Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Both Sides of Huxley’s Door (Annotation G1-4/Goddard)

In 1953 Aldous Huxley, while supervised, took a dose of mescaline under the pretext of science. Science in that year was in all likelihood looking for better ways to create energy for the masses. The television, the nuclear bomb, and the macro views of the world were taking control of the minds of people in the civilized world. The concepts of space travel, and the race that was about to ensue were more on the minds than the cures for psychological disorders. Here in the United States, President Eisenhower was about to embark on his presidency, the Berlin wall was in concept and the building of it was moving forward, Ho Chi Minh was making his appeal to the democratic world as the inevitable civil war and the rousing of the French was emanate. The world was changing in 1953, and Huxley was about to fulfill his prophecy of mind altering drug induced visions he had first thought about during the writing of Brave New World which was published some twenty years prior. In The Doors of Perception Huxley was about to embark on his own brave new world and taking with him was the perplexities of the old.
“Today the perception had swallowed up the concept.” (Huxley 53) The concept is simply to find scientific evidence linking the shift in perception. The name of his piece of nonfiction, his account of the event he used a quote from William Blake, “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.” However, it is rather difficult to see the infinite in his ordeal. The doors themselves were not cleansed as much as slightly less obscure even if for a little while. After the effects of the drug were well under way Huxley of course was tethered to the world through his observer, as well as his own human limitations. His infinite is perhaps summed up with a discussion of time as a mechanical dynamic: “Plenty of it, but exactly how much was entirely irrelevant. I could, of course, have looked at my watch; but my watch, I knew, was in another universe. My actual experience had been, was still, of an indefinite duration or alternatively of a perpetual present made up of one continually changing apocalypse.” (Huxley 21) The question which comes to mind, of course, is how does Huxley’s statement on time really differ from a statement of a man looking through the events of modern life and say the same thing without the benefit of mescaline? All considered in the laboratories and streets of this day in 1953 there were too many variables for Huxley. He has explained his limitations of imagination and the anchor of the human mind with the confines of language. “Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he has been born- the beneficiary inasmuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of other people’s experience, the victim in so far as it confirms him in the belief that reduced awareness is the only awareness and as it bedevils his sense of reality, so that he is all too apt to take his concepts for date, his words for actual things.” (Huxley 23) Once the perception has shifted Huxley seems to belittle his own struggle with his life’s work as a writer. Both the beneficiary and the victim, as he tries to describe the events of the day, he finds too many limitations. Likewise he does not advocate the use of mescaline, nor does he demonize it. It’s merely the perception. “You have to rely on your immediate perception of the ultimate order.” (Huxley 51)
With this change of perception he is able to leave so much of life’s limitations behind and delve into the very nature of humanity. During an investigation of draperies of cloth, and furthers his study of cloth experimenting with the flannel of his trousers, Huxley realizes there is more to their beauty than words can describe, more to there is-ness than everyday man can conceive: “What the rest of us see only under the influence of mescaline, the artist is congenitally equipped to see all the time.” (Huxley 33) The artist then is employed to make sense of the is-ness of the world and relate an understanding of such things as draperies of the rest of mankind, “in comparison with reality; but in enough to delight generation after generation of beholders, enough to make them understand at least a little of the true significance of what, in out pathetic imbecility, we call ‘mere things’ and disregard in favor of television.” (Huxley 34)
Enlightenment becomes the character in itself. In William Blake’s quote it’s simply the wiping clean of the door of perception. A release of pretense, the surrendering of cultural or human limitations achieves the infinite. Huxley conversely has taken the route of a change of perception and sees more the minutia rather than the infinite. Through his writing Huxley delighted the young poet Jim Morrison who named his rock band after the book itself, and who also wanted to “break on through to the other side.”
The continually changing apocalypse doesn’t seem vastly different than the modern world Huxley lived in, nor is it different than the world today, no mescaline needed.

Huxley, Aldous. The Doors of Perception. New York: Perennial Library, 1970

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