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Huxley and Lawrence

ISSUE:  Autumn 1937

If the low point in a man’s spiritual career is the loss of all faith in humanity, Aldous Huxley reached that nadir with the publication of “Those Barren Leaves” in 1925. Here he repudiated all the left-over nineteenth-century formulas by which mankind had tried vainly during the decade after the War to support itself—religion, patriotism, moral order, humanitarianism, social reform, science, and (the last of the inebriants) art. Human reason had failed. John Strachey, commenting on this defeatist attitude characteristic of the 1920’s, indicated three ways of escape: to commit suicide, become a Communist, or join the Roman Catholic Church. Too individual, however, to accept the Church or either one of the totalitarian political gospels and not yet ready to give up the ghost, Huxley did none of these things. But he was nevertheless in need of a positive faith. As early as “Antic Hay” he had admitted through the character Gumbril that it must be pleasant to hand oneself over to somebody else, whom one could believe in and wholeheartedly follow. And as if in answer to the wish implicit in that remark, along came D. H. Lawrence.

This was in 1926. The two men had met eleven years before; and Huxley, then twenty-one years old, had been so impressed that at the end of their first conversation he had agreed to join Lawrence’s projected colony in Florida. But that adventure had come to nothing. Now Lawrence reappeared as prophet and Huxley found someone he could follow—at least part of the way.

As we look back over the earlier novels, we can see how desperately he needed a leader. “Crome Yellow,” the first of them, was perhaps more symptomatic than significant. Not yet very irritable, the young novelist exposed with some gaiety the ineptitude of social leaders, of squires, of parsons, and of poets in delayed adolescence. “Antic Hay” went deeper into anger and disgust. It laid bare the boredom of the intellectual, the emotional vacuum of the lover; it analyzed the inertia of thought and laughed sardonically at the futility of science. “Those Barren Leaves” exposed the horrors and squalors of civilization. But this last book, although it reaches the lowest depths, did actually at the end suggest the faintest possibility of an answer to all this frustration. When Calamy is assured that it is not the fools of this world who turn mystics, and departs for a hermitage in the Italian hills, Huxley stated his first vague faith in mysticism as superior to science and announced himself as ready to follow such a man as Lawrence.

“Point Counter Point” is the first result of his conversion. It not only contains a sympathetic portrait of Lawrence, but philosophically it follows Lawrence’s teaching. The characters present in a multiplicity of illustration the concept of self-division, a dualism which in modern life splits humanity into two conflicting forces, passion and reason, that are always violently at war within the individual. And always one or the other is tragically predominant. This inner conflict is essentially the same thing that Lawrence deplored in the human beings around him, for Lawrence believed that in the eternal conflict between these two phases of the human makeup, man was losing his humanity, and that by trying always to make reason conquer passion he was drying himself up. (In his attempt to save the human race from this desiccation, (Lawrence, as prophet, preached the cult of the body and of the “dark night-life of the blood.” He was misunderstood, for Lawrence did not preach these things for their own sake. He preached them in an effort to bring man back to his true heritage of the emotions. He believed that unless man learned to merge passion and reason into one synthesis, and thus to escape the destructive predominance of either one over the other, he was doomed. It was inevitable that he should believe the graver danger was from reason. As he interpreted the modern world he saw the overemphasis on intellect as the basis for material civilization, for science, for political and economic chaos—in short for un-happiness. He probably went too far, though one can understand his purpose and sympathize with it. In “Point Counter Point” Huxley is writing both to explain the fatal dualism described by Lawrence and to offer a certain corrective.

The characters used to make the idea clear are all mon-j sters; that is, they all, with one exception, illustrate an over-balance of passion or intellect and are therefore mere symbols, monstrous representations of monstrous ways of life. The over-intellectualized include Philip Quarles, a novelist, who is a portrait of Huxley himself, a man given over to the cerebral life, who turns every event into a mental exercise. “A poor starved pariah dog had its back broken under the wheels [of a car] and the incident invoked for Philip a selection from the vital statistics of Sicily, a speculation upon the relativity of morals, a brilliant psychological generalization.” Under the influence of Rampion, who is Lawrence, Quarles asks himself if he will “ever have the strength of mind to break himself of these indolent habits of intellect-ualism and devote his energies to the more serious and difficult task of living integrally.” When his child dies, he finds that his reason can in no way help his grief. A second illustration is the scientist Illidge, who believes in economic determinism and who therefore logically murders the Fascist Webley. But his logic does not save him from remorse and fear. Lord Edward Tantamount is another scientist who believes in revolution if it will reduce the population and check the waste of the million tons of phosphorous pentox-ide that are yearly allowed to run away into the sea. He spends his life grafting tail buds of newts onto the stumps of their amputated legs. And a fourth is Webley, who believes in discipline and force. By logical processes he arrives at the position that a Fascist revolution is necessary to preserve individuality from the mass man, to resist the dictatorship of the stupid, to save property from the forces of destruction. Never, as Huxley presents him, was logic more ironically perverted, for the violence he preaches ultimately destroys him.

The destructive power of overweening intellect is balanced in the novel by an excess of overweening passion. Burlap is made ridiculous in his self-pity, piety, and slimy spirituality. He is given the place of honor on the last page of the book where he and his current mistress are pictured reverting to childhood in the soapy pleasures of the bathtub. Spandrell is a horrible portrait of emotional extravagance, Freudianly motivated by an OEdipus complex and perverted into an excessive lubricity and a hatred destitute of every vestige of beauty or pleasure. There is Lucy Tantamount, who because of her utter boredom is trying to escape into complete sensuality. And there is Walter, the young sentimentalist, who is always trying to etherialize his love and who inevitably fails.

It will be seen that all these characters are one-sided. They represent the split that Huxley deplores. In their inability to live as human beings they are Huxley’s critical satire on self-division. The character of Mark Rampion, a portrait of Lawrence, is his remedy for their failure. Rampion believes in a perfect humanism. This means, instead of a division, a unity. He is careful to make clear that what he resents is the tendency in most men to be more than human. They desire complete spirituality, or complete idealism, or complete efficiency, or complete conscious intelligence — whereas Rampion wants a balance. “Nobody’s asking you,” he says, “to be anything but a man. A man, mind you. Not an angel or a devil. A man’s a creature on a tightrope, walking delicately, equilibrated, with mind and consciousness and spirit at one end of his balancing pole, and body and instinct and all that’s unconscious and earthy and mysterious at the other.” He believes that our modern industrialized civilization—the morning paper, the radio, the cinema, T. N. T., Rockefeller—is the result of the “systematically organized, professional intellectualism of the last two hundred years.” The intellectualist tradition, including science of course, has been getting at non-human truth. The one truth, he maintains, that is at all relevant is something “you discover by living completely, with the whole man.” In order to live with the whole man, he urges the abandonment of “mental self-consciousness” and the rediscovery of instinct. To the charge that such a process is merely the gospel of animalism, advice to behave like beasts, he replies that “It isn’t natural appetite and spontaneous instinctive desire that makes men so beastly. . . . It’s the imagination, the intellect, it’s principles, it’s tradition and education. . . . It’s not instinct that makes Casanovas and Byrons and Lady Castle-maines; it’s a prurient imagination artificially tickling up the appetite, tickling up desires that have no natural existence. . . . It’s not the possessive instinct that’s made modern civilization insane about money. The possessive instinct has to be kept artificially tickled by education and tradition and moral principles.”

When “Brave New World” appeared in 1932 it was clear that Huxley had not said his last word on science in “Antic Hay” or in “Point Counter Point.” “Brave New World” is a satire on a scientific Utopia, the type of non-human civilization that Lawrence most dreaded. Ford has supplanted God: “Ford’s in his flivver, all’s right with the world.” It is the quintessence of the machine age. There is no longer any viviparous birth; babies are decanted out of test tubes; the word “mother” is the most obscene expression in the language; there are no individualists, for all humans are standardized; there is no monogamy, for everyone belongs to everybody else. All emotions, because they are dangerous, have been excluded from human experience, and only sensations, rendered scientifically harmless, remain. The movies have not only encompassed television, but have now become feelies, in which advanced stage of development the audience can vicariously enjoy the tactile experiences of the actors on the screen. In helicopters and transatlantic bullets the inhabitants of the new world fly in perfect safety all over the globe, which is divided into ten districts, each ruled over by his Fordship, a Resident Controller. And just in case anything should go wrong, there are emotional engineers and there is the drug soma, which, taken internally, will at once render anyone immune to physical pain or emotional disturbance. Not the least of its virtues is that it leaves no hang-over. All the creatures in this Utopia are subject from the moment of their decanting to a long process of conditioning, known as sleep-teaching or hypnopaedia, by which everyone is rendered content with the status in life for which he is selected by the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning. The human race is divided, into five layers, graded Alpha through Epsilon, with plus and minus grades in each division. If you are poured out of your test tube to be a Gamma, your subconscious mind is told over and over again by a loudspeaker droning out its message while you sleep, “I’m glad I am a Gamma. I’m glad I am a Gamma. I don’t want to be a Beta. I don’t want to be a Beta.” And so on by the hour. The Deltas, who are next to the lowest order, are, when babies, conditioned by electric shock to fear books and flowers, for Deltas are workers and must not be distracted by pleasures suitable only to the more leisured Alphas and Betas. The result of the whole superb set-up is that everyone is contented with what he is and never has any desire for change—a mechanistic universe so completely perfect that Alexander Pope’s admonition, “Act well your part; there all the honor lies,” becomes so appropriate that it has no meaning left. In fact it all sounds so jolly that some readers have concluded that Huxley approved of his horrible creation. For it is horrible in the sense that it is non-human and for that very reason is despicable. The intellect in “Brave New World” has advanced to regions where it was never intended to go and has turned man into a machine that his original design made no provision for. The chief flaw in the machine is not so much its mechanical perfection as the price paid for that perfection—namely, the sacrifice of all emotional experience. The chief illustration of this point is the character called The Savage, who was the son of an American Red Indian and a backslider from the new civilization, and who was brought up in savage captivity unaware of the mechanical perfection of the new world. He was delivered from his mother’s womb instead of decanted out of a test-tube, has felt joy and pain, has mind and emotion— in short, is a human being of the pre-Fordian era. By a series of circumstances he is brought from the reservation in New Mexico to London, He finally commits suicide. Why? Because he finds it impossible to live in so perfect and sterile a world. He wants God; but is told God is not compatible with machinery and medicine and universal happiness. He wants instincts; but is told instincts are passS: one believes now only what one has been conditioned to believe. He wants solitude; but is told that people are now never alone. He wants the right to practice self-control; but there is only self-indulgence up to the limits allowed by hygiene and economics. He wants the noble, the fine, and heroic; but is told that these are the symptoms of political inefficiency. He wants to live dangerously and is told to try a V. P. S.—a violent passion surrogate by which he can experience all “the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello without any of the inconveniences.” He sums up the whole situation when he says, “I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” And Mustapha Mond, the Controller of Western Europe, remarks, “In fact, you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.” The Savage defiantly admits the charge. “You’re welcome,” says Mustapha Mond. It is finally the agonizing longing to be alone that drives the Savage to suicide.

These horrors of a world dominated by science are the negative side of the problem, which is viewed positively in “Eyeless in Gaza.” This latest of the novels is, moreover, bound to “Point Counter Point” by the Lawrencian influence. Qjawrence scorned the ordinary concept of the mystical, on the ground that it led away from the human to the supernatural, where man has no business going. Nevertheless he did believe in a mystical state wholly human, in which man, through the agency of the physical body and its sensations, attained a oneness with the dark flow of the life-force —not as a separate individual, but in a merging with the force of life itself. And I think that is what Huxley’s new novel tries to explain.

In “Eyeless in Gaza,” the hero, Tony Beavis, is a sociologist. As early in his life as 1912, while he is still at Oxford, he announces that he believes in “the fundamental metaphysical theory of mysticism” as the only way to get at “the most valuable and important sort of truth.” But he is at the same time skeptical of what he calls the orthodox explanations of mysticism. For a long time this belief lies dormant in him. He sees the world around him going to pieces in an orgy of hate and fear and suspicion, fighting for principles, passionately defending different intellectual concepts —concepts so different and so passionately defended that only war can result. He sees himself a failure, for he learns that the freedom he thought he enjoyed is in reality an enslavement to sensuality and logical thought. His attempts at physical passion without spiritual companionship, without the necessary yielding of himself, prove ultimately to be negative. He learns from his friend Staithes that escape into activity is futile. He comes to repudiate all the changes made in social institutions because though they are made in the name of freedom, they merely lead to another kind of institutional slavery. He has come to an absolute dead end —to that same point Huxley himself reached before Lawrence began to pull him up. (Beavis and Huxley and Lawrence, without using the word God or adopting any organized religion, have turned to some kind of mystical faith. Behind this faith is the fact that both in actuality and in the novel Huxley has become a philosophical pacifist, on the theory that peace and social justice are obtainable only when the means themselves are just and peaceful. Force and oppression as means will never lead to any end but strife. They may seem to conduct to peace, but actually they never do. Therefore, pacific means must be employed. It is clear, moreover, that he believes that those peaceful means that are to lead to a peaceful end must begin with the individual, that Peace must be a way of life for individuals before it can become an international policy. “Nations won’t change their national policies unless and until people change their private policies. . . . Today’s national behaviour is a large scale projection of today’s individual behaviour.”

But how is Peace to become the way of the individual? Tony Beavis learns the answer to this question from Miller, a philosophic Scotch doctor he meets in Mexico. Miller seems to be what you might get if you crossed a female Yogi from India with the ghost of Plato. Under the tutelage of Miller he begins with what he says is an empirical fact — namely, that “the contemplation of goodness is a method of realizing that goodness to some slight degree in one’s own life, and results often in an experience as if of help toward that realization of goodness, help from some being other than one’s ordinary self and immensely superior to it.” On the basis of this belief, he advocates the perfection of the technique of contemplation. This technique agrees with Lawrence in that it begins with the body. Miller points out to Tony Beavis that his body is unconscious and must be awakened, that his muscles and bones and viscera arc hopelessly stupid. His intestines are ripe for Fascism and Nationalism. His physical set-up is torpid, unaware, incapable of using itself. He must begin with physical control and through it, control impulses and feelings. Once this control is achieved, it can be transferred to behaviour — once one learns how to inhibit the bad use of the body, one can begin to “put good intentions into practice and be patient, good-tempered, kind, unrapacious, chaste.” This understanding of the body will lead to “psychological exercises,” different ones for different types of minds, but all a direct intuition that makes possible “communicating with and contemplating goodness.”

He sees each individual mind as something separate and unique above a “substratum of mental identity,” but he also sees that each individual mind, in spite of its separateness, is merely a part of the fundamental unity of all minds. In other words, there is no real separateness, only unity. It is the business of the individual, by means of the contemplative process, to merge itself with this underlying abstraction, which merging is itself the way of peace. For the separateness of the individual, though a condition of our existence, is evil; whereas that unity with all other minds, since it is the opposite of separateness, is good, is love and compassion, the totality of being. Love and compassion are constantly threatened by the “separating passions of hate and malice and pride,” and always the fact of separateness exists; but always also must the individual try through meditation and intuition to achieve the “experience of being no longer wholly separate, but united at the depths with other lives, with the rest of being.” To achieve this fusion is now and for a long time impossible because of the essential paradox in the theory; but nevertheless the obligation is plain: lifetimes must be spent in constant effort through meditation and direct intuition to realize the unity that lies “beyond the turmoil of separations and divisions.” In the very last scene just before going forth to address a pacifist meeting at which he knows he will almost surely be murdered by English Fascists, we see Tony Beavis in his trance-like state, finding “the darkness expanding and deepening, deepening into light,” finding the “final peace.” Huxley’s method for solving our ills presents many difficulties; but however impractical the suggestion may be, it is clear that Huxley is reviving an idealism reminiscent of Plato in its emphasis on the One and a technique that reminds one of the Yogi of India. He and Lawrence, though they are professed enemies of Plato because Plato was too little concerned with the human body, are nevertheless seek-I ing a Platonic ideal. (They both believe in a transcendental fusion between the individual and some abstraction beyond the individual.) Lawrence, fearful of the non-human, believed in a human approach to the mystery and believed that men and women found this sense of union with the underlying force through the mysticism of sex. Lawrence believed that once this union was achieved, humanity attained a serenity beyond strife and struggle. It is only in the technique of achievement that Lawrence and Huxley differ. And even here the difference is not as great as at first might be supposed, for while Huxley does not use the agency of sex as a means towards his mysterious unity, he does definitely believe that the process begins with the body, for the body must learn before the moral millennium can be reached. In Lawrence the logical processes gave way to what he called the dark flow of the blood; in Huxley the logical processes give way to vision. It would be interesting to know in this connection what importance, if any, may be attached to the fact that Huxley’s eyesight is extremely bad. Is it possible that a man who is almost blind is more likely than a man with normal sight to believe in immediate contact with the absolute good?

The experience of being united at the depths with other lives is what Huxley is striving for. If that experience spreads through individuals and nations, it will bring universal peace. It is clear that the negation depicted in the earlier novels and there scorned but not corrected has now, in his belief, met its remedy. The Tony Beavis of the early years described in “Eyeless in Gaza” is a summation of the futility and desiccation and separation so bitterly and helplessly pictured in “Antic Hay” and “Those Barren Leaves” and in the large gallery of portraits in “Point Counter Point.” Rampion in the latter novel begins the constructive process through recognizing the need for unity. But with Rampion it is still a unity on the surface, achieved by balancing the intellect with the emotions. Since 1928, however, many things have happened, and Huxley has grown nearly ten years older. The world and humanity are much worse off than they were before. It will be remembered that Mr. Calamy in “Those Barren Leaves” remarked that it is not the fools who turn mystics. Clt is the fools, says Huxley, who make wars and adhere to intellectual principles and live according to all the evils of separateness: jealousy, hate, and fear. It is wise men, like Lawrence, and Dr. Miller, and Buddha, and Plato, and the Yogi, and Tony Beavis, says Huxley, who contemplate goodness and by so doing live according to the virtues of Unity: love and compassion!

The “unchartered freedom” of the modern world, which is merely another way of describing slavery, has been changed by Huxley to the discipline of the body and of the non-rational processes of the mind. It is not a solution that will as yet prove very helpful to most of us. But if the absolute Good exists and if identity with it is the only way out of the modern dilemma, then obviously some way of achieving that identity must be found. Plato made the attempt. And Aristotle made the classic reply. “Clearly the absolute good,” said Aristotle, “cannot be attained by man. . . . It is hard to see how a weaver or a carpenter will be benefited in regard to his own craft by knowing the ‘good itself; or how the man who has viewed the Idea itself will be a better doctor or general thereby.” Aristotle and Plato have been having it out on this question for a long time. In the last analysis all one can say is that Aldous Huxley has thrown the lie straight back into Aristotle’s face. And that is as good a place as any to leave it.


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