Saturday, November 22, 2014

Time must have a stop

Having read Van Lommel on 'death and an afterlife' http://ncolloff.blogspot.com/2014/11/is-there-life-after-death.html, I pack my bags for a week in Central America and pick up a copy of Aldous Huxley's novel, 'Time must have a stop', to read on the plane, not realising that one of its core themes is precisely this, death and the afterlife. It has a character whose post mortem journey is beautifully traced with an indebtedness to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. We watch as the epicurean 'Uncle Eustace' expires in the bathroom, thinking heartburn, experiencing heart attack, and we follow him on his journey of refusal of the transfiguring light of communion and forgiveness and see him lured to his next incarnation. It is a transition told with great skill, weaving high seriousness with satiric humour.

The former manages to compellingly convey what it might be like to refuse the offer of liberation: the slinking away from losing one's pivotal ego. The latter especially when his mother in law contacts him through a medium and he watches, with amused horror, the medium mutilate his attempted communications! Eustace, though self-indulgent and selfish, is painted very sympathetically. He, at least, refrains from imagining that his life is an ideological model. There is in it only an invitation not any imposition,unlike the assorted 'world saviours', who were, at the moment of Huxley's writing, breaking down the world.

Uncle Eustace's nephew, Sebastian, seventeen and a would be poet, is the novel's central character - gifted and childish - his pursuit of the set of evening clothes, denied him by his austere, widowed, rich but socialist father becomes the 'deus ex machina' of the novel's unfolding events and Sebastian's moral and spiritual education.

Its core realisation is that the way of a transforming spirituality is one of a continuous vigilance and begins, as it must, with one's self. Any attempt to reorganise the world for the better will go awry unless the self is aligned with the Self. The self surrendered into a divine patterning that returns you more fully to yourself. Of which the gentle model is Bruno, a distant cousin of Eustace and a bookseller, who rescues Sebastian from the complications arising from the quest for the evening clothes and in whose later death, Sebastian finds a counterbalancing image to the one his uncle's had presented to him. A joyful living into a death that is a new beginning.

As always with the later Huxley, the zest of the ideas can sometimes overwhelm the dynamics of the story (as is apparent in the epilogue) but since the ideas are rich and compelling (and the characters illuminative rather than merely illustrative), you can forgive him.

You are, also, reminded how prescient Huxley was. He skewers our obsession with progress and the endless postponement of the good whilst we (often forcibly) rearrange the world, imagining that we are in control. Knowing that ultimately all we can control is our willingness to cooperate with grace and become who we were divinely gifted to be. Content in this,  many of our wantings dissolve and in a realisation of basic needs fulfilled, a true, caring ordering of our world might emerge.

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