Thursday, February 28, 2008

Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley, 1947 
by George Platt Lynes 
Property of Condé Nast Publications

The development of my thinking was profoundly influenced by Aldous Huxley, particularly his essays and especially The Human Situation, long out of print.

Last week, I was trying to frame some idea on landscapes and remembered a bit Huxley had written about deforestation in the ancient world and opened that book for the first time in years. When I looked at the table of contents, I started to cry a little.

The book is based on a series of lectures that Huxley gave at UC Santa Barbara in 1959 and I bought it when first published in 1977. As I leafed through the pages, I saw all the little pencil marks and underlines I'd made when I was 22 or 23 years old. I cried as a reaction to the shock of deep recognition after long forgetting about what had helped to form a rather vital part of my individual makeup. Considering what has been taking up an extraordinary amount of my time over the past year and a half, how about this quote from the third entry More Nature in Art:
"There is something profoundly religious in landscape painting inasmuch as it seems to explore and to express that layer of the unconscious which is beyond the personal unconscious and which, it seems to me, is just as much given, impersonal, and not immediately connected with me as the external world. So the value of landscape paintings is not merely that they present us with images of the external world, but that they present us in the most powerful way with images of this deep, fundamental essence of Mind at large, from which the individual mind takes its source."
In Los Angeles, in the late 1970's, Huxley's spirit seemed very much still alive. Part of that was because Laura Huxley was so active and a presence in LA. Also because I knew the ebullient guitarist and teacher Dave Zeitlin, son of Jake Zeitlin, the phenomenally influential antiquarian book dealer on La Cienega in the Big Red Barn and dear friend of Huxley's. Dave would reminisce about Uncle Aldous coming over for brunch many Sundays while he was growing up.

It's almost impossible to write a little bit about Huxley — there's just too much to him. One of the more remarkable things is the historic and cultural space he embodied and spanned. Grand-nephew of poet Matthew Arnold and grandson of biologist T.H. Huxley, friend to D.H. Lawrence early in life and J. Krishnamurti later in life.

On May 12, 1961, two years before he died, Aldous and Laura Huxley's house on Deronda Drive in the Hollywood Hills went up in flames. They saved a few clothes and her Guarnieri violin but along with everything else, lost Aldous Huxley's library with his annotated Shakespeare and collector's items including, from a list made by Jake Zeitlin, a first edition of Voltaire's Candide, signed volumes by T.S, Eliot, Pound, Wells, Gide, letters from D. H. Lawrence, Max Beerbohm, Virginia Woolf, Valéry, Mencken, Wells, and original manuscripts of Huxley's own work, plus journals of Huxley's first wife, Maria (who was of vital importance to his work and about whom not enough is written), that she'd intended as a record of his life.

A few days before he died, Huxley finished dictating his last essay "Shakespeare and Religion" which can be found in yet another great book of essays Huxley and God. As Aldous Huxley was leaving this life (experiencing his passing with LSD), John F. Kennedy was assassinated. C.S. Lewis died the same day.

One of my favorite photographs of Huxley is from the family collection and appears in the highly recommended Aldous Huxley: A Biography by Sybille Bedford.


I'm finishing off the week tomorrow with 2 parts of a video of an interview with Huxley c. 1962-63.

Interview One. (No longer active.)
Interview Two. (These videos work!)


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Anonymous said...

I know the biologist Huxley and I have read many of J. Krishnamurti`s books, some of them are in my bookshelf too. When I started to study biology, I read instead of biology books all philosophy books, what I got in my hands.
I could start again!

Ax said...

Huxley is certainly one of those human master pieces made who knocks our brain out with another question to enlighten our line of sight. When I read about you "saying": "I cried as a reaction to the shock of deep recognition after long forgetting about what had helped to form a rather vital part of my individual makeup". It made me think how efemeral our lives are in a way that makes us go confused with such a 'fast-food-world' and simply be forgotten about what is just necessary for us to keep a better living world amongst ourselves.

Dave Wyman said...

Without a doubt one of the most profound effects on my life was reading, at age 13, A. Huxley's "Brave New World." In a way, I wish I'd been older when I read it, for I misinterpreted some of the thoughts put forward in the book.

I've read it several times in the intervening 48 years, enjoying it more each time.