The Dystopian Imagination

Lige så længe jeg kan huske har det været almindeligt at nævne Orwells Nineteen Eighty-Four og Huxleys Brave New World i samme sætning. De to store dystopiske romaner fra det tyvende århundrede. De to store undtagelser fra reglen om at science fiction ikke er værd at beskæftige sig med (og som derfor, til min irritation, ofte blev givet skudsmålet ikke rigtig science fiction!). I essayet The Dystopian Imagination, trykt i samlingen Our Culture, What’s Left of It graver Theodore Dalrymple (selv en værdig arvtager til Orwell i mine øjne) i en lighed mellem de to bøger:

In both dystopias, people find themselves cut off from the past as a matter of deliberate policy. The revolution that brought about the Brave New World, says Mustapha Mond, was “accompanied by a campaign against the Past” – the closing of museums (as in the Taliban’s Afghanistan), the banning of old books. In 1984 “the past has been abolished.” “History has stopped. Nothing exists except as an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
        Such dystopian engineering is at work in my own country. By the deliberate decision of pedagogues, hundreds of thousands of children now leave school without knowing a single historical fact about their own country. The historical principles that museums have traditionally used to display art have given way to ahistorical thematic displays – portraits of women from a jumble of eras, say. A meaningless glass box now sits on a pediment in London’s Trafalgar Square as a “corrective” to the historical associations of that famous urban space. A population is being deliberately created with no sense of history.”

Dalrymple skrev disse ord i 2001, og hvor meget værre er det dog ikke blevet siden! Nu synes alle begivenheder i både nær og fjern fortid at skulle omdefineres efter moderne moralbegreber. Den grassatgående politiske korrektheds ødelæggende effekt på civilisation og menneskelighed er svær at overvurdere. Dalrymple fortsætter med at påpege en interessant lighed mellem de to værker, som jeg ikke selv havde lagt mærke til:

For both Huxley and Orwell, one man symbolized resistance to the dehumanizing disconnection of man from his past: Shakespeare. In both writers, he stands for the highest pinnacle of human self-understanding, without which human life loses its depth and its possibility of transcendence. In Brave New World, possessing an old volume of Shakespeare that has mysteriously survived protects a man from the enfeebling effects of a purely hedonistic life. […] And when Winston Smith wakes in 1984 from a dream about a time before the Revolution, when people were still human, a single word rises to his lips, for reasons that he does not understand: Shakespeare.

Dalrymple afslutter med en selvoplevet anekdote, der står for mig som noget af det mest rystende og tankevækkende jeg længe har læst:

This scene takes me back to Pyongyang. I was in the enormous and almost deserted square in front of the Great People’s Study House – all open spaces in Pyongyang remain deserted unless filled with parades of hundreds of thousands of human automata – when a young Korean slid surreptitiously up to me and asked, “Do you speak English?”
        An electric moment: for in North Korea, unsupervised contact between a Korean an a foreigner is utterly unthinkable, as unthinkable as shouting, “Down with Big Brother!”
         “Yes,” I replied.

         “I am a student at the Foreign Languages Institute. Reading Dickens and Shakespeare is the greatest, the only pleasure of my life.”
        It was the most searing communication I have ever received in my life. We parted immediately afterward and of course will never meet again. For him, Dickens and Shakespeare (which the regime permitted him to read with quite other ends in view) guaranteed the possibility not just of freedom but of truly human life itself.
         Orwell and Huxley had the imagination to understand why – unlike me, who had to go to Pyongyang to find out.

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