Sunday, November 15, 2009

Point Counter Point | Aldous Huxley

Reading Aldous Huxley’s “Point Counter Point” was like walking 5km through three foot snow drifts. The process is a complete struggle, you sweat, you curse and both your mind and body are exhausted by the effort... but in the end, you look at what you struggled through and think... “I’m glad I accomplished this, but I wouldn’t do it again.”

“Point Counter Point” was about the British aristocracy and detailed some of their musings about life, society and the people and structures within it. Unfortunately, the meandering through these opinions and elitist dialogue seemed random and disjointed. Huxley took us from one set of characters to another and from one thought or topic to another, with little to link everything together. Huxley ran the gambit from musings on science, ecology, sexuality, morality, politics, art and religion.

The characters within the novel proved to be unsympathetic and non-relatable, creating the inevitable slog through difficult terrain. That said, the point of the novel was to compare all these people to Mark and Mary Rampion, the implied protagonist couple. Not only was this one of the only couples not experiencing infidelity, but their outlook on life was a beacon for embracing one’s humanity.

Huxley’s message is to live life based on what comes naturally to you. Do not be concerned with trying to be too moral, because humanity in itself is not completely moral. Having material wealth and aspiring for financial gain is an artificial construct created by society and entirely irrelevant to life. Being human has more to do with emotions and physical needs – something that man has tried to stymie over the years because we feel it’s detestable. Huxley challenges that while some sexual acts are perverted, ones completed in the pure act of love are not.

In the end, the message is to live life like a man on a tight rope. Despite this being one of the most difficult challenges of life, it’s the balance that is most critical to being the best human you can be. The key is balancing yourself is being completely honest about your humanity in an effort to get back to the things that make us humans in the first place.

English landscapes and nature in general were not detailed throughout the novel, nor were many character descriptions presented. This novel was all about the thoughts and actions of the characters in an effort to show the reader how much we’ve neglected our own humanity by pursuing a life without a focus on balance.


"Most habitual debauchees are debauchees not because they enjoy debauchery, but because they are uncomfortable when deprived of it.  Habit converts luxurious enjoyments into dull and daily necessities.  The man who has formed a habit of women or gin, of opium-smoking or glagellation, finds it as difficult to live without his vice as to live without bread and water, even though the actual practice of the vice may have become in itself as unexciting as eating a crust or drinking a glass from the kitchen tap." 221

"Everything's incredible, if you can skin off the crust of obviousness our habits put on it.  Every object and event contains within itself an infinity of depths within depths." 297

" 'When humanity's destroyed, obviously they'll be no more problem.  But it seems a poor sort of solution.  I believe there may be another, even within the framework of the present system.  A temporary one while the system's being modified in the direction of a permanent solution.  The root of the evil's in the individual psychology; so it's there, in the individual psychology, that you'd have to begin.  The first step would be to make people live dualistically, in two compartments.  In come compartment as industrialized workers, in the other as human beings.  As idiots and machines for eight hours out of every twenty-four and real human beings for the rest.'

'Don't they do that already?'

'Of course they don't.  They live as idiots and machines all the time, at work and in their leisure.  Like idiots and machines, but imagining they're living like civilized humans, even like gods.  The first thing to do is to make them admit that they are idiots and machines during working hours.  'Our civilization being what it is, this is what you'll have to say to them, 'you've got to spend eight hours out of every twenty-four as a mixture between an imbecile and a sewing machine.  It's very disagreeable, I know.  It's humiliating and disgusting.  but there you are.  You've got to do it; otherwise the whole fabric of our world will fall to bits and we'll all starve.  Do the job, then, idiotically and mechanically; and spend your leisure hours in being a real complete man or woman, as the case may be.  Don't mix the two lives together; keep the bulkheads watertight between them.  The genuine human life in your leisure hours in the real thing.  The other's just a dirty job that's got to be done.  And never forget that it is dirty and, except in so far as it keeps you fed and society intact, utterly unimportant, utterly irrelevant to the real human life.  Don't be deceived by the canting rogues who talk of the sanctity of labour and the Christian Service that business men do their fellows.  It's all lies.  You work's just a nasty, dirty job, made unfortunately necessary by the folly of your ancestors.  They piled up a mountain of garbage and you've got to go on digging it away, for fear it might stink you to death, dig for dear life, while cursing the memory of the maniacs who made all the dirty work for you to do.  but don't try to cheer yourself up by pretending the nasty mechanical job is a noble one.  It isn't; and the only result of saying and believing that it is, will be to lower your humanity to the level of the dirty work.  If you believe in business as Service and the sanctity of labour, you'll merely turn yourself into a mechanical idiot for twenty-four hours out of the twenty-four.  Admit it's dirty, hold your nose and do it for eight hours and then concentrate on being a real human being in your leisure.  A real complete human being .  Not a newspaper reader, not a jazzer, not a radio fan.  The industrialists who purvey standardized ready-made amusements to the masses are doing their best to make you as much of a mechanical imbecile in your leisure as in your hours of work.  But don't let them.  Make the effort of being human.' That's what you've got to say to people; that's the lesson you've got to teach the young.  You've got to persuade everybody that all this grand industrial civilization is just a bad smell and that the real, significant life can only be lived apart from it.  It'll be a very long time before decent living and industrialized smell can be reconciled.  Perhaps, indeed, they're irreconcilable.  It remains to be seen.  In the meantime, at any rate, we must shovel the garbage and bear the smell stoically, and in the intervals try to lead the real human life.' " 304-306
" 'You've got the wrong sort of pride,' she had told him. 'You're not ashamed of being a dunce and not knowing things.  But you are ashamed of making mistakes.  You'd rather not do a thing at all than do it badly.  That's quite wrong.' " 311

"He complained to me that both his children have a passion for machinery - motor cars, trains, aeroplanes, radios.  'It's an infection, like smallpox.  The love of death's in the air.  They breathe it and get infected.  I try to persuade them to like something else.  But they won't have it.  Machinery's the only thing for them.  They're infected with the love of death.  It's as though the young were absolutely determined to bring the world to an end - mechanize it first into madness, then into sheer murder.  Well, let them if they want to, the stupid little devils! But it's humiliating, it's horribly humiliating that human beings should have made such a devilish mess of things.  Life could have been so beautiful, if they'd cared to make it so.  Yes, and it was beautiful once, I believe.  Now it's just an insanity; it's just death violently galvanized, twitching about and making a hellish hullabaloo to persuade itself that it isn't really death, but the most exuberant sort of life.  Think of New York, for example; think of Berlin!  God!  Well, let them go to hell if they want to.  I don't care.' " 320

"They take the main intellectualist axiom for granted - that there's an intrinsic superiority in mental, conscious, voluntary life over physical, intuitive, instinctive, emotional life.  The whole of the modern civilization is based on the idea that the specialized function which gives a man his place in society is more important than the whole man, or rather is the whole man, all the rest being irrelevant or even (since the physical, intuitive, instinctive, and emotional part of man doesn't contribute appreciably to making money or getting on in an industrialized world) positively harmful and detestable.  The low-brow of our modern industrialized society has all the defects of the intellectual and none of his redeeming qualities." 322-323

" 'That's the enormous stupidity of the young people of this generation,' Mrs Quarles went on; 'they never think of life except in terms of happiness.  How shall I have a good time?  That's the question they ask.  Or they complain.  Why am I not having a better time?  But this is a world where good times, in their sense of the word, perhaps in any sense, simply cannot be had continuously, and by everybody.  And even when they get their good times, it's inevitably a disappointment - for imagination is always brighter than reality.  And after it's been had for a little, it becomes a bore.  Everybody strains after happiness, and the result is that nobody's happy.  It's because they're on the wrong road." 352-353

"A business man is just a man of science who happens to be rather stupider than the real man of science." 402

"The only truth that can be of any interest to us, or that we can know, is a human truth.  And to discover that, you must look for it with the whole being, not with a specialized part of it." 402

"This non-human truth that the scientists are trying to get at with their intellects - it's utterly irrelevant to ordinary human living.  Our truth, the relevant human truth is something you discover by living - living completely, with the whole man.  The results of your amusements, Philip, all these famous theories about the cosmos and their practical applications - they've got nothing whatever to do with the only truth that matters.  And the non-human truth isn't merely irrelevant; it's dangerous.  It distracts people's attention from the important human truth.  It makes them falsify their experience in order that lived reality may fit in with abstract theory." 402-403

The Ordinary Man:
"He can afford to have wings too, so long as he also remembers that he's got feet.  It's when people strain themselves to fly all the time that they go wrong.  They're ambitious of being angels; but all they succeed in being is either cuckoos and geese on the one hand or else disgusting vultures and carrion crows on the other." 405

"It's a damned sight better to behave like a beast - a real genuine undomesticated animal, I mean - than to invent a devil and then behave like one's invention." 405

"It's got about as much to do with us as the fact of this table being made of electrons, or an infinite series of waves undulating in an unknown medium, or a large number of point-events in a four-dimensional continuum, or whatever else Philip's scientific friends assure us it is made of.  As much as that.  That is to say, practically nothing.  Your absolute God and absolute devil belong to the class of irrelevant non-human facts.  The only things that concern us are the little relative gods and devils of history and geography, the little relative goods and evils of individual casuistry.  Everything else is non-human and beside the point; if you allow yourself to be influenced by non-human, absolute considerations, then you inevitably make either a fool of yourself, or a villain, or perhaps both." 406

"Nobody's asking you to be anything but a man.  A man, mind you.  Not an angel or a devil.  A man's a creature on a tight-rope, 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 earthly and mysterious on the other.  Balanced.  Which is damnably difficult.  And the only absolute he can ever really know is the absolute of perfect balance.  The absoluteness of perfect relativity.  Which is a paradox and nonsense intellectually.  But so is all real, genuine, living truth - just nonsense according to logic.  And logic is just nonsense in the light of living truth.  You can choose which you like, logic or life.  It's a matter of taste.  Some people prefer being dead." 406

"Leave the instincts to themselves and they'll do very little mischief.  If men made love only when they were carried away by passion, if they fought only when they were angry or terrified, if they grabbed at property only when they had need or were swept off their feet by an uncontrollable desire for possession - why, I assure you, this world would be a great deal more like the Kingdom of Heaven than it is under our present Christian-intellectual-scientific dispensation." 407

"Telling them to obey Jesus is telling them to be more than human.  And, in practice, trying to be more than human always means succeeding in being less than human.  Telling men to obey Jesus literally is telling them, indirectly, to behave like idiots and finally like devils." 408

"That's the trouble: when you're up against non-human things and people, you invariably become non-human yourself." 409

"The world's full of ridiculous God-snobs.  People who aren't really alive, who've never done any vital act, who aren't in any living relation with anything; people who haven't the slightest personal or practical knowledge of what God is.  But they moo away in churches, they coo over their prayers, they pervert and destroy their whole dismal existences by acting in accordance with the will of a arbitrarily imagined abstraction which they choose to call God." 426

1 comment:

Filip said...

Seems like a great review, now let me read that slowly :)