Science Fiction Studies

#64 = Volume 21, Part 3 = November 1994

George McKay

Metapropaganda: Self-Reading Dystopian Fiction: Burdekin's Swastika Night and Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four

The Knight put his hand again under the desk and this time drew forth a huge book of deep yellow colour. As he opened it the leaves made a peculiar thick crackling sound, unlike the rustling of paper.... 'Ha!' said Alfred, striking one fist into the other palm. 'Then there was some history? It wasn't all darkness and savagery? I knew it! I knew there must be something more than Hitler and Christians and Legends.'... 'there is a book, a real book, the only one in the world.' —Swastika Night (§4:73-74)

There were also whispered stories of a terrible book, a compendium of all the heresies, of which Goldstein was the author and which circulated clandestinely here and there. It was a book without a title. People referred to it, if at all, simply as the book.... A heavy black volume, amateurishly bound, with no name or title on the cover. The print also looked slightly irregular. The pages were worn at the edges, and fell apart, easily, as though the book had passed through many hands. —Nineteen Eighty-Four (§1.1:17, §2.9:188-189)

First things first: I make no apologies for taking you to a common contemporary critical haunt in this article, the abysmal realm of books within books, because there are political issues at stake in both sets of books. In entering the abysmal realm I'm not looking simply at (c)overtly metafictional frame narratives, the common enough strategy of the text-within-a-text, but also at something I think more unusual and more significant. I'm looking at particular political texts—novels—and at the ways in which their narratives focus on the effects of political texts on readers. In each of the dystopian texts quoted above, a potential rebel is handed a book by a figure of authority (a figure who, as we shall see, is in part an author), old ragged books that function as new heroic characters. We know these books are out of the ordinary, not least because the leaves of one sound "unlike the rustling of paper," while the print of the other "looked slightly irregular." The introduction of these books transforms the narratives of the books into which they are introduced. The desire to read, to possess these books, energizes both the lives and minds of the protagonists and the lines in which their stories are told. In Reading for the Plot, Peter Brooks points out that "narratives both tell of desire—typically present some story of desire—and arouse and make use of desire as dynamic of signification" (37). In both Katharine Burdekin's often ignored feminist dystopia, Swastika Night (1937) —which is set in a future 600 years from the time of its writing, a future in which a superpatriarchal Nazi Reich still controls Europe—and George Orwell's rarely ignored Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), desire and reading are important narrative factors, factors that contribute to the narrative energy of the texts. Such energy is produced through moments like those above, that are both self-commenting (referring to the text-reading process) and extra-textual (referring to the psychical and political effects of the text-reading process).

In a late interview discussing work in progress, Michel Foucault talks about "the role of reading and writing in constituting the self" (Rabinow 342). Theories of autobiography—writing as construction of self—have expanded greatly in the past twenty years, especially in the work of feminist critics.1 The role of reading the self rather than writing it, however, has not been subject to the same scrutiny. This is one of the things I am interested in here; what I term (after autobiography theory's coining of the term self-writing) self-reading. I look at how the conjunction of text and self, where the one contributes to the construction of the other, is achieved through reading a text rather than writing one. "Reading and writing," writes Linda Hutcheon, "are both active, creative exercises and always have been" (137)—but in the two texts I feature here the political connection of these activities is stressed as well. There is a socio-critical impulse at work. The possibly unique books introduced into the narratives/societies of Swastika Night and Nineteen Eighty-Four are viewed by the protagonists as foci of opposition to the regimes that are depicted in the texts. They are textual critiques of (intra-textual) societies embedded in textual critiques of (extra-textual) societies.

In Literature and Propaganda, A.P. Foulkes distinguishes between viewing a text "not as propagandist but as attempted demystification of propaganda" (83). Either way, the concern is still with the propagandist process, which seeks to affect the reader in a particular fashion, seeks to reconstruct the subject to a particular viewpoint or position of scepticism. Hence my term metapropaganda, which signals a literary form that deals with the tactics and techniques of literary conation.2 Robert Graves's future utopia, Seven Days in New Crete, features Venn-Thomas, the protagonist from the past, explaining to a New Cretan that "in my age, to speculate on a futurity to which we don't belong and which we have no means of forecasting...distracts attention from the present and often deranges the mind" (8). This ironic moment at the opening of the text is both self-referential (discussing speculation in a speculative text) and extra-textual (focusing on the social and psychical effects of the process of speculation). These are the points I want to look at in detail here, the relations among text, subject, and the social context of the reader, in speculative narratives that "often derange the mind" when read. Such speculative narratives are propagandist in that they set out to destabilize and/or reconstruct the subjectivity of their readers, which is usually set in the semantic field of social and ideological institutions and formations.

It's worth noting that both the texts I am looking at are products of a particular European moment, the conjuncture of Fascism and Stalinism, a kind of heyday of propagandist writing. The question of referentiality is central to a discussion of the role of propaganda in literary texts.3 Propagandist texts are not (primarily) intended to be well-wrought urns or verbal icons. There is a narrative text, and there is intra-textual activity in order for there to be extra-textual resonance; there is a story, and something happens within the story so that something can happen outside the story. This is not necessarily detrimental to any aesthetic experience, nor is it to be dismissed, despite, for example, its apparent dismissal in the taxonomy of texts Catherine Belsey constructs in Critical Practice.4 The very purpose of the propagandist text is to refer outside itself, blurring the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction. It constitutes "a social practice" (Neale 39) in which the twin sites of activity are text and reader. There are formal implications in this situation. Fiction using documentary forms (for example, what Lorna Martens identifies as the "genuine document fiction" [191] of diary and retrospective self-writing) also questions any clear distinction between fiction and non-fiction. Indeed, in a point pertinent to this discussion of political books within political books, Michael Wilding argues that the twin modes of political fiction—which he identifies as romance and realism—have formal attributes. The romantic mode is associated with the fantasy, the fable; the realist mode is associated with the documentary: "These are not decorative, aesthetic, abstract conflicts; the aesthetic clash carries the force of ideological clash" (Wilding 11).

Both Swastika Night and Nineteen Eighty-Four mix the two modes Wilding identifies, introducing into the fantastic future the apparent realism of the written document.5 (I'll return to this point later.) Further, there is a "dialectical tension" between the two modes (Wilding 6), so that, following Wilding's argument, the very form of the text exhibits the dynamic structure of political struggle, which is one of the primary sites of action it seeks to explore. This needs qualification, though. I would argue that it's not simply that there are competing texts so that the aesthetic and the ideological meet on a common battlefield. The ideological loading is surely semantic as well as formal: both the books within the books Swastika Night and Nineteen Eighty-Four are history books, read in future times when history has officially ended, or is only official. They describe and critique social/political institutions, and so have that additional social/political significance.

Subjects in propaganda can be termed the propagandees. Steve Neale identifies what he terms "a social subject in struggle" (32), the turbulence of the struggle being instigated by the conative function of the propagandist text. I would distinguish then between the propagandee in the text, a particular character reading or being subject to influencing or destabilizing texts, and the propagandee outside the text, the reader taking in this metadiscourse on propaganda. What is the mode of reception for each of these propagandees, who are involved in a process of self-reading? What are the textual implications of this approach? These questions are the concern of the rest of this article, concentrating mainly on Swastika Night and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

At this point of distinction between the propagandized subject in the text and that outside the text, it's useful to introduce the work of Naomi Schor on "interpretation as performance" (167). (This interior/exterior spatial metaphor has problems of its own, of course, but it is a convenient distinction to start with here, even as one of the purposes of this article is to explore a textual situation in which it is problematized.) For example, in Russell Hoban's brilliant idiolectic post-holocaust text Riddley Walker (1980), the puzzles of "terpitation" (interpretation) are laboriously mulled over by Riddley and Goodparley in the text, and by the reader outside the text. All our joint responsibilities lie in trying to make sense of the post-holocaust world, so there is a coincidence of interpretive activity: what they do in the text, we do with it. But, unlike Swastika Night and Nineteen Eighty-Four, Riddley Walker is not a socio-political dystopia, an extrapolated and exaggerated nightmare. It's a post-holocaust text, one predicated on absence rather than on critical extrapolation or satirical exaggeration. Its postmodern plurality of signification overtly problematizes any propagandist approach, too. Further, the Legend and the Eusa Story which are interpreted by characters in Riddley Walker are not oppositional propagandist texts in the way that von Hess's and Goldstein's books are perceived to be.

Schor, bringing together the work of a number of contemporary critics (167n.), argues that such a coincidence of interpretation by a character in the text and by a reader of it is a feature of modern fiction in general. Indeed, she goes further than this, writing that "interpretation is viewed not as something that is done to fiction but rather as something that is done in fiction" (168). For Schor, interpretation in modern fiction is a theme explored through the proairetic performance of interpretation.6 Schor offers one example of Kafka's The Trial, though in this context of dystopia perhaps his "In the Penal Colony" is more apt: interpretation as performance, as spectacle, as torture, as sadism and masochism, as murder. Schor's is a suggestive if potentially rather unwieldy argument (interpretation as the transcendent moment or activity of modernism?), and I propose to limit my use of it to the interpretation of texts, and more specifically political texts.

Schor coins names for the two interpretive roles she identifies: "[I] distinguish between two types of interpreters: the interpreting critic, for whom I reserve the name interpreter, and the interpreting character, whom I will refer to henceforth as the interpretant" (168). To bring together the ideas of Neale on the "social subject in struggle" of propaganda and Schor on the split interpretive subject(s) of modern fiction in my context of metapropagandist discourse is to put forward something like this:

Swastika Night

intra-textual         propagandee             interpretant         Alfred

extra-textual         metapropagandee     interpreter         reader

Nineteen Eighty-Four

intra-textual         propagandee             interpretant         Winston

extra-textual         metapropagandee     interpreter         reader

Both Alfred and Winston have the names of famous and heroic English leaders. The connection of a sense of history and self developed by reading history books is highlighted by their names. They are, as well as become, historical characters. The reading processes of Alfred and Winston are secret activities, punishable ones. They take place in significant settings, in their respective "pockets of the past" (Orwell §2.5:155)—under Stonehenge, above Charrington's antiques shop. Performing their readings under and above, Alfred and Winston work on different levels to the mass of their fellow subjects. Their reading sets them apart. Even prior to reading the book, Alfred is a relatively sophisticated literary critic: reading the hegemonic Hitler Book, he comments: "It's quite obvious that a lot of the teaching has been put in later. And even all the Blood stuff, you don't know whether that was Hitler himself or a lot of people. It's an unsatisfactory book. Something wrong somewhere. It leaves you empty" (§2:29).

Of course, Winston too is quite a textualist, both at work and at home. The oppositional books in both books are connected with secret oppositional organisations called "the Brotherhood"—though Winston could be more suspicious of this than he is, since the Brotherhood sounds more like Big Brother's fan club than his fanatical enemy. I want to look at the descriptions of the reading process of forbidden books that both Swastika Night and Nineteen Eighty-Four portray. Why focus on these moments? Because, as Schor points out, "via the interpretant the author is trying to tell the interpreter something about interpretation and the interpreter would do well to listen and take note" (170). The "something about" that interests me is the potential slippage between interpretant and interpreter that is inscribed in both novels.

2. The book, "a real book, the only one in the world," in Swastika Night, is six centuries old, and was written by one "Friedrich von Hess, Teutonic Knight of the Holy German Empire" (§4:74) during the lifetime of Hitler. Friedrich made the parchment and wrote the book while in exile from Germany—in Britain, of course. Not only historical by virtue of its age, it is a book "about the history of human beings" (§5:87), written clandestinely in reaction to the systematic destruction of all books by the Nazi regime. It has been preserved through the centuries by the von Hess family, despite the many potential dangers of being caught in possession of such an artefact. Not necessarily overtly propagandistic in terms of textual address in the way of Goldstein's tract, nonetheless in its position as a social practice or ritual it is powerfully propagandistic. When the Englishman Alfred is told about von Hess's history book, he is physically transformed. He moves "lightly, like a triumphant man," and speaks "excitedly" (Burdekin, §4:74). He is also psychically transformed: the "Knight's tale" produces in Alfred one of his "giant moods" in "his secret mind" (§5:97). In contrast, the same information strikes Alfred's lover Hermann, a none-too-intelligent and fairly loyal Nazi, rather differently: this big physical man "stumbled a drunkard," the certainties of his world having "collapsed" (§6:101). The book functions to destabilize subjectivity. Both men's worlds are turned upside-down: with the knowledge of the book's existence, which signifies a pre-Hitlerian history, Alfred is in "a fantastically upside-down state of mind" (§8:163). Like the "terrible book" in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the von Hess book has a conative function simply by its very existence, or by a story about its existence. Before the text is even read it has a massive impact—unread, it challenges the society and history of dystopia. Actually, the few odd sentences that are quoted or reported from it tell only of Friedrich's own emotions—a fact for which he is castigated by the later von Hess Knight for "wast[ing] two whole lines of writing on his precious parchment" (§5:86).

The actual reading event takes place in "an old gas chamber or dug-out" (§7:140) under Stonehenge, the entrance of which is guarded by skeletons with a machine-gun, skeletons that have been dressed by Alfred to resemble soldiers. The inexplicable but monumental sense of the past can be experienced by Alfred only through fleshing out the bare bones of an old man's ancient memories. The reading process, and its effects, are foregrounded as Alfred subjects the book to close textual analysis: "It was a great night when they had got once all through the book, having carefully considered every sentence to try to draw from it its deepest meaning... (§9:172); "his head full of confusion and glory...he could get in touch with lost civilisations and the thought-mechanism of complex human beings" (§8:156). Through being able to get in touch with these, Alfred's own "thought-mechanism" is provoked and inspired, and he becomes himself a more "complex human being." Like the "deranged mind" of Robert Graves's reader of utopias, Alfred's head is "confused"—he is one of Neale's "social subjects in struggle," who has now a focus for his struggle. Alfred's is an act of self-reading: he reads a sense of himself into or out of the von Hess book. Following the initial destabilization, he is able now partially to construct and resituate a subjectivity which was never possible and barely imaginable until he saw the book with his own eyes. Alfred's analytical activity in "carefully considering every sentence" is highlighted as significant for the extra-textual reader of Swastika Night, who presumably would do well "to try to draw from [Swastika Night] its deepest meaning" too. The intra-textual moment of self-reading resonates extra-textually.

There is also a history book in Nineteen Eighty-Four—"the children's history textbook" (§1.7:76) which Winston has often read and from which he copies extracts into his diary. It's not a satisfying read for him, though: "How could you tell how much of it was lies?," he wonders (§1.7:77). But there is a far more attractive book for Winston: the book. Contrary to the popular belief that the book is "a book without a title" (§1.1:17), it does have an "inscription on the title-page." It is called The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by the (Trotskyite) Jew-figure Emmanuel Goldstein. As signaled by the title, it is an overtly and even scientifically political tract. It is known by all citizens of Oceania as "a compendium of all the heresies" (§1.1:17). Throughout Nineteen Eighty-Four the words "the book" are italicized, displaying an iconic otherness, which is also a vocal one: "even O'Brien, Winston noticed, seemed to pronounce the words as though they were in italics" (§2.8:182). The italics function as scare quotes, meaning real fear for most citizens. Narrative fear and narrative desire intertwine, though: the book trails "whispered stories" (§1.1:18) about itself in its wake. While rarely read, it is the source of many narratives. Winston's reading activity is foregrounded in the text—there are several sentences in which Winston's verb is "to read": "Winston began reading.... He went on reading.... Winston stopped reading for a moment" (§2.9:189,190,205). There are also in-depth descriptions of Winston's responses and reactions as he reads.

Winston stopped reading, chiefly in order to appreciate the fact that he was reading, in comfort and safety. He was alone: no telescreen, no ear at the keyhole, no nervous impulse to glance over his shoulder or cover the page with his hand. . . . It was bliss, it was eternity. Suddenly as one sometimes does with a book of which one knows that one will ultimately read and re-read every word, he opened it at a different place and found himself at Chapter III. He went on reading. (§2.9: 189-190).

Winston here appears as the saltatory reader of the "blissful" text, foreshadowing perhaps the reader of Alasdair Gray's otherworldly Lanark (1981), who also starts at Book III, albeit at the command of the author. Perhaps his deliberately disordered reading is a brief protest against the regimentation, the un-"blissful" nature of life in the Outer Party.

The blissful feeling of being alone with the forbidden book...had not worn off.... The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him.... It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic. (§2.9:205)

Again, the emphasis is on the transformative effects which the propagandist text has on the reader, on how Winston changes while reading.7 This is one of Winston's moments of self-reading, in which the doubts and nagging suspicions that are not erased by his act of self-writing (as when he takes up diary-writing early on in the narrative) are here overcome. Whereas as a self-writer in the end "the therapy had not worked" (§1.6:72), as a self-reader he is far more successful in "reassuring" and consolidating his sense of subjectivity. After being (literally) out of order—beginning at Chapter 3—he is now impressed by the "systematic" intellect that "orders" his "scattered thoughts." Rather than a text that "deranges the mind," in Graves's ironic phrase, "after reading it he [Winston] knew better than before that he was not mad" (§2.9: 223). Winston's process of self-reading operates more as a restabilizing than a destabilizing event.

The reading process, this singular narrative activity itself, is further stressed in Nineteen Eighty-Four since this social act is the specific requirement necessary for membership in the Brotherhood. Indeed, this narrative rite of passage may be the only way in which membership in the secret, supposedly oppositional organization is gained or proven. Reading here has explicitly extra-textual significance: it is not an innocent pastime—it is not a pastime at all— but a deeply subversive act. As O'Brien explains it, reading is the founding activity of the Brotherhood: "I shall send you a book from which you will learn the true nature of the society we live in, and the strategy by which we shall destroy it. When you have read the book, you will be full members of the Brotherhood" (§2.9:179; my emphasis).

In a society obsessed with membership, a society organized around Inner and Outer Parties, reading has a pivotal function for supposed subversives: they will be made "full," made authentic rebels, solely by reading. Apparently, this book really does change lives. The book, with its claims for truth and millenarian change, is a dystopian Bible and O'Brien is its priest. It even resembles a Bible, a "heavy black volume" (§2.9:188). (What a family Winston is adopted by, with his Big Brother and his Father O'Brien.) The Brotherhood "is not an organization in the ordinary sense. Nothing holds it together except an idea..." (§2.8:180). Alternatively, nothing holds it together except an activity: the activity of reading. Of course, the subsequent undercutting irony for Winston is that there is no Emmanuel Goldstein, no Brotherhood, and the book has been not only read but also written by O'Brien: "That is to say, I collaborated in writing it" (§3.3:267). For a society that is intent (hell-bent, even) on destroying narrative ("It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words" [§1.5:55]), Oceania remains remarkably narrative-centered, even in its traps. What Winston has taken as anti-State agitation propaganda is in fact another device of the provocateur. He's been had. His thought that the book is "the product of a mind similar to his own" is transformed into the inescapable and imprisoning irony that O'Brien's "mind contained Winston's mind" (§3.2:262). Even narrative desire is the property and the controlling device of the Inner Party. The social subject in struggle Winston perceived himself to be, as addressed and confirmed by Goldstein's propagandist text, turns out to be a social subject in total fragmentation under the will of the Party.

3. There is more to the effects of the reading process of the propagandist text in both Swastika Night and Nineteen Eighty-Four. As a guardian of the von Hess history book, Alfred must add his signature to the written oath that swears to protect the book. His own small piece of text is added to the main body, using a "special ink" (§5:89). His self-writing is a supplement to the book, so that he becomes an up-to-date historical figure in a history book. He is both the producer of and a segment of text that refers outside the rest of the text. The change in the oath from German to English signals in a small way the impending collapse of the Nazi Reich. Alfred's short, simple supplement writes history as well as self: "Laboriously under the Und Ich he wrote a sprawling badly formed 'And I' in English script. Under the von Hess names he wrote 'Alfred' and under Knecht he with toil and pain inscribed the word 'Englishmun' [sic]" (§5:89-90). He becomes a part of the text, inscribes himself in it. The "badly formed" "I" becomes a more aware (English) subject through the "toil and pain" of the reading process of the German text, of the expressive writing process. Though spelled incorrectly "Englishmun" is nonetheless the illegal expression of a colonized nationhood, and as such a subversive act. Indeed, the very incorrectness is symptomatic of the historical rupture resulting from 600 years of a Nazi Reich, of the problem of reconstructing subjectivity in such a context. Alfred bolsters his partially reconstructed subjectivity achieved through self-reading by small acts of self-writing. Some of his last words to his son before he dies are: "Write your name—under mine" (§10:195), so that the book will be handed down from Englishman to Englishman now, rather than from Nazi Knight to Nazi Knight.

Nineteen Eighty-Four contains substantial chunks of Goldstein's Theory and Practice. In fact, around ten per cent of the novel is taken up by excerpts from Goldstein's text. Many critics have found this particular side dish to the main course of Nineteen Eighty-Four unpalatable: Alex Zwerdling writes that the excerpts are "like so many lumps in the porridge" (hardly complimentary to the rest of the novel either—making it Orwell's political "porridge"), and Richard Gerber complains of "a good deal of undigested material" (both quoted in Wilding 10). Yet Michael Wilding, for example, argues for the importance of Goldstein's text, which reinforces the "genuine document" (Martens 191) aspects of the novel. "The incorporation of documentary materials into the political novel is important to establish the texture of the created society, to provide the data for the sociology" (Wilding 10).

For Wilding, sociological text establishes societal texture. Documentation does not just provide sociological data in Nineteen Eighty-Four, though. The interesting point for me here is that the excerpts from Goldstein's text are presented through the activity of Winston reading them. He sits in his secret place and reads to himself, and also aloud to Julia, who—"a curious detail" Daphne Patai notes (xii)—falls asleep, as does Hermann while Alfred is reading aloud from his "forbidden book" in Swastika Night. The influence of the reading process on the subject—Winston or Alfred, self-reading—is highlighted by its non-effect on other characters: some minds are "deranged," or rearranged, others narcotized. Perhaps, too, the text is more vital, more influential, through direct contact with "the black letter" (Burdekin §8:167), through reading rather than being read to. Both texts privilege the active, involved reader here, presenting ideal propagandees through contrast with rather half-hearted ones—presumably a prod in the ribs for the extra-textual reader to stay alert, too.

Because Goldstein's text is included in the text of Winston's narrative, and because it is included as Winston reads it, the fact that a parallel reading process is also taking place within the actual reader leads to a coincidence of intra- and extra-textual subject. That is, reading Goldstein's/Big Brother's text at one and the same time are Winston and the reader—you, me. We perform the same action, inhabit the same space. Orwell makes this quite clear: Theory and Practice is introduced to the reader through Winston's action of uncovering it, opening it, beginning to read it. We start at Chapter 3 because Winston decides to open it at Chapter 3. There are four interruptions to it as Winston momentarily breaks off—four reminders of the relation between intra- and extra-textual readers. Goldstein's text ends not at a chapter break but with ellipses, as Winston's concentration lapses (§2.9: 223)—he makes the decision when the extract ends, the extra-textual reader relies on his choice of text: we really do inhabit the same space. Such simultaneity of the reading/propagandizing process constitutes a significant difference in Swastika Night, which offers very little actual text from the von Hess book, mainly reported comments on it. In Nineteen Eighty-Four though, propagandee and metapropagandee merge. Not only is propaganda here a textual form that refers to itself and to the outside world, but such a combination of referentialities is compounded by the coincidence of the subject in the reading process. The propagandist dystopia of Nineteen Eighty-Four offers a parallel vision to its own reader being propagandized. The conjunction of the two is a symptom of a worldly textual product and process. It's not just that there is a coincidence of interpreting activity between the intra- and extra-textual readers, but that the textual focus of interpretation is the same—Goldstein's political tract, quoted at length. Through reading it, we too become members of the Orwellian Brotherhood, we too are subject to the propagandist text. The "textual force" (Brooks 47) that is also a political force imposes itself on readers far and wide.

Of course, this coincidence of interpreting activity between intra- and extra-textual readers is not unique to the political fiction I look at here—it's also found, for instance, in the epistolary form, where letters are the focus of the reading action, both intra- and extra-textually. A character in an epistolary novel may read a letter at one and the same time as the reader of that novel, though without necessarily the added description of the intra-textual reader's process and reactions, such as Nineteen Eighty-Four supplies. Epistolary fiction thus generically offers a confusion of readers. And, as both Todorov and Schor have argued, interpretation within the text is commonplace in wider literary practice, in detective fiction, even in modernist fiction. But I am arguing that Nineteen Eighty-Four constitutes a special case. The merging or blurring of propagandee and metapropagandee in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a significant textual strategy, and one that foregrounds the political operation of the text. This is especially so since the focus of reading within the text is itself an overtly political text—The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. Nineteen Eighty-Four is thus structured so that not only is it a political text but also it is concerned with the conative function of political texts. Nineteen Eighty-Four not only wants to influence its reader, it also wants to explore the notion of fiction influencing readers. "And yet," writes Schor, "the interpreter/interpretant relationship is not an easy one: the lure of narcissistic identification only makes it more difficult for the interpreter to keep his distance from the interpretant. My concern here is not, however, with the (impossible/ fatal) coincidence of interpretant and interpreter...." (169).

My concern here has been with precisely such a coincidence, that is both possible and, I think, rather than "fatal," a potentially enlivening moment in the political reading. In Swastika Night and Nineteen Eighty-Four the processes of self-reading I have explored take place within and outside the texts in ways that open the texts up and out and contribute to their narrative energy. The reading moments that are both self-referential and extra-textual permit a plurality of subjects in the reading process. Such a plurality problematizes any assumptions of univocality in propaganda. The connection I've laid bare between the textual representation and exploration of Alfred and Winston self-reading their political texts and the actual readers engaging with the novels, signals the novels' continuing critical awareness of their own positioning processes. Such self-referential strategies transform propaganda into metapropaganda. We may or may not agree with Winston when he thinks while reading the book that "The best books...are those that tell you what you know already" (§2.9:205), but we are increasingly conscious of the propagandist text operating on us, because we read in that propagandist text of one operating on Alfred or on Winston, and of them reacting to it.

But this doesn't take into account the fact that the political texts I've been looking at are dystopias, fantasies, non-realistic. Is there further metafictional comment via the self-reading processes of Alfred and Winston on the subject of fantasy texts, as well as of political texts? I would suggest that there is. This brings me back to my earlier point, following Michael Wilding, that both Swastika Night and Nineteen Eighty-Four introduce into the fantastic future the apparent realism of the written document. It's more the case that both von Hess's and Goldstein's apparently realistic books are fictional or fantastic, to varying degrees. Von Hess's is self-confessedly partial and amateur: this man who "had never written down anything in his life except one or two papers on agricultural matters and private letters...thought he had pinned down everything he could remember" (§5:87). It's a personal history, with autobiographical comments. Theory and Practice was, as we've seen, written by O'Brien and others, and even its title-page author (Goldstein) is part of the fiction. Winston himself thinks that "It might very well be that literally every word in the history books...was pure fantasy" (§1.7:78). In these dystopias, these fantasies that are predicated on mutability (according to Goldstein "The mutability of the past is the central tenet of Ingsoc" [§2.9:219]), questions are being asked about the reliability of textual fact. This isn't simply a symptom of the by now familiar dystopian "campaign against the Past," as it's put in Brave New World (Huxley §3:50), in which history is rewritten and/or erased. On the contrary, it sends out rather more complex and contradictory messages. How are we readers to trust these political texts, these propagandas, when what they represent to us is the equivocation of propaganda through the reading process? Do we self-read as destructively or dissatisfyingly as Alfred and Winston do, one to die, the other to be cured and love Big Brother? It's important to remember A.P. Foulkes's distinction between viewing a text "not as propagandist but as attempted demystification of propaganda" (83; my emphasis), because these dystopias both rely on and question that distinction. There's a sense here in which both Burdekin and (especially) Orwell are trying to have their propagandist cake and eat it. On the one hand they're demystifying the processes of propagandist textual address by focusing on the reactions of Alfred and Winston as propagandees; on the other they're positioning the reader as metapropagandee to accept the authority of their (propagandistic) representation of the dangers of propaganda. Is this simply a neat doublethinkful circle? I think not. It's part of the auto-critical impulse of dystopia, in which distinctions between fantasy and realist text are constructed and undermined, in which procedures of political address are employed to expose the dangers of political address, in which extra-textual readers are positioned by a strategy of exploring the problems of textual positioning on intra-textual readers. By my argument, then, the dystopian fictions of Swastika Night and Nineteen Eighty-Four employ the textual construction of a parallel self-reading moment to inscribe a self-conscious and energizing metapropagandistic discourse into their narratives.

NOTES. Earlier versions of this article were read at a Cultural Studies Research Seminar at the University of Central Lancashire in February 1992, and at the Impossibility Fiction Conference at the University of Central England in July 1993. Many thanks to all who listened to the papers and contributed to the discussions afterwards.

1. See for example Smith, Benstock, and Brodzki and Schenck.

2. The "conative function [is] introduced by Jakobson as one of his key functions of communication in the speech event. An utterance with conative function is oriented towards the addressee. Commands...typically have a conative function, as do any utterances generally which aim to have a specific effect or influence on the addressee (e.g. propaganda discourse)" (Wales 85-86).

3. I have explored versions of referentiality particularly in science fiction in "'Time back way back': 'Motivation' and Speculative Fiction." Critical Quarterly 34:102-16, Spring 1992.

4. Catherine Belsey's Critical Practice identifies the propagandist text as the "imperative" text, that which gives orders, in effect (91). Belsey is not, however, much interested in the imperative text. The "three kinds of text" she identifies are declarative (classic realism), imperative (propaganda), and interrogative (open, self-questioning); the first and third are discussed at length, a chapter each, while the imperative text gets only two paragraphs. Ironically for a book so predicated on hierarchies of discourse, in her taxonomy Belsey constructs her own hierarchy of discourse. She notes that "the imperative text is not usually fictional, since it is marked as referring to the world outside discourse" (82). This is precisely the point—and the point of interest—of the propagandist fiction I am looking at here, that it "refers to the world outside." The propagandist text not only raises the question of the relation between literature and politics, it blurs these issues.

5. So of course do many other dystopian and utopian fictions, often by means of further-future editorial prefaces or afterwords. Contemporary examples include Adrian Mitchell's The Bodyguard (1970), Suzette Haden Elgin's Native Tongue (1984), and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985).

6. Detective stories have of course been a focus of theoretical activity in this field, where the detective's interpretation of clues and reconstruction of the (criminal) narrative are seen as a paradigm of "interpretation as fiction." See, for example, Todorov and Hutcheon.

7. Significantly, Winston is sitting near an open window (not terribly wise, I would have thought, in such a snooping world). More significantly, reading is associated with fresh air. In the first passage, "The sweet summer air played against his cheek" (§2.9:189); the second also mentions "the touch of the faint breeze from the window that played upon his cheek" (§2.9:205). Orwell here builds up the dramatic irony for the later disclosure.


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This article engages with recent theoretical work which has developed the notion of texts offering models of reading for their readers. More specifically, it looks at ways in which science-fiction texts position readers, and at the ways in which political texts comment on their own reading processes and propagandizing strategies. A comparative analysis of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Katharine Burdekin's neglected feminist dystopia Swastika Night (1937) focuses on a textual device common to both. The reading process of subjects in dystopia is explored: both Winston Smith and Burdekin's Alfred are presented reading political texts, secret books. Swastika Night and Nineteen Eighty-Four are political texts intended to influence readers, embedded in which are scenes where political texts influence readers. The article discusses the significance of these scenes, which are both self-referential and extra-textual It identifies and explores some of the problems of the parallel activities of the reader in the text and that outside the text—you, me. It concludes by arguing for an auto-critical impulse in dystopia, which is also a source of narrative—even propagandizing—energy. (GM)

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