Thursday, September 29, 2005

A (not so) brave new world?

Yes. I just read Huxley’s brave new world. And while I was happy that I finally got around to reading one of the books that played a role in boosting counterculture, I was also left with a slightly bad taste in my mouth at the end of the story.

Some things about the book bothered me because they seem to quietly reinforce mainstream stereotypes… and coming from a book that otherwise criticizes mainstream culture so sharply, it seems to me rather insidious.

The way Huxley describes the reserve bugs me. It irritates me that a man so reputed for his sensitivity and intelligence could take such a crass view of brown skin culture. Why is it that he harps on the most basic and coarse rituals (such as the whipping) as being the essence and core of Indian culture? Why not speak of the way the shamans healed? The way they related to nature, read the temperament of the earth? Why not speak of how they had a strong sense of collective responsibility which meant taking care of each member of the tribe? Why not speak of their knowledge and traditions that respected spirituality and the dignity of life? Instead, to merely focus on them as savages, beating themselves after a chant-induced frenzy (what, as opposed to soma-induced orgy porgy?) , dancing with snakes (for crying out loud!!) smacks to me of contempt for the brown person. Which like I said earlier, is very disturbing in a book that speaks for changing the social system.

Another thing I was pretty upset to come across in his book was his attitude towards women. The mighty man stands against the world, fighting for all that is pure and beautiful, and is toppled from his pedestal…. by a woman. How banal. Why make Lenina a scapegoat for John’s inability to live up to his own ideals? If his contempt for the Fordian order and belief in his other “brave new world” couldn’t stand the test of lust, why the hell dump all the blame on the object of lust? The man condemns her as a whore. He thinks she is the epitome of the sickening social order that has come to be… and yet longs for her. The author again subtly passes judgment on her alone. What does it say for John that he should see her as such a symbol and still yearn for her? Not much, in my opinion!

So even if this book is a first tottering step away from mainstream culture, it’s already asking for the old caste system to continue. We’d like freedom and art, but it’s not really important that these mere brown skins and women get it.... ?

Nope. Like I said. Disturbing. Maybe the book was starkly non-conformist and very progressive for the era that it was written in. Maybe the things I am uncomfortable about have a more contemporary context. Could be. But I think its important to hold up that book to sunlight and look at it keenly again.



Anonymous Shriram said...


Been coming here since I stumbled upon some of your other posts. I left one really long comment and haven't found the time to comment about the other ones.

I Haven't read the book you are talking about. Maybe I will read it sometime and leave a comment.

I like your style of writing. Keep it going!


1:40 am  
Blogger m. said...

hi shriram, yup, saw the comments - thanks for taking the time to put it up :)
i wouldnt rank brave new world as being conceptually on par with orwell's animal farm (which is supreme in dystopia!)but its worth reading once...

7:44 pm  
Blogger Jake said...

lol. whats an orgy porgy ?

ahem. * clearing throat * you said it, the book was cutting, no bleeding edge at the time it was written. your opinion of it now, stems from the present, which obviously, on a very optimistic note, means that the world has moved on, and what huxley thought of as avant garde, does not cut it today.

each person has some set biases and opinions tat are necessary for his/her survival in a world. these set of biases and beleifs are needed to continue funtioning, after all one cannot function without a frame of reference to live by. but also as one grows and during during their lives they challenge some while not even thinking to challenge others. this is the evolution of the persons own beliefs/culture/faiths etc. and this where the culture clash and all that jazz between parents and children comes from. the parents were told somehtings and learnt some. the end result is their way of looking an interacting with society. their children in turn are told certain things and inturn learn some new ones, but different from what their parents did. so certain beliefs and normal things might not, will not be so normal for their parents.

same is the case with huxley, i think, he did what he could, what he thought was breaking conventions for his time. he didnt reckon, he'd deal with a post mordern feminist from the 21st century ;-)

1:31 am  
Blogger m. said...

@ jake: ahem. im very glad to able to tell you that "orgy porgy" wasnt something i cooked up for once - you can blame huxley!
i found the frame of reference bit interesting, although i wouldnt quite agree with you about needing biases or beliefs. i cannot be as charitable about huxleys effort either : for someone who could so clearly see where the system was headed, and could appreciate its menace, its surprising (to put it mildly) and rather questionable that he did exhibit such a bias. it raises many disturbing issues about the politics he seems to have been supporting.
post modern and all?! thank you thank you! and awesome: i see someones been digging into feminism with a vengeance! ;)

4:54 am  
Blogger Jake said...

we all need biases girl, from a simple assumption that when you walk up to a chair to sit on it, you assume it support your weight. i doubt anyone of us actually stops to spend concious effort on finding out whether that chair we approach will hold our weight or not. thats a bias too. there are biase and there are biases, some absolutely necessary to go on living and to interact with our environment, others not so. and there are many, that are the top of the intellectual pyramid. more complex than a simple yes or now, black or white. its this kind of bias i was talking about. and all i was saying, my dear femme fatale ;), is that huxley wrote with a bias/beilef/cirumstance that was unique and contemporary of his time. not ours. thats all.

and as for digging into feminism, i prefer to call it varied reading .. ahem. cough. :-P

11:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't know if you'll read this one, comrade. the post is a touch old.

your feminism-racisim interpretation is original and certainly intruiguing, but it doesn't do huxley justice. BNW is not primarily either a science fiction book or a socialist one. it's more than anything moral and perhaps even spiritual. well, at least this reader thought so.

may i suggest a careful reading of his own foreword, and maybe also a sampling of some of his later work. "island" perhaps?

anyway, just wanted to say you write well and with passion, which is probbaly the only excuse for writing at all. you might want to laugh at life a little more. it is better, as some poetic bloke said, to have a lover's quarrel with the world, than to defy it in anger.

8:46 pm  
Blogger m. said...

hi anon.

i know the book is beyond merely science - its about a social ideal. and thats why it scares me! BNW was supposed to be a cult counterculture book, and a very honest, progressive one. it is all the more reason, i think, for us to mull over it. when a man like huxley writes a book with such jarring undertones, it is disturbing. it raises pressing questions about our politics.

i could be reading too much into the book, or maybe not enough - i dont know.

i also think BNW can stand on its own : it is a completely formed message and does not need props (even if they are huxleys other works). im disappointed with him for now but yes, one day ill try island :)

you last lines have been playing in my head for quite a while since i read them - youre absolutely right. i hadnt read that one before but i liked it. it made a lot of sense. (interesting - a humble yet powerful idea!) it also reminded of something gibran had written : "a sense of humour is a sense of proportion". how true that is!

i keep telling myself to cool down and that we need to laugh or the world can get really depressing, but oh its tough! ill get there some day :)

thanks for dropping in :)

5:35 pm  

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