Visualizing The Permanent Lie: An Examination of Dystopian Literature Using Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Model
Date of Thesis
This thesis argues for the formation of an evolving canon of literature critical to continued resistance to totalitarianism, focusing primarily on the works of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Ji Xianlin. In crafting the theoretical basis of my study, I rely primarily on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s concept of the “permanent lie” and its related concepts, “survive at any price” and “only material results matter” as formulated in his magnum opus, The Gulag Archipelago. In Solzhenitsyn’s view, the “permanent lie” is rooted in the creation of a virtual reality among individuals trapped in a totalitarian society, in which they must hold two opposing viewpoints in their mind simultaneously, one for the private arena in which they are relatively free to share their true thoughts regarding the regime and one for the public sphere in which they must obey the rhetoric espoused by the ruling regime. Solzhenitsyn used “survive at any price” in terms of the mental fracture present by the continued adherence to the “permanent lie” to prolong survival, an idea to survive at the expense of others. Solzhenitsyn uses “only material results matter” to explain the unspoken agreement between the totalitarian regime and the oppressed individuals under the regime, that every act of a sinister nature or otherwise serves some greater good in the advancement of an equal and just society. An application of these theories together allows for the possibility of sustained resistance. The crux of my argument is that through Solzhenitsyn’s theoretical framework related to totalitarianism and a study of reader-response theory that examines the ways in which the literature is received internally, a canon emerges from the theoretical and literary works that allows for a crucial study of resistance movements applicable to present-day and as society becomes evermore digitized in the 21st century. I have chosen George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Ji Xianlin for their shared belief in the necessity of resistance to totalitarianism through varying degrees of cultural influence and life experience with the evolving notion of the “totalitarian regime”.
Orwell used his personal experience fighting against totalitarian ideologies in the Spanish Civil War as well as observations on the ostracization of the Soviet intelligentsia in the 1930s and 1940s to formulate his theories of the necessity of totalitarian resistance, encapsulated by his idea of “doublethink” and the replacement deity, Big Brother, in his novel, Nineteen-Eighty Four. Ji relies solely on his own experience, offering a first-hand account of the dangers of totalitarianism and continued adherence to the “permanent lie”, detailing the raw terror of forced labor camps during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in his memoir, The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Finally, Huxley formulates what some have termed “soft totalitarianism” in Brave New World, creating a society under the ever-watchful eye of the government yet unaware of the regime’s malicious intent, distracted by base comforts and the illusion of a utopian society.
Together, the three authors along with the theoretical basis primarily from Solzhenitsyn, offer a historical lens to examine totalitarianism’s past and its implications on future society to allow for a planned resistance before it can continue to take hold.
Totalitarianism, Reader-response theory, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Ji Xianlin, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Master of Arts
Fr. Paul Siewers
Mitchell, Anthony, "Visualizing The Permanent Lie: An Examination of Dystopian Literature Using Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Model" (2023). Master’s Theses. 263.
Literature in English, British Isles Commons, Other English Language and Literature Commons