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The Uncanny Golden Country: Late-Modernist Utopia in Nineteen Eighty-Four

“My new book is a Utopia in the form of a novel”—this is how George Orwell characterized Nineteen Eighty-Four in a letter to a friend on 4 February 1949.[1] As its reception history abundantly documents, it turned out to be an interpretive challenge to read the novel as a utopia.[2] Instead, many early readers chose to read it as the very opposite, as an anti-utopia or dystopia—a form centrally defined by its negative reaction against any attempt at realizing or imagining a utopia. Identifying the novel’s target exclusively with Soviet Russia, such readers often regarded it as a result of its author’s dark disillusionment with utopianism itself, which was seen as a misguided movement that woefully ended in the regime of totalitarianism. Even George Woodcock, a reader sympathetic to Orwell, agreed to read it as an anti-utopia, claiming that it was the migration of utopias from the realm of imagination to that of “practical probability” in the early twentieth century that provoked anti-utopians such as Orwell to react violently against them.[3] As Krishan Kumar points out, the problem here lies in the widespread tendency to regard utopias solely as “blueprints for action” in the world of practical politics, a reductionism that not only denies “the richness and multiformity of the utopian inheritance” but also obscures the possibility of utopia as a critical form that is itself significantly inspired by a utopian vision.[4] I contend that it is in this complex sense that Orwell called his last novel “a Utopia in the form of a novel.”

1984. BBC Sunday Night Theatre, 1954.

Undoubtedly, one major difficulty for this reading is the problem of nostalgia. Critics have long regarded Orwell as a writer obsessed with nostalgia, suggesting that it was his nostalgic, or indeed conservative, concern with the past that ultimately caused him to lose faith in the progressive, future-oriented politics of utopia.[5] However, neither the commonsense distinction between nostalgia and utopia nor the binary opposition between the past and the future is adequate to capture the complexity of Orwell’s treatment of nostalgia. Relevant here is Svetlana Boym’s explication of nostalgia’s ambivalence. Originally coined from nostos (return home) and algia (longing), nostalgia is inherently paradoxical

in the sense that longing can make us more empathetic towards fellow humans, yet the moment we try to repair longing with belonging, the apprehension of loss with a rediscovery of identity, we often part ways and put an end to mutual understanding. Algia—longing—is what we share, yet nostos—the return home—is what divides us.[6]

Building upon this fundamental insight, Boym distinguishes two kinds of nostalgia: “Restorative nostalgia puts emphasis on nostos and proposes to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps. Reflective nostalgia dwells in algia, in longing and loss, the imperfect process of remembrance” (41). As I argue here, Orwell was adept at both types of nostalgia in different phases of his career. But it is the latter type of reflective nostalgia, and its endless process of longing for a different time, that energizes the complex temporality of utopia in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The most relevant context in which to read Nineteen Eighty-Four in this way is that of late modernism. Since the pioneering study of Tyrus Miller, the notion of late modernism has enabled scholars to trace the many ways modernism transformed itself after the radical aesthetic experiments of the 1920s. Miller argues that a series of Europe-wide crises—two world wars, economic depression, and the rise of extreme politics—colored the works of late modernism with “a foreboding of decline and fall, of radical contingency and absurd death.”[7] In contrast, focusing more specifically on British modernism, Jed Esty insists that the crisis and decline of the imperial order also had a paradoxical benefit in that it encouraged late modernists to turn away from their earlier cosmopolitanism to a renewed engagement with a national culture. Such a “nativist turn,” according to Esty, stimulated a reimagining of a desirable national community after the end of the empire. Yet this argument also raises a difficult question (one increasingly relevant today) about how to distinguish the revitalizing energy of nativism from “all the predictable burdens of any cultural particularism or restrictive nationalism: the danger of false unity, cloying nostalgia, creative claustrophobia, and narrowed horizons of meaning.”[8] Indeed, as the more recent studies of Marina MacKay and Thomas S. Davis demonstrate, it is often difficult to separate the positive and negative aspects of a national community, especially in the concrete historical context of the Second World War.[9] As Patrick Deer asserts, the consequences of late modernist “nativist turn” should be also examined in the postwar context that saw the overlap of late British imperialism and the early Cold War.[10] I suggest that Orwell’s longstanding concern with both restorative and reflective nostalgias offers us an ideal occasion to re-examine the question of late modernism in terms of the shifting fortunes of its turn to the nation within the continuing global crisis of the early Cold War.

In what follows, I will first consider the insistent presence of repetitions in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Although Orwell’s novel is often understood as realist or naturalist, closer attention to its textuality will reveal the way in which aberrant repetitions in the narrative constantly disrupt any fixed sense of reality while they also complicate its main character’s persistent concern with the disappearing past. Such features of the novel not only allow us to reconsider Orwell in terms of his intense awareness of writing after the heyday of high modernism but also to shed light on how the text defamiliarizes the impulse of nostalgia through the uncanny repetition of “the Golden Country.” To explore the utopian dimension of these textual features in Nineteen Eighty-Four, I examine the development of Orwell’s politics with reference to his changing attitudes towards both nostalgia and utopia, focusing particularly on the question of his anti-imperialism, which had put him at odds with mainstream British socialism of the 1930s. At a time when many late modernists tried to reimagine a national community, restorative nostalgia might also have had a certain role to play in Orwell’s call for revolutionary patriotism in the early years of the Second World War. Still, Orwell was deeply troubled by a potential conflict between a reimagination of a self-contained nation and a commitment to anti-imperialism that required him to see it again within the global reality of continuing exploitation. It was this conflict that led Orwell to defamiliarize the impulse of nostalgia, while also dictating his late turn to utopianism. Ultimately, it is with this understanding of Orwell’s political trajectory that I read Nineteen Eighty-Four as a utopian text of late modernism.

Uncanny Repetition

In the middle of Part I of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith is almost stupefied by the gap between the image of “our new, happy life” repeatedly celebrated in Party propaganda and the actual, felt misery of daily life in Oceania.[11] While the Party energetically spreads the fiction of a glittering futuristic world, the reality is “decaying, dingy cities where underfed people shuffled to and fro in leaky shoes, in patched-up nineteenth-century houses that smelt always of cabbage and bad lavatories” (85). By this point of the story, the Party’s systematic falsification of reality has already been powerfully exposed by a series of descriptive passages on locations such as Victory Mansions that are falling to pieces (25), the grimy interiors of the Ministry of Truth canteen (68), and the seedy prole quarters through which Winston strolls aimlessly in the evening (95). The unbearable monotony of this life-world is also hammered home by the recurrent smell of boiled cabbage, which welcomes readers from the very beginning of the novel as we are introduced into this strange world.

In spite of its setting in an imaginary future, the sheer force of descriptive passages like these has tempted many critics to read Nineteen Eighty-Four as a realist or naturalist novel.[12] Yet even in the novels of the 1930s, as Michael Levenson points out, Orwell’s use of the realist form was in no way a naïve one but a deliberate choice of the style of “realist truth-telling” as a “rejoinder to the culture of fantasy and escape” in the midst of a social emergency, while he was also keenly aware of “writing after the heady days of modernism and beneath its shadows.”[13] Alex Zwerdling perceptively argues that Orwell’s problem in writing Nineteen Eighty-Four was “how to write a novel that would be understood by the common reader and yet be of interest to highly educated ones” in order to send his political message “not only [to] a larger but a more heterogeneous audience” that emerged after the high-modernist rejection of mass audience created a cultural fissure between the highbrow and lowbrow publics.[14] In this particular context, Nineteen Eighty-Four deftly performs the double task of both mobilizing and questioning the method of realist truth-telling. In fact, this may be one of the reasons many readers now regard Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four as a touchstone for our age of so-called “post-truth.” In a world where “[n]ot merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, [is] tacitly denied” by the Party, Winston’s attempt to hold on to the truth of truisms—“Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre”—is itself a desperate gesture of political resistance (92–93). At the same time, however, by repeatedly questioning the possibility that such truisms may be perceived and shared, the novel develops a self-reflexive, uniquely late-modernist concern about its own medium and audience.[15]

If a narrowly defined realism is expected to “efface the means of representation in the novel in favour of the represented,” as Anthony Easthope claims, Nineteen Eighty-Four disrupts such generic expectations by constantly foregrounding a variety of writings such as party slogans, garbled newspaper articles, the “book” allegedly written by Emmanuel Goldstein, and Winston’s secret diary.[16] In the early part of the novel, it is especially through Winston’s effort at keeping the diary that Orwell develops a complex textuality that interrogates the relationship between writing, memory, and the sense of reality. Peter Brooks suggests that narrative “must ever present itself as a repetition of events that have already happened, and within this postulate of a generalized repetition it must make use of specific, perceptible repetitions in order to create plot, that is, to show us a significant interconnection of events.”[17] Yet if this is normally the case, Winston’s narrative is curiously troubled by a difficulty in repeating past events in such a way as to create a linear plot. For example, when he tries to record his encounter with an aged prostitute, the attempt is blocked by his visceral “urge to shout filthy words,” a symptom of self-disgust derived from an inability to reflect on the memory of the humiliating encounter from a safe distance (Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 79). As he goes on to write, moreover, the diary entry about the prostitute becomes increasingly fragmentary as it is interrupted by another fleeting recollection about his miserable life with Katherine, his now estranged wife, a piece of memory which is left unwritten by Winston but still narrated in the novel. Readers are left uncertain about the possible interconnection between these two troubling fragments of memory; the focus on Winston’s difficulty lends the text a loosely associative, almost oneiric quality.

Meanwhile, it is also through unexpected repetitions that the true significance of a fragmentary memory is disclosed. In his first attempt at writing, Winston recollects watching a war film in which refugees are mercilessly massacred, but “shedding first its capital letter and finally even its full stops,” his writing soon collapses into an unpunctuated flow of words suggestive of uncontrollable affect. He quickly dismisses this entry as a “stream of rubbish.” At the same time, however, it also somehow evokes a “totally different memory” about the Two Minutes Hate of that morning when he first noticed the potential significance of Julia and O’Brien to his life (11). Yet Winston’s perception about this diary entry turns out to be fallacious when, in a later dream, he recognizes “the gesture of the arm” a Jewish woman made to protect her boy in the film as a “repetition” of the gesture his own mother made to embrace his infant sister thirty years before (185). However helpless the gesture may appear, it is significant for him as it reveals that the two women remained loyal to the sanctity of “private loyalties” (191). The Party has long planned to eliminate such loyalties from its members, including Winston, and thus the meaning of this gesture completely eluded him when he first witnessed it in the film and recorded it in his diary; it is only after the gesture of the Jewish woman is itself repeated in the later dream that Winston is able to re-evaluate the scene he once dismissed as “rubbish.”

1984. BBC Sunday Night Theatre, 1954.

The aberrant function of repetitions in this text may be clarified by resorting to J. Hillis Miller’s formulation of two types of repetition, which following Gilles Deleuze he calls “Platonic” and “Nietzschean” repetitions. The first model of repetition is grounded in the principle of identity that allows us to understand two certain events as copies of an archetypal model. By contrast, the second model “posits a world based on difference. Each thing . . . is unique, intrinsically different from every other thing.” Defying the antinomy of identity and difference, the latter type of repetition generates a ghostly image of similarity out of the “echoing of two dissimilar things,” which is “neither in the first [thing] nor in the second [thing] nor in some ground which preceded both, but in between, in the empty space which the opaque similarity crosses.” Miller compares the ghostly effect of this repetition to Sigmund Freud’s theory of hysterical trauma:

In such traumas the first experience ultimately generating hysterical symptoms is presexual in that the child does not understand its sexual meaning. A much later trivial event repeats some detail of the first and brings it back into mental life, now reinterpreted as a traumatic sexual assault. The trauma is neither in the first nor in the second but between them, in the relation between two opaquely similar events.[18]

This explanation sheds light on the equally traumatic effect of the repetition discussed above. The shock of Winston’s anagnorisis occurs neither with the chronologically first gesture of his mother nor with the second gesture of the Jewish woman, but between them. The difference is that in this case it is traumatic because Winston remembers himself to have been on the side not of the victim but of the victimizer; it was against his “clamorous hunger” and selfish demand for more chocolate that his mother tried to protect his sister by the gesture of her enveloping arm (Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 188).[19] This disturbing recognition of his own inhumanity also leads him to understand the true humanity of the proles for the first time. As he notices, “[The proles] had not become hardened inside. They had held on to the primitive emotions which he himself had to re-learn by conscious effort” (191).

Although the scene does suggest that the experience of this repetition can be traumatic, it is important to understand that it is also enabling, in that it makes Winston recognize what he lost in the past and needs to relearn in the future. The two types of repetition are often complexly intertwined in their relation to the past. Deleuze in fact argues that Freud himself understood the compulsion to repeat in terms of the first type of repetition. According to Deleuze, concepts such as “fixation and regression, along with trauma and the primal scene,” function to posit the first, original moment in the past as “the one which provides the thing that is to be repeated, the one which conditions the whole process of repetition.”[20] This is a model of repetition of identity as a return to the lost origin, which culminates in Freud’s formulation of the death drive in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Such a model of desire as a return is, as Boym points out, akin to nostalgia understood as a restoration of the lost home (Future of Nostalgia, 53–54). Against this, Deleuze proposes to reinterpret the Freudian repetition according to the second type. Repetition is, according to his view, “no more secondary in relation to a supposed ultimate or originary fixed term than disguise is secondary in relation to repetition” (Difference and Repetition, 135). What is primary instead is a Nietzschean vision of intensive difference that produces the image of the lost origin as an optical illusion. Thus, while desire is necessarily assisted by memory of the past, the object of desire is always being transformed by irreducible difference. As Deleuze claims:

The “never-seen” [jamais-vu] which characterises an always displaced and disguised object is immersed in the “already-seen” [déjà-vu] of the pure past in general, from which that object is extracted. We do not know when or where we have seen it, in accordance with the objective nature of the problematic; and ultimately, it is only the strange which is familiar and only difference which is repeated. (140)[21]

The above consideration enables one to understand how the late-modernist textuality of Nineteen Eighty-Four intertwines the two types of repetition, not just to reconfigure its alleged realism, but also to defamiliarize its nostalgic relation with the past. As in the recurrence of various smells, not only of boiled cabbage, but also of cheap gin, sour sweat, and dirty lavatories, the first, “grounded” repetition often serves to impress us strongly with the unbearable monotony of impoverished city life in Oceania. Yet, against the backdrop of this basic realism, the second, “groundless” repetition constantly disrupts Winston’s perceiving consciousness, forcing him (and the readers) to readjust his previous sense of reality, as in the case of “the gesture of the arm.” The resulting instability at the very center of the novel’s reality may be expressed as a restless shuttling between two different meanings of the term “déjà vu.” According to Peter Krapp, déjà vu is “commonly understood as an illusory feeling of having previously experienced a present situation, but also—more recently—as the impression of tedious familiarity, the correct feeling that something has been previously experienced.”[22] The perversity of Nineteen Eighty-Four lies in the blurring of the boundaries between illusion and reality implicit in these two meanings: namely, while the “tedious familiarity” of Winston’s life-world is so powerful as to benumb his sense of reality, the “illusory feeling” of the ghostly repetition is often too intense to be dismissed as a mere unreality.

Winston’s sense of the past is crucially affected by the same instability. Nowhere is it clearer than in his first rendezvous with Julia. In an early scene of Part II, Winston is led by Julia into a natural clearing of a little wood to avoid the surveillance of the Thought Police. When they reach the edge of the wood, Winston is suddenly struck with a peculiar feeling of déjà vu:

They were standing in the shade of hazel bushes. The sunlight, filtering through innumerable leaves, was still hot on their faces. Winston looked out into the field beyond, and underwent a curious, slow shock of recognition. He knew it by sight. An old, close-bitten pasture, with a footpath wandering across it and a molehill here and there. In the ragged hedge on the opposite side the boughs of the elm trees swayed just perceptibly in the breeze, and their leaves stirred faintly in dense masses like women’s hair. Surely somewhere nearby, but out of sight, there must be a stream with green pools where dace were swimming? (Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 141-42)

The scenery, which Winston calls “the Golden Country,” is often regarded as an unguarded expression of Orwell’s rural nostalgia. But such an interpretation fails to attend to the enigmatic quality of this passage. Susan Stewart argues that a nostalgic narrative longs to reproduce and repeat a lost past by means of language, but such a longing always collapses because the very medium of its exercise presupposes the gap between signifier and signified. “Nostalgia is,” she therefore claims, “the repetition that mourns the inauthenticity of all repetition and denies the repetition’s capacity to form identity.”[23] By contrast, Winston’s déjà vu overturns the values of such mournful nostalgia by foregrounding the ghostly repetition that forms the basis of his experience. Before visiting this place with Julia, he has seen it in a recurrent dream, although “he was never fully certain whether or not he had seen it in the real world.” The text insists on this repetition by virtually repeating itself in the verbal descriptions of the Golden Country (Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 36).

One needs a double perspective to understand the affective tonality of this specific déjà vu, which may be identified as “uncanny.” On the one hand, despite the persistent feeling of having dreamed of the same situation before, Winston experiences the repetition as an enabling force as if he were equipped with magical foreknowledge. His pleasure in the landscape is not dimmed, but rather sharpened by surprise at the feeling of déjà vu. On the other hand, however, Winston is not entirely free from a fleeting suspicion; at one point, he even wonders “whether after all there [is] a microphone hidden somewhere near” which allows “some small, beetle-like man” to listen to a bird singing there (142-43). According to Freud, the clash between illusory feeling and reality check is one of the fundamental causes of the uncanny. He claims that even a rational adult retains some residues of ancient animistic beliefs—which he terms the “omnipotence of thought”—whereby one’s mental processes are considered to possess a magical force to exercise power over the external world. Thus “everything which now strikes us as ‘uncanny’ fulfils the condition of touching those residues of animistic mental activity within us and bringing them to expression,” momentarily disrupting the reality principle that jealousy controls our ordinary selves.[24] In the same way, the uncanny repetition of the Golden Country disrupts and transforms Winston’s selfhood, while also unsettling the boundaries between illusion and reality. As in Freud’s famous suggestion that the uncanny collapses the distinction between the heimlich and the unheimlich, one is never certain whether the Golden Country is indeed the “lost home” of nostalgia or whether it is an artificial environment pervaded by the hidden network of surveillance.[25] The text leaves the question tantalizingly open. In other words, the uncanny repetition of “the Golden Country” makes it unheimlich, a space qualitatively different from the space of nostos. It is this textual effect of déjà vu that slowly transforms Winston’s longing into reflective nostalgia, one that goes beyond the hopeless search for a lost identity.

From Revolutionary Anti-Utopianism to Utopian Anti-Imperialism

The uncanny repetition in Nineteen Eighty-Four radically disturbs any simple assumptions about Orwell’s alleged realism or uncomplicated nostalgia. Significantly, this point also leads us to re-examine his politics within the context of late modernism. Even in recent discussion of a late-modernist “nativist turn,” Esty takes Orwell’s engagement with the question of a national community from the 1930s to be regressively nostalgic.[26] However, Nineteen Eighty-Four’s defamiliarizing take on nostalgia suggests that his engagement with the cultural politics of nativism was far more complex than is commonly assumed. Indeed, Raymond Williams notes the problematic relationship between Orwell’s anti-imperialism and nostalgia in his early study of Orwell, contending that Orwell’s early experience in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma equipped him with a double-edged perspective on the social reality of his home country. On the one hand, his imperial service and his subsequent rejection of that career enabled him “to look at England within a knowledge of its Empire: a point of view on this insular society which was in many ways penetrating.” On the other hand, however, Williams argues, Orwell’s experience of social dislocation—his status as an “exile from a lost country, a lost class”—made him susceptible to a mythical vision of England as a “family,” one that ultimately obscured the harsh reality of the capitalist exploitation.[27] In short, while Williams rightly finds the origin of Orwell’s nostalgia in his early experience of spatial displacement, he believes that Orwell’s anti-imperialist critique of the home country was ultimately obscured by a growing restorative nostalgia.

However, a closer examination of Orwell’s political trajectory shows that the opposite was actually the case: that it was in fact Orwell’s anti-imperialism that eventually overpowered his proclivity for nostalgia. One can first look at how Orwell’s anti-imperialism made his allegiance to then-mainstream British socialism difficult and strained. Among many reasons for his disagreement with left-wing intellectuals expressed in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), two points are particularly relevant to the present argument. The first is their concession to the ideology of imperialism. While they frequently ridiculed it, Orwell considered them to be complacent insofar as their comfortable lifestyle was itself dependent on the exploitation of overseas colonies. The only alternative to this complacency was “to throw the Empire overboard and reduce England to a cold and unimportant little island where we should all have to work very hard and live mainly on herrings and potatoes.”[28] Yet in his eyes, not many socialists had the guts to propose an immediate disintegration of the Empire that would surely entail a drastic lowering of the living standard for most people in Britain.[29]

The second, related problem was the wide gap Orwell observed between the intellectuals and ordinary supporters of socialism. In his view, for the latter group of people, socialism meant nothing more than “justice and common decency” (Road to Wigan Pier, 164). But in their zeal for mechanical progress and industrial technologies, the intellectuals were busy propagating a worldview in which there would be no place left for such common humanity. According to Orwell, for them the “Socialist world is to be above all things an ordered world, an efficient world. But it is precisely from that vision of the future as a sort of glittering Wells-world that sensitive minds recoil” (176). Orwell insists on the fundamental conflict between different versions of socialism again in Homage to Catalonia (1938). While what the middle-class socialists aimed at was “no more than a planned state-capitalism with the grab-motive left intact,” the vision of socialism Orwell discovered in Spain was drastically different: “The thing that attracts ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the ‘mystique’ of Socialism, is the idea of equality; to the vast majority of people Socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing at all.”[30] Thus, it was against the mainstream socialism of his time, and especially against its compromise with imperialism and its distance from the common humanity, that Orwell developed his own idea of democratic socialism. Despite the strong element of anti-intellectualism in this critique, it is important to recognize that these two problems together also constitute a dilemma for Orwell himself as an intellectual; this is because to envision a truly mass socialist movement that reconciles intellectuals and the majority of people does not automatically lead to solving the contradiction between the aims of British socialism and anti-imperialism.

The dilemma may be most obviously seen in Orwell’s wartime proposal for a specifically “English” socialism in The Lion and the Unicorn (1941). At a time when the future of the country was uncertain, his turn to the nation was far more radical a political position than those of most late modernists. Claiming that patriotism is “usually stronger than class-hatred,” Orwell planned to mobilize its energies for the construction of a truly democratic socialist movement that would “bring patriotism and intelligence into partnership” and build a truly egalitarian society.[31] It is necessary to emphasize the revolutionary nature of Orwell’s patriotism, since this aspect of his politics has often been underplayed even by his admirers, as John Newsinger rightly points out.[32] But it is undeniable that his revolutionary patriotism was certainly redolent of problematic nostalgia, not only in his eulogy for the timeless essence of Englishness (as the “everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past”), but also in his relative disregard for different ethnicities within the British Isles (Orwell, “The Lion and the Unicorn,” 409). The most serious problem in his proposal may be found in the compromise of his prewar anti-imperialism. In his blueprint for a coming socialist government, he suggests that it would not need to concede immediate independence to India and other colonies, since that would mean exposing those regions to the sure danger of invasion by the Fascist countries. Orwell therefore claims that socialist Britain “will aim not at disintegrating the Empire but at turning it into a federation of Socialist states, freed not so much from the British flag as from the moneylender, the dividend-drawer and the wooden-headed British official” (427). However sincere he might have been, it is difficult to resist the impression that his proposal for the British socialist federation was tainted by the desire to defend the hegemony of the British Empire.

Orwell’s wartime patriotism, and also his work for the Indian section of the BBC Eastern Service from 1941 to 1943, has attracted much criticism. As early as May 1942, George Woodcock attacked Orwell for “return[ing] to his old imperialist allegiances and work[ing] at the B.B.C. conducting British propaganda to fox the Indian masses.”[33] More recently, examining his wartime distrust of Indian nationalist and leftist writers such as Mulk Raj Anand, Kristin Bluemel concludes that Orwell’s view “stereotypes intellectual Indians as untrustworthy anti-intellectuals, acting according to the whims of emotion rather than political strategy.”[34] Yet important in this connection is the fact that, in the postwar years, Orwell did return to a staunch position of anti-imperialism. From the middle of the war on, he came to recognize the failure of his political program, publicly acknowledging in the autumn of 1944 wishful thinking had misled him into overestimating the growth of popular support for the left.[35] However, such disillusionment did not consign him to melancholic nostalgia. Nor was his critique of the Labour government (established in July 1945) motivated by a retreat into conservatism. On the contrary, Orwell’s postwar politics was energized by a firmer commitment to reconcile the policies of the socialist government with anti-imperialism. In November 1945, Orwell wrote, “The first task of the Labour government is to make people realize that Britain is not self-contained, but is part of a world-wide network. Even the problem of introducing Socialism is secondary to that. For Britain cannot become a genuinely Socialist country while continuing to plunder Asia and Africa.”[36] This suggestion amounts to a complete reversal of his wartime politics: whereas his wartime patriotism had prioritized the cause of English socialism over that of decolonization, now Orwell resolutely stated that there would be no domestic socialism without first disintegrating the British Empire.

1984. BBC Sunday Night Theatre, 1954.

The above description of Orwell’s political trajectory is relevant to Nineteen Eighty-Four insofar as it crucially inflected the way he understood the political potential of utopian writing. Orwell was quite explicit in stressing the non-utopian nature of his revolutionary patriotism until the middle of the war. As was already evident in his earlier distaste for a “sort of glittering Wells-world,” Orwell’s rejection of utopia often took the form of an attack on H. G. Wells; in fact, he saw the fascist regime as a perverse actualization of Wellsian scientific utopia.[37] However, as Orwell became increasingly committed to his project of revolutionary patriotism, his anti-utopianism spread beyond the particular version of utopia that he associated with Wells. Perhaps the most telling sign of this development was his demand, in December 1943, to “dissociate Socialism from Utopianism.” This was necessary, he felt, because the utopian dream of a perfect world would simply make socialism vulnerable to the charge of perfectionism. In his view, by contrast, “Socialism is not perfectionist, perhaps not even hedonistic. Socialists don’t claim to be able to make the world perfect: they claim to be able to make it better.”[38] Thus, Orwell’s revolutionary politics turned paradoxically anti-utopian in an urge to realize a workable socialism in wartime Britain.

One should recognize Nineteen Eighty-Four as a work written after Orwell’s turn away from this wartime anti-utopianism, however, not as its direct descendant. The failure of his revolutionary patriotism led him to a reconsideration of his former anti-utopianism and a renewed appreciation of utopian writers. For instance, in a September 1944 review, Orwell characterized Gerrard Winstanley’s belief that “the wished-for Utopia has already existed in the past” as a “belief which seems to haunt all thinkers of the Anarchist type”; according to Orwell, it was this belief that enabled Winstanley to engage in fiery oratory casting the ruling classes as foreign (or “Norman”) conquerors.[39] In a 1945 BBC broadcast about Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872), he argued that “[a]ll Utopia books are satires or allegories. Obviously if you invent an imaginary country you do so in order to throw light on the institutions of some existing country, probably your own.”[40] While he earlier summarily dismissed utopias as empty dreams, now he granted a degree of critical agency to utopias as satires or allegories. In thus redefining utopia, Orwell in fact harked back to its original conception. In the words of Robert C. Elliott, “[T]he very notion of utopia necessarily entails a negative appraisal of present conditions. Satire and utopia are not really separable, the one a critique of the real world in the name of something better, the other a hopeful construct of a world that might be. The hope feeds the criticism, the criticism the hope.”[41] It is this deeper understanding of the form’s potential that motivated Orwell’s late turn to utopia. For him, utopian literature “may demand the impossible . . . but [it does] at least look beyond the era of food queues and party squabbles, and remind the Socialist movement of its original, half-forgotten objective of human brotherhood.”[42] Utopia thus became a method to retain hope in an increasingly desperate time of the early Cold War. In this utopian dream of “human brotherhood,” it is not difficult to hear an echo of Orwell’s postwar hope for a truly anti-imperial socialism, one that abolishes not only the class structure but also colonial exploitation.

Thus, one can judge Orwell’s position in the cultural politics of late modernism to be paradoxically both radical and skeptical in that it was always accompanied by his commitment to anti-imperialism. While his wartime turn to the nation troubled his anti-imperial politics, it was also far more radical in its reimagining of the national community as a truly classless society. Yet in the postwar years, he became increasingly skeptical of the commitment to the nation insofar as it threatened to block the British people from a necessary recognition of the position of their country within the wider world. Similarly, he was critical of the postwar Labour government precisely because of his radical demand for an authentically international socialism. Crucially, his postwar utopianism was not a function of optimism; rather, it was his recognition of the darker prospect of international politics that attracted Orwell to utopia as a critical form that sustains and is sustained by a future vision. It is within this particular context that we can reread Nineteen Eighty-Four as a late-modernist utopia.

Beyond the Golden Country

If the utopian form traditionally employs a positive vision of the future to satirize the present, Nineteen Eighty-Four certainly turns its conventions inside out to foreground a satirical vision of contemporary world politics. But this does not thereby make the novel anti-utopian. It is well-documented that Orwell owes something to James Burnham’s geopolitical theory in his picture of a future world divided by three super-states in perpetual war with each other.[43] However, Orwell’s vision differs from Burnham’s on two major points. Firstly, Orwell is highly critical of the latter’s anti-utopianism. Seeing politics as nothing more than “the struggle for power,” Burnham postulates that “[e]very great social movement, every war, every revolution, every political programme, however edifying and Utopian, really has behind it the ambitions of some sectional group which is out to grab power for itself.”[44] Orwell explicitly rejects such political “realism” as it tends to fall into an endorsement or even glorification of the power politics it purports to criticize.[45] Secondly, Burnham puts forth his theory as a recommendation for the United States to engage in a total war against Soviet Russia, whereas the purpose of Orwell’s satire is exactly to predict and expose the disastrous social consequences such a global conflict would entail. Although Orwell’s satire does produce a nightmare world that almost threatens to eclipse any positive vision, it remains faithful to the ideal of utopia primarily through its anti-anti-utopianism.[46]

The Party’s cynical anti-utopianism is made manifest when O’Brien declares that Oceania is “the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined” (Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 306). As is explained in Goldstein’s book (which turns out to be written by O’Brien), the Party ruthlessly exploits perpetual global warfare to monopolize power and use up the surplus wealth that might have otherwise contributed to the realization of an “earthly paradise” (234). The state of war also serves as an alibi for the construction of a “sealed” world which lacks any meaningful contact with the outside world (226). Depriving people of the chance to know foreigners is essential for the Party, since their ignorance makes it easier to manipulate their warlike sentiments. At one point in the novel, “lashed into one of their periodical frenzies of patriotism,” some proles even murder “an old couple who were suspected of being of foreign extraction” as spies (172). This episode illustrates Orwell’s awareness of the worst excess of patriotism, the idea he once cherished for its revolutionary potential. As if to radicalize the doctrine of “Divide and Rule,” the Party severs any personal ties—family, friends, or lovers—among its members just as it severs any contact between nations. Crucially, the Party cuts its members off from the past; this is necessary to deprive them of the “standards of comparison” which might otherwise help them notice the facts of the present oppression in comparison with the past (237). 

The consequence of such multiple deprivations is most vividly realized in Winston’s existential crisis. Painfully isolated from any human ties, Winston turns to writing the diary to record an “interminable restless monologue,” while finding it difficult to believe that anyone would read it in the future (10). This episode exemplifies the novel’s late-modernist concern with its own medium and audience as necessary preconditions for the possibility of truth-telling. When he starts to write, Winston wonders

for whom . . . [he was] writing this diary[.] For the future, for the unborn. His mind hovered for a moment round on the doubtful date on the page, and then fetched up with a bump against the Newspeak word doublethink. For the first time the magnitude of what he had undertaken came home to him. How could you communicate with the future? It was of its nature impossible. Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him: or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless. (9–10)

Increasingly desperate, he later makes a direct address to an imaginary audience: “To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone—to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone” (32). Drawing attention to the significance of this passage, Steven Connor emphasizes the subversive nature of Winston’s address as it “presupposes the fact that the individuals are different and that these differences can nevertheless be shared.”[47] This vision adumbrates a way out of the dilemma expressed in the first quotation above. Trapped in the antinomy of identity and difference, Winston is at first unable to imagine a bridge between the present and the future. By contrast, his direct address to an ideal audience in the second quotation is well-nigh utopian in imagining a world of differences that can nevertheless be connected through an act of imagination.

Winston’s persistent or indeed nostalgic concern with the past has a significant part to play in this utopian imagination as long as it empowers his incurable longing for a different time. This is despite the fact that his obsessive search for fragments of an authentic past turns out to be utterly futile. Here, it is worth recalling Boym’s distinction between restorative and reflective nostalgia. While the former’s emphasis on nostos tends to fall into the fantasy of an exclusive identity, the latter’s emphasis on algia leaves the process of longing eternally open. It is fair to consider that the failure of his wartime patriotism made Orwell keenly skeptical of the former type of nostalgia. Indeed, it is exactly at the moment Winston and Julia indulge in the fantasy of restorative nostalgia in Mr. Charrington’s junkshop that its fallacy is cruelly exposed by the Thought Police; they are most deluded when they believe in the rediscovery of identity. Still, the latter type of nostalgia is useful in Nineteen Eighty-Four as long as it keeps Winston reflexively aware of the “imperfect process of remembrance.” Such nostalgia can be radical not merely because it resists the Party’s attempt at eliminating the past, but also because it perpetually disrupts Winston’s proclivity for an exclusive identity. As I argued earlier, it is the ghostly repetition of the Golden Country and the slight but decisive disjunction between nostos and algia it creates that transform that space not into the lost home of restorative nostalgia but into the uncanny space of déjà vu. It is the unheimlich quality of such repetition that slowly releases Winston’s nostalgia from its fixation on the disappearing past, allowing its overpowering energies to be redirected towards a different, unforeseeable future.

At this point, one can synthesize Orwell’s late-modernist turn to utopianism with the earlier observation about the two types of repetition in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Of the two types, it is the first type of repetition that conspires to create the repressive regime of identity in Oceania. Winston’s painful perception of life’s monotony is eventually perverted to insist on the all-powerfulness of the Party’s doctrine. One may even think that the Party’s method of domination is itself based on a systematic repetition of identity such as the ubiquitous party slogans, the endless routine of the Ministry of Truth, and the destructive creation of Newspeak which would eventually produce “duckspeak” (which mindlessly repeats the party orthodoxy like “the quacking of a duck”) (Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 63). This repetition also threatens to abolish history itself as long as the very idea of history presupposes changes as well as continuities. As Winston says, “History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right” (63). Or in the more nightmarish words of O’Brien, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever. . . . A world of victory after victory, triumph after triumph after triumph: an endless pressing, pressing, pressing upon the nerve of power” (307). The timeless space inside the Ministry of Love torture chamber is only the most gruesome physical realization of this repressive identity. The enormity of this repetition is such that Winston himself cannot remain immune from its disabling effect. When he tries to envision the proles’ rebellion, Winston writes, “Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious” (81). Instead of proving or disproving the possibility of rebellion, this passage simply illustrates how the Party’s doctrine of identity incapacitates Winston’s ability to imagine changes as well as continuities in history. As he soon notices, this sentence “might have been a transcription from one of the Party textbooks” (81).

Yet the other, more subversive type of repetition is also entangled with the first type of repetition. To be sure, it is not unambiguously utopian; this uncanny repetition can be both traumatizing and pleasurable, as I have already shown. But the ghostly image of similarity (the effect of this repetition) is also liberating as it helps Winston reimagine the possibility of generating a difference from within the seeming repetition of identity. The best example of this is an old prole woman’s song repeated three times in the novel. Originally composed by the “versificator” without any human inspiration behind it, this song nevertheless catches the fancy of many proles and continues to be sung again and again over several weeks. When Winston hears the old woman’s song, he notices that she sings “so tunefully as to turn the dreadful rubbish into an almost pleasant sound” (159–60). This “repetition with a difference” transforms the machine-generated lyric into a veritable folk song which testifies to the spontaneous vitality of the proles. Subtly intimating a Deleuzian/Nietzschean vision of irreducible difference, this recognition also invites Winston to envision a different time that runs against the “endless present” produced by the Party’s repetition of repressive identity.

Moreover, when Winston hears the old woman’s song again with Julia, it reminds him of the birdsong he heard in the Golden Country. Evoking an opaque similarity between the bird and the prole woman, the repetition of the song finally allows Winston to channel the affective energies of his nostalgia into a fleeting vision of a future. It makes possible the conflation of utopia and nostalgia in the sense that (to borrow the words of Deleuze again) the “never-seen” is deeply immersed in the “already-seen.” In this respect, the following scene is crucially important:

“Do you remember,” [Winston] said, “the thrush that sang to us, that first day, at the edge of the wood?”

“He wasn’t singing to us,” said Julia. “He was singing to please himself. Not even that. He was just singing.”

The birds sang, the proles sang, the Party did not sing. All round the world, in London and New York, in Africa and Brazil and in the mysterious, forbidden lands beyond the frontiers, in the streets of Paris and Berlin, in the villages of the endless Russian plain, in the bazaars of China and Japan—everywhere stood the same solid unconquerable figure, made monstrous by work and childbearing, toiling from birth to death and still singing. Out of those mighty loins a race of conscious beings must one day come. (252)

At this particular moment, the song leads Winston to perform an astonishing leap of imagination, one which has not been fully understood in existing commentaries on this oft-quoted passage. The imaginative conflation of the bird and the woman allows him to associate the backyard where she works with “the pale, cloudless sky” the bird flies in—the same sky “stretching away behind the chimney pots into interminable distances.” It is a crucial observation of the sky—“the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here”—that encourages him to envision the sameness of people who continue to sing under the same sky, wherever they are in the world: London, New York, Africa, Brazil, Paris, Berlin, Russia, China, or Japan. This vision is distinct from the Party’s repressive identity insofar as the sameness of the “solid unconquerable figure” is imagined against the reality of their conflicting identities artificially created by the “walls of hatred and lies” (251). In other words, the repetition of the song with a difference enables Winston to reimagine sameness at a global level, one that overflows and thus resists the “sealed” identity of Oceania. Characteristically, it is the echo of the birdsong he once heard in the Golden Country that lures his algia (longing) towards the horizon far beyond the illusory object of nostos.

It is certainly going too far to say that this fleeting image of a global vision will immediately lead to a transnational solidarity of proles in a concerted revolt against the oppression; after all, Winston and Julia are arrested by the Thought Police soon after he has this vision. It seems safer to note that this recognition of a sameness that sustains and is sustained by multiple differences within itself is inserted in the novel as a weak but indispensable hope against the nightmare world of global warfare. Insofar as the two types of repetition are tightly entangled with each other in the novel, the opaque similarity of singing people all over the world remains the effect of the uncanny repetition that shadows the repetition of identity. Still, it significantly chimes with Orwell’s late utopian dream of “human brotherhood”—the political vision of truly international, anti-imperial socialism he demanded from the British people. It is also significant that this utopian dream is imagined from within the increasingly desperate situation of the early Cold War that the novel satirizes. Even if Orwell felt unable to subscribe to a rosy vision of traditional utopias, he did turn to the utopian tradition conceived as “hallucinatory visions in desperate times,” to borrow Frederic Jameson’s words, in order to reinvent it in a late-modernist form (Archaeologies of the Future, 233). If it is true that the “hope feeds the criticism, the criticism the hope” in utopia, as Elliott says, it may have been the failure on the part of readers to understand this hope for the “human brotherhood” that has caused the lingering misidentification of Nineteen Eighty-Four as an anti-utopia.

Echoes of Utopia for the Present Time

It is not without reason that the misreading of this novel as anti-utopian remains so influential. Orwell’s late turn to critical utopianism was effectively submerged by the reality of international politics after his death in January 1950. As Andrew Hammond has recounted, Nineteen Eighty-Four was hijacked by Cold War propagandists “for the free world cause” and transformed into an “ideological superweapon” against communism.[48] We can now see that it was the unattainability of Orwell’s utopian hope in the postwar world order that made it so easy for Cold War warriors to ignore the novel’s utopian critique and reduce its complexity into a pure anti-utopia. But this makes it all the more important to reclaim Nineteen Eighty-Four for the utopian tradition.

Reading the novel as a late-modernist utopia may go a long way toward explaining its particular contemporary relevance On the one hand, this reading enables us to revise our understanding of late modernism’s turn toward the nation. As I have discussed above, Orwell’s wartime hope for the national community was complicated by his keen awareness of continuing global exploitation in the postwar years. This case vividly illustrates the fact that in spite of the alluring vision of the nativist turn, late modernism couldn’t afford to ignore the wider world within which every single nation was inevitably embedded; there was a pressing need for late modernists such as Orwell to consider the national and the global at the same time. In effect, this reading calls for a more productive dialogue between notions of late modernism and of the transnational and global.

On the other hand, such a critical reexamination also enables us to see a rough parallel between Orwell’s time and the present moment. If utopian vision was a necessary hope for Orwell against the dilemma of the “sealed” world of nationalism and the global crisis of the Cold War, the same vision may be even more necessary for our own historical moment, in which we are trapped between the Scylla of neoliberal globalization and the Charybdis of neo-nationalism (as exemplified by Brexit and Donald Trump). The novel’s warning about the trap of restorative nostalgia is still relevant, but its persistent, if tenuous, longing toward the utopian horizon beyond the sealed world may also sound more appealing. If we are to read Nineteen Eighty-Four as a commentary on our contemporary political landscape, therefore, we should do so in full recognition of the fact that it does contain a utopian vision within the nightmare world it critically imagines. In this particular sense, our ears may yet catch unlikely echoes of our own future in Orwell’s uncanny Golden Country.


The writing of this article was supported by the Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research provided by the Japan Society of the Promotion of Science (no. 26770107). I am grateful to the two anonymous referees and the editors of Modernism/modernity for their helpful comments on the earlier versions of this article.

[1] George Orwell, “To Julian Symons,” in The Complete Works of George Orwell, ed. Peter Davison (London: Secker & Warburg, 1998), 20:35.

[2] Except, perhaps, in a very general meaning of the term as “a non-existent place,” rather than “a good place.” See Orwell, “Can Socialists be Happy?,” in Complete Works, 16:37–45, 39. Originally published in the Tribune on December 24, 1943 and attributed to John Freeman.

[3] George Woodcock, “Utopias in the Negative,” The Sewanee Review 64 (January–March 1956): 81–97, 85.

[4] Krishan Kumar, Utopianism (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1991), 95–96. Also see Ben Clark’s suggestion to read Nineteen Eighty-Four as a “utopian satire”; Orwell in Context: Communities, Myths, Values (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 147–65, 165.

[5] Various critics have attributed conservative or antimodern nostalgia to Orwell. For example, see Cyril Connolly, review of Animal Farm, Horizon 12 (September 1945): 215–16; Henry Popkin, “Orwell the Edwardian,” The Kenyon Review 16 (Winter 1954): 139–44; John Wain, “Here Lies Lower Binfield,” Encounter 17 (October 1961): 70–82. For a more recent revaluation of Orwell’s nostalgia as a potentially radical force, see Joseph Brooker, “Forbidden to Dream Again: Orwell and Nostalgia,” English 55 (Autumn 2006): 281–97. For a re-examination of nostalgia in the broader context of modernism, see Tammy Clewell, ed., Modernism and Nostalgia: Bodies, Locations, Aesthetics (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

[6] Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001), xv–xvi, 41.

[7] Tyrus Miller, Late Modernism: Politics, Fiction, and the Arts between the World Wars (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 13.

[8]  Jed Esty, A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 13.

[9] Marina MacKay, Modernism and World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 15–18, 37–39. Thomas S. Davis, The Extinct Scene: Late Modernism and Everyday Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 4–17, 166–86.

[10] Patrick Deer, “Mapping Twentieth-Century British Culture,” review of A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England by Jed Esty, Contemporary Literature, 45 (Winter 2004): 723–35, 730–35.

[11] George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Annotated Edition (London: Penguin, 2013), 67.

[12] For example, David Lodge claims that “Orwell’s London of 1984 . . . seems just as ‘real’ as Dickens’ London or Zola’s Paris” (“Utopia and Criticism: The Radical Longing for Paradise,” Encounter 32 [April 1969]: 65–74, 70). To a certain extent, such a reading is justified by Orwell’s own statement. In a letter to his publisher in May 1947, he described the novel as “a novel about the future—that is, it is in a sense a fantasy, but in the form of a naturalistic novel” (Orwell to Frederic Warburg, in Complete Works, 19:149–50, 149). Yet such attention to alleged realism is seldom unaccompanied by serious reservations. For example, while sufficiently impressed by the “hallucinatory immediacy” of the world of Oceania, Irving Howe nevertheless claims that such a reality effect may be regarded as a paradoxical result of its author’s limitations; as he suggests, “[Orwell] felt uneasy with a general idea or a total vision; things took on reality for him only as they were particular and concrete” (Howe, Politics and the Novel [New York: Horizon, 1957], 242). From a Lukácsian perspective, Carl Freedman criticizes the novel for its “common-sense naturalism”—a form “that combines an acute verisimilitude of vivid particulars with an inability or unwillingness to form those particulars into a coherent whole.” According to Freedman, it is because of such a narrow focus on particular details, itself motivated by a “positivistic empiricism,” that Orwell ultimately failed to accept “a totalizing theory that would lead to positive collective action” (“Antinomies of 1984,” Modern Fiction Studies 30 [Winter 1984]: 601–20, 605).

[13] Michael Levenson, “The Fictional Realist: Novels of the 1930s,” in The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell, ed. John Rodden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007): 59–75, 61, 59. Levenson sees the influence Orwell received from modernism especially in his resistance to “the lure of a garrulous, omniscient narrator in favour of the rigorously limited perspective of his characters” (62–63).

[14] Alex Zwerdling, “Rethinking the Modernist Legacy in Nineteen Eighty-Four,” in The Revised Orwell, ed. Jonathan Rose (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1991): 13–24, 16.

[15] As will be clear from the subsequent argument, I do not regard the features derived from realism and those from modernism as incompatible in Orwell’s late-modernist text. For some recent discussions about Orwell in the context of late modernism, see Cheryl Hindrichs, “Late Modernism, 1928–1945: Criticism and Theory,” Literature Compass 8, no. 11 (2011): 840–55; Ashley Maher, “‘Swastika Arms of Passage Leading to Nothing’: Late Modernism and the ‘New’ Britain,” ELH 80 (Spring 2013): 251–285; Davis, The Extinct Scene, chap. 3, 118–29.

[16] Antony Easthope, “Fact and Fantasy in Nineteen Eighty-Four,” in Inside the Myth: Orwell: Views from the Left, ed. Christopher Norris (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1984): 263–85, 271–72.

[17] Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 99.

[18] J. Hillis Miller, Fiction and Repetition: Seven English Novels (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), 6, 9.

[19] This memory’s traumatic quality for Winston is also suggested in the repetition of the motif of chocolate. When he eats a piece of authentic chocolate Julia brought to their first tryst, it evokes a vague but troubling memory which seems to be repressed in his mind: “[T]here was still that memory moving round the edge of his consciousness, something strongly felt but not reducible to definite shape, like an object seen out of the corner of one’s eyes” (Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 140).

[20] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Bloomsbury, 1994), 133.

[21] It should also be noted that Deleuze’s Bergsonian notion of “the pure past” is qualitatively different from what actually happened in the past (what Deleuze calls “the former present”). Constituted through the passive synthesis of memory, “the pure past” exists for the self rather as a virtual ground that generates each passive moment of the present. For more on Deleuze’s reinterpretation of the Freudian repetition, see Henry Somers-Hall, Deleuze’s “Difference and Repetition” (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), 83–96.

[22] Peter Krapp, Déjà Vu: Aberrations of Cultural Memory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 2.

[23] Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 23.

[24] Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 17, 1917–1919: An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works, ed. James Strachey (London: Vintage, 2001), 217–252, 240–41.

[25] For the latter interpretation, see Patricia Rae, “‘There’ll be no more fishing this side the grave’: Radical Nostalgia in George Orwell’s Coming Up for Air,” in Modernism and Nostalgia, 149–65. Rae identifies both Mr. Charrington’s junkshop and the Golden Country as “traps set by the Thought Police,” claiming that “the birdsong Winston enjoys in the ‘Golden Country’ is artificially programmed” (160). While I am persuaded by her reading of Mr. Charrington’s junkshop as Orwell’s warning against the danger of a backward nostalgia, I see no definite textual evidence that enables us to decide the authenticity or inauthenticity of the Golden Country.

[26] For instance, Esty claims that Orwell’s evocations of idyllic Englishness “can only fuel a doomed nostalgia” (A Shrinking Island, 220–21). In a similar vein, Thomas S. Davis argues that Orwell’s late-modernist politics in Homage to Catalonia was beset by “the impossibility of imagining political alternatives,” adding that, in Orwell’s subsequent political career, “Spain was not the only moment of disillusionment or disappointment” (The Extinct Scene, 129, 258). In contrast, my argument is that there was a more positive, utopian imagination at work in Orwell’s late-modernist aesthetics.

[27] Raymond Williams, Orwell, 3rd ed. (London: Fontana, 1991), 17, 28.

[28] George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (London: Penguin, 1989), 148.

[29] It is not historically inaccurate to consider that the leading figures of the Labour Party of the time were far from radical in their critique of the British Empire. On this point, see Alex Zwerdling, Orwell and the Left (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974), 32–33.

[30] George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (London: Penguin, 1989), 83–84.

[31] George Orwell, “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius,” in Complete Works, 12:391–434, 398, 421.

[32] John Newsinger, Orwell’s Politics (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999), 69. Newsinger gives the case of Bernard Crick’s 1980 biography of Orwell as an example. A more recent example of this tendency may be found in Christopher Hitchens’s comment that “Orwell’s attempt to connect the leader of the Petrograd Soviet [namely, Trotsky] to the stalwarts of ‘Dad’s Army’ is nearly, but not quite, risible.” See Orwell’s Victory (London: Penguin, 2003), 57.

[33] George Woodcock in D. S. Savage, George Woodcock, Alex Comfort, and George Orwell, “Pacifism and the War: A Controversy,” in Complete Works, 13:392–400, 395. Originally published in Partisan Review, September­–October 1942. Orwell’s contribution is dated July 12, 1942. Any serious examination of Orwell’s wartime activities in the BBC needs to take into consideration the conflict of various factors such as changes in the military situation, propaganda, institutional censorship, and the collaborative nature of radio broadcasting. On some of these factors, see Douglas Kerr, “In the Picture: Orwell, India and the BBC,” Literature and History 13, no. 1 (2004): 43–57; Melissa Dinsman, Modernism at the Microphone: Radio, Propaganda, and Literary Aesthetics during World War II (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 97–119; Henry Mead, “‘Keeping Our Little Corner Clean’: George Orwell’s Cultural Broadcasts at the BBC,” in Broadcasting in the Modernist Era, ed. Matthew Feldman, Erik Tonning, and Henry Mead (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 169–94.

[34] Kristin Bluemel, George Orwell and the Radical Eccentrics: Intermodernism in Literary London (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 143.

[35] Orwell, “London Letter,” in Complete Works, 16:411–16, 412. Originally published in the Partisan Review¸Winter 1944–45.

[36] Orwell, “The British General Election,” in Complete Works, 17:335–41, 340. Originally published in Commentary, November 1945. In July 1947, Orwell also cited the establishment of a “socialist United States of Europe” as the only desirable alternative to the catastrophic prospect of international power politics between the Unites States and the Soviet Union. As a necessary prerequisite for this, he posited that decolonization must take place immediately, enabling those former colonized nations to become “autonomous republics on a complete equality with the European peoples” (“Toward European Unity,” in Complete Works, 19:163–67, 165; originally published in Partisan Review, July–August 1947).

[37] Orwell, “Wells, Hitler and the World State,” in Complete Works, 12:536–41, 539. Originally published in Horizon, August 1941.

[38] Orwell, “As I Please,” in Complete Works, 16:34-7, 35. Originally published in the Tribune, December 24, 1943.

[39] Orwell, “Review of Selections from the Works of Gerrard Winstanley, edited by Leonard Hamilton, with an Introduction by Christopher Hill,” in Complete Works, 16:376–79, 377. Originally published in The Observer, September 3, 1944. It is worth noting that Orwell was writing Animal Farm (1945) around the same time as this transvaluation of utopia. In this respect, this “fairy story” may be read as Orwell’s earlier attempt at the creation of a critical utopia.

[40] Orwell, typescript of “Erewhon by Samuel Butler,” in Complete Works, 17:168–73, 169. Originally broadcast by the BBC Home Service as part of their “Talks for Schools” on June 8, 1945.

[41] Robert C. Elliott, The Shape of Utopia: Studies in a Literary Genre (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 24.

[42] Orwell, “Review of The Soul of Man under Socialism by Oscar Wilde,” in Complete Works, 19:333–34, 334. Originally published in The Observer, May 9, 1948.

[43] For example, see Krishan Kumar, Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), 308.

[44] This is Orwell’s summary of Burnham in Orwell, “Second Thought on James Burnham,” in Complete Works, 18:268–284, 281. Published as a pamphlet titled James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution in 1946.

[45] On this point, also see Douglas Kerr, George Orwell (Tavistock, UK: Northcote House, 2003), 80.

[46] I adopt this concept of “anti-anti-utopianism” from Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005), xvi.

[47] Steven Connor, “George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Politics of Narrative,” English Review 1, no. 3 (1991): 13–17, 14.

[48] Andrew Hammond, British Fiction and the Cold War (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 25–27. The term “ideological superweapon” was originally used by Isaac Deutscher.