(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

On November 22, 1963, while his family gathered (except Laura Huxley, his wife) to watch television bring the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the stunned world, Aldous Huxley died peacefully and painlessly, slipping quietly into the “realm of Light” under the influence of LSD. What was there about this man who, two years before, had given a lecture at M.I.T. that caused traffic to jam all the way across the Charles River into Boston?

Huxley in his usual modest fashion blamed the tie-up on his having been around for so long: “If I live to be a hundred, I shall be like Stonehenge.” In an uncharacteristic stroke of misanalysis, Huxley left the question unanswered. Perhaps it simply seemed that he had been around for a long time. The Eisenhower generation of college students had read his Point Counter Point in Contemporary Fiction classes, and Jocelyn Brooke, attending college in England in the 1920’s, had called him “the wicked uncle” and recalled the excitement adolescents felt over his advanced ideas, his intellectual one-upsmanship, and his superb prose style. He seemed to have lived, as Einstein, longer than he did, because of his tremendously productive outpouring and the fact that he rode out his life to the end on a vast wave of enthusiasms and projects. All this was made even more amazing because of his almost total blindness since he was sixteen and his lengthy and losing battle toward the end of his life with cancer of the tongue.

“Moksha” is a Sanskrit word meaning “liberation from the body.” The “moksha-medicine” of Island was a far different drug from the soma of Brave New World. Soma was dispensed by a benevolent and paternal government to provide pleasure and escape from a totalitarian regime whose citizens were victims of chemically induced apathy and euphoria, while Moksha provided visionary information about the Other Reality to be used for the welfare of the public. Moksha is a collection of addresses, essays, letters from the last years of Huxley’s life, and portions from his novels, Brave New World and Island, and the long essay The Doors of Perception. Among the many contributions this sampler from the immense fabric of Huxley’s thought offers is an insight into the breadth and depth of one man’s intellectual accomplishments. Moksha can also be liberating for the reader in a time (as Huxley knew) that is extremely unsympathetic to visionary experiences (which is why so few are reported).

T. S. Eliot knew men could stand only so much reality. So where does one go for escape, if not to visionary worlds? The problem is that the search for ecstasy has destroyed many people who have used alcohol, which is often unsatisfactory and self-destructive; other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, are of poor-quality transcendence and can have dangerous, if not fatal, effects. These, said Huxley, provide a pitiful substitute for the sacramental drugs which he foresaw as offering almost pure benefits, if used and prepared for properly.


(The entire section is 1269 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Booklist. LXXIV, June 1, 1978, p. 1530.

Library Journal. CIII, April 1, 1978, p. 764.