Monday, January 26, 2009

Week 3: Brave New World

So…space and place and the infinite think tank. Science fiction as a thought farm producing contradicting ideological…goods? Science fiction as a hegemonic knowledge distribution factory? What exactly is going on here, anyway? Huxley’s dystopia overtly condemns capitalism by using the World State as a mirror of the practice through ideology, consumption, and domination. Science fiction here, however, is simultaneously the milieu for thought consumption. Are we buying into it? What isn’t to buy, though? It makes clear and concrete critiques that are justifiable and valuable for the further production of discussion. But Huxley doesn’t appear completely opposed to capitalism. He is fascinated by it. He wonders what its limits are, where we will be able to push it. Perhaps that justifies using a capitalistic device to sell an idea. On the other hand, how else would he do it? Force-feed? Well, that’s the communist way—he seems equally intrigued with that as well. What we have here is an obvious contradiction of space, an imbrication of ideologies that present a clearly problematic place—a place that cannot become a utopia without a dystopia and vice versa. There is no perfect method—capitalism, Marxism, uptopianism, communism. Happiness and order are reliant on their opposites to sustain potential to exist. No ideology has the power to sustain them both all of the time. Thus, we can clearly agree with Lefebvre when talks of thinkers like Huxley:

“Some over-systemic thinkers oscillate between loud denunciations of capitalism and the bourgeoisie and their repressive institutions on the one hand, and fascination and unrestrained admiration on the other. They make society in the ‘object’ of a systematization which must be ‘closed’ to be complete; they thus bestow a cohesiveness it utterly lacks upon a totality which is in face decidedly open—so open, indeed, that is must rely on violence to endure. The position of these systematizers is in any case self-contradictory: even if their claims had some validity they would be reduced to nonsense by the fact that the terms and concepts used to define the system must necessarily be mere tools of that system itself” (11).

Can the thought-production necessarily be done—through any venue, be it science fiction, fantasy, poetry, art, or any other—of creating a utopia without becoming self-contradicting and reductionist, removing the innermost qualities of the human being? Can it be done without separating capitalism from Marxism?

Sometimes it amazes me how much the same discussion can swirl around for decades—even centuries—about the foibles of humanity and how we find ways to destroy our self worth. The dystopia presented in Brave New World offers many of these same complaints, particularly aimed at a critique of consumerism—capitalism in general, exploitation of consumer goods, the commodification of sex, the reductivist attitude of religion, a desire for power, and a yearning for cultural stability. Such a world as the World State, as presented by Huxley, does what similar books have done (like 1984 and Lord of the Flies), creating a world that superficially seems so different than our own but yet mirrors many of our innermost human appetites and shortcomings. Perhaps this method of critique finds a way to horrify us more than an expository article would because we slowly come to recognize our world within the framework of the dystopia—a frightening disillusioned world that seems absolutely repulsive yet eerily so similar to the one that we are familiar with.

What particularly sticks out to me, though, about this discussion is that capitalism seems to take quite a beating over and over again. Many former elitist thinkers and even contemporary academics appear to have a penchant for Marxism and a disdain for anything capital. While I read Brave New World, I couldn’t get past this thought—that characters like Bernard (with not-so-subtle last names) are introduced to break the cycle of a mindless consumer society, arguing that capitalism sucks the life right out of us and we need something to shake that up. Huxley seems to make his overall argument that capitalism offers no purpose in life, no big picture, other than the consumption of goods (which, apparently, includes orgies and animalistic sexual desires). Of course, Brave New World criticizes many other aspects of human nature, but why this topic? And why so frequent? Perhaps the argument wasn’t so common when Huxley wrote this (although I know it was quite a spinning debate, particularly during the 1930s) as it is today, but the theme is an onslaught nowadays. When will we get a dystopia that presents capitalism as the redeeming hero? I’m waiting for that story…

This holds true with the reading for this week by Lefebvre, who himself was a Neo-Marxist, and once member of the French Communist party. It isn’t that I don’t understand the importance of discussing the issue. Indeed, there is much to be critiqued with capitalism and great potential with Marxist thinking. But why so one-sided? Why so feverishly adamant that consumerism is killing our ability to be human? The arguments can be clearly made—even while looking at worlds like the World State or even Herland—that such controlled societies are even more damaging. Yet academia and “high society thinking” typically tend to head that direction. I’ve yet to see a good well-balanced argument.

Excuse my ignorance. And, excuse the lack of insight here into Brave New World. Much more wonderful things can be said of this book which I’m sure we’ll touch on in class.

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