois hatred of the unions, which to them represent the working class, and if I remember correctly, it has some pretty awful homophobia along with it.

Devrim

Fleur
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Jul 19 2019 19:09

If anyone wants to read a novel with a date as a title, I've just finished 1974 by David Peace, which is excellent and not at all pompous tongue

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Jul 19 2019 19:58

It came out in 1978. As Devrim says, for those who remember the 60s/70s it seems very much a book of its time; it reads like a right-wing or right-Labour critique of trade union 'excesses' of the time (even though TU leaderships were tail-ending rather than leading many struggles then). Considering the later decline of class struggle and TU influence Burgess was well wide of the mark in his paranoia.

But that paranoia does indicate how threatened the ruling class & its allies felt by militant class struggles of the time.

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Jul 21 2019 20:55
Devrim wrote:
Why are you doing this, Jef? It’s a horrible book, almost Thatcherite in many ways.

Devrim

Because I said I would.

The idea was to get back in the swing of things a bit. A little bit of intellectual challenge, a little bit of politics. Should have read the Stig Dagerman biography instead.

The novel reads like a 'political correctness gone mad' rant, someone imagines a bunch of stuff that they would hate and then complains about it. There are a couple of good lines:

Quote:
Unfortunately, I don’t have another wife for them not to burn to death.

Was quite amusing, but few and far between.

There is a pretty strong racist undertone, everything bad is connected to a brown person and even the doctor has a foreign name. There seems to be a sheer terror of sex, with a focus on rape of men by men.

You could see it as a parody of 1984 in that sense, I remember the character of Julia being criticised for the whole "revolutionary from the waist downwards" part, Burgess also picks up on that, but he also is still very scared of sexuality it would seem. I think Burgess thought it was a parody, but I don't think it does a very good job, he criticises Orwell's lack of faith in the proles and then does exactly the same thing, same with sex and so on.

I think I have 30 or 40 pages left, might finish them tomorrow but honestly, it is a pretty shite book. If I don't read it tomorrow I probably never will.

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Jul 21 2019 21:49

I agree with pretty much everything you’ve all said yet still I find it entertaining.
Yes Jeff, that is a good line though the line that always stuck with me as a rebellious teenager when I first read it was ‘it HAS to be wrong, it’s so fucking boring’, in reference to the overall culture.

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Jul 22 2019 19:52

Finished it. Didn't bother to read the last Q1A after a page or so. Load of shite.

So how do we discuss this? Does anyone have any questions or comments to get us started?

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Jul 23 2019 18:57

What do people think the author's motive was for writing the book? (This is another way of asking 'why is the book shite?')

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Jul 24 2019 11:49

Sorry about this. Still I did try to discourage you once if started it and realised how bad it was.
Anyways, I’ve explained my attachment to the book but I don’t really have anything else to add except to confirm that it’s awful and suggest that despite of how terrible it is you shouldn’t let it put you off A Clockwork Orange.

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Jul 24 2019 20:15
Red Marriott wrote:
What do people think the author's motive was for writing the book? (This is another way of asking 'why is the book shite?')

I think the writer thought he was writing a parody of 1984 that showed up the literary and political flaws of the book. I don't think he succeeded on any level.

I thought it was weird that the only opposition that he could find to the union dictatorship is a bunch of fascists (as described by the protagonists) who seemm to be chancers and lose anyway. The motivation for the fascists is money, rather the duty they bang on about. Not sure if this is deliberate, to show the bankruptcy of the working class, or not. I also find it odd that Burgess goes on about the duty of the armed forces, but doesn't really make it clear what that is, should they be shooting strikers or defending the UK against the arab invasion. He can't seem to decie if he likes the arabs or not, although they come off better than the other races.

The protagonist is very odd, he is driven to extremes by the death of his wife, but is completely indifferent to his daughter, who is the only female character, if we can call her that. The wife seems a bit of a pretext, and unnecessary as the guy is supposedly taking a stand on principle. You could argue that including the sex-obsessed daughter is mocking 1984 and Julia who is "revolutionary from the waist down" but it seems more to me just a general contempt for women and humanity.

The parts about learning latin being truly revolutionary, might have been a joke, but Burgess does just seem to believe that he is the only sane man. I just realisd there was an introduction to my edition, but I can't face any more, even though a skim shows parts to be quite critical.

To sum up, there aren't really any characters, aside from an unconvincing and uninteresting protagonist. The story is quite dull and doesn't really have much energy, largely because the smug dialogues beat any enthusiasm out of me, but also because there is no one to care about in any way in the story. It seems racist and sexist and obviously classist. It sounds like someone blithering on about 'political correctness' gone mad and trying to paint himself as he last Roman, making a last stand, as the barbarians stroll through the gates abandoned by his unworthy peers.

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Jul 24 2019 20:17
Noah Fence wrote:
you shouldn’t let it put you off A Clockwork Orange.

It does make me wonder if CLockwork Orange wasn('t as good, or was good because of the way it is read, not written. Or it was an accident.

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Jul 25 2019 19:08

I can't really add much to Jeff's summary; so, er, thanks all...
Someone pick a decent book.

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Jul 25 2019 22:43

Any ideas?

I have started that biography of Stig Dagerman but it seems like one of those ones where the biographer writes about themselves which is not usually that interesting. A shame, espepcially as it cost me 19 euros. Last time I go to the bloody anarchist bookshop!

If we can pick a new book we can start a new thread and forget that this one ever existed.

A few suggestions, easy enough tofind online:

Detroit 67 - Stuart Cosgrove
The Dispossesed - Ursula K Leguin (or another one by her)
Any Orwell (I just read the Decline of the English murder)
Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

To be honest anything would probably be fine, I have suggested more literature options because that is what I know. . I wouldn't mind a relatively light theory book. I have basically read no theory, people always seem to assume I have for some reason.

WORK - The Last 1,000 Years - Andrea Komlosy
Facing the Enemy:A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968 - Alexandre Skirda
Facing Reality CLR JAmes et al
FRANTZ FANON - The Wretched of the Earth
Confronting Black Jacobins
Bell Hooks - Feminism is for Everybody
African Anarchism - Mbah and Igariwey
ANARCHIST ORGANISATION THE HISTORY OF THE F.A.I. JUAN GOMEZ CASAS
For Workers' Power - Brinton
Ken_Knabb__The_Joy_of_Revolution_
Language, Sexuality, and Power - Erez Levon et al
RETHINKING THE BLACK FrEEDOM MOVEMENT - Yohuru Williams

That is a selection of books from my 'politics' folder, not sure if they are good, just picked out titles that looked like the books could be intereting. If one of them is accidentally got a black flame type problem, then obviously we won't read it..

I have also read, but not sure if they lend themselves to discussion:
City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles
Rise of the Warrior Cop

IT is sweltering, but I need to try to sleep. Sorry if the list is no good, I am pretty open. Maybe not to suggestins from Noah smile

zugzwang
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Jul 27 2019 22:25

I was going to read selections from Gramsci's Prison Notebooks after I finish what I'm currently on. Don't guess anyone wants to read that. At least it's not Burgess.

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Jul 28 2019 17:41

The Dispossessed might be OK, or the K Knabb. Or PK Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sleep? (Bladerunner). I read an interesting new book recently, but it won't be online; https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/may/26/the-murderer-of-warren-str...
Now available in paperback £9.99.

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Jul 28 2019 20:01

Gramsci's Prison Notebooks - probably go over my head, but I'll give it a go
The Dispossessed, K Knabb, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sleep? and the-murderer-of-warren-street. Be happy to try any of these, have read Dick before, and re-read him but still b interested.

zugzwang
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Jul 28 2019 23:23
Quote:
Gramsci's Prison Notebooks - probably go over my head, but I'll give it a go

I haven't read any Gramsci. The International Publishers edition is around 450 pages. I'm not sure what if anything it has to offer libertarian communists (Gramsci's apparently regarded as a Stalinist by some). Maybe something to do with the "culutural hegemony" ideas? I bought it six months ago though and I figure I should read it at some point.

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Jul 29 2019 00:43
Quote:
have read Dick before,

Is that Burgess you’re referring to?