Of the Art and Culture in (Brave New) World

by admin on 03/25/2014

“They don’t care where you were born, just how.” (Gattaca)

Aldous Huxley was born into a family whose eminence was indisputable. In fact, there have been only few other lineages which “produced” more Nobel Prize laureates, as it is the instance of the incubator for highly functional individuals – the Curie’s. Huxley’s family gave rise to prominent scientists too. In particular, Julian, Aldous’ brother, was academically involved in the evolutionary biology and eugenics, which certainly had a considerable influence on Huxley the writer. We will not be far from the truth if we posit that the novel Brave New World could be regarded for Huxley as a material wherein he could apply his philosophical and scientific observations on the subject of eugenics and human population – a literary work in which the natural selection is substituted and subjugated by the needs of a totalitarian state. Without diminishing Huxley’s genius, it is almost a miracle that there could be a person without the benefit of Huxley’s stimulating background who did write on the same topic and much more importantly, several years earlier than Huxley himself. As George Orwell pointed out in his review of We, as one of the first who noticed the striking similarity, Huxley must have been partially influenced by Zamyatin’s novel. Orwell writes that: “The atmosphere of the two books is similar, and it is roughly speaking the same kind of society that is being described though Huxley’s book shows less political awareness and is more influenced by recent biological and psychological theories.” (Orwell)

Indeed, we concur with Orwell when it comes to means whereby the State attains its absolutistic control – Zamyatin’s book is rather concerned with the totality of political power and a revolutionary sentiment and movement against it, whereas Huxley’s world depicts science, scientific management and mass-production applied to the procreation of life itself. Orwell then differentiates We from Brave New World by ascribing to the story a quality which is supposedly much closer to our own world. Nevertheless, here we must disagree. Having examined the world in We, the reader cannot avoid perceiving the ubiquitous visual aesthetical reiteration of and emphasis put on the rational and precise mathematical thinking, the life and psyché which were, by Zamyatin, so notably mechanized that the lamentable individuals resemble nothing more than the robotic mentors found in the story who solemnly occupy prime teaching positions. On the other hand, Huxley’s society, genetically modified, indoctrinated by Pavlovian conditioning; yes, but still free to indulge voraciously in emotions, sex and even popular culture; however distorted and low-brow these elements are.

Moreover, BNW is far from an egalitarian society. It is artificially divided into castes, each stratum of which, with its assigned duties and set limits, plays a significant role in the community’s stability. “Zamyatin’s book is on the whole more relevant to our own situation” (Orwell) says Orwell. But is that really the case? Is “our own situation” indeed filled with controlled chastity and analytical reasoning ad absurdum not burdened by unnecessary emotions? Is Huxley’s consumerist community not closer to our current state of affairs with mainstream art, “feelies”, which are essentially analogous to low-brow bits of popular culture imposed on us daily by staring advertisements, and the act of copulation which is oftentimes nothing more than accessible lyricism for masses, as Baudelaire told us?

Orwell’s, as we believe, erroneous deduction perhaps stems from his not grasping the conditions under which the society could in BNW exist: “…and though everyone is happy in a vacuous way, life has become so pointless that it is difficult to believe that such a society could endure”. (Orwell) We shall thus revisit Orwell’s claim and attempt to explain not only how such social structures are maintained but also find apparent parallels between the fiction and our reality. In order to do so, we shall turn to culture and expose the elaborate mechanisms which are installed in its very core.

“When mass culture exhibits itself it also loves to show how its products are made and how everything in it functions.” (The Culture Industry, Selected Essays)

We enter the story in media res, right on time in order to explore the fabulous tour of machinery of the State – the hatchery for new free slaves; the production of citizens. The very bounds which used to separate us mentally and physically from the outer political and ideological intrigues – the family – has become irrelevant, non-existent, outsourced by Big Mother. The air is calm and sky flickers from time to time with hi-tech flying vehicles which can swiftly transfer us on our steady consumerist pilgrimage from one mecca to another. From a bird’s eye perspective we do not see any Guardians supervising the order of the state. The law enforcement is unnecessary either. Gone are the days when physical violence was the only way exerted to establish and sustain the position of elites sitting at the top of Mount Olympus. The technological progress reaches its momentum. The singularity is near. The technology and psychology intersects in order to give birth to a new academic interdisciplinary programme, a new kind of science – Emotional Engineering. In order to ensure the obedience of individuals, the mind must be constantly under the influence of means which do not control the physical part of the victim but reaches much deeper, into the consciousness wherein it furtively waits to become an invisible part of one’s Self. It is a cancerous splinter which overgrows within one’s mind and then, the poor and defenceless host starts to identify his own being with this prosthetic antennae which is linked to a remote control – the power of numbing propaganda.

It is this powerful propaganda serving the ideology of chosen elite which enables the State to play the puppeteer and pull the strings as tacitly as if the whole society were wordless, watching a serious opera, and with an exhilarating response as if the next varieté show was on the programme. Indeed, not only is it much more convenient to win a battle without the shedding of blood but how masterful a deed it is to convince the common folk that all the steps were taken exclusively in the name of prosperity and patronage – in his name?

Adorno and his intellectual comrades of Frankfurt School describe our false needs as “the false consciousness”, the belief that one’s situation is exactly in the state it should be, at its equilibrium, without possibly being able to think or determine otherwise. In addition, Herbert Marcuse describes such false needs as: “those which are superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests in his repression…Most of the prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements, to love and hate what others love and hate, belong to this category of false needs.” (Marcuse) It is essential to point out that to judge one’s sentiments and preferences is to believe that there exist objective values which are intrinsically the right ones and should be therefore prefered. Answering if our world comprises of Plato’s objective forms of rightness and trueness is a metaphysical question and irrelevant to our inquiry for the crucial point is whether an individual is in a position where his views of what is good and true are based on his decision-making process which, as Marcuse adds, “is autonomous and not influenced by indoctrination and manipulation” (Marcuse). In Brave New World, however, to think for oneself is to pose a threat to the State and the consistency of the State’s narrative; the threat which is fundamentally diminished by an altered pre-birth genetic makeup as well as meticulously chosen hypnopaedic lines which exploits the subliminal power of poetry to strengthen the State’s narrative within one’s mind. Nevertheless, there are always those who can resist the conditioning and become “awaken” or if we look to the Eastern philosophy, upon one’s enlightening, one will realise that all that is consists of but nothingness and emptiness. The same, somewhat a horrifying realisation, is expected to be felt when one has seen finally through the ideological prison of false and meaningless needs in which one’s mind was kept.This is, of course, the most dangerous scenario for any ideology and therein lies the importance and work of Culture Industry. The State’s remote control operates the better, the more uniform the society is. The society is then bombarded by a constant flow of amusement and action whose content is gradually simplified and from the abstract tends to focus on the concrete, the portrayal of daily life with which the indoctrinated victims are so familiar. The simplicity of products of Culture Industry reshapes the brain by the virtue of the workings of brain’s neuroplasticity, that is, if the input stimuli are trivial and does not require much mental effort, the processing is carried out virtually unconsciously, which leads to the degeneration of neural networks since they are not utilised.

The poetry and metaphors have thus no place in BNW, instead, all the content of culture and art must be “pre-digested”, highly experiential; this is the form which the objects of Culture Industry desire and need the art to be presented. Adorno reiterates our point on how important the proper stimulation of brain is and talks pertinently about “atrophy of imagination and spontaneity” (Dialektika Osvícení 128, as translated by Jakub Ferenc) as an outcome of the prosaically explicit message in art; here Adorno specifically mentions the genre of film, whose storyline, in order that it can be understood, simulates the everyday life.

There is also a tendency that a spectator will experience films in a way where the fictitious plot and the reality will blend completely (Dialektika Osvícení 128, as translated by Jakub Ferenc), which is an uncontroversial claim if we assume that the screen reflects the same image which the spectator perceives in front of the eyes during a day. To distinguish reality will become almost impossible and the juxtaposition of fiction and reality will dissolve into a hyperreality in which our emotions and urges, which normally stay suppressed, can reveal themselves, unconsciously, in this frame of reality as a Freudian slip.

“Then suddenly somebody started singing ‘Orgy-porgy’ and, in a moment, they had all caught up the refrain and, singing, had begun to dance. Orgy-porgy, round and round and round, beating one another in six-eight time.” (Huxley 196)

To illustrate the concept of hyperreality, let us suggest one of the last scenes of BNW, which eventually led to John’s suicide. We follow citizens of BNW hypnotized by the violent whipping scene. In addition to their natural promiscuity, they are driven by the sadomasochistic experience previously seen in the feely. They cannot but react by a synthesis of the real and fiction – this time it is a violent, sadomasochistic Orgy-porgy, which is as natural to the participants as if all of them were actors in a film. They are now merely playing in accordance with the script, not having a choice to do otherwise. Their lust from the unconscious is now materialized and epitomised in their sexual sadomasochistic acts.

Hyperreality is the last stage of false consciousness and the goal of every successful advertising campaign. The victim is no longer the master of his own life. He has been robbed of his logos and is now fully dependent upon the script which is uniquely written for him. But the uniqueness is a mere illusion, of course. As we mentioned earlier, the State cannot afford to control each person separately. It would not be economically feasible. Culture Industry is then exposed as an elaborate apparatus which mass-produces millions of copies of art so that everybody is able to experience being unique for a few minutes until the next collection or version of the very same product is released. In order to “keep up with” the consistency in one’s uniqueness, the consumer is forced to wait in long lines in front of the shops. How wonderful it is to spend hours of waiting with peers who share the same enthusiasm for setting oneself apart from the mundane crowd. It is this race for latest designs, which at the time of their release are automatically obsolete but nevertheless accompanied by grandiose shows which reinforce the artificial significance of the event, that fills the void of consumerist dream world – the very answer for the confused Orwell.

But what happens if the conditioning fails? There are several possibilities. If one is too much creative and spontaneous to fit the trodden paths, the State can certainly summon, according to Adorno, talent scouts and talent competitions (Dialektika Osvícení 124, as translated by Jakub Ferenc) which will mould bohemians into prefabricated forms, which is always much cheaper than creating a new assembly line.

“But I was an inquisitive young scullion once. I started doing a bit of cooking on my own. Unorthodox cooking, illicit cooking. A bit of real science, in fact.” He was silent.”

“What happened?” asked Helmholtz Watson. (Huxley 172)

The other way to deal with the inappropriate curiosity is brought up by BNW itself. The concept of Island is paradoxical, however. Even though it is a political prison, for certain characters of BNW it might be considered a liberation, since it represents an escape from the Culture Industry as well as a reunion with the like-minded part of population. (Chalupský)

If the opposition to the mainstream is non-existent, there is no hope of any progress. It has been the responsibility of those who enjoy a privileged life and intellectuals to “to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions” (Chomsky). But in Brave New World, there is no alternative. The fluctuations in the State’s narrative are subjects to even more effective and fiendish indoctrination or are got rid off completely. Orwell might have wondered how pointless the life in Brave New World is but, in the end, the question is whether the same issue is contemplated by the population. But such topics, Shakespeare and Bible will not be understood until one day an outsider interprets the words to the entire world. But will we have time to listen?

Works cited

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper Perenial. 1969. Print.

Adorno, Theodor and Horkheimer, Max. Dialektika osvícenství: filosofické fragmenty OIKOYMENH. 2009. Print.

Adorno, Theodor. The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. Psychology Press. 2001. Print.

Orwell, George. Review of WE by E. I. Zamyatin. Orwell.ru. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.

Chomsky, Noam. The Responsibility of Intellectuals Web. 15 Mar. 2014.
Marcuse, Herbert. One Dimensional Man. Marxists.org. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.

Ph.D. Chalupský, PhDr. Petr. Facultative Literary Seminar. Faculty of Education, Charles University in Prague. 14 Nov 2013. Lecture.

Gattaca. Dir. Andrew Niccol. Culver City, Calif: Columbia TriStar Home Video, 1998. Film

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