Sunday, June 14, 2015

Eyeless in Gaza

'Eyeless in Gaza' is often seen as Aldous Huxley's most important novel, written shortly after his great success with 'Brave New World'. It got him into trouble.

First because some of its characters were seen as too thinly disguised being based on people Huxley knew (or had known). This was a familiar, perceived failing. 

Second because in it, for the first time, his conversion was clear. If he had not 'got religion', he had overthrown his satirical self for a hoped for spirituality, focused on the cultivation of love and compassion (though being Huxley, he had not lost a sharp eye for human failings [and foibles], not least, in his central character, Anthony, who was closely modelled on himself).

Third because in it he avowed pacifism, undiluted and unapologetic, just at the moment, in 1936, when many of his peers were discovering Communism and the need to resist fascism by force in the nascent battle lines of Spain. 

This being a novel of ideas, many of the ideas that would become familiar, found their first trialed outing here.

At heart is the call to the individual to recognise that though they mostly do that which they do not wish too, this need not be so. There exists processes of self-examination - physical-mental-spiritual - that carefully and conscientiously applied can lead to transformation - not simply of belief but of being and practice. They form an empirical science of the soul that is open to all - even if many are called and few choose! But without this individual application of effort, and through it a disposal to grace (or the laws of spirit), little hope can be attached to wider social or economic reforms. The latter are necessary, indeed urgent, but need to be grounded in a different pattern of attitudes if they are to take root and live. They must be rooted in realized experience of our essential unity.

Needless to say, this antagonised the 'Communists' - such as C Day Lewis and Stephen Spender - and Huxley confronts them head on in the text. Communism, as then practiced, is organised violence (as was Fascism) and the idea that you transform society from outside in and that by simply moving forward, to quote Simone Weil, you step into the air is a falsity. It appeals to a strange admixture of misplaced idealism and spiritual opportunism. How satisfying for change to emerge out of an elation that requires little or no personal effort to change. It is strange how revolution has this effect on us - a high (like, most recently, the Arab Spring) from which we look out and proclaim that everything will be different, followed by the stone rolling back into its place, with conditions often worse than before - the rearranged tyrannies of our collective egotisms.

The book is a work in progress - and retains many sharp edges - no conversion is ever overnight and much of the discussion of unity (towards the end) has the feel of a wished for realization rather than an actual one - but that, in itself, is, I feel, all to the good because it carries the texture of reality - a real life struggle to remake and be remade - of an intelligent, very self-conscious man - in which, no doubt, I see myself faintly mirrored!

The book was a costly effort to write - Huxley almost gave up in despairing block - but having passed through found a renewing freedom on which his legacy was to be based.

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