Tuesday, September 16, 2014

University of Orwell: Brave New World

Hey y'all.  So I've just read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and it's.....well, interesting.  A lot of the time people will call something a classic and keep it on an elevated platform, but for this book I feel like it's a normal work -- something that can't be blindly praised, nor something so nonsensical that you start wondering what kind of person would call it classic (i.e. Great Gatsby).  It's a bit nonsensical, to be fair.  Of course, that's the whole point of Brave New World.  It's a representation of the human mind when it's subjected to a setting of convenient pleasure at all times, artificially generated by a techno-tyranny -- that is, a tyranny that controls by using technology.

Now, as I talk about this book, I'm going to be comparing it to George Orwell's 1984 and C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength.  These three books are all based on techno-tyrannies, and talk about it from three different angles, each valid in its literary purpose.

But wait, you ask, what's with that title?  University of Orwell?  Well, I'll explain that in the next blog post.  For now, it's about Brave New World.

Spoilers are everywhere.


Brave New World is a satire set in the future (he claimed it was 400 years ahead from its 1932 publication), which describes a future where all pain, attachments, and obligations are kept as distant as possible from the general populace by the World State government.  Sex is constantly available ("everyone belongs to each other"), drugs are engineered to calm people down in tense situations, and children are grown and raised in factories, with none of the disgusting viviparous notions like "motherhood" and "fatherhood" to get in the way.  Each batch of children is engineered into levels: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, with Alphas being the best, and the Epsilons being nothing more than grunts meant for doing menial tasks, and everyone else in between.

One of the reasons why summarizing this book can be difficult is that the main character changes, and neither is present for the introduction.  In any case, after a lengthy explanation of modern reproduction practices, we meet Bernard Marx (there's a lot of "symbolic" names here) who is supposed to be an alpha, but for whatever reason is shorter and more awkward than his caste is meant to be, making him an outcast.  He still manages to catch the attention of the perfectly "pneumatic" (hollow) Lenina Crowne, and they head for vacation to the Reservation where the "savages" are kept.

From there Ben finds the son of the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, who no one knew existed before this point.  This boy, John, is commonly referred to as the Savage, despite being conceived by World State parents.  He was raised on the Reservation, but is considered an outcast because his mother was promiscuous, and it's not accepted at the Reservation as it is in World State.

As soon as he makes it out of the Reservation, John becomes the main focus of the story, and Bernard fades out.  The book then becomes a struggle between giving in to pleasure verses abstaining, and the internal struggles for the Savage as he deals with an entirely absurd world.  John experiences the new world order, with its trash "feelies" (movies where you can feel sensations of everything that's going on), fear of anything not beautiful, and suppression of anything painful.  John reaches the end of his rope when his mother dies in a drug-induced stupor.  He then proceeds to throw away a batch of the drug soma, in an incident where he, Bernard, and friend Helmholz are all arrested.

The other two men are sent away to a place for people who don't fit in. John isn't allowed to go with them, but leaves the techno-tyranny to forge a life for himself in the wilderness.  Film crews come out to record and goad him, inspecting him like a foreign animal or alien.  In an absurd twist, they eventually bring crowds of people to the Savage's new home, and a furious orgy ensues between the people.  Given that the next morning John has killed himself, he clearly participated in some way.

I'm of two minds about Brave New World.  On the one hand, it's an intelligent book that accurately portrays human perspectives.  On the other, it's idealogically weak -- while Brave New World is able to show accurately the human mind living in a land where convenience is king, it doesn't provide adequate debates, on both sides of the argument.  It doesn't give the despicable culture a workable reason to exist, and neither does it give Bernard or John strong arguments against it.  Brave New World is a philosophical exercise, not a well-thought out philosophy making sense of a tyrannical world.

Brave New World is comparable to 1984 in overall story arc.  Both books start out with pages of explanation of the world the characters live in, then there's several pages of freedom for the main character, the characters are caught and affected by their governments ("affected" used loosely), then set free again for a short, uncertain time.  However, both approach the techno-tyranny from two different perspectives, giving each value in its own way.  While Brave New World is an examination of the human mind and sees the techno-tyranny from the angle of the cogs of their society, 1984 is a novel entirely about its tyranny and how it operates.  The main character's own story is a tale of how Big Brother handles potential rebels.

1984, for any who haven't read it, is the story of Winston Smith.  Winston lives in Oceania, a nation entirely controlled by Big Brother, who watches everyone through telescreens.  Despite an illicit affair in a sexless world and an attempt to become a liberator, Winston is eventually captured and rehabilitated into Oceanian society.  Winston is nothing more than a loose cog in Big Brother's machine, and some casual, everyday maintenance is all it took to bring Winston back into the fold, so to speak.

But it isn't just the overall emotional arc that these two stories have in common.  They both contain suspicious females, for one.  Julia is Winston's companion, a member of the Junior Anti-Sex League. She chooses to have an affair with Winston, but I've always suspected that she, and in fact the whole "Anti-Sex" League, are simply parts of Big Brother's machinations to keep potential rebels docile until they are dealt with.  If this theory is right, that's why the League wears red sashes instead of white, the usual color of purity.  Big Brother might make everyone think that sex is disgusting, but still use it for his work.

Lenina Crowne of Brave New World, however, is more obvious, and perfectly normal for a World State citizen. And that's what makes her suspicious.  She doesn't share Bernard's outsider qualities, nor does she have the Savage's morality.  She just does whatever feels right, and thus, nothing important or unique. She's not helpful to other characters, and in fact represents a threat to the Savage's morality -- he likes Lenina very much, with his fifteen year old naivety and all the immaturity that entails.  And instead of sex being taboo, it's something that, in this society, is expected of children.  Promiscuity is the order of the day, and most women are made sterile in the fetal stages.

These things that Brave New World and 1984 have in common with each other, they have less so with That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis' techno-tyranny story.  It's not as popular as the other two books, despite Lewis' status as a writer.  It doesn't help, for the purposes of this comparison, that That Hideous Strength is the third entry a science fiction trilogy, and that the tyranny it presents is not fully formed, but rather an up and coming political entity that is a part of a war between planets and their Oyarsa -- the gods of Rome are in fact the spirits of the planets, and are the Oyarsa that Maledil assigned to each world.  Thulcandra's (Earth's) Oyarsa is corrupt, and it has summoned its own group of technological revolutionaries to overcome the world and make it sterile and clean.

So That Hideous Strength is not only set in a time where they techno-tyranny hasn't won yet, but from the perspective of Mark and Jane Studdock, the former who is a hapless, accidental collaborator, while the latter is an uncertain, accidental rebel.  It's the rebels who get more attention in That Hideous Strength, rather than 1984's government perspective or Brave New World's ordinary citizen's perspective.  And that's why I compare them.  They both come at the same thing from three different directions.

Of the three, 1984 is the most clever.  It's the most literary and organized.  Both it and That Hideous Strength are more philosophical, and if I hadn't read either of them first, I might think that Brave New World was more clever.  The writing style certainly tries, especially at the beginning, but that's not the real problem.  Both of the other two books are based on concrete ideas, and both Orwell and Lewis have clear philosophical ideas behind their stories.  Huxley feels somewhat detached from what he's writing, as though he isn't sure what he believes and just wants to talk about things he's observed in the world.  There's nothing wrong with that, and if writing this book helped him observe things, then by all means he should have written it.

Huxley's characters are still pretty weak, though.  None of the main ones have enough confidence to keep the reader's sympathy, and it doesn't help that Bernard gets switched out for John the Savage towards the middle of the book.  Bernard, unfortunately, is a weak-willed man.  In the beginning we feel a bit of sympathy for him, as he's a guy who is too short and awkward to fit in.  He even says some nice things about Lenina, that she's not simply a hunk of meat.  From that point on, however, it's clear that Bernard isn't a hero or even a normal person -- he's a wimp who has let his outsider status give him a false pride that he feels the need to defend.  In fact, his whole act of a rebel falls flat the moment he brings John and his mother back into "proper" society.  It turns out that John is the accidental son of the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, the guy who intended to ruin Bernard's career.  Bernard wanted to ruin the Director first, and so he did, by revealing that the Director was a "father", and thus disgusting in the eyes of their society.

The other characters are no better.  Lenina has a similar good first impression, in that she questions the need for promiscuity and starts to think that it's tiring.  This is the only circumstance where she thinks for herself.  Lenina then sleeps with whoever she feels like, pops the comfort drug soma without the least bit of reluctance, and shows no open-mindedness whatsoever to savage ways, despite having wanted to go to the Reservation in the first place.  John the Savage is just a confused teenager with a promiscuous mother forced to cope with savage tradition only because she was knocked up and abandoned on the Reservation.

Thing is, none of these characters are strong enough to have a philosophy of their own.  John's is at least naturally weak; it makes sense that a fifteen year old doesn't have things figured out.  Lenina is perfectly fine as a side character, at the least.  Bernard has interesting psychological issues.  But the whole point of a main character is to give the readers a reason to root for them.  They have to, in one way or another, be strong.  Either they are physically strong, or determined, or are simply unwilling to give up.  There's got to be something about them we identify with or wish to be, or else we don't care.

1984's Winston, despite not succeeding in the end, was someone who at least tried, and failed on human, identifiable reasons.  That Hideous Strength had a colorful collection of side characters, strong in some ways and weaker in others.  Mark Studdock, though at first weak-willed like Bernard and desperate to be accepted, learns to see through the machinations of the NICE organization much the same way that the average materialist might come to realize he's surrounded by madmen.  Both characters avoid the path of least resistance, Winston at first, and Mark later.  None of Aldous' characters go out of their way to avoid their natures, other than when the Savage leaves "civilized" society.  Even that's a simple extension of what he's learned on the Reservation.

There's actually a character in Brave New World who is strong and likable.  His name is Helmholz Watson.   Like Bernard, he's somewhat of an outsider -- not because he's weaker, but because he's so much more advanced than everyone else, even others in his same caste.  Helmholz is an alpha-plus who is handsome, athletic, talented in propaganda, and can have all the women he wants.  Yet he's disillusioned with life because it's all come too easily for him.

Trouble is, Helmholz is nothing more than a barely there support character.  He pops in near the beginning to have a conversation with Bernard, then disappears for a while.  Then he shares a book of Shakespeare with John the Savage, who happened to obtain one through his mother's lover.  Then Helmholz goes away for a while, reappearing again briefly when John is freaking out over his mother's soma induced death.  He attempts to stop John, but is arrested in the scene John causes. Then he's sent off to an island with all the other people too independent to function well in this society.

In any case, that's all of Helmholz we see.  He's there only as an accessory to John and characters less interesting than them.  We don't see him struggle against society, or how he deals with his personal life when everyone is encouraged to be promiscuous, upon threat of being out of place.  Instead, both he and Bernard, the two main adults who have perspective, are shunted out of the story in a convenient happy ending (the island they were being sent to is apparently not bad a place to live), leaving the immature teenager to handle life by himself.

From a pure storytelling standpoint, a reader would prefer some kind of ending where the three work together to try an accomplish something, allowing the reader to learn more about Huxley's world along the way.  It doesn't matter if the three succeed or fail, so long as the story manages a real conclusion, as opposed to the demented cut-off we get with John's sudden giving in to temptation and death.  Heck, have the three sent together to the islands, where they attempt to forge their own society with their own rules, why not?  Or maybe all three agree on John's plan to go to the wilderness. Anything where the reader feels a sense of satisfaction from reading, as opposed to the feeling of being trolled at the end.

There are also other legitimate complaints about the execution of the book.  There is a debate about God when John is arrested.  He and Mustapha Mond, one of ten "Controllers" of the World State, get into a conversation about pleasure as a replacement for God, since, as Mond argues, only desperate people will turn to God.  This is some good debate, but it's flawed in the sense that neither side has enough meat to it.  For one, the debate is very short, and since much of the book lacks debate, it's all we have for a real, clear cut sense of what both sides are saying.  Mond does a pretty good job, but lacks the bite of the debates found in the bad guys in That Hideous Strength and 1984.  John, on the other hand, is young and inexperienced in intellectual exercise, especially given that he's lived a confused childhood and hasn't had the chance to develop experience and arguments against anything Mond is saying.

Also, I don't like John's religious background.  It's too confused.  It's a mixture of Native American and Christian, but combining them both leaves neither side sufficiently explored, especially since there's so little intellectual discourse in this book.  Both sides are expressed through John's heritage. He's grown up on a Reservation, which at first I took to be something like the islands that Helmholz and Bernard were later sent off to.  Turns out they're real reservations where Native American life is preserved.  Okay, so why are there Christian beliefs there?  Did someone bring a Bible?  And if that's the case, why isn't anyone regarding Christian beliefs, and why hasn't John got his hands on the Bible by then, if he reads so much?

John's daily life is dominated primarily by Native American ideas, such as spirit visions, animal guides, and purging oneself with mustard and warm water.  I don't know enough about Indian tradition to say if whipping oneself is part of their culture or not, but I know it's not Christian.  The only time self-flogging is mentioned in the Bible (that I can recall) is when the worshippers of Baal did so.  And there's a verse in Nehemiah (and the whole New Testament besides) that emphasizes that trusting the grace of God and not letting the past destroy you.  Clearly there's nothing about Christian belief that John can express, either through reading or experience.

Then again, John doesn't really know anything about Native American tradition either.  Sure, he knows some of the rites, but he doesn't know the reasons for these rites, nor does he have years of understanding about these beliefs.  He's a kid.  John doesn't fully understand the concepts he claims to believe in, so the Indian, biblical, and Shakespearean stuff he knows are little more than than brief flashes of resistance to an ideology of pleasure John has never had to debate before.

For that matter, the side of the World State isn't fully fleshed out.  This isn't as big of a problem, as the will of the World State is expressed through their edicts on child-rearing, technology, and emphasis on avoiding pain.  The reader doesn't need to hear too much about World State beliefs, because those were expressed simply through setting descriptions.

However, there's no explanation for several questions the reader might have.
1. Why the world has gotten itself this way?
2. Is there any kind of active resistance to the World State, and what does WS do in reaction to these rebels?
3. If the whole purpose of the World State is to avoid inconvenience, then how do the Controllers prevent outsiders from screwing up their system without forcing people to deal with these outsiders?
4. Why are the Reservations allowed to exist?

In one sense, none of these questions are important.  Brave New World isn't about the techno-tyranny itself, but about human nature within such a world.  We don't need the World State's background. What we do need is an intellectual defense for World State.  Not that the book needs to be a balanced debate between World State and its enemies, but rather the book should give the Controllers an intellectual position which makes it logical for them (not necessarily moral, sane, or kind people) to want to create a world where there are no parents, no patience, and no pain.

1984 is quite simple in this regard.  Its bad guys, Big Brother and the Party, want to control others for the purpose of power.  They want to incapacitate anyone to being able to resist them -- what does it matter if an enemy is banished if that enemy is going to be a threat again? Control and knowledge are the basis of Big Brother.

The baddies of That Hideous Strength, the National Institute for Co-ordinate Experiments, are a rising organization that, similar to 1984, want to control people mentally.  However, that goal is secondary to creating the exact, sterile world that the NICE wants to create.  Their goals are all experiments of the intellectual experiment type, where average people are the playthings of the philosophically indulgent. 

My point is, the reader understands in both 1984 and Hideous Strength the motivations of the bad guys.  Even if some things are left to the imagination, it's obvious that Big Brother is all about forcing normal people into submission, whereas NICE is about the dangers of unfettered intellectualism.

Of the three, 1984 is the best literary success, both commercially and as a way of telling a story. There's nothing to complain about so far as telling a story goes.  The trouble is, it's not so much about normal people as about the system itself.  For a story, that's fine, but as an intellectual device for those who desire strong minds, we need to know more about those who stand against such a system, and how they would go about doing so.  

In fact, 1984 says almost nothing about any resistance at all, other than allowing a shadowy set of rumors to exist about Emmanuel Goldstein, the supposed ultimate rebel against Big Brother.  This imagined resistance exists only as a way to lure unsuspecting dissenters into showing who they are. The entire story of 1984 is not about a man resisting the system, but the story of how the system deals with someone who dares disagree with them, through the eyes of their victim.

That Hideous Strength picks up the slack in that regard -- it's all about those who resist, both from the outside (Jane Studdock) and from the inside, once they realize everything is wrong (Mark Studdock). That Hideous Strength goes all along the mental pathways of those who don't agree with NICE. You've got Jane and Mark, a couple who wouldn't have ordinarily put much thought into political oppression if they hadn't been involved in it; Mr. and Mrs. Dimble, a sensible couple who resist on the basis of respecting personal property and the pleasant things of life rather than intellectually fighting; Dr. Ironwood, who takes for granted that NICE is nonsense and that of course all sensible people must resist; and Director Fisher-King, who realizes that all these political machinations are really a war of ideas and thus not avoidable by anyone.  

Where Hideous Strength is weak is in the practical plans of the good guys.  They want to stop NICE by...summoning Merlin, who has been conveniently preserved underground for centuries?  What? Given that all the methods used by NICE (police control, keeping a head alive separate from the body, news manipulation) are all physically plausible things to the average reader, one wants the satisfaction of watching NICE taken down by likewise plausible methods.  

Instead we have Merlin being given the powers of the spirits of Mercury, Venus, Mar, Jupiter, and Saturn, then sent off to cause disorder and destruction in NICE Headquarters.  That's, um, quite the episode of Sailor Moon, one could say.  Oh sure, the NICE has mystic elements, what with trying to find Merlin first and the aforementioned disembodied head voicing an evil eldil rather than the person it once belonged to, but come on, surely the good guys could have brought down the baddies in some clever way worthy of emulation, should the reader find himself in a similar situation.  

That, I find, is where Brave New World comes in.  The glory of fighting a techno-tyranny is not by fighting it, but by becoming a creature unable to be ruled by it.  What Brave New World lacks in literary technique or completion of story, it makes up for in powerful themes of pleasure vs. abstinence.  It's by the power of pleasure that Brave New World sucks in its victims.  By simply abandoning dissenters (the Reservation, the islands, letting John leave by himself) rather than glorifying them in a dramatic rebellion, Brave New World establishes the exact, human reason why our world would ever turn into a techno-tyranny: social acceptance and all possible comforts.  One is allowed to be unique, but only if one forsakes all the pleasures of modern life.  Very extreme, this Brave New World.

Oh sure, That Hideous Strength touches on the social acceptance aspect pretty well.  Mark Studdock is a man who wants to raise his position in the world, and is at first willing to compromise his beliefs (what few he has) and hang around people that are positively unlikable just for the sake of rising to ever more exclusive circles of friends.  He doesn't realize at first that his blind desire to be thought of as "better" or "high above" his university colleagues has brought him to a place of the greatest danger he's ever been in.

While C.S. Lewis touches on this matter somewhat (and Orwell scarcely mentions it at all), Aldous Huxley brings social control to the forefront.  It's not about being controlled by superiors (there's only ten Controllers) but being controlled by everyone around you.  Not only is the World State a symbol of this, but so is John's first home on the Reservation.  The Native Americans there were very brutal to John's mother, as she tried to bring the promiscuous culture of the World State to the Reservation -- an obvious violation of culture.  No leaders are mentioned on the Reservation,  In fact, we never see any of the Controllers do anything about control.  They send Helmholtz and Bernard off, and they give John and his mother permission to come to the World State.  That's about it.  For the most part, it's the actions of characters that control other characters.

The main theme of Brave New World, however, is pain versus pleasure.  It's  romance and true love vs. easily available sex.  Dealing with stresses and tension vs. giving in to a comforting drug. Tolerating differences vs. being disgusted by the slightest unattractive thing.  Belief in God vs. too padded on every side to believe in anything.

That's why it's so annoying that the debate between John and the Controller was so weak.  There are great themes on hand here, and Huxley seems to have developed a philosophy that, even if not correct, is at least interesting enough to be worth hearing.  Unfortunately, we never get more debate, not even in the form of John's attempts to build his own life in the wilderness.

Still, John's struggle to live in the open countryside, punishing himself with a whip whenever he has lustful thoughts of Lenina, is still an extension of the pain vs. pleasure themes.  John knows that he is a flawed individual, and that despite the fact that most aspects of the World State disgust him, parts of it still poke at his conscience.  John comes to feel that it's wrong to enjoy anything.  It's wrong of him to take pleasure in working with his hands, in his mind.  He's had such an aversion to pleasure while being in the World State that he fears it in any form.  He never realizes that pleasure itself isn't good or bad except depending on what one takes pleasure from, and if that pleasure distracts oneself from responsibilities.

Despite being on the right side (that is, against World State), John loses perspective.  In an ironic twist, World State citizens begin taking an interest in John and his ascetic lifestyle.  Reporters watch and record him, making a "feely" about his life of hard work and whipping himself, so that the World Staters can feel John's life without actually being a part of it.  Then they come in droves to his home. What makes this so ironic is that for any reporter to film John, they'd have to suffer things themselves, like being in an uncomfortable environment, getting attacked by John, running into a thornbush, etc.  These reports ever so subtly prove that some things are worth suffering for, even in a perverse world like this.

This theme is more obvious when it comes to love.  John has a crush on Lenina, from very near the first moment he sees her.  This is primarily youthful lust, though of course the poor boy wouldn't know it at the time.  In any case, when he follows Bernard and Lenina into the World State, John continues to crush on her, and at one point when they find themselves alone, he attempts to ask her hand in marriage.  Lenina, having been raised on the idea that "everyone belongs to everyone else", doesn't understand why John has waited so long to ask for her body.

It's in this that we find true love is in the waiting for consummation, not the consummation itself. True love is about the joining of hearts.  Lenina, before her final confrontation with John, almost realizes this.  She finds herself longing for John, wondering why nothing has happened in between them for his first several weeks there.  This, sadly, she translates not as feelings for him, but rather as an emotional, painful outburst that she has to get rid of as soon as possible by sleeping with him. Only John doesn't go along with it, choosing instead to get angry and call her a tramp.  He sees as love more than as sleeping around, despite, or perhaps because of, having a promiscuous mother. Maybe he resists Lenina because he doesn't want to treat her the same way his mother's lover treated her.

What I like about the themes of this book is that it explains why general people allow the world to turn into a techno-tyranny.  In 1984, no one allowed anything.  Oceania is still at war with other nations, and there are still rebels against Big Brother.  In That Hideous Strength, it's a bit clearer, but the operations of NICE are clearly the doings of intellectual mystics who are so caught up in their own theories that they've entirely forgotten to compare these theories to the real world.  They're in their own state of intellectual psychosis, and can't see anything that they don't believe in.  However, that hardly describes most of the people in the book.  Even many people who work for NICE don't understand or care about its purposes.

Brave New World explains that the comforts provided are able to substitute painlessness for real life, persuading most people that they have nothing to gain by leaving.  This is the basis for World State society.  Most people hinge on only doing things when the things that need doing get urgent: "necessity is the mother of invention" so they say. While obviously not all people succumb to this kind of attitude about life, it's easy to see how a freedom from obligation would sway many.  People make this decision subtly.  They choose to play on the computer rather than make friends, gossip behind someone's back rather than face disagreement head on, and abort a child rather than care for it. While there's still plenty to debate about, it's easy to see how someone might be drawn in by this life of seeming content.

Still, the chopped-off ending of Brave New World makes it difficult to analyze it very much, not to mention cutting off the debate between pleasure vs. perseverance before the topic is properly exhausted.  I will say, on the other hand, that its use of technique and clever language was a relief after reading so many modern books.  Technique is a lost art these days, in favor of gimmicks and excitement.  People have stopped believing that we can tell the future, and thus are no longer trying as Orwell, Lewis, and Huxley did.  Well, at least the fiction writers don't seem to be.

But on a storytelling level, when I finished reading Brave New World, I felt sick.  This is not a book I recommend to the spiritually sensitive.  Certainly Huxley intended his book to end in a way that George Orwell's did, with a tragic ending left mildly ambiguous.  Thing is, Orwell finished his story. While none of the characters within the book succeeded in resisting Big Brother, the reader was left with the feeling of wanting to resist in Winston's stead.  After Brave New World, I was left with a sick feeling of futility in my head, as though nothing meant anything.

And then, by sheer luck, I started reading a book on St. Francis of Assisi.  It's a short, weird biography written by G.K. Chesterton, with narrative far too fancy for the purposes of a biography. But it also goes to prove that Francis Bernadone is what John the Savage should have been.  The World State could have done nothing to Francis, as he'd already given up not only pleasures, but proper clothing, a home, and a stable job as a cloth merchant to serve God, even if in the guise of a beggar.

"There was nothing negative about it; it was not a regiment or a stoical simplicity of life.  It was not self-denial merely in the sense of self-control.  It was as positive as a passion; it had all the air of being as positive as a pleasure.  He devoured fasting as a man devours food.  He plunged after poverty as men have dug madly for gold.  And it is precisely the positive and passionate quality of this part of his personality that is a challenge to the modern mind in the whole problem of the pursuit of pleasure."

Wow.  A guy who lived eight hundred years ago can totally trump modern day man.  I knew my studies were taking me somewhere, but this is something.  And then we had this verse reading at my church:

"...And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope."

Now this is the sort of Christian thinking that is worthy of fighting Director Mond.  Now, granted, Huxley is free to write his book with any philosophy he feels will strengthen his book the most.  It's his story, and it's his job to present it in the way he sees best.  The above, however, is exactly the philosophy that John needed to survive alone, and to avoid fearing the sin inside himself.  The whole point of Christianity is knowing that we are flawed beings and allowing God's grace to compensate for that and remind us that other people need grace too.

Despite the fact that Brave New World does not present this angle, it's still an intelligent book that presents to us why asceticism is important, especially when paired with Saint Francis' biography.  It also provides sort of a link to explain why Merlin's attack on the NICE in That Hideous Strength actually makes sense.  In Brave New World, one of the thematic arguments against promiscuity is that it interferes with falling in true love, as opposed to fulfilling some biological function.  Love is magical, sex is just a thing.

Also, before he catches himself, John finds himself enjoying building shelter with his own hands -- "it was pure delight to be doing something that demanded skill and patience."  Not to mention John's growing up in a Native American culture, which is of course all about skill and patience, as well as pain.  Hard work is a strange magic of its own.

How does this relate to Merlin?  Because, on the surface, romantic love and hard work are just as nonsensical.  It's all too easy to call love a "chemical reaction" or "an evolutionary function", but nobody who is really in love would say either phrase.  True love is to true lovers a magic of its own, something that is difficult to attain, difficult to explain how obtained, and not merely a physical act or acts.  Hard work will get you what you want, sure, but if the basics of life can be obtained more easily, isn't it nonsense to sweat and strain?  How do you explain to anyone how painting an old rocking chair or laying cement makes you feel good?

Huxley is saying something in a more straightforward manner than Lewis, but they're both saying the same thing: the utterly pragmatic can only be defeated by magic (or "magic" if you prefer).  Life isn't simply about producing the "best" children in the quickest way possible, but about enjoying the little human creature that is specifically yours.  Life isn't about snatching up all the best things possible, but learning to enjoy as much as possible, simple things like insects or cracked sidewalk, or even complex things like old history books and math equations.  Look around you right now.  Maybe you're in your room, and you can see all of your nice books, your clothing, and that drink next to your computer.  Or you're in a coffee shop, enjoying the atmosphere and the smell of fancy espresso drinks.  Aren't there so many brilliant and beautiful inventions around you?  If you just look at these things as simple objects, you gain nothing.  But once you allow the magnitude of centuries of idea and invention to really well up in your mind, you realize that all this stuff is magic around you.

That's why Merlin makes sense.  You don't destroy an machine by building more of its weary, intellectualist components. You smash it with a sledgehammer.  You don't win a debate with an indulgent idealist by getting down into the details of what he's saying.  You place reality itself in front of him.  Reality is, after all, a sledgehammer.

All of this brings to mind an episode of Star Trek: I, Mudd.  In this episode, the Enterprise crew is kidnapped by androids, who want to enslave the various races of the galaxy by offering them every single pleasure, and thus destroying their ability to resist.  How does the intrepid Captain Kirk defeat these guys?  With nonsense!  The androids are so incapable of handling anti-logic that they break down when exposed to too much nonsense.  Not to mention Star Trek V, where a melodramatic Kirk exclaims to a feel-good fanatic, "I need my pain!"

Pain makes us who we are.  It makes accomplishment pleasurable.  It makes us love people we might not have noticed or cared about before.  It makes us understand, and builds strength of character and mind to us.  Well, if we take it in the right way.  Pain will destroy us if we fear it.

Huxley and Lewis seem to have this idea down, and I have a feeling that if I went through 1984, I could summarize Orwell's opinion on the matter.  At first thought, I see the glass trinket in my mind: Winston Smith at one point owns a ball of glass with a piece of coral in the middle.  It's pretty, but fragile.  As you expect, it gets smashed later on.  But more on that later, if I decide to do an analysis on 1984.  Orwell's point was an external one about international tyranny, whereas Huxley's was an internal one about the nature of man.  There's a limit to how much you can compare them.  Oh, and by the way, did you know that Orwell actually sent a copy of his book to Huxley?  Huxley liked it, and his letter to Orwell looks like it sparks a discussion between the two about it.  I'm still willing to bet that Orwell knew a little more about tyranny than Huxley, though.

But thematic importance is not the same as literary enjoyment.  While I appreciate Brave New World for existing, it made me sick nonetheless.  It's very dark, very gloomy, and the ending is truncated and unfair.  Will I ever read this book again after I finish this review?  Not likely.  1984 is re-readable, and I'll pick up That Hideous Strength again, but Brave New World is not all that enjoyable on a casual level.  While its thematic importance makes it worthy of the University of Orwell, make sure you read something theraputic afterwards.  Seriously, Francis Bernadone is amazing.

If you'd like to know more about the University of Orwell, just wait for my next post.  I'll go into detail about it more there.
.


No comments:

Post a Comment