Friday, August 31, 2012

Huxley grapples with Orwell's 1984

The website Letters of Note featured this missive from Aldous Huxley comparing/contrasting the two authors' takes on totalitarianism.
Wrightwood. Cal.
21 October, 1949
Dear Mr. Orwell,
It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual's psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.
Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud's inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world's rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.
Thank you once again for the book.
Yours sincerely,
Aldous Huxley

10 comments:

  1. It's eerie how close these two gents were in some cases. Big Brother is alive and well and the Patriot Act the first "Thoughtcrime" legislation. To quote Orwell, "If there is hope, it lies in the proles..." Where art thou, Winston Smith?

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    1. He is US, Mr. Fink. Doubt, question, pursue till you understand. Think for yourself, accept nothing. Remember history, inquire about the future. Look around you. Reject dogma. Try to penetrate the too polished veneer. Read.
      And have a nice weekend! :>)

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  2. Very cool (I love that Letters of Note website!). 1984 is one of my favorite books. I've been meaning to read A Brave New World so hopefully this post will motivate me!

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  3. Certainly Orwell and Huxley excelled at nonfiction, but I think in 1984 and Brave New World they get too bogged down in their messages to deliver first-rate novels. Both of them overtly took their cue from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s masterpiece We, which is darker, funnier, and truer to life than the novels of his British counterparts.

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    1. Definitely one for the reading list .... thanks!

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    2. Orwell's contribution to the modern lexicon, "doublethink", is the vector by which a policy like Mutually Assured Destruction could possibly be considered by sober minds as a means to peace. (War is Peace?)
      "1984" also gave us one of the memorable opening lines, fit for that list JP said she was compiling: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
      I've begun reading "We", and I'm happy to see Zamyatin's use of mathematics as metaphor--his calculus of love and death is food for further thought.

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    3. thanks for the reminder .... i'd better get cracking on that (and on finding a copy of We).

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  4. This comic has been circulating on the web for a while now, and I think it illustrates how right Huxley was.

    http://www.acceleratingfuture.com/michael/blog/2010/07/amusing-ourselves-to-death/

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  5. Huxley may be right. How prescient both authors were...on NPR the other morning I heard a piece where a Doctor extolled the virtues of a developing program where subjects learn while they sleep through the use of repetitive recordings. I was concerned. Still am. They were all right. William Gibson, the inventor of cyber space, stopped writing science fiction because there is nothing left to speculate about. It is all here in one form or another. He thinks. Scary stuff.

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    1. I'd love to learn while sleeping. Sign me up.

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