Title: Brave New World.
Author: Aldous Huxley.
Genre: Fiction, literature, dystopian fiction, futuristic fiction, science fiction, social criticism.
Publication Date: 1932.
Summary: Set in London of AD 2540, the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that combine profoundly to change society. The World State is a benevolent dictatorship headed by ten World Controllers, where people are genetically engeneered into their intelligence and social castes, and controlled by excessive pleasure and entertainment. The society is illuminated by the activities of two of the novel's central characters, Lenina Crowne and Bernard Marx. Lenina, a hatchery worker, is socially accepted and contented, but Bernard, a psychologist in the Directorate of Hatcheries and Conditioning, is not. Bernard takes a holiday with Lenina at a Savage Reservation in New Mexico and takes John, raised in "primitive" pre-World-State conditions, and through John's struggle to understand it, the true horrors of the perfectly happy society come to light.
My rating: 9/10.
♥ The experiments were abandoned. No further attempt was made to teach children the length of the Nile in their sleep. Quite rightly. You can’t learn a science unless you know what it’s all about.
“Whereas, if they’d only started on moral education,” said the Director, leading the way towards the door. The students followed him, desperately scribbling as they walked and all the way up in the lift. “Moral education, which ought never, in any circumstances, to be rational.”
♥ “You all remember,” said the Controller, in his strong deep voice, “you all remember, I suppose, that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford’s: History is bunk. History,” he repeated slowly, “is bunk.”
He waved his hand; and it was as though, with an invisible feather whisk, he had brushed away a little dust, and the dust was Harappa, was Ur of the Chaldees; some spider-webs, and they were Thebes and Babylon and Cnossos and Mycenae. Whisk, whisk - and where was Odysseus, where was Job, where were Jupiter and Gotama and Jesus? Whisk - and those specks of antique dirt called Athens and Rome, Jerusalem and the Middle Kingdom - all were gone. Whisk - the place where Italy had been was empty. Whisk, the cathedrals; whisk, whisk, King Lear and the Thoughts of Pascal. Whisk, Passion; whisk, Requiem; whisk, Symphony; whisk…
♥ Impulse arrested spills over, and the flood is feeling, the flood is passion, the flood is even madness; it depends on the force of the current, the height and strength of the barrier. The unchecked stream flows smoothly down its appointed channels into a calm well-being.
♥ And yet the man had meant well enough. Which only made it, in a way, much worse. Those who meant well behaved in the same way as those who meant badly.
♥ A physical shortcoming could produce a kind of mental excess. The process, it seemed, was reversible. Mental excess could produce, for its own purposes, the voluntary blindness and deafness of deliberate solitude, the artificial impotence of asceticism.
♥ “I’m thinking of a queer feeling I sometimes get, a feeling that I’ve got something important to say and the power to say it - only I don’t know what it is, and I can’t make any use of the power. If there was some different way of writing… Or else something else to write about…” He was silent; then, “You see,” he went on at last, “I’m pretty good at inventing phrases - you know, the sort of words that suddenly make you jump, almost as though you’d sat on a pin, they seem so new and exciting even though they’re about something hypnopaedically obvious. But that doesn’t seem enough. It’s not enough for the phrases to be good; what you make with them ought to be good too.”
♥ “...I feel I could do something much more important. Yes, and more intense, more violent. But what? What is there more important to say? And how can one be violent about the sort of things one’s expected to write about? Words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly - they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
♥ The President stood up, made the sign of the T and, switching on the synthetic music, let loose the soft indefatigable beating of drums and a choir of instruments - near-wind and super-string - that plangently repeated and repeated the brief and unescapably haunting melody of the First Solidarity Hymn. Again, again - and it was not the ear that heard the pulsating rhythm, it was the midriff, the wail and clang of those recurring harmonies haunted, not the mind, but the yearning bowels of compassion.
♥ “Wasn’t it simply wonderful?” She looked at Bernard with an expression of rapture, but of rapture in which there was no trace of agitation or excitement - for to be excited is still to be unsatisfied. Hers was the calm ecstasy of achieved consummation, the peace, not of mere vacant satiety and nothingness, but of balanced life, of energies at rest and in equilibrium. A rich and living peace.
♥ The mad bad talk rambled on. “I want to know what passion is,” she heard him saying. “I want to feel something strongly.”
♥ He hated Popé more and more. A man can smile and smile and be a villain. Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain. What did the words exactly mean? He only half knew. But their magic was strong and went on rumbling in his head, and somehow it was as though he had never really hated Popé before; never really hated him because he had never been able to say how much he hated him. But now he had these words, these words like drums and singing and magic. These words and the strange story out of which they were taken (he couldn’t make head or tail of it, but it was wonderful, wonderful all the same) - they gave him a reason for having Popé; and they made his hatred more real; they even made Popé himself more real.
♥ He looked down at her for a moment, pale, pained, desiring, and ashamed of his desire. He was not worthy, not… Their eyes for a moment met. What treasures hers promised! A queen’s ransom of temperament. Hastily he looked away, disengaged his imprisoned arm. He was obscurely terrified lest she should cease to be something he could feel himself unworthy of.
♥ “...Not to be published.” He underlined the words. ...A pity, he thought, as he signed his name. It was a masterly piece of work. But once you began admitting explanations in terms of purpose - well, you didn’t know what the result might be. It was the sort of idea that might easily recondition the more unsettled minds among the higher castes - make them lose their faith in happiness and the Sovereign Good and take to believing, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere; that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of knowledge. Which was, the Controller reflected, quite possibly true. But not, in the present circumstances, admissible. He picked up his pen again, and under the words ‘Not to be published’ drew a second line, thicker and blacker than the first; then sighed. “What fun it would be,” he thought, “if one didn’t have to think about happiness!”
♥ As a victim, the Savage possessed, for Bernard, this enormous superiority over the others: that he was accessible. One of the principal functions of a friend is to suffer (in a milder and symbolic form) the punishments that we should like, but are unable, to inflict upon our enemies.
♥ He squeezed her limp hand almost in violence, as though he would force her to come back from this dream of ignoble pleasures, from these base and hateful memories - back into the present, back into reality; the appalling present, the awful reality - but sublime, bus significant, but desperately important precisely because of the imminence of that which made them so fearful.
♥ “...Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”
♥ “...Happiness is a hard master - particularly other people’s happiness. A much harder master, if one isn’t conditioned to accept it unquestionably, than truth.”
♥ “...Our Ford himself did a great deal to shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness. Mass production demanded the shift. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t. And, of course, whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered. Still, in spite of everything, unrestricted scientific research was still permitted. People still went on talking about truth and beauty as though they were the sovereign goods. Right up to the time of the Nine Years’ War. That made them change their tune all right. What’s the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when anthrax bombs are popping all around you? That was when science first began to be controlled - after the Nine Years’ War. People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We’ve gone on controlling ever since. It hasn’t been very good for truth, of course. But it’s been very good for happiness. One can’t have something for nothing. Happiness has got to be paid for.”
♥ “But I like the inconveniences.”
“We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right, then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.”
There was a long silence.
“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.
Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. “You’re welcome,” he said.
♥ There was a silence. In spite of their sadness - because of it, even; for their sadness was the symptom of their love for one another - the three young men were happy.
From the Introduction to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, by Margaret Atwood:
Meanwhile, those of us still pottering along on the earthly plane - and thus still able to read books - are left with Brave New World. How does it stand up, seventy-five years later? And how close have we come, in real life, to the society of vapid consumers, idle pleasure-seekers, inner-space trippers and programmed conformists that it presents?
The answer to the first question, for me, is that it stands up very well. It’s still as vibrant, fresh, and somehow shocking as it was when I, for one, first read it.
The answer to the second question, Dear Reader, rests with you. Look in the mirror: do your see Lenina Crowne looking back at you, or do you see John the Savage? If you’re a human being, you’ll be seeing something of both, because we’ve always wanted things both ways. We wish to be as the careless gods, lying around on Olympus, eternally beautiful, having sex and being entertained by the anguish of others. And at the same time we want to be those anguished others, because we believe, with John, that life has meaning beyond the play of the senses, and that immediate gratification will never be enough.
It was Huxley’s genius to present us to ourselves in all our ambiguity. Alone among the animals, we suffer from the future perfect tense. Rover the Dog cannot imagine a future world of dogs in which all fleas will have been eliminated and doghood will finally have achieved its full glorious potential. But thanks to their uniquely structures languages, human beings can imagine such enhanced states for themselves, though they can also question their own grandiose constructions. It’s these double-sided imaginative abilities that produce masterpieces of speculations such as Brave New World.
To quote The Tempest, source of Huxley’s title: ‘We are such stuff/As dreams are made on.’ He might well have added: and nightmares.