Academic journal article The Space Between

Pledging Peace in Aldous Huxley's Eyeless in Gaza

Academic journal article The Space Between

Pledging Peace in Aldous Huxley's Eyeless in Gaza

Article excerpt

Nineteen thirty-six was a pivotal year for Aldous Huxley. Much of his en- ergy prior to this year was spent writing the satirical novels upon which his reputation still rests, including Crome Yellow (1921), Point Counter Point (1928), and BraveNew World (1932). Huxley produced many of his nearly fifty books under contractual obligations to write two or even three books per year, a pace that seemed to cause him little concern. Yet Eyeless in Gaza, his under-read masterpiece, took four years to complete. Begun in 1932, published in 1936, Eyeless is in most ways typical of Huxley's fiction-eru- dite, philosophical, and semi-autobiographical. His title alludes to Milton's Samson Agonistes, and his characters each take competing positions on the issues most important to Huxley and his cohort of artists and intellectuals: human relations, mystical spirituality, and radical politics. Eyeless in Gaza also shows off some of Huxley's most formally adventurous writing, par- ticularly with regard to narrative chronology. Each of the novel's fifty-four chapters is set on a specific day between November 6,1902 and February 23,1935. Lacking any readily discernible regular pattern, the chapters jump back and forth within this thirty-three year range. The earliest dates show our main character Anthony Beavis as a young boy at his mother's funeral, by the 1910s we see him at Oxford, by the 1920s Anthony is a struggling writer, and by the 1930s he is in a love affair with Helen, is briefly involved in a Mexican revolution, and ultimately converts to pacifism.

Many critics focus on the novel's form, treating its convolutions as a stand-alone point of interest divorced from content.1 The avant-garde time structure of the novel was part of the reason for Huxley's struggle with the text, and the consistent critical attention to this feature is understandable. In February of 1934 Huxley wrote to Mary Hutchinson, saying:

I dodder along with my book, rather exasper- ated because I can't quite get the formal relations between parts that I'm looking for...I am looking for a device to present two epochs of a life simul- taneously so as to show their relations with one another-and also their lack of relationship. For when one considers life one is equally struck by both facts-that one has remained the same and become totally different. (Lettei's 292)

Staging a contradictory, even self-defeating, narrative of discovery was Huxley's goal, but his aims were more than just producing a formally flashy Bildungsroman. The composition of this book may be seen as a form of spiritual discipline, a key component of his own conversion to pacifism as an article of faith. With Eyeless in Gaza, Huxley seemed to mark a new aesthetic, philosophical, and political direction. It is this new direction I will explore here to show how 1936 was not only a turning point for Huxley but also for the peace movement in the build-up to World War II. Huxley's paci- fist activism provides a context for his narrative experiments that may allow us to better understand his complicated expression of a newfound politics.

Critics attentive to this new politics often diverge from formalist readings by regarding the book as essentially equivalent to the pacifist tracts Huxley wrote during the same period. George Woodcock confesses the disillusionment he felt with Huxley when as a young man he read Eyeless and found its narrative of "conversion to mystical religion" to be Huxley's suggestion "with obvious didactic intent-that such a spiritual evolution was not merely compatible with the pacifist and decentralist politics which he had recently been preaching in print and on public platforms, but was perhaps the only condition under which they could become effective" (3). In this interpretation, Huxley's supposed didacticism-made especially repellent by espousing a suspicious and/or foolish creed-overwhelms the novel's formal innovations and undermines Huxley's credentials as a prophet for some new libertarian society. …

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