Utopias Module Week 2: Aldous Huxley

* by Mr Andy Sawyer

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)

John Clute (SFE) says that BNW "contributed to social and literary thought a definite model of pharmacological totalitarianism". People controlled by drugs ("soma") and mass media ("feelies") but above all by being chemically adjusted for intelligence and aptitude before birth, and conditioned by various psychological methods in infancy to develop into the appropriate castes, from Alpha to Epsilon, which society demands.

If there is a "tradition" to BNW it is probably the literary utopian/dystopian tradition beginning with Thomas More's Utopia (1516) and the social-science speculations of people like J. B. S. Haldane whose collection of essays Daedalus, or Science and the Future (1924) anticipated genetic engineering. BNW can be seen as very much an attack ("a sarcastic extrapolation", Brian Stableford in SFE) on Haldane and the utopian scientific optimism of H. G. Wells (as was C. S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet (1938)). See also Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel, We (1924), which was also an influence on George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

* Epigraph: "les utopies sont realisable". The danger of modern society is that "utopias" have become feasible.
* NB 1946 foreword: the Savage should have had another possibility "between the utopian and the primitive horns of his dilemma would lie the possibility of sanity." (p. 8) in co-operative, Kropotkinesque refugees and exiles. Cf the islands to which Marx and Watson are exiled.

Bernard Marx the misfit, Helmhotz Watson the artist, but it is the "savage", brought up in a reservation, who is the real Outsider.

* Is he a viewpoint character? Is there a viewpoint character? Or has Huxley divided the oppositional viewpoint among several characters?
* "Malpais" (the "savage" reservation) = "bad country" or "bad place" (= "dystopia"). Both ironic and straightforward: its primitivist ritual and conditioning through myth and symbolism rather than psychology and technology parallel the World State, but do not signify positive alternatives.

Note how Huxley introduces the marvellous in apparently everyday terms. "A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories." Perhaps not particularly marvellous to a reader today. But in Huxley's time?

Note the Director's lecture about the Hatchery. "Huxley's manner of repeating the director's words suggests that he, the author, and we, the readers, share familiarity with these details to which the young trainees are being introduced, as well as a sophisticated rapport which excludes both Director and trainees." (May, p. 103)

A common sf technique, but not, perhaps so sophisticated in the US sf of the day.

* Can we suggest a different "implied reader" in Huxley to the sort of sf published in Astounding or Amazing during that time?

Satire on Pavlovian "behaviourism", Fordist mass production, and other methods of social control.

Hedonism. "Everyone belongs to everyone else." Is this another method of social control?

"A book about the future can interest us only if its prophecies look as though they might conceivably come true." (p. 9) Huxley goes on to answer this. "The theme of Brave New World is not the advancement of science as such; it is the advancement of science as it affects individuals."

The savage in the Hospital, throwing the soma out of the window: "I'll make you be free whether you want to or not."

The removal of the concept of History, replaced by the timeless, idyllic present of soma and the removal, as far as possible of the gap between desire and fulfilment: in sex particularly, but also in industrial production and culture.
* "Our Ford" Henry Ford, the "Father" of modern production-line techniques, developed at his Highland Park plant in Detroit. Fordism in BNW is economics and spirituality-substitute, not science. But utopia has come about through science and is dependent on controlling it. Hence the question is, what is science -- knowledge -- for? Is happiness and stability enough?
* Taylorism: Frederick W. Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management (1911) (Baker, pp 83-85); Taylor's theories of line production were adopted and developed by Ford.
* "Our Freud". Infantilism of sexuality. (Ch 3) "The appalling dangers of family life." The "charming" little children playing their "rudimentary sexual game" and the incredulity of the students at hearing about the customs of the past: "poor little kids not allowed to amuse themselves." But note how sexuality in BNW manifests itself. Instant gratification: the nursery-rhyme sexuality of "orgy-porgy".

Mustapha Mond: "Happiness has got to be paid for." (p. 183)

The Savage: "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy." (p. 192)

The argument between MM and the Savage is balanced: presenting the facts. Happiness versus srt and science. Must we choose between them? Compare the debate between O'Brien and Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four in which Smith is right but defeated.

* The society of BNW is a managed society. Mustapha Mond's justification for not making everyone Alphas or reducing hours of work. "The Inventions Office is stuffed with plans for labour-saving processes." (p. 180) Science must be muzzled; Alphas would be as unhappy doing Delta work as deltas would be without work to keep them occupied.
* B. F. Skinner's "behaviourist" utopia, Walden Two (1948), focusing on psychological/social conditioning. See the summary of Skinner's "Behaviourism" in Kumar, 348-9. Skinner's first major work The Behaviour of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis (1938), and his utopia is based upon a "scientific" theory of human behaviour. Walden Two is "a utopia of means, not ends," (Kumar, 349)

BNW is part of a debate, carried on in fact and fiction, about the nature of a future society among European intellectuals on the inter-war period. (e.g. Bertrand Russell, The Scientific Outlook (1931); H. G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (1905); The Shape of Things to Come (1933; filmed 1935 as Things to Come); J. B. S. Haldane, Daedalus (1924); Possible Worlds (1927) and others. Concerns included the effects of World War One, the rise of modern industrial techniques in the USA and their effects on society, the Russian revolution and the rise of fascism, all suggesting a regimented state focused on industrial production and driven by ideology.

How far does American sf of the period take part in this debate?

Keith M. May, Aldous Huxley (Elek, 1972), pp 84-117.
Robert S. Baker, Brave New World: History, Science and Dystopia.
Krishan Kumar, Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...