Fahrenheit 451

There must be something in book, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.

Written some 50 years ago, Fahrenheit 451 is uncannily prophetic of our own world. 1984, for example, (I understand they get compared a lot for some reason) only stands now as a warning sign, but its world is no longer an immediate threat, whereas the Fahrenheit-verse is, in some aspects, disturbingly close to the way we live our lives day in, day out, numbed by our own constant exposure to media. 24-hour programming, internet, reality TV are most of the times gunning for our lowest common denominator. The “parlor family” – though not named as such – is really what we have, with our talking through screens and 140 character messages, our endless TV shows, where characters end up being more familiar than our actual friends. We’re all noticing now it’s very alienating, but that’s just the trick: you never have time to stop and just think about things. And I’m not talking about some impersonal you like I’m entitled to sit on any kind of high horse…I guess I’m talking a little bit about me too, really. We’re bombarded with so much junk disguised as information that we think less and less – and I really admire Mr. Bradbury’s foreseeing this (or maybe he didn’t really foresee anything – maybe he just groped around in the right place…it’s still impressive).

Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.

Books become, really, a symbol, a bastion of a long gone world – where you could take your time, where you could stop and smell the roses :P , where there was no hurry to get anywhere. And things would be better still if all our hurry (or their hurry) had some purpose to it, but the scary thing is that most of us are just little rats on a wheel and we don’t know how to get off, we don’t know what happens when the wheel stops turning. And I guess we don’t really want to find out the answer is nothing.

The televisor is ‘real’. It is immediate, it as dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right, it seems to be right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn’t time to protest.

But…back to the story. The narrative thread is rather simple and follows Guy Montag’s rise to consciousness and social revolt (and you can read it on Wikipedia, although going through the 150 page book is a lot more satisfying). Beatty, the chief fireman, makes the best kind of villain: the good man turned over to the dark side :D . He’s read a lot, he throws quotes at Montag (the irony is that Montang himself hasn’t read; he’s fighting for the feeling of possibility more than anything), he knows all about the history of their organization and he chose it in total awareness. He’s lost a lot in his life, says Bradbury, and found that books could give him no measure of comfort. He bears a hatred born out of love and disappointment, and it’s a great thing to watch unfold.

For a novel dealing with censorship, it comes at it from a very interesting angle I think: censorship is not imposed from above, but from inside ourselves. By the time the government banned books and repurposed the firemen to burn books along with the houses in which they were hidden the voices raised in protest were few and weak. People had long stopped reading of their own accord.

At the end of my edition there’s a Coda, written by Mr. Bradbury for the 50th anniversary edition and he says some things that, coming right after the whole censoring Huck Finn controversy should really bring people to their senses. Or at least make them wonder if we really are on the right track.

For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities (…) to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule.

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~ by ameer on January 31, 2011.

3 Responses to “Fahrenheit 451”

  1. Thank you for this wonderful review. F-451 is one of my favorite books. The message is timeless: think or be irrelevant.

    I must respectfully disagree with your mention of 1984 being outdated “or its world being no longer a threat.” It is more so now than when it was written. Consider, for example, Winston’s (the lead character) job? When the government changed something, he would go back and correct the newspapers, books, and magazines that contradicted their announcement. This only became possible recently. When everything is digital, it can be changed without evidence. For example, when you download a book on a Kindle, how do you know it hasn’t been doctored? Orwell’s main idea was that words form thoughts, and to control words, one can control minds. Not so outdated at all. In “1984″ the government was reducing the language to its essentials. Aren’t we doing that too, albeit in more subtle ways. I just read of the re-release of Huck Fin without the “n” word. Not the same book at all. If you are offended, don’t read it, or don’t read it to your children, but don’t change the book! Then you’ve decided for me, where does it end? Will you take Fagen out of “Oliver Twist?” Or how about removing Friday from “Robinson Crusoe?” And that’s why “1984″ and “Fahrenheit 451″ are similar: reduce words to reduce ideas.

    Anyway, well done.

    Thanks,

    Jay

    • Thanks for the comment – and I guess you’re right. I shouldn’t have implied 1984 is outdated (and despite what I wrote there, I didn’t really mean it like that) – just that it’s maybe less tangible now? For the people who lived through communism – and especially for those who got to see it grow and expand – it had a different resonance than it has for us today; the same way that Fahrenheit is, to me, a very astute commentary on our (my) immediate reality.

  2. Here’s one truly uplifting book review; your greatest ever, if I may.

    I like how you ride high these days on the sci-fi wave. Your perspective on things seems to be quite different from up there… unlike from the anecdotal high horse:) Your choices are inspired, too. After ‘Animal farm’, ‘Ubik’ and ‘The man in the high castle’, plus ‘Anthem’, here’s another one of my favorite classics.

    Now, if I may add to the discussion above… The thing with quality sci-fi (be it utopias or dystopias) is that it never gets boring, repetitive or stall. Even ’1984′ is not outdated, and I’m sure you didn’t mean to discredit its merits; in that particular case we could possibly talk about an ‘overburn’ effect, caused by decades of undisputed laudatio for its author or the book itself. We can mention a certain ‘wear off’ effect as well, but I’m not sure that we want to go into semantics here.

    In ’1984′, Orwell writes at a certain point: ‘We are not simply destroying our ennemies, we are changing them’. Now, for the sake of political correctness, let’s replace ennemies with citizens. It remains pertinent, and a lot more disturbing. And to add to that disturbance: what if the process is already rooted in our minds, inside ourselves as you say, summing up Bradbury’s luminous assumption, how far are we from setting fire to entire libraries for ‘political’ inappropriateness?

    There is something about an aseptic society that makes me sick.

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