Sunday, June 27, 2010

Important Questions on Aldous Huxley

“Huxley’s eclecticism smacks of an adolescent posturing.” Discuss the validity of this judgment.


Neither “adolescent” nor “posturing” It is surprising to what extent fault-finding critics can go. One critic speaks of Huxley’s “philosophical pretensions” and this critic describes Huxley’s eclecticism as suggestive of “an adolescent posturing”. To use the phrase “adolescent posturing” for a writer who possesses both ripeness of judgment and a burning sincerity shows a strong tendency to what is known as “debunking.” The fact of the matter is that Huxley’s writings are marked by a moral earnestness, an intellectual honesty, a strong rationality, and a penetrating insight into problems.
Leaving aside his early novels where he is generally flippant, his writings show a seriousness and sobriety which are far from being “adolescent”. His burning sincerity is the very reverse of an attitude of “posturing”.

The meaning of “eclecticism”
The term “eclecticism” means the choosing of what is best in everything or of what pleases one most. “Eclectics” were ancient philosophers who attached themselves to no system but selected what, in their judgment, was true out of others. The eclectic philosophy sought to unite into a coherent whole the doctrines of Pythogoras, Plato, and Aristotle. But the term eclecticism is now used not only in philosophy but in art. Now every writer who grapples with problems of modern existence in various spheres—politics, economics, sociology, science, religion, sex, etc.—will be eclectic, and so is Huxley, but to describe his eclecticism as “adolescent posturing” is less than fair.


The religious approach, and mysticism
Huxley’s writings cover an enormous range not only of form but of subject-matter. Apart from his purely creative work (poetry, short stories, novels), he has written perceptively and learnedly of painting, music, science, philosophy, religion, and a dozen other topics. Yet, consi­dering the breadth of his interests and the magnitude of his output, his work, examined as a whole, shows a surprising homogeneity. Though by temperament a sceptic, Huxley always recognized with­in himself the need for some kind of religious approach to the universe. Moreover he showed, throughout his career, a recurrent interest in the phenomena of mysticism. Others among his contem­poraries, though sharing his initial scepticism, became converted to one form or another of the Christian faith. Huxley, with greater intellectual honesty, refused to abandon his empirical attitude in such matters, and his approach remained till the end cautious in the extreme. His prolonged study of the mystics convinced him that the mystical experience itself—the individual’s direct union with Godhead—was an objective fact which could be experimental­ly verified; and he made sincere efforts to synthesize the available evidence into a comprehensive system, to which he gave the name of the “Perennial Philosophy”. All this shows a cast of mind for which “an adolescent posturing” is a singularly inapt description. Within certain limitations, Huxley’s book The Perennial Philosophy is both penetrating and informative as a theoretical exposition of mystical religion in its various forms, laying a particular emphasis on the common elements.

Prophetic books
Huxley wrote three books describing the future as he foresaw it. Brave New World pictures a time when man would become an automaton under a wholly authoritarian regime. The purpose of the book was to give us a full picture of a society manufactured and controlled scientifically. Ape and Essence describes the horrible consequences of a nuclear World War. Island portrays an ideal world in which the conflicting forces of science, religion, and sex are reconciled and man is able to live a peaceful and harmonious life. In this ideal world, population has been con­trolled, soil erosion has been checked, the resources of the land have been conserved, industry is small-scale and localized, educa­tion follows an unorthodox pattern, politics is decentralized, and so on. The possibilities envisaged in all the three novels have to be recognized by us as real. Any line of human development (or regression) may occur. There is no adolescent posturing here too.
His moral earnestness and concern for humanity in his essays
Huxley’s essays show the same moral earnestness and the same serious concern for humanity. In the essays of the collection called On The Margin, written when Huxley was in his late twenties, he no doubt enjoys a young man’s pleasure in throwing his weight about as Laurence Brander tells us, but even here we find no insincerity. The next volume of essays, called Do What You Will, shows complete maturity. These essays show a whole-hearted acceptance of the world, Huxley as a Life-Worshipper. It is a splendid defence of paganism, the Renaissance fullness, urging us to explore all possible worlds of experience. The essays on Swift, Baudelaire and Pascal are a study of man’s mental sickness. The essay “Wordsworth in the Tropics” is a rational examination of Wordsworth’s philosophy of Nature. In “Revolutions” he criticizes the industrial system which “makes life fundamentally unlivable for all.”

“Music at Night”
The main interest of the essays in this volume is that it canvasses the ideas which he had expressed in his novel Point Counter Point and those which, he was to express in Brave New World. The most important essay in the book, “On Grace”, supplements these ideas and deals with a problem at the centre of human affairs: the fact that Nature does not make all things equal and we are not always wise in attempting to make them so. The book is divided into four sections; the first deals with aesthetics; the second is philosophical and is one of the seed-beds Huxley laid down for all his later work; the third is on sex; and the fourth deals with social questions and looks forward to Brave New World. An essay subsequently added is “Vulgarity in Litera­ture”. Although the treatment of the themes is often ironic and satirical, there is no “posturing” and nothing that could be dismis­sed as “adolescent”.

Three essays in literary criticism
The three essays called “‘Tragedy and the Whole Truth”, “Art and the Obvious”, “And Wanton Optics Roll the Melting Eye” clearly illustrate Huxley’s analytical turn of mind and his penetrating insight. While the writer of a tragedy has to select his material and to exercise all possible care in doing so, the teller of the Whole Truth shirks nothing and shrinks from nothing. Tragedy is chemically pure and hence acts quickly and intensely on our feelings. Wholly-Truthful literature has a wider scope and its effect on us is more lasting though not intense. In “Art and the Obvious” Huxley discusses the harmful effects of popular literature on the most sensitive artists of his time, urging these artists not to run away from the great obvious truths of human life and human nature. In the next essay, Huxley speaks of the failure of the marriage of science and poetry, giving us brief analyses of Dante’s Divine Comedy and Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura. In all these essays Huxley shows his deep and genuine com­mitment to art, particularly literary art, and his acumen.
A defence of D.H. Lawrence’s frankness in his treatment of sex
Nor is there any false note in Huxley’s essay “To the Puritan all Things are Impure”. Here we get a spirited defence of D.H. Lawrence and a satirical attack on Grundyism. The case is well argued and the author finds an opportunity not only to criticize orthodoxy in the sphere of sex but also the philosophy of industria­lism which he calls “Fordism.”
A criticism of communism in politics and Cubism in art
Huxley’s arguments against communism are valid even today. People in democratic countries have become even more keenly aware of the systematic suppression of the individual in communist countries. Russia was the only communist country when this essay (“The New Romanticism”) was written, but now China and several East European countries are governed according to the Communist ideology which aims at “organizing individuals out of existence.” The Cubist school of painting leads to a dehumanization of art and is therefore akin to communism, the soul-less philosophy.

“Selected Snobberies”
In this essay, Huxley takes the opportunity to point out one of the defects in the modern economic system: “Organized waste among consumers is the first condition of our industrial prosperity”. This essay is a trifle, but the basic purpose, as always in Huxley’s writing, is reform. Though no Puritan, Huxley disapproves also of the desire of up-to-date men and women to be seen drunk, if not in public, at least in the privacy of party.

“Ends and Means”
This long essay, written in 1937, is another example of Huxley’s intense preoccupation with present-day issues and problems. He expresses the view that the much-quoted dictum, “the end justifies the means”, is wrong in political as well as individual life. “Ends and Means” is not just a political tract; it supplies an extremely comprehensive survey of the contemporary intellectual scene. The chief value of this essay lies in the attempt to evolve some kind of synthesis from the political, ethical, and religious confusions of modern times.

A seeker after truth
Plenty of more evidence could be produced from Huxley’s writings to show that he is a provocative and stimulating thinker. In his books the quest for illumination in an intellectual, and later in a spiritual sense, is always present. He is ever seeking to solve the enigma pf human existence described in the followed lines:

Oh, wearisome condition of humanity,             
Born under one law, to another bound!


In his life-time, Huxley was regarded as a prophet, and the epithet is richly deserved as a humanist, he had a strong belief in the individual, but was obsessed with the evil of materialism. He predicted the population explosion and the degeneration of capitalist society: and he experimented with drugs, putting his discoveries to literary use.

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