From Music at Night, Aldous Huxley

On the same theme as ‘Tragedy in Literature’ which I previously shared, here is the titlepiece of Aldous Huxley’s work:

But that was not all. The thought that I was a Neo-Classic preyed upon my mind — a NeoClassic without knowing it, a Neo-Classic against all my desires and intentions. For I have never had the smallest ambition to be a Classic of any kind, whether Neo, Palaeo, Proto or Eo. Not at any price. For, to begin with, I have a taste for the lively, the mixed and the incomplete in art, preferring it to the universal and the chemically pure. In the second place, I regard the classical discipline, with its insistence on elimination, concentration, simplification, as being, for all the formal difficulties it imposes on the writer, essentially an escape from, a getting out of, the greatest difficulty — which is to render adequately, in terms of literature, that infinitely complex and mysterious thing, actual reality. The world of mind is a comfortable Wombland, a place to which we flee from the bewildering queerness and multiplicity of the actual world. Matter is incomparably subtler and more intricate than mind. Or, to put it a little more philosophically, the consciousness of events which we have immediately, through our senses and intuitions and feelings, is incomparably subtler than any idea we can subsequently form of that immediate consciousness. Our most refined theories, our most elaborate descriptions are but crude and barbarous simplifications of a reality that is, in every smallest sample, infinitely complex. Now, simplifications must, of course, be made; if they were not, it would be quite impossible to deal artistically (or, for that matter, scientifically) with reality at all. What is the smallest amount of simplification compatible with comprehensibility, compatible with the expression of a humanly significant meaning? It is the business of the non-classical naturalistic writer to discover. His ambition is to render, in literary terms, the quality of immediate experience — in other words, to express the finally inexpressible. To come anywhere near achieving this impossibility is much more difficult, it seems to me, than, by eliminating and simplifying, to achieve the perfectly realizable classical ideal. The cutting out of all the complex particularities of a situation (which means, as we have seen, the cutting out of all that is corporeal in it) strikes me as mere artistic shirking. But I disapprove of the shirking of artistic difficulties. Therefore I find myself disapproving of classicism. Literature is also philosophy, is also science. In terms of beauty it enunciates truths. The beauty-truths of the best classical works possess, as we have seen, a certain algebraic universality of significance. Naturalistic works contain the more detailed beauty-truths of particular observation. These beauty-truths of art are truly scientific. All that modern psychologists, for example, have done is to systematize and de-beautify the vast treasures of knowledge about the human soul contained in novel, play, poem and essay. Writers like Blake and Shakespeare, like Stendhal and Dostoevsky, still have plenty to teach the modern scientific professional. There is a rich scientific harvest to be reaped in the works even of minor writers. By nature a natural historian, I am ambitious to add my quota to the sum of particularized beauty-truths about man and his relations with the world about him. (Incidentally, this world of relationships, this borderland between “subjective” and “objective” is one which literature is peculiarly, perhaps uniquely, well fitted to explore.) I do not want to be a Classical, or even a Neo-Classical, eliminator and generalizer. This means, among other things, that I cannot accept the Classicists’ excommunication of the body. I think it not only permissible, but necessary, that literature should take cognizance of physiology and should investigate the still obscure relations between the mind and its body.

I would like to find out what is Palaeo, Proto or Eo – I never knew never knew there were so many sorts! I suppose neo-classicism is the most common term, and almost every tour guide in Europe inadvertently refers to a building or a certain architecture as a ‘fine expression of neo-classicism’. Such that they often leave me confused on what is, and what is not. 

Reading Aldous Huxley makes me feel like he is a certain sort of normal critic to Hart of some sorts, and he is a typical sort of critic, not yet bordering on the lines of Stanley Fish in law. It means that almost anyone can agree with Aldous Huxley easily, the way one agrees with a dinner companion on the choice of fish, or an impulsive opinion on entertainment. I tend to treat his essays in Music at Night as a sort of afterdinner discussion, nothing too heavy, light and discerning, and delightful. He will not deliver you sudden illuminating epiphanies, but his views come floating as an afterthought days after, in the middle of pasting stamps on a late letter, or when you see a certain phrase used lightly by a casual companion. For that reason I enjoy Huxley, and think his works are worth collecting, too.


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