Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

"Community, Identity, Stability": The Scientific Society and the Future of Religion in Aldous Huxley's: Brave New World

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

"Community, Identity, Stability": The Scientific Society and the Future of Religion in Aldous Huxley's: Brave New World

Article excerpt

Michel went over to the bookshelf and took down What Dare I Think? and handed it to Bruno. "It was written by Julian Huxley, Aldous's older brother, and published in 1931, a year before Brave New World. All of the ideas his brother used in the novel--genetic manipulation and improving the species, including the human species--are suggested here. All of them are presented as unequivocally desirable goals that society should strive for."

Michel Houellebecq

I take as my epigraph, and as the starting point of this paper, a passage from Michel Houellebecq's 1998 novel The Elementary Particles. When Bruno visits his brother Michel, he excitedly contends that "everyone says Brave New World is supposed to be a totalitarian nightmare, a vicious indictment of society, but that's just hypocritical bullshit. Brave New World is our idea of heaven: genetic manipulation, sexual liberation, the war against aging, the leisure society" (132). Michel, a molecular biologist, agrees, arguing that both Huxleys (1) believed totally in the kind of society depicted in Brave New World (1932) and that it was only after the Nazi experiment "poisoned the well" of the eugenics argument, and after Julian became the director-general of unesco, that Aldous rewrote his own literary past, claiming that his novel had been a dystopia all along.

It is not difficult to counter Houellebecq's argument. A close reading of Brave New World reveals too many sites of satire simply to claim that Aldous was endorsing the specific scientific society he depicted. However, Houellebecq's argument correctly implies that reading the novel in the context of the scientific discourse that surrounded its publication problematizes the standard reading, which has led Brave New World to be recognized as "a kind of byword for a society in which the values (or nonvalues) of scientific technology are dominant, and which therefore reduced man to a species of machine" (Firchow, "Science and Conscience" 301).

Several scholars have complicated a simplistic dystopian reading of the novel by analyzing it alongside Aldous's positive view of eugenics and scientific planning, which he elaborated in nonfiction essays and letters around the time of Brave New Worlds publication. Robert S. Baker, David Bradshaw, and Joanne Woiak, (2) for instance, have argued that analyzing Brave New World in the light of Aldous's interest in eugenics and scientific planning reveals a highly ambivalent novel, one which cannot be simply read "as a cautionary tale about the dehumanizing effects of technology" (Woiak 107-08). Instead, Aldous's novel can be seen as an imaginative engagement with the contemporary scientific debate surrounding the role of eugenics and scientific planning in the future of society.

Woiak's conclusion is that Brave New World "offers a sophisticated critique of how scientific knowledge emerges from and in turn serves the social, political, and economic agendas of those in power" (Woiak 124). Woiak concludes that the target of the novel's satire is not advanced science but the ideologies of societies which may use it; however, a more specific conclusion can be developed by reading Brave New World alongside What Dare I Think? by Julian Huxley. Following Woiak's suggestion to study "the influence of relevant scientific ideas and sources" (110) in the creation of Aldous's novel, my reading complements these studies by examining the ways in which the novel can be seen as a text that reflects Aldous's positive views of eugenics. More importantly, it also goes beyond these studies, by identifying the distinct areas of overlap shared with What Dare I Think?; in particular, Brave New World seems to be responding to Julian's call for a "world controlled by man" (42), his belief that such a world will require preservations for "strange human beings" (24), and the potential for the use of advanced pharmacological substances (66-69). Of greatest interest is the way in which Brave New World responds to Julian's belief in a biological "religious emotion" (195). …

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