Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cannonball Read #3: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

First, a brief housekeeping note. Those of you who care may have noticed that I had listed John Berendt's City of Fallen Angels as the current book in progress. Those of you who can read will notice that I am writing today about Brave New World. For all the reading I do, I am sort of bad at it. I think you're supposed to read one book at a time, not have one per room, but apparently somewhere in my subconcious, I am unclear on this concept, because I frequently wind up reading 47 books simultaneously. Therefore, I would just like to note that though I will always be reading the book listed on the right hand navigation as my work in progress, it may not be the ONLY book I am reading, and thus, you should probably temper any excitement you have about an announced review, because I may disappoint you. Sorry. It's a lifelong problem and frankly not one I particularly care about fixing.

So, I read Brave New World, which is required for my Problem of God class. I'm kind of amazed that I am just getting to it now, since I know about its themes and the significance of it and it's such an Important Book that it seems impossible for a nerdy individual like myself to have hit the quarter-century mark without picking it up. While I was reading Brave New World, I read something (I think for my Terrorism class, weirdly) about types of intellectuals which mentioned those who "feel confident discussing books they have never read," and immediately was consumed with guilt...while I am not usually that person, I certainly have referenced Brave New World in both theoretical and allegorical contexts, and not good. It's not necessarily bad, I suppose, since the work itself is so well known that people know exactly what you mean when you refer to it, but I feel like I SHOULD have read this before. That being said, my guilt over being That Intellectual Guy was ameliorated when I Googled for "confident discussing books they have never read" to find the article in question and discovered that there is a book called How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read, which broke my entire mind and made me feel better about having some holes in my consumption of classic and essential literature.

And of course, because I am a glutton for punishment, now I kind of want to read it to find out what drugs the author is on. This is also why I am frequently tempted to read the Twilight series. Ugh.

Some people are sneaky with their awesomeness, and you have to hang out with them and get to know them a little before you can realize the full scale of their coolness. Some people, however, just ooze intelligence, or quirkiness, or curiousity, and I find myself - as I believe most people must be - inexorably drawn to people like this. Several of my professors are like this, both here and at American...they walked in on the first day of my first class with them and my brain immediately said, "that is someone I need to know." On the back cover of my copy of Brave New World, there is an excellent picture of Aldous Huxley, looking very focused and grave, with the glasses worn to enhance his horriblly weak vision mostly obscuring his eyes, in a suit, with his face tilted slightly downward but also forward, and with his lips slightly parted, as though about to speak.

This is someone I need to know.

Is it me? Maybe it's me. I just think he looks so fascinating, and of course, he was. He was a prolific writer, and is noted for working in an remarkable depth of thought in all of his writings. This is clearly evident in Brave New World, as of course we are told over and over again.

I read this for my Problem of God class, in which we have been discussing the dangers posed by a modern science that does not trouble itself with the morality of its experiments, only with the possibilities. I have a hard time with this, because the answer to the question of how to ameliorate these dangers seems to be the halt of scientific progress, which to me is absolutely asinine. Obviously, we have to consider what we have, do and will create through the manipulation of science and nature in a moral regard, particularly since we have moved to a point where we can manipulate genetics (and in so doing affect the very tao of what it is to be human and to be our particular selves), but I don't think it is necessary to demolish technology simply because of what COULD be. All that being said, this book shows us a pretty horrifying dystopian vision, and even worse, one easily imagined as imminent.

The real problem of technology is that it requires people to not only be considerate, but to be willing to put other people, things and concepts beyond themselves. This is of course the great choice of Mustafa Mond...the choice between pursuing true happiness and staying behind to do what is best for society. While one hopes that the "best" for our society would not be to replicate the creepy mechanized society of Brave New World, I DO hope that we would be big enough people to choose preservation of our humanity and the dedication of our minds to the assessment of moral application of new technologies. It worries me to think that we may not be big enough people for this. We have become accustomed to being able to solve all our personal problems with modern technology...working jobs many miles away, using cell phones and the internet to work from home and spare the extravagant task of visiting friends in person, treating everything from the slightest headache to chronic diseases with armloads of medication. We have become unaccustomed to real pain, discomfort, and arguably to true emotion. Everything is filtered through something else. Hell, just look at public reaction to this election. No one seems to understand how big a deal it is, and how important. Even the media spends its time on other, abjectly frivolous topics, smushing dribs and drabs of election news in between the fluff.

To me, this book is a call to action. It's a call to renew my attempts to contemplate all aspects of my life, to live actively and not let the world happen TO me. It's a call to be vigilant, to watch politicians and civilians alike with a gimlet eye. It is a call to stand up, and to voice my beliefs in defense of the muted majority. It is a call to fight. We cannot become this book, and yet, we persistently teeter on the brink.

259 pages.

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