1984

In 2017, during the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany made a false statement during a press conference. The following day, on television, her lie was rebranded by Trump’s Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway as an ‘alternative fact.’ After this incident, George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 saw a new surge in popularity; so much so that the book was completely sold out on Amazon in the United States for several days.

These days, in the era of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’, Big Tech spying, ubiquitous social media, and questionable political decisions all around the world, 1984 is still as relevant as ever. Its central themes of totalitarianism, massive surveillance, and State control of the population and media speak to the reality of the digital age.

This is precisely the inspiration behind the imaginary exhibition titled ‘1984: An Influential Book, 1949 – 2020.’

Orwell typing © Vernon Richards, 1946

Translated into 65 different languages and with over 30 million copies sold worldwide, 1984 has infiltrated popular culture to the point that people who haven’t even read the book still know the story. Phrases like “Big Brother is watching you” or “the thought police” can be quoted by virtually everyone.

The exhibition would have an immersive aspect. The walls throughout would be concrete-grey, covered with graffiti-like writing evoking the slogans of The Party: ‘War is peace’, ‘Freedom is slavery’, and ‘Ignorance is strength.’ There would also be cameras in the rooms, connected to small screens where people could see themselves as if they were being actively surveilled. The visual inspiration for the exhibition would come from the film adaptation released in 1984, as well as from the stage design for Greenday’s musical American Idiot, created in 2010.

The first room would be called the Ministry of Sound. It would contain book covers from around the world, as well as from different years. Given the large number of examples, the collection would be organized according to what is represented on the cover, such as eyes, cameras, a single dominating character representing Big Brother, multiple rebel characters, etc.

(Inspiration from https://bookriot.com/1984-in-covers/)

(Inspiration from https://bookriot.com/1984-in-covers/)

The second room would be titled the Ministry of Fiction. It would showcase the real-life inspiration behind the book, complete with posters, articles, and even videos exhibited alongside corresponding book excerpts.

For example, the phrase ‘2+2=5 ‘ was an actual Soviet Union slogan used to promote their Five Year plan. (The above poster is from 1931.) In the United Kingdom as well there were posters created during both World Wars to positively portray death in battle, as well as the erasure of individual identity through the act of becoming a soldier. As a matter of fact, the Ministry of Truth’ was based on the real-life Ministry of Information that existed during WWII and served to promote British propaganda. It was located in the Senate House in London, which is currently a building of the University of London.

The room dubbed Ministry of Fiction would also contain links to today’s world. For example, it could include images of Edward Snowden and the NSA scandal, or the now infamous ‘alternative facts’ live broadcast segment.

The following room would be the Ministry of Paper, showcasing audiovisual references to the book in popular culture. It would include the Apple Macintosh commercial that aired during the 1984 Superbowl and excerpts from two film adaptations, one released in 1956 and the other in 1984. It could even include images from the 1984-inspired reality television franchise Big Brother (1999- ).

This same room would also contain musical references from artists such as Muse, Eurythmics, The Jam, David Bowie, Rage Against the Machine, Coldplay, Stevie Wonder, and Radiohead.

Finally, the last room would be called the Ministry of Uniqueness. It would be a gateway to discover other dystopian works that hold relevance for today’s world. It would include novels such as Brave New World (1932), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and The Handmaid’s Tale (1985).

There could also be films inspired by 1984, such as THX 1138 (1971) or Gattaca (1997). It is particularly interesting that in every dystopian work, there is an emphasis on the control of words and reading in general. We have ‘newspeak’ in 1984 (1949) burned books in Fahrenheit 451 (1953), or women prevented from reading anything in The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). The latter leads to a terrifying visual in the series by the same name (2017- ) that was adapted from the original book. There isn’t a single letter left in the grocery store, and everything has been replaced by symbols.

For more information on elements mentioned above, here are a few links to useful articles.

  • https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/may/19/legacy-george-orwell-nineteen-eighty-four
  • https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/10/1984-george-orwell
  • https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/may/19/david-bowie-nineteen-eighty-four-george-orwell-diamond-dogs-dorian-lynskey
  • https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/mar/11/death-truth-propaganda-alternative-facts-gripped-world
  • https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2016/aug/10/how-wartime-britons-were-easily-persuaded-by-the-propagandists
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Information_(United_Kingdom)

Elodie Katan
Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones

100 Years of Clarice Lispector’s Magic

© Clarice Lispector’s notebooks

2020 was certainly an eventful year. A year marked by a global pandemic, explosions, protests and uprisings, more explosions, and several other unprecedented events that any other year may have been the sole news headline, but not in 2020. Nevertheless, one particularly noteworthy event still managed to slip through the cracks.

In 1920, in the city of Podolia in Western Ukraine, a star was born. Her Jewish family had decided to escape the horrific circumstances brought on by World War I by moving overseas to South America, specifically to Brazil. Chaya Pinkhasivna Lispector was only an infant when her name was changed to Clarice. One hundred years later, her new name would be celebrated as one of the most important Brazilian authors in history.

Clarice Lispector © Claudia Andujar

Clarice Lispector was an author and translator who wrote about personal experience. Her magical, prosaic walks through tales influenced by Woolf’s abstract stretches of time and Hesse’s lyrical, philosophical quests evoke the rich experience of being a woman. Lispector’s unique way of writing from the gut with a passionate and intuitive voice matched her poised and powerful image. She influenced many different artists who were inspired by her unapologetic rhetoric on what it feels like to be a woman — or just simply to be. The list is extensive, and this proposition is a simple one. As a tribute to Lispector’s ever-present magic 100 years after her birth, and 43 after her death, the exhibition would display a collection of pieces influenced and inspired by the Brazilian novelist, creating a poetic and rich homage.

The exhibition could explore the many facets of her life.

  • Her literary life — i.e. her books, her entourage, and the publishing world — would be shown through a selection of manuscripts and letters, as well as excerpts from different texts displayed on the walls. The exhibit would highlight the different genres she explored, including children’s literature, short-stories, novels, and short non-fiction.
  • Her reception in France, the UK, and the U.S., depending on the location of the exhibition

  • Her translations, her relationship with her translators, and her translated works

  • The film adaptations of her texts

  • Her influence on other artists

  • Her unique sense of fashion

  • Her status as cultural icon

I would display different objects and artefacts alongside her portraits to emphasise the significance of her life and literary career which remain rather unknown in France.

Amanda Cunha Batista
Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones

Becoming Books: the Meaning of Bookfaces

In France, ‘#Bookfaces’ were popularised on Instagram by the famous book shop Mollat, based in Bordeaux. But what does such a trend say about our relationship to literature?  

© Clémence Varène

© Clémence Varène

‘#Bookface’ posts have proved a useful marketing tool for many bookshops. Having blossomed into a worldwide trend, the hashtag now attracts people from across the globe. “Tourists from all over the world are coming to the shop specifically because of Bookfaces,” explains Emmanuelle Robillar, Project and Quality Manager at Mollat in Bordeaux, France. “It’s a way to create new interest in literature for readers. [Books] are no longer just something you can read, but something you can play with.” 

The trend is certainly a by-product of the social media era in which everything is about being part of a community. By taking part in the #Bookface challenge, participants can use literature as a means to fit in, by doing what is in. In this sense, literature becomes something public and social, as opposed to the more personal and private experience of reading a book for oneself. 

In any case, the ‘#Bookface’ trend is a completely new way to mediatise literature. It gives books a new face, so to speak, and a new dimension on the Internet at a time when social media is arguably the number one means of communication. Every popular ‘Bookstagrammer’ has seized the opportunity to jump on board, as well as a large number of libraries and bookshops. 

With trends like #Bookfaces, literature itself is evolving according to cross-media trends in order to include and promote books in our everyday lives, both on and offline. 

Clémence Varène, étudiante en M2
Cours Literature & the Media
Master 2 MC2L,
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 
Université Paris 8

Show Me Your Cover!

While many literature-themed challenges have emerged on social media, one in particular has gone viral: #BookFace. The hashtag counts tens of thousands of posts on Instagram, but the real question is what do such challenges say about the place of literature in today’s society? 

The participation of local bookshops in the ‘#Bookface’ trend is largely due to the book industry’s steady decline. With the growth of other entertainment formats, e-books, and Amazon, the number of books sold in independent bookshops in particular has continued to fall every year. The need to appeal to new customers has led struggling businesses to get a bit more creative. In Bordeaux, France, the bookshop Mollat has taken full advantage of this new social media opportunity. “We have a lot of foreigners who come to visit our bookshop […] thanks to Instagram,” says David Pigeret, Community Manager..  

The ‘#Bookface’ trend is representative of how media overall has evolved in the digital age. In the past, many books were initially published as series. Now, every trend comes from social media. The literature industry has had to adapt to this cultural shift by investing in viral challenges and visual marketing. 

Speaking of visuals, this challenge highlights the fact that book covers are more and more aesthetically pleasing. “The book has had to become attractive and popular,” asserts Cécile Boyer-Runge from French publishing company Le Livre de Poche. “So much so that today, books are visual objects as much as literary works. Otherwise, such visual-based challenges could not exist.”

Yaël Kunz, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

The Bookface Challenge: A New Trend & Exciting Marketing Opportunity for Literature

Over the past few years, among the countless categories of Instagram influencers – lifestyle, beauty, fitness and more – one small but unstoppable group has emerged, fostering an entirely new online community: ‘bookstagram.’  

Filled with aesthetic pictures of the latest books users have purchased or read, ‘bookstagram’ is a virtual platform for readers everywhere to share their passion for books in creative ways. Recently, one viral ‘bookstagram’ challenge attracted the world’s attention. The ‘Bookface’ challenge consists of lining up one’s face or a part of the body with a matching body part featured on a book cover. The trend grew extremely popular, and in turn attracted even more users to the ‘bookstagram’ community.  

The ‘bookface’ challenge is undoubtedly an effective way for publishers to promote books and interact creatively with readers. However, in the digital age that we live in, the challenge has also helped market ‘’reading’’ in general as something fun, even cool. ‘Bookstagram’ and ‘booktube’ (adapted to YouTube) communities have inspired many people to become avid readers. A challenge like the ‘bookface’ challenge perfectly demonstrates how this new generation of readers uses social media to share their passion. And yet, just like that, it becomes more apparent than ever that literature is not only an art, but a market. Social media is thus the perfect tool for publishing houses and libraries to promote their books, and reading in general.  

Hayette Houaoui, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones 

#Bookface: Exhibiting Books on Instagram

The #Bookface trend likely came from the imaginative minds of those who love literature as much as social media. It involves taking a photo of oneself as part of the cover of a favorite book, essentially creating a whole new cover that includes a little piece of the reader.  

© Entlira Begkai

From a marketing perspective, this trend provides great publicity. On Instagram, for example, users publish their creations along with hashtags referencing their favorite book, author, bookstore, or library. Since when do libraries care about advertising, you might ask? As a matter of fact, more than a few have started rebranding for the new media age. “When you think about the library,” explains Johannes Neuer, director of digital engagement at the New York Public Library, “you think about written text, but what we’ve shown [on social media] is that we have a vibrant visual side.” 

As the new generation spends more and more time on social media, viral hashtags promoting literature may be an excellent opportunity to encourage younger demographics to fall in love with the written word.  

On the other hand, literature lovers may find themselves a bit peeved due to the fact that reading a book is hardly the same as posting to a social media feed. Since current studies show that teens already use social media more often than they read books, such trends may encourage them to be online even more often, as opposed to spending their time more constructively by reading literature.   

References: 

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/fashion/oh-those-clever-librarians-and-their-bookface.html
  2. https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/08/20/study-teens-text-and-use-social-media-instead-of-reading-books/

Entlira Begkai, Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones