She began to enlarge upon the subject. With Julia, everything came back to her own sexuality. As soon as this was touched upon in any way she was capable of great acuteness. Unlike Winston, she grasped the inner meaning of the Party's sexual puritanism. It was not merely that the sex created a world of its own which was outside the Party's control and therefore had to be destroyed if possible. What was more important was that sexual privation induced hysteria, which was desirable because it could be transformed into war fever and leader worship. The way she put it was:
"When you make love you're using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don't give a damn for anything. They can't bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you're happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and Three-Year Plans and Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?"
That was very true, he thought. There was a direct intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy. For how could the fear, the hatred, and lunatic credulity which the Party needed in its members be kept at the right pitch except by bottling down some powerful instinct and using it as a driving force? The sex impulse was dangerous to the Party, and the Party had turned it to account.
This passage, and few others like it in Orwell's novel, speak to something that's been on my mind for a long time; sexuality as the last bastion against total rationalization, plain horniness as a spring of unending creativity, and efforts to try to control and channel sexual passion into things more "useful."
Of course, commercial culture continues to find new ways to exploit these desires and to turn them into profit. We always end in grief and infamy when we let our nads do all of our thinking for us. We are not farm animals, but then, we aren't angels either, and we are at our most beastly when we try to become angels. However, Orwell's writing articulates ideas very much at the heart of the current series of David Wojnarowicz paintings that I am working on.
It seems to me that the kind of controlling puritanicalism Orwell describes in this passage better describes certain autocratic fundamentalist religious sects than most political movements these days (with the possible exception of 20th century totalitarian hold-outs like North Korea). That transformation of sexual passion into "fear, hatred, and lunatic credulity" describes any number of fundamentalist movements.
Sexuality, and especially long illegal same sexuality, played a very political role in Wojnarowicz's art and writings. For him gay sexuality was a force for resistance and liberation in an over-rationalized culture full of constraints that rewarded predation and mendacity at the cost of authenticity and justice. That is how I saw homosexuality for many years. That anarchistic edge was part of its fun and a big part of the struggle against those everlasting bourgeois vices of conformism and hypocrisy. The dramatic recent embrace of that formerly criminalized sexuality by larger society is causing something of an identity crisis for me and for others. How much do we want to be part of a conventional society that values profit over justice, marketing over truth, and confuses survival skills for "values." There are times when I wonder if gays and lesbians are finally fully enfranchised as citizens, or whether we are simply valuable as a profitable niche market. There are times when I wonder if the much discussed acceptance of homosexuality by the younger generations is because they really believe in fairness and equality, or because they just don't give a shit anymore. I don't know.
I'm reading 1984 for the first time. I've read some of Orwell's work before; Animal Farm, Down and Out in Paris and London, and some short stories, but until now, I've never read 1984. I wonder if all the many political pundits who invoke this novel have ever really read it. It certainly is based on Communism, especially the Stalinist kind, but it seems to me that what the book is really about is the capacity of language as a weapon to dominate and control people.
"Do you see that the whole point of Newspeak is to narrow that range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten... Every year fewer and fewer words and the range of consciousness always a little smaller."
"The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron -- they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but changed into something actually contradictory of what they used to be... The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking -- not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."