- Aldous Huxley, The Art of Fiction No. 24 in The Paris Review (1960)
Among serious novelists, Aldous Huxley is surely the wittiest and most irreverent. Ever since the early twenties, his name has been a byword for a particular kind of social satire; in fact, he has immortalized in satire a whole period and a way of life. In addition to his ten novels, Huxley has written, during the course of an extremely prolific career, poetry, drama, essays, travel, biography, and history.
Would you tell us something first about the way you work?
I work regularly. I always work in the mornings, and then again a little bit before dinner. I’m not one of those who work at night. I prefer to read at night. I usually work four or five hours a day. I keep at it as long as I can, until I feel myself going stale. Sometimes, when I bog down, I start reading—fiction or psychology or history, it doesn’t much matter what—not to borrow ideas or materials, but simply to get started again. Almost anything will do the trick.
Do you do much rewriting?
Generally, I write everything many times over. All my thoughts are second thoughts. And I correct each page a great deal, or rewrite it several times as I go along.
Is the process pleasant or painful?
Oh, it’s not painful, though it is hard work. Writing is a very absorbing occupation and sometimes exhausting. But I’ve always considered myself very lucky to be able to make a living at something I enjoy doing. So few people can.
- Brave New World: the pill-popping, social media obsessed dystopia we live in
in The Conversation
The origins of neuroculture begin in early anatomical drawings and subsequent neuron doctrine in the late 1800s. This was the first time that the brain was understood as a discontinuous network of cells connected by what became known as synaptic gaps. Initially, scientists assumed these gaps were connected by electrical charges, but later revealed the existence of neurochemical transmissions. Brain researchers went on to discover more about brain functionality and subsequently started to intervene in underlying chemical processes.
Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) is about a dystopian society that is not controlled by fear, but rendered docile by happiness. The mantra of this society is “everybody’s happy now”. As Alex Hern argues in The Guardian, Huxley presents a more relevant authoritarian dystopia to that of 1984, one that can still be “pleasant to live in for the vast majority, sparking little mass resistance”. The best dystopias are often dressed up as utopias.
It is Huxley’s appeal to emotional conditioning that most significantly resonates with today’s dystopian neurocultures. He noted the clear advantages of sidestepping intellectual engagement and instead appealing to emotional suggestibility to guide intentions and subdue nonconformity.
As such, to achieve its goal, the society of Brave New World combines two central modes of control. First, the widespread use of the joy-inducing pharmaceutical, Soma, and second, a hypnotic media propaganda machine…Comparisons can also be made between Huxley’s College of Emotional Engineering and contemporary social media. In his book, the college is an important academic institution found in the same building as the Bureaux of Propaganda, with a unique focus on emotional suggestibility. This is where the feely scenarios, emotional slogans and hypnopedic rhymes are written. This kind of propaganda is for mass media consumption, but today’s emotional engineering takes place in far more intimate and contagious arenas of social media.
The pervasiveness of today’s neuroculture started with the neuroscientific emotional turn in the 1990s. Scientists realised that emotions are not distinct from pure reason, but enmeshed in the very networks of cognition. The way we think and behave is now assumed to be greatly determined by how we feel.The seismic influence of this profound shift has extended beyond science to economic theories concerned with the neurochemicals that are supposed to affect decision making processes. It also underpins new models of consumer choice focused on the “buying brain”. The advent of neuroeconomics, followed by neuromarketing, has resulted in further spin-offs in product design and branding informed by emotional brain processing. The consumer experience of a brand is now measured according to the frequency of brainwaves correlated with certain attentive and emotional states.
In an age hastened by social media and self-medication, there is a dystopic intensification of infected and manipulated feelings that cannot be ignored…It it was the attention he received from scientists that should alert us to the profundity of his dystopia. In particular, the 20th century scientist Joseph Needham argued that scientific knowledge is not immune to political interferences.
…These new neuroeconomists saw that it might be possible to move economics away from its simplified model of rational, self-interested, utility-maximising decision-making. Instead of hypothesising about Homo economicus, they could base their research on what actually goes on inside the head of Homo sapiens.
The dismal science had already been edging in that direction thanks to behavioural economics. Since the 1980s researchers in this branch of the discipline had used insights from psychology to develop more “realistic” models of individual decision-making, in which people often did things that were not in their best interests. But neuroeconomics had the potential, some believed, to go further and to embed economics in the chemical processes taking place in the brain.
Early successes for neuroeconomists came from using neuroscience to shed light on some of the apparent flaws in H. economicus noted by the behaviouralists. One much-cited example is the “ultimatum game”, in which one player proposes a division of a sum of money between himself and a second player. The other player must either accept or reject the offer. If he rejects it, neither gets a penny.
According to standard economic theory, as long as the first player offers the second any money at all, his proposal will be accepted, because the second player prefers something to nothing. In experiments, however, behavioural economists found that the second player often turned down low offers—perhaps, they suggested, to punish the first player for proposing an unfair split.
…As well as the ultimatum game, neuroeconomists have focused on such issues as people’s reasons for trusting one another, apparently irrational risk-taking, the relative valuation of short- and long-term costs and benefits, altruistic or charitable behaviour, and addiction. Releases of dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical, may indicate economic utility or value, they say. There is also growing interest in new evidence from neuroscience that tentatively suggests that two conditions of the brain compete in decision-making: a cold, objective state and a hot, emotional state in which the ability to make sensible trade-offs disappears. The potential interactions between these two brain states are ideal subjects for economic modelling.
- Everybody is Happy Now by Margret Atwood
In the latter half of the 20th century, two visionary books cast their shadows over our futures. One was George Orwell’s 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, with its horrific vision of a brutal, mind-controlling totalitarian state – a book that gave us Big Brother and thoughtcrime and newspeak and the memory hole and the torture palace called the Ministry of Love and the discouraging spectacle of a boot grinding into the human face forever.
The other was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), which proposed a different and softer form of totalitarianism – one of conformity achieved through engineered, bottle-grown babies and hypnotic persuasion rather than through brutality, of boundless consumption that keeps the wheels of production turning and of officially enforced promiscuity that does away with sexual frustration, of a pre-ordained caste system ranging from a highly intelligent managerial class to a subgroup of dim-witted serfs programmed to love their menial work, and of soma, a drug that confers instant bliss with no side effects.
…Brave New World is either a perfect-world utopia or its nasty opposite, a dystopia, depending on your point of view: its inhabitants are beautiful, secure and free from diseases and worries, though in a way we like to think we would find unacceptable. “Utopia” is sometimes said to mean “no place”, from the Greek ou-topos; others derive it from eu, as in “eugenics”, in which case it would mean “healthy place” or “good place”.
Utopias and dystopias from Plato’s Republic on have had to cover the same basic ground that real societies do. All must answer the same questions: where do people live, what do they eat, what do they wear, what do they do about sex and child-rearing? Who has the power, who does the work, how do citizens relate to nature, and how does the economy function?
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, 75 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 first read it.
The answer to the second question rests with you. Look in the mirror: do you see Lenina Crowne looking back at you, or do you see John the Savage? Chances are, you’ll see 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. But thanks to our uniquely structured 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 speculation such as Brave New World
- Power of Images /Images of Power in Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four by Mario Varriccho
Two of the most important dystopic novels of our century, Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, make use of cinema and television to draw an extremely pessimistic picture of humanity’s future, emphasizing their role as essential means for distorting reality and, in the case of the fordian society, also for providing artificial pleasures which dim the mind. The big and the small screen–Huxley dedicates more space to the former while Orwell to the latter–perform a crucial political function by prevent ing and repressing protest and, more generally, by conditioning and inhibiting oppositional forces in a fashion that ominously foreshadows the present
Huxley’s Brave New World — and Ours by Bülent Diken
“Our dreams”, says Agamben (1995, p. 74), “cannot see us — this is the tragedy of utopia”. What makes utopian dreams so disappointing is their distance from what we are, their inability to “see” our present alienation and unfreedom. But our nightmares are closer to us. In contrast to dreams, fear provokes weariness, an indispensible element of all dystopias, including Huxley’s Brave New World (originally published in 1932), which projects our civilization “along the lines of its own teleology to the point where its monstrous nature becomes immediately evident” (Adorno 1967, p. 98). It interrogates a society in which time and eo ipso all potentiality have stopped making sense. Thus, Lenina, who stands in for the spontaneous ideology of the brave new world, asks: “what’s time for?” (Huxley 2007, p. 77). The brave new world is the end of history. It is what is left in a soci- ety when you take away the possibility of revolt, revolution and critique, a world in which radical change is rendered not only impossible but also undesirable. And “yes, everybody is happy now” (Huxley 2007, p. 65). Through ideological “condi- tioning”, the brave new world is free of antagonism, pain and conflict (Huxley 2007, p. 110). Yet, this “happiness” is one reduced to sheer consumerism, just as “politics” in the brave new world is degraded to conformism. More tellingly yet, the only alternative set in the book against this sterile, suffocating civiliza-tion is religious fundamentalism.
The more a society becomes its own justification, the more it brands as blas- phemy every suspicion “against the notion that what is, is right — just because it exists” (Adorno 1967, p. 101). This accord with what exists, an ideological positivism, which adopts the actual as its norm, paradoxically restores the mythic power in the form of a new taboo, and disagreement only provokes ressentiment: “I don’t know what you mean”. What such “freedom” excludes is negative dialectics, the insistence that what exists “cannot be true” (Marcuse 1964, pp. 122–123). The virtual idea of “freedom” cannot be fully actualized; people can have certain liberties but these concrete liberties cannot embody the idea of freedom as such. Since an idea “denotes that which the particular entity is, and is not”, the idea of freedom comprehends, at once, “all the liberty not yet attained” as well as those liberties attained (Marcuse 1964 p. 218). Hence, what looks like “freedom” to the brave new world is not, and cannot be much more than voluntary servitude.
Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. (Postman 1985, pp. vii–viii)
The brave new world is not one world; there are vast areas, “savage reserva- tions”, which its network bypasses. Everything it has sent to the “bunk” of history — for example, religion, family relations, primitive passions, violent ritu- als, and so on — continues to exist here, where people are still born and raised by biological parents. As such, the reservations stand for what is abandoned, for what “has not been worth the expense of civilizing” (Huxley 2007, p. 141). But there are organized tours to reservations, which resemble today’s favela tour- ism. Incidentally, Bernard and Lenina go to a reservation for a “holiday”, a holi- day which signifies a search for experience in a society in which everything is a simulacrum, “far more real than reality” (p. 146). The mise en scène of the brave new world is, after all, the disappearance of experience; the subjects undergo, but never have, experiences. And the hysteria of such a world is the production of the real (see Baudrillard 1994, p. 23)… the “reservation” functions in Brave New World as an orientalist image of a chaotic space, an archaic state of nature beyond “our” space and time, and therefore beyond our responsibility — a space of secret enjoyments (rituals, “obscene” family ties, passionate encounters) or of despotism (violence, repression), like the “rogue states” of our time. But this dichotomy breaks down if we consider the reservations as a symptom of the brave new world itself. In the end, homo sacer is at the heart of the brave new world in which eugenics and dysgenics together reduce its citizens’ lives to bare life. Hence, the first intima- tion to revolt occurs when Bernard recognizes a biopolitical dimension in the culture of hedonism, as he hears two male characters talking about Lenina “as though she were a bit of meat”, only to find out later that she, too, “thinks of herself that way. She doesn’t mind being meat” (Huxley 2007, pp. 39, 80).
Let us open a parenthesis here. Huxley himself made references to eugenics before and during the period in which he wrote Brave New World. He went as far as defending it to prevent “the rapid deterioration … of the whole West European stock” (quoted in Bradshaw 2007, p. xxii). After the Holocaust, however, when eugenics started to lose its appeal for the liberal democratic intelligentsia, Huxley, too, was warning against domination by technological means. Thus, revisiting Brave New World in 1958, he writes:
The Nazis did not have time … to brainwash and condition their lower leadership. This, it may be, is one of the reasons why they failed. Since Hitler’s day the armoury of technical devices has been considerably enlarged … Thanks to tech- nological progress, Big Brother can now be almost as omnipresent as God. (Huxley 2004, p. 52)
Indeed, as Esposito (2008) argues, even though Nazism was militarily and politically defeated in the Second World War, it has won a cultural victory in the sense that its emphasis on biopolitics, its focus on the body as a political category, has now become a commonplace in Western liberal culture…“man” in our culture tends to become one who possesses his own body as an individual property, can use it, buy and sell it, as if it were a commodity. It is telling, therefore, that today’s “liberal eugenics”, which describes its project as improving human well-being, can only distinguish itself from the Nazi eugenics by insisting on state neutrality (eugenics must be practised on the basis of liberal individual freedoms, without state inter- vention) and by distancing itself from biological reductionism.
Perhaps books like Brave New World deceive not by presenting what is fiction as true but by creating the illusion that what is true (biopolitics, inequalities, unfreedom) is fiction. Perhaps the real function of dystopia is this: to project real problems into a future temporality, a fantasy space.
Mustapha Mond, the ruler, has a conversation with John the Savage, which is the most interesting part of the book, for it reveals the stakes of the confrontation between the two worlds. Mond articulates the brave new world’s philosophy, its fixation on stability, which results in a fear of time and change. It comes to light that what is most frightening to the brave new world is the idea of the event, transcendence. It is for this reason that the brave new world sacrifices philosophy and art, to “shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness” (p. 201). When John insists that religion is necessary to “compensate” for the miseries of the world, Mond answers that religion is uncalled for in the brave new world. If the idea of God is grounded in human beings’ suffering and pain, society can get rid of it, if it can provide another solution to the problem…The idea of God, in the end, is not compatible with scientific ideals. But Mond’s enlightened rejection of religion does not amount to a consistent atheism. The brave new world merely replaces monotheistic religions with an earthly, decaf deity: soma — or rather, since soma is a commodity, with “capitalism as religion” (see Benjamin 1996). Responding to the same fears — for example, pain, weak- ness and mortality — soma functions as a pure cult religion, without a specific dogma and theology, and celebrates permanent duration, to the point at which God himself is included in the logic of capital…Against this pseudo-religion, John maintains that “tears are necessary” (Huxley 2007, p. 210). He wants God, poetry, freedom — and sin. “In fact”, Mond replies, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy”. “All right then”, John says insolently, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy” (pp. 211–212). He chooses reli- gion, self-denial and chastity. Then he isolates himself in a hermitage in search of purification, starting to mourn his mother. Yet, his religious ritual, his “hitting himself with a whip”, becomes a sensation when the media rediscover the whereabouts of the “mystery savage” (pp. 219–221). His self-flagellation, now a spectacle exposed to the public gaze, attracts more and more “tourists” to his hermitage. Even Lenina comes to see him one day, mixing with the crowd chant- ing, “Whip, whip, the whip!” (p. 225). But at the sight of Lenina, and unable to notice her tears, John loses control and attacks her, whipping her “like a mad man” (p. 227). Something interesting follows. Fascinated by pain and impelled, from within, “by that habit of cooperation, that desire for unanimity and atone- ment, which their conditioning had so ineradicably implanted in them”, the members of the crowd begin to “mime” John’s passionate gestures, everybody striking at one another in a mass orgy of soma, sex and violence (p. 228). The same night, as a last attempt to escape the brave new world, John commits suicide.
Towards the end of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, we meet some of Zarathustra’s guests, who all think they have “unlearned” from Zarathustra the religious senti- ment, the despair that follows from feeling weak in this world and prompts humans to imagine a transcendent heaven in which pain and antagonism no longer exist. Thus, they are in the carnival mood. Yet, Nietzsche makes it clear that kill- ing God is not enough to get rid of him. A materialist, hedonist world is prone to new, this-worldly illusions, even new gods and idols. At one point in the carnival, therefore, the noise abruptly stops and, precisely when they think they have over- come it, the crowd falls back upon a religious mood: “They have all become pious again, they are praying, they are mad!”
…For Nietzsche, nihilism is originally an inability to accept pain, conflict and antagonism. But since these are parts of life, the search for a pain-free life amounts to the denial of the world as it is. As such, in its origin, nihilism is the invention of a transcendent world in which pain, conflict and antagonism do not exist, which is why Nietzsche (1967, p. 95) calls the three monotheistic religions “nihilistic religions”. With modernity, or with the “death of God”, this originary, religious nihilism divides itself into two: “radical” and “passive” nihilism. Hence Nietzsche’s (1967, p. 318) definition: “a nihilist is a man who judges of the world as it is that it ought not to be, and of the world as it ought to be that it does not exist”. If existing values are devalued while, at the same time, this world is preserved, we encounter passive nihilism, or a “world without values” (Deleuze 1983, p. 148). Thus, for the “last man”, the actual real- ity “becomes the only reality” (Nietzsche 1967, pp. 12–13). His is a reactionary life, in which happiness is reduced to passivity, to something that “appears essen- tially as narcotic, anesthetic, calm, peace” (Nietzsche 1996, pp. 23–24). If, on the other hand, despite realizing that one’s supreme values are not realizable, one still desperately clings to them, we confront the situation of the radical nihilist, described in the first part of the definition: values without a world.
TRAVELING TO MODERNISM’S OTHER WORLDS – Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four by Alexandra Peat
Our critical understanding of modernism as an elitist or “difficult” literature concerned only with aesthetic matters of formal innovation has in recent years been challenged, particularly by studies that reimagine modernism as transnational and multicultural. The arrival of the “new modernisms” over 15 years ago allowed scope for a greater historical and geographical breadth, and opened up a space for a critical examination of various modernist styles and approaches, from the postcolonial to the middlebrow.1 Yet, despite the ever-expanding margins of modernism, some works remain on the fringes of the modernist canon. This paper re-examines two critically neglected late modernist works, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World ( 2007) and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four ( 1990).