Orwell and the Unperson

The Importance of the Last Chapter of 1984

Considering unpersoned is the current topic of conversation I’m going to address the source, meaning, and an application of the word. The word unperson appears no fewer than five times in George Orwell’s 1984 and is one of those Orwellian words worth a closer look. It has a particular importance in the last chapter of the novel.

An unperson is a nonperson, a person who has no rights, and a person publicly ignored (especially by the government and media). In extreme cases an unperson is an individual Big Brother executes and erases all traces of his/her existence. Now, if you haven’t read 1984 you will want to stop now and hopefully come back after you finish the novel. If you have read the novel, think about Winston at the end of the novel as he whiles away the hours at the Chestnut Tree Café. Winston fits the definition of an unperson. Big Brother has effectively made Winston a nonperson who is entirely reliant on the very government that has destroyed his life. Winston is beholden to Big Brother for his menial government job of no importance, acknowledges that he betrayed Julia after being tortured, and simply moves from one day to the next lost in a drunken fog of Victory Gin. Winston Smith exists but is of no importance, save to possibly serve as a cautionary tale for those who may question the authority of Big Brother.

1984 by George Orwell

The last chapter of 1984 shows the reader the extent of Big Brother’s power. It would have been easy to execute Winston, to make him disappear, and wipe his existence from history. Instead, Big Brother breaks Winston Smith and makes him an unperson. This life of being a nonperson, of being ignored, of being canceled (to use a modern variation) is a much worse fate than death.

-K-

1984 (1949) by George Orwell

A Discovery, An Affair, An Act of Violence

Prohibitions in Walker Percy’s Lancelot

Another February is upon us with its assortment of candy hearts, chocolates, flowers, and stuffed animals all in preparation for Valentine’s Day. In keeping with the topic of conversation about prohibition(s) but also taking a look at relationships I thought I’d write a few words about Walker Percy’s Lancelot.

This is not a romance novel (Hallmark fans be warned), but it is a love story (of sorts). The story is told through the perspective of the novel’s protagonist, Lancelot Andrewes Lamar. Lancelot recounts the events surrounding the accidental discovery that he is not the father of his youngest daughter and that his wife is currently having an affair. While recounting these events to an old friend Lancelot ultimately reveals an act of violence that lead to his current confinement to a mental institution.

Lancelot by Walker Percy

Lancelot addresses several cultural/societal prohibitions and one man’s reaction (and actions) regarding those prohibitions. The novel may be over four decades old but you’ll find much of what Percy has to say is still applicable today. It’s not your typical Valentine’s Day read, but it is a realistic look at relationships.

-K-

Lancelot (1977) by Walker Percy.

A Trio of Boozy Books

Some Reads Addressing Prohibition

I’ve been discussing a wide range of prohibitions over the past few weeks. Today I want to share a few books that, in one way or another, address America’s Prohibition of alcohol.

Bourbon A History of the American Spirit by Dane Huckelbridge

This one is for the armchair history buffs. Huckelbridge gives us an interesting view of American history through its relationship with bourbon (including Prohibition).

Chasing the White Dog An Amateur Outlaw’s Adventure in Moonshine by Max Watman

This one is for the DIYers. Watman provides first hand experiences along with an interesting history of that classic American spirt known as moonshine (some recipes and distilling advice included).

Moonshine by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

This one is for all the fiction, comic book, and horror fans. Azzarello’s words and Risso’s artwork is a tale a Prohibition, gangsters, lust, greed, and werewolves (yup, werewolves).

If you are looking to expand your reading list for 2021 pick up one (or all) of these books.

-K-

The Great Gatsby and Prohibitions

There is More Than One Kind of Prohibition

Many of us have encountered F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in one form or another, be it reading the novel or seeing one of the movies. I got to thinking about Gatsby when I was brainstorming ideas for the topic of Prohibition, and I found that are more prohibitions presented in the novel than the one covered in the Eighteenth Amendment. Here are some prohibitions I found while reviewing the novel.

Alcohol: This is the one most of us probably remember from reading the novel in high school. Prohibition (with a capital ‘P’) was a Constitutional Amendment, making it the law of the land. The novel shows us how easy it is for the government to make everyday citizens criminals by prohibiting something most people have no issues with.

Gambling: There is a brief mention of gambling in the novel related to fixing the 1919 World Series. The lesson is sports and gambling can be rigged, but the average Joe (or Jane) is prohibited from knowing the fix is in.

Making Money: The Great Gatsby shows us everybody is allowed to make money, but new money is prohibited from mixing with old money.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Friendships: Gatsby and Nick may be the only authentic friendship of the novel. Fitzgerald shows us most friendships are superficial at best, and friendships between classes are an illusion and are ultimately prohibited.

Affairs: Affairs can be tolerated if they are kept quiet. Affairs are prohibited if emotions are involved and/or they can damage social status.

Social Class: The most important prohibition The Great Gatsby teaches us is that not matter what you do, how much money you have, or how hard you work you are prohibited from moving up in social class. You can pretend, you can posture, you can even change your life but you will never be accepted by those of a higher social class.

The Great Gatsby works on several levels, one is as an observation of prohibitions (those things we can’t and shouldn’t do). Now that the novel is public domain it’s easy to get yourself a free or really inexpensive ($1.99 Barnes and Noble Nook) copy. Whether you have read or are new to the novel its well worth the read.

-K-

The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  

Chekhov on Solitary Confinementhat

Anton Not Pavel

When I started thinking about the topic of solitary confinement one of the first stories to come to mind was Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet.” I’ve read the story a few times over the years, and with each read I came away with some new and interesting insight. My recent reading was during the current Covid lockdowns and quarantines is no exception to finding something new to think about.

Anton Checkhov The Complete colection

The plot of “The Bet” is straight forward. A wealthy banker bets a young lawyer two million rubles (a large sum of money for the time) that the lawyer won’t commit himself to fifteen years of voluntary solitary confinement. This story is an insightful commentary on the long term effects of solitary confinement, but reading it in the time of Covid has me focusing on two points. The first is that voluntary confinement is much more difficult to bear than compulsory confinement. This is an interesting point when you see the spike in anxiety and depression in recent months amidst lockdowns and quarantines. The second point focuses on the lawyer’s reading habits during his confinement. His reading list got me thinking about what I’ve been reading during the past nine months and how confinement is influencing my reading list and impacting how I’m seeing the world.

Covid 19 lockdowns and quarantines have impacted all of us in varied ways. Fortunately none of us have been confined as long as the character of the story, but being able to relate to his self-imposed solitary confinement and the impact it has on him may help us better deal with our own lockdowns and quarantines. Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet” may help to put feelings of solitary confinement in perspective. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

-K-

“The Bet” from Anton Chekhov the Complete Collection (2018).

Horror Stories Are OK

…if They Are Educational?

What was you first experience with a good (that is as subjective of a word as you can get) horror story? I’m talking about the first time you read an adult horror story, not a children’s story. My guess is that some story by Edgar Allan Poe will come to mind for many of you, it does for me. Most of us had our first experience with Poe in junior high or maybe freshman year, and “The Cask of Amontillado” is often the first story we read and/or is the most memorable.

The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe

“The Cask of Amontillado” came to mind when I started thinking about this month’s topic concerning grave thoughts. I don’t want to spoil the story for the few of you out there who haven’t read it (well, maybe it’s not taught anymore but damn near everybody my age has read it). A grave, of sorts, plays an important role in the story so I decided to give it another read. I came away with a few observations. First, the exposition of the story discusses some of the finer points of revenge. Second, there is a whole of drinking going on in this story (hell, the title references booze). Finally, with proper planning and execution you can get away with murder. I’m not trying to disparage the story in any way. It’s a well written, compact story that incorporates many elements of classic gothic fiction, but damn I don’t remember these points from way back in junior high.

I figure my teacher all those years ago was more interested in teaching Poe the author (the man’s tormented life plays a large role in his appeal to many people, adolescents included) than really focusing on the content and context of the story itself. Either way I remember the class reading it and enjoying it. But I can’t help but think that today, in a world where people are easily offended and triggered, if teaching the horror classics of Poe would still be considered educational? Give it another read or first read and let me know what you think.

-K-

“The Cask of Amontillado” from The Best Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (2011) by Edgar Allan Poe.

The Cost of Being a Cowboy

Drugstore Cowboy and the Junkie Lifestyle

There is no shortage of movies that feature drugs and drug use. Most have an agenda regarding their portrayal of drugs and those who use drugs. Most movies either attempt to glamorize drugs or intend to demonize them. I usually find that these movies try too hard with their message or loose the through line somewhere in the second act, but there are a few movies out there that don’t romanticize, idealize, or patronize when it comes to drugs and drug use. Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy is one of these few movies.

Drugstore Cowboy

There are a couple concessions I want to make before I recommend this movie. First, the movie is set in 1971, and it was released in 1989 so it does feel dated at points. Second, there are a few moments early in the movie when Matt Dillon’s character, Bob, waxes poetic about drug use. I don’t view this as romanticizing drug use especially when we hear what Bob has to say later in the movie (hope that isn’t too much of a spoiler for you). With these too minor points aside this is a sound movie that takes an honest look at drugs and drug use (as honest as you can get in the weird world of Hollywood). Drugstore Cowboy is an insight into the world and daily lives of four junkies, but Van Sant does not pass any sort of explicit judgement on their lifestyles (he leaves judgement to the viewer).

If you are in the mood for a well written movie with sound acting and solid directing that features drugs and drug use in a realistic sense then Drugstore Cowboy is worth a watch. Hell, you may want to watch it just to see William S. Burroughs acting.

-K-

Drugstore Cowboy (1989) with Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James Le Gros, and Heather Graham. Directed by Gus Van Sant.

Unanswered Questions and Obsession

The Allure of Wicker Park

Have you ever had a girlfriend or boyfriend leave you without any warning? She or he just vanished without a handwritten note, a text, or a pair of burnt boots on the front steps? The end of a relationship is a difficult time but not knowing why your girlfriend or boyfriend left can play with one’s psyche (it’s like failing a test but not being told what questions you got wrong). The movie Wicker Park may have a few flaws but it does a fine job capturing the feeling and fall out of a relationship that ends unexpectedly when a love interest vanishes.

Wicker Park #2
Wicker Park

Wicker Park may have a few flaws concerning plot and structure but overall it is a solid movie with fine performances by Josh Hartnett and Diane Kruger. Harnett and Kruger play a couple that splits after one of them vanishes without an explanation. The movie, presented in both present day and in flashbacks, is a story of obsession, of needing to know why somebody would leave without a word, a reason, or a clue. The movie shows us that we may believe we have moved on after a relationship ends but not knowing why it ended has a way of pulling us back in time.

When there is no word, no message, no final gesture before somebody vanishes from a relationship the resulting feelings and fall out can weigh heavily on the mind and heart. Wicker Park shows how such an event can follow us even after we feel we’ve moved on. A person may vanish quickly, but feelings don’t fade as fast.

-K-

Wicker Park (2004) with Josh Hartnett and Diane Kruger. Directed by Paul McGuigan.

Vanishing as Metaphor and Violence as Act

in Joe R. Lansdale’s “Listen”

One of the great things about horror fiction is it often is a closer reflection of real life than more traditional fiction genres. Talented writers of the horror genre show us a world that is both scary and familiar. Joe R. Lansdale’s “Listen” is an interesting read as a horror story, but it can also be read as a metaphor of individuals who are marginalized.

A Fist Full opf Stories (book cover)
A Fist Full of Stories (and Articles) by Joe R. Lansdale

Floyd Merguson visits a psychiatrist and reveals a troubling condition; he is slowly fading away. In an extended monologue Floyd recounts a series of events that have convinced him that he is becoming transparent, invisible. The violence that occurs at the end of the story would appear to confirm Floyd’s belief that he is suffering from some sort of terminal illness. Lansdale’s story has the required elements to make it a solid horror story, but it can be read on another level. Floyd Merguson’s vanishing, his invisibility, can be viewed as a metaphor. One does not have to physically fadeout or vanish to feel marginalized and invisible. The forgotten, the neglected, the discarded, and the bullied all feel invisible. These marginalized individuals, like Merguson, can recount numerous instances of slowly vanishing, of becoming transparent, of being invisible. And sadly, like Merguson, may come to a similar violent end.

One of the best elements of horror fiction is its ability to show the reader how scary the world around us is, how real life is scarier than fiction. Joe R’ Lansdale’s “Listen” is a well written horror story. If you take a different view “Listen” becomes a scary metaphor, and if we do not listen to this metaphor it may result in violence.

-K-

“Listen” from A Fist Full of Stories (and Articles) (2014) by Joe R. Lansdale.

John Lee Hooker, Black Coffee, and Cigarettes

Something For What Ails You

Another Sunday morning suffering the side effects of Saturday night. I’m no doctor. I have no cure for what ails me, but a healthy dose of the blues does treat the symptoms. My current prescription is John Lee Hooker’s “Never Get Out of These Blues Alive” (I recommend the version Hooker sings with Van Morrison).

The Best of John Lee Hooker (cover)
The Best of John Lee Hooker 1965 to 1974

If you have ever sat up all night drinking black coffee and smoking cigarettes then this song is worth a listen. If you have ever spent your nights pacing the floor then you want to download this song. If you have ever stayed up all night obsessing over a woman (or man or whoever) then this song will speak to you. If you have ever wondered if you will escape the blues then this song should be on your playlist.

John Lee Hooker’s “Never Get Out of These Blues Alive” is quintessential blues (Hell, John Lee Hooker is quintessential blues). Whether you are new to the blues or already have an extensive playlist consider adding this song. There is one important thing to keep in mind when listening to this song (or the blues in general for that matter). The blues isn’t just about how bad things are, the blues is about a hope that things will get better.

-K-

The Best of John Lee Hooker 1965 to 1974 (1992) by John Lee Hooker

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