Huxley Speaks

The BBC went through their archives and found tapes on which Aldous Huxley gives talks and is interviewed. There weren't that many of them, only about 75 minutes all in all - in fact just perfect for a CD.

So they put one out. It's called Aldous Huxley - The Spoken Word. It's a true delight.

The first surviving radio broadcast is from 1934 and in it a terribly terribly earnest and young (well, he is forty, not perhaps quite that young then, but fairly youngish anyway) and erudite Huxley speaks about the causes of war in a frightfully cultured and perhaps a slightly affected voice (but I do suppose just about any voice from those days sounds at least a bit affected and strange - in the later broadcasts Huxley sounds much more normal). He addresses the psychological causes of hatred and prejudice and that perverse national chauvinism that is the curse of nations everywhere - then and now and possibly for all eternity. Can war be stopped? Huxley has certain suggestions. What is quite endearing is that he isn't entirely pessimistic - he treats this as a problem of rationality and logic, something that can solved by applying common sense. Maybe. Possibly.

After the next war he's considerably less optimistic. In 1948 he's again in a BBC studio, this time to discuss his new utopian or rather dystopian novel Ape and Essence. The premise of the book gives it all away. Disaster has struck and wiped away almost the whole of mankind. In the interview Huxley focuses on the dangers of nuclear energy. It doesn't take much of an accident and a great many people sustain harmful mutations that will plight the entire human race for generations and generations. And that's just with a relatively harmless peace time mishap. It doesn't look good, it certainly doesn't. Whither humanity?

In 1958 Huxley appears in both Monitor and The Brains Trust; in the latter with his Nobel Prize winning brother Julian (he had two Nobel Prize winning brothers, actually) answering queries from listeners.

The CD concludes with an interview from 1961, two years before Huxley's death. Huxley discusses his life and writings. He never was supposed to become a novelist but a scientist. That's why he feels a bit of a fraud as a novelist. It never was supposed to be, he was to become a doctor, follow in the footsteps of his famous grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin's Bulldog, and brother Julian. Then his eyes went and he was actually blind for a while. A career in science was quite out of the question. So literature it was.

But still, after all the books, a fraud he feels. A novelist, according to him, is someone who's larger than life and reflects this in his books. Someone like Balzac or Dickens or Tolstoy. And someone who is, above all, interested in his characters and their fate and destiny. Huxley is interested in ideas. He echoes a lovely thing Bertrand Russell once said: "How nice it is to know things!" What Huxley loves is to explore ideas, piece together information from different sources and build extensive collages. No wonder that Huxley very early abandoned or at least distanced himself from social satire and tackled the novel of ideas - and, I must point out, utopias and science fiction. Basically almost all of the longer fiction he wrote after the late '20s was science fiction of one kind or another: Brave New World, After Many a Summer, Ape and Essence, Island. This was clearly his approach to fiction and what he saw as important: the truly crucial issues about whether mankind will survive or not.

There is one bitter disappointment. In one of the interviews Huxley debunks a myth - he doesn't habitually travel with a set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Blimey! There's me utterly crushed!

He sort of laughed it off when the interviewer asked - it's all become a myth, he claimed, with very little substance. A tale that lives its own life, as tales so often do. It took me a while to trace the claim, but this is what he says in Along the Road - Tales and Essays of a Tourist (1925 - though my copy is of those superbly delightful international Albatross issues, and a bit ominously from July 1939, actually): "India paper and photography have rendered possible the inclusion in a portable library of what in my opinion is the best traveller's book of all - a volume (any of the thirty-two will do) of the twelfth, half-size edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica."

And he goes on: "I never pass a day away from home without taking a volume with me." And: "A stray volume of the Encyclopaedia is like the mind of a learned madman - stored with correct ideas, between which, however, there is no other connection than the fact that there is a B in both . . . "

Charming idea, travelling with an encyclopaedia. Of course, nowadays, it's no longer an issue. Take your laptop and you're laughing. Huxley would have loved it. And hated it.

1 comment:

PS said...

Just found some truly fascinating stuff on the net. An American interview about Brave New World, The CBS radio play Brave New World with music by none other than Bernard Herrmann and narration by Aldous, and the early novel Crome Yellow as an audiobook by Librivox.