George Orwell – 1984 – O’Brien and the intelligence to survive in the worst possible situation

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Some books are supposed to be read more than once. Multiple reading is like the wine. When drinking a glass of good wine or when reading a book for the second-third time you can better detect new colors and shades and complex ideas.

Almost invariably, when I get a good book I cannot help myself not to read it again (and again). In most cases the second-third reading is happening after two or three years after the initial one. Looked at from this new standpoint, the book reveals new details, new interesting aspects. Needless to say, a second-third reading always is more rewarding than the first one. Obviously, the second-third reading is a genuine proof that you are holding a valuable book in your hand. It means that the book has much more to offer you than you can get from one reading. That was the case with the George Orwell’s 1984.

I read George Orwell’s 1984 three times. And this time my attention was drawn to O’Brien. For a variety of reasons, this character is as important as Winston for expressing the author’s ideas on a political system which intends final and total control of human life. O’Brien is an intelligent person. He is even more intelligent than Winston. And Winston respects him for this. O’Brien is “a person who could be talk to”. And Winston desperately wants to have a conversation with him. He needs this dialogue in order to feel himself a person, an individual. And this is because it is vital for an individual to have contact with other people. Especially when you feel that you have something in common with such persons, and when you are deeply confident that there is always something valuable in talking to a person more intelligent than yourself.

O’Brien is intelligent. In spite of this, he is a lunatic. He is a survival expert. Living in a world in which freedom is impossible, in which living as an individual is impossible, in which thinking on your own is impossible, O’Brien simply understands that there are only two possible solutions: to revolt against the system (that is to commit suicide) or to be a lunatic. He succeeds in surviving in the worst possible situation. For O’Brien, the survival expert, to be lunatic means to imagine that you can live a normal life, not to give up your pride, to search for love and friendship, to believe in truth and reality. For O’Brien it is insane to think that 2 + 2 = 4 when the political system decided that 2 + 2 = 5. Living in an illogical world, it is illogical to think that something is illogical, this is how O’Brien thinks. For an intelligent person as O’Brien, the only logical thing is to search for power and to give up everything else.

O’Brien understands that freedom is impossible. And he uses all his intellectual powers to gain something in return for losing his freedom and individuality. He chooses power instead. I believe this is one of the most interesting parts of Orwell’s book (I come to this conclusion only now, when I am reading this novel for the third time). It is the paragraph about the relation between power and the dissolution of our identity and individuality.

It is time for you to gather some idea of what power means. The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. Alone – free – the human being is always defeated.

At the end of the day, we can only take pity on O’Brien for choosing power.

Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being – A novel about a completely selfless and unconditional love

When I finished Kundera’s most famous book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I felt an unstoppable urge to read it again. This book is like good music; you want to listen to it again and again. I must confess, with no other book I felt such a need to repeat the act of reading as soon as I finished it.

Love affairs, betrayals, different world views, misunderstandings, successive failures, confrontation with the absurdity of communism – all wrapped up in a captivating story, with multiple time dimensions, complicated by various combinations of romances between characters who meet one another in various contexts.

There are so many keys to understand Kundera’s book. The understanding depends on how many and various are the life experiences of the readers.

Now, I suggest one particular key: a completely selfless and unconditional love. Within the Czech writer’s book, the first contact with the unconditional love is when Tomas perceived Tereza as an abandoned baby in a wicker basket. She appeared out of nowhere in his life. And he understood that he couldn’t live without her. All he could do was to love her.

This unconditional love becomes one of the milestones of Tomas complicated life. He gives up everything and follows this amazing unconditional love for the rest of his life.

In the end of the novel, unexpectedly, the reader experiences again another form of unconditional love. Somehow, this love is even more impressive. Just pay attention to the moment when their dog, Karenin, dies.

It is a completely selfless love: Tereza did not want anything of Karenin; she did not ever ask him to love her back. Nor had she ever asked herself the questions that plague human couples: Does he love me? Does he love anyone more than me? Does he love me more than I love him? Perhaps all the questions we ask of love, to measure, test, probe, and save it, have the additional effect of cutting it short. Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves up to him demand-free and asking for nothing, but his company.

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Photo credit: Mihai Scarlat

Milan Kundera – The Joke – The intolerance to irony is the mark of totalitarianism

I think the name of the novel, The Joke, is carefully chosen. The Czech writer Milan Kundera’s novel hits the right nail on the head: to my mind, one of the easiest ways to test whether a political regime is moving towards totalitarianism is to pay attention to the degree of intolerance to irony. An authoritarian and repressive regime develops a chronic phobia to irony. Because humor is, after all, a solid guarantee for the independent thinking and spirituality and, therefore, any form of totalitarianism seeks to repress it.

Kundera’s book is worth reading, nevertheless. It is worth reading not just to have an idea about the similarities between different forms of communism, specific of different countries in Eastern and Central Europe (in my case between Romania and Czechoslovakia) or about the changes within the communist system over a generation (the ’60s meant something else than the ’40s). The Joke is worth reading, among other things, for the exemplary way in which illustrates the idea of dependency of one person on a certain context of living.

We are different in different contexts of life. Under different circumstances or when living among other people we transform ourselves. We think we know well a person. And, in the end, we discover that we don’t know anything about him/her. Because we only can have a vague idea of what that man/woman represents; we know that person in a single narrative context. Even when a big love is at stake, the possibility of knowing a person remains dependent on a certain context. When the context has changed, the person has transformed into a stranger to us. From this perspective, relevant in Kundera’s book is the love stories between Ludvik and Lucia and between Kostka and Lucia.

The weird Kostka meant a lot to her; he knew her better and he knew better how to love her: she trusted him completely; not me, him; … And yet, in order to make love to her (and I desperately wanted her body) suffice it was to understand her, to love her not only for her feelings directed towards me, but for those things that had nothing to do with me. … Kostka, nevertheless, knew Lucia and he knew, of course, a lot of things about her. And yet, there was one thing he missed. And this thing was the essential one. … and if she kept secret this thing from Kostka, if she kept secret from Kostka our six months of pure love, full of tenderness and sweetness, it means that he don’t know her either.