Art Against Time

Michael W. Clune uses Orwell’s 1984, along with a host of other literary and creative works, to explore the artist’s search for “a forever-new image” to overcome time’s defeat of novelty:

Here is another way to present the deep question 1984 raises: Why does Orwell love it when a poet like Shakespeare renews a reader’s sensation of the surface of the earth, but hate it when Big Brother does the same thing to Winston? I’ve suggested that the weakness of actual art—its lack of permanent novelty—is something many writers dream of overcoming. And in the very act of wrestling with the fading of aesthetic freshness, Keats, De Quincey, Orwell, and myriad other artists, literary and otherwise, have done some of their most powerful work.

But ultimately, we need to consider the possibility that art’s weakness—the fact that even the greatest work is immeasurably less effective as a means of arresting time than the oppression Orwell imagines—is part of what we love about art. The art of the unreasonable Romantics offers us a rich vein of insight into the operation of time in human life. Their writing also suggests that art is where we experiment with technologies for stopping time that we know—or hope we know—will never work.