Since the bleak world portrayed in Nineteen Eighty-Four could never admit the existence of the book Nineteen Eighty-Four or its author, it makes perfect sense that the new Penguin paperback edition reflects exactly this erasure. Visually, seen directly from the front, the book has no identifying information beyond its publisher and price. But embossed beneath that, felt with the fingertips or seen askew, "Nineteen Eighty-Four" and "George Orwell" can be found, masked but not completely erased by black foiling. In fact, they are more permanently etched into the book than if they'd simply been printed.
In an interview with Creative Review, cover designer David Pearson describes how he and Penguin achieved "just the right amount of print obliteration" by printing, debossing, and flattening the type. What's left is less a letter than "a dent." As Pearson says, "I can't vouch for its success on Amazon." Pearson designed titles for an entire new series of Orwell's work, published in the United Kingdom in time for "George Orwell Day" on January 21, and each gets a different treatment. But Nineteen Eighty-Four's cover, whether despite or because it is the most generic in the series, is also the most indelible.
The Slovenia-born intellectual Slavoj Žižek likes to tell an old, Communist-era joke:
A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends: "Let's establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say. If it is written in red ink, it is false." After a month, his friends get the first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: "Everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theatres show good films from the west. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink." This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom.
The success of Nineteen Eighty-Four more than sixty years after its publication and long after the demise of the ostentatiously repressive regimes of Orwell's time has been due to its ability to both present the problem of "red ink," and to partially correct it. A triumph of language about the failure of language, it manages to continually describe both the limits of our freedom and the limits of any and all attempts to snuff it out.
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