Tag Archives: Aldous Huxley

Those Rare Electrical Things Between People

I finished a collection of Tennessee William’s short one act plays this week on a whim – recalling the sweetness of reading Streetcar Named Desire. It was stunningly gripping and beautiful – the sort of plots which creep onto you and overwhelm you with a sudden confrontation of temptingly human characters.

Paradise – a word which recalls so many meanings. To regain paradise, to retrace the road to pleasure in a world of pain and loss, is a common theme in the work of Williams. William’s characters blend a sort of Henrik Ibsen reckless passion and Manon vulnerability – they are driven by the desire to see beyond the walls of their worlds, to see outside and above and beyond it – leading to a singular encounter of the kind that Lawrence describes as ‘one of those rare electrical things beyond people’.

In Summer at the Lake, a 16 year old boy is denounced by his mother as a ‘dreamer’ without a future, his mother’s voice rings through the play, her questions are gapped in the boy’s empty’s replies, and while she builds her dreams of him in a steady industrialist job, he flees the house to go swimming in the lake. In the space between words, the reader glimpses the desire of the boy to escape his identity constructed by his mother and the world he lives in.

A personal favourite was And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens, about the private life of ‘Candy’ Deleany, a New Orleans fashionable tranvestite recalling the plot of Sunset Boulevard. Her lingering emotions and heartfelt desire to seek out the unlikely passion of a sailor make for an awkward empathy for the reader, and an interesting statement by Williams of homosexuality in postwar drama and film. The self-conscious naivete of Williams’ characters are evident, and yet they are passionate, non-conformist individuals:-

I think the strange, the crazed, the queer
will have their holiday this year,
I think for just a little while
there will be pity for the wild.
I think in places known as gay,
in secret clubs and private bars,
the damned will serenade the damned
with frantic drums and wild guitars.

I think for some uncertain reason,
mercy will be shown this season
to the lovely and misfit,
to the brilliant and deformed—

I think they will be housed and warmed
And fed and comforted awhile
before, with such a tender smile,
the earth destroys her crooked child.

On other things. A week ago I came across my old diary, and came across a passage I had copied from Machado De Assis’s Epitaph of a Small Winner, in which the protagonist speaks of old letters:

Unenlightened reader, if you do not keep the letters of your youth you will never enjoy the pleasure of seeing yourself, far off in the flatteringly dim light, with a three-cornered hat, seven-league boots, and curled mustachios, dancing at a ball to the music of Anacreontic pipes. By all means, save the letters of your youth.

Or, if you do not like the figure of the three-cornered hat, I shall use an expression of an old sailor who used to come to Cotrim’s house. I shall say that, if you save the letters of your youth, you will be able to “sing a yearning.” It seems that our sailors give this name to songs about the land that are sung only at sea. It would be hard to find a more poetic expression of nostalgia.

On British romantic tragedies- read Agatha Christie’s Giant Bread last week (under her pen-name Mary Westmacott) and it proved to be a brilliant and pleasurable read- even better than her detective fiction. Features the gettings-on of an avant garde musician and his devastating romances and flight to music. Reminded me of Evelyn Waugh, but she wrote so poignantly of childhood, I found myself wishing I had a similar grandmother and mauve violets on my wallpaper. Really worth reading if you are in the library. It usually comes with her trio collections, under Mary Westmacott.

And for those with ipods – I’ve been listening to the 45C English classes of UC Berkeley Charles Altieri and John Bishop – there are some good ipod downloads, though most are frightful, and even Oliver Wendell Holmes on law turns out to be quite a bore. But these were quite good – the tapes deal with the modernism of English literature – some Dickens, Yeats, Pound etc. (though I am not quite an Ezra Pound fan, I like Yeats terribly) and moving on to the novelists James, Conrad, Woolf (I dislike James as much as I adore Conrad, and even did Conrad for Special Paper in junior college). As Lawrence adorably intoned,  the two men are ideal foils for one another. Altieri delivers with a lovable Woody Allen, schizoid New Yorker style, whereas Bishop utilizes an incredibly dense stream of monotone. What I would like, a blossoming romantic ze French accent, winning the hearts of girls over radio waves.

Also reading Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell – a treatise on poverty strongly recommended by a friend. Unfortunately I think its ok though, the stories are entertaining, but not enjoying it all that much. It makes me worry about the day where I might have to sell my coats at a pawn shop though.

So many other books I’ve been promising to share with you, Irving! You have to especially read the Giant’s Bread. But I really ought to go back to my law assignment, now. I feel so reluctant and frightfully like a procastinating kitten with an old grey mouse toy. Please call me soon to tell me about flute girl after all my assignments are finished.

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Words – Aldous Huxley

“Words form the thread on which we string our experiences. Without them we should live spasmodically and intermittently. Hatred itself is not so strong that animals will not forget it, if distracted, even in the presence of the enemy. Watch a pair of cats, crouching on the brink of a fight. Balefully the eyes glare; from far down in the throat of each come bursts of a strange, strangled noise of defiance; as though animated by a life of their own, the tails twitch and tremble. With aimed intensity of loathing! Another moment and surely there must be an explosion. But no; all of a sudden one of the two creatures turns away, hoists a hind leg in a more than fascist salute and, with the same fixed and focused attention as it had given a moment before to its enemy, begins to make a lingual toilet. Animal love is as much at the mercy of distractions as animal hatred. The dumb creation lives a life made up of discreet and mutually irrelevant episodes. Such as it is, the consistency of human characters is due to the words upon which all human experiences are strung. We are purposeful because we can describe our feelings in rememberable words, can justify and rationalize our desires in terms of some kind of argument. ” – Aldous Huxley


Sermons on Cats (Music at Night)

I met, not long ago, a young man who aspired to become a novelist. Knowing that I was in the profession, he asked me to tell him how he should set to work to realize his ambition. I did my best to explain. “The first thing,” I said, “is to buy quite a lot of paper, a bottle of ink, and a pen. After that you merely have to write.” But this was not enough for my young friend. He seemed to have a notion that there was some sort of esoteric cookery book, full of literary recipes, which you had only to follow attentively to become a Dickens, a Henry James, a Flaubert — “according to taste,” as the authors of recipes say, when they come to the question of seasoning and sweetening. Wouldn’t I let him have a glimpse of this cookery book? I said that I was sorry, but that (unhappily — for what an endless amount of time and trouble it would save!) I had never even seen such a work. He seemed sadly disappointed; so, to console the poor lad, I advised him to apply to the professors of dramaturgy and short-story writing at some reputable university; if any one possessed a trustworthy cookery book of literature, it should surely be they. But even this was not enough to satisfy the young man. Disappointed in his hope that I would give him the fictional equivalent of “One Hundred Ways of Cooking Eggs” or the “Carnet de la Ménagère,” he began to cross-examine me about my methods of “collecting material.” Did I keep a notebook or a daily journal? Did I jot down thoughts and phrases in a cardindex? Did I systematically frequent the drawing-rooms of the rich and fashionable? Or did I, on the contrary, inhabit the Sussex downs? or spend my evenings looking for “copy” in East End gin-palaces? Did I think it was wise to frequent the company of intellectuals? Was it a good thing for a writer of novels to try to be well educated, or should he confine his reading exclusively to other novels? And so on.

I did my best to reply to these questions — as non-committally, of course, as I could. And as the young man still looked rather disappointed, I volunteered a final piece of advice, gratuitously. “My young friend,” I said, “if you want to be a psychological novelist and write about human beings, the best thing you can do is to keep a pair of cats.” And with that I left him. I hope, for his own sake, that he took my advice. For it was good advice — the fruit of much experience and many meditations. But I am afraid that, being a rather foolish young man, he merely laughed at what he must have supposed was only a silly joke: laughed, as I myself foolishly laughed when, years ago, that charming and talented and extraordinary man, Ronald Firbank, once told me that he wanted to write a novel about life in Mayfair and so was just off to the West Indies to look for copy among the Negroes. I laughed at the time; but I see now that he was quite right. Primitive people, like children and animals, are simply civilized people with the lid off, so to speak — the heavy elaborate lid of manners, conventions, traditions of thought and feeling beneath which each one of us passes his or her existence. This lid can be very conveniently studied in Mayfair, shall we say, or Passy, or Park Avenue. But what goes on underneath the lid in these polished and elegant districts? Direct observation (unless we happen to be endowed with a very penetrating intuition) tells us but little; and, if we cannot infer what is going on under other lids from what we see, introspectively, by peeping under our own, then the best thing we can do is to take the next boat for the West Indies, or else, less expensively, pass a few mornings in the nursery, or alternatively, as I suggested to my literary young friend, buy a pair of cats. Yes, a pair of cats. Siamese by preference; for they are certainly the most “human” of all the race of cats. Also the strangest, and, if not the most beautiful, certainly the most striking and fantastic. For what disquieting pale blue eyes stare out from the black velvet mask of their faces! Snow-white at birth, their bodies gradually darken to a rich mulatto color. Their forepaws are gloved almost to the shoulder like the long black kid arms of Yvette Guilbert; over their hind legs are tightly drawn the black silk stockings with which Félicien Rops so perversely and indecently clothed his pearly nudes. Their tails, when they have tails — and I would always recommend the budding novelist to buy the tailed variety; for the tail, in cats, is the principal organ of emotional expression and a Manx cat is the equivalent of a dumb man — their tails are tapering black serpents endowed, even when the body lies in Sphinx-like repose, with a spasmodic and uneasy life of their own.
And what strange voices they have! Sometimes like the complaining of small children; sometimes like the noise of lambs; sometimes like the agonized and furious howling of lost souls. Compared with these fantastic creatures, other cats, however beautiful and engaging, are apt to seem a little insipid. Well, having bought his cats, nothing remains for the would-be novelist but to watch them living from day to day; to mark, learn, and inwardly digest the lessons about human nature which they teach; and finally — for, alas, this arduous and unpleasant necessity always arises — finally write his book about Mayfair, Passy, or Park Avenue, whichever the case may be. Let us consider some of these instructive sermons in cats, from which the student of human psychology can learn so much. We will begin — as every good novel should begin, instead of absurdly ending — with marriage. The marriage of Siamese cats, at any rate as I have observed it, is an extraordinarily dramatic event. To begin with, the introduction of the bridegroom to his bride (I am assuming that, as usually happens in the world of cats, they have not met before their wedding day) is the signal for a battle of unparalleled ferocity. The young wife’s first reaction to the advances of her would-be husband is to fly at his throat. One is thankful, as one watches the fur flying and listens to the piercing yells of rage and hatred, that a kindly providence has not allowed these devils to grow any larger. Waged between creatures as big as men, such battles would bring death and destruction to everything within a radius of hundreds of yards. As things are, one is able, at the risk of a few scratches, to grab the combatants by the scruffs of their necks and drag them, still writhing and spitting, apart. What would happen if the newly-wedded pair were allowed to go on fighting to the bitter end I do not know, and have never had the scientific curiosity or the strength of mind to try to find out. I suspect that, contrary to what happened in Hamlet’s family, the wedding baked meats would soon be serving for a funeral. I have always prevented this tragical consummation by simply shutting up the bride in a room by herself and leaving the bridegroom for a few hours to languish outside the door. He does not languish dumbly; but for a long time there is no answer, save an occasional hiss or growl, to his melancholy cries of love. When, finally, the bride begins replying in tones as soft and yearning as his own, the door may be opened. The bridegroom darts in and is received, not with tooth and claw as on the former occasion, but with every demonstration of affection. At first sight there would seem, in this specimen of feline behavior, no special “message” for humanity. But appearances are deceptive; the lids under which civilized people live are so thick and so profusely sculptured with mythological ornaments, that it is difficult to recognize the fact, so much insisted upon by D. H. Lawrence in his novels and stories, that there is almost always a mingling of hate with the passion of love and that young girls very often feel (in spite of their sentiments and even their desires) a real abhorrence of the fact of physical love. Unlidded, the cats make manifest this ordinarily obscure mystery of human nature. After witnessing a cats’ wedding no young novelist can rest content with the falsehood and banalities which pass, in current fiction, for descriptions of love. Time passes and, their honeymoon over, the cats begin to tell us things about humanity which even the lid of civilization cannot conceal in the world of men. They tell us — what, alas, we already know — that husbands soon tire of their wives, particularly when they are expecting or nursing families; that the essence of maleness is the love of adventure and infidelity; that guilty consciences and good resolutions are the psychological symptoms of that disease which spasmodically affects practically every male between the ages of eighteen and sixty — the disease called “the morning after”; and that with the disappearance of the disease the psychological symptoms also disappear, so that when temptation comes again, conscience is dumb and good resolutions count for nothing. All these unhappily too familiar truths are illustrated by the cats with a most comical absence of disguise. No man has ever dared to manifest his boredom so insolently as does a Siamese tomcat, when he yawns in the face of his amorously importunate wife. No man has ever dared to proclaim his illicit amours so frankly as this same tom caterwauling on the tiles. And how slinkingly — no man was ever so abject -he returns next day to the conjugal basket by the fire! You can measure the guiltiness of his conscience by the angle of his back-pressed ears, the droop of his tail. And when, having sniffed him and so discovered his infidelity, his wife, as she always does on these occasions, begins to scratch his face (already scarred, like a German student’s, with the traces of a hundred duels), he makes no attempt to resist; for, self-convicted of sin, he knows that he deserves all he is getting. It is impossible for me in the space at my disposal to enumerate all the human truths which a pair of cats can reveal or confirm. I will cite only one more of the innumerable sermons in cats which my memory holds — an acted sermon which, by its ludicrous pantomime, vividly brought home to me the most saddening peculiarity of our human nature, its irreducible solitariness. The circumstances were these. My she-cat, by now a wife of long standing and several times a mother, was passing through one of her occasional phases of amorousness. Her husband, now in the prime of life and parading that sleepy arrogance which is the characteristic of the mature and conquering male (he was now the feline equivalent of some herculean young Alcibiades of the Guards), refused to have anything to do with her. It was in vain that she uttered her love-sick mewing, in vain that she walked up and down in front of him rubbing herself voluptuously against doors and chairlegs as she passed, it was in vain that she came and licked his face. He shut his eyes, he yawned, he averted his head, or, if she became too importunate, got up and slowly, with an insulting air of dignity and detachment, stalked away. When the opportunity presented itself, he escaped and spent the next twenty-four hours upon the tiles. Left to herself, the wife went wandering disconsolately about the house, as though in search of a vanished happiness, faintly and plaintively mewing to herself in a voice and with a manner that reminded one irresistibly of Mélisande in Debussy’s opera. “Je ne suis pas heureuse ici,” she seemed to be saying. And, poor little beast, she wasn’t. But, like her big sisters and brothers of the human world, she had to bear her unhappiness in solitude, uncomprehended, unconsoled. For in spite of language, in spite of intelligence and intuition and sympathy, one can never really communicate anything to anybody. The essential substance of every thought and feeling remains incommunicable, locked up in the impenetrable strong-room of the individual soul and body. Our life is a sentence of perpetual solitary confinement. This mournful truth was overwhelmingly borne in on me as I watched the abandoned and love-sick cat as she walked unhappily round my room. “Je ne suis pas heureuse ici,” she kept mewing, “je ne suis pas heureuse ici.” And her expressive black tail would lash the air in a tragical gesture of despair. But each time it twitched, hop-la! from under the armchair, from behind the book-case, wherever he happened to be hiding at the moment, out jumped her only son (the only one, that is, we had not given away), jumped like a ludicrous toy tiger, all claws out, on to the moving tail. Sometimes he would miss, sometimes he caught it, and getting the tip between his teeth would pretend to worry it, absurdly ferocious. His mother would have to jerk it violently to get it out of his mouth. Then, he would go back under his armchair again and, crouching down, his hindquarters trembling, would prepare once more to spring. The tail, the tragical, despairingly gesticulating tail, was for him the most irresistible of playthings. The patience of the mother was angelical. There was never a rebuke or a punitive reprisal; when the child became too intolerable, she just moved away; that was all. And meanwhile, all the time, she went on mewing, plaintively, despairingly. “Je ne suis pas heureuse ici, je ne suis pas heureuse ici.” It was heartbreaking. The more so as the antics of the kitten were so extraordinarily ludicrous. It was as though a slap-stick comedian had broken in on the lamentations of Mélisande -not mischievously, not wittingly, for there was not the smallest intention to hurt in the little cat’s performance, but simply from lack of comprehension. Each was alone serving his life-sentence of solitary confinement. There was no communication from cell to cell. Absolutely no communication. These sermons in cats can be exceedingly depressing. (From Music at Night)


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.


The Doors of Perception

Someone was asking me about Huxley’s mescalin essay (based on the entry Huxley earlier) and so I managed to find it and reproduce a part of it below (not to be followed, the following for me reads like Dr Jekyll on a high, but then again Huxley loved Poe and translated many of his works):

The change which actually took place in that world was in no sense revolutionary. Half an hour after swallowing the drug I became aware of a slow dance of golden lights. A little later there were sumptuous red surfaces swelling and expanding from bright nodes of energy that vibrated with a continuously changing, patterned life. At another time the closing of my eyes revealed a complex of gray structures, within which pale bluish spheres kept emerging into intense solidity and, having emerged, would slide noiselessly upwards, out of sight. But at no time were there faces or forms of men or animals. I saw no landscapes, no enormous spaces, no magical growth and metamorphosis of buildings, nothing remotely like a drama or a parable. The other world to which mescalin admitted me was not the world of visions; it existed out there, in what I could see with my eyes open. The great change was in the realm of objective fact. What had happened to my subjective universe was relatively unimportant.

I took my pill at eleven. An hour and a half later, I was sitting in my study, looking intently at a small glass vase. The vase contained only three flowers-a full-blown Belie of Portugal rose, shell pink with a hint at every petal’s base of a hotter, flamier hue; a large magenta and cream-colored carnation; and, pale purple at the end of its broken stalk, the bold heraldic blossom of an iris. Fortuitous and provisional, the little nosegay broke all the rules of traditional good taste. At breakfast that morning I had been struck by the lively dissonance of its colors. But that was no longer the point. I was not looking now at an unusual flower arrangement. I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation-the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.

“Is it agreeable?” somebody asked. (During this Part of the experiment, all conversations were recorded on a dictating machine, and it has been possible for me to refresh my memory of what was said.)

“Neither agreeable nor disagreeable,” I answered. “it just is.”

Istigkeit – wasn’t that the word Meister Eckhart liked to use? “Is-ness.” The Being of Platonic philosophy – except that Plate seems to have made the enormous, the grotesque mistake of separating Being from becoming and identifying it with the mathematical abstraction of the Idea. He could never, poor fellow, have seen a bunch of flowers shining with their own inner light and all but quivering under the pressure of the significance with which they were charged; could never have perceived that what rose and iris and carnation so intensely signified was nothing more, and nothing less, than what they were – a transience that was yet eternal life, a perpetual perishing that was at the same time pure Being, a bundle of minute, unique particulars in which, by some unspeakable and yet self-evident paradox, was to be seen the divine source of all existence.


Music at Night by Aldous Huxley

My recent beginning reads – Martin Amis’s ‘Vintage Amis’ recommended by a friend in law class, George Orwell, Kathleen Tessaro, and Aldous Huxley amongst othera.

It was so nice to find another book lover in law class, who similarly loves Kundera and could remember intricate little details so fondly, and speaks of books at Portobello market as most precious in his time in London. In America (he did a masters in law at NYU), K also would ship back whole boxes of books at any one time back to Singapore, and reads on art history and other works. A little of him reminds me of Will, and I did forget to mention him to you Irving, but I was too occupied with your descriptions of macabre friendships and bloody porcupine shirts!  Please read Pablo Neruda and Walt Whitman and do barbaric yawps with me over the rooftops over the world!

Personally, I don’t purchase books as much, as I do finish quite quickly and am quite a dilettante, moving on to the next fad to the next, and how else will I have sufficient space for my dresses and hats! But I do collect some of my favourites, like Roland Barthes, Pico Iyer, Susan Sontag, Milan Kundera, and other treasured biographies and books which have been offered as presents in my life. I do wish I was like K and could collect whole volumes of books at any one time, just like JC’s father’s amazing library of books! I think I would have to depend on my significant other to do the book collecting (so I can read them and have staircase bookshelves).  I love the most – when I find little notes of the other’s thoughts in a book, or the lost look people have whilst in the middle of a book – and I loved very much when you had Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim at your bedside Irving (for I could remember, suddenly at once, the joy I had when reading Lord Jim and following his victories and tribulations!)

Everyone knows Aldous Huxley well for ‘Brave New World’ (a must-read, together with George Orwell’s 1984) but most do not know of his other works, most of which have been censured, censored or banned at one time or another. His social satires, and his concern with spiritual and ethical matters reflected the tone and unease of the zeitgeist, captivating his readers with imaginative plots on inflicted apocalypses, both physical and emotional. His books covered a wide range of issues, and he is often known for covering issues in scope, like the accelerating arms race globally in the period of his works, the enormity of the Jewish holocaust, and the impact of rapid deforestation and deforestation. The Devils of Loudon, a compelling psychological study of sexual hysteria in 17th century France, which was subsequently turned into a successful film, appeared in 1952. Evelyn Waugh and other authors often termed Huxley as ‘the gods of their adolescence’.

Towards the end of his life however, I felt his books became much stranger and rather eclectic, containing elements of short-lived but disturbing brilliance (ie. not to be followed). Like Yeats, he acquired new followers in pursuit of the newfangled obsession with drugs and religion, and even suggested in The Doors of Perception (1954) and its sequel, Heaven and Hell (1956) that mescalin and lysergic acid were ‘drugs of unique distiction’ which should be exploited for the ‘supernaturally brilliant’ visionary experiences they offered. The Doors of Perception, in the words of David Bradshaw, is a ‘bewitching account of the inner shangri-la of the mescalin taker, where ‘there is neither work nor monotony’ but only ‘a perpetual present made up of one continually changing apocalypse’ where the ‘divine source of all existence’ is evident in a vase of flowers, and even the creases of a pair of trousers’ revealed a ‘labyrinth of endless significant complexity’. The Doors of Perception was a set text for the beat generation and the psychedelic Sixties, earning Huxley a mention on the cover of The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album.

I think Aldous Huxley’s works will be earning a place on my bookshelf after this book, graduating to the likes of Eliot and Orwell in my personal reading loves barometer, to be read and reread again. Music at Night earns only a short mention as a ‘typically energetic and wide-ranging volume of essays’, but already I love the few which I have read. Here are some excerpts from the first essay, Tragedy and the Whole Truth:

“There were six of them, the best and bravest of the hero companions. Turning back from his post in the bows, Odysseus was in time to see them lifted, struggling, into the air, to hear their screams, the desperate repetition of his own name. The survivors could only look on, helplessly, while Scylla at the mouth of her cave devoured them, still screaming, still stretching out their hands to me in the frightful struggle. And Odysseus adds that it was the most dreadful and lamentable sight he ever saw in all his explorings of the passes of the sea. We can believe it; Homer’s brief description (the too poetical simile is a later interpolation) convinces us. Later, the danger passed, Odysseus and his men went ashore for the night, and, on the Sicilian beach, prepared their supper prepared it, says Homer, expertly. The twelfth book of the Odyssey concludes with these words: when they had satisfied their thirst and hunger, they thought of their dear companions and wept, and in the midst of their tears sleep came gently upon them. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth how rarely the older literatures ever told it! Bits of the truth, yes; every good book gives us bits of the truth, would not be a good book if it did not. But the whole truth, no. of the great writers of the past incredibly few have given us that. Homer, the Homer of the Odyssey is one of those few. Truth? you question. For example, 2+2=4? or Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837? Or light travels at the rate of 187,000 miles a second? No, obviously, you wont find much of that sort of thing in literature. The truth of which I was speaking just now is in fact no more than an acceptable verisimilitude. When the experiences recorded in a piece of literature correspond fairly closely with our own actual experiences, or with what I may call our potential experience experiences, that is to say, which we feel (as the result of a more or less explicit process of inference from known facts) that we might have had we say, inaccurately no doubt: this piece of writing is true. But this, of course, is not the whole story. The record of a case in a text-book of psychology is scientifically true, in so far as it is an accurate account of particular events. But it might also strike the reader as being true with regard to himselfthat is to say, acceptable, probable, having a correspondence with his own actual or potential experiences. But a text-book of psychology is not a work of artor only secondarily and incidentally a work of art. Mere verisimilitude, mere correspondence of experience recorded by the writer with experience remembered or imaginable by the reader, is not enough to make a work of art seem true. Good art possesses a kind of super-truthis more probable, more acceptable, more convincing than fact itself. Naturally; for the artist is endowed with a sensibility and a power of communication, a capacity to put things across, which events and the majority of people to whom events happen, do not possess. Experience teaches only the teachable, who are by no means as numerous as Mrs. Micawber’s papa’s favorite proverb would lead us to suppose.”

Another part I love, on the same point of tragedy:

“Six men, remember, have been taken and devoured before the eyes of their friends. In any other poem but the Odyssey, what would the survivors have done? They would, of course, have wept, even as Homer made them weep. But would they previously have cooked their supper, and cooked it, what more, in a masterly fashion? Would they previously have drunken and eaten to satiety? And after weeping, or actually while weeping, would they have dropped quietly off to sleep? No, they most certainly would not have done any of these things. They would simply have wept, lamenting their own misfortune and the horrible fate of their companions, and the canto would have ended tragically on their tears. Homer, however, preferred to tell the whole truth. He knew that even the most cruelly bereaved must eat; that hunger is stronger than sorrow and that its satisfaction takes precedence even of tears. He knew that experts continue to act expertly and to find satisfaction in their accomplishment, even when friends have just been eaten, even when the accomplishment is only cooking the supper. He knew that, when the belly is full (and only when the belly is full), men can afford to grieve, and that sorrow after supper is almost a luxury. And finally he knew that, even as hunger takes precedence of grief, so fatigue, supervening, cuts short its career and drowns it in a sleep all the sweeter for bringing forgetfulness of bereavement. In a word, Homer refused to treat the theme tragically. He preferred to tell the whole truth.”

On catharsis and the make-up of tragedy:

“To make a tragedy the artist must isolate a single element out of the totality of human experience and use that exclusively as his material. Tragedy is something that is separated from the whole truth, distilled from it, so to speak, as an essence is distilled from the living flower. Tragedy is chemically pure. Hence its power to act quickly and intensely on our feelings. All chemically pure art has this power to act upon us quickly and intensely. Thus, chemically pure pornography (on the rare occasions when it happens to be written convincingly, by some one who has the gift of putting things across) is a quick-acting emotional drug of incomparably greater power than the whole truth about sensuality, or even (for many people) than the tangible and carnal reality itself. It is because of its chemical purity that tragedy so effectively performs its function of catharsis. It refines and corrects and gives a style to our emotional life, and does so swiftly, with power. Brought into contact with tragedy, the elements of our being fall, for the moment at any rate, into an ordered and beautiful pattern, as the iron filings arrange themselves under the influence of the magnet. Through all its individual variations, this pattern is always fundamentally of the same kind. From the reading or the hearing of a tragedy we rise with the feeling that our friends are exultations, agonies, and love, and man unconquerable mind; with the heroic conviction that we too would be unconquerable if subjected to the agonies, that in the midst of the agonies we too should continue to love, might even learn to exult. It is because it does these things to us that tragedy is felt to be so valuable. what are the values of wholly-truthful art? What does it do to us that seems worth doing? Let us try to discover. Wholly-truthful art overflows the limits of tragedy and shows us, if only by hints and implications, what happened before the tragic story began, what will happen after it is over, what is happening simultaneously elsewhere (and elsewhere includes all those parts of the minds and bodies of the protagonists not immediately engaged in the tragic struggle). Tragedy is an arbitrarily isolated eddy on the surface of a vast river that flows on majestically, irresistibly, around, beneath, and to either side of it. Wholly-truthful art contrives to imply the existence of the entire river as well as of the eddy. it is quite different from tragedy, even though it may contain, among other constituents, all the elements from which tragedy is made. (The same thing placed in different contexts, loses its identity and becomes, for the perceiving mind, a succession of different things.) In wholly-truthful art the agonies may be just as real, love and the unconquerable mind just as admirable, just as important, as in tragedy.”

I did feel however, his conclusion was a little weak and disappointing, and the lines he drew between tragedy and what he calls the ‘whole truth’ are not as clear. But still I appreciated that refreshing angle on tragedy, and he is a terribly charming writer! Over a smoke and him reading his essay over tea I might just have bought it all (I am a very gullible person, despite being a lawyer, and have a weakness for the Huxleys and Wildes of our world):

“Proust, D. H. Lawrence, André Gide, Kafka, Hemingway – here are five obviously significant and important contemporary writers. five authors as remarkably unlike one another as they could well be. They are at one only in this: that none of them has written a pure tragedy, that all are concerned with the whole truth. I have sometimes wondered whether tragedy, as a form of art, may not be doomed. But the fact that we are still profoundly moved by the tragic masterpieces of the past that we can be moved, against our better judgment, even by the bad tragedies of the contemporary stage and film makes me think that the day of chemically pure art is not over. Tragedy happens to be passing through a period of eclipse, because all the significant writers of our age are too busy exploring the newly discovered, or re-discovered, world of the whole truth to be able to pay any attention to it. But there is no good reason to believe that this state of things will last for ever. Tragedy is too valuable to be allowed to die. There is no reason, after all, why the two kinds of literature the chemically impure and the chemically pure, the literature of the whole truth and the literature of partial truth should not exist simultaneously, each in its separate sphere. The human spirit has need of both.”

ps: Apologies for any mistakes in copying as I typed the above quite quickly and might have missed some parts of grammer, and it is my fault entirely for misrepresenting any particular section. Applies to most of the sections I share, really!