A mediocre essay on A Clockwork Orange, 1984, and Absolute Beginners…

To what extent do twentieth-century writers view the history of the century as a fundamental struggle between socialism and capitalism?

The ‘struggle’ between socialism and capitalism, at least within a British historical perspective, is one based on the pursuit of power. The fight between socialism and capitalism as definitive ‘sides’ is fundamentally flawed; both are labour-centric; both express wealth as the centre of the economy. They are also not directly opposable concepts, as socialism is a political standing, while capitalism is, primarily, an economic strategy. However, capitalism can perhaps be seen as primarily identifiable with conservatism when used in its most extreme form through manipulation of culture by small groups of high-profiting companies or individuals. What I seek to examine is whether the ‘struggle’ between socialism and capitalism is actually the characterising feature of twentieth century British writing. For our purposes I will be focusing on George Orwell’s 1984 (1949), Colin MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners (1959), and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1962), and I will investigate these texts using linguistic analysis to suggest that the ‘struggle’ that underlies them all is one of power, a power defined by language itself.  

Orwell’s dystopian novel came four years post World War Two. His disillusionment with authoritarian Communism came in his employment by the Soviets during his three-year dedication to their cause throughout the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), proceeded by the battle against fascism executed by a Conservative government fuelled by propaganda (1939-45). Orwell became disheartened by both forms of totalitarian leadership and tormented with a heavy anxiety for what would proceed them. The novel offers us a solipsistic society governed by the ‘Party’, a place where the rationale and opinion of its leadership are so prolific that they are entire and thus fact. Outside thought or action are not only prohibited, but not even appealing to the proletariat, whose happiness and life are controlled to the extent of willing submission. One ‘Truth’ is permitted: that of the Party. In Orwell’s exposure to British wartime propaganda through his role in the BBC’s Eastern Service, governed by the Ministry of Information, he administered propagandist radio broadcasts to India, and realised that propaganda was a way to avoid deviations in the thoughts of the citizen and ensure compliance. The ultimate aim of the British was a victory defined by their coercion of the people to fight on a side that itself killed millions of innocents under the guise of anti-fascism, yet their propaganda proclaimed an unwavering patriotism that refuted any criticism of its aims, akin, one might suggest, to their fascist counterparts.

The manipulation of language by the British government is reflected in that of the Party in 1984, whose control lies in their understanding of language as the ultimate weapon to mould an alternate reality for listeners, much like the effect of the suspension of disbelief one falls into when reading a work of fiction. Language becomes unquestioned because it is a contextual reality. Using their various tools of propaganda, the Party creates a reality of contradictions that Orwell uses to criticise capitalism and extreme forms of socialism, such as Stalinism (1922-1953), placing the novel’s allegory somewhere removed from the extremes displayed in the novel, and towards Orwell’s appraisal of democratic socialism.

‘DOUBLETHINK’, the infamous compound noun that characterises 1984, is the ‘power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them’[1], and can be read as the legacy of consumer capitalism. As in an advert, which might deploy a non-materialist narrative in order to (contradictorily) promote material as a way to achieve non-material freedom, ‘DOUBLETHINK’ holds the proletariat of its world through ‘conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty’[2] . Thus ‘Whatever was true now [at least, true of the Party] was true from everlasting to everlasting’[3]. Through restriction of language in the form of ‘Newspeak’, the Party can execute ‘Reality control’[4], an ‘unending series of victories over [one’s] own memory’[5], and, historically, ‘if all records hold the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth’[6]. Orwell refers to this sense of reality shaped by a distorted use of language in his essay Politics and the English Language (1946) which gives a historic perspective on his ironic use of manipulated discourse in the novel; with reference to ‘the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, [and] the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan’[7], Orwell states that such atrocities

‘can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.’[8]

Orwell envisioned ‘Newspeak’ as an inheritor of the pro-war and pro-totalitarian language he identified in his work in both the Second World War and Spanish Civil War, a signifier of ‘the end of language and its replacement by a mechanical, depersonalized means of communication’[9], and creates a language defined by simple independent clauses based around abstract nouns which are used to create paradox. Hence, ‘DOUBLETHINK’ is born:

                                                                     WAR IS PEACE

                                                               FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

                                                            IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH[10]

While the concept of ‘DOUBLETHINK’ is more easily identifiable within a capitalist concept, as keeping the proles ‘satisfied’, aspects of the use of euphemism, hyperbole, and rhetoric are identifiable within all forms of dictatorial rule; O’Brien’s torture of Winston in Part III of the novel epitomises the features of autocracy that Orwell was so afraid of. O’Brien’s speech embodies the power of ‘DOUBLETHINK’: ‘When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will’[11]; the use of oxymoron in the contradictory concepts of the verb ‘surrender’ juxtaposed to the abstract noun-phrase ‘free will’ create a sentence that, despite its paradox, still makes sense. The illogicity of the concepts displayed here are presented completely logically – this is the power of language for the Party, for this is how they ‘control all records, and…control all memories’[12], by creating a language that has no logic that can pierce through it, for it is built on reason yet is completely unreasoned.

The novel advocates the need and possibility of a socialist uprising of the most downtrodden of Winston’s society – ‘if there was hope, it lay in the proles. You had to cling on to that’[13] – which resonates with anti-conservatist sentiment. However, the features of extremism of the Party themselves are innately socialist, as a government with ultimate power, as opposed to capitalism’s, and conservativism’s, private industry-led society. Orwell is recounting his fear of autocratic rule in any political context through the use of language, controlled knowledge, and restricted information, characteristics of both wars he took part in. In 1984, the abuse of power through language is a sincere fear of what any kind of undemocratic rule could become when power fell through the hands of the masses, and it is this that Orwell identifies as the crucial issue during the century. Perhaps, in writing the novel, Orwell envisioned that by ‘making his readers aware of what the future might hold for them, he could perhaps prevent it from happening.’[14]

Absolute Beginners employs a different approach to the power of language. Unlike Orwell’s text, the world around this narrator is not oppressive, and the context of the world and how it came to be is irrelevant. The narrator thrives in a world where he can live life to its fullest; the narrative technique creates a Bildungsroman from his perspective that allows us to experience the changes that he witnesses within himself, and in his evolving society. His experiences ask the question: how does one ‘come of age’ in the cultural uncertainty of the post-war world, when the war-fixation is no longer the prominent preoccupation?

The narrator is unnamed, an eighteen-year-old revelling in the depths of capitalist opportunity and newfound freedom of the fifties. The decade itself ‘saw the invention and reification of the teenager as a distinct target group for the marketing of specific consumer products’[15], and with the youth no longer looking towards their future in the context of warfare they became increasingly receptive to the consumerist and capitalist post-war world of unfounded expressive and monetary possibilities. Mass immigration during the period brought new forms of jazz to an already thriving jazz scene post World War. The domestic musician’s union ban on allowing American artists come to the UK to perform was loosened, bringing the British into a new era of exposure to varieties of world music. Multiple Jazz Clubs were also established during this period. The flourishing ‘bebop’, dance hall, subcultures, and spiritual abandon brought about by monetary freedom under capitalism revitalised the sense of community in youth culture; no longer were they constrained by parents, jobs and schooling – money bought freedom, and the young could be carefree. As Hammond suggests, the jazz club has become ‘a utopian space in which young people can resist the ideological failure of hegemonic culture, not least its hierarchies, prejudices and inequalities.’[16] McInnes’ protagonist basks in this utopian freedom. His vision, unlike the starkly realist outlook of Winston, sees even the landscape as full of decadent promise, bringing to mind some consumerist dystopia akin to the pleasure-driven climate of Huxley’s Brave New World:

‘twisting slowly on your bar stool from the east to south, like Cinerama, you can see clean new concrete cloud-kissers, rising up like felixes from the Olde Englishe squares, and then those gorgeous parks, with trees like classical French salads, and then again the port life down the Thames, that glorious river…and then, before you know it, you’re back again round a full circle in front of your iced coffee cup.’[17]

The use of the proper noun ‘Cinerama’ shows the proliferation of popular forms of entertainment born of capitalism and trademarking that boomed in the 50s – Cinerama was the original widescreen method of cinema that was developed to counteract the television industry to win the battle over the leisure time of the masses, and here the narrator uses this term to describe his own perspective. The landscape has been incomprehensibly shaped by the power of capitalism. The alliterative ‘concrete cloud-kissers’ anthropomorphises the tower blocks building up to house a growing population, along with the ‘trees like classical French salads’, suggesting the completely human-centric experience of the narrator – nature succumbs to a perspective of the pastoral as innately human-servile. The novel’s trajectory is almost entirely controlled by the narrator, up until the race riots at the end. The narrator lives in a world where his individualism is encouraged and profited on. Yet, despite this depiction of a teenager relishing in their individual wealth and prosperity, the narrator’s whole persona is built on his connection and community with other ‘teenagers’. He believes in the thriving youth he is surrounded by as a force for change, much like Orwell’s own ‘proles’:

‘youth has power, a kind of divine power straights from mother nature…I sometimes feel that if only they knew this fact, this very simple fact, namely how powerful they really are, then they could rise up overnight and enslave the old taxpayers, the whole damn lot of them’[18]

The narrator falls into a sort of paradox here similar to ‘DOUBLETHINK’. He proclaims the natural deity of youth as entitling them to ‘power’ as a socialist entity against the capitalist society he exists in, yet this ‘power’ is one that has developed in the domination of the advertising and entertainment industry by the image of ‘youth’ as the ultimately desirable. The ‘power’ that the narrator alludes to has been created by capitalism. Furthermore, the ‘power’ he seeks is driven by a teen angst against the power of the enduring old, the bankers and the politicians. And, much like Winston, his vision for a reformed society is driven to the ground by the powers who stand against an equal humanity; in his case, the ‘Teddy Boy’ fascists and conservatist prejudice of the 1950s. The novel directly references the Notting Hill Race Riots of 1958, a series of racist attacks on non-white Londoners that was encouraged by far-right political parties, including the White Defense League. The euphemistic language with which the incidents prior to the London riots are described shows the power of the connotative language of journalism in its seemingly innocuous encouragement of racist behaviour and attitudes:

‘In their own setting, coloured folk were no doubt admirable citizens, according to the standards that prevailed there…it was not unknown for coloured landlords to evict white tenants – often old-age pensioners – by making their lives impossible…English people were renowned for their decent and orderly behaviour. But not so the immigrants…’[19]

The ‘Mrs Dale Daily’ uses neutral, praising language towards immigrants, including the use of the noun ‘folk’, suggesting companionability, along with the pre-modifying adjective ‘admirable’, positive lexis which is immediately quashed in their relation to their modifying clauses, about the coloured man as belonging to an ‘other’: in ‘their own setting’, over ‘there’ – ‘over being’ being, namely, not Britain. The evasive use of lexis in the negative verb phrases ‘no doubt’ and ‘not unknown’ are ways for this right-wing journalese to allude to problems perceived as having ‘coloured’ causes, while remaining linguistically neutral. The power of this newspaper as having the capability to produce, or at least encourage, race riots in London exemplifies the persuasive power of language. The empathy felt by the narrator and the ‘power’ of his community is crushed by the interests of the white man as the ultimate inheritor of power. Patriotism, the collapse of the British Empire after 1945, and the two-quarter recession in 1956 that continued to varying degrees into the 60s and 70s are intrinsically linked to the fears in capitalist enterprise of change, a change defined by shifting power roles and the economic liberation of a people capable of questioning and demanding change to the current systems; the youth and minority groups, people who dance together, drink together, and sleep together, mostly indifferent of race or sexuality. The narrator, set in fervour against the injustice he becomes enlightened to – ‘the English race has spread itself all over the damn world…Yet when a few hundred thousand come and settle among our fifty millions, we just can’t take it’[20] – ends the novel welcoming immigrants into the country from a plane, using his individual ability within a capitalist society to embrace change as opposed to fearing it, setting a socialist precedent in the conclusion of the text.

Burgess’ Clockwork Orange approaches twentieth century Britain as being defined by the study of individualism as integral to survival within society: ‘In maintaining his individual self despite government efforts to erase it, Alex defends the raw human material that Burgess sees as necessary for [the] survival [of fiction]’[21]. Burgess defines the sense of ‘self’ that capitalism is built on as the means for survival in a changing world, and any threat towards the capability of the individual to exercise their sense of self as a threat to humanity itself. Here, the struggle is that of free will, and of the ability of autocracy to supress or alter that will if it doesn’t align with its perceptions of what it should entail. And though that free will is presented here in the form of a debauched and ‘evil’ protagonist, the fact still remains: should any reigning power be able to control the human mind? Is the ability to choose our defining characteristic? Ultimately, Alex’ violent actions lead to those in authority having the cause to implement totalitarianism. Alex, who loudly proclaims ‘what I do I do because I like what I do’[22], who performs his ‘beautiful’ crimes in order to establish his freedom from government: ‘the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self’[23], has his free will martyred for the cause of the State, who turn him into a ‘true Christian’[24], fabricated good-will formed of the incapability to be or think violently for fear of pain. And it is rejoiced before an audience, like King Kong in 1930s New York, to the cry of ‘Reclamation…Joy before the Angels of God’[25]. This struggle is a struggle of the powers of the citizen to higher power, and it is defined by language, an experimental language that becomes ‘the medium through which we vicariously interact with the fictitious world as Alex’s language-as-consciousness moves through it’[26].

Contextually, the tension of The Cold War playing out between global powers at the same time of the novel’s release in 1962 was intensifying; The Cuban Missile Crisis played out within the year, and the US were increasing their participation in the Vietnam War. Anti-Soviet and anti-Communist propaganda was rife, all with the aim of manipulating populations into compliance with the State(s). Free will was willingly put on hold for the preservation of safety, war crimes accepted and praised for their ‘keeping of the peace’. This so-called ‘peace-keeping’ comes into play most prominently in Burgess’ recounting of Alex’ fate.

The use of ‘Nadsat’[27], Burgess’ proto-Russian dialect elevates the power struggle identifiable in the novel. While regular, ‘civil’ citizens, and those in authority speak a recognisable English, Alex and his ‘droogs’ employ a Russio-English slang to establish their own power as individuals against the State. Thus, the State is unable to use atypical spoken or written discourse to indoctrinate Alex, and as with Winston in 1984, the State turns to torture, though in this case the languages used are those of image and music, the things most beautiful and life-giving to our protagonist:

‘Now what I fancied first tonight was this new violin concerto….so I slid it from where it was neatly filed and switched on and waited….Then brothers, it came. Oh bliss, bliss and heaven. I lay all nagoy to the ceiling…rot open in bliss, slooshying the sluice of lovely sounds. Oh, it was gorgeosity made flesh…As I slooshied, my glazzies tight shut…I knew such lovely pictures…vecks and ptitsas…lying on the ground screaming for mercy…devotchkas ripped and screeching against walls and I plunged like a schlaga into them, and indeed when the music…rose to the top of its biggest highest tower…I broke and spattered and cried aaaaaaah with the bliss of it.’[28]

Alex’ crimes, coupled with the classical music he devoutly listens to, are a means for his own sexual gratification. The use of sibilance in ‘bliss, slooshying’, ‘sluice’ and ‘sounds’ create Alex’ sadistic scenes of pleasure by encapsulating a sound of wetness and juice (sluice) comparable to the blood, semen and other excretions prevalent in his acts of extreme violence. Alex’ language, fraught with brutal affricates (‘devotchkas’), fricatives (‘slooshying’, ‘vecks’, ‘schlaga’), and plosives (‘ptitsas’) create a sense of brutality within the language itself. This precise meld of brutality envisioned with classical music is recreated by the State in Alex’ torture, together with nausea-inducing injections to create a repulsion in him toward both.

Alex’ own language is used as a device to mould him into compliance with the State, like Winston’s eventual declaration of submission post-torture. The droogs’ language of opposition establishes them as the counter-culture of conventional society, placing them, with Absolute Beginners’ gays, prostitutes and coloureds, and 1984’s socialist Winston, as the ‘undesirables’ of society. A Clockwork Orange ‘aptly demonstrates how politico-economic structures objectify human beings’[29] to manipulate society into a willingly obedient entity, breaking down human connection and pleasures into fear and submission, all for the common good of a select, powerful few, negating the concepts of humanity and choice for an image of peace and prosperity. To me, it seems these twentieth century writers, more than the struggle between socialism and capitalism, are writing in warning of the possibilities of power, how power can be exercised and forced in various forms, and how our own language can be used as the greatest tool for acquiring such power.

Bibliography:

Bentley, Nick ‘The Young Ones: A reassessment of the British New Left’s representation of 1950s youth subcultures’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, First Published February 1, 2005, https://doi-org.ezproxy.brighton.ac.uk/10.1177/1367549405049492

Hammond, Andrew, ‘Interrogating Utopia: On Colin MacInnes’ ‘Absolute Beginners’’, McFarland, 2018

Lang, Berel, ‘1984: Newspeak, Technology, and The Death of Language’, Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 72, no. 1, 1989, pp. 166, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41178472, Accessed 13/05/20

MacInnes, Colin, ‘Absolute Beginners’, Alison & Busby, London, 2001

McQueen, Sean, ‘Adapting to language: Anthony Burgess’ and Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”’, Science Fiction Film and Television, Volume 5, Issue 2, Autumn 2012, p. 228, Liverpool, https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.brighton.ac.uk/docview/1151265415?accountid=9727, Accessed 12/05/20

Orwell, George, ‘1984’, Penguin Books, London, 1987

Orwell, George, ‘Politics and the English Language’, Penguin Books, London, 2013

Sumner, Charles, ‘Humanist Drama in a Clockwork Orange’, Source: The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 42, Literature of the 1950s and 1960s (2012), pp. 49-63 Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5699/yearenglstud.42.2012.0049, Accessed 11/01/20


[1] George Orwell, ‘1984’, Penguin Books, London, 1987, p. 223

[2] ibidem

[3] George Orwell, ‘1984’, Penguin Books, London, 1987, p. 37

[4] ibidem

[5] ibidem

[6] ibidem

[7] George Orwell, ‘Politics and the English Language’, Penguin Books, London, 2013, p. 10

[8] ibidem

[9] Berel Lang, ‘1984: Newspeak, Technology, and The Death of Language’, Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 72, no. 1, 1989, pp. 169, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41178472. Accessed 16 May 2020

[10] George Orwell, ‘1984’, Penguin Books, London, 1987, p. 6

[11] Ibidem, p. 267

[12] Ibidem, p. 260

[13] Ibidem, p. 89

[14] Berel Lang, ‘1984: Newspeak, Technology, and The Death of Language’, Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 72, no. 1, 1989, pp. 166, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41178472. Accessed 13/05/20

[15] Nick Bentley, ‘The Young Ones: A reassessment of the British New Left’s representation of 1950s youth subcultures’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, First Published February 1, 2005, https://doi-org.ezproxy.brighton.ac.uk/10.1177/1367549405049492, p. 65

[16] Andrew Hammond, ‘Interrogating Utopia: On Colin MacInnes’ ‘Absolute Beginners’’, McFarland, 2018, p. 75

[17] Colin MacInnes, ‘Absolute Beginners’, Alison & Busby, London, 2001, p. 11

[18] Ibidem, p. 14

[19] Ibidem, p. 169

[20] Ibidem, p. 173

[21] Charles Sumner, ‘Humanist Drama in a Clockwork Orange’, Source: The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 42, Literature of the 1950s and 1960s (2012), pp. 49-63 Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5699/yearenglstud.42.2012.0049

[22] Anthony Burgess, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1962, p. 38

[23] Ibidem, p. 38

[24] Ibidem, p. 105

[25] Ibidem, p. 106

[26] Sean McQueen, ‘Adapting to language: Anthony Burgess’ and Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”’, Science Fiction Film and Television, Volume 5, Issue 2, Autumn 2012, p. 228, Liverpool, https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.brighton.ac.uk/docview/1151265415?accountid=9727, Accessed 12/05/20

[27] Slang Russian for teenager

[28] Anthony Burgess, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1962, p. 33-34

[29] Charles Sumner, ‘Humanist Drama in a Clockwork Orange’, Source: The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 42, Literature of the 1950s and 1960s (2012), pp. 49-63 Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5699/yearenglstud.42.2012.0049, Accessed 11/01/20

Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Mary Barton’ and the Concept of Religious Naivety

In her fictitious account of working class existence in the mid 19th Century, Elizabeth Gaskell imparts an elucidatory, if naively pious, portrait of the ‘social problems’ of the Victorian Era and in [attempting] ‘to persuade her readers to view her working-class characters as individuals’[1] hopes to ‘eradicate evils by arousing the conscience of all those who professed to be Christians’[2]. In her preface to ‘Mary Barton’, Gaskell eludes to her religious leanings with an admittance to having diverted her initially pastoral narrative, this set ‘on the borders of Yorkshire’[3] to something all the more sympathetic, prompted by her ‘deep sympathy with the care-worn men’[4], a text ‘so structured to entice or trap…readers into a change of mind, a reformation of view, a “conversion”’[5].

The existential growth of Non-Conformist sentiment in the earlier part of the 19th Century, namely in the mid 1820s and onwards, led to what one would denote an evangelical emergence, this characterised by the ‘fusion of ancient and modern thinking, biblical and practical instincts’[6], a sentiment echoed by Gaskell in her ‘Unitarian stance’[7] evident in the profound curiosity ‘Mary Barton’ displays in the ‘Christian paradigm of brotherhood, a paradigm that appears fundamentally at odds with the realities of revolutionary, working-class violence’[8]. This misconception of the ability for religious consciousness to alter political and prejudiced consciousness can ultimately be seen to balm the novel’s ability to affect any form of social change, and addresses whether ‘literature’s relationship to concrete [this] social change’[9] is in fact viable at all, or whether the novelist’s interpretation of the world is relevant when ‘the point is to change it’[10].

However, in the most significant social protest novel of the 19th century, Les Misérables, Hugo himself addresses the relevance of such fiction in bringing about social change ‘So long as…the three problems of the age…poverty…starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood…are not solved; so long as…ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot by useless’[11], and thus is prefaced in his historical epic. Yet surely, as Gaskell does, to define the goodness of man by his perceived piety, or thereby lack of, and prescribing remission for sin for wanton naivety cannot be designated as synonymous with social change. The idea that should one realise the bad of the earth, it is inherent one will react with charity. Gaskell’s belief that the suffering endured by the Manchester workers ‘taints what might be resignation to God’s will, and turns it to revenge’[12] implies a resolve in acceptance of ‘God’s will’ as tantamount to affecting some semblance of resolution comparable to ‘enlightenment’. Catherine Gallagher suggests that ‘Gaskell’s Christianity obscures her tragic vision’[13], turning the calamity of John’s tragedy into a ‘religious homily’[14], and thus negates the importance of choice for John in his fate, a ‘crucial component of tragic theory’[15].

Gaskell’s religious motive is apparent not only in her writings surrounding the text, but also through Biblical referencing which pervades the novel, particularly notable in the use of the Dives and Lazarus parable, used by John Barton in the opening chapter, an allegory suggesting that ‘if the Rich Man…had truly been committed..they would have recognized that the sharing of possessions with the poor among the people was at the heart of…God’s people…and the Rich Man would have fed and clothed the man he passed every day at his gate’[16] (concepts of Luke 16:17 – The Parable of the Shrewd Manager – and 16:19). In placing the concept of morality as the antithesis to Capitalism and the rapid industrial fervour of the Victorian Era, and negating the concept that the move away from devout Christianity was materialising in ‘the power of divine nature [being] transferred to the power of human technology’[17], Gaskell reveals her lack of understanding or engagement with the modern social-political climate of her age, though she somewhat eludes to this in her preface to the text: ‘I know nothing of Political Economy, of the theories of trade. I have to write truthfully’[18]. It is, then, appropriate to consider Gaskell merely writing of what she knows, her desire for the dislocated population to ‘acknowledge the Spirit of Christ as the regulating law’[19], a desire to better the ‘new and complex social order’[20] that ‘obscured, complicated, [and] mystified’[21] human relations to the extent of indifference. For how could Gaskell have ‘witnessed the utter destitution and degradation prevailing…among the very poorest’[22]? If she had done, perhaps she would have authored a very different novel.


[1][1]Edited by Ben Marsden, Hazel Hutchinson, Ralph O’Connor Uncommon Contexts: Encounters Between Science and Literature, 1800-1914 (London and Brookfield: Pickering & Chatto: Routledge, 2013), p. 126

[2] Monica Correa Fryckstedt, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton and Ruth : A Challenge to Christian England (Uppsala: Almqvist and Wiksell International, 1982), p. 86

[3] Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton, (London, Penguin Classics: 1848), Preface

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid. Macdonald Daly, Introduction I to Mary Barton, [citing] Bernard Sharratt, The Literary Labyrinth: Contemporary Critical Discourses (Brighton, Harvester Press, 1984), pp. 51-2, 34.

[6] Dominic Erdozain, The Problem of Pleasure: Sport, Recreation and the Crisis of Victorian Religion, Volume 22, Studies in Modern British Religious History (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2010), p. 2, Introduction

[7] Monica Correa Fryckstedt, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton and Ruth : A Challenge to Christian England (Uppsala: Almqvist and Wiksell International, 1982), p. 88

[8] Lynn Shakinovsky, Christianity and Class in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 (Baltimore: Vol. 58, Iss. 4: 2018) p. 900

[9] Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton, (London, Penguin Classics: 1848), Macdonald Daly, Introduction I to Mary Barton

[10] Karl Marx, translated by W. Lough, Theses On Feuerbach, Appendix to Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy ([Originally] Germany: Die Neue Zeit, 1886); (Moscow, USSR: Progress Publishers, 1969), Eleventh

[11] Victor Hugo, Les Miserables; Fantine, Volumes 1-2 (New York: Colton, 1862), p. 7, Preface

[12] Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton, (London, Penguin Classics: 1848), Preface

[13] Lynn Shakinovsky, Christianity and Class in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 (Baltimore: Vol. 58, Iss. 4: 2018) p. 902

[14] Catherine Gallagher, The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction: Social Discourse and Narrative Form, 1832–1867 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 66–7.

[15] Lynn Shakinovsky, Christianity and Class in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 (Baltimore: Vol. 58, Iss. 4: 2018) p. 902

[16] Luke T. Johnson, Contested Issues in Christian Origins and the New Testament: Collected Essays (Leiden, Boston: BRILL, 2013) p. 236

[17] Jos de Mul, The (Bio)Technological Sublime, Diogenes, Volume 59, Issue 1-2, pages 32-40: May 2013

[18] Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton, (London, Penguin Classics: 1848), Preface

[19] Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton, (London, Penguin Classics: 1848), p. 388

[20] Raymond Williams, The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence (The Hogarth Press, London:1987), p. 33.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Monica Correa Fryckstedt, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton and Ruth : A Challenge to Christian England (Uppsala: Almqvist and Wiksell International, 1982), p. 92

Noopi Garr, poet

Just a few poems that came to me while I was sleeping. Sexual empowerment, femininity, and butt plugs all come into play.

Just bec-

-ause

I have a butt

that is not the only thing

i got from my father’s mother’s son

  • Buttplugs

i wrote ‘fuk u’ on

my hand, not because I hate myself

in the ink of my mother’s brother’s wife

i wrote these sounds in piss and shit

and wiped piss and shit all over myself

because i am my mother’s grandfather’s son.

  • piss and shit

once I crept into my mother’s room

there on the stand a buttplug stood

i was my father

  • my mother’s buttplug

My first house party

Was a limp cock

And a tequila shot

  • tequila mocking cock

first day of school

6 slices of toast and 4 weetabix

in PE I didn’t stop taking off my clothes until

my cock was out and

that was the day I earned my name

  • Noopie garr

i met my father before my mother

in the waiting room where

he was jacking off

  • cock sock

I am fed up of a world where

men have big cock

where is my cock, mother?

  • cockblock

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‘Images are more precise and richer than literature’ (Berger, J. Ways of Seeing)

A study on the ‘precision’ of art versus literature

How can one define the term ‘precision’? Should one denote the term, with regards to art, as propounding some mathematical exactitude that creates an image that replicates fact? Or is the ‘precision’ of an image most palpable in the emotion it most readily evokes? Or perhaps the ‘precision’ infers the accuracy of the representation of life and movement the image conjures? Is prose a weaker witness to history, in that it relies on the imagination of the reader to create an image, thus transposing the contents of its works into modern day and potentially negating the experience of the writer in favour of the perspective of the modern reader? How does music become relevant in its ‘precision’ of sensation? For my purposes I will be evaluating the ‘precision’ of the testimonies of James McNeill Whistler’s ​Nocturne: Black and Red – Back Canal, Holland ​ (1883-84) and James Joyce’s short story ​The Dead (1914).

There are some opposing sentiments in evaluations of Whistler and his paintings, and motivations for their creation which may alter the concept of whether ‘precision’ is a term that can be applied to him as an artist. Critically, Whistler’s ​Nocturne ​ paintings can be seen as ‘conjoined specificity of locale, mood-inducing color, and references to specific musical forms in an idiosyncratic amalgam of perception and memory, representation and abstraction’ (Suzanne Singletary) , reflecting on the essentiality of the feelings evoked from the painting. They are effective through their involvement of ‘not only the imagination of the artist, but significantly that of the viewer as well’ (Singletary) . Whistler’s own approach to art, as it has been chronicled, seems to suggest that the precision of his artwork is not in the enthusiasm of a public reception of it, but rather his own artistic intention. Whistler was devoted to aesthetics, to the quality of art as being characterised by its beauty as opposed to emotional attachment; he ‘evolved his own aesthetic principles, stressing that a work of art was, above all, ‘an arrangement of line, form, and colour’’ (Nigel Thorpe). In this ​Nocturne , ‘Holland and Art merge…both are superior to Nature and the product of aesthetic transformation’ (Singletary).

This belief in the importance of aestheticism is most conceivable in his relationships with author Oscar Wilde, with whom he had ‘much in common, the same need to shine in society’ (Victoria Charles) and with Paul Cezanne and Camille Pissarro, members of the Salon des Refuses of 1863, a group of primarily Impressionist artists rejected by the prestigious Paris Salon for their controversial renunciation of the classical painting style prolific during the eighteenth century. Their works echoed a preoccupation, not with a truth, or precision, of ‘meaning’, but with a fixation on the the ‘truth’ of art as ‘the visual essence of the natural world’ (Steve Platzman) .

So, one might conclude, the precision of Whistler and those he associated with was one of an accuracy of interpretation of the pastoral and the natural, a ‘desire for unity and a harmonious distribution of colour’ (Victoria Charles) , as opposed to a precision linked to the sentiment the artwork might provoke. The trajectory of Whistler’s art was towards a ‘harmony without subject-matter’ (Peter Dayan), becoming ‘an arrangement of colours…[as opposed to] the expression of ideas’ (Dayan) .

Using the idea of the ‘precision’ of art as a mode of remembrance and the most true depiction of emotion and memory within a confined area, or the ​fin ​ of a novel, I will evaluate Whistler’s ​Nocturne: Black and Red – Back Canal, Holland . The lightly applied watercolour onto paper creates an impression of impermanence and of the inconstancy of image and perception of space. Whistler conjures a moody evening scene cloaked with a furtive air filled with a thick, foggy silence. The inexactitude of the buildings themselves in juxtaposition to the precision with which they are depicted in their reflections on the water creates some strange equilibrium of the reality and simultaneous dream-like sleepiness of Whistler’s houses.

I believe that the precision of Whistler’s painting is in the cognition of the painting itself of its materiality and thus inherently, the subject it represents is accurate to what its author desired to create. It is precise without need for photographic verity, as in its mere nature as an encapsulation of a moment experienced by its author, it is a photographic aggregation of both image, memory, and emotion. Therefore, the painting could be expressed as a precision of the relationship between art and life and how their interaction can be portrayed as the individual’s truth in the act of creation. This is perpetuated by Whistler referring to the painting with musical terminology, the abstract noun ‘Nocturne’ of latinate origin meaning ‘of the night’, used in reference to paintings of night scenes, but also to classical romantic compositions. Whistler creates a piece that employs various media to evoke an all-encompassing sensory experience, reflecting an authenticity that is true of the experience of life itself.

In Joyce’s ​The Dead , the relationship between the emotional and the aesthetic becomes more elusive. The tale follows protagonist Gabriel’s experience of a Christmas celebratory gathering amongst friends and family, particularly focusing on his emotions towards other characters, events and insecurities of his own. Gabriel approaches art as above the connections he has with those around him, painting an aestheticized experience of life as what is true and what is ‘good’, therefore, to him, what is precise. Here, Joyce uses a narrative poeticism that ‘relates aesthetic pleasure to the grasp of sensible relations’ (Franz O’Rourke). Gabriel, upon contemplation of the speech he is to conduct at the gathering, is preoccupied with a fear of the art he is using not being understood by the other guests:

‘He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning for he feared they would be above the heads of his hearers. Some quotation that they would recognize from Shakespeare…would be better…He would only make himself ridiculous by quoting poetry to them which they could not understand…His whole speech was a mistake from first to last, an utter failure.’ (James Joyce, Dubliners)

Gabriel’s internal scrutiny of his speech and palpable frustration at his own inability to connect with the world is characterised by his need of art to embody his meaning. As Flaubert’s archetypal Madame Bovary, Gabriel uses art as a means to truth, living for art, and failing should his use of art be irrelevant or deficient. Towards the end of the story, Gabriel sees his wife, and his perception of her as a person is undetachable from his conception of her as a work of art:

‘He stood…gazing up at his wife…He asked himself what is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of. If he were a painter he would paint her in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show off the light ones.​ Distant Music ​he would call the picture if he were a painter.’ (Joyce, Dubliners)

Joyce’s ‘precision’ is in his depiction of the inability of Gabriel to distinguish art from life, and the inherency of art as a means to express the experience of living. Gabriel cannot distinguish his wife from the image he paints of her, placing the aesthetic as a truth above the truth of existence and any sentiment attached to it, akin to Whistler’s own aesthetic pronouncements. He questions, not the emotions or reason as to why his wife stands, silently, contemplative, but rather the symbolism she embodies in her juxtaposition with the immaterial, namely the shadow and the distant music which surround her. The sentimental is irrelevant, here, replaced by a desire for a perfect aesthetic rendition of life, thereby positioning art above life and Nature as the most precise mode of translation of the experience of living.

However, the protagonist’s conflict with art and emotion is perhaps what may well demonstrate literature as a superior testimony of lived experience than image. Gabriel, as the story continues, is overcome with a purest of love for his wife, most divergent from the portrait sequence of earlier, here, his ‘thoughts…[are] rioting through his brain, proud, joyful, tender, valorous’ (Joyce, Dubliners). The scope of transition between his aestheticized image of prior with this gleeful tide of emotion is more retrievable, and more honest, to my eyes, of the richness of living than the immediacy of a singular image. Gabriel continues;

‘he longed to run after her noiselessly, catch her by the shoulders and say something foolish and affectionate in her ear…Moments of their secret life together burst like stars upon his memory…A wave of yet more tender joy escaped from his heart and went coursing in warm flood along his arteries…their moments of ecstasy.’ (Joyce, Dubliners)

Joyce has created, within the space of a few pages, the contradiction of Gabriel’s humanity with his ultimate artistic desires. It seems the protagonist has contradicted himself; after having made a speech on his skepticism towards the new ‘thought-tormented age’ (Joyce, Dubliners), he is himself tormented with thoughts he can only consider and never vocalise. The bursting of ‘stars upon his memory’ seems an interweaving of an ecstatic realisation of love akin to the exclamation of Shakespeare’s sonnet XIV’s ‘constant stars…[of] truth and beauty’ (William Shakespeare) and at once to Van Gogh’s 1889 ​The Starry Night . For him, as for Whistler, ‘Painting is poetry; music is poetry; music is painting, and poetry is painting’ (Dayan), and it is this permutation of art forms that characterises his authentic human existence.

However, here one comes to the realisation that however harmonious the employment of art is in embodying emotion, the excessive complexity that comes in the merging of all arts of popular culture with life seems devoid, as nothing can possibly reach the frantic infatuation and compassion that rings true to real life.

Thus, Gabriel finds himself unable to express this romantic delirium to the subject of his desire, or to find words to express his understanding of her and her pain. Joyce, true to the aesthetic constraints he depicts in his protagonist, demonstrates that ‘to seek to understand the subject is to miss the point’ (Dayan). So, Gabriel concludes there is no language of love. He does ‘not question her again…but he continue[s] to caress [her hand]’ (Joyce, Dubliners) . And his silence is love, the product of a realisation of a feeling ‘he had never felt…but he knew…must be love’ (Joyce, Dubliners), a feeling that no precise or intelligent use of language can even begin to authentically represent.

So is the momentary precision of an image more precise than a language incapable of truly expressing itself? Perhaps the moment of beauty in an image, in emotional or aesthetic form, is less confused than the musings of man, and the resources of this image’s ability to ‘succeed in eliciting an aesthetic response in the viewer’ (Peter Vergo) are what encapsulate the image’s capacity to represent the world precisely. The wordlessness, the silence, of an image, and its capability to evoke, while also simply ‘being’, is a precision in and of itself. It is an emotion, or a beauty, that words cannot elicit so immediately.

Whistler’s image, as defined by its interaction with music, an art form ‘capable of affecting one’s emotions…without its being dependent on subject-matter or any kind of depiction’ (Vergo), is precise in its proclamation of aesthetic, akin to the beauty of Nature, as being subjectless. Its precision is in its entirety, its accumulation of elements that result in beauty, just as life and the world cannot be characterised by a singular event, or a piece of music by one note. The artist must ‘pick, and choose…these elements [of art], [so] that the result may be beautiful’ (James McNeill Whistler), and, likewise, Gabriel must pick and choose the art that accurately portrays his confusion and anxiety of life in order to find meaning in his existence.

I feel it must be conclusive to assume, then, that a precise testimony on the nature of existence and living cannot be defined by one artistic medium, as Berger proclaims, but by the interaction one has with one’s environment, and how one chooses to express and feel this interaction, most likely with a lifetime’s accumulation of art in all its forms.

Bibliography

Charles, Victoria, ‘James McNeill Whistler’, London, Parkstone Press, 2011

Dayan, Peter, ‘Art as Music, Music as Poetry, Poetry as Art, from Whistler to Stravinsky and Beyond’, Surrey, Ashgate, 2011

Joyce, James, ‘Dubliners’, London, Grafton Books, 1977
O’Rourke, Fran, “Joyce’s Early Aesthetic.” ​Journal of Modern Literature ​ 34, no. 2 (2011): 97-120. Accessed February 9, 2020. doi:10.2979/jmodelite.34.2.97

Platzman, Steve, ‘Cezanne: The Self-Portraits’, New York, University of California Press, 2001

Shakespeare, William, ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets’, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000

Singletary, Suzanne, ‘James McNeill Whistler and France: A Dialogue in Paint, Poetry and Music’, Philadelphia, Taylor and Francis, 2016

Thorpe, Nigel; Whistler, James McNeill, ‘Whistler on Art’, 2004

Vergo, Peter, ‘The Music of Painting: Music, Modernism and the Visual Arts from the Romantics to John Cage’, London, Phaidon Press, 2010

Whistler, James McNeill, ‘Mr Whistler’s “10 O’clock”, London, Alderbrink Press, 1907