Aldous Huxley is Cool

Will not explain.

Just kidding. I first read Brave New World while in college, and it remains both more plausible than 1984 and less terrifying. There are those who say that Brave New World should be more terrifying, precisely because it’s a seductive dystopia. Which, I get. But both of them are prophetic in their way. Orwell was dead on about the politicization of language and the hatefulness of its priests. Huxley was right about the perversion of morality by industrial efficiency.

I only mention these because I picked up a copy of The Doors of Perception (which includes his “Heaven and Hell” essay) and found it edifying. Yes, I know it launched a thousand hippies, and gave the Doors their name. I don’t think it’s fair to blame that on Huxley, though. For one thing, he wasn’t a miscreant like Ken Kesey or Tim Leary, selling a generation on LSD in order to advance their own Oedipal conflicts/guru fantasies. He was a serious scholar and a careful thinker, one who recognized what C.S. Lewis called the Tao of Tradition. He’s serious enough to advance some solid aesthetic principles in the appendices of Heaven and Hell.

Pagentry is a visionary art which has been used, from time immemorial, as a political instrument. the gorgeous fancy dress worn by kings, popes, and their respective retainers, military and ecclesiastical, has a very practical purpose — to impress the lower classes with a lively sense of the masters’ superhuman greatness. By means of fine clothes and solemn ceremonies de facto domination is transformed into a rule not merely de jure, but, positively, de jure divino. The crowns and tiaras, the assorted jewelry, the satins, silks and velvets, the gaudy uniforms and vestments, the crosses and medals, the sword hilts and the crosiers, the plumes in the cocked hats and their clerical equivalents, those huge feather fans which make every papal function look like a tableau from Aïda — all these are vision-inducing properties, designed to make all too human gentlement and ladies look like heroes, demigods, and seraphs, and giving, in the process, a great deal of innocent pleasure to all concerned, actors and spectators alike.

Aldous Huxly, “Heaven and Hell”, pg 160

For another, anyone who knows anything about Jim Morrison knows he was going to be an asshole no matter what he read. And the Doors were still a pretty good band.

In any case, the other thing I discovered was that Huxley was a positively voluminous author, whose career ran from the 20’s through the 60’s (he’s the third guy, along with C.S. Lewis and You-Know-Who, who died on November 22nd, 1963, imagine being a third wheel in death). He’s best known for Brave New World, and to a lesser degree Doors, but he’s got scads of stuff newly in print. It’s fun to discover/rediscover authors and dig through their stuff. I think I’m gonna go for Devils of Loudon next.

1985 is a Thing

Way before I’d ever read 1984, I’d heard of it. I don’t know if I had heard of it during the year 1984, as I turned eight that autumn, but somewhere along the way I heard that particular year spoken of in that way that conveyed symbolic significance. When I did read it,that significance finally took shape.

In between the realization that 1984 was a book, and reading that book, I also somehow digested the notion that someone had written a response to it, and that someone was not George Orwell (if I knew who Orwell was at the time, which seems unlikely). I was aware, at some point, that there was also a book called 1985.

Today, in a lonely impulse of delight while pursuing Goodreads, I confirmed that reality.

Anthony Burgess. Of course.

As a sidebar, The International Anthony Burgess Foundation has a nice historical summary of the dystopian genre. I never would have realized that Brave New World was written before 1984.

The term ‘utopia’, literally meaning ‘no place’, was coined by Thomas More in his book of the same title. Utopia (1516) describes a fictional island in the Atlantic ocean and is a satire on the state of England. The English philosopher John Stuart Mill coined ‘Dystopia’, meaning ‘bad place’, in 1868 as he was denouncing the government’s Irish land policy. He was inspired by More’s writing on utopia.

Something fitting about “Utopia” being about England and “Dystopia” being about Ireland. Always thus, I suppose.

In any case, I look forward to reading it.