The Pull of Huxley

Sometimes it seems as if all the forces in the universe converge to focus one’s attention in a certain direction, or towards a certain thing.  Lately, it seems as if all things are pointing me towards Aldous Huxley.  A few days ago I posted a series of images of illustrations by William Blake.  For me, Blake and Huxley are inextricably bound together.  In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake first wrote that famous line that was later quoted by Huxley (as well as used in the title)  in his Doors of Perceptionabout his experience with mescaline,

If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is – infinite.

Also, this morning while clicking through various articles and blogs about the Occupy Wall Street Library situation, I came across this article, “Michael Bloomberg’s Brave New World.” In it Amy Goodman writes,

As the night progressed, the irony of finding Huxley’s book grew. He wrote it in 1958, almost 30 years after his famous dystopian novel, Brave New World. The original work described society in the future where people had been stratified into haves and have-nots. The Brave New World denizens were plied with pleasure, distraction, advertisement and intoxicating drugs to lull them into complacency, a world of perfect consumerism, with lower classes doing all the work for an elite.

There is no doubt that current events both at home and abroad have a distinct dystopian feel to them, and  Brave New World certainly does provide an interesting analogy.  So more Huxley.

Now tonight, as I sat here on my couch recovering after a pretty tiring day, I found myself watching a documentary on Wavy Gravy (“Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie”), an old hippie, clown, peace activist, and true altruist.  The documentary showed clips from the various concerts he attended and worked, and what struck me was the free kitchen that he and the “Hog Farm” set up at Woodstock.

“What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000. . .”

They carved out and created a little temporary utopia for themselves and their community, immediately calling to my mind Huxley’s last novel (and my favorite), Island.

Island, of course, was Huxley’s counter-point to Brave New World, about Pala, a fictional, island utopia, where our protagonist William Farnaby (“suffering from the disease called civilization”) finds himself shipwrecked. It was Huxley’s last major work, and in many ways, his final testament.  In it he gave free rein to his interests in Eastern mysticism, and the productive and positive use of mind-altering substances.

Lastly, also tonight, Lauraglen, a fellow blogger, replied to my “Perspective” post, writing that the video made her feel insignificant.  My reaction, as I replied to her, was quite the opposite. It made me feel as if I was Will Farnaby from Huxley’s Island, and the video was the mynah bird yelling “attention!” and “here and now boys!”.  Watching the video made me feel small, yes, but that small-ness made my life and those in it seem bigger to me.  The video, like the mynahs, focused my attention on the “here and now.”

My collection of Huxley first editions.

I first discovered Huxley in high school.  I was assigned, like every other high school student in the country, Brave New World.  I adored it.  The way he expressed himself seemed to mirror my thought process.  I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I always found him to be the “easiest” read, because he wrote like I thought.  And I had only begun to scratch the surface.  Soon enough Island fell into my hands right around my first year of college.  We all have that book (or books) that “changed our lives,”  and this was that book for me.  I took me out of myself and really forced me to look at the world around me with open eyes for the first time.  I think it has that effect on most people.  It is, without a doubt, among the books that helped shape me.

Nobody needs to go anywhere else. We are all, if we only knew it, already there. If I only know who in fact I am, I should cease to behave as what I think I am; and if I stopped behaving as what I think I am, I should know who I am.

So I sit here now, picking up Huxley’s Island again.  Far be it from me to ignore the signs. The insight of Eco, the reason of Hume, the perspective of Sagan, the humanity of Huxley… not bad for a couple of weeks of reading.

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14 thoughts on “The Pull of Huxley

    • That is a great one. In fact, there’s very little of his (if anything) that I don’t like. And thanks 🙂 Its taken me a while to collect them, and I’m still working on it. I love my little collection 🙂

  1. Ho Ho,
    Stumbled on your site checking through the ‘freshly pressed’ and more. Bango! when you come across a voice.
    On Wavy Gravy, I remember him being asked what he would do with unruly folk at Woodstock, he being in charge of security. His reply was ‘hit them with cream pies and seltzer bottles,’ which is a good reason why things never got out of hand.
    I’ve just put Huxley’s Island on my reading list, and as for the positive and productive use of mind-altering substances, by coincidence my next post, written and waiting on deck, has an extended quote from another sixties experimenter, Alan Watts.
    I’ll end this comment so I can delve further into your Intelligent Life.
    Jeff

  2. Pingback: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell… Revisiting Blake | Intelligent Life

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  4. I wish I could more clearly make out your Huxley collection, Kris. Is “Adonis and the Alphabet” there? Or is that group mainly fiction?

    Also, is that the first edition of the Great Books of the Western World series in the background of your avatar? If so, I hope you have access to not only that wonderful Syntopicon in the second edition, but also to the new contents that include more modern fiction like Balzac’s “Cousin Bette” and Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse.”

    By the way, I’ve read through your 5th of 7 and appreciated them all. Thank you.

    • No, “Adonis and the Alphabet” is not there. Its mainly fiction, although I do absolutely love his non-fiction. Its a small but always growing collection.

      Yes it is the Great Books series! It was a wonderful gift from the department chair at the school I previously taught at. And no, I don’t have access to the new content, however. I have, however, loved these books from the moment I received them and have, I am proud to say, read my way through most of them.

      • Nice. I’m discovering Gibbon just now. The double column format makes the series slower going, but the Syntopicon is a marvel for comparing great minds on discrete topics, don’t you think? Antiquated science has perhaps too large a proportion in both editions, but the humanities improve with the 2nd ed. Balzac’s “Cousin Bette” is a wonder for touching on so many important subjects while delivering artistic and psychological insights. And the original encyclopedist, Denis Diderot, debuts with “Rameau’s Nephew” in a great translation. Cheers!

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