On the first day of discussing Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, I turned the tables around and asked students to lead the class by highlighting passages that were of interest and that contributed to the issues we've been examining so far this semester. Some of the issues that were thus raised include:
- The place of science in our society, a discussion which began with Eric Johnston's highlighting of the quotation, "Science is dangerous" (173). This discussion connected up with Donna Haraway, who argued for the subversive potential of scientific advancement since it potentially allows us to lead better lives (with, therefore, more time to think at leisure) and it can serve to level binary oppositions based on gender (i.e. masculine vs. feminine).
- The place of art in our society, a discussion which began with a corresponding quotation offered by Kelli Allen: "art is dangerous." As the Controller states, in reference to Shakespeare, "You've got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We've sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead" (169). This issue also ties in to postmodernism, since we are presented, as in our own culture, with a society bombarded by the media. In this tale, the media is run by the Bureaux of Propaganda and the College of Emotional Engineering (51) and includes such organs as the newspaper, television, film, advertising and radio. According to Huxley, high art (unlike popular art) provides a privileged place from which to critique and analyze the human condition.
- Utilitarianism. (Click here for a discussion of Utilitarianism at the Victorian Web.) As Emily Rosko pointed out, this society is the extension of our own society's structuration on utilitarian principles, i.e. on the belief in the greatest happiness for the greatest number, on the effort to maximize pleasure, minimize pain. Utilitarianism is, of course, intimately tied also with capitalism and, indeed, the two "isms" arise hand in hand in the nineteenth century. In other words, the belief is that pleasure is best achieved through mass consumption. For this point, Rocky offered to us the oft-repeated quotation, "Ending is better than mending." In other words, the society tries to enforce what is called the "conscription of consumption" (37) through the acquisition of only that which is newly mass produced.
- Total urbanization vs. Nature. This issue, of course, ties back to our Romantic readings in Shelley. What we are presented with in this brave new world is a society where people are conditioned to fear nature. Scott Seaman, for example, pointed out Lenina's reaction to a grand natural landscape: "you feel so small when you're on the ground at the bottom of a hill" (82) or on p. 69 when she confronts the ocean and immediately turns to the radio, which is playing a song about the internalization of nature: "'...the skies are blue inside of you,' sang sixteen tremoloing falsettos." Instead, the city, with its fantastically large buildings, takes over the function of the sublime, as in also Bladerunner. We are made to feel our mortality not before God or our Imagination but before some new unseen power: Capital? Government? Ideology? I believe it was Kristi-Ana Neff or Bess Mattern that then alerted us to another superb quotation on p. 16 which ties this issue of nature to our last point about capitalist consumerism: "A love of nature keeps no factories busy." Capitalism, that is, is invested in the abuse of nature in the interest of profit. You might also consider the quotation on p. 170: "Happiness is never grand," which speaks to the quotation offered to us by Sarah Robinson: "when the individual feels, the community reels" (72). As in the Romantic writers, nature, especially sublime nature, is being aligned with powerful human feeling, which is understood as opposed to the unthinking, dumb "happiness" of the masses. Vanessa Leamer tied the issue of nature to that of nurture. That is, in this society, there is an effort to usurp natural instincts through the "unseen wires" of culture. (Vanessa is referring to the NEO-PAVLOVIAN CONDITIONING ROOMS of pages 13-16.) In other words, just as the urban space literally supplants nature in this dystopia, culture (education/ideology) is made to supplant the natural or instinctual in ourselves.
- Opiates are the religion of the people. Craig Stalbaum offered us the quotation, "Christianity without tears--that's what soma is" (183). This quotation turns around Marx's famous statement that religion is the opiate of the people. Huxley makes a similar comment in Brave New World Revisited, p. 56. As we'll see, drugs are a predominant presence in much of the postmodern and proto-postmodern works we'll be examining this semester, including 1984, Bladerunner, and Neuromancer. For a superb student interpretation of this phenomenon, you can check out an 'A' paper from the Maymester sci fi class.
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