Island (novel)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
1st US edition
(Harper and Brothers)

Island (ISBN 0-06-008549-5) is the final book by English writer Aldous Huxley, published in 1962. It is the account of Will Farnaby, a cynical journalist who is shipwrecked on the fictional island of Pala. Island is Huxley's utopian counterpart to his most famous work, the 1932 novel Brave New World, itself often paired with George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The ideas that would become Island can be seen in a foreword he wrote in 1952 to the 20th anniversary edition of BNW:

If I were now to rewrite the book, I would offer the Savage a third alternative. Between the Utopian and primitive horns of his dilemma would lie the possibility of sanity... In this community economics would be decentralist and Henry-Georgian, politics Kropotkinesque co-operative. Science and technology would be used as though, like the Sabbath, they had been made for man, not (as at present and still more so in the Brave New World) as though man were to be adapted and enslaved to them. Religion would be the conscious and intelligent pursuit of man's Final End, the unitive knowledge of immanent Tao or Logos, the transcendent Godhead or Brahman. And the prevailing philosophy of life would be a kind of Higher Utilitarianism, in which the Greatest Happiness principle would be secondary to the Final End principle – the first question to be asked and answered in every contingency of life being: "How will this thought or action contribute to, or interfere with, the achievement, by me and the greatest possible number of other individuals, of man's Final End?"


[edit] Major themes

Island explores many of the themes and ideas that interested Huxley in the post-World War II decades, and were the subject of many of his nonfiction books of essays, Including Brave New World Revisited, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, The Doors of Perception, and The Perennial Philosophy. Some of these themes and ideas include overpopulation, ecology, modernity, democracy, mysticism, entheogens, and somatotypes.

Common background elements occur in both Island and Brave New World, used for good in the former and for ill in the latter. Such elements include:

Theme comparison
Island Brave New World
Drug use for enlightenment, and self-knowledge Drug use for pacification
Group living (in the form of Mutual Adoption Clubs) so that children would not have unalloyed exposure to their parents' neuroses Group living for the elimination of individuality.
Trance states for super learning Trance states for indoctrination
Assisted reproduction (low-tech artificial insemination) Assisted reproduction (high-tech test-tube babies)
Free modern contraception to enable reproductive choice, expressive sex Universal forced sterilization, meaningless sex
Dangerous climb to a temple, as spiritual preparation Violent Passion Surrogate
Parrots trained to utter uplifting slogans Ubiquitous loud speakers

The culture of Pala is the offspring of a Scottish secular humanist medical doctor, shipwrecked on the island in the 19th century, who decides to stay on the island and work with its Raja, who embodies the island's Mahayana Buddhist tradition, to create a society that merges the best, in Huxley's view, of East and West. The Old Raja's treatise Notes on What's What is a book within the book that explains Pala's philosophical foundations.

A central element of Palanese society is restrained industrialization, undertaken with the goal of providing fulfilling work and time for leisure and contemplation. For the Palanese, progress means a selective attitude towards technology, which Huxley contrasts to the underdeveloped poverty of the neighboring island of Rendang, and with the alienating overdevelopment of the industrialized West, chiefly through Will Farnaby's recollections of London. The Palanese embrace modern science and technology to improve medicine and nutrition, but have rejected widespread industrialization. For example, hydroelectricity is made available for refrigeration, so that surplus fresh food can be stored, improving nutrition and protecting against food shortages. Huxley viewed this selective modernization as essential for his "sane" society, even if it means that such a society is unable to militarily defend itself from its "insane" neighbors who wish to steal its natural resources.

The Palanese also circumspectly incorporated the use of "moksha medicine", a fictional entheogen taken ceremonially in rites of passage for mystical and cosmological insight. The moksha mushroom is described as "yellow" and not "those lovely red toadstools", e.g. the Amanita muscaria; this description of the moksha medicine is suggestive of Psilocybe mushrooms, a psychoactive that captivated Huxley during the latter half of his life. The recommended dosage of 400 mg, however, is in the dosage range of mescaline as opposed to psilocybin. Huxley had also been fascinated towards the end of his life by the potential benefit to humanity of substances such as mescaline and LSD. Brave New World and most of Huxley's other books were written before he first tried a psychedelic drug in 1953.

Huxley used a scene of two mantids (Gongylus gongyloides) mating to make philosophical observations about the nature of death. In another memorable scene, Will Farnaby watches a Palanese version of Oedipus Rex with a little girl. Will points out that in his version Oedipus pokes his eyes out. The girl replies that that is silly, since all the king had to do was stop being married to his mother.

The novel has served as the inspiration for the Island Foundation, a non-profit corporation "dedicated to the creation of a psychedelic culture."

[edit] Quotations

"And always, everywhere, there would be the yelling or quietly authoritative hypnotists; and in the train of the ruling suggestion givers, always everywhere, the tribes of buffoons and hucksters, the professional liars, the purveyors of entertaining irrelevances. Conditioned from the cradle, unceasingly distracted, mesmerized systematically, their uniformed victims would go on obediently marching and countermarching, go on, always and everywhere, killing and dying with the perfect docility of trained poodles. And yet in spite of the entirely justified refusal to take yes for an answer, the fact remained and would remain always, remain everywhere -- the fact that there was this capacity even in a paranoiac for intelligence, even in a devil worshipper for love; the fact that the ground of all being could be totally manifest in a flowering shrub, a human face; the fact that there was a light and that this light was also compassion"

"History is the record of what human beings have been impelled to do by their ignorance and the enormous bumptiousness that makes them canonize their ignorance as a political or religious dogma."

From the Notes on What's What:

Nobody needs to go anywhere else. We are all, if we only knew it, already there. If I only knew who in fact I am, I should cease to behave as what I think I am; and if I stopped behaving as what I think I am, I should know who I am. What in fact I am, if only the Manichee I think I am would allow me to know it, is the reconciliation of yes and no lived out in total acceptance and the blessed experience of Not-Two. In religion all words are dirty words. Anybody who gets eloquent about Buddha, or God, or Christ, ought to have his mouth washed out with carbolic soap.

Good Being is knowing who in fact we are; and in order to know who in fact we are, we must first know, moment by moment, who we think we are and what this bad habit of thought compels us to feel and do. A moment of clear and complete knowledge of what we think we are, but in fact are not, puts a stop, for the moment, to the Manichean charade. If we renew, until they become a continuity, these moments of the knowledge of what we are not, we may find ourselves all of a sudden, knowing who in fact we are.

Faith is something very different from belief. Belief is the systematic taking of unanalysed words much too seriously. Paul's words, Mohammed's words, Marx's words, Hitler's words - people take them too seriously, and what happens?

What happens is the senseless ambivalence of history - sadism versus duty, or (incomparably worse) sadism as duty; devotion counterbalanced by organized paranoia; sisters of charity selflessly tending to the victims of their own church's inquisitors and crusaders. Faith, on the contrary, can never be taken too seriously. For faith is the empirically justified confidence in our capacity to know who in fact we are, to forget the belief-intoxicated Manichee in Good Being. Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief.

[edit] Eastern religion references in the text

[edit] External links

Personal tools