Friday, February 1, 2013

February Excerpt: Aldous Huxley Revisited by Hugh Mercer Curtler

Aldous Huxley Revisited
Hugh Mercer Curtler
Disney World, Orlando, Florida
PHOTO: Lee Bailey

A few years before I retired from college teaching, I was asked to direct a freshman course designed to introduce new students to the university. It was a one-credit course that met for one hour each week. I was especially excited about the academic portion of the course which focused on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I have always thought the novel was a great book–not great literature, as Huxley himself admitted, but remarkable for its prescience and the well-told tale that holds the reader’s attention and raises so many provocative questions. My plan was to have a professor from English, biology, psychology, and philosophy each talk about the novel from the perspective of their particular disciplines. I thought this would not only give the students insights into the novel itself, but also give them an idea how different academic disciplines approach problems: killing two birds with one stone.

Well, like a stone tossed into the air, the plan fell with a thud. An astonishing number of the students couldn’t read the novel: they couldn’t understand the words. Many of them bought “Cliff Notes” and some of them complained they couldn’t understand those either. Others simply didn’t bother to buy the book at all; many students just dropped the course. Very few actually seemed to enjoy the experiment. We started with over two hundred students and ended up with a little over one hundred. The course evaluations filled out by the remaining students were nearly unanimous: what does this have to do with me?

I would like to take the opportunity in this short essay to answer that question. I think Huxley’s novel has everything to do with not only those students, members of what some like to call the “millennial” age, but also about all of us and, more to the point, about our culture. The book is set in the future in London, but it applies to all of Western culture and, increasingly, many Eastern cultures as well.

If you would like to read more of this article in Empirical, the February issue is now available at your local bookstore and online at our website.

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