June 13, 2015

"Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments..."

"... is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul. Art and religion, carnivals and saturnalia, dancing and listening to oratory—all these have served, in H. G. Wells’s phrase, as Doors in the Wall. And for private, for everyday use there have always been chemical intoxicants. All the vegetable sedatives and narcotics, all the euphorics that grow on trees, the hallucinogens that ripen in berries or can be squeezed from roots—all, without exception, have been known and systematically used by human beings from time immemorial. And to these natural modifiers of consciousness modern science has added its quota of synthetics—chloral, for example, and benzedrine, the bromides and the barbiturates. Most of these modifiers of consciousness cannot now be taken except under doctor’s orders, or else illegally and at considerable risk. For unrestricted use the West has permitted only alcohol and tobacco. All the other chemical Doors in the Wall are labeled Dope, and their unauthorized takers are Fiends."

Aldous Huxley, "The Doors of Perception." I'm thinking about that book this morning because, in a dream last night, I asked someone if she'd ever read that book and she said no, and I decided — extravagantly — that no one reads books anymore and no one talks about books. When you think of the title to Huxley's book — if you ever do — you remember — if you can remember — the epigraph that begins the book: "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite." That's from William Blake. Read it in context here. But there's also the H.G. Wells, which you can read in full at the first link.

26 comments:

CWJ said...

Every once in awhile Althouse has a day of posting the equivalent of Cathy, Heathcliffe, Cathy, Heathcliffe.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Never read it.

Michael K said...

Sailing has usually been enough for me. Like this.

Henry said...

No one reads poetry, but Blake beats Huxley all hollow.

Jim said...

If you have taken acid, you automatically get credit for reading all the books mentioned. I mean more than once, obviously.

khematite@aol.com said...

When people think of Huxley's "Doors of Perception" nowadays, aren't most of them less likely to recall its epigraph than to flash on a vision of Jim Morrison/The Doors?

mccullough said...

I always that it should be windows of perception. Doors of perception never made any sense

Terry said...

It is too easy to think of Wells as having some special insight into modernism, and what was considered the future at the turn of the 20th century. Wells was able to foresee some products of the industrial age and industrial age politics -- air war, the development of the military tank, etc.
On a lot of things Wells was flat wrong. He was certain that a one world government was coming, and that the unchecked reproduction of the lower classes would lead to de-evolution and class warfare. As I learn more about history, I become more and more convinced that the modern world was created by people like Wells as a reaction to the Victorianism that they hated. Nobody remembers the arguments against Victorianism any more, but we live in the world the anti-Victorians created.

n.n said...

Different standards of life. Not everyone has a goal to ride the world. That's probably difficult for "elites", insular ivory tower occupants, and their lobbyists to comprehend. Some people even find fulfillment in the "simple" moments of life, including cooking in the kitchen, caring for a family, tending a garden, etc. The horror!

Smilin' Jack said...

And to these natural modifiers of consciousness modern science has added its quota of synthetics—chloral, for example, and benzedrine, the bromides and the barbiturates.

Shows how science marches on. Now we have crystal meth...try it and you'll never go back.

Terry said...

n.n. wrote:
"Not everyone has a goal to ride the world. That's probably difficult for "elites", insular ivory tower occupants, and their lobbyists to comprehend."
Well said. Wells came from a humble background, but he was an intellectual snob. He believed that people should be ruled by their betters. It is hard to escape the conclusion that what Wells and other early modernists hated about Victorianism wasn't its racism, or sexism, but its elevation of middle and working class values.

Skeptical Voter said...

Our host did indeed decide "extravagantly" that no one reads books anymore. That's a sort of casual calumny of any number of people who in fact do read books.

I don't do so at the pace that George W. Bush and Karl Rove did (they liked to compete--reading 200 plus books a year) but I'm probably good for 75. It depends upon what you like to read. I like historical fiction--just having polished off five volumes of M. Druon's "The Accursed Kings", and history. Read Dumas, Anthony Trollope, some Dickens, Robert Graves, and a number of modern American novelists. I loved all 20 volumes of Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin series. But actual history is what I turn to again and again. (I admit that Thucydides is a bit of a slog.)

Will that lead to a snappy conversation about HG Wells? Nope--but while it may be possible for our host to say that people are no longer reading the books she likes (which I doubt is a correct statement) I'm equally sure that she'd be bored to tears with some of what I like to read.

Terry said...

Skeptical Voter wrote:
"Our host did indeed decide "extravagantly" that no one reads books anymore."
I'm not so sure that is an extravagant claim. John Hinderacker of the Powerline blog today writes about about a joke in a program for a Tom Stoppard play called "Arcadia" that plays (obviously) on an important character from Nabakov's novel Pale Fire. No one got the joke, apparently. Anyone who read Pale Fire should have gotten it.

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Will Cate said...

These days I read mostly tech books & journals, memoirs, bios, stuff like that. I'm lucky if I squeeze more than 4 or 5 pieces of fiction into that mix. I did read Doors of Perception about 30 years ago, during my psychedelics-taking era (roughly age 19 through 25).

NotquiteunBuckley said...

http://althouse.blogspot.com/2015/05/emily-bazelon-is-critical-of-jon.html?showComment=1430662418811#c7643562096948105454

Covered ground is my favorite in that so much is missed upon first travel (tread lightly) the second coming is nearly always more profound.

caplight45 said...

From Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death":
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell0 did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

William said...

"Everything that lives is holy." The Ebola virus, malarial mosquitoes, toenail fungus. "O, brave new world that has such creatures in it.".......Just at present, I'm reading Trollope's novel, The Way We Live Now. Why anyone would use barbiturates or other chemical substances to foster a good night's sleep when there are the novels of Trollope I just don't understand. A few chapters of Trollope is a natural, organic way of finding relief from the day's cares and gently subsiding into a soporific state.......Life isn't all that painful and depressing. Hangovers and drug withdrawals are.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

"I always that it should be windows of perception. Doors of perception never made any sense."

I opened the door to know what you meant, but didn't say.

Windows are more like the space between God and Man in that famous painting.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

"A turn of turtles" seems apropos.

I heard (not herd) it on the television.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

Ryan's not stupid: must be evil.

Paul that is.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

Paul lost a debate to Joe Biden, yet is to be taken seriously?

By evil alone, not us.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

Paul was 0/1 against Joe Biden in a debate.

Ryan couldn't figure out how to outfox Joe Biden.

Ryan is evil; he didn't ever want to win that debate.

Traitors and treasonous shits like Paul Ryan ought be pundits for ABC and CBS and NBC, not in congress.

What the Hell is going on in Wisconsin?

NotquiteunBuckley said...

"We're gonna fix this absolutely failed law" you (*^*&%^*^%*^%*(^%*%* 8^*%*%$ fix yourself.

FIX YOURSELF RYAN.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

"We're gonna fix" is Nancy Pelosi talk for "I got money proles, suck it."

Joe said...

I don't recall reading Huxley in full, but of the parts I've read by and about him, he strikes me as a stereotypical upper-class British snob.