essay: Huxley – The Doors of Perception (1954)

This is one I’ve been putting off reading for years, ever since I reached the conclusion that I’m not really so much a fan of the Doors, maybe one or two albums are alright, but generally, I don’t care. And that book touted as scholarly but sold in every Barnes and Noble discussing Jim Morrison as compared to Rimbaud, I think it’s just a way to stir up some controversy, and make some money by cashing in on the significantly large population of young people who fancy themselves intellectuals because they listen to the Doors and really, really get it. The problem I’d had was that I kept running into these idiots who were convinced that after reading Huxley’s Doors of Perception, they had firmly digested the oeuvre of Blake also, maybe they’d read one of Blake’s early works and contented themselves that this was representative of the whole. And worse yet, the only thing they were able to squeeze out of Huxley was that, well, there’s a smart argument for using drugs, and if you don’t get it, just read this fucking book, okay? He’ll explain it. And essentially, by using drugs, you don’t even need the Doors, or Huxley, or Blake, because you’ve reached the world of the sensual already, through the most powerful medium of all, man, your…I don’t know, eyeballs or something.

I don’t suppose I should have been surprised that this is more like William James showing up to one his lectures a bit in love, and the most fascinating bits are that there was a time when someone took drugs and didn’t just play video games, stand around in 7-11, or hang out with their equally fucked up friends. Instead, he contemplates flowers, and then art, and then classical music. Thankfully he doesn’t do any of this for much more than a few pages, and the rest of the essay is historical, scientific, and when religious or philosophical, hardly different than what Emerson said a hundred years prior at Harvard’s commencement, hardly different than what the wise have known since the beginning of time.

Am I bitter? Yes. Because Huxley notes multiple times that mescaline (see the liner notes in James Taylor’s One Man Dog, in which his song whose only lyrics are ‘mescalito has opened up my mind’ includes a comment that the musicians don’t really agree) offers no negative effects, it brings all users to heaven…except those who have an anxious or depressed disposition, and instead, they will be in absolute hell.

In conclusion: Huxley will always hold a place in my heart since when I was 18 I read Island and, further, believed in it and its condemnation of male orgasm. But I cannot forget his godawful Crome Yellow origins that are perhaps only comparable to Jane Austen as a comedy of manners (no wonder that he was a screenwriter for the 1940 film Pride and Prejudice). I wonder if Huxley is entirely irrelevant? In short, I don’t care, and I’m not going to read the accompanying essay ‘Heaven and Hell’ because I can die contentedly without it.

film: Branagh: Frankenstein (1994)

Frankenstein has long held a place in my heart because it deals with the reckless life of a poet, and its destructive tendency,  and thus I see myself in it, and I grow concerned, wondering if such tragedy really is so tragic. Considering Frankenstein at any point after WWI turns Mary Shelley into a prophet of the same caliber of Orwell or Huxley. Removing it from our lives, that is restraining it to her own, we know she wasn’t foretelling anything at all: she was recalling. Percy didn’t know this, of course, which diminishes his intellect, and makes one begin to wonder how great of poet he is as compared to how much effort Mary put into immortalizing him. We know Percy didn’t know this because he gave no indication of knowing it through his revisions, effective rewrites, of the text, which is the 1818 edition, and he allowed it to be published. Byron didn’t seem to pick up on it either. And ultimately, it’s Mary who is the sole voice of that great circle to survive and recollect on the period with a voice of wisdom. Branagh, who makes everything glorious, took some liberties with the story, but can hardly be criticized given the terrible legacy of idiotic interpretations in the cinema and television. What changes he makes do the following: First, Frankenstein isn’t portrayed as making such repeatedly foolish mistakes, which makes him out to be less of a fool. That is, he grows. I wonder if Branagh would have made this change to the story if he himself had not been playing Frankenstein. It reminds one of Hamlet, who he also chose to play, and the similarity between the characters acting idiotic despite their intelligence is notable. Second, he makes it more melodramatic. This goes alongside the first, because had he just given up on making the bride rather than, you know, cut up the bodies of the only two women in the film and sew them together, and then dance with this monster and try to convince her to, we assume, continue the ceremonies of their wedding night…well, then he would have seemed like he was making a mistake, equal to the first, in believing the daemon wouldn’t actually come visit him on his wedding night. The whole story is mishmashed. And then the final sequence, in which Frankenstein is given a chance to live peacefully amongst humans, and refuses in favor of an unabashedly flamboyant act of suicide, is precisely what allows the ending to be hopeful: progress will stop before reaching its absurd conclusions. We know this is not true, because Shelley died, his family life, including all those dead children, attests to his ignorance in life, and Byron, who is portrayed as Frankenstein’s best friend (and who mysteriously disappears in this film. I mean, he just stops showing up.) dies under equally silly circumstances. Branagh: big, bold, excessive, hoorah! My mouth was gaping for much of this, and I covered my eyes a few times.

The Tempest

The idea of isolating a group of people on an island is a popular one for authors to express their views of human nature. Perhaps the most well-known examples are Lord of the Flies, by Golding, and the opposing Island, by Huxley. Though Shakespeare’s The Tempest does not especially debate the topic of the inherent good or bad in human nature, it certainly presents the seeds of later utopic and dystopic writings. The way Shakespeare does this is through his characters’ perception of the island. Many view it as a new beginning with possibilities for the lives they dream of leading. The Lord Adrian admires the island’s natural beauty, speaking of it as “of subtle, tender and delicate temperance” (II.i.41) and continuing that the “air breathes upon us here most sweetly” (II.i.45). Antonio, during the same scene, detests what Adrian adores, calling it “tawny” (II.i.47) and “perfumed by a fen” (II.i.47). The old Gonzalo sees possibilities for change and argues that if it were under his control; it would become a place of purity, leisure, and abundance without labor. In other words, a garden of Eden. Caliban sees the island as his home, the place he has always lived and on which he would like to reside in peace (III.ii.40); and Ferdinand would like to make the island his home (IV.i.130). Finally, the butler Stephano would like to take the island over by killing Prospero and becoming king. Considering the characters’ opinions about the island and its fate, if Shakespeare had human nature in mind when he wrote this, what might be his own views?