Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley

Here's another title that most of us had to read somewhere in our schooling. Because of its relative ubiquity, I'll just remind readers that Brave New World concerns a futuristic utopia founded solidly on social stability as its highest ideal. Human beings are engineered from (nonviviparous) 'birth' into classes with class consciousness. In this world, in the words of Huxley, "People [...] get what they want, and they never want what they can't get." People also aren't plagued anymore—neither by actual pathogens nor by more figurative things like passion, relationships, family dynamics, or even art! And if there's any upset or fear...or even threat of upset or fear...don't forget your soma! "Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning, truth and beauty can't."

The best teacher I ever had at the University of Kansas, Stephen Lahey (who was but a TA at the time!), assigned this book to our Western Civilization I class in the late 1980s. I recall that the class got into a discussion of how one would know what happiness is if one lacked the reference point of having ever felt unhappy. The Huxley riposte invokes all the wild diversions introduced in the pages of this 26th-Century science fiction, such as (remember these?): the feelies, Electro-Magnetic Golf, & flivvers: "Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery."

I had forgotten a lot of this book. Not least of all, I forgot the ending, despite it being dark & dramatic. And I forgot that I had printed out & stuck to my dorm room wall...back in my late teens...the immortal words of the Savage, "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin." Rereading Brave New World 25 years later, the most honest thing I can say at this writing is that I don't find it as powerful. At this reading, I am also far more aware of...for all the startling things Huxley imagined for the female character within these pages having, apparently, risen farther than middle management. (And I write this on damn near election eve. So there!)