The Paris Review

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By Dan Piepenbring January 26, 2017

The churlish “alternative facts” coming out of the Oval Office have led to an uptick in sales of 1984, which remains America’s go-to dystopian fiction: whenever our liberties are trampled on, someone’s reaching for the Orwell. Yes, Orwell, Orwell, he’s our man, if he can’t articulate the all-consuming dread of the totalitarian surveillance state, no one can! But Josephine Livingstone argues that there are better metaphors for our times: “When we suspect that we are living in a dystopia characterized by clumsy propaganda, it’s the book we buy from Amazon.com … But there is no Amazon.com in Nineteen Eighty-Four, because it is not a novel about globalized capital. Not even slightly! Nineteen Eighty-Four does not pastiche a world ravaged by capitalism and ruled by celebrities—the kind of world that could lead to the election of someone like Trump. Instead, it depicts suffering inflicted by state control masquerading as socialism.” Better, Livingstone says, to pick up some Kafka, which is right on the money: “In The Trial, Josef K. wakes up on his thirtieth birthday and is arrested. He cannot really conceive of what is happening: ‘K. was living in a free country, after all, everywhere was at peace, all laws were decent and were upheld, who was it who dared accost him in his own home?’ ”

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