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Reading a book by Aldous Huxley is like being entertained by a host who is determined that one should not suffer a moment's boredom and works perhaps a bit too hard to ensure one's continual amusement. The fruit of his considerable erudition is lavished on his readers in flattering profusion: quotations from literature, references to art, history and science—if one takes the allusion, it is with a pleasant sense of sharing the author's culture, and if not one is privileged to learn a new fact or to hear an unusual and provocative point of view. For this reason Mr. Huxley is an ideal novelist for young men: remarkably intelligent, genuinely sophisticated, he takes for granted these enviable qualities in his readers. His first three novels, Crome Yellow, Antic Hay and Those Barren Leaves, and the stories, essays and poems of that period, represent a perfect form of undergraduate literature: elegant, informed, irreverent, ironic, as it seems amoral yet serious, they appeared at a time—the early 1920's—when the scene was set for brilliant young men and when to be a brilliant young man was the most rewarding thing to be…. Mr. Huxley could not forever maintain a position of gay and destructive criticism; a constructive remedy had to be proposed and the entertainer had to make room for the teacher. In his later novels, the feast of diversion spread before his readers is no less rich than before, but it has become slightly indigestible.
Point Counter Point, which was first published in 1928, brings his earlier manner to a point of culmination and contains the germ of his later development. Formidably long, it introduces a host of representative characters (several of whom are clearly derived from real people) and sets them talking at each other. A complexity of design resulting from the large dramatis personae gives the novel's construction a superficial resemblance to that of Gide's Les Faux-Monnayeurs, which had appeared three years earlier; but neither Point Counter Point nor Eyeless in Gaza, in which Mr. Huxley later exploited a confusing time sequence, can lay claim to technical innovations. Mr. Huxley has never been an experimental writer; he is rather an accomplished popularizer of experiments recently made by others. Point Counter Point would be more amusing if it were less exhaustive, if its gallery of rogues and fools were less definitive; and Eyeless in Gaza might be easier to reread if its episodes were arranged in simple chronological order. The ideas of D. H. Lawrence dominate Point Counter Point, expounded at second-hand through the medium of a character called Mark Rampion. Rampion and his wife are possibly the first figures in Mr. Huxley's novels to be treated with a minimum of irony; yet the author's ironic attitude is infectious and his readers catch it by mistake; Rampion emerges, unintentionally, as a pretentious bore. However sympathetic to D. H. Lawrence as an artist Mr. Huxley may be, his own talent is naturally resistant to Lawrence's influence; an impression is given by Point Counter Point that the follies and vices of the time have been condemned from a position that is not truly the author's own.
Brave New World may well prove to be Mr. Huxley's most lasting book. Purely satirical and brilliantly prophetic, it is the last destructive work by an essentially destructive writer. By the time Eyeless in Gaza was published in 1935 Mr. Huxley had become a disciple of Gerald Heard…. From now on, an increasing concern with mysticism was to take control of Mr. Huxley's life and work, and the final pages of Eyeless in Gaza, which contain Anthony's spiritual meditation, point the way to all his future writing, including his last book about mescaline. Why does this development, so boldly constructive and apparently so consistent, not entirely satisfy? A certain element in his treatment of what he thinks disgusting weakens, in his novels, the force of his striving towards what he thinks pure. In spite of the case made out for withdrawal Mr. Huxley, it seems, relishes life, and not at all in the way of which Mark Rampion would approve…. [Several episodes in Eyeless in Gaza are] comic, but not straightforwardly so; one laughs less with the author than at him for having invented them, and one suspects that he (a witty but humourless writer) only thinks them funny to the extent that, in various ways, they are potentially shocking. He seems, in fact, to be perpetually trying to shock himself by emphasizing the inadequacies of physical life, by pointing out that lovers look ridiculous when copulating, that the food we enjoy eating is revolting when raw and makes us belch and so on, but the shock results in titillation rather than rejection and disgust. As the writer of pornography pays, in his fashion, a compliment to sex, so Mr. Huxley obliquely honours the sensual life; but this is done in a series of highly cerebral divertissements advocating discipline, control and meditation as the means towards spiritual peace and transcendent illumination. Yes, he is an excellent host; there is something here for everybody. The quality is high, the menu varied, but it is not, in the last analysis, a sustaining diet. (pp. 23-5)
Francis Wyndham, "The Teacher Emerges: 'Point Counter Point', 'Eyeless in Gaza', 'Mortal Coils'," in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1955), Vol. 2, No. 8, August, 1955 (and reprinted in Aldous Huxley: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert E. Kuehn, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1974, pp. 23-5).
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Brave New World is actually … a satire not so much of the future as of the present: of the future as it is implicit in the present. Huxley resorts to future remoteness for the same reasons that other Utopian satirists had earlier resorted to geographical or past remoteness (e.g. More, Swift or Anatole France): in order to gain the necessary distance and detachment to more effectively satirize the present. Huxley's satirical point in this novel is that if the present continues to "progress" as it is "progressing" now, then the inevitable result must be a brave new world. (p. 451)
That the United States is the present model for Huxley's vision of the future emerges even more clearly from an essay entitled, "The Outlook for American Culture, Some Reflections in a Machine Age," published in 1927. Huxley begins this essay with the observation that "speculating on the American future, we are speculating on the future of civilized man." According to Huxley, one of the most ominous portents of the American Way of Life is that it embraces a large class of the people who "do not want to be cultured, are not interested in the higher life. For these people existence on the lower, animal levels is perfectly satisfactory. Given food, drink, the company of their fellows, sexual enjoyment, and plenty of noisy distractions from without, they are happy." (p. 455)
Brave New World is the fictional extension of Huxley's earlier views on the nature of American "culture"; it is a portrait of the Joy City spread over the whole globe. And as Huxley was to remark with considerable alarm some three decades later in his Brave New World Revisited, it is a portrait which is beginning to seem more and more as if it were drawn from the life. In the only too near future, in Huxley's view, it may prove difficult not to revisit the brave new world….
The idea of the individual as opposed to the mass is of paramount importance to a proper understanding of the novel. For it is precisely this idea that the brave new world cannot tolerate. To be extraordinary or to be individual is to be criminal; thinking or feeling deeply are punishable offences. (p. 456)
[In] spite of all the efforts of technology and psychology directed at reducing man to an automaton, some semblance of humanity and individuality still survives—even if only accidentally. In this sense Brave New World can be seen as a not altogether pessimistic novel: the hope for a continuation of humanity is not altogether extinguished. (p. 457)
The problem, however, in the brave new world is that the conditioning is so complete and the pursuit of external happiness so compulsive that it is enormously difficult for the individual to increase his awareness of himself as an individual. (p. 457)
In the series of portraits of this twentieth-century society which Huxley satirically sketched in his earlier novels, the fatal flaw was always the isolation of the individual. He was alone, trapped in his own conception of reality. This is not the case, however, with the society of the brave new world, or, to a lesser degree, with that of the Indian Penitentes. In both of those societies the individual is solidly integrated, is an almost indistinguishable part of the whole. Too solidly, too indistinguishably—that is what is wrong with them. The individual is no longer isolated, but he is no longer isolated because he is no longer an individual. This is the paradox which is at the very heart of this novel: to be an individual is to be isolated, is to be unhappy; to be integrated is to be "happy," but happy in an inhuman fashion. (p. 459)
Peter E. Firchow, "The Satire of Huxley's 'Brave New World'," in Modern Fiction Studies (© copyright 1966 by Purdue Research Foundation, West Lafayette, Indiana), Vol. XII, No. 4, Winter, 1966–67, pp. 451-60.
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Island (1962), Huxley's last novel, presents as many facets of his comprehensive vision for man and community as he was able to commit to print before his death in 1963…. The book is Huxley's solemn and, in many ways, unique remedy for psychic atrophy and the specter of the bomb in the world of the 1960's. (p. 149)
Huxley's fairly complex vision stems from his conviction that any operative ideal would have to be based on a syncretic approach to the problem of existence. (p. 150)
Huxley distinguishes carefully the two main traditions of Hindu philosophy: the ancient Hinayana tradition, which taught total renunciation of the world and the quest for perpetual Nirvana; and the more recent Mahayanist tradition, which sought awakening through a responsible if delicate recognition of the world…. In its tolerance and flexibility, Mahayana offers enlightenment not only to the monk in isolation but to the layman in society as well. That branch of Eastern thought which Huxley pursued left him intellectual elbow-room to satisfy both his mystical and reformative urges. (p. 151)
One of Huxley's strongest ideals promoted in Island is the desire that Western and Oriental worlds accept and learn from each other…. The merger between East and West in Island is not defined exhaustively. Like most sweeping ideals, it eludes complete description. But the direction of the union is toward a Tagorist synthesis of Western progress with Eastern spirituality…. Huxley's comprehensive mysticism is not just a Western retreading of Taoist ideology, but also a positive counterpoint to the problems of separation, alienation and incommunication which he delineates in his other novels. Huxley always sought an ideal which would permit him to experience and express existence as an entity rather than a fragment, and the educative ideals of Island aim toward a similar objective for Everyman. (pp. 151-53)
Huxley conveys to his readers some of his more difficult ideology in Island through an interesting use of symbol. In truth, the nature of Huxley's subject frequently requires a symbolic description because many of his mystical precepts elude literal explanation. (p. 154)
The very title of the book, Island, suggests a pattern of symbolism latent in Huxley's thought for many years…. For Huxley in the 1920's existence seemed bewilderingly pluralistic; the world appeared to be inhabited by a group of irreconcilably heterogeneous individuals. Huxley seems never to have altered his belief in the multiplicity and confusion of unmystical experiential reality…. Through his conversion to mysticism, Huxley arrived at the conviction that while relativity and isolation were part of the human condition, they were not necessarily the sum total of human fate…. In Huxley's last novel,… the implications of the title … suggest larger meanings for the symbol of people as islands. (p. 155)
The lesson that Island propagates through … the connotations of Huxley's symbol is that, although people are admittedly alone on the surface of routine life, like islands, they are nevertheless united, like islands, beneath the uneasy, oceanic flux. Through their contact with a common base, their submarine connection with a more permanent, subsurface reality, they are joined in a unitive psychic land which, for Huxley, is the mystical "Divine Ground." The cynic, whose vision is limited to "outsight," to the surface, sees only separation and isolation in a pluralistic universe. The mystic, who is capable of genuine insight, perceives a unity beneath the heaving, relativistic chaos, a unity which is far more real than the separation of surface reality. The symbolism behind Huxley's title is, in this way, functional to the Palanesians' emphasis on awareness and to Huxley's own mystical reading of life.
Huxley also constructs a symbolic pattern in Island based on the ancient tradition of mountains as emblems of aspiration and achievement…. [The] physical mountains of Pala, in their service as an educational proving ground for the young climbers, assume a meaning more relevant to Huxley's brand of mysticism…. The jungle signifies life lived at the routine, everyday level of existence. It is ugly and chaotic, terrifying and self-destructive. The mountains signify the peak of the curative, illuminating mystical experience. It, in turn, is beautiful and unitive, uplifting and constructive…. Through his symbolism of the mountains and the jungle in Island, Huxley insists that the Mahayanist employment of contemplation and ecstasy does not constitute a Nirvana escapism. (pp. 156-57)
The scarecrows and the sky come to symbolize the diverse, traditional, personal images of God behind which, in the "perennial philosophy," exists the universal consciousness common to them all. The scarecrows and the sky serve to illustrate Huxley's belief, reiterated time and again after 1940, that there is a "Highest Common Factor" to all religions. In this sense, Huxley's angle of vision comprehensively embraces all religions as manifestations of "the One."…
Huxley's serious quest for a "reality revealer" pill and his personal experiments toward a perfect vision-producer are among the more controversial items in his efforts to formulate a suitable mystical system of life for the masses. The goal of the perfect stimulant is total awareness of events and objects in the present, leading to the "awakeness" of the contemplative mind in meditation. (p. 157)
In Island, Huxley's faith in the potentiality of man receives its clearest and most noble expression. Since Eyeless in Gaza Huxley was convinced that any improvement of existence in the modern world would have to begin with the individual. He believed that every individual has within him a latent fund of insight and compassion. He felt that a small but alert number of men, perhaps his own version of Milton's "few but fit," were capable of enlightenment without external aid. In a favorable environment, Huxley seems to have thought, this core of leaders would be able to assist large numbers of people in realizing their latent goodness and mystical potential. In Island, Huxley illustrates what could be done in a community if it were built on the premise of "goodness politics" rather than power politics….
Huxley sought to frame an ideal knowing that its acceptance, perhaps even its tolerance, in a materialistic world was impossible, yet believing that its relevance to men as individuals was supremely real. And it is difficult not to wonder if Island is Huxley's final legacy to posterity, if somehow he hoped that someday the quest toward such an ideal on a more universal scale would not be so far removed from reality. (p. 159)
Donald J. Watt, "Vision and Symbol in Aldous Huxley's 'Island'," in Twentieth Century Literature (copyright 1968, Hofstra University Press), Vol. 14, No. 3, October, 1968, pp. 149-60.
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Despite the fact that their tone perceptively darkens, Aldous Huxley's first three novels—and for freshness and exuberance they may be his finest comic achievement—seem at first glance much too similar. The same characters appear from one novel to the next under different names that one tends to regard as aliases; and the situations, though never repetitious, seem ultimately to support a basic repertoire of themes. Thus an examination of Crome Yellow (1921) leaves one as thrilled with Huxley's first novel as his original audience was. But if a perusal of Antic Hay (1923) and Those Barren Leaves (1925) follows immediately, one may conclude that Huxley has written the same novel three times. This is not a thoroughly misguided judgment, but rather an imprecise one and therefore it states negatively what is actually a positive accomplishment.
What Huxley has done, however, is to go over and over the same themes but never from precisely the same angle and never with the same results. The heroes of the first two novels are defeated in different ways by similar problems whereas the third protagonist enjoys a tentative, modified, perhaps only temporary success. Each time his hero confronts the central problems and fails, Huxley has someone similar to him, but also different, try over again from a slightly different approach.
When these three novels are looked at as a sort of trilogy, they remain infinitely readable in themselves but also take on an added significance in that the thematic alterations they catalogue reveal in microcosm the direction in which Huxley will develop in terms of ideas as well as craftsmanship. The changes the three novels exhibit in their handling of the same set of themes show Huxley doing between 1921 and 1925 what he would only permanently accomplish and accept by 1934 with the appearance, in Eyeless in Gaza, of his first full-fledged mystic-hero. At the same time, the increasing mastery of structure and technique from novel to novel and the sense one has that all three novels are really one book with three complementary, perhaps even contrapuntal, sets of characters and events make the many-layered complexity of Point Counter Point (1928) inevitable. (pp. 81-2)
The theme of ineffectual communication spans [Crome Yellow] while permeating the majority of scenes. The direction of these scenes is towards a sort of awakening wherein Denis [the protagonist], who has concluded that people are uncrossing parallel lines, is suddenly forced to look at himself as he appears to others….
[A young poet who tries to make reality conform to his own expectations,] Denis has a fund of patterns to impose on events but is seldom prepared for experience itself. To him, life is a rehearsable play. He blocks out scenes with himself in the central role and attempts to stage them. The missed cues and unexpected replies that follow as the interpretation of Pharaoh's dream that is written and directed by Denis Stone falls apart provide excellent comedy. (p. 82)
Language, a perennial problem for Huxley characters, even for the artificially stabilized society of Brave New World, stands between Denis and reality the way Keats' sensuous richness threatened his involvement with society. Denis regards words as though they were things. They become his substitute for reality and his conversation deteriorates into one long fallacy of misplaced concreteness…. Denis' centrifugal use of language takes him away from reality and into a private world….
In Denis' propensity for quotes and for the continual transformation of life into art, Huxley satirizes his own tendency to be too precious, overly multisyllabic, and, at times, esoterically erudite. Rehearsed scenes, ready-made phrases, words instead of things—these are the barriers Denis imposes between himself and life. He is the first in a series of Huxley characters who personify a paradoxical union of egotism and shyness. (p. 83)
The possibility of realizing the intricateness of other people to the same extent one is aware of complexity in oneself frightens Denis and intrigues Huxley. Denis must come to terms with "the vast conscious world outside himself." In so doing, he can no longer imagine himself the world's sole intelligent being, nor ignore the fact that others are "in their way as elaborate and complete as he is in his …"…. He must live with the fact that he seems as ridiculous and secondary to others as they do to him. His first move, however, is a retreat as he contrives his immediate departure from Crome…. Denis' departure constitutes escapism, a flight from rather than to. The confrontation of a Huxley hero with the phenomenon of other people must be tried again in the author's next novel.
Huxley's second novel, Antic Hay, is organized around images of futility…. Though Gumbril Jr. is practically Denis Stone and Prufrock all over again, the novel draws its atmosphere from T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Myra Viveash, who resembles Ernest Hemingway's Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises and Evelyn Waugh's Margot Beste-Chetwynd in Decline and Fall, epitomizes the ennui of modern life when she insists "tomorrow will be as awful as today."… (pp. 85-6)
[In] Antic Hay (1923), past and present are ludicrously contrasted and characters are dwarfed by roles their ancestors played with ease [, further evidencing the influence of T. S. Eliot's poetry]. Gumbril Sr. seems a weak version of Christopher Wren, as is Gumbril Jr. of the Rabelaisian man, and Coleman makes a ridiculous Satan…. In art, in life, even in their capacity for evil, Huxley's characters in Antic Hay are a shrivelled lot. Like Denis Stone, they all play roles; they are all escapists trying to be something they are not. The extent to which each inhabits a private word is further emphasized by the different role each chooses in an attempt to increase his stature. What Christopher Wren, Satan, [and] the Complete Man … could say to each other is hard to determine. (pp. 86-7)
Between Denis and Gumbril Jr. … one important difference exists. Gumbril seems more aware both of his own inadequacy and of egos other than his own. He even has a dream-self in which he succeeds where Denis failed…. In his dream, chance encounters and plotted opportunities occur and recur as they never did for Denis. Reality fulfills Gumbril's expectations…. (p. 87)
The central irony in the novel is that in a moment of crisis, when the opportunity to control events occurs, Gumbril Jr. chooses contrivance and coincidence over a chance for genuine contact. (p. 88)
Like Denis, Gumbril remains an escapist, a separatist. In the last chapter, he plans to flee to the continent to sell the pneumatic trousers he has invented…. He invented them to put cushioned material between humanity's posteriors and hard wooden benches and they signify his willingness to place some barrier between himself and the hard surfaces of reality.
In Those Barren Leaves, his third novel, Huxley moves Crome to Vezza, Italy. The characters in the book seem to succeed where those in Huxley's previous novels failed. The novelist Calamy, whose arrival at Vezza seems to be a return from a flight-journey similar to that undertaken by Gumbril at the end of Antic Hay, has more success with women than his two male predecessors combined…. Whereas Denis and Gumbril Jr. were satirized for raising shields against reality, Calamy's final retreat into solitude and speculation is favourably counterpointed against their flights.
Huxley's first three novels thus contain in miniature one of the major movements of his career: from a desire for involvement and unity to a later preference for properly motivated escape. The burden of inadequacy shifts in the course of these three novels until it rests less on the Prufrockian heroes and more on the society in which they live. In Those Barren Leaves, Huxley seems at times to suspect, perhaps even to discredit, the very things Crome Yellow and Antic Hay pursued.
Unlike Gumbril Jr., Calamy regards passion and its fulfilment as the barrier between himself and higher things…. He resolves to search for relationships between "different modes of being," for what exists in common between life and chemistry, a collection of cells and the consciousness of a caress. Like many Huxley heroes, Calamy is after a vision part Keatsian, part Blakean, in which staring at one object in all its aspects with sufficient intensity can lead to an explanation of all things…. Like the author of Point Counter Point, and unlike the parallel-line-characters in that novel, Calamy desires to see a dozen worlds simultaneously and to discover the relationships between them. Both elements in Huxley—that which inclines towards the ideal of completeness and that which prefers mysticism, or, in other words, the extrovert and the introvert—encourage him and Calamy to search for links between different modes of being. But where Denis and Gumbril failed to resuscitate the romantic imagination and its capacity for sympathetic projection, Calamy initiates a new approach to the problem of how to transcend one's personal limitations: he opens gulfs between people and between things. To discover relationships, he dissociates his mind from his body and resolves to rely solely on the former. (pp. 89-91)
The novels present three major encounters with the phenomenon of other people, but none of the three main heroes, each patterned on Huxley himself, comes to terms with his world. Each hero seems to start where his predecessor left off: Denis never makes contact; Gumbril has a more than golden opportunity, but fails; Calamy, finding the encounters modern society provides unsatisfactory, tries to make contact with higher things.
Crome Yellow, Antic Hay, and Those Barren Leaves thus form a natural trilogy containing Huxley's initial explorations of egotism and alienation within the self. Each of the three main heroes reacts differently to the chasms that separate people. In their different responses and their variant forms of flight, the heroes encourage a reading of Huxley's first three novels as an exercise in counterpoint in which … similar themes are pushed into different shapes from one novel to the next….
Huxley's first three novels thus show him becoming increasingly ambitious in his use of counterpoint. He begins to exploit his themes in terms of a multiplicity of similar situations and to view these situations as simultaneously as possible. (p. 92)
If one imagines [the events of the first three novels] occurring at once, something resembling the effect produced by related but different melodies in a musical composition begins to emerge.
All three novels move towards or stem from moments of insight. The themes of missed opportunity and bungled epiphany seem closely related. (p. 93)
Jerome Meckier, "The Counterpoint of Flight," in his Aldous Huxley: Satire and Structure (copyright © 1969 by Jerome Meckier; reprinted by permission of Jerome Meckier, Chatto & Windus, Ltd., and Barnes and Noble Books), Chatto & Windus, 1969 (and reprinted as "The Counterpoint of Flight: Huxley's Early Novels" in Aldous Huxley: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert E. Kuehn, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1974, pp. 81-96).
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The essay has become a neglected form. The rush of progress has made it too expensive to print what essayists have to say, and we regret it even more than the loss of the short story. For it cheers us to listen to an amusing man of great intelligence, especially when he talks about himself. Huxley satisfies this desire in [Along the Road] more than anywhere else. He is talking about the great things in his own civilisation and we shall see in [Beyond the Mexique Bay] that when he wanders in alien lands among peoples whose civilisations are remote, he loses something of his tone. (p. 121)
Huxley's normal tone in [Proper Studies] is well-mannered, straightforward and easy. The pace is equable, suitable to expository work; and he attracts us as an essayist should, because he is an interesting person, with sensible reactions to a difficult world. Society is in flux; a civilisation appears to be destroying itself, but is in fact becoming explosively something new, with almost limitless possibilities of social evolution. (pp. 132-33)
[The essays of Proper Studies] do not acquire the force of a connected argument, but a thread of connection runs through them, and this increases their impact. Their greatest interest is that they adumbrate the themes he will pursue in Ends and Means and The Perennial Philosophy. Everything in the later books is here in embryo. And here too are the ideas which will dominate his fiction. But the last essay enjoys a different mood, like the little comedy after a serious play. In this essay on our quite modern weakness for comfort, he exploits the gifts which entertained us so much in Crome Yellow. He is gay and mischievous; and innocently so. His prose dances along. He happens on a nonsense and develops it for all he is worth. It is clowning in the best sense. He pauses to think and races off in another cascade of agreeable nonsense. And back of it all is a good deal of good sense and truth. The preacher has relaxed. We have come back to the creative artist. (p. 139)
His approach [to Ends and Means] is patrician. In his opening pages he subscribes to the brahminical view of non-attachment. He is trying to find a word 'that will adequately describe the ideal man of the free philosophers, the mystics, the founders of religion'. He decides that 'non-attached' is perhaps the best. He is non-attached to his bodily lusts, his desire for power, his possessions, to anger and hatred, 'to his exclusive loves'. He is non-attached to wealth, fame, social position and even to science, art, speculation, philanthropy. And he is non-attached for a very positive purpose, so that he can properly exercise charity, courage and intelligence. (p. 140)
Ends and Means, like Proper Studies, is about man in society, and the solitary, seeking ultimate reality, is only discussed in contrast. Only when he comes to The Perennial Philosophy is he mainly concerned with the solitude and silence of the ascetic, who withdraws completely from society in 'holy indifference' and affects the world of men by his remote and non-attached sanctity. (pp. 141-42)
All that Huxley says in this book is now generally known. But very little of it has been done; human prejudice and inertia have seen to that…. He wrote it in response to the knowledge explosion and its balancing horror, the emergence of Mass Man. It remains relevant. Its eloquence and eagerness will help us to make the ideas in it effective. (p. 151)
[The language of The Perennial Philosophy is] the language of sermons and many chapters of this book, especially the later ones, give us all the pleasures of an eloquent sermon, denouncing, explaining, exhorting….
Huxley's wide reading and the exertions of many translators give us a book which attracts us to the study of the true end of man, the unitive knowledge of God. (p. 153)
It is an invitation rather than a handbook. The only sure and safe way to explore the further potentialities of our consciousness is with a guru, a teacher. Without personal guidance it is difficult to begin, and easy to fail. An oriental ascetic would probably find the book inadequate. (p. 154)
As we go through the book we can make for ourselves an anthology of Huxleyan dicta on contemporary societies and world affairs, those public evils against which he was continuously tilting. In these vigorous pages we do not live entirely on the frontiers of spiritual experience. The background must be prepared is what he implies, so that western man can seek the unitive knowledge of God. (p. 156)
[The brief essay Science, Liberty and Peace] is part of the agonised debate among scientists after the atom bombs had dropped. How could they make sure that their part of the knowledge explosion would never be used for the destruction of mankind?… The Tolstoyan theme of working in contact with the earth, of decentralising to save mankind from disaster, is developed throughout the essay. The argument is based firmly on what he had written in The Perennial Philosophy. As soon as he had worked into his subject, he echoes the Perennial theme. Human beings have basic physical and psychological needs; food, clothing, shelter, and the chance to develop their mental capacity…. His argument is that man has been used for applied science and not applied science for man. He regrets that it had not been used for the 'benefit of the individual men and women, considered as personalities, each one of which is capable, given suitable material and social conditions, of a moral and spiritual development amounting, in some cases, to a total transfiguration'. He is carried away. We have heard him argue before that it is not by material things that man will move forward towards his Final End. (pp. 160-61)
[Huxley's main theme is] the problems of the applied scientists. They 'have equipped the political bosses who control the various national states with unprecedentally efficient instruments of coercion', and he means everything from tanks and tear gas to television. By doing so, applied science 'has contributed directly to the centralization of power in the hands of the few'. There is another aspect of the battle between the few and the many which we have seen a great deal of since Huxley wrote. The few are determined to keep things going and to progress despite the many. (p. 162)
The problem of liberty and peace has been increased by Mass Man. If liberty is taken from him we can have peace; but our liberty goes too. (p. 164)
The purpose of [Heaven and Hell] is to examine the methods by which visions may be obtained. Huxley's analysis reminds us that during our knowledge explosion we have learned that life and happiness is very much a matter of chemical constitution. The line between sanity and insanity, health and malaise, may depend on the presence or absence of a trace element or a vitamin in our food. Huxley's concern here is not with the body in normal conditions but with the spirit when the body is tuned to allow it to explore 'the not too distant Virginias and Carolinas of the personal subconscious and the vegetative soul'. The exploration can be made in various ways, by the use of drugs and hypnosis among them. (pp. 194-95)
Like The Doors of Perception, this essay is a concentration of skill and experience. It is wonderfully suggestive, a fine example of the intellectual function of seeing hitherto unsuspected relationships.
When the climax comes, it is a rehearsal of what he had previously written on these topics: 'Of those who die an infinitesimal minority are capable of immediate union with the divine Ground.' The essay is the most compressed and mordant of his explorations of the mental phenomena by which we become conscious of a farther world. It reflects his immoderate hydroptic thirst for learned support from all ages and all civilisations; but it never grows heavy and it never grows dull. It illuminates a fascinating subject. (p. 195)
Laurence Brander, Aldous Huxley: A Critical Study (© Laurence Brander 1970), Bucknell University Press, 1970, 244 p.
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[One] of the most impressive achievements of Point Counter Point lies within [the] area of experimentation with form and its close integration with the central theme of the novel. By placing within the story a writer who is jotting down notes for an essentially new type of novel the author openly acknowledges this intention, and his well-known Quaker Oats image of a novel about a novelist writing a novel underscores the point…. [The] novel being planned by Philip Quarles is actually the outer novel, Point Counter Point, in which he is a participant. Any innovations, therefore, which he suggests for his own projected book must be taken as applying directly to Huxley's own experiments with form.
The "multiplicity of viewpoint" which Philip decides to adopt for his novel has, of course, long been seen as in some way relevant to the main novel, but only in a very restricted sense, as helping to create those ludicrous juxtapositions and incongruous polarities which contribute to its wit. (pp. 378-79)
The reason for Philip's enthusiasm [for the concept of multiple viewpoints in a novel] is clear. Such an approach will enable him to explore the most perplexing element introduced by scientific thought—that, as the title of the novel suggests, no settled or controlling view seemed possible any longer. Each standpoint was cancelled out by a counter point…. From one standpoint we are shown the absurd untenability of the second; then the process is reversed and from the second standpoint we are shown the utter irrationality of the first. The result is spiritual paralysis, the conflict of reason and emotion symptomatic of that age for which Huxley became a spokesman. (p. 380)
It is here that the brilliance of the counterpoint technique can be seen at its best. For instead of offering us a single Prufrockian character, longing to be a Michelangelo or John the Baptist but left pinned and wriggling on the wall by the formulated phrases of psychology or biology which his intellect must affirm, he offers us here a series of different characters, each adopting one of the various possible responses to that dilemma and each failing to achieve any harmony or integrity of viewpoint which could satisfy the author or, indeed, the reader. (p. 381)
[One] should note how integral Huxley's literary innovation was to the artistic setting of his period. At exactly the same time as Huxley was writing Point Counter Point, Picasso was introducing into modern painting that same multiplicity of viewpoint. We are now so familiar with the device that we tend to forget how revolutionary it was when he began to present the human face, for example, viewed simultaneously both frontally and in profile on the assumption that if the eye may see only one view at a time, the mind is aware that other equally valid angles exist. (p. 382)
[Not] only Walter and Philip but almost every character in the novel can be seen as representing a different facet of the book's central concern, a different way of responding to that shared problem. Some of these responses seem absurd, some seem initially legitimate; but together, the bewildering variety, the contradictions they produce, and their ultimate failure to offer a solution make the choice of any final satisfactory view quite out of the question….
Such characters may themselves be unaware of the absurdity of their positions, but the reader is left in no doubt. Illidge adopts the materialist ideology of communism to which he is fiercely dedicated, the principle that the individual is as nothing compared to the needs of the body politic; yet his heart and sentiments prompt him secretly to send a weekly allowance to his aged mother. This dichotomy of heart and intellect is dreadfully exposed as Spandrell drives him to political murder. (p. 383)
[These characters] are not, as has so often been argued, mere eccentrics pursuing their own idiosyncratic philosophies, but are far more intimately connected. Originally, it is true, Philip had thought of the contrapuntal technique almost as a joke, Jones murdering his wife juxtaposed to Smith wheeling a perambulator, but in its maturer and more developed form, as it functions in the outer novel itself, it is infinitely more subtle. There, presented in a natural setting with various people apparently engaged in interweaving social, marital, and amorous activities, we are in fact provided with a spectrum of the various responses to one central problem, the shared predicament of the age.
When Huxley presents that dilemma himself, not mediated through one of the characters, it is then that music performs its most prominent role in the novel. The two passages on Bach at the beginning of the work are delightfully written—amusing, ironical, and presented with the panache of the true satirist. Yet as one might expect from a true satirist, beneath the surface humor lies a deeply disturbing question. After warning us how each player in the orchestra imagines that his is the only true statement and, as that truth slides away and is replaced by another, leaves us bewildered by the complexity and variety of such supposed truths, he begins to describe the Bach fugue. For him such music represents not only absolute beauty, but also the supreme proof to the soul that there is an ultimate harmony, order, and goodness in the universe. But as the Walter-like heart responds to the romantic message, a Philip-like intellect interrupts in parenthesis to remind us of the harsh, incontrovertible facts which nullify that affirmation of splendor. (pp. 384-85)
The noble sound of Bach, wafted upwards to arouse ecstasy in the heart of Lord Edward, becomes in scientific terms merely a series of vibrations agitating the hairy endings of the auditory nerve by means of the malleus, incus, and stirrup bones. So much for the physicist. (p. 385)
Spandrell is a further variation on Philip and Walter, and with the climax of his story, the novel returns to the theme of music. The coldly analytical mind of Philip is here combined with a fervor of the heart, but this time religiously oriented. Had he been born in an earlier age, he could have lived contentedly as a scholastic dwelling within a monastery; but born into the twentieth century he cannot simply accept the firm conviction of his heart. He must have tangible or visible proof of God's existence before he can believe. The intellect, once again, is at war with the heart in this specifically scientific setting…. Here is the ultimate agony of the novel, as music, the symbol of the soul, is set against the intellectual's need for scientific proof—a need which Huxley himself seems to have recognized as valid. The heart yearns to believe in beauty and in the nobility of man, while the mind perceives the grotesqueness of his zoological or physiological state.
This is the theme which unifies the novel beneath the light banter, and once that theme has been perceived, the multiplicity of viewpoint emerges not as an entertaining trick but as an artistic tool for exploring the contradictory and diverse truths of the new era. To regard Point Counter Point as an aesthetic failure, as so many have, on the grounds that "the pattern promised by the title is never achieved," or even to argue that the dominant device is plot repetition with minor variations is, I think, to miss the extraordinarily subtle relationship between the characters, which counter-point each other as in a fugue, each producing its own variation on the central tragic theme. (pp. 385-86)
Murray Roston, "The Technique of Counterpoint," in Studies in the Novel (copyright 1977 by North Texas State University), Vol. IX, No. 4, Winter, 1977, pp. 378-88.