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Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Huxley in Oxford: The Condemned Playground

Peter Wood from New York addresses a session on
Huxley's ideas  in teaching
I have just returned from a very interesting conference at Oxford, The Condemned Playground: Aldous Huxley and His Contemporaries  at which I gave a paper on Huxley and his great uncle, Matthew Arnold, taking the opportunity to challenge a widely held but in my view seriously inaccurate view of Brave New World as showing contempt for "the masses" (ugly phrase) rather than seeing it as an attack on the way we are manipulated by commercial media interests.  Both Arnold and Huxley in their writings on culture and society have often been judged sternly by this strange conservative-populist looking-glass world of English cultural debate and I suggested that their ironic and Olympian manner of delivery may have made matters worse.

The conference incorporated the Fifth International Aldous Huxley Symposium and I attended a forum as part of the latter called Aldous Huxley and a New Generation of Readers which had fascinating contributions from Swiss, American and Singaporian teachers about how Huxley's texts and indeed his ideas about teaching and learning are being used and applied in contemporary schools and colleges. Robin Hull, a Zurich private school headteacher, reported that a majority of his 15 year olds in a survey said they thought Brave New World was relevant to them and meant something, which I feel is encouraging.

The conference also heard an informal and amusing talk from Evelyn Waugh's grandson, Alexander Waugh, about the current project to publish a full edition of Waugh's letters.  To judge from the extracts he shared this will be something to look out for.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Criticising Huxley and BNW as being contemptuous of the masses is either simply stupid or deeply disingenuous. It's akin to saying that in the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor section within Dostoevsky's 'Brothers Karamazov' it, that the Grand Inquisitor is the one who loves the masses becuase he offers them peace of mind in return for their inner freedom, whilst Christ in seeking independence and freedom, as the Inquisitor actually argues, asks too much of them. So from the 'truth' of this position, any liberator is able to be criticised as holding the people in contempt, because he doesn't accept the truth of their bondage.

Naturally one can expect for instance in the more cultured media forms of a mass-hypnotising petty Inquisitor like say Rupert Murdoch, that precisely that form of accusation will be levelled at someone like Huxley.