European Diary

Promises, Promises

The world of pulp and prevarication, whose deluged plateau the young woman I was in love with had fled, called to mind a private letter of Pasternak’s written in the 1920’s.  There the poet described the icy slush of totalitarianism, emulsifying every existing object out of recognition, as the epochal substratum in which his kind had been sinking in Russia.  To Orwell, making a similar point a decade later in the formally free West, the salient characteristic of the era was deoxygenation, with much the same outcome—that is, atrophy of the real.  Whether of torture chambers or soda fountains, of military tribunals or aspirin factories, of killer famines or air-conditioning plants, it was a world the two writers might feel they had in common, a sodden epoch where everything had been turned to pap, sterilized and suspended in a uniform solution.

My own experience supplied many additional parallels.  Thus the attitude to money, on the part of the young woman’s family and the society to which they belonged, was indistinguishable from the attitude to communism in Russia under Stalin, in that it was utterly untinged by hypocrisy.  In the Russian variant, the double-think only came once Stalin had died and the fear of him was gone; for nearly two decades previously, people had loved communism, parachute towers, Soviet icebergs, pilots, Young Pioneers, ferroconcrete, and, of course, Big Brother...

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