Literary reactions to propaganda in a structuralist world
Russian-born American writer Ayn Rand’s early novel Anthem was written and published in Britain in 1936*. The introduction to the revised text written by Ayn Rand that is still used in modern publications of the work was composed in 1946.
British author George Orwell’s novel 1984 was written in 1948 and published in 1949.
Both of these works are fictionalised dystopias and neither is more than averagely good in terms of literary qualities. Rather, these books desire to describe a possible future world which represents the ultimate logical conclusion of certain modes of thought about human organisation that made up the prevailing political sentiments of their time.
The works have some surprising similarities that interested readers are able to discover. In this article, I wish to articulate my sense of the differences between the cultural moment within which they were written and our current one.
Both authors feature a world where information exchange via speaking or writing is highly regulated by the state, with negative results. The texts depict marked dystopias that are so extreme they risk spilling over into farce. As previously stated, the works seem to have been written not necessarily with artistry in mind, rather they seem to be an effort to ‘wake up’ or shock the reading public into a realisation. Both authors seem to show a marked anxiety about propaganda spread by people in power. It seems to me that if they were going to have such an extreme reaction to propaganda’s effects, they must also have held the belief that it works.
Propaganda was being used in the Allied countries as much as in Germany, and Orwell’s essays imply the British output was no less fallacious than its German counterpart.
Renamed “Public Relations” in 1930’s by Edward Bernaise, I suspect they were entirely correct to be worried. Large groups of people were being manipulated into not only believing strange things but changing their behaviour to accommodate new beliefs, and the creators of such mass change were operating with absolute impunity.
[EDIT: I now have no strong idea of what I was going to say in the blog post (damn!) but it was probably along the lines of: one feared a left dystopia, one feared a right dystopia, they are pretty much the same dystopia. They could only fear these outcomes in a modern, structuralist world and now things are different because we are in a postmodern, post-structuralist world.]
*the book was not published in America until the late 1950s.