TWO MODERN UTOPIAS:
A Comparative Study of
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World
and Stanislaw Lem's Return From the Stars
Michael Richard Lopez
A comparison of the literary Utopias depicted in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Stanislaw Lem's Return From The Stars entails two major prerequisites: locating both novels within the general tradition of literary Utopias, and demonstrating that Brave New World is, in fact, a part of that tradition.
By analogy with Mikhail Bahktin's novelistic discourse, then, the origins of the literary Utopia are traced to an archaic-folkloric Utopia that reflects the intent and technique of ancient rituals of the regeneration of time (e.g., New Year rites). Also by analogy, subsequent literary productions of this archaic Utopia are shown to follow two lines of development, in the "official Utopia" (characterized by authoritarianism, monologism, legalism, and a closed and static nature), and the "unofficial Utopia" (characterized by comparatively greater individuality, polylogism, freedom, and a more open and dynamic nature), such that the former mandates an array of final solutions, while the latter displays an open field of possibilities.
Consequently, by a combination of psycho-biographical and discourse analysis that examines the monologism, conventions, narration, and hidden polemic of Brave New World, Huxley's novel is demonstrated to be an official Utopia. By a contrasting and primarily thematic analysis that examines the ubiquitous polylogism of Return From The Stars, Lem's novel is demonstrated to be an unofficial Utopia; one that offers the reader the unique opportunity of entering into dialogue with Utopia itself.
The comparison, then, of Huxley's and Lem's literary Utopias reveals the artistic, intellectual and moral shortcomings of the former over against the latter; shortcomings that have especially profound social implications (as despair and nihilism) in a genre that is home to the brightest hopes and most cherished dreams of humankind. Lem's novel, by contrast, offers an art of possibilities that nurtures and encourages those hopes and dreams.
TWO MODERN UTOPIAS:
A Comparative Study of
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World
and Stanislaw Lem's Return From the Stars
Presented to Antioch University
in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements
for the Masters of Arts Degree
Michael Richard Lopez
Suzann Bick, Ph.D.
Degree Committee Chair
Steven Olson, Ph.D. Jon Saari, Ph.D.
Degree Committee Member Faculty Advisor
TABLE OF CONTENTSTABLE OF CONTENTS *
CHAPTER I - A HISTORY of LITERARY UTOPIAS*
The Archaic Utopia*
Utopia & Arcadia*
Utopia & Gothic*
Utopia & Fantastyka*
CHAPTER II - THE OFFICIAL UTOPIA of BRAVE NEW WORLD*
Monologism in Brave New World*
Metalinguistics & Discourse in Brave New World*
Convention in Brave New World*
Narration in Brave New World*
CHAPTER III - THE UNOFFICIAL UTOPIA of RETURN FROM THE STARS*
Coherence in Return From The Stars*
Robots in Return From The Stars*
Polylogism in Return From The Stars*
LIST of WORKS CITED*
It would seem that a justification for the study of literary Utopias would not be required. However, in the event that this proves to be a presumption, Paul Tillich provides a concise and tightly-argued presentation in his "Critique and Justification of Utopia":
A thoroughgoing analysis of utopia would involve showing first that it is rooted in the nature of man himself, for it is impossible to understand what it means for man "to have utopia" apart from this fundamental fact. Such an analysis would involve showing further that it is impossible to understand history without utopia, for neither historical consciousness nor action can be meaningful unless utopia is envisaged both at the beginning and the end of history. And, finally, such an analysis would show that all utopias strive to negate the negative itself in human existence which makes the idea of utopia necessary (296).
From this basis, Tillich stresses the truth of Utopia, that it is "but one manifestation of what man has as inner aim and what he must have for fulfillment as a person" (296), its fruitfulness that "opens up possibilities which would have remained lost if not seen by utopian anticipation" (297), and its power, insofar as "utopia is able to transform the given" (298). Over against these positive features of Utopia, Tillich also draws attention to its negatives; to its untruth that "forgets the finitude and estrangement of man...that man under the conditions of existence is always estranged from his true or essential being" (299), to its unfruitfulness in that Utopia "describes impossibilities as real possibilities--and fails to see them for what they are, impossibilities" (300), and to its impotence, which results in disillusionment, as an "inevitable consequence of confusing the ambiguous preliminary [nature of Utopia] with the unambiguous ultimate" (301), and--in actualized utopias--in terror, since "disillusionment is staved off through the political effects of terror" (301), as the Soviets have shown.
Utopia, then, and the literary works in which it is found, reflects the ultimate hopes and dreams of humankind, whether these are Judaism's Kingdom of God, the Bourgeoisie's rational state, or Marxism's classless society (Tillich 298), or the chiliast, liberal-humanitarian, conservative, or socialist-communist Utopias presented by Mannheim (211-263). But the perfection of these dreamt-of Utopias on paper cannot abide its imperfection in actual practice; what Tompkins notes of the Gothic romance applies equally well to Utopia: "Even in the hands of its finest exponent, it [is] precariously balanced over the abysses of the ludicrous and disreputable" (247). Worse still, the disillusionment and terror that result in reaction to the imperfections of Utopia in actual practice argue virtually in favor of "banning" utopian literature once and for all; as Darko Suvin notes "we have seen too many alluring gods of history turn into all-devouring monsters because of their pretended infallibility....The brightest hopes of humanity, we know, are liable to degenerate into justifications for the Inquisition, the Stalinist purges or the My Lai massacres" (215). Adam Ulam summarizes this outlook: "Perhaps we have reached a moratorium, if not indeed the end of utopias, and perhaps this is not altogether a bad thing" (134).
Mannheim objects that the disappearance of Utopia "ultimately would mean the decay of human will" (262) and "brings about a static state of affairs in which man himself becomes no more than a thing" (262-3). Worse than this, however, would be the effects of deliberately destroying our brightest hopes and most cherished dreams; effects that may be seen at work in Huxley's Brave New World. Moreover, that the "ban" should come as a mandate imposed on others, however nobly in the very name of humanity itself, makes it ultimately no different in kind than any other inhumane and totalitarian edict.
Rather, it would seem that we must come to recognize that it is not possible to realize a perfect Utopia in practice; if this is clearly understood and accepted ahead of time, then not only will there be less disillusionment (if any), but also there will be no cause for terror (as a way of maintaining a failed Utopia in spite of its failure), because society will instead be able to turn its efforts toward discovering its next vision of Utopia. Tillich suggests something similar, insofar as the synchronic Kingdom of God interacts with the diachronic events of history.
A Kingdom of God that is not involved in historical events, in utopian actualization in time, is not the Kingdom of God at all but at best only a mystical annihilation of everything that can be "kingdom"--namely, richness, fullness, manifoldness, individuality. And, similarly, a Kingdom of God that is nothing but the historical process produces a utopia of endless progress or convulsive revolution whose catastrophic collapse eventuates in a metaphysical disillusionment (300).
As such, there must be an eternal dialogue between the idealized Utopia in literature, and the realized Utopia in society. To give precedence to one over the other, to deny the interplay and interillumination of the imagined and the real Utopia, would be to condemn humanity to an "annihilation of everything that can be ‘kingdom'" or to a "metaphysical disillusionment." The 20th century's emphasis on the failures of real Utopias (principally in socialist-communist realms), along with the repudiation of Utopia itself implied by this emphasis, might well explain the predominantly cynical and ironic tones of the literature of this century of disillusionment; a century in which Toynbee's declaration of Utopia as a sign of cultural decay seems quite at home:
As for the Utopias, they are static ex hypothesi. For these works are always programmes of action masquerading in the disguise of imaginary descriptive sociology and the action which they are intended to evoke is nearly always the "pegging" at a certain level of an actual society which has entered on a decline that must end in a fall unless the downward movement can be artificially arrested (182-3).
The "high" literature of the 20th century Utopia has indeed been dominated by what Suvin correctly refers to as the "whilom fashionable dystopia of the Huxley-Orwell type" (213), but the apparent disappearance of Utopia is an illusion. Rather, when criticism no longer limits its field of vision strictly to "pure" literature, it discovers that Utopia has simply changed places, and has come to occupy the genres of fantasy and science fiction. It is, then, not simply for this reason alone that I have chosen to examine Lem's Return From The Stars, as a work of science fiction, but also because by doing so our century's emphasis on real Utopias might be challenged, and the legitimacy, truth, fruitfulness and power of the imaginative Utopia might partially be restored.
Michael Richard Lopez
A HISTORY OF LITERARY UTOPIAS
In tracing the long history of literary Utopias, I have had recourse to a distinction similar to the one Mikhail Bakhtin draws between "novelistic discourse" and the novel itself. Novelistic discourse, then, reveals four essential and interrelated aspects: many-voicedness ("polyglossia"), laughter, methods of indirect representation, and ancient origins:
It was formed and matured in the genres of familiar speech found in conversational folk language (genres that are as yet little studied) and also in certain folkloric and low literary genres....The most ancient forms for representing language were organized by laughter--these were originally nothing more than the ridiculing of another's language and another's direct discourse. Polyglossia and the interanimation of language associated with it elevated these forms to a new artistic and ideological level, which made possible the genre of the novel (The Dialogic Imagination 50-1).
Laughter, as ridicule, gives way to new artistic and ideological levels under polyglossia and its associated interanimation of language here because an awareness of the relative validity of another's direct discourse intrudes that vitiates or qualifies the confidence, the "arrogance," of one's own ridiculing discourse. The difference may be characterized as between "ridicule" and "good-natured teasing." Whether ridicule or teasing, however, it is clear that to "satirize" or "parody" (to use the related literary terms) another's direct discourse, it is necessary to somehow represent that discourse; that is, one must employ forms of indirect discourse:
[T]he representation of another's word, another's language in intonational question marks, was known in the most ancient times; we encounter it in the earliest stages of verbal culture. What is more, long before the appearance of the novel we find a rich world of diverse forms that transmit, mimic and represent from various vantage points another's word, another's speech and language, including also the languages of the direct genres. These diverse forms prepared the ground for the novel long before its actual appearance (The Dialogic Imagination 50).
Novelistic discourse, then, may be described as laughing indirect discourse of folklorico-populist origins that is either ridiculing (satire) or teasing (parody), where the satiric or parodic aspect is shaped by the speaking-authorial attitude toward the discourse of another. (In Russian, there are actually two terms for "other." One, "chuzhoi," connotes the usual Western sense of the Other as "alien." The second, "drugoi," connotes rather a sense of a friendly Other, somewhat similar to Buber's "Thou." Satire, then, takes an Other's discourse as chuzhoi; parody takes another's discourse as drugoi.)
This distinction between satire and parody entails further implications. All indirect discourse is double-voiced, at least insofar as an author (one discourse) represents another's. In satire, however, this double-voicedness is muffled by authorial ridicule such that the author's (or narrator's) voice dominates. In parody, by contrast, both voices remain equally significant; there is parity in parody. Broadly speaking, then, satire is monologue, and parody is dialogue:
Monologism, at its extreme, denies the existence outside itself of another consciousness with equal rights and equal responsibilities, another I with equal rights (thou). With a monologic approach (in its extreme or pure form) another person remains wholly and merely an object of consciousness, and not another consciousness. No response is expected from it that could change everything in the world of my consciousness. Monologue is finalized and deaf to the other's response, does not expect it and does not acknowledge in it any decisive force. Monologue manages without the other, and therefore to some degree materializes all reality. Monologue pretends to be the ultimate word. It closes down the represented world and represented persons.
The dialogic nature of consciousness, the dialogic nature of human life itself. The single adequate form for verbally expressing authentic human life is the open-ended dialogue. Life by its very nature is dialogic. To live means to participate in dialogue: to ask questions, to heed, to respond, to agree, and so forth. In this dialogue a person participates wholly and
throughout his whole life: with his eyes, lips, hands, soul, spirit, with his whole body and deeds. He invests his entire self in discourse, and this discourse enters into the dialogic fabric of human life, into the world symposium (Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics 292-3, emphasis in original).
As such, satire differs from parody in intent, and different ends require different means. One of the most dramatic of these tactical differences may be seen in the contrasting types of laughter each employs; that is, in the contrast between the purely destructive ridicule of satire, and the renewing, ambivalent abuse-praise (teasing) of parody. Bakhtin provides a fairly complete characterization of this latter (parodic-"carnival") laughter that also brings out its contrast with satire:
It is, first of all, a festive laughter. Therefore it is not an individual reaction to some isolated "comic" event. Carnival laughter is the laughter of all the people. Second, it is universal in scope; it is directed at all and everyone, including the carnival's participants. The entire world is seen in this droll aspect, in its gay relativity. Third, this laughter is ambivalent: it is gay, triumphant and at the same time mocking, deriding. It asserts and denies, it buries and revives....
[I]t is also directed at those who laugh. The people do not exclude themselves from the wholeness of the world. They, too, are incomplete, they also die and are revived and renewed. This is one of the essential differences of the people's festive laughter from the pure satire of modern times. The satirist whose laughter is negative places himself above the object of his mockery, he is opposed to it. The wholeness of the world's comic aspect is destroyed, and that which appears comic becames (sic) a private reaction. The people's ambivalent laughter, on the other hand, expresses the point of view of the whole world; he who is laughing also belongs to it.
Let us here stress the special philosophical and utopian character of festive laughter and its orientation toward the highest spheres. The most ancient rituals of mocking at the deity have here survived, acquiring a new essential meaning. All that was purely cultic and limited has faded away, but the all-human, universal, and utopian element has been retained (Rabelais and His World 11-2).
From this, one could rightly conclude that satire reveals an oxymoronic "serious laughter," especially as it lacks the self-reflexive aspect of self-parodying parody. More significantly, satire lacks the renewing and regenerating aspect of parody (festive laughter); that is, it destroys, but builds nothing on the ruins; it retains the abuse, but proffers no praise. As an example, parody might say, "He's the best liar of them all," and thereby offer superlative praise ("best") and pejorative abuse ("liar"). Satire, on the other hand, would say, "He's the worst liar of them all," and retain the superlative construction, but efface any hint of praise. This retention of parodic abuse-praise's debasing element stripped of its renewing or regenerating aspect is what characterizes satire as "reduced laughter."
Apart from authorial intent and thematic treatment, a third and equally decisive contrast must be drawn between satire and parody. Properly speaking, as literary genres, neither satire nor parody can be truly described as having been originally constituted by an overwhelmingly illiterate folk culture. Rather, it is the oral and verbal style of folk laughter (with its characteristics of inversion, hyperbole, irreverence and dynamism) that was adapted to the new context of writing for the purpose of literary satire and parody. This recontextualization has very important consequences insofar as satire and parody therefore no longer directly reveal the values of folk laughter, but rather do so indirectly through the refracting consciousness and values of the literate classes. As such, a rift is created between the literally populist and literarily populistic forms of ridicule-teasing and satire-parody that engenders a distinction between "unofficial culture" and "official culture," respectively.
Consequently, though satire and parody are generally critical in nature, they nevertheless comprise a part of, and conduct their critiques according to, the ideological discourse of official culture over against the unofficial culture of populist values. For example, as is especially evident in moralistic satire, the "simplicity" of folk life is revalued as "backwardness," folk religion becomes "superstition," "sensuality" becomes "licentiousness," "physicality" becomes "barbarism," "frankness" becomes "vulgarity," "earthiness" becomes "filthiness" (in both its physical and moral senses), and so forth. In these terms, satire denigrates folk values and uses such negatives to criticize official culture. Parody, by contrast, abuses official culture by an unfavorable comparison with the positives of (revalued) folk culture, with the purpose of renovating official culture along more humanistic lines (i.e., in the name of greater liberty, freedom, freedom of speech, and so forth). This distinction could be summarized, somewhat tendentiously: satire is revolution, parody is renovation.
In spite of these contrasts however, satire and parody are united by their common origin in laughter; that is, the genre of comedy (of which satire and parody are two of the mainstays) represents the literary recontextualization of folk laughter, in contradistinction to the serious genres of epic and tragedy. As such, the satire-parody contrast recapitulates within the genre of comedy a similar contrast between the "low frivolousness" of the comedic genres and the "high seriousness" of the epic-tragic genres in general. It is one of the marvelous ironies of critical history that comedy could become devalued as a genre, precisely because it is not serious. Part of this devaluation occurred as a result of reduced laughter; that is, Carnival laughter, stripped of its universal and regenerating elements, thereby exactly loses its deepest significances and becomes merely frivolous or nasty. Insofar as it was official (literate) culture that first performed this stripping, particularly in satire, the devaluation of comedy is ironically unjust, and virtually tautological.
Literary Utopias, then, are necessarily an expression of the discourse of official culture, however critical they may be. Moreover, one would expect that they (as a subgenre of the novel) would generally recapitulate the characteristics of the novel genre itself; that is, one would expect to find within the literary Utopia a folk Utopia (recontextualized according to official culture values), along with a subsequent literary history that more or less follows the development of the novel. This expectation proves to be not only reasonable, but also justified, as I now will attempt to demonstrate.
The Archaic Utopia
Bakhtin has devoted the better part of his Rabelais and His World to elucidating one such folk Utopia which, in a word, may be summarized by that ritual spectacle of the middle ages and Renaissance, "Carnival." Insofar as Bakhtin's exposition is book-length, it is impossible to do complete justice to his conceptualization of Carnival, but the main points may still be noted.
One of the most central features of Carnival is its feast (which has extraordinarily profound and extremely earthy significance in Bakhtin's view):
The feast is always essentially related to time, either to the recurrence of an event in the natural (cosmic) cycle, or to biological or historical timeliness. Moreover, through all the stages of historic development feasts were linked to moments of crisis, of breaking points in the cycle of nature or in the life of society and man. Moments of death and revival, of change and renewal always led to a festive perception of the world. These moments, expressed in concrete form, created the peculiar character of the feasts (Rabelais 9).
In medieval and Renaissance culture, there were essentially two kinds of feast: the official and the unofficial (Carnival). The former "sanctioned the existing order of things and reinforced it" (9); it consecrated the present "hierarchy, the existing religious, political, and moral values, norms, and prohibitions" (9) by the way of the past. Carnival, by contrast, opposed itself to all of this in a point by point inversion (parody) of everything official: in place of official seriousness, Carnival brought festive laughter; instead of the strictly maintained hierarchy of feudal culture, Carnival reflected absolute equality; instead of official prohibitions on sexuality, speech, etiquette and association, Carnival lifted all bans; in place of official glorification of the past, Carnival festively annihilated it. The suspension of hierarchy had especially profound effects, as it allowed contact between people otherwise completely separated by social designation:
[S]uch free, familiar contacts were deeply felt and formed an essential element of the life of the carnival spirit. People were, so to speak, reborn for new, purely human relations. These truly human relations were not only a fruit of imagination or abstract thought; they were experienced. The utopian ideal and the realistic merged in this carnival experience, unique of its kind (Rabelais 10).
Bakhtin elucidates the significance of Carnival to illuminate the almost innumerable examples of it in Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, with the result that the intense sophistication and profundity that Bakhtin claims for the novel seems wholly justified. However, insofar as Gargantua and Pantagruel is a product of the literate castes, one can still question if it, and Bakhtin's interpretation, provide a clear window to a folk Utopia. In his introduction to Bakhtin's Rabelais Michael Holquist raises this question as well:
Bakhtin's image of the folk is also open to the charge of idealization, but he employs his most glowing colors to highlight attributes of the folk precisely and diametrically opposed to those celebrated in Soviet folklorico. His folk are blasphemous rather than adoring, cunning rather than intelligent; they are coarse, dirty, and rampantly physical, reveling in oceans of strong drink, poods of sausage, and endless coupling of bodies. In the prim world of Stalinist Biedermeier, that world of lace curtains, showily displayed water carafes, and militant propriety, Bakhtin's claim that the folk not only picked their noses and farted, but enjoyed doing so, seemed particularly unregenerate. The opposition is not merely between two different concepts of the common man, but between two fundamentally opposed worldviews with nothing in common except that each finds its most comprehensive metaphor in "the folk" (Rabelais xix).
What makes the idealization suspect is less the unremittingly positive interpretation Bakhtin presents, and more the lopsided impression one gets from his book; that is, we only see the folk during Carnival. What about the nine months of the year not dedicated to Carnival. (Since Bakhtin did not aspire to examine non-Carnival time, its absence from the book is hardly a demerit.)
In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault provides another view of the folk (during non-Carnival time), in the "spectacle of the scaffold," the public execution.
If the crowd gathered round the scaffold, it was not simply to witness the sufferings of the condemned man or to excite the anger of the executioner: it was also to hear an individual who had nothing more to lose curse the judges, the laws, the government and religion. The public execution allowed the luxury of these momentary saturnalia, when nothing remained to prohibit or to punish. Under the protection of imminent death, the criminal could say everything and the crowd cheered....In these executions, which ought to show only the terrorizing power of the prince, there was a whole aspect of the carnival, in which rules were inverted, authority mocked and criminals transformed into heroes (60-1).
Foucault also describes the fantastic spectacle of an enormous French chain-gang being transported openly from town to town in 1836, and destined for the convict-ships. Amongst the prisoners transported was a priest, Delacollonge, who had dismembered his pregnant mistress. In his open cart, insults, obscenities, stones and mud were hurled at him with particular fury. His escorts were hard-pressed to protect him, but he insisted on travelling openly, "believing that the humiliation formed part of his punishment" (260). Finally, though, he had to be disguised, but still traveled in his cart. As a result of this disguise, another notorious murderer, François, was mistaken for the priest:
François entered into the spirit of the game and accepted the role; but, to the comedy of the crime that he did not commit, he added that of the priest that he was not; to the account of ‘his' crime, he added the prayers and broad gestures of blessing directed at the jeering crowd. A few steps away, the real Delacollonge, ‘who seemed like a martyr,' was undergoing the double affront of the insults that he was not receiving, but which were addressed to him, and the ridicule that brought back, under the appearances of another criminal, the priest that he was and would have liked to have concealed. His passion was laid out before his eyes, by a buffoon murderer to whom he was chained (260-1).
One could hardly ask for a more ideal image of the Carnival spirit, in which official culture (the martyred seriousness of the priest) is relentlessly parodied by the abuse-praise of festive laughter, which laughs at itself as well. (François is not a "hero" in this scene; the crowd thought he was Delacollonge, and treated him accordingly.) On the same page, Foucault again refers to "saturnalia," the antique forebear of Carnival; "In every town it passed through, the chain-gang brought its festival with it; it was a saturnalia of punishment, a penalty turned into privilege" (261).
The above suggests, then, that Carnival was not just an event that occurred at set times, but that it was a kind of outlook or mindset that could manifest independently of Carnival proper; hence, the utterly free speech of the scaffold, the abuse-praise hurled at less notorious criminals on the chain-gang (and similar sentiments returned to the crowd), and François' parody. Compelling as these clear links are between Carnival and criminal, it could still be objected that the conclusion of a mindset behind them is overhasty; that all that has been shown so far is a kind of behavior, but not the psychology that informs that behavior. One could also object that Carnival, executions and chain-gangs represent extra-ordinary situations that do not reflect an everyday picture of the popular mind. For this, we must turn to the "archaic mentality," as described by Mircea Eliade in The Myth of the Eternal Return.
The main characteristics of the archaic mentality are most clearly discerned where its ritual imagery is most concentrated: namely, in the various forms of New Year rites. The basic elements of such rites, exemplified by the Babylonian New Year ceremony of "akîtu" as cited by Eliade, consist of "the abolition of past time, the restoration of primordial chaos, and repetition of the cosmogonic act" (57). In fact, realization of the second intention accomplishes the first, since the restoration or return to primordial chaos projects the community into mythical time, to a time before Creation. (In akîtu, this is signified by the reading of the Enûma eliš, the epic of Creation, in which the god Marduk must fight and destroy the Great Dragon, Tiamat, in order to affect Creation.) Eliade's comments here make explicit the parallels with Carnival:
The first act of the [akîtu] ceremony represents the domination of Tiamat and thus marks a regression into the mythical period before the Creation; all forms are supposed to be confounded in the marine abyss of the beginning, the apsu. Enthronement of a "carnival" king, "humiliation" of the real sovereign, overturning of the entire social order (according to Berossus, the slaves became the masters, and so on)--every feature suggests universal confusion, the abolition of order and hierarchy, "orgy," chaos (57).
The reading of the sacred epic has its parallel in the chaos of Carnival as well, insofar as the writing and public reading of innumerable parodies of Scripture and the Liturgy, in fact, all official writings, were a standard feature of Carnival. Bakhtin draws attention to this enormous body of writings, which was accorded official status during the festival (Rabelais 13).
New Year rituals often included, or began, with ceremonies for both individual and communal purification (the expulsion of diseases, demons and sins). Eliade summarizes these ceremonies in broad outline as "fasting, ablutions, purifications; extinguishing the fire and ritually rekindling it...expulsions of demons by means of noises, cries, blows...followed by their pursuit through the village with uproar and hullabaloo" (53). Again, the symbolic abolitions of time take on a different register in the primordial chaos preceding re-Creation. "Fasting, ablutions, and purifications" become "feasting, libations and profanation" in Carnival. "Extinguishing the fire" (an act reserved for the adults) transforms into a filial responsibility; in the Roman Carnival's candlelight parade, the sons blow out their father's candle, "crying out, sia ammazzato il signor Padre! ‘Death to you, sir father!'" (Rabelais, 251).
I have focussed here principally on Carnival's "restoration of primordial chaos" to locate its often inexplicable imagery in its larger context as a festival for the regeneration of time, but the "repetition of the cosmogonic act" is also present. In akîtu, the conquering of primordial chaos is finalized by the restored king's reënactment of Marduk's sacred marriage with Sarpan_t_ as "a concrete realization of the ‘rebirth' of the world and man" (Eliade 50). For Carnival, the equivalent act is the restoration of the normal order of things. The mundanity of this, however, should not obscure that Carnival does in fact wholly reflect the intent of a New Year ritual: the abolition of past time, restoration of primordial chaos, and repetition of the cosmogonic act, such that it denotes a "repetition of the mythical moment of the passage from chaos to cosmos" (34), the re-Creation of the world.
Eliade, then, lends an explanatory coherence to the overwhelming array of Carnival images Bakhtin (and to a lesser extent, Foucault) presents. Eliade also demonstrates the intense significance of Carnival indirectly that Bakhtin does not otherwise quite directly seem to justify. But even though the coherence, context, intent and significance of Carnival may be said to be established (as a repetition of the divine act of Creation, and all that that entails), the mindset out of which this ritual originated is still unclear. In other words, why does what Eliade call the ‘archaic mentality' utilize the technique of a repetition of the cosmogonic act at all?
"For traditional societies, all the important acts of life were revealed ab origine by gods or heroes. Men only repeat the exemplary and paradigmatic gestures ad infinitum" (Eliade 32). As such, repetition (reënactment) of a divine precedent obtains the divinity and sacredness of the original; Eliade provides several of such examples (29-34). More than this, however, "an object or an act becomes real only insofar as it imitates or repeats an archetype... everything which lacks an exemplary model is ‘meaningless', i.e., it lacks reality" (34). As such, New Year rites (and Carnival) employ a repetition of the cosmogonic act because any other act would be meaningless.
Carnival's repetition, then, literally projects it into the mythical time before Creation, such that one may say that its re-Creation exactly coincides with the original Creation. They become identical; re-Creation is Creation. Since this is true for all repetitions of exemplary gestures, when an individual repeats a divine precedent, an identification of deity and individual in mythical time occurs as well. By this, it is clear that the public ritual (of Carnival or akîtu) has its analog in the personal life of its participants as well. As such, the abolition of time, restoration of primordial chaos, and repetition of the cosmogonic act may all be ascribed to the mindset of the archaic mentality of individuals.
Eliade describes several other features of this mentality. First, insofar as all real acts occur only in mythical time (through repetition), the archaic mentality may therefore be said to be "ahistorical" in nature. Thus, the abolition of time entailed by exemplary repetition may be more properly understood as an abolition of profane (non-sacred) time; time taken up by all the non-important acts of life not preserved as exemplary gestures in myth. Eliade later convincingly illuminates the advantages of such a view; principally that it makes the terror of history, with its suffering, misfortune, social injustice and so forth, tolerable. Moreover, by being able to annul personal history:
archaic man recovers the possibility of definitely transcending time and living in eternity. Insofar as he fails to do so, insofar as he "sins," that is, falls into historical existence, into time, he each year thwarts the possibility. At least he retains the freedom to annul his faults, to wipe out the memory of his "fall into history," and to make another attempt to escape definitively from time (158).
This access to freedom has a correlate implication of access to power and creativity. This is obvious in the re-creation of the world in Carnival, but every repetition involves the re-creation of a first gesture, and hence is an act performed for the first time. Eliade further demonstrates the ubiquity of this type of personal creative power as cosmogenesis in ritual: in temple building and for lands conquered by war, at times of coronation, consummation of marriage, and the birth of children, or as a response to bad crops, or even bad luck.
For the cosmos and man are regenerated ceaselessly and by all kinds of means, the past is destroyed, evils and sins are eliminated, etc. Differing in their formulas, all these instruments of regeneration tend toward the same end: to annul past time, to abolish history by a continuous return in illo tempore, by the repetition of the cosmogonic act (81).
One could critique the validity of this archaic mentality (as Eliade does to some extent), but the purpose of my discussion is only to establish the nature of the popular mindset as it informs a hypothetical archaic Utopia. As such, Eliade's assertion that the archaic mentality has served in good stead "tens of millions...century after century" (152) is perhaps less important than the fact that in 1949, when The Myth of the Eternal Return was originally published, Eliade could note that "a very considerable fraction of the population of Europe, to say nothing of other continents, still lives today by the light of the traditional, anti-‘historicistic' viewpoint" (152).
The archaic mentality's devaluation of history entails that it exists "in a continual present" (86). Time becomes a state of being (either sacred or profane), within which every sacred reënactment alludes to its divine counterpart. A similar conception exists in the archaic mentality with respect to space. Every object in the world that is conceived of as sacred (hence, real) has also an "extraterrestrial archetype, be it conceived as a plan, as a form, or purely and simply as a ‘double' existing on a higher cosmic level" (9); profane (ritually unsacralized) places do not have this archetype, and thus may be spoken of as non-real. ‘Sacred', however, must not be understood as referring only to temples or the like; an entire city, or monarch's domain, may be ritually sacralized. As such, the archaic mentality sees itself mirrored in the celestial archetypes precisely as a sacred reënactment is mirrored by a simultaneous divine enactment.
For every sacred action, then, there is a coincident occurrence of action on the terrestrial and celestial planes. If the time of this action is the continual present, then it would seem that the place of this occurrence is an equally concrete "absolute space." Such a continual present may be understood as comprised of "discontinuous moments" of time. (Why discontinuous? Imagine several pennies laid flat, edge to edge; each penny is a "moment." Though touching, there yet remains a gap between each pair of coins; this gap represents the discontinuity of non-time between each moment.) Insofar as the pennies are not actually connected, by virtue of the gap, they might just as well be scattered everywhere, as placed edge to edge. This, because the width of the gap is irrelevant, since one does not traverse the gap to get from one moment to the next; rather, one simply remanifests anew within each moment, within each instance of the continual present. As such, every moment is radically now, and this suggests the parallel term for the archaic mentality's space, here. ("Here" is also discontinuous. We do not traverse the gap between one "here" and the next, but rather remanifest anew from one "here" to the next. We are always, and perpetually, here; we can be nowhere else.)
As such, there is a radical integration of the individual into the here and now of sacred reality, that gains its meaning from the transcendental exempla and archetypes of the celestial planes. It might even be said that this reality-transcending meaning is not transcendental at all, insofar as the consciousness of its meaning is wholly bound up in the utterly integrated here and now of the act. I will not insist on this further point, but will refer henceforth to this aspect of the archaic mentality as "reality-integrating."
It is this mentality that provides the basis for the archaic Utopia, characterized by the reversibility of time (back to the Golden Age of new Creation), by a radical integration of the individual into reality here and now, and informed (transcendentally or not) by divine meaning. As a symbol, the archaic Utopia's attainment of Creation anew implies the attainment of those goals George Kateb has included as essential to Utopianism: "peace, abundance, leisure, equality, consonance of men and their environment" (Utopia and Its Enemies 11), but also adds "hope," "liberation" (from authority and time), "freedom of speech," "power" and "creativity"--all on behalf of the individual (as Carnival well illustrates). It should also be pointed out that this archaic Utopia is "temporary," "recurrent" and "small-scale."
What, then, was lost, and what was retained, of this archaic Utopia by its recontextualization and revaluation as an official (literate and literary) Utopia?
The most fundamental change may be seen foremost in the archaic Utopia being written, which after a fashion also indicates the most faithful retention of archaic values. For example, the act of authorship is a cosmogonic act that implies as much freedom, power and creativity as Eliade imputes to the archaic mentality. (There are, of course, psychological and imaginative limits here, as well as constraints on freedom of speech if the book is meant to be published, but these limitations are also operative for the archaic mentality as well.) Even so, the very act of writing literally returns the author to the beginning, to a mythical time before Creation. Past time and real-world (profane) time are abolished and, like Marduk, the author confronts Tiamat's primordial chaos ("chaos" means "gap" in Greek) in the empty white page. A struggle ensues; and the author "creates the cosmos from the fragments of Tiamat's torn body" (Eliade 55)--the remaining white space between the words, and even within the letters themselves--until Creation is complete. The text, then, is literally a record of exemplary gestures made originally by a world-creator.
The analogy continues even more precisely at the level of the reader. By the act of reading, the exemplary gestures of the author are reënacted, such that the reader's act of re-Creation refigures the original Creation in mythical time, and thus retains and reflects the freedom, power and creativity of the archaic mentality. Moreover, the distinction between deity-author and mortal-reader is also maintained, insofar as the author (if only in retrospect) knows the whole of the text omnisciently relative to the reader. This does not concern the reader, of course, who can re-start time and creation at will (by re-reading phrases, or returning to page one), who can reorder Creation (by skipping pages, or to the end of the book), or who can suspend creation indefinitely by leaving it unfinished (partly read). As a repetition of cosmogenesis, then, the reader too abolishes profane time and projects into the mythical (fictional) time of pre-Creation; there to repeat (by reading) the exemplary gestures (text) of the original Creator; to struggle with the oceanic vastness of potential textual significations; and to emerge, finally, intact and victorious, having affected an individualized Creation (meaning).
In the world of literature, it seems that the reader is typically of the lowliest caste. By the act of reading, however, the tables are turned, as in the turvytopsy world of Carnival. The reader becomes the Carnival monarch; the true sovereign (the author) is humiliated, insofar as the reader's interpretation of the text becomes sacrosanct, law, unchallengeable (unless the reader for some reason assents to a challenge). The reader sees the world with a deity's eye (especially in third-person omniscient narration). Moreover, Carnival's free and familiar contact between people normally divided by caste becomes available to the reader, who can now (with sufficient library skills) travel everywhere and meet with everyone; even the spirits of the dead (those denizens of Carnival) may be visited, or come visiting. Reading becomes a feast for the imagination, and the book "a banquet for all the world" (Rabelais 278). If the novel is comic, then the festive laughter is self evident--the laughing reader is a laughing divinity; if the novel is not comic, the festive laughter might still be asserted, in the sheer pleasure of reading itself.
Insofar as reading bears analogy with exemplary repetition, then the doubling (of sacred and celestial space, and of reënacting and divine time) that radically integrates the individual into the here and now of reality informed by transcendental meaning holds for the act of reading as well. When reading, real-world space and time become shut out, so to speak. The specific here and now where reading occurs, suffused by the transcendental meaning of the text, may therefore be described as equally radically integrating, not escapist. It should be pointed out in addition that this author-book-reader Utopia is "temporary," "recurrent" and "small scale." Lastly, as the individual's archaic mentality may be said to be the foundation for public-communal New Year ceremonies and Carnival, so also can solitary reading be adapted to a social scale, as the initial ceremonial gesture of akîtu (reading the Enûma eliš), as a traditional aspect of Carnival (the reading of sacred parodies), or simply for the sake of communal reading (as at Beat happenings and English Department teas).
Given this almost total incorporation and reflection of the archaic Utopia in the very nature of authorship, literature and reading, it is therefore surprising that the main body of literary Utopias are relentlessly authoritarian:
The authoritarian Utopian State does not allow of any personality strong and independent enough to conceive of change or revolt. Since the utopian institutions are considered as perfect, it goes without saying that they cannot be capable of improvement. The Utopian State is essentially static and does not allow its citizens to fight or even to dream of a better utopia.
This crushing of man's personality often takes a truly totalitarian character (Berneri 7).
On one hand, these authoritarian elements manifest primarily within the text, at the level of utopian representation, rather than at the level of the architectonic relation between author, text and reader. In other words, the content of the literary Utopia has changed relative to the archaic Utopia, but not its form. This kind of change seems to precisely parallel the Catholic Church's technique of retaining the forms of pagan religion and festivals (such as the Winter Solstice), while substituting Christian content and significance (as Christmas), and clearly indicates the shift from unofficial (folk) culture to official (ruling) culture. Insofar as official culture is always authoritarian to one degree or another, the authoritarianism of literary (official) Utopias is therefore no longer so surprising.
Literary Utopias are authoritarian also because they tend to share the official culture's valuation of the "social" over against a valuation of the "individual." Of course, such "social" values are often little more than the ruling individuals' values imposed on the whole of society. As such, it is apparent that the universal freedom, power and creativity accessible to all within the archaic Utopia is claimed as belonging to only certain individuals in the official Utopia. This transformation of archaic values may be illustrated by the fact that in traditional cultures almost everything and all people were sacred; in later cultures, only certain places or people (e.g., temples and priests) were considered sacred. Consequently, the individual of the archaic Utopia vanishes, refigured as the masses and ruled by an individual who retains the sole right to the freedom, power and creativity of cosmogenesis in official Utopia.
This act of usurpation (literary or social) may have been legitimated on the basis of sheer power with respect (or disrespect) to the masses, who were neither trained nor equipped to prevent it, but power alone would be an insufficient legitimation vis-à-vis other literati or glitterati; usurpation simply "because I can" won't cut any ice amongst those who can as well. (Such a claim would provoke and justify ambitiousness in others also.) One needs a sturdier basis for authority.
Recall that akîtu begins with the reading of the epic of Creation. As I have already noted, the very act of writing is cosmogonic, but by transcribing the epic of Creation, the theme of Creation becomes not only the structural principle (as writing), but also the object of representation. As such, reading the epic represents another method for repeating the exemplary gesture of Marduk, that nevertheless remains invested with the sacredness (and hence, reality) of actual, ritual reënactment. It is this retention of sacredness and reality that precisely leads to the investiture of divine authority in the very text itself. Probably all Scripture obtains its authority in this manner, and this authority is absolute. There is no question of subjective authorial bias, since the writing is already divinely sanctioned as an exemplary repetition of oral tradition. That the written word is absolute, incontestable and sacred is nowhere better illustrated than by the fact that at the very heart of the Hebrew's temple, in the Holy of Holies, was the Ark of the Covenant (which it was death to touch) that contained the Word of God.
Authority among the ruling and literate classes, then, derives partly from sheer power, and is partly augmented by documents. It would no doubt be excessive to claim that all literature may be genealogically traced to Sacred Writ, but some influence is impossible to deny. In the very act of writing Scripture, the temporary aspect of the archaic Utopia (the temporaneity of the very repetition itself) becomes permanent. Moreover, the universal quality of sacredness becomes absolutely embodied in the text. In a sense, the text is the first usurper of cosmogonic freedom, power and creativity hitherto accessible to all; it is the first to deny universal rights to all, and to claim them for itself. As an absolute sovereign or deity, its claims encompass the whole world, and do not refrain from mandating both the large details (sexual and economic relations) and the small details of a person's life. Many literary Utopias have taken up this tendency with a vengeance.
In contrast, then, to the "temporary," "recurrent" and "small-scale" archaic Utopia, the official Utopia is "permanent" and "world-scale." The official Utopia promises "peace, abundance, leisure, equality, consonance of men and their environment," but must do so at the expense of the individual's "liberation," "freedom of speech," "freedom," "power" and "creativity." In spite of this authoritarianism though, one should never lose sight of the almost equally universal good intentions of most literary Utopists. Thus, instead of "liberation," the Utopist proposes "service" (not ‘enslavement') to Utopia's central authority; "power" becomes "loyalty" (that relies on the sovereign's power); "freedom" is purchased as the price for security (in exchange for "service"); "creativity" may be granted the patronage of the arts (only very rarely), or becomes limited to being rewarded for innovations in the workplace, for example, that increase production. In all of these somewhat questionable proposals, one might discern the faint traces of Carnival's spirit of parodic inversion--a kind of unpleasant, official humor. On a more abstract level, insofar as the archaic Utopia affects a radical integration of the individual into the here and now (informed by transcendental meaning), the official Utopia affects a radical transcendence of a society toward a "then and there" (informed by a wholly immanent meaning). In Ideology & Utopia, Karl Mannheim provides a similar definition:
Every concretely "operating order of life" is to be conceived and characterized most clearly by means of the particular economical and political structure on which it is based. But it embraces also all those forms of human "living together" (specific forms of love, sociability, conflict, etc.) which the structure makes possible or requires; and also all those modes and forms of experience and thought which are characteristic of this social system and are consequently congruous with it....But every "actually operating" order of life is at the same time enmeshed by conceptions which are to be designated as "transcendent" or "unreal" because their contents can never be realized in the societies in which they exist, and because one could not live and act according to them within the limits of the existing social order.
In a word, all those ideas which do not fit into the current order are "situationally transcendent" or unreal (194).
Insofar as such a utopian ideal is "situationally transcendent" relative to the status quo, Utopia itself could only exist in some "there and then," not in the here and now. Moreover, it should be obvious that if one of such utopian ideas ever succeeded in being implemented, it would immediately cease to be Utopia, becoming instead the new "operating order of life"; More's pun on Utopia (‘good place'-‘no place') fits perfectly with Mannheim's definition. This sense of Utopia as then and there, which is so characteristic of the official Utopia, will henceforth be referred to as "reality-transcending."
As noted previously, satire and parody do not directly present folk laughter, but represent it indirectly from within a recontextualization of official values. A similar development is apparent in the literary history of Utopia. As folk laughter split into two forms of official laughter (satire and parody), so too does the archaic Utopia split into two strands of official Utopia. These two strands will be explored more below, but first, something must be said about the nature of the contrast between them, by way of analogy.
Previously, I characterized satire as revolution, and parody as renovation, and further noted their shared target (official culture) and comedic nature; it is tactics and intent (revolution versus renovation) that especially distinguishes the one from the other. At the heart of these genres, however, (and in fact in all official culture, including literature), there is a logical tautology. Broadly speaking, the satiric world-view may be said to see things along a continuum from Civilization to ‘folk-culture' (demonized as "vulgarity," "barbarity," "incivility" and so forth). The parodic world-view, by contrast, sees things along a continuum from Civilization (criticized as "decadent" or "absurd") to ‘folk culture' (idealized as "genuine" or "true life"). As such, both satire and parody appear to employ a Civilization-"folk culture" dichotomy, though with markedly different accents. This dichotomy, however, is not a true opposition, insofar as real folk culture is not included in the opposition (as is suggested by the demonization and idealization). The opposition is actually not an opposition at all, and rather should be indicated as Civilization-Civilization; it is simply just different kinds of "civilized" civilizations arguing for ascendancy and power, with characteristic disregard for the masses each would dominate once in power.
Precisely the same kind of false dichotomy exists between the two historical strands of literary Utopias. Ostensibly, the dichotomy appears to be a Society-Individual dyad, but in fact it is actually a Society-Society debate in which different kinds of "socialized" societies are vying for ascendancy. This is perhaps least apparent in the contrast between the Socialist Utopia and science fiction (‘fantastyka') Utopia, and is still somewhat tenuous in the contrast between the bourgeois Utopia (exemplified by Richardson's novels) and the Gothic Utopia. (This will be explored further below, but for now I will simply mention that the weddings that end many of the earlier feminine Gothic novels precisely indicate the heroine's individual achievement of establishing the society of a home.) In the contrast between the Renaissance Utopia (exemplified by More's) and the Arcadian Utopia, the opposed values of "city" and "country" most clearly bring out the fundamental Society-Society pseudodichotomy at work in the genre.
Even as this appears to be the case, there would be a certain artificiality in insisting on the point as regards developments in literary Utopias. False as the Society-Individual dyad might be at root, there is no question that it more accurately meets the literary Utopia on its own ground. It may well be that the individualistic pleas for a more genuine life, for liberation, or for a world of future possibilities coming from the mouths of the inhabitants of Arcadia, the feminine Gothic, and fantastyka are finally (consciously or not) merely self-serving, but at the very least, these cries are imaged in individuals and as such still retain their link with the archaic Utopia's assertion of individual value. It is this ancient and often tenuous link that prompts me to term this strand (Arcadia-Gothic-Fantastyka) of the two lines of literary Utopia as "unofficial." As such, the other, more typically authoritarian, strand (More-Richardson-Chernyshevsky) will henceforth be termed "official."
In general, then, the official Utopia values and advocates "Society;" the unofficial Utopia champions the "Individual." Consequently, the former will tend to suppress the individual voice; that is, such suppression will tend to be reflected in an authorial monologism, as defined by Bakhtin above. Hence, he correctly notes, "Everything capable of meaning can be gathered together in one consciousness and subordinated to a unified accent; whatever does not submit to such a reduction is accidental and unessential....All of European utopianism was likewise built on this monologic principle" (Problems 82). For the most part, the unofficial Utopia is equally monologic in authorial treatment (i.e., at the level of style and structure), but at the level of content belies a more, if only relatively, polylogic nature. It is primarily in the individualized voices of the unofficial strand (the dialogists of Arcadia, the heroine of the feminine Gothic, the "liberation" of ideas in Eastern European fantastyka) that this relative sense of polylogism arises.
Having thus characterized the general nature of the official and unofficial literary Utopia, it now becomes possible to examine the specific manifestations of such Utopias in their historical development. The first step in this direction, however, must be to abandon the two, quite traditional, definitions of Utopia Berneri cites in her Bibliography: "An Utopia has been defined, in the Encyclopedia Britannica, as ‘an ideal commonwealth whose inhabitants exist under perfect conditions' ...But a utopia has also been defined as ‘an imaginary conception of an ideal government' (Dictionaire Général de la Langue Française)" (320).
Why this must be done may be adduced from the first several selections in Berneri's work. To illustrate: Plato's Republic is purely theoretical, such that we never go to Utopia; Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus is ostensibly a history; and Aristophanes' The Clouds and Ecclesiazusae are parodic Utopias. In the medieval "extraordinary voyage" of St. Brendan, Utopia figures as an allegory for Paradise; for St. Augustine, Utopia is the City of God. Northrop Frye would defend all of these as quite proper to the history of literary Utopias; "Still, the attainment of the City of God in literature must be classified as a form of utopian fiction, its most famous literary treatment being the Purgatorio and Paradiso of Dante" ("Varieties of Literary Utopias" 34, my emphasis).
The fact, however, that Frye refers to forms of "utopian fiction," rather than to "fictive Utopias," should serve to make clear that such works as those noted above (as well as others, e.g., the Greek utopian novel) indicate a utopian discourse that is similar to the novelistic discourse Bakhtin identifies as predating the novel, and that will provide the foundation for Utopia itself. It is not until the Renaissance, then, that the disparate strands of this utopian discourse will finally be joined, most representatively in the official Utopia of Thomas More, and its unofficial counterpart of Arcadia.
Utopia & Arcadia
There are four predominant features of More's Utopia that particularly bear commentary, especially as they establish major conventions for later official Utopias: these are Utopia's monologism, its definitive formulation of the travelogue format, its solution to the literary problem of the depiction of an entire world-society, and its social criticism.
The first three features are interrelated, as may be readily demonstrated.
In order to depict Utopia, More dramatizes what Socrates, Glaukon and others merely discuss in The Republic; in fact, the Second Book of Utopia can be described as a mobile Socratic dialogue. (Book One, which is trenchantly critical of 16th century England, adapts the Socratic dialogue to this purpose as well, but is wholly stationary.) This explicit separation of More's social criticism (Book One) and visionary utopianism (Book Two), though each may obviously be said to inform the other, is indicative of the work's monologism. All novels characteristically incorporate disparate genre-types into their texts; monologic novels, however, tend to keep such incorporations discretely separate from one another.
Further, More employs the travelogue device of a "guided tour" to present Utopia to the protagonist (and the reader); a device that inevitably tends to produce a somewhat monocular view of the place toured (much as Soviet tours once did). The fact that this one-sidedness is a structural-generic consequence of the "guided tour" device might be said to mitigate the imputation of authoritarianism against More and like-minded Utopists. Even so, the distribution of authority and speaking power between the "tour guide" and the "tourist" is inordinately in the former's favor; as Frye remarks, "As a rule the guide is completely identified with his society and seldom admits to any discrepancy between the reality and the appearance of what he is describing" ("Varieties" 26). Though he recognizes that "this is inevitable given the conventions employed" (26), that the guide tends to speak with a "pervading smugness of tone" (26) cannot be explained in terms of convention; rather, it should be understood as reflecting authorial monologism.
One of the apparently trivial details of Utopia is its attention to trivial details; a habit picked up by a distressing number of subsequent official Utopias. On one hand, this reflects More's effort to depict the entire world of Utopia--not by a detailed litany of literally everything, but rather by a selection of those details that artfully suggest everything. (Tolstoy is one of the true masters at discovering such essential details.) On the other hand, Foucault notes that in the classical age a "meticulous attention to detail, and at the same time a political awareness of these small things, for the control and use of men" (141, my emphasis) begins to crystallize, but the roots of the phenomenon are far older. In fact, one could trace this attention to detail "for the hold it provides for the power that wishes to seize it" (140), for the access to the control of others it grants, to that exemplary model of niggling details, Scripture. It may in fact partially be Utopia's generic link with the Bible (though More's Utopia is not a Christian State) that explains the bizarrely ritualistic mandates on sexual relations between husbands and wives in the book. (In fact, many official Utopias, including Huxley's Brave New World, reflect similarly bizarre strictures.) Again, as with the "guided tour," the authorial intent to depict the world through details on one hand mitigates an apparent authoritarianism that is an accidental consequence of that intent, but which at the same time contributes to the overwhelmingly monologic nature of the book.
Monologism is apparent in the socially critical element of the novel as well, insofar as the social criticism (apt as it is) seems more a rhetorical device for making Utopia seem that much more perfect. One can only wonder, for instance, how seriously one should take More's concern for the plight of the poor and dispossessed in Book One, when slavery is an institution in Utopia (Book Two); in fact, the question is hardly moot. More's pun on "Utopia" is not the only one in the book: The name for founder of Utopia, "Utopus" means "he who has no people;" the capital, "Amaurot," means "Shadowy town." Berneri notes, "Of the use of these facetious Greek names G.C. Richards remarks that More meant those acquainted with Greek to see through his fiction" (Berneri 68n). This may well be true, but the facetious names could also have served to protect More (humanist and friend of Erasmus) from any authorities angered by his non-Christian (humanist) Utopia; he could have answered any charges to the effect, "What? You thought I was serious? I called the place ‘Nowhere,'" and so forth.
However, with respect to the history of literary Utopias, the specific content and seriousness of intent of More's social criticism is of lesser significance than its rhetorical character. It would seem to be this rhetorical character that explains the odd blend of ostensible social sensitivity and despotism one typically finds in official Utopias. It finally seems as if the social criticism is less genuine than it appears; that it is rather a kind of tactic for making the Utopist's social arrangements more attractive. Again, though, it does not seem plausible to deny More's, or later official Utopists', good intentions; it's just that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
The static character of More's Utopia, and the bulk of subsequent official Utopias, may also be understood as an indirect consequence of monologism, insofar as both the "guided tour" device and extreme "attention to detail" naturally do not permit a great deal of narrative dynamism. The narrative movement from scene to scene is very placid and within each scene the explanations of the tour guide take precedence over the activities witnessed. This static quality, in fact, would seem to be a carryover from the discussion and debate of Book One (as a kind of symposium without food), which belies a certain intellectual movement, but precious little physical.
Again, this may be understood as a consequence of More's solution to the literary problem of depicting an entire world-society. The famous map of Utopia that More provides as a frontispiece to his book, a device that has since become de rigeur in the fantasy genre, exemplifies the official Utopia's tendency toward static states. In the genre of the "map," all time is suspended; Utopia becomes static (as well as permanent and world-scale) and objectified in the most literal way. With the device of the "guided tour," which similarly relies on an acutely necessary objectification, time is no longer wholly suspended, but remains thoroughly subordinated to space. Since More wants us to see everything, nothing can happen off-stage while we are not looking; hence, his narrative bears a similarity to those science fiction narratives in which a protagonist moves amongst the inhabitants of a world who have somehow become frozen in time. In a sense, then, More's guided tour of Utopia takes place in a single moment of time; that is, by affecting a "unity of time," with its consequential staticness, More becomes able to realize the ideal space of his Utopia.
By contrast, the unofficial Utopia of Arcadia had to solve a different literary problem: the depiction of time--specifically, pastoral-idyllic time. Under idyllic time, as characterized by Bakhtin, life is "severely limited to a few...basic realities. Love, birth, death, marriage, labor, food and drink, stages of growth" (The Dialogic Imagination 225) that all occur within, and are inseparable from, a "unity of place"; the "familiar territory with all its nooks and crannies, its familiar mountains, valleys, fields, rivers and one's own home...where the fathers and grandfathers lived and where one's children and their children will live" (225). This "unity of place," then, allows the depiction of generations (time), less as a biographical progression than as the simultaneous being together of children and the aged, and the middle-aged, who are at once both parents and children. Bakhtin further asserts that the mixing together of these age categories thereby engenders that "cyclic rhythmicalness of time so characteristic of the idyll" (225). As such, the unofficial Utopia of Arcadia reflects a dynamic quality, a rhythmicalness that is tied as well to the rhythms of Nature, quite distinct from the official (static) Utopia.
Arcadia is not precisely contemporary with More's Utopia. In fact, as part of the pastoral tradition, it has a very ancient lineage, which Northrop Frye conveniently summaries in Anatomy of Criticism:
We think first of the pastoral's descent from Theocritus, where the pastoral elegy first appears as a literary adaptation of the ritual of the Adonis lament, and through Theocritus to Virgil and the whole pastoral tradition to The Shepeardes Calendar and beyond to Lycidas itself. Then we think of the intricate pastoral symbolism of the bible and the Christian Church, of Abel and the twenty-third Psalm and Christ the Good Shepherd, of the ecclesiastical overtones of "pastor" and "flock," and of the link between the Classical and Christian traditions in Virgil's Messianic Eclogue. Then we think of the extensions of pastoral symbolism into Sidney's Arcadia, The Faerie Queene, Shakespeare's forest comedies, and the like (99-100).
The close association of pastoral-idyllic literature with Nature would probably already have alerted the literary historian to its links with folk culture; that its roots may be found in the Adonis lament make the links obvious, insofar as Adonis is one of the dismembered-regenerating vegetation figures of mythology. It is significant as well that the pastoral-idyllic tradition is inaugurated as a literary adaptation of an actual ritual. This is precisely the same kind of development I cited in the transformation of myth into Scripture (or the archaic into the literary Utopia). Consequently, one would therefore expect to find recontextualized and revalued folk culture in Arcadia.
This in fact proves to be the case, as may be somewhat sardonically demonstrated by noting the transformation of people into sheep in the Christian pastoral tradition. A remark by Bakhtin further suggests this recontextualization and revaluation, in less insulting terms. He notes that all the basic life-realities of the idyll are not presented "in their naked realistic aspect (as in Petronius) but in a softened and to a certain extent sublimated form. Thus sexuality is almost always incorporated into the idyll only in sublimated form" (The Dialogic Imagination 226). This sublimation is indicative of a refining or civilizing modification to the otherwise typically frank (i.e., ‘vulgar') attitude of folk culture, especially with regard to sexuality.
Although the formulation of Arcadia, as part of the much longer pastoral-idyllic tradition, is not strictly contemporaneous with More's Utopia, the milieu of the Renaissance, with its strongly court-centered and urban culture, would have almost automatically prompted a renewed interest in, and significance for, the Nature of Arcadia. Moreover, the disintegrating social conditions Utopia criticizes (such as urban crime and poverty, partly as a result of the economic displacement of peasants into the city due to the onset of the assault on the land that would later manifest fully as the enclosure movement), generally suggests two solutions: better cities (Utopia), or a return to the land (Arcadia). Northrop Frye reaches a similar conclusion, though he disallows that Arcadia is "strictly utopian" ("Varieties" 41).
Nevertheless, he admits that the Arcadian ideal reflects simplicity, equality--"a society of shepherds without distinction of class" (41)--peace and leisure; the arts appear "spontaneously, as these shepherds were assumed to have natural musical and poetic gifts" (41). And, by contrast to the sexual taboos of Utopia, in Arcadia "making love is a major occupation, requiring much more time and attention than the sheep" (41).
Arcadia also reflects two ideals almost wholly unknown to the official Utopia. Frye asserts that the pastoral is a type of "romantic comedy" (Anatomy 43), and that "the theme of the comic is the integration of society" (43). As such, the pastoral (and hence, Arcadia) may be described as "reality-integrating."
[I]t puts an emphasis on the integration of man with his physical environment. The utopia is a city, and it expresses rather the human ascendancy over nature, the domination of the environment by abstract and conceptual mental patterns. In the pastoral, man is at peace with nature, which implies that he is also at peace with his own nature, the reasonable and the natural being associated....In the second place, the pastoral, by simplifying human desires, throws more stress on the satisfaction of such desires as remain, especially, of course, sexual desire. Thus it can accommodate, as the typical utopia cannot, something of that outlawed and furtive social ideal known as the Land of Cockayne, the fairyland where all desires can be instantly gratified ("Varieties" 41).
The seeming identification here between Cockayne and Arcadia, as well as Frye's disavowal of Arcadia's utopian nature noted above, must be taken issue with. Of course, if one defines Utopia as Frye does, as a "city," then obviously Arcadia cannot be Utopia, but such a definition is too limited, and causes Frye to accept the official (urban) Utopia of More as definitive, and to overlook the unofficial (rural-arboreal) Utopia of Arcadia.
With regard to Cockayne, Bakhtin notes, "There was a popular cycle of legends about the utopian land of gluttony and idleness (for instance, the fabliau of the pays de Cocagne)" (Rabelais 297). Not only does this brief remark emphasize a utopian element, the popular nature of Cockayne should also caution one against its automatic identification with the literary Arcadia; the link between the two, rather, must be recognized in the recontextualization of the former in accordance with the literate values of the latter.
Having thus clarified the nature of Arcadia, further aspects may now be explored. For one, Arcadia may be distinguished from Utopia as a "generic setting," usable by any number of poets or later novelists; it is, in a fairly concrete sense, "communally owned." (With the official Utopia, each author posited a separate island, city, or continent.) As a generic setting, then, Arcadia reflects a multi-voicedness not found in the official Utopia. This relatively greater degree of polylogism is expressed, not only at the structural level of genre, but also at the level of representation within the text. Insofar as Arcadia typically depicts generations of people, this multi-voicedness is self-evident, but there is also a comparatively greater degree of equality of speech, compared to the unequal distribution of authority and speaking power reflected in the "guided tour" device of the official Utopia.
This greater equality may be readily discerned in the playful and variously ribald encounters between any number of 17th century Stellas and Astrophels; George Williamson, in fact, notes precisely a "casuistic dialogue on love" (Seventeenth Century Contexts 64) as the distinguishing feature of such encounters. Without a presumed equality of speech, of course, such a dialogue would become quite pointless, and lose all of its charm. Neither can the importance of the theme of "love" (as the sublimation of sexuality in Arcadia) be underestimated, as it signifies the unofficial Utopia's counterdiscourse to the sexual prohibitions of the official Utopia. In this at least minimal way, Arcadia may be said to advocate individual desires over against the social desires advocated by the official Utopia.
Despite the relatively polylogic generic setting and quality of romantic encounter in Arcadia, the authorial treatment of individual texts nevertheless remains strictly conventional, such that monologism remains wholly in effect. (Insofar as poetry aspires to the condition of a "unity of voice," such monologism cannot necessarily be deemed a demerit in Arcadian poetry.) In tracing the development of the "casuistic dialogue on love" from Sidney to Donne's The Extasie, Williamson cites one interpretation of Donne's poem that indicates the most complete realization of such authorial monologism (as poetic unity); "In Donne's poem by a characteristic subtlety the dialogue is reduced to a monologue spoken by the undistinguished soul of the two lovers" (64).
To expect a plurality of voices in Arcadian poetry (or any poetry) is generally hopeless, and indicates why Bakhtin (and I after him) would seek it instead in the novel. Consequently, Bakhtin ascribes considerable significance to the idyll and idyllic time (hence, Arcadia) in later developments of the novel, in either a positive and direct sense (as incorporated into the Sentimental, family-generational and provincial novel genres), or in a negative and indirect sense (as a kind of time to be superceded, principally in the Bildungsroman). This, because idyllic time (as the officially revalued version of folk time) may be described as "circular," and hence "closed." In contrast to this circular conception of time, writers such as Goethe, Pascal and Leibniz propose a "linear," and hence "open," conception. Eliade traces the origins of this latter "progressive" view of time to Christian eschatology, which waged an ongoing battle with the cyclical nature of folk time (143-6).
It should be clear that "cyclical" is not identical to "circular"; specifically, the cyclical nature of folk time (and the archaic mentality that perceives it) is not "closed." However, by revaluing this cyclicity as circular, Arcadia thereby comes to reflect a kind of time (and hence society) that is open to the charge of "stagnation," "moribundness" and so forth. Precisely what has been lost in this shift of conceptions is the regenerating aspect of cyclical time. In spite of this misconception, Arcadia nevertheless affects a realization of ideal time that parallels the official Utopia's realization of ideal space. As such, both represent culminations or milestones in the genre of the literary Utopia that (like all milestones) both implicitly and explicitly point the way to new literary directions; milestones, moreover, that entailed both positive and negative consequences.
On the negative side, insofar as time is viewed as circular in Arcadia and static in Utopia, the images of time we have inherited in literature (especially as stripped of its regenerating capacity) are patently inadequate. Time thus viewed becomes an inescapable trap, and its tone (as in all official culture) becomes deadly serious. Laughter can only become ironic or cynical under such conditions; pleasure begins to take on that sadomasochistic quality so evident in the Romantics. At the end of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, published in 1961, one character aptly summarizes all of these "modern" themes:
We all know that we are material creatures, subject to the laws of physiology and physics, and not even the power of all our feelings combined can defeat those laws. All we can do is detest them. The age-old faith of lovers and poets in the power of love, stronger than death, that finis vitae sed non amoris, is a lie, useless and not even funny. So must one be resigned to being a clock that measures the passage of time, now out of order, now repaired, and whose mechanism generates despair and love as soon as its maker sets it going? Are we to grow used to the idea that every man relives ancient torments, which are all the more profound because they grow comic with repetition? That human existence should repeat itself, well and good, but that it should repeat itself like a hackneyed tune, or a record a drunkard keeps playing as he feeds coins into the jukebox... (204).
(This should not be taken as the final word in Lem's novel, as the question marks and final ellipsis suggest; Lem rarely, if ever, provides a final word in any case.)
Eliade might add that the closed or static impression of time engendered by Utopia and Arcadia, insofar as they present "negative examples" usable to argue in favor of linear time, thereby helped to condemn humanity to the terror of history, to the irreversibility of historical time in its progressive (linear) conception; that Utopia and Arcadia helped to make time into "history," which subsequently became Joyce's nightmare. As I have sketched it here, Eliade's contention might seem like a bare assertion; a fuller exposition, which would be out of place here, may be found in the last chapter of The Myth of the Eternal Return (141-162). For now, I will simply note that the official distinction between the circular and the linear views of time (as opposed to the more accurate distinction between the cyclical and the linear conceptions Eliade presents) is somewhat fatuous. In the same way that official culture stripped folk laughter of its profoundly significant regenerating aspect (thus rendering it merely frivolous or destructive), a similar stripping was performed on folk time (thus rendering it "stagnant" or "indolent"). It has only been in this century that a more accurate conception of folk time as cyclical, not circular, has been rediscovered by the Western intelligentsia; in the interim, we have been struggling with only half of the equation (a linear, irreversible time) at our disposal.
On the positive side, the realizations of ideal space and time affected by Utopia and Arcadia, respectively, realized also a set of literary conventions as exemplary models to be explored and exploited by later generations. As Bakhtin notes, the love idyll "was able to serve as the foundation for various types of novels, and could enter as a component into other novels (for example, those of Rousseau)" (The Dialogic Imagination 226), as well as the family idyll and the provincial novel. Utopia's "guided tour," on the other hand, provided a basis for the innumerable memoirs and first-hand accounts written by explorers during a particularly exploratory age. As such, the realized ideals of Utopia and Arcadia became the idealized realities of actually explored land and personally experienced time. In both cases, consciousness (personality) begins to infiltrate the official and unofficial branches of literary Utopias.
This shift is especially obvious in later titles of Utopias. After the Renaissance (which includes, along with More's Utopia, such places as Campanella's City of the Sun, Bacon's New Atlantis, Andrae's Christianopolis, Hartlib's Macaria and Gott's Nova Solyma), a place like Harrington's Oceana, published in 1656, becomes very rare, to be replaced with "memoirs," such as The Life, Adventures and Voyage to Greenland of the Reverend Father P. de Mésange, Gulliver's Travels, or The Memoirs of Gaudence de Luques. This shift is less obvious in the Arcadian branch of literary Utopias, but may still be sensed, insofar as the focus of the novel becomes centered on an individual consciousness (e.g., the novel of education or the Bildungsroman); Rousseau's Emile and Goethe's Wilhelm Meister may be considered exemplary in this respect.
In general, this shift from realized ideals to idealized realities seems to vindicate Mannheim's conception of Utopia as situationally transcendent relative to the present but realizable in the future. As previously noted, however, an implemented Utopia is no longer Utopia, but becomes rather the "operating order of life," the very status quo that Utopia is supposed to situationally transcend. (It might also be added that the very existence of literary Utopias violate Mannheim's definition, insofar as such Utopias are precisely realizable in the present as texts.) In this respect alone, it would seem to disallow that the idealized realities of memoirs and Bildungsromane warrant designation as literary Utopias, though obviously they comprise a part of utopian discourse. On a more intuitive level, there is not a strong enough sense of a specific and concrete place or time in these idealized realities to seem persuasively like literary Utopias. As such, one might say that Utopia and Arcadia per se "vanish" after the Renaissance. This disappearance, however, is not permanent, as may be seen by examining the official Utopia of the bourgeoisie, and the unofficial Utopia of the feminine Gothic.
Utopia & Gothic
The rise of the middle-classes to power brought with it an extraordinary upheaval of social life that amounted to a complete reinterpretation of all aspects of culture, including Utopia. One of these cultural revisions, as examined by Kate Ferguson Ellis in The Contested Castle, was the formulation of the "ideology of separate spheres." This new ideology proposes a gender division and rigorous separation of the worlds of masculine work and feminine domesticity, based on, and dignified by, Biblical and Miltonic (Paradise Lost) authority. As such, work occurs in the fallen world (with the husband as a post-lapsarian Adam), while domesticity occurs in the home (with the wife as a pre-lapsarian and innocent Eve).
The redefinition of feminine gender-roles, over against the aristocratic images of women (as slaves to their sexual passions and appetites) and in conjunction with the middle-class conceit of moral superiority, led to a conception of Eve (woman) that endowed her with the capacity to reclaim what she originally lost for all. It is woman's superior virtue, her implicit sense of morality that is self-evidently greater than man's, that especially qualifies Eve for this role. As such, this virtue, along with its correlate "passionlessness" (i.e., "sexlessness"), coupled with Eve's socially divine mission of domestic redemption, creates the image of woman as an innocent "domestic angel." A similarly total redefinition of masculine gender-roles (perhaps most completely realized in Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison) is based on both the morality of the Protestant work ethic and the civilizing conceits of early capitalism; as Adam Ulam has remarked, in "Socialism and Utopia," "Free enterprise was considered not only socially beneficent but also morally imperative" (124). However, this redefinition bears only indirectly on the history of literary Utopia, insofar as the foci of the bourgeois Utopia are the home and its resident domestic angel.
The reduction of the official Utopia from island or continent to home precisely reflects a diminution of scale that characterizes what Frye has termed the "low mimetic mode" (Anatomy 34), and for which Bakhtin provides a similar formulation, as characteristic of the pathos of the Sentimental psychological novel: "The didactic purpose behind this Sentimental pathos is tied to more concrete situations, descends to the depths of everyday life, its smallest details, to intimate relations between people and into the internal life of the individual person" (The Dialogic Imagination 396).
On one hand, this diminution represents a reaction to the historical enormity of the Baroque novel, but as Bakhtin goes on to correctly note, "[i]t is not a matter of scale, but rather of a special organization of space" (397). This special organization of space indubitably has its links with the kind of attention to detail and the emergence of what Foucault has referred to as the "disciplinary society"; "in the first instance, discipline proceeds from the distribution of individuals in space....Discipline organizes an analytical space" (141,143). The "home" is not so small as it may first seem, as the cliche "A man's home is his castle" and the maxim "the home is an island of sanity in a mad world" attest. "Home" therefore represents the bourgeois Utopia's revision of More's official "castle." There is a further parallel as well, insofar as there were several castles on More's island. As Raymond Williams notes (citing Austen as exemplary):
Neighbors in Jane Austen are not the people actually living nearby; they are the people living a little less than nearby who, in social recognition, can be visited. What she sees across the land is a network of propertied houses and families, and through the holes of this tightly drawn mesh most actual people are simply not seen. To be face-to-face in this world is already to belong to a class. No other community, in physical presence or in social reality, is by any means knowable" (166).
As such, More's island has become the bourgeois island of "class," with yawning abysses between each castle.
In attempting to realize this ideal class-space, the official bourgeois Utopia seems to have automatically adopted the authoritarian nature of its official forebears. "Home" arrogates to itself the authority of a castle; the father-husband becomes king; royal benevolent despotism becomes paternalism; the mother-wife and children become ornamental subjects. In such a context, not only must "father know best," but also, since the ideology of separate spheres adamantly maintains the innocence (i.e., ignorance) of women, "only father knows." Insofar as "Monologue pretends to be the ultimate word" (Bakhtin, Problems 293), this is blatantly monologic. This fact is also confirmed by the epistolary novel being the most prevalent subgenre of the bourgeois Utopia, with Richardson as its most prominent popularizer. (Recall that in the epistolary Pamela by Richardson, the overwhelming number of letters presented come from Pamela's pen, such that every other point of view, and hence the "other side of the story," basically goes unrepresented.)
Although Freud's theory of prehistoric humanity may never be subject to anthropological verification, it nevertheless provides a vivid example of the power distribution implicit in the ideology of separate spheres. In Freud's view, the original despot-father hoarded all women for himself, thus incurring the wrath of his sons, who are finally driven to parricide. By murdering the father-despot, the sons commit the supreme crime, insofar as it was the father who, despotically or not, established "the order which has preserved the life of the group" (Marcuse 64). But in the wake of this murder, and in order to reëstablish social stability, the sons must repeat the father's exemplary gestures, and thereby reimpose his taboos and strictures against which they had originally rebelled. These taboos, however, are imposed on all people, including the fratriarchy since they too must "obey the taboos if they want to maintain their rule" (65). Consequently, the ghost or the image of the father "survives as the god in whose adoration the sinners repent so they can continue to sin, while the new fathers secure those suppressions of pleasure which are necessary for preserving their rule and organization of the group" (64).
The seemingly fantastic significance Freud accords here to the father (as either the tyrant-despot or guilt-ridden son) is quite in keeping with the values implicit and explicit in the ideology of separate spheres, especially when it is remembered that sons become "new fathers," and that daughters are shuttled from the old father's hoard to the new father's (as wives). It is also logical that the supreme crime should be conceived of by Freud as "parricide," since parricide is the bourgeois equivalent of the supreme crime under feudalism, "regicide." Foucault provides an explicit proof of this. Against the background of gentle punishments for crime envisioned in 1781 by Vermeil, one crime warranted an "infinity of punishment, something equivalent in the new penal system to what regicide had been in the old" (113). The guilty would "have his eyes put out" (113), and be suspended naked in an iron cage in full public view, perpetually exposed to all the elements, and fed on only bread and water until death:
"a villain...condemned to see no longer the heaven that he has outraged, and to live no longer on the earth that he has sullied" (Vermeil 148-9)..."[T]he criminal who is to be thus crucified by the new law is the parricide" (Foucault 114).
Vermeil's moral fury should be taken as neither eccentric nor atypical; as J.M.S. Tompkins remarks, the "vast and tidy camp of virtue, with its grand and simple plan, is one of the spectacles of the eighteenth century" (70). Consequently, her comment with regard to the era's demand for moral instructiveness in literature applies as well to the whole spirit of the 18th century in England: "In the ‘seventies and the ‘eighties...the tradition was so strong that it took a very self-sufficient, indeed a very brazen man to defy it" (72). Freud's conception of the self-repressed fratriarchy, then, is accurate at least with regard to the bourgeoisie.
The deification of the father-husband necessarily implies a concomitant submissiveness on the part of the home-king's subjects, be they wife, child or servant. In the popular literature of 1770-1800 that Tompkins has analyzed, she notes, "It is impossible to exaggerate the frequency with which this attitude occurs" (87). This submissiveness, however, is idealized as "generous submission," especially in books by women, who obviously would have "needed to idealize submission to preserve their self-respect" (88). Similarly, in an age of extreme moral didacticism, "Incomparably the most frequent of all these didactic themes is filial obedience" (84), displayed especially in gestures of "generous submission"; "Such submission was not a degradation, but a spiritual grace....The wife faced with an unworthy husband, the child oppressed by a tyrannous father, do more than obey. By an act of will they abrogate reason, quell discrimination, and not only accept but approve the fiat they bow to" (88-9). As she further notes, such "submission is an attitude that no longer has much popular appeal" (89), but this should not blind us to the popular favor it held in the late 18th century. Neither should it be thought that only men espoused these ideals. The assumption that:
woman was created primarily for wifehood and motherhood, and that she owed a debt of gratitude, which only the severest ill-usage could cancel, to the man who rescued her from the useless--it is their own word--condition of old-maidenhood, and undertook her support and that of her offspring (156)
is a very common idea in books by women of the period. As such, "wifely dependence," as an "economic necessity sublimated by Christian ideals" (155), thus takes on positive connotations now lost to a modern audience. This gratitude and dependence extended to children as well; "Children should be grateful for their breeding and subservient to their parents' authority. Parents, of course, should be moderate and kind, but authority is their function, and they ought not abdicate it" (85).
To these virtues, wives were also expected to add patience, loyalty, and that most frequently praised quality in a wife, "complaisance"; "a flexible deference to her husband's moods, a ready fund of encouragement for all his tastes, provided they do not transgress principle" (157). In the case of marital infidelity, "Above all, she must never recriminate; let her be blind as long as she can, and afterwards patient, and if possible cheerful. No husband was ever won back by what Mrs. Griffith calls the ‘vain arts of eloquence'" (158). Again, the potentially resigned tone of Mrs. Griffith notwithstanding, this was not an ideal solely proposed by men:
The supposed oblates of this rigid discipline...seldom complain of the different standard of morality applied to men. No delicate woman would envy such a freedom; rather they glory in being measured by the stricter standard and, to some extent, warded from temptation, for they see in this behavior not so much the effect of selfishness or mistrust as the recognition of their own finer fibre. "Every appearance of vice in a woman is sometimes (something?) more disgusting than in a man," wrote Clara Reeve; "which I think is a presumption that woman was intended to be a more perfect creature than man,"--a quieting and sustaining conclusion (154).
Such values, as idealizations, in general reflect the bourgeois Utopia's aspiration toward "domestic bliss." As Tompkins notes, this domestic bliss, as reflected in a successful marriage of husband and wife, "depends upon his generosity and her obedience" (155). Ellis asserts much the same, but in a very different way; "Feminism and a concern with domestic violence emerge in the context of the Enlightenment, with its faith in the power of masculine reason to correct and check social abuses" (3). "His generosity," then, also includes "his self-control," because it is precisely the threat or the actuality of the unchecked, uncorrected social abuse of domestic violence that most thoroughly vitiates the bourgeois Utopia's claim of "home" as paradise. Even in its ostensibly non-violent guise, the "rights of a husband" or "wifely duty" introduce the potential of rape into the home. Moreover, the superaggrandized authority of the father-husband, in conjunction with the enforced ignorance of women under the ideology of separate spheres, has the double negative effect of making a wife helpless before the demands of her husband, and incapable of escape, since she has been rigorously denied knowledge of the world (and hence, how to operate within it).
This prohibition on knowledge--whether Eve is not allowed to eat, or chooses not to eat, from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil--was never perfect in practice. It is from this position of forbidden knowledge gained, from the socially unacknowledged or lived experience, of domestic violence that the feminine Gothic launches its critique of the ideology of separate spheres, and offers its own counterproposed Utopia.
Before examining the specifics of the genre, however, it is necessary to reemphasize the almost fanatical moralism of the era. If it is only a "very brazen man" (Tompkins 72) who could revolt against the spirit of the age, one wonders what adjective to use to describe the woman who would seek to critique it. The idealized virtue of womanhood excluded the right to recriminate; patience and martyrdom were expected instead. Add to this, as Fanny Burney notes in Letter 39 of Evelina, that "nothing is so delicate as the reputation of a woman" (qtd. in Tompkins 141), and it becomes almost miraculous that the feminine Gothic's critique was ever written (much less published). Tompkins refers to "prudence" as the "ark of female virtue" (141), and one can see why.
In such a context, one could hardly expect the feminine Gothic's critique of the bourgeois Utopia, along with its own proposed Utopia, to be presented directly. And it is not. But, to a certain extent, the extraordinary constraints on feminine Gothicists assisted their project. Female novelists in general were viewed by critics of literary periodicals (such as the Monthly and the Critical) with a mixture of condescension and curiosity. As such, any apparent moral lapses might have tended to be seen as arising from the novelist's deficiencies of education or talent rather than from a determined perversity. This might not be enough, however, to spare such female novelists from ridicule; the reviewers, as men, were ostensibly obliged to take a considerate attitude toward the feminine sensibility of such writers, but they did not always honor their own code. (In its own small way, this illustrates the vulnerability of women, in as much as they had to rely on male self-control.)
Perhaps the first feature of the feminine Gothic to note, then, would be the self-deprecating preface that seems to be almost a standard feature of novels by women of the period. Instead of leaving it to the critics to assume some benign reason for any apparent moral lapses, these self-deprecating prefaces provide one, often with poignant biographical details about poverty, dying breadwinners and general hardship as being the sole reason behind the impulse to write in the first place. While such biographies may well be true (perhaps exaggerated somewhat for the sake of an indulgent review and book sales), it is also clear that such a preface would have helped to disguise any critique and would have helped to spur its dissemination amongst the public. In an era proud of its Christian charitableness, "Mrs. Eliza Parsons, who took up her pen for the support of eight dear fatherless children" (Tompkins 118) could rightfully hope that her book would be published and bought, if not read. As one neophyte put it directly, "a candid, a liberal, a generous Public, will make the necessary allowances, for the first attempt of a young female Adventurer in Letters" (117, emphasis in original). Such flattery might get your critique everywhere.
This possibly strategic self-deprecation is counterbalanced by two other features of the feminine Gothic. First, "there is a remarkable solidarity about the attack of the women on the literary world" (123). The sentiment is echoed by Ellis; since courage is required to write about "areas of social reality about which middle-class women were supposed to have no knowledge....novelists must ‘not desert one another'" (7). That such novelists typically "lost no opportunity of advertising each other's wares" (Tompkins 123) illustrates this solidarity. The second feature of the feminine Gothic is its sudden appearance; "Like the beanstalk, it shot up overnight into redundant vegetation, and enterprising novelists thronged its stem" (Tompkins 243). The suddenness of this is especially pronounced in Tompkins' study, since she dates the official inception of the Gothic by Radcliffe; such figures as Horace Walpole, Clara Reeve, Sophia Lee, Charlotte Smith and Mary Wollstonecraft appear more as precursors.
The apparent authorial voicelessness of self-deprecation, along with the solidarity and suddenness of the feminine Gothic's production, present a unique event in literary history, and belie as well a relative polylogism at work in the genre. One could almost assert that the feminine Gothic comes to reflect something similar to Arcadia's "communal ownership," except that the Gothic commune is not a literal place like Arcadia, but rather the class-space noted by Raymond Williams above. A similar communal ownership and transformation of time may also be discerned as "class-time" in the feminine Gothic; in it, "[t]he bourgeoisie was then able to read...of how it ‘repaired the ruins' of its medieval past as part of God's scheme of providential history" (Ellis 49).
In general, then, the unofficial Utopia of the feminine Gothic presents a point by point inversion of the official bourgeois Utopia. For example, rather than filial obedience, much of the feminine Gothic centrally involves a daughterly rebellion. This often takes the form of some kind of transgression (of innocence, of knowledge barred, against masculine will, or even as simple initiative, such as flight, which is rarely an option for non-Gothic heroines). The reason for the rebellion and transgression typically originates in a conflict between a "heavy father" figure (an actual father, or one of Freud's new fathers, a dispossessed second son) and the heroine's choice of marriage partners, which hints at the taboo realms of female sexuality and passion in an age when passionlessness was the ideal. In fact, the extent of daughterly initiative (rebellion) in the feminine Gothic already reflects a transgression in itself, since what many heroines manage to accomplish by the novel's end was beyond the pale of the socially possible at the time; as Ellis remarks of Charlotte Smith's Emmeline, "No court in eighteenth-century England would have awarded a girl in her [Emmeline's] position the title to an estate and the privileges that went with it" (92).
As such, though the feminine Gothic presents its case indirectly, it nevertheless drives straight to the very heart of the bourgeois Utopia. This is perhaps most readily seen in that most readily seen feature of the Gothic landscape: the castle. It is not enough to say that the castle symbolizes the home; rather the castle blatantly exposes the home's true nature. There is no simile at work here; the castle is a literal image of the Gothically realized home. The audacity of this exposé, however, is obscured by the anachronism of setting and by the apparent compliment paid to middle-class Protestant values (over against the castle's associations with the evils of aristocracy). More generally, by drawing on images and institutions from the "bad old days" (rarely with much historical accuracy) of England, the feminine Gothic was able to ostensibly criticize the past, and be praised for it, while actually attacking the contemporary "bad new days."
What is being made "natural" is not the displacement of Catholicism by Protestantism, which had been thoroughly absorbed into popular consciousness, but the shift away from the absolute power of the father over his wife and children. The role of the daughter in this myth-making process is to embody Protestant individualism, as castle, convent, and prison work together to thwart the "natural" desire of young people to be sexual within marriage. With its network of closed spaces hostile to the "lively preference" of the daughter, the imaginary medieval landscape of the Gothic novel becomes an analogue for the corrupt, male-dominated world against which Mrs. Haywood's heroines were powerless to prevail (Ellis 48).
The total inversion of the era's official Utopia affected by the feminine Gothic may be understood as a parody, rather than a satire, of the bourgeois Utopia. As such, the Gothic may be said to be a comic genre; an assertion supported somewhat by its links with Arcadia (also a comic genre). These links are most evident in the importance of Nature imagery both share, but are also indicated in the weddings that often happily end Gothic novels; weddings are the most conventional literary method for conveying the socially integrating aspect of comedy noted by Frye. As a parody, then, the feminine Gothic does not aim at satiric revolution, but at social renovation--cultural regeneration as a result of festive laughter's abuse-praise. It is a vision of daughterly choice, not parental decision, in marriage partners; it is a vision of equality, not patriarchy, in the marriage itself, with the consequential establishment of a "true home," a true Paradise, that such equality implies. The heart of the feminine Gothic Utopia, then, is not so different in appearance from the bourgeois Utopia; it is the principle upon which each is founded that is radically different.
But parody, Nature, Arcadian associations and weddings may not seem to warrant the claim that the feminine Gothic is a comedic genre; its premium on "terror" alone should refute such an idea. However, one should recall Radcliffe's own definition for terror: that "it expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a higher degree" (qtd. in Ellis xvii n1). This kind of terror is to be specifically associated with the aesthetic pleasure of the Sublime as famously formulated by Edmund Burke; "Radcliffe used Burke as the theoretical base for her work" (xvi n1). Alternatively, and somewhat rephrasing Michael Sadleir's formulation of "terror" in Radcliffe, it affects an "agreeable shudder" (Ellis 57). Narrative terror, then, is an ambivalent pleasure, very much like the terror of rollercoasters and funhouses. The funhouse (or Halloween's haunted house) is especially apt, insofar as one's squeals of terror in the company of friends is as often as not accompanied by laughter. Such laughter is very close in nature to festive laughter's abuse-praise.
In addition to parodic inversion, another common technique of festive laughter is its "grotesque realism": "Exaggeration, hyperbolism, excessiveness are generally considered fundamental attributes of the grotesque style" (Bakhtin, Rabelais 301). Such hyperbolism often borrows the grandeur of the epic for totally non-epic occasions. A classic instance in the Gothic occurs when an absurdly overlarge helmet kills Manfred's son in Walpole's Castle of Otranto. Apologists of the Gothic (such as George Haggerty in Gothic Fiction/Gothic Form) have had to negotiate around such literary faux pas in their attempts to raise the Gothic to the level of literature deserving of analysis. Such conniptions, however, are unnecessary if a comedic nature is assumed for the Gothic. The tradition of the unheroic death, for instance, extends back at least as far as Seneca's Ludus morte Claudii, "in which the emperor dies at the moment of defecation" (Rabelais 151 n1). Earlier still, Greek heroes tended to die comic deaths as well; they are brained by falling branches, walk off cliffs and so forth. It is almost not an exaggeration to claim that no Greek hero, who did not die in battle, died an epic death.
The death of Manfred's son, then, is a comic death. It is our lack of familiarity with the tradition in which it participates that makes it seem otherwise "serious," but even modern examples may be found. It is exactly the same kind of image that provides the entire basis for the very short animated film "Bambi Meets Godzilla." The difference, of course, is that such deaths are now conceived of as final; in the ancient tradition, the ubiquitous regenerating element was always somehow present.
Hyperbole is also apparent in the exaggerated virtue and villainy of the Gothic heroine and her antagonist, as well as the vastness of the Sublime in Nature. On one hand, of course, the exaggerated moral nature of the feminine Gothic's inhabitants (whether good or evil) has the advantage of justifying the heroine's rebellion as a supervirtuous act; who could not but rebel against such villainy? On the other hand, this hyperbolism veers very close to the melodrama, which seems based on the principle of bringing its audience to the very edge of hysterical laughter, without actually going over the edge. Tompkins suggests this in another way: "Even in the hands of its finest exponent, it [the Gothic] was precariously balanced over the abysses of the ludicrous and disreputable" (247). In later Gothic writing, by the Brontës and Mary Shelley in particular, the melodramatic elements are handled with considerable sophistication, though usually at the expense of laughter. (The transformation of laughter, as from comedic terror to tragic horror is almost always a sign and technique of the dignifying of a genre by "high seriousness.")
Hyperbolism affects another advantage for the feminine Gothic's critique by drawing on exaggeration's comic associations. Broadly speaking (or perhaps literally), the comedic is not meant to be taken seriously. Rabelais, for instance, asserted the most outrageous blasphemies in print at a time when people were burned at the stake, but lived to die peacefully in old age. By contrast, "Rabelais' friend, Etienne Dolet perished at the stake because of his statements, which although less damning had been seriously made. He did not use Rabelais' methods" (Rabelais 269). One might similarly contrast the fate of most feminine Gothicists to the public pillory suffered by Mary Wollstonecraft for her statements made on behalf of women's rights.
Lastly, hyperbolism may be said to be the basis of terror in the feminine Gothic, insofar as it is "the intense emotion...that a ‘good' female character can have in a novel without threatening her innocence with respect to male lust" (Ellis 46, emphasis in original). Innocent virtue is forbidden sexual knowledge and so cannot even recognize male lust, much less react to it, even in flight. Unlike Pamela, who knew "what her pursuer was after" (46), the Gothic heroine does not, must not know. For Ellis, the terror of confinement, not rape, therefore motivates the heroine's flight. True as this might be, however, the feminine Gothic's parodic inversion suggests that "terror" might actually be "lust" (as the intense emotion), disguised in the most thorough way possible. It is, after all, the heroine's "lively preference" for some man other than her would-be captor-rapist that spurs her flight as much as the threat of enclosure. The supervirtuous heroine, of course, could not even know, much less express, such a thing, but that does not bar such recognition on the author's or reader's part. It might also be added that the confrontation between the heroine and the villain, whether actual or only dreadfully imagined by the heroine, is a form of the casuistic dialogue on love, and as such adds another link between Arcadia and the feminine Gothic.
An awareness of the potential for sexuality in such a confrontation, along with its positive obverse (the heroine's wedding at the end of the novel), would already represent a transgression of official feminine virtue, made all the more audacious by the novel's being written. As such, however unobjectionably virtuous the text is, it may still be "tainted" by lust, either in the writer's mind and memory, or in the reader's reading. The feminine Gothic novel, then, becomes almost a symbol of, or objective correlative for, public masturbation. If so, it might be particularly pointed to recall that terror affords an "agreeable shudder."
Consequently, the haunted castle may be said to become the author's or reader's mind, and the undisclosable secret it holds, sexuality:
What does it mean for the castle to be haunted? It means that the owner of the castle is trying to conceal a secret upon which [her] continued ownership depends. In consequence, the castle becomes a space where the next generation cannot be produced, or more generally, where the domestic activities over which women are beginning to "rule" cannot be carried on. The exposure of the secret, then, sometimes accompanied by the destruction of the castle, frees the female protagonist to reassert the primacy of "home" and its values by marrying the man of her choice, not as an innocent "young lady" but as a heroine who has encountered evil, learned from it, and triumphed over it (Ellis 37).
The above passage, quoted verbatim except for the substitution of "her" for "his" as noted, is addressed by Ellis toward the thematic elements of the Gothic, but I have cited it as applying to the level of the author (and perhaps the reader) as well.
As such, the Gothic drama represented within the text is reënacted outside of the novel as well; by transgressing the enclosures enforced by patriarchal society, forbidden female initiative is able to assert its claim to Utopia (determined by, not chosen for, women), and to reclaim a castle long since usurped by second sons: the cosmogonic act of writing. By reclaiming the act of authorship, the Gothicists (and all female novelists) undid the original Word of God and challenged the Father's original transgression against the female principle of Creation. By writing, women regained access to the freedom, power and creativity that Freud's new fathers had been hoarding and lording over for aeons.
Ellis cites Milton's Paradise Lost as the model and point of departure for the Gothic rebellion. The Satanic revolt, however, seems more appropriate to the Lewisite Gothic (which is antiutopian, rather than utopian, preferring destruction and satire over the parodic renovation of the feminine Gothic; thus, I have not included it in my study of literary Utopias). Howevermuch Milton may have informed or justified the theme of rebellion, its archetypal content does not fit the feminine Gothic scenario very well. The Gothic God does not expel a Satanic Eve; he tries to enclose her. Moreover, her departure and flight are wholly self-willed. The archetype that seems to be at work, rather, is something similar to Freud's prehistory, in which one of the daughters of the father's hoard escapes to freedom. If there are still Christian or Miltonic implications to be found in this, then they go beyond Lucifer's oath of Non serviam.
This rebellion may be said to originate from the fact that God advanced one son (Jesus) above all others; Lucifer refuses to serve out of a protest for this inequality of treatment. He questions God's judgment, but not the society He has created. The feminine Gothic's Eve, by contrast, is not merely a reconceptualized heroine capable of correcting the mistakes of her youth (though she can do that too); rather, in her youthfulness, she makes a much bolder claim: that the fault for original sin rests with God, and that only an act of re-Creation can correct what He has muddled. It is a protest directed against the self-proclaimed "biologically justified authority" (Marcuse 64) that boasts to have originally ordered Creation, "the order which has preserved the life of the group" (64). In fact, God is the Gothic's first usurping second son--not God the Father, but God the New Father, who denies He ever had a Mother-Goddess; the one who has usurped the castle of Creation, and turned Paradise into Hell. The "terror" of the feminine Gothic, then, may originate partly in the enormity of Eve's transgression, in the reassertion over against divine authority of her right and capacity to correct creation, but it may also arise partly from the thrill of simply "getting away with it," of parodying culture when it was absolutely forbidden to do so.
The serious intent of the Gothic critique and its Utopia of a true home, where freedom, power and creativity, equality, freedom of speech, peace, abundance, leisure and pleasure are not male-only prerogatives, is not undermined by the claim of a comedic nature for the feminine Gothic. On the contrary, the method of festive laughter's regenerating abuse-praise is fundamentally oriented toward basic and all-important aspects of life. As Bakhtin notes, "Seriousness burdens us with hopeless situations, but laughter lifts us above them and delivers us from them. Laughter does not encumber man, it liberates him....Laughter lifts the barrier and clears the path" (Speech Genres 134, 135).
Like their Renaissance forebears, the official and unofficial Utopias of the 18th century represent milestones that marked points of departure for subsequent literary works. However, unlike the distinct realizations of ideal space and time in the Renaissance Utopias, the presence of individualized consciousness in the later Utopias seems to have served to merge space and time. As such, in realizing its ideal class-space, the bourgeois Utopia incorporated the generational time of Arcadia into the intimate setting of the home; similarly, in realizing its ideal class-time, the feminine Gothic incorporated the perfect commonwealth of Utopia as a "true home" into the providential history of personalized fate. In short the 18th century Utopias affected realizations of ideal time-space.
In so doing, they contributed to the creation of the perils of history (as terror, irreversibility of time, and so forth) that I have already noted in conjunction with the Renaissance Utopias. One distinction, however, must be noted. Where the "circular" nature of the Renaissance Utopias indirectly argued in favor of a "progressive" (linear) conception of time (and hence, history), the 18th century Utopias directly argue in favor of the linear conception, insofar as they are based on this "progressive" principle. This may most readily be sensed in the relatively increased plotting of such novels, especially in the Gothic where the premium on terror mandated the creation and maintenance of narrative suspense.
Increased sophistication of plotting is one of the main gifts of the 18th century to the 19th, but it is not the only one. In the same way that Utopia and Arcadia provided a foundation for the idealized realities of memoirs and Bildungsromane, so also did the realized ideals of the bourgeois Utopia and the feminine Gothic provide the basis for 19th century realism and Romanticism: the bourgeois "home" becomes the idealized and criticized reality of the novel of manors, while the "providentially individualized fate" of the feminine Gothic becomes the idealized (though infrequently criticized) reality of Individualism and Romantic genius. Though innumerable non-Russian examples abound, nevertheless these two main developments in the 19th century, along with the full flowering of the novel, could hardly be better characterized than by the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Apt as these examples are, however, it would seem that we have once again left the reality of Utopia; that, as implementations of the 18th century's Utopias, they represent the status quo, the "current operating order" of literature in the 19th century.
To rediscover the strands of the official and unofficial Utopia in the 19th (and 20th) century, then, it becomes necessary to look elsewhere; specifically, to examine the Socialist Utopia and science fiction (the ‘fantastyka").
Utopia & Fantastyka
The most obvious trait shared by the Socialist Utopia and fantastyka is a focus on the future, with another, almost equally decisive accent on technology. Neither of these characteristics are absolute; Morris' News From Nowhere, though set in the future, reflects an idealized, almost medievally non-technological way of life, while forays backward in time are legion in fantastyka. (Fantastyka's subgenre of "alternative versions of history" similarly retreats in time, while the "parallel universe" subgenre may be said to move laterally in time and space.) These notable exceptions, however, simply reflect the vitality of the genre, and do not destroy the overall truth of the generalization. Consequently, the place of the Socialist and fantastyka Utopia becomes located in the future.
At first, this displacement might seem a bit strange, but there has always been a degree of displacement in Utopia. Given the extent of the known world, More had to posit an island; the Arcadians had to escape from the City to a semi-mythical Country; the Gothic had to project backward in time to find a home; and the bourgeois Utopia, crowded out by the historical enormity of its Baroque predecessors, retreated to the privacy of its own home. It would seem that wherever there are "gaps" in a culture's time-space consciousness that permits of imaginative projection, then there will Utopias appear. Ulam, discussing socialism in "Socialism and Utopia," offers a further explanation for this displacement:
Faced by the domination of liberalism in both politics and in the intellectual sphere, socialism went underground, so to speak....The utopian character of much of socialist thinking represented then a kind of rearguard action which withdrawing radicalism conducted against the triumphant march of industrialism and liberalism (125-6).
The linking of the future with technology is another key feature shared by the Socialist Utopia and the fantastyka. What primarily distinguishes the one from the other, again restating the distinction between a monologic and relatively polylogic approach, is the former's closed view of the future compared to the open-ended view of the latter. Defenders of Condorcet, Fourier, Saint-Simon, Comte or Marx may assert, as Frank Manuel does, that "virtually all the great nineteenth-century utopias have continued metamorphoses built into their very frame; they are open-ended" ("Toward a Psychological History of Utopias" 80), but they seem to be in the minority; it is, after all, difficult to discern "continued metamorphoses" in Marx" view of the end of history. The very fact that the Socialist future had a specific "place" in mind contributes to this; later Socialist thought, chastened by the very events of history itself, still retained the hope for such a "place," even if its specifics were no longer so clear. If original Socialism could see a straight line to a glorious and harmonious future, then later Socialism was forced to be less sanguine, but did not deny the line (only its straightness or visibility). Fantastyka infrequently bothers with such a line; how we get from today to, for example, the utopian Earth of television's Star Trek is of little concern. Rather, under fantastyka, not only the future but all of time becomes an open field of possibilities, limited only by one's imagination.
In the main, the development of the monologic Socialist Utopia in literature is especially uninteresting; parodies, such as Dostoevsky's The Possessed (originally Devils), are much worthier of critical attention on artistic grounds. They were, however, enormously influential socially. Cabet's truly dreary Voyage to Icaria inspired the foundation of Icarian communities in the United States, and it is impossible to underestimate the extraordinary importance of Chernyshevsky's What Is To Be Done? in the development of the Russian revolutionary mentality. In fact, to discuss the Socialist Utopia in its most significant manifestations, it is necessary to turn to Russian, rather than Western European, literature.
Let there be no illusions, however; R.H. Stacy remarks that What Is To Be Done? "has occasionally been called the worst novel ever written" (55). de Jonge confirms this verbatim as "one of the worst novels ever written, which became the bible of the Russian radical movement" (52). Berlin, with characteristically less scoffing and more insight, notes that Chernyshevsky's:
deepest aspirations and emotions were poured into What is to be done?, a social Utopia which, grotesque as a work of art, had a literally epoch-making effect on Russian opinion. This didactic novel described the ‘new men' of the free, morally pure, cooperative socialist commonwealth of the future; its touching sincerity and moral passion bound their spell upon the imaginations of the idealistic and guilt-stricken sons of prosperous parents, and provided them with an ideal model in the light of which an entire generation of revolutionaries educated and hardened itself to the defiance of existing laws and conventions and to the acceptance of exile and death with sublime unconcern (228).
This image of the revolutionary implies, of course, a total selflessness, endurance and indifference to personal suffering; one will put up with literally everything to help pave the way to the glorious future, even if one does not live to see it. As long as this ideology of self-sacrifice remains in a context of revolutionary conspiracy, it may be said to still retain some justification; when it becomes implemented upon the whole of society, however, it quickly loses whatever justification it had left and becomes simply an instrument of social control and terror, as the Soviets have since demonstrated. The promise of the glorious social future thus becomes a method of oppression, while at the same time justifying the present deplorable social conditions as birth throes--or, as time goes on, as the work and fault of some scapegoat, e.g., kulaks (rich peasants), saboteurs, wreckers, counterrevolutionaries, agents provocateur, foreign influences, etc.
Insofar as the ideology of self-sacrifice ("suffer today for a glorious future you may not live to enjoy") involves a method of social control, two necessary correlates arise. The first is that self-sacrifice must be hyperidealized, much as women had to idealize submission under the ideology of separate spheres to retain their self-respect. The second is that the glorious future must be indefinitely put off, since the basis of social assent to the status quo today is the imminent arrival of the glorious tomorrow. (In the Soviets, of course, "social assent" was also based on the terror of being carried off to the GULag, executed, or both.) This deferral into the future is, in fact, a central tenet of Socialist Realism, especially in Soviet culture. In Russian Literary Criticism, R.H. Stacy cites an illustrative passage from Solzhenitsyn's The Cancer Ward:
[A] character who is a willing and simple-minded mouthpiece of the Party line explains the mysteries of Socialist Realism: "You must understand this. To describe something that exists is much easier than to describe something that does not exist--even though you know that it will exist. What we see today with the unaided eye is not necessarily the truth. The truth is what we must become, what will happen tomorrow. This wonderful tomorrow of ours is what writers should be describing today." Asked what writers will describe when tomorrow comes, this character replies that they will then write about the day after tomorrow (235).
That the genre described here so aptly is called ‘Socialist Realism' provides its own trenchant criticism, but the passage does correctly identify one of the main artistic challenges of both Socialist Realism and fantastyka: the difficulty of describing something that does not yet exist (or, more particularly, whole worlds). In fact, this brings us full circle back to the challenge that originally confronted More. One would then well expect the ‘guided tour' device to resurface, and indeed it does. The very name Star Trek belies exactly this. (I keep returning to Star Trek, not only because it is exemplary, but also because it is probably the best-known Western example of fantastyka.) Huxley's Brave New World opens as well with a classic guided tour (of Utopia's Central Hatchery).
If the history of the monologic Socialist Utopia is fairly simple to describe, then the history of fantastyka is proportionately complex. The term ‘fantastyka' itself helps to suggest this complexity, since it echoes the larger genre of the "fantastic." A distinction, however, immediately suggests itself between the supernatural "magic" of the "fantastic," and the super-natural "technology" of "fantastyka" (although Arthur C. Clarke, if memory serves. has noted that "technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic"). Tzvetan Todorov, in his own study of the fantastic, provides a more precise description; "[I]n a general fashion, supernatural beings compensate for a deficient causality....Thus the fairy who assures a character's fortunate destiny is merely the incarnation of an imaginary causality for what might just as well be called chance, fortune, accident" (110). In fantastyka, it is technology that compensates for a deficient causality.
Todorov further describes the fantastic as a kind of liminal genre that is especially marked by "hesitation," either at the level of the reader or of the narrator-characters, or both. This hesitation creates a defining ambiguity in the fantastic; the character or reader is no longer sure where she or he stands in relation to the narrative. This fantastic ambiguity, however, is fairly delicate, and easily lapses out of an equally defining "indeterminateness" of meaning (that is an obvious consequence of the "hesitation"): "meaning" therefore reflects a liminal quality in the fantastic as well.
The fantastic therefore leads a life full of dangers, and may evaporate at any moment. It seems to be located on the frontier of two genres, the marvelous and the uncanny, rather than to be an autonomous genre. One of the great periods of supernatural literature, that of the Gothic novel, seems to confirm this observation. Indeed, we generally distinguish, within the literary Gothic, two tendencies: that of the supernatural explained (the "uncanny"), as it appears in the novels of Clara Reeves (sic) and Ann Radcliffe; and that of the supernatural accepted (the "marvelous"), which is characteristic of the works of Horace Walpole, M.G. Lewis and Maturin. Here we find not the fantastic in the strict sense, only genres adjacent to it. More precisely, the effect of the fantastic is certainly produced, but only during a portion of our reading: in Ann Radcliffe, up to the moment when we are sure that everything which has happened is susceptible of a rational explanation; in M.G. Lewis, up to the moment when we are sure that the supernatural events will receive no explanation. Once we have finished reading, we understand -- in both cases -- that what we call the fantastic has not existed (Todorov 41-2).
Much fantastyka belongs in Todorov's genre of the "uncanny" insofar as a rational explanation usually clears up the technological or xenobiological curiosities in any given book, but there is also another entire tradition of fantastyka, best represented by Stanislaw Lem and Eastern Europe (including Russia) that falls into Todorov's category of the "marvelous," if not actually the "fantastic." In both traditions and genres, however, the supernatural elements have typically been replaced by the supernatural weirdness of astrobiological species, alien intelligences, and hitherto unencountered planetary phenomena. All of these extraterrestrial features are usually approached narratively as rationally explicable things, even if human reason proves incapable of discovering an explanation.
This "empirical bias" is what purportedly puts the "science" in "science fiction." As such, one could extend the fantastyka tradition back to Bacon's New Atlantis, but his Utopia seems more fantasy than fiction, so to speak. Similarly, one may discover early salvos of fantastyka in Prince Vladimir Odoevsky's The Year 4330 (a utopian novel incomplete at the time of his death in 1869), in Lytton's The Coming Race (which features a subterrestrial superspecies, armed to the teeth with handy, personally portable "vril sticks" capable of more than atomic destruction), published in 1870, and, of course, the works of Jules Verne. Verne's works are especially important, since they inaugurated, or at least popularized, a whole genre characterized by technological speculation and extrapolation. This genre went on to become the mainstay of early fantastyka in the United States, particularly in the cult followings of various pulpy periodicals. Most of the stories in these early efforts, like most early efforts, are unreadably dreadful, and helped to found the debased reputation of "science fiction" in the United States. Verne's epigones substitute mere novelty for even the least shred of plausibility, and the plots themselves are rarely more than of the "hero slays monster" type. One might try to see an archetypal significance in this; Frye contends that it is often precisely in popular literature that one can most clearly discern the archetypal nature of literature (Anatomy 104), but this is little consolation. This tradition, gaining somewhat in sophistication, has continued to the present; its most prolific exponent to date would seem to be Larry Niven, who will not hesitate to justify an entire novel (and a sequel) strictly based on a single technological gadget (e.g., Ringworld).
More typically, the Vernean tradition is used to technologize and cosmicize otherwise perfectly ordinary narratives. The original Star Trek, for example, is often little more than the Odyssey in space, and the theme of ‘war,' especially during the era of the Cold War, found its cosmic equivalent in an unceasing flow of hideous invaders from the stars. In general, the epithet ‘rockets and robots' applied to the founding (so-called Golden Age) of science fiction is fair. Given the vitality of invention in the United States at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, one can perhaps forgive the scribbling Edisons in their garrets for their tawdry productions, but (along with World War I and eventually the Depression) the general refusal of science fiction to address these changes, or even to pay much attention to actual scientific developments, certainly served to discredit the genre, perhaps deservedly. An example of this may be seen in Brave New World, though it is not strictly speaking science fiction, when Huxley admits in his Foreword that the lack of atomic energy in his Utopia does in fact represent a "vast and obvious failure of foresight" (x).
It is not necessary to trace any further the general history of science fiction in the United States, in spite of its later interesting and artistic "coming into its own" during the so-called New Wave that began roughly in the 1960s (and that is foreshadowed particularly in the works of Heinlein and Bradbury); this, because Utopia does not figure significantly in New Wave writing. Rather, I have provided this brief sketch of the origins of science fiction in the United States principally to illuminate why the genre, still for the most part, has a literary reputation as bad, if not worse, than the original Gothic. Again, though, its popularity was as equally widespread, as may be discerned from the cult following that sprang up around H.P. Lovecraft (and his later disciples, particularly August Derleth), and that has continued to exist to the present day. (William Gibson, in our day, seems to have gained an equally devoted following of "cyberpunks.")
To locate the main strands of Utopia in fantastyka, it is necessary to turn from the technological trend of Verne's epigones to H.G. Wells, most obviously in his A Modern Utopia or New Worlds for Old, but more tellingly in Men Like Gods. It is here that one can convincingly feel the influence of the Socialist Utopia, insofar as alternatives to the Socialist future and its societal arrangements are being pursued and modified by Wells. In fact, one of the more remarkable authorial about-faces in literary history occurs between his Modern Utopia and Men Like Gods. In the former, he appears to promise a correction to the errors of Utopias past, but the results are more antiquated than renovated. For example, having criticized old Utopia's reductions of liberty due to an endless proliferation of regulations, commonsense therefore dictates a reduction in the number of rules. Wells, however, prefers to redefine "liberty"; "But in truth a general prohibition in a state may increase the sum of liberty, and a general permission may diminish it. It does not follow...that a man is more free where there is least law and more restricted where there is most law" (qtd. in Berneri 295).
The point here is not the truth or falsity of Wells' assertion; others, notably Kateb in his unquestionably well-intentioned Utopia and Its Enemies (220-7), have asserted as much as well. Rather, the point is to underline the radical change one may discern between this Utopia and Wells' later Men Like Gods, as indicating not only the direction of future Utopias, but also the distinction between the monologic Socialist Utopia and the relatively polylogic Utopia of fantastyka. Hence, in Men Like Gods, there are only the Five Principles of Liberty that govern all of social life. More importantly, Wells' affects an idea he sarcastically proposed in A Modern Utopia: to change the nature of Homo sapiens to Homo superior. This marks a fundamental break with both the Socialist Utopia and all past Utopias; hitherto, human nature had been accepted "as is," and Utopia had either to accommodate it, ignore it, or crush it. Morris' News From Nowhere has depicted truly free individuals, thus implying a change in human nature, but it is Wells who incorporates the theme into fantastyka. (B.F. Skinner's notorious Walden Two wanted to literalize the theme.) The change of human nature in Wells' Men Like Gods, however, is weakly realized, and is primarily one of mindset; "except for the fuller realisation of his latent possibilities, the common man in Utopia was...the same flesh and nature as we are" (qtd. in Berneri 308).
The British utopian tradition continued to develop primarily along Wellsian lines in the fantastyka, but rarely on a large scale. Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End is probably the best-known example, but there are also contributions by Aldiss, Wyndham (particularly his Re-Birth) and Stapledon (who is almost wholly unknown in the United States). It is somewhat ironic, then, that Aldous Huxley proves to be the author who most strongly extends the tradition, first of course in Brave New World (and its essayistic sequel, Brave New World Revisited), and later in Ape and Essence and Island.
It could of course be disputed that Huxley is a Utopist at all; Brave New World, along with Zamyatin's We, are widely regarded as the canonical anti-Utopias of the 20th century. (Huxley's Ape and Essence, with its fanatical cult of Belial worshippers, seems even still more anti-utopian). Other works, such as Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, Gheorghiu's The Twenty-Fifth Hour, and Wolfe's Limbo might also be considered anti-utopian, but the unremitting viciousness of the State in these books makes them more Dystopias (the "bad place"), than anti-Utopias. Whatever classification one decides upon for these various reactions to the classical-official Utopia, I nevertheless intend to demonstrate that Huxley's Brave New World is an official Utopia; or, more precisely, that the novel is the product of a frustrated Utopist trying to come to grips with Utopia.
For the moment, if this may be demonstrated in brief, after remarking on the popularity of the dystopian novel in the 20th century in his introduction to Utopias and Utopian Thought, Frank Manuel then adds that Aldous Huxley "lived to write a utopia, Island" (x). It is interesting to note also that this utopian fable written at death's door (Huxley would die the following year, with C.S. Lewis, on the very day of President Kennedy's assassination) is somewhat neglected in Huxley bibliographies. The Harper Perennial paperback edition of Brave New World mentions Island in a brief biographical appendix, but omits it from the lengthy bibliography provided at the front of the book; similarly, in the Cliff Notes for Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited, neither in the bibliography nor anywhere in the text, is Island mentioned. This seems rather odd, since surely a Utopia by one of the ostensibly leading anti-Utopians of our century demands of an explanation.
Such will in fact be proffered below. In the meantime, however, it is necessary to trace a third line of fantastyka, that of the Eastern European (including the Russian) tradition.
Understandably, the Socialist Utopia has been highly influential in the countries of this region, such that futuristic Utopias are almost blandly assumed as a given. Consequently, the technological speculations within them retain a more genuine sense of the Vernean futurological prophecy, instead of the superficial inventiveness one finds in the science fiction of the United States. It would seem that the Socialist-Utopian creed of technology, as a lever into true Socialism (rather than decadent capitalist prosperity), helps to keep the Machine firmly in the service of mankind.
Moreover, Utopia (when utilized) is rarely described in the kind of painstaking detail one has grown weary of in Western literature. The space of Utopia is such that one comes to know it, or infer it, as in any typical novel: through character interactions within it. In other words, Utopia, finally, becomes a setting rather than a topic of discussion; fashion, laws, food, architecture--all become a consequence of a character's (and the reader's) vision, not a guided tour. If the character is a native of Utopia, then the setting moves into the background of consciousness; this, for the same reason one does not find informative lectures on clothing in a contemporary novel, unless such a lecture serves some other, not merely informational, authorial intent. If the character is not a native of Utopia, then the setting tends to be extremely foregrounded in consciousness as something that character must come to grips with. This process of "recognition" or "reconciliation" with the confronting Utopia, however, is rarely arrived at by the simple explanation of some tour guide; rather, the character must interact with both the Utopia and its natives to achieve a working knowledge of the culture. This is one of the main dilemmas confronting Lem's protagonist, Hal Bregg, in Return From the Stars.
It is not so common to find non-natives encountering Utopias; usually the confrontation is between an Earthling (from Utopia or not) and the "alien" ("chuzhoi"). In recent Western fantastyka, different varieties of minority authors have increasingly, and with considerable sophistication, used this scenario to critique a present-day culture that defines their minority as Other ("alien," "chuzhoi"). As such, the predominantly mundane Utopia of Eastern European fantastyka must be considered one of its triumphs. As Darko Suvin notes, this utopian element is ubiquitous in Stanislaw Lem's novels; "I would argue that [a] utopian naivete remains one of the poles of the Lemian creative tension even in his richest works" (208).
As a consequence, the assumed Utopias and plausible technologistic futurologies of Eastern European fantastyka have singularly liberated the genre with respect to its speculation on ideas. That is, not burdened with a tradition that could be puerilely gratified by the notion of a plasma gun (the United States), or mired in a socially conscious tradition that remains at a loss as to how to solve the human condition (Great Britain), Eastern European fantastyka has been able to grapple more directly with cosmic questions. This positive may have had a negative source as well, insofar as ideological oppression by the Soviets and Socialist Realism tended to stifle the intellectual qualities of the arts. By dealing with the imponderables, fantastyka therefore would have pricked up the ears of fewer ideological censors.
In fact, Eastern European fantastyka found itself in a position similar to the feminine Gothic. And there do, indeed, seem to be instances of subversive critique in the genre. One of the most important instances may be seen in the film, Stalker, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. The film is based very loosely on Roadside Picnic, a novella by the leading authors of fantastyka in Soviet Russia (Boris and Arkady Strugatsky), and juxtaposes a tenuous motif of Christian images over against a markedly bleak Dystopia that is difficult not to identify with a futurized Soviet State. Such critiques, however, are rare--and for good reason. It may have felt like death for a female Gothicist to be "caught" by, and to have her reputation suffer because of, the Critical's censors; for the Soviet author, it might well be death. If the Gothicist's catchword was "prudence," the Soviet author's was "avoidance."
Lem's first fantastyka, The Astronauts, was published in 1951, two years before Stalin's death, so much of his work appeared during the Soviet Thaw, but it too is characterized by an absence of Soviet critique (perhaps all the more surprising, given Russia's historical treatment of Lem's native Galicia, and Poland). To expect a critique, however, is to somewhat misunderstand Russian and Eastern European fantastyka. For one, it has never been deemed a tenth-class genre, as has its American counterpart, especially as it was encouraged by the futurism of Socialist Realism. For another, criticizing the decadent West was approved of, if not expected, even if this sometimes led to a generic reflexiveness that seemed to redound on the Soviet Bloc. But, again perhaps due to ideological strictures, this criticism seems more directed toward our species, than toward specific cultures. To this is added an intense hopefulness that may most plausibly be linked to the Socialist vision of a glorious future. As such, there is a more universal quality in Eastern European fantastyka compared to the West's that is entirely appropriate in a genre set in the Universe; what Suvin claims for Lem's writing, then, may be applied to the region: "Thus, the stars are for Lem in a way what Utopia was for More or Brobdingnag for Swift: a parabolic mirror for ourselves, a roundabout way to understand our world, species and times" (212, my emphasis).
In such a context, Capek's R.U.R., the classic drama of robot domination which Kateb finds so difficult to account for--"It is hard to say just what is to be done with this idea" (Utopia 109)--is not anomalous at all. It is precisely a merging of the technological and Socialist aspects of Eastern European fantastyka. Though analogies with The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Frankenstein and The Golem obviously have a degree of validity here, what is at stake is less humanity's ability to control the monsters of its own making (with the attendant themes of hubris, mortals as gods, and family in general), and more the fact of being confronted by a conscious being who is ontologically superior to us. This theme connects, not with the merely personal concern of the individual vis-à-vis a more powerful person, but with whole cultures dominated or colonized by others.
As Suvin notes, both Capek and Lem come from regions "coextensive with the old Habsburg empire, which in our century has bred so many great writers attuned to the indifferent march of history; Musil and Svevo, Krleza and Andris, Hoffsmanthal and Kafka, Hašek and Capek...Yet this has also been the region of great hopes, exploding after both world Wars" (214-5); a region, as the Romanian-born Eliade notes, that had to "renounce any impulse toward a higher historical existence, toward spiritual creation on the universal plane" (151) simply because it fell across the path of history's juggernaut (embodied in Asiatic hordes, and later empires of Ottomans, Habsburgs, Great Russians and Soviets).
As such, Lem's writings are regionally characteristic in their "fusing of bright hope with bitter experience, the vision of an open road into the future with the vision of sure dangers and possible defeats inseparable from the risks of openness" (Suvin 215). It is therefore no surprise that Lem has coined the term "optessimist" (found in The Futurological Congress), which is someone who can derive a positive future from a miserable present.
Such an attitude is very close to the archaic mentality Eliade describes, especially as it retains its death-regeneration aspect. That Eastern Europe (destroyed and reborn time and again) still reflects this mentality more visibly in its populace, and subsequently more often in Lem's novels, than anywhere else in Europe should therefore not be surprising. Lem's writing, then, not only "subverts the ‘comic inferno' approach of most American SF and the deterministic utopianism of most Soviet SF, using the strengths of both" (Suvin 215), but also comes closest to the original nature of the archaic Utopia, with all that it implies and claims, and thus brings us virtually full circle, back to the beginning of Utopia's literary history.
THE OFFICIAL UTOPIA OF BRAVE NEW WORLD
The first task to be accomplished in my examination of Huxley's Brave New World is to establish that it is an official Utopia. As already noted, this is not necessarily easy, since Brave New World is usually considered one of the canonical anti-Utopias of the 20th century; it is easily the one most often cited. In Manuel's Utopias and Utopian Thought, there are eight listings in the index for Huxley's novel; for Zamyatin's We and Orwell's 1984, there is a combined total of only eight listings. In Kateb's Utopia and Its Enemies, the proportion is less even, with twelve listings for Huxley's novel, and only three for Zamyatin's and Orwell's combined. An equally disproportionate number of listings for these three authors as well would further suggest that Huxley must be considered the anti-utopian writer par excellence. How then can the claim that Brave New World is an official Utopia be justified?
I have already noted that Huxley went on to write a full-blown Utopia, Island. As a literary about-face at least as dramatic as Wells' noted in the last chapter, this fact is still not enough of itself to prove that the Brave New World is Utopia, but it certainly justifies reconsideration of the work. Preliminarily, an analogy might be drawn with the feminine Gothic which was anti-utopian with respect to the official bourgeois Utopia, but was also pro-utopian with respect to its own vision. Even so, it is not possible to deny that Brave New World is anti-utopian with respect to the Socialist Utopia; this is most readily apparent in Huxley's facetious use of names (e.g., Polly Trotsky, Herbert Bakunin, Bernard Marx, Lenina Crowne). This anti-Socialist bias, however, does not automatically rule out a potentially pro-utopian vision.
Broadly speaking, three interrelated projects may be discerned in Brave New World: an anti-Socialist satire, a sociomoral broadside against hedonism, and Huxley's first, conflicted attempt to discover or realize Utopia. The first two projects represent a continuation of Huxley's writings in the niche he had established for himself in British literature in the first third of the 20th century, most notably in Point Counterpoint; he was one of the cynical young men, nastily recording human social foibles (typically the gross errors of the ancestors and their puerile epigones), from under a mantle of ostensible moral outrage. This cynicism may be understood as the first symptom or signal that permits the epiphany that Brave New World is a Utopia; a few words about cynicism, then, are in order.
Cynicism is often a reaction to wounded idealism; consequently, the more intense the originating idealism, the more thoroughgoing the resultant cynicism. Moreover, such cynicism often begins to encrust during adolescence--that time of almost infinite hopes and dreams; such adolescent idealism, brutally confronted and crushed by the disappointments of (often love) life, retreats in the name of self-protection, and adopts the mask of jaded indifference and derisive cynicism. The buried idealism, however, is not always completely extinguished; sometimes it reasserts itself or reappears in old age, when there is either nothing more to lose or else when one has accumulated enough security, courage or inner strength to no longer be debilitated by the effects of disappointment.
One of the major disadvantages of cynicism, however, is that if the idealism once again begins to "seep out," if fatigue or carelessness lets slip the reins tightly constricting one's idealistic impulses, then the cynic will most probably be ill-equipped to deal with it. It is, of course, quite possible to learn how to handle idealistic hopes without being emotionally crushed by the threat or actuality of disappointment, but not if one has ruthlessly buried idealism in cynicism for years; or, rather, even the cynic can learn, but the progress will be that much delayed by years of self-repression. Owing to this lack of experience, when idealism does begin to reappear in the cynic, this can often lead to dramatic, even ridiculous, changes in the cynic's outlook.
Huxley's literary career begins with Symbolist poetry and ends with Utopia; in the interim, his writings are marked by virulent sarcasm and cynicism. Brave New World may well be a pivot point between the exaggerated cynicism of Huxley's earlier writings and the exaggerated mystical idealism of his later writings, and thus provides some justification for re-viewing the apparent satire of Brave New World in a context of hidden or suppressed and wounded idealism. To do so, however, only strengthens the basis of the assertion that Huxley's novel presents a Utopia; it does not yet provide a demonstration that this is so.
In a lengthy Foreword written for the re-issue of Brave New World in 1946, hints of a surfacing utopian impulse may be discerned. Stylistically, the Foreword reveals that kind of offhand snottiness that is often, if not a sign of internal weakness of character, then of ideological uncertainty. Huxley begins, for example, with a maxim from the moralists to the effect that chronic remorse is bad; dutifully following the advice of wisdom, then, he acknowledges the defects and merits of his book, and sees this as a justification for not bothering to write it again correctly; "And so, resisting the temptation to wallow in artistic remorse, I prefer to leave both well and ill alone and to think about something else" (BNW viii).
This might be all right, except that Huxley does go on to rewrite his book, in Borgesian fashion, by writing about its revision. Thus, having characterized the Savage's narrative choices at the end of the book as between "insanity" or "lunacy," Huxley proposes a third option, "sanity"; in this community of sanity, "economics would be decentralist and Henry-Georgian, politics Kropotkinesque co-operative" (ix).
What is truly depressing about this passage is its ridiculous specificity, insofar as Henry-Georgian economics and Kropotkinesque politics are simply two more of the endless litany of economic and political isms that are by far one of the most tedious features of the official Utopia; one might just as productively propose a potlatch economy and Klingon politics. It has probably been done. The passage, in any case, provides an example that Huxley at least had given some thought to the basis for a Utopia. In Brave New World Revisited, published in 1958, this possibility of sanity has vanished. Instead, Huxley attempts to demonstrate the veracity of the prophecies he made in Brave New World, in a tone common to the diatribe.
"Overpopulation" and "overconsumption" are the two most excoriated themes of Brave New World Revisited, and it is not difficult to discern behind this the prophet's or arch-moralist's aversion to sex and indulgence; themes that are equally, if less stridently, lambasted in Brave New World. It is, therefore, not wholly inappropriate to assume that a similar kind of mystical "aversion to the flesh" is at work in Huxley's Utopia.
Northrop Frye remarks that "[u]topian satire sometimes introduces celibate groups of fanatics by way of parody, as in 1984 and in Huxley's Ape and Essence" ("Varieties" 35), but it is difficult to sense parody here, and certainly not in Brave New World (where the Savage is almost the lone celibate fanatic in a world of nymphomania and satyriasis). Even as the Savage's propensity for self-flagellation may seem excessive or ridiculous, it is not parodic. In his Foreword, Huxley notes that at the close of the novel the Savage:
is made to retreat from sanity; his native Penitente-ism reasserts its authority and he ends in maniacal self-torture and despairing suicide. "And so they died miserably ever after"--much to the reassurance of the amused, Pyrrhonic aesthete who was the author of the fable (viii).
The mocking tone here is directed more toward Huxley than toward his hero, the Savage, because for better or for worse the Savage is in fact one of the heroes of Brave New World (along with Helmholtz Watson). This may be seen in that one of the conceits of the novel is that the Savage has been partly socialized by an errant copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare that has found its way to the Reservation where the Savage (John) has grown up. Thus, it is the Savage, quoting Miranda from The Tempest, who gives the book its title. More significantly, in trying to come to terms with his mother's promiscuity on the Reservation, the Savage has recourse to the Bard more than once. For example:
Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty... (qtd. in BNW 133).
The attitude toward sex expressed here reaches it climax when the Savage's self-flagellation turns outward into assault. Having been vacillating between Romeo and Juliet and Othello with respect to his sexually promiscuous love interest (Lenina Crowne), the Savage finally flees both her and her culturally carnal Utopia and delights in scourging himself with a whip. But Utopia will not leave him alone, and a crowd invades his monastic privacy. Lenina, too, finally shows up and the Savage promptly attacks her; first with Shakespearean words ("strumpet", "fitchew", "fry, lechery, fry"), and then with the whip he uses on himself:
Drawn by the fascination of the horror of pain and, from within, impelled by that habit of cooperation, that desire for unanimity and atonement, which their conditioning had so ineradicably implanted in them, [the crowd] began to mime the frenzy of [John's] gestures, striking at one another as the Savage struck at his own rebellious flesh, or at that plump incarnation of turpitude writhing in the heather at his feet (266).
It is apparently guilt for this act that prompts the Savage's suicide.
Again, this is not parody, but rather a romanticization of the domestic violence Ellis examines; a romanticization that can indeed be traced back to, and hence "dignified" by, William Shakespeare, and not only in its most complete incarnation in Othello. The Savage's horror and guilt are no more parodic than Othello's. Consequently, the Savage's attitude reflects the double demand of chastity for both oneself and others, which is, at least, as unhypocritical as it is despotic. Moreover, that the Savage's chastity leads to "bizarre habits" (in this case, self-mortification) is neither surprising, nor historically unattested. Quite before Freud observed the effects of sexual repression, the Marquis de Sade, with his characteristic bluntness, observed as much as well:
Juliette finds it quite a challenge to corrupt a pious Spaniard, but she has little difficulty once she has placed three young boys in his way. "Man is weak," she comments. "The pious are weaker than most, especially when you offer them boys. Seldom sufficiently stressed, often not even realized, there exists a powerful analogy between believers in God and buggers" (Juliette 630 qtd. in Moore 89).
Certainly revelations of late out of the Catholic clergy would seem to vindicate the Marquis, and in prisons, it is tacitly assumed (with justification) that many inmate churchgoers are often sex offenders, especially child molesters. As such, the Savage's grimly serious Penitente-ism, and the milder but still sarcastic scorn heaped on the promiscuity of Huxley's Utopia seem to stem from the same source: a religious aversion to the Flesh. It might also therefore not be so surprising to discover that there is what some might term "child pornography" in Brave New World. Chapter III begins, "outside, in the garden, it was playtime. Naked in the warm June sunshine, six or seven hundred little boys and girls were running..." (29). Of course, mere nakedness would not constitute pornography, but the following would:
In a little grassy bay between tall clumps of Mediterranean heather, two children, a little boy of about seven and a little girl who might have been a year older, were playing, very gravely and with all the focussed attention of scientists intent on a labour of discovery, a rudimentary sexual game (30).
Perhaps there is nothing prurient here, but Hollywood will never film Brave New World with the original of this scene in it. Huxley's intent, of course, appears to be satirical, insofar as he inverts the conventional sentimentalization of children (as sexless) to illuminate the depravity of his Utopia, but there are other problematic features of this chapter, to which I will return below.
Huxley's contention that he gives his Savage only two options (insanity and lunacy) is simply false, since the Savage somehow escapes from Utopia and installs himself, after some scourging, in the rather transparent symbol of a monastic lighthouse. In this Utopia beyond Utopia, the Savage settles in to make his life, nettled occasionally by his lapses into desiring civilization's comforts, or becoming too overappreciative of the natural beauty around him, or forgetting his dead mother: "poor Linda, and his own murderous unkindness to her, and those loathsome twins, swarming like lice across the mystery of her death, insulting, with their presence, not merely his own grief and repentance, but the very gods themselves" (254-5).
One might detect a note of jocosity here ("the very gods themselves"), but it is far less pronounced, and less flatly sarcastic, than elsewhere in the novel; the normal glaze of cynicism seems to have become almost transparent, such that we may be very close to the true Utopia in Huxley's novel. But there is yet another, even less visible, Utopia in Brave New World. After an abortive revolution involving the Savage, Helmholtz Watson and Bernard Marx, the insurgent triumvirate is brought before Mustapha Mond, one of the ten World-Controllers. As punishment, Bernard and Helmholtz will be sent to the island of their choice, where they will, as Mond notes,
meet the most interesting set of men and women to be found anywhere in the world. All the people who, for one reason or another, have got too self-consciously individual to fit into community-life. All the people who aren't satisfied with orthodoxy, who've got independent ideas of their own. Every one, in a word, who's any one" (233).
Mond does not permit the Savage to go as well, since he is interested in the social experiment of the Savage remaining in Utopia. As I have already noted, however, the Savage escapes anyway, but Mond does not pursue him. Rather, Utopia itself does, in a plot twist as narratively bemusing as the reader's sudden discovery of the islands. Such islands totally destroy the "logic" of Huxley's anti-utopian critique; if discontents can go to the island of their choice, then we are certainly not dealing with a vicious totalitarian State; compare Orwell's 1984 for a properly totalitarian denouement. Similarly, if the Savage is supposed to remain behind for the sake of a social experiment, why doesn't Mond have him retrieved? That is, what is the narrative justification for Mond's statement, if there is no follow-through in the text? It begins to seem gratuitous. Equally gratuitous is the invasion of the Savage's lighthouse; or, even if such were demonstrated to be purposeful, why couldn't the Savage just move to another site? Is this really just "‘And so they died miserably ever after'--much to the reassurance of the amused, Pyrrhonic aesthete who was the author of the fable" (viii)? Why reassurance? Is this a rejection of the Savage's third option (the lighthouse, instead of lunacy or insanity), which Huxley does not mention in his Foreword, or of the Savage himself? Or of both, as a disavowal of the savage ideal and the idealized savage. Perhaps the Savage may be seen as a figure marked by the dark eros of lust-repulsion, conflicted desire; his rejection, then, points to a triumph of the Mind-Spirit (pneuma) over the Flesh, as informed by an ascetic Utopia that is only dimly discernible in the novel.
Why this should be, as well as other preliminary answers to the questions posed above, may be explored with more precision and detail by examining the monologic authorial treatment that Huxley employs everywhere throughout his book.
Monologism in Brave New World
One of the hallmarks of the official Utopia is its predominance of monologism, expressed through an inordinate specificity and attention to detail (especially in sexual matters), by guided tours, benevolent despots, and so forth. Brave New World reflects all of these monologic features: in the guided tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre that opens the novel, in the ritualized nature of sexual relations (including mandates on promiscuity and taboos against long-term relationships), in the mandates on soma and sports consumption, in the benevolent despot figure of the World-Controller Mustapha Mond, and so forth. (Actually Mond is more avuncular than paternal; again, compare him to Orwell's arch-sadist O'Brien in 1984 to sense this all the more clearly).
One might say that Huxley is simply using the conventions of the official Utopia to satirize it, but the monologism is not limited to the level of representation in Brave New World. In fact, I have only briefly summarized these features of the novel as indicating its official nature for two reasons. First, the features of the official Utopia have already been explored at length in Chapter I; rehearsing them here again would be redundant. Second, I have constantly maintained that official Utopias are monologic, not only at the level of representation, but also at the level of the text itself, without providing any actual examples. With Brave New World at hand, examples may now readily be provided.
The opening three chapters provide a view of "family life" in the Brave New World. This includes non-sexual reproduction and gestation in a "bottle", the (as many as 96) identical siblings of a "Bokanovsky group," the electric and audio shocks used for conditioning of infants, the inculcation of social values into slightly older children via sleep-teaching ("hypnopaedia"), and the idyll of erotic playtime. Mustapha Mond then enters the setting of this idyll, and delivers a lecture to a group of future Hatchery workers on the nature of family life in the old days:
Home, home--a few small rooms, stiflingly over-inhabited by a man, by a periodically teeming woman, by a rabble of boys and girls of all ages. No air, no space; an understerilized prison; darkness, disease, and smells....
And home was as squalid psychically as physically. Psychically, it was a rabbit hole, a midden, hot with the frictions of tightly packed life, reeking with emotion. What suffocating intimacies, what dangerous, insane, obscene relationships between the members of the family group! Maniacally, the mother brooded over her children (her children)...brooded over them like a cat over its kittens; but a cat that could talk, a cat that could say, "My baby, my baby," over and over again. "My baby, and oh, oh, at my breast, the little hands, the hunger, and that unspeakable agonizing pleasure! Till at last my baby sleeps, my baby sleeps with a bubble of white milk at the corner of his mouth. My little baby sleeps..."
"Yes," said Mustapha Mond, nodding his head, "you may well shudder" (36-7).
The nature of family life in the old days is later dramatized by Huxley in more detail in the biographical childhood of the Savage.
These characterizations of family life (in the Brave New World, on the Reservation, and in Mond's lecture) are presented wholly independently of one another; that is, they exist "alongside" one another in the text without there being any explicit, or possibly even necessary, links between them. This kind of sheer juxtaposition is sometimes considered a touchstone for refinement in literature, but I doubt the validity of such a critical stance. Countless objects in the world are juxtaposed to one another in this way purely by accident, without any artistry being involved. To simply bring images together in a text is to leave it to the reader to supply the significance of the paired or grouped images. The apparent authorial largesse of this seems rather to mask an authorial cowardice, insofar as he or she refuses to take a stance vis-à-vis the joined images.
The issue here seems to involve a point Aileen Kelly notes, in her excellent and summary Introduction to Isaiah Berlin's collected Essays in Russian Thinkers, which goes beyond simple authorial cowardice; the Russian intelligentsia had a "habit of taking ideas and concepts to their most extreme, even absurd, conclusions: to stop before the extreme consequences of one's reasoning was seen as a sign of moral cowardice, insufficient commitment to the truth" (xvii). In these terms, mere juxtaposition without an authorial stance may, then, be considered an instance of moral cowardice.
Of course, sheer juxtaposition is usually not the only reason for claiming literary refinement; rather, it is the author's selectivity, not the juxtaposition itself, that makes for greatness. In Huxley, the extremity of his contrasts obviously belies an intention of selectiveness, but even so, a collection of stones, selected for their contrast, and nicely arranged does not advance beyond the level of craft, however well-executed. Art, as its meaning in alchemy reveals, is a combination of items that form another item altogether; it reflects an interanimation and fusion of elements. If an author merely presents craftily selected images in juxtaposition, then the effect may be aesthetic, but it is the reader who becomes the artist, who provides the artful combination of images that realizes their joined significance. Such art, as combination, fusion, interanimation and so forth, obviously resembles dialogue; simple juxtaposition, then, resembles the non-communication of two mutually deaf monologues.
It might be thought that I am overstating matters with regard to Brave New World, but the lack of dialogue between images is even more strongly apparent between characters. Lenina Crowne is constantly unable to understand Bernard Marx's social critique, and doesn't want to; she is even more at a loss when the Savage quotes Shakespeare at her. Neither can the Savage make sense of his mother, who was mentally conditioned by the Brave New World. Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson meet from time to time in an atmosphere of revolutionary conspiracy (owing to their shared alienation from society), but their conversations are usually transcriptions of failures to communicate. Even Helmholtz Watson (a poet and Propaganda Engineer) finally alienates himself from the Savage, by finding a serious scene in Romeo and Juliet hilarious:
He had managed, with a heroic effort, to hold down the mounting pressure of his hilarity; but "sweet mother" (in the Savage's tremulous tone of anguish) and the reference to Tybalt lying dead, but evidently uncremated and wasting his phosphorous on a dim monument, were too much for him. He laughed and laughed till the tears streamed down his face...
"And yet," said Helmholtz when, having recovered breath enough to apologize, he had mollified the Savage into listening to his explanations... (188).
Why Helmholtz finds this so funny ("mother" is a wildly lewd term in the Brave New World, which has also adopted the pragmatic policy of cremating all bodies for phosphorous reclamation) is less significant than the obviously crossed paths of non-communication here; what the Savage is reading, and what Helmholtz is hearing, are totally different from one another. But note also that even the minimally dialogic exchange of "I'm sorry" and "I accept" has been elided; replaced by, "‘And yet,' said Helmholtz when...he had mollified the Savage." Later in the same scene, Huxley seems to go out of his way to dramatize this lack of communication; Helmholtz says, "And who's going to get excited about a boy having a girl or not having her?' (The Savage winced; but Helmholtz who was staring pensively at the floor, saw nothing.)" (188).
The structure of this non-dialogue, then, is dialectic: point, counterpoint, as in a debate. Several of Huxley's titles in fact imply this kind of dialectic contrast: Ape and Essence, The Genius and the Goddess, Heaven and Hell, Themes and Variations, Ends and Means, Texts and Pretexts, and, of course, Point Counterpoint. What Bakhtin notes about dialectics would be pertinent to note at this point:
Dialogue and dialectics. Take a dialogue and remove the voices (the partitioning of voices), remove the intonations (emotional and individualizing ones), carve out abstract concepts and judgments from living words and responses, cram everything into one abstract consciousness--and that's how you get dialectics (Speech 147).
That dialectics, then, are ruthlessly monologic probably goes without saying.
The genre of the speech and the lecture are, of course, almost always monologic, and there are several examples of such in Brave New World: the Director of Hatcheries' spiel 3during the guided tour, Mond's own speech to the same tour group already cited, and the Savage's rebellious exhortation to a group of soma-craving Deltas. From a textual standpoint, the Savage's is the least interesting, but the first two warrant examination. Mond's lecture, for instance, is split up into fragments interlarded into other scenic fragments. Huxley's intent by this would seem to be the manifold opportunities for juxtaposed contrasts and irony. Mond remarks:
"The discoveries of Pfitzner and Kawaguchi were at last made use of. An intensive propaganda against viviparous reproduction..."
"Perfect!" cried Fanny enthusiastically. She could never resist Lenina's charm for long. "And what a perfectly sweet Malthusian belt!" (51).
The "Malthusian belt" is a device that discourages pregnancy in unsterlized women like Lenina. Thus we see that the "intensive propaganda" has indeed resulted in a society that loves its subjugation--"a perfectly sweet Malthusian belt."
If, as Darko Suvin suggests, one definition of "wit" is "shifting between different cognitive levels" (215), then Huxley is clearly demonstrating wit here, but it is rather of a purely formal nature; that is, the irony of contrasts tends not to be terribly witty throughout. In fact, the fragmentation seems almost gratuitous, especially toward the end where the juxtapositions become almost one-liners. Of course, this also leads to a readerly acceleration that provides a kind of narrative excitement, and which culminates well in a sudden, 15-line speech by "his fordship" (Mond) that is interrupted by two children. The Director of Hatcheries (the ‘D.H.C.') springs into action:
"Go away, little girl," shouted the D.H.C. angrily. "Go away, little boy! Can't you see that his fordship's busy? Go and do your erotic play somewhere else."
"Suffer little children," said the Controller.
Slowly, majestically, with a faint humming of machinery, the conveyors moved forward, thirty-three centimetres an hour. In the red darkness glinted innumerable rubies (56).
Since the "innumerable rubies" are the eyes of the future inhabitants of the Brave New World, the contrast of suffering children and these fetuses in glass is probably the most effective one in the chapter. But again, the monologism of this must be emphasized; whatever link exists between these two images must be provided by the reader; there is no explicit, and possibly not even a necessary link between the two.
It might be thought that I am being deliberately perverse in my insistence on an absence of links between the above images. In another paper, "Discourse in the Modern Russian Novel," I drew attention to the intense parallelism of imagery in the opening section of Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago; a parallelism that unmistakably linked the scene's several, carefully chosen symbols. Such parallelism is weak at best in Brave New World. For one thing the "innumerable rubies" (56) noted above repeat an image (of fetuses grown in glass wombs and subjected to shaking, alcohol poisoning, disease and oxygen deprivation) from the middle of Chapter I (9). The connection here (between fetuses and suffering children) can of course be established; it seems, however, to be as distant as the images are separated in the text, and may be felt, at best only very indirectly. For another, Huxley has already shown us infant torture and childhood brainwashing; scenes that much more palpably suggest links with suffering children than the "innumerable rubies." As it is, the images as Huxley has presented them to us seem to suggest more that simple conception is the root of suffering children; that simply being brought into the world is egregious of itself. Such an idea, of course, could be applied not only to Huxley's Utopia, but to any culture and as such undermines what seems to be the satiric intent of juxtaposing the images in the first place. (It should also be noted in passing that by dropping "the" from Christ's "suffer the little children," Mond's statement takes on more ominousness, and seems almost like a curse; that he wants the children to suffer. But this does not help to any more plausibly establish a necessary link between the images.)
In the lecture by the Director of Hatcheries, a second voice (Henry Foster's) enters, but almost completely without a tittle of dialogue. There is an almost total consonance of idea between the two men that, at one point, leads the Director's lecture to fragment into a kind of schizophrenic monologue:
"Eighty-eight cubic metres of card-index," said Mr. Foster with relish, as they entered.
"Containing all the relevant information," added the Director.
"Brought up to date every morning."
"And coordinated every afternoon."
"On the basis of which they make their calculations."
"So many individuals, of such and such a quality," said Mr. Foster.
"Distributed in such and such quantities."
"The optimum Decanting Rate at any given moment."
"Unforeseen wastages promptly made good."
"Promptly," repeated Mr. Foster. "If you knew the amount of overtime I had to put in after the last Japanese earthquake!" He laughed goodhumouredly and shook his head.
"The Predestinators send in their figures to the Fertilizers."
"Who give them the embryos they ask for."
"And the bottles come in here to be predestined in detail."
"After which they are sent down to the Embryo Store."
"Where we now proceed ourselves" (8-9).
The jauntiness of this passage is unmistakable, and its use of this kind of verbal switching goes back in comic writing at least to Classical Greece, where characters in drama bantered in antiphonal hemistiches, but its monologic nature is equally obvious, almost to the point of exaggeration. Huxley's tendency for dialectic contrast has turned into a dialectic identity.
Monologism is also evident at the level of character in Brave New World, most obviously in the treatment of characters as types, rather than personalities. This is not, of course, strictly speaking a criticism, since character types are the stock-in-trade of social satire. Moreover, Bakhtin notes that in the "novel of ordeal" (or Prüfungsroman) a continuous identity of character is a prerequisite for a happy ending; "The hammer of events shatters nothing and forges nothing--it merely tries the durability of an already finished product" (The Dialogic Imagination 107). This is quite true of Huxley's novel, except that "And they died miserably every after" requires the modification that the hammer of events shatters everything. This does not imply any character development, of course; the analysis of Bernard's character early in the novel (64-5) quite aptly foreshadows his grotesquely pathetic collapse in the latter half of the novel, following his return to Utopia with the Savage. The Savage undergoes a similar ordeal upon his arrival in Utopia, and ends with a failure as spectacular (his suicide) as Bernard's, but in an entirely different register--grotesquely "tragic," rather than pathetic.
This parallel of ordeal is matched by others as well, such that one can describe the Savage as Huxley's dialectic image of Bernard; the dialectic, however, is again one of "identity" (as seen in the Director of Hatcheries and Mr. Foster), rather than "contrast." Thus, the Savage's violence, passion and "chivalry" have their precedents in Bernard, though his grounding in Shakespeare gives him a stronger base to work from; in neither case are they strong enough to avoid disaster. That the Savage's past is radically different from Bernard's does not invalidate the claim that they are, in effect, the same character; literary types do not, properly speaking, have pasts; biography only adds color, not substance. (Certain actions of the Savage, of course, are alien to Bernard, such as the Savage's grief over the death of his mother, but the type-parallels between the two character nevertheless remain very close.)
Camille Paglia has coined the phrase "allegorical repletion" to explain such doubling (for example, in Rossetti's The Bower Meadow and Astarte Syriaca, where the facial features of the various figures are identical); "[t]he term describes a redundant proliferation of homologous identities in a matrix of sexual ambiguity" (Sexual Personae 157). She also reintroduces into critical usage the Greek word, "apotropaion," as "a charm to ward off evil spirits" (49). As such, the doubling of the Bernard-Savage image may be interpreted as an allegorically replete apotropaion, with the ambiguity (or ambivalence) being that dark Eros of lust-repulsion (as an aversion to the flesh) that manifests not only in the exaggerated chivalry-profligacy of Bernard and the chivalry-violence of the Savage (toward himself and Lenina), but perhaps also in the erotic play of the naked children. This, because children, precisely as symbols of sexlessness, may serve as a kind of apotropaic safe haven for those troubled by the lures of the flesh; that such sometimes proves insufficient, that the "ward" (the pun is intentional) sometimes becomes the object of a libidinal cathexis, is only too familiar. Allegorical repletion, moreover, may also be seen in both the scores and scores of identical individuals in Bokanovsky groups, and in the dialectic identity of the Director of Hatcheries and Mr. Foster's lecture. Insofar as these features of Brave New World each multiply a single "word," so to speak, they are all almost literally monologic.
Lenina and Linda (the Savage's mother) present a similar dialectic identity: both are upper-caste nymphomaniacs, both are literally whipped (by the Savage and the women of the Reservation, respectively) for being so, both have physical deformities, both constantly parrot the hypnopaedic homilies they were "taught" as children, and both are the object of love for the Bernard-Savage dyad. Linda (similar to the Savage with respect to Bernard) presents a more extreme "version" than Lenina; the physical description of her and her surroundings (119-20) is far more grotesque than the first description of Lenina; "One could see that, for all the lupus and the purple eyes, she was uncommonly pretty" (15). Linda (again much more obviously than Lenina, but the parallel exists) represents what Northrop Frye has termed a "suppliant":
the character, often female, who presents a picture of unmitigated helplessness and destitution. Such a figure is pathetic, and pathos, though it seems a gentler and more relaxed mood than tragedy, is even more terrifying. Its basis is the exclusion of an individual from a group, hence it attacks the deepest fear in ourselves that we possess--a fear much deeper than the relatively cosy and sociable bogey of hell. In the figure of the suppliant pity and terror are brought to the highest possible pitch of intensity, and the awful consequences of rejecting the suppliant for all concerned is a central theme of Greek tragedy. Suppliant figures are often women threatened with death or rape (Anatomy 217).
Linda, presumed lost during her tour long ago of the Reservation and consequently left behind by her lover (the Director of Hatcheries as it turns out), fully accords with Frye's description. Her mental conditioning (as a member of the second, Beta, caste) has left her woefully unprepared for "primitive" life; she is beaten, driven to alcoholism, and lives in rags and garbage on the outskirts of the village because she is deemed a pariah and whore. Once she returns to Utopia, she puts herself on such an extreme soma-diet that she is (in perhaps one of the few acts of mercy in Brave New World) dead by the novel's end. But can her situation and "fate" be blamed on Utopia? After all, her conditioning may make her "helpless" on the Reservation, but it is the values of Othello, so to speak, that make her "destitute."
If Huxley is trying to satirize the atrocity of mental conditioning in the Brave New World, by using an image that argues, in effect, "See what happens when a Beta is confronted with ‘real-life,'" then he has failed as miserably as Bernard or the Savage. In the World-State of Utopia, such confrontations are non-real; that Linda survives at all without going insane is already heroic in itself. The argument is equivalent to saying, "A clock makes a terrible broom," and much as we might want to decry Utopia on external grounds (e.g., that genetic disfigurement and conditioning are moral evils), within the context of Utopia, the overwhelming majority of Huxley's inhabitants are "happy"; that they have been conditioned to be that way is so much the better since, in terms of ensuring their happiness, the Brave New World achieves what our Constitution can only promise as a "pursuit." As the Director of Hatcheries puts it; "‘[T]hat is the secret of happiness and virtue--liking what you've got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny'" (15).
Saying so may seem perverse, but what Brave New World appears to counterpropose (the Savage ideal) is even more perverse. As Kateb remarks, in this discussion of pain and pleasure; "At times it seems that the antiutopians favor pain as men would favor it who never felt very much of it and think it may be good for themselves and surely could not be too bad for others" (Utopia 126). This preference for physical pain over pleasure and an aversion to the flesh obviously go hand in hand; worse, that exponents of pain think that it "surely could not be too bad for others" is a very true and ominous concomitant. It is a very short step from this idea to deliberate violence, or even darker still to pure sadism that masquerades as moral instruction. How many wives have been thrashed by domestic sadists to "teach her a lesson" in fidelity? How many teachers had erections as they paddled the naked buttocks of their pupils? How often was something other than atonement going through the minds of abbots or priests as they witnessed the physical penance of their monks? Kateb alternatively offers that "at other times, the antiutopians speak as men who have seen or had so much pain that they have become incapable of imagining that there could come a time when pain--at least in its more brutalizing forms--could cease to be" (126-7). This dovetails perfectly with the syndrome of cynicism I detailed above.
Linda's treatment in the novel, then, may be directly read in light of this cynicism and sadism. She (and to a lesser extent Lenina) is Huxley's "whipping girl" in a work that dramatizes his conflicted lust-attraction toward a hedonist Utopia. Outside of such a view, Linda's debasement is "logically" incoherent and structurally unnecessary. She could, for example, have been rescued years ago by other tourists (to the detriment of the plot of course); she could simply have died. Her own reason for not trying to leave the Reservation was that the shame of being a mother prevented her from going to the Reservation's inspector (120); all the same, she could have abandoned, if not killed, her son. Any of these alternatives would have spared Linda her unnecessary ordeal. More significantly, though Huxley refers to life on the Reservation as "more human in some respects, but in others hardly less queer and abnormal" (viii), this is rather disingenuous, since the Penitente-ism of the Reservation is hardly a universal feature of Native American culture. Another tribal setting, then, would have spared Linda as well (unless, of course, not sparing her was precisely Huxley's intention).
At the "obvious" level of Brave New World, then, there are two interrelated Utopias: the erotopia of the Brave New World, punished in the figures of Lenina and Linda, and the thanatopia of the Reservation, championed by Bernard and the Savage. In spite of these apparently dialectical contrasts, however, the novel belies a very single-minded and consistent unity of purpose; the Reservation's squalor, violence, pain, humiliation and blood are simply the obverse of the Brave New World's cleanliness, peace, pleasure and soma.
So far, I have had recourse to a perhaps dubious psychologism by reading behind the surface of Brave New World and imputing various impulses to Huxley himself. Huxley may, in fact, have been wholly aloof to the conflict his juxtaposed images suggest, but the ironies of the text make determining whether this is either a defensive covering or simply cynicism extremely difficult. Huxley's rigorous partitioning of images, their undialogic nature (for which the reader must provide the significance) and the monologic repetition of images might have been a way for him to avoid an engagement in the conflict he presents, or it might just be an artistic conceit. (Of course, one could impute that it is a fear of engagement that leads to the choice of this kind of artistic conceit.)
It is possible to use the hermeneutic of "idealism behind cynicism" and a "fear of engagement" only to a certain point of diminishing returns. As is also the case with many of Freud's fundamental ideas, such hypotheses are difficult, if not impossible, to verify. That Huxley's ironic stance leaves it to the reader and the critic to draw conclusions about the novel (and abrogates Huxley's right, though not his ability, to object to such conclusions), still does not justify being satisfied with the "psychoanalysis" of the foregoing. Terry Eagleton, in Literary Theory: An Introduction, has noted that the "problems of literary value and pleasure would seem to lie somewhere at the juncture of psychoanalysis, linguistics and ideology, and little work has been done here as yet" (192). If "linguistics and ideology" are understood in their Bakhtinian sense as "metalinguistics and discourse," then the following may represent a start.
Metalinguistics and Discourse in Brave New World
Huxley's novel opens:
A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.
The enormous room on the ground floor faced towards the north. Cold for all the summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows, hungrily seeking some draped lay figure, some pallid shape of academic goose-flesh, but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory. Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in a long recession down the work tables (1).
In the very first sentence, there is the surreal disjunction of the "squat building of only thirty-four stories." This disjunction, however, is not supported by the rest of the paragraph, which is instrumental in telling us that we are not in the present world, but rather in the World-State (presumably) of the future, well-characterized by its motto.
With the second paragraph, with its morgue-like description of cold (in spite of the "tropical heat of the room"), corpse-colored rubber, the frozen, dead "ghost" of the light, and the clinical gleam of glass, nickel and bleak porcelain, Huxley gets down to business. Into this atmosphere of autopsy (the "Fertilizing Room" as it turns out, that substitutes for the intimacy of sexual intercourse and reproduction in the Brave New World), Huxley inserts images of food: the hungry light, the "goose" of pallid goose-flesh, and of course the buttery microscope tubes drenched "streak after luscious streak" in light.
There are at least three ways of reading this paragraph.
As a surrogate for reproduction, this Fertilizing Room solves the problem of sexual intercourse that arises out of an aversion to the flesh. It is not a complete solution, insofar as even clinical distance cannot wholly deny what is going on in this tropical morgue; hence, the "disgusting" or "repulsive" combining of the morgue ("corpse-coloured rubber" and "goose-flesh") and the banquet (butter and goose as food) to heighten the nausea-potential of the scene.
It should also be added that the paragraph is either confused, or confusing (which may be nothing more than another surreal disjunction that underlines the unnatural inversions the Brave New World espouses and reflects, but might also signify the confusion of conflict arising from an aversion to the flesh, whether Huxley's or purely thematic). For example, since "goose-flesh" usually occurs in cold, not "tropical heat," the actual temperature of the room is difficult to decide at first. The first word of the second sentence, "Cold", refers to the "harsh thin light" but, because of the intervening phrase ("for all the tropical heat of the room itself"), "Cold" seems to refer to the room. "Wintriness responded to wintriness" is similarly unclear at first; since there are both the "tropical heat" of the room and "all the summer beyond the panes," that the two wintrinesses refer to the "harsh thin light" and the clinical coldness of the laboratory is not readily apparent at first.
Then comes the butter, no less than "luscious." Doubtless, certain Freudian critics would see row upon row of glistening phalluses in the butter-drenched microscope tubes and, in this case, in the Fertilizing Room, the assertion would at least seem apropos; Paglia might additionally point out that the sheer number of tubes (300, in fact) makes for a vivid example of allegorical repletion. Whether these tubes should be taken as phallic or not, the sudden sensuality of the description, especially the lascivious "luscious," could be interpreted as an outbreak of lust over against its attempted suppression by a clinical coldness, a return of the repressed.
A second, less involved, interpretation would accept the images at face-value, taking the morgue-banquet combination as straightforward satire designed to elicit disgust in the reader. Having thus engendered our nausea without letting us know in advance why we should be disgusted, Huxley then provides a grounding or lightning rod for this nausea by announcing this laboratory is the Fertilizing Room. Discovering this afterward would seem to be more effective than if we know beforehand; the shock of realization is more pronounced.
Of course, for readers not familiar with the premise of the novel, the fact that humans are being reproduced here goes unappreciated, especially as Huxley spuriously tells us that this building is a hatchery. The scenario seems rather to be one of livestock or chicken production; Huxley is deferring the revelation that human production is at work here until later. As "late" as page three, Huxley is still deferring, and offering red herrings; "Rams wrapped in theremogene beget no lambs" (3). The first clue is found on the same page, when the Director of Hatcheries refers to "a bonus amounting to six months' salary" (3) for the surgical extraction of ova "undergone for the good of Society" (3). This rather cryptic statement for the first reader is followed by the first reference to the castes, and soon after by "Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress" (4).
The third interpretation of the second paragraph would draw attention to the ancient and carnivalesque tradition of the funeral feast (a morgue-banquet), and to the linking of death and eating in general. For the "modern" mind, the proximity of eating and food to repulsive things (like corpses) evokes disgust precisely because the older, carnivalesque associations have been forgotten or revalued in negative terms. Under Carnival, the conjunction of butter, goose-flesh, and corpse would already imply the communal triumph and renewing of life (as feasting) over death; that the setting is the Fertilizing Room makes the renewing-regenerating aspect of the image explicit.
There seems to be no reason, however, to believe that Huxley intended these old associations. The entire paragraph is slanted toward nausea, not festiveness. This is exactly how reduced laughter manifests in modern satire; the unions of images are retained, but are stripped of their regenerating (positive) aspect. Consequently, there is an alienation of death and eating that implies a correlate alienation from life as well. The funeral banquet acknowledges death, but triumphs over it through the social immortality of community and life itself, and by the festive, not existentially gloomy, atmosphere of eating and drinking. Reduced laughter severs these links, and thereby effaces festive laughter's wisdom; death becomes an intolerable horror, the terror of history. Of course, festive laughter (cosmic and universal) cannot ever be wholly extinguished, and its images are easy enough to discern once one learns how to recognize them; de-revaluating them back to something of their original nature, however, is more difficult to be persuasive about.
This paragraph does not feature the only repulsive use of food and drink in Brave New World. Discussing how excised ova are preserved after extraction, the Director of Hatcheries "referred to the liquor in which the detached and ripened eggs were kept; and, leading his charges to the work tables, actually showed them how this liquor was drawn off from the test-tubes" (3). The use and repetition of "liquor" here almost reflexively invites the reader to have a glass of ripened and detached ova in saline (with probable gag results), but that again does not efface the fertility of the image, if the pun will be excused. And, after the main course of butter and goose-flesh, apparently washed down with eggnog, Huxley then serves us a "warm bouillon containing free-swimming spermatozoa--at a minimum concentration of one hundred thousand per cubic centimetre" (4). I suspect that the word "warm" lends this description its effectiveness more than the concentrated thickness of the bouillon itself; again, though, the inadvertently positive link here between eating (food) and life-renewal is obvious.
After these moments of divine conception, food and drink imagery ebbs, leaving behind an only physical grossness in phrases like "blood surrogate," but carnivalesque associations still do not become totally obliterated. In the Bottling Room (where fetuses are placed in glass wombs, hence ‘bottled'), the bottles are lined with "flaps of fresh sow's peritoneum ready cut to the proper size [that come] shooting up in little lifts from the Organ Store in the sub-basement" (7-8). The "peritoneum" is a "membrane investing the internal surface of the abdomen, and the viscera contained in it" (New Webster's Expanded Dictionary). And again, like "warm" noted above, the word "fresh" here tends to evoke edibility ("flaps of fresh sow's peritoneum"), though I think the retching of the reader here would be delayed until a dictionary could be found. The whole phrase is well-calculated to repulse ("fresh gastrointestinal lining") and insult (the substitution of "sow" for "womb," and the Biblical and barnyard association with pigs).
In spite of all of this, the peritoneum itself, as literally closely associated with "tripes" (viscera is the Latin for "tripes") has its own set of positive, carnivalesque associations.
The stomach and bowels of cattle, tripe, were carefully cleaned, salted and cooked. Tripe could not be preserved long; they were therefore consumed in great quantities on slaughtering days and cost nothing. Moreover, it was believed that after cleaning, tripe still contained ten percent excrement which was therefore eaten with the rest of the meal....
Tripe, stomach, intestines are the bowels, the belly, the very life of man. But at the same time they represent the swallowing, devouring belly...Further, the belly does not only eat and swallow, it is also eaten, as tripe....[T]ripe is linked with death, with slaughter, murder, since to disembowel is to kill. Finally, it is linked with birth, for the belly generates.
Thus, in the image of tripe life and death, birth, excrement and food are all drawn together and tied in one grotesque knot; this is the center of bodily topography in which the upper and lower stratum penetrate each other (Rabelais 162-3).
As the lining of the intestines and belly, then, the peritoneum is the very shield of life (whether sow's or not) that "holds it all together."
Additionally, Mr. Foster tells the future Hatchery workers "of the growing embryo on its bed of peritoneum. Made them taste the rich blood surrogate on which it fed" (10-1). Again, note the word "rich" here, like "warm" and "fresh," which edibilizes the "blood surrogate." A variation of this occurs on the same page in the "hog's stomach extract" and "fetal foal's liver." The liver, of course, has its own set of ancient associations, not only that it was once the seat of affections, but also that as one of the filters of bodily impurities, it too reflects the same "tainted" quality as tripes when eaten. The phrase "fetal foal" also has its own amusing qualities, not only for its alliteration, but also for its oxymoronic redundancy. Turning a "fetal foal" into an extract, then (to prevent anemia in the growing embryos), is a sort of double infanticide. (I do not need to stress the popular sympathy for fetuses, and if Huxley had used "fetal veal" instead, I would not need to mention the popular sympathy for helpless young animals either).
Of course, with these "fetal foals," we are not yet in the realm of Swift's "Modest Proposal," but we are certainly nearby; close enough that anti-abortionists and equinophiles might be raised to alarm, even if less sensitive humanitarians were not. Swift's proposal, in any case, was primarily economic; de Sade offers a different proposal:
"We'll try some," said Sbrigani; "it is absurd to turn up one's nose at anything...it is no more extraordinary, after all, to eat a human than to eat chicken."
So saying my husband dug his fork into a joint of boy which looked to him especially well prepared (Juliette 585, qtd. in Moore 98).
Moore, in his characteristic way, interprets this theme of child-eating as a "way of internalizing and tasting childhood and the archetypal child" (98); that is, of overcoming the false sentimentalization by which we perceive actual children and our own childishness. True as this may be, one could also more simply note that the child (or foal or calf) and all the more so the fetus, is closer to the original outburst of life energy than any adult; that they reflect the perfection of a renewed Creation. As such, extract of fetal foals, like a "joint of boy" or the related aphrodisiacal tiger penis, is yet another image of regenerating festive laughter, now visible to us only in reduced form.
The remainder of Chapter I is taken up with a tour in the classic utopian style of the human production factory, with a subsequent decline in the concentrated richness of vocabulary and description found in the second paragraph; sarcasm comes to replace the relative subtlety of the opening. An example of this is the repeated phrase "Straight from the horse's mouth" (2), which is used in reference to the slavish attention paid to the Director by his future workers during their tour. The phrase, moreover, may clearly be attributed to the narrator. A more ambiguous example has already been noted: "Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress" (4). The word "progress" here has a doubled intonation that reflects both the effusive enthusiasm of the Director and the scornful irony of the narrator. Such double-accentedness illustrates the interanimation of one discourse (word) by another; by contrast, "Straight from the horse's mouth" is bodily inserted into the Director's discourse. The latter belies only opposition to another's word, rather than the subversion of it indicated in "progress."
Such subversion in Brave New World, however, is invariably of a negating, ironic type, and is not limited by the narrator to the people or powermongers of Utopia. The contrast between the Savage's Shakespearean passion for Lenina and her totally liberated view of sex makes for yet another surreal disjunction that drifts finally into the ridiculous. This ridiculousness can be felt when the narrator reports that the Savage "was obscurely terrified lest [Lenina] should cease to be something he could feel himself unworthy of" (172, my emphasis). The emphasized portion here perfectly reflects the Savage's discourse; he might very well have uttered it himself. Conveyed, however, by the narrator, who, along with the reader, knows that Lenina is already "something the Savage could feel himself unworthy of," the phrase is imbued with the narrator's sense of the Savage's ridiculousness.
Such negations are unremitting and legion in Brave New World. "Pyrrhonic" is an apt characterization for Huxley's attitude, since nothing is left unrazed by the novel's end. Such ironization, as a base of satire, again reflects reduced laughter; a laughter that retains the destructive element of festive laughter's abuse-praise, while eliminating (or remaining unaware of) its regenerating element. What particularly makes this monologic, in spite of the double-accentedness of the text, is that all of the irony proceeds in the same cynical tone. The stridency of this tone, however, drops off considerably in the first three chapters of the book, partly because the interanimation of discourse apparent in "progress" begins to appear on a larger scale. This occurs with the greatest frequency in Chapter I between the narrator and the Director (and the Director's surrogate, Mr. Foster).
Formally, this manifests as an alternation between direct and indirect speech transcription, between actual statements made by the Director and narrated summaries of his statements. For example:
"But, alas," the Director shook his head, "we can't bokanovskify indefinitely."
Ninety-six seemed to be the limit; seventy-two a good average. From the same ovary and with gametes of the same male to manufacture as many batches of identical twins as possible--that was the best (sadly a second best) that they could do (6).
What is obvious in this selection, and it is typical, is that the Director's discourse partially shapes the narrator's; the prose summary reflects the Director's style of speech. This is clearest after the dash, "that was the best (sadly a second best) that they could do," but it would not be an exaggeration to impute the shaping of the narrator's discourse by the Director's throughout the entire passage. An even more striking example occurs when the Director rhetorically asks, "What would be the use of that?" (6), and the narrator answers, "Obviously, no use at all." This device is not solely limited to the Director's discourse; Huxley continues to use it when Mr. Foster takes over the tour.
"Which brings us at last," continued Mr. Foster, "out of the realm of mere slavish imitation of nature into the much more interesting world of human invention."
He rubbed his hands. For of course, they didn't content themselves with merely hatching out embryos; any cow could do that (12).
In Bakhtin's typology of discourses, the above principally reflects parodistic (ironic) discourse, in which "another's discourse is used for conveying aspirations that are hostile to it" (Problems 194). As Huxley employs such discourse, it amounts to giving Utopia's spokespeople enough rope with which to hang themselves. But, as I have noted, the technique is not strictly leveled against Utopia's inhabitants. If I am careful to attempt to keep separate the author and the narrator for the time being, then the universal irony of Huxley's narrator cannot necessarily be ascribed to Huxley as well. Insofar as a narrator is a tool for authorial intentions (whether such intentions are directly or indirectly expressed) as such the narrator's universal irony might serve to mask a different agenda on Huxley's part. For this reason, it might be pertinent to wonder if the irony is really irony.
With "Straight from the horse's mouth," there seems to be an unmistakable example of the narrator's voice, uninvaded by any Utopian's, and discretely set apart in its own sentence. With the other, "invaded" examples above, the assumption of irony seems plausible although, as was shown to be the case with Huxley's juxtaposed images, an explicit or necessary justification for such an assumption may not prove to be so plausible after all. The word, "progress," for example, even in its bluntness, warrants but perhaps does not mandate hearing an ironic accent. Moreover, as Chapter I progresses, the "blatantness" of the second paragraph and "Straight from the horse's mouth" gives way to an increasing sense of this non-mandated irony.
One might assume that Huxley, the "subtle" British wit, dispenses with obviousness as he advances, because the tone has already been set, and that further obviousness would become artistically grotesque. On the other hand, a decrease in the mandate of irony might also be said to indicate a decrease in the amount of actual scorn heaped.
Insofar as Brave New World is anti-pleasure and anti-Flesh, rather than anti-Utopia per se, a decrease in irony could be expected the further and further the text gets from the act of conception occurring in the Fertilizing Room. "Repulsive" food imagery does in fact entirely vanish by page twelve, never to return. The tour itself even begins to take on a somewhat jaunty, but still "scientific" tone:
"The lower the caste," said Mr. Foster, "the shorter the oxygen [to the fetuses]." The first organ affected was the brain. After that the skeleton. At seventy percent of normal oxygen you got dwarfs. At less then seventy eyeless monsters.
"Which are no use at all," concluded Mr. Foster.
Whereas (his voice became confidential and eager), if they could discover a technique for shortening the period of maturation what a triumph, what a benefaction to Society!
"Consider the horse."
They considered it (13).
Occasionally, a character's enthusiasm in Brave New World is noted by the narrator as "infectious" (14); the narrator here seems similarly caught up. "Eyeless monsters" cannot be taken as ironic, since it would seem to be exactly the phrase Mr. Foster would have used. The same is true of the stilted "benefaction to Society!," except that by presenting the statement in indirect transcription, one must assume that the irony implied by the narrator's statement somehow differs from Mr. Foster's direct statement. Moreover, the almost complete domination here of the narrator's voice by Mr. Foster's renders the former's almost mute. This is a kind of either clever or bizarre twist on More's guided tour; insofar as More's dominated narrator was embodied in a protagonist, in Brave New World the tour guide's domination extends to the level of Huxley's third-person omniscient narrator. As a consequence of this, it becomes very difficult to remain certain that irony is present.
On the other hand, one might assert that the narrator does indicate points of irony, specifically in the yoking together of technical jargon and colloquialisms, e.g., "at seventy percent of normal oxygen" and "you got dwarfs." One might subsequently try to discover a correlation between an absence of contractions in the technical jargon, and a wealth of them in the narrated summaries, or some other kind of consistent use of discourse in a like manner, without success. Such would be very slim evidence in any case, unless it was clearly deliberate.
Following the above-quoted passage, there is then a rather "gratuitous" discussion on the slowness of human maturation; a problem as yet unsolved by Utopia. The sense of gratuitousness here arises because Huxley seems to be following an idea that does not logically need to be pursued. It is true that an increased rate of maturation (i.e., full adulthood by age six) would lead to a disappearance of childhood as we know it, but if this is a satiric point on Huxley's part, then it is muffled by the technical jargon and is redundant in any case due to Utopia's predestination of caste and conditioning. Childhood as we know it has already vanished; increased rates of human maturation would not change a thing.
By the end of the chapter, the narrator has begun to sound almost "reasonable":
"Heat conditioning," said Mr. Foster.
Hot tunnels alternated with cool tunnels. Coolness was wedded to discomfort in the form of hard X-rays. By the time they were decanted the embryos had a horror of cold. They were predestined to emigrate to the tropics, to be miners and acetate silk spinners and steel workers. Later on their minds would be made to endorse the judgment of their bodies. "We condition them to thrive on heat," concluded Mr. Foster. "Our colleagues upstairs will teach them to love it" (15).
If there is still a certain foolish giddiness in Mr. Foster's speech, then the narrator's seems wholly devoid of irony, especially "Later on their minds would be made to endorse the judgement of their bodies," which is a precise, but more sober, paraphrase of exactly what Mr. Foster concludes with. This may not be enough to assume that the narrator (or Huxley) approves of these proceedings, but it certainly marks a dramatic contrast with the opening, and the tone of "Straight from the horse's mouth." There seems to be an enculturation at work here, typical for the official Utopia's guided tour, but it is not clear if this enculturation applies solely to the future workers, the reader, the narrator or perhaps even Huxley himself.
In Chapter II, the tone and tactics change when it comes to the tour of the Conditioning process. The narrative voice becomes more neutral, and the Director's becomes somewhat more arrogant. A comparison between the description of the Fertilizing Room and the room where infants will be tortured by electric shocks and sirens is illustrative. The latter is "very bright and sunny" (10), with professional, rather than clinically dead nurses, and a riot of roses; "Not exclusively pink and Aryan, but also luminously Chinese, also Mexican, also apoplectic with too much blowing of celestial trumpets, also pale as death, pale with the posthumous whiteness of marble" (18). This is, of course, a set-up for the torture to come, well-modulated by the strengthening contrast of the comic, apoplectic trumpets and the "posthumous whiteness of marble." During the torture itself:
There was a violent explosion. Shriller and ever shriller, a siren shrieked. Alarm bells maddeningly sounded.
The children started, screamed; their faces were distorted with terror.
"And now," the Director shouted (for the noise was deafening), "now we proceed to rub in the lesson with a mild electric shock."
The screaming of the babies suddenly changed its tone. There was something desperate, almost insane, about the sharp spasmodic yelps to which they now gave utterance. Their little bodies twitched and stiffened; their limbs moved jerkily as if to the tug of unseen wires.
"We can electrify that whole strip of floor," bawled the Director in explanation, "But that's enough" (20).
Irony has vanished, to be replaced with apparent malice (the emphasized portion above), and the neutral (self-evidently horrific) narration. These are reinforced in small ways: that the Director "bawled" suggests the Director's own infantility, and the phrase, "their little bodies twitched," rather unnecessarily exploits the sentimentalization of small and helpless things. Huxley less garishly reinforces the latter by having the narrator remark that the infants had "two hundred repetitions of the same or a similar lesson" (21) in store in the future.
Contrasted with this, an odd accent is added by the narrator once the screaming infants are wheeled out of the room, "leaving behind them the smell of sour milk and a most welcome silence" (21). There is a certain diffidence in this that does not merely counterbalance the sentimental pathos of the scene in some kind of aesthetic way. It almost seems to throw a weight of judgment on the infants for their sour smell and screaming, rather than on their torturers; as if the silence is welcome, not because the torture is over or because the victims of that torture are no longer before the horrified eyes of the narrator, but because the narrator is typically intolerant of, and annoyed by, infant wailing, whatever the cause. This may seem a stretched point, and certainly is not meant to suggest that Huxley or the narrator approve; it simply again illustrates the radical contrast of tone between Chapter I and Chapter II.
Part of the change in tactics here would seem to result in a change in the target of Huxley's satire, which has now become serious. The correlate of an aversion to the Flesh is an idealization of the pneuma (the Mind-Spirit), and conditioning aims at the pneuma, not the body. It is almost as if, at root, what Utopia does to the body might be treated with a certain loathing humor, perhaps even fascination. But conditioning of the Mind-Spirit...that's no laughing matter at all.
As such, the gross sentimentalization of such sacred taboos as "infants," "children," and "family" (especially "mother") that begins in Chapter II and continues into Chapter III displays Huxley's exploitation of such conventional sentimentality to fuel his satire. Against a background of these conventions, of course, irony speaks for itself, without the additional arrogance added as coloration to the Director's discourse.
Convention in Brave New World
Kateb's remark, that Brave New World "depends for its most telling effects on the disgust at stupid sensuality it can make its readers feel" (126) is true enough, if applied to the later chapters of the book; for the first three chapters, a wholly different criterion than "stupid sensuality" is at work. In a word, Huxley's criterion is "convention," of which Frye notes, "The possession of originality cannot make an artist unconventional; it drives him further into convention, obeying the law of the art itself" (Anatomy 132, my emphasis). "Convention" as a technique of literary communicability, however, does not always obey "the law of the art itself"; moral conventions may just as well serve, as Huxley's use of them shows.
The infant torture and the insidious inculcation of Utopia's ideals into children through hypnopaedia, then, rely for their most telling effects on the conventionalized view Western culture maintains about children (as innocent, sexless, helpless and so forth).
I do not intend here to launch a full assault on such conventional sentimentality; the feminine Gothic, in any case, has already done so, since it was women who were originally deemed innocent, sexless and helpless by the ideology that most likely extended to offspring as well. An indirect confirmation for this may be seen in a remark by Camille Paglia, that "J.H. Van den Berg claims the eighteenth century invented adolescence" (115). Her quibble with this, indicated by the word "claims," is only that the ancient Greeks recognized adolescence as well, and formalized it in their art; she otherwise acknowledges the general intent of Van den Berg's assertion (115). Consequently, like the origins of the image of the "domestic angel," the roots of the Western conventional sentimentality about children may be plausibly traced to the ideology of separate spheres, perhaps in reaction to the "pre-modern" ideal of Greek pederasty with which Paglia qualifies Van den Berg's assertion (115).
The dominant tone of the sentimental conventions Huxley ruthlessly exploits is that of "pathos" as Frye defines it, and which found its most prominent expression in low mimetic and domestic settings:
Pathos presents its hero as isolated by a weakness which appeals to our sympathy because it is on our own level of experience....
[I]n contrast to high mimetic tragedy, pathos is increased by the inarticulateness of the victim. The death of an animal is usually pathetic....Pathos is a queer ghoulish emotion, and some failure of expression, real or simulated, seems to be peculiar to it....Highly articulate pathos is apt to become a factitious appeal to self-pity, or tear-jerking. The exploiting of fear in the low mimetic is also sensational, and is a kind of pathos in reverse. The terrible figure in this tradition...is normally a ruthless figure strongly contrasted with some kind of delicate virtue, generally a helpless victim in his power (Anatomy 38-9).
Frye's illustration of the death of an animal as particularly conveying this peculiar kind of pathos goes very far toward characterizing how such pathos feels, especially in its evocation of pity. Huxley does not eschew this animal-variety of pathos; it is suggested not only in the extract of fetal foals, but also much more clearly (though without death) in the image of an Epsilon-Minus Semi-Moron elevator operator:
Before Bernard could answer, the lift came to a standstill.
"Roof!" called a creaking voice.
The liftman was a small simian creature, dressed in the black tunic of an Epsilon-Minus Semi-Moron.
He flung open the gates. The warm glory of afternoon sunlight made him start and blink his eyes. "Oh, roof!" he repeated in the voice of rapture. He was as though suddenly and joyfully awakened from a dark annihilating stupor. "Roof!"
He smiled up with a kind of doggily expectant adoration into the faces of his passengers. Talking and laughing together, they stepped out into the light. The liftman looked after them.
"Roof?" he said once more, questioningly.
Then a bell rang, and from the ceiling of the lift a loud speaker began, very softly and yet very imperiously to issue its commands.
"Go down," it said, "go down. Floor Eighteen. Go down, go down. Floor Eighteen. Go down, go..."
The liftman slammed the gates, touched a button and instantly dropped back into the droning twilight of the well, the twilight of his own habitual stupor (58-9).
This is the first image of the caste system in action that Huxley gives us; up to now, we have only seen Alphas (the top caste). The animal imagery here is blatant, from simian to woofing dog ("roof!"), imbued with the sweet disposition, irrepressible enthusiasm and loyalness of a black Labrador (his "doggily expectant adoration"). The disregard of him by the "talking and laughing" passengers, his abandonment by them, and the sudden sense of his isolation (which the reader cannot fail to miss, and which the liftman seems only vaguely aware of, in his questioning "Roof?") evokes a terribleness that accords with the affect of domestic (low mimetic) pathos.
The irony here is more dramatic, than sardonic. Frye remarks that in domestic tragedy, Aristotle's "pity and fear are neither purged nor absorbed into pleasures, but are communicated externally, as sensations" (Anatomy 38)--"sensations", presumably, in the reader or audience. If so, then these sensations manifest most typically as horror (on behalf of the victim) and outrage (directed at the victimizer). Thus, the sensationalistic exploitation of fear in domestic tragedy, which engenders a ruthless villain who holds "a helpless victim in his power," provides Huxley with a conventional method for making the reader outraged by the Brave New World; the increased arrogance and ruthlessness of the Director thereby all the more enhances his conventional villainy, as the representative of the Powers that have inflicted the pitiable liftman's condition upon him. The plight of this Epsilon-Minus Semi-Moron (the very lowest of the castes, barely one step above dwarfs and eyeless monsters) becomes an atrocity with the realization that he has been deliberately made as he is; the evil of the Brave New World is thus driven home.
Animal pathos is a logical extension of the domestic pathos inherent in, or created as a result of, the ideology of separate spheres. The horror and outrage that leads to a ready rejection of Huxley's Utopia on behalf of the liftman is just as evidently at work in the images of tortured infants and children corrupted by sleep teaching. In Chapter III, Huxley expands from the simple child pathos of Chapter II to include all of the family, with broadsides directed against "home' and "parents,' but especially "mother' (while continuing to exploit and outrage child pathos through the erotic play of Utopia's young ones).
Such are the conventional techniques Huxley employs to create his most telling effects in the opening chapters of Brave New World, but convention can as much serve to conceal, as reveal; the conventionally high moral tone of satire might in fact serve to mask, as a "cover story," a less noble agenda. Subverting the conventional meaning of an image, in fact, is one of the most common tactics in satire. As such, it is not unreasonable to wonder just how seriously Brave New World's "Pyrrhonic aesthete" viewed the conventional sentimentality he so thoroughly exploits.
The World-Controller, Mustapha Mond, remarks to the future Hatchery workers, "‘Fortunate boys!' said the Controller. ‘No pains have been spared to make your lives emotionally easy--to preserve you, so far as that is possible, from having emotions at all'" (43-4). Up to the dash, Mond's statement is nothing less than an axiom of middle-class ideology; "No pains have been spared to make your lives emotionally easy." It could virtually be the motto, as mindlessly repeated as any Utopian homily, of any Western middle-class parent. The remainder of the statement, "to preserve you...from having emotions at all," is simply a very much less decorous restatement of the first; one which few parents would aspire (or claim to aspire) to. And yet, how else can the desire to maintain a child's innocence ("ignorance," the feminine Gothic would say) for as long as possible be otherwise understood?
Whether Huxley intends this or not is difficult to determine, but it is inevitable that the contrast of today with Utopia should make itself felt. Consequently, the Brave New World is not only a satiric image of the Socialist future, but also of the capitalist-liberal present. This, of course, is precisely one of the most vital aspects of fantastyka (the ability to critique the present through the future or past or other worlds), and so is therefore no surprise in Huxley's novel. But if the weight of the book is thrown into present-day satire, then we are no longer dealing with an anti-Utopia or Utopia, since the novel has suddenly become allegorical; it has lapsed, per Todorov's observation, out of the indeterminacy of meaning in the "fantastic" and into the meaning of allegory.
As a contemporary satire, the setting of Brave New World becomes an extrapolation of the present day, literally a projection. It reflects Huxley's two most belabored themes: overpopulation and overconsumption. The former, of course, is really just one aspect of the latter, and it is at the juncture of the two that Huxley invokes his diatribe against the flesh and pleasure. The implication is that what Huxley in his Foreword calls the "horror" of Utopias (xvii) is an inevitable outgrowth of the present capitalist-liberal mania for acquisition, with the great drug, money, as the soma of the present.
Huxley's satire, then, is double-edged, being directed at both the present in the future, and the future in the present. These two projects, anti-Socialist and anti-hedonism as consumption, do not always dovetail neatly, which leads to the predominance of contrivance in the plot, but they do serve to illuminate the major elements of the novel, especially Huxley's use of convention. By perversely inverting the sacred cows of domestic ideology and continually mortifying them in the first three chapters, Huxley not only seems to legitimize his high moral tone, but also enlists the capitalist-liberal sympathy of his reader, who he proceeds to excoriate as the kind of overconsumer depicted in the remaining chapters of the novel. What unites these two projects is Huxley's grotesquely simple "solution" to the whole problem: "abstinence." This is founded, to all appearances, on an aversion to the flesh and the idealization of pneuma (the Mind-Spirit), in conjunction with the self-mortification of the Savage. The perversity of this solution would seem to render it infeasible, but the ironization of the Savage himself must also be recalled. In fact, the "abstinence" Huxley is proposing (and that is the basis of his Utopia) is actually a much milder "asceticism" (as I will demonstrate below).
In the meantime, it must be pointed out that the extreme conventionalism Huxley employs precisely reflects or restates the kind of mental conditioning he vilifies in his novel. Like the Utopians, who have an aversion to "ickiness" (to use an appropriately childish word), Huxley relies on our own cultural conditioning to make a phrase like "warm bouillon of sperm" icky to us as well. Like the Utopians, who have an intense love of new things and gadgets, Huxley fills his world with neat adult toys it is a wonder that Sony has not gone on to invent. Like the Utopians, blithely or willfully unaware of the domestic and social violence done to their children, our culture continues to romanticize the child, to "long for the perceived freedom and imagination of the child, [such that] repressed longing gets transformed into guilt-ridden sexual liaisons" (Moore 99). Like the Utopians, who are automatically programmed to respond to certain things with hypnopaedically implanted homilies, Huxley pushes our conventional buttons, and out come the predictable expressions of horror and outrage, whether sincere or not.
Narration in Brave New World
The above assumes that Huxley's conventionalism was self-conscious, though of course it is quite possible that he resorted to such conventions as automatically as we are supposed to respond to them. Brave New World features a lone image that reflects exactly this, as the Director and his future workers are approaching the hypnopaedia dormitory: "‘Silence, silence,' whispered a loud speaker...indefatigably repeated at intervals down every corridor. The students and even the Director himself rose automatically to the tips of their toes. They were Alphas, of course; but even Alphas have been well conditioned" (26).
This is no minor point, insofar as it destroys what little general sense of coherence (though not necessarily its effects, as described above) Huxley's satire reflects. This, because it suggests that no statement by any character (except perhaps the World-Controller Mond, unless he too is conditioned) can be deemed reliable; it becomes impossible to separate truth from conditioning. For example, when the Director tells Bernard that it is an Alpha's "duty to be infantile, even against their inclination" (98), is this little flourish of authoritarianism (and hence satire), authoritarianism or conditioning? Similarly, during a Beta geography lesson, the students are told that "a savage reservation is a place which, owing to unfavourable climatic or geological conditions, or poverty of natural resources, has not been worth the expense of civilizing" (164, my emphasis). In other words, like the liftman's condition, the deplorable conditions Huxley depicted on the Reservation are deliberate (or, at least, are capable of a remedy the Brave New World chooses not to affect). Again, though, is this little piece of totalitarian viciousness (and satire against Utopia) true? Or does Huxley (the Alpha Plus Propaganda Engineer) expect us to be good Betas and simply absorb whatever comes out of the loud speaker of his novel?
Insofar as all of the "heroes" of the novel (Bernard, the Savage and the too-intelligent Propaganda Engineer Helmholtz Watson) are all social misfits and discontents, one might well include the narrator in their cabal. But who is the narrator, if not Huxley? If I assume the narrator is an inhabitant of Utopia, then the epistemological muddle of narrative uncertainty remains. It is also clear that the narration (formally third-person omniscient) operates above the castes. Someone like the Savage would serve as a narrator, except that a Savage could not have come up with a passage like:
a much more than human voice began to warble....it effortlessly passed from Gaspard's Forster's low record on the very frontiers of musical tone to a trilled bat-note high above the highest C to which (in 1770, at the ducal opera of Parma, and to the astonishment of Mozart) Lucrezia Ajugari, alone of all the singers in history, once piercingly gave utterance (169-70).
In the context of Brave New World, only the likes of a World-Controller could have access to the kind of historical knowledge displayed here. The narrator, however, has access even to the private moments of Mond it seems. One might therefore postulate another (undepicted and discontent) World-Controller, or possibly a particularly inventive and discontent Alpha Double Plus Propaganda Engineer like Helmholtz Watson, as the narrator of Brave New World.
Such a narrator, however, would be almost indistinguishable from Huxley himself. Of course, in his own way, Huxley is a discontent World-Controller. Moreover, affinities with Helmholtz Watson suggest themselves as well, especially when Helmholtz notes, "You can't expect me to keep a straight face about fathers and mothers. And who's going to get excited about a boy having a girl or not having her...No...it won't do. We need some other kind of madness and violence. But what? What? Where can one find it?" (188-9). Perhaps in novels about Utopia. Earlier, Helmholtz critiques his own writing: "You see...I'm pretty good at inventing phrases....But that doesn't seem enough. It's not enough for the phrases to be good; what you make with them ought to be good too" (69-70). When Bernard tells Helmholtz his work is good, the writer replies, "Oh, as far as they go... But they go such a little way" (70).
Not only are these typical authorial aspirations, they are also a fairly candid assessment of Huxley's own writing. For example, Helmholtz's aphoristic talent (and his complaints about its limitations) is reflected in the novel's hypnopaedic homilies, insofar as he might very well have written them for the Brave New World; Huxley, of course, wrote them for Brave New World. Such homilies include "Civilization is sterilization," "Ending is better than mending," "The more stitches, the less riches," "One cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy sentiments," and "A gramme is better than a damn." One homily is proffered solely from the narrator's mouth; "Rams wrapped in theremogene beget no lambs."
It may also be significant that Helmholtz is the least abused major character in the novel. The whipping of Linda and Lenina has already been noted, as has the Savage's self-abuse and Bernard's grotesque humiliation. Helmholtz suffers from no more than writer's angst and importunate nymphomaniacs (he's also the most handsome and brilliant character). Moreover, in the doling out of justice after the Savage's silly rebellion, Helmholtz is rewarded by being allowed to go to the Falklands; the Savage is forced to stay behind, and Bernard is terrified of leaving. It is Helmholtz also who provides something of an objective view of Bernard and the Savage; with respect to the former, one can finally only agree with Helmholtz and wish that "Bernard would show a little more pride" (71). With respect to the Savage, Helmholtz grants the power of Shakespeare's poetry, but still desires some other "madness and violence"; Huxley lets Helmholtz have the last word.
Helmholtz also has a "nobility" of character that is lacking utterly in Bernard, and may be only pretense in the Savage. For one, Helmholtz does not try to deny his part in the Savage's rebellion as Bernard does. Moreover, after Bernard has fallen once again into social disrepute, he (Bernard)
asked once more for the friendship which, in his prosperity, he had not thought it worth his while to preserve. Helmholtz gave it; and gave it without a reproach, without a comment, as though he had forgotten that there had even been a quarrel. Touched, Bernard felt himself at the same time humiliated by this magnanimity--a magnanimity the more extraordinary and therefore the more humiliating in that it owed nothing to soma and everything to Helmholtz's character. It was the Helmholtz of daily life who forgot and forgave, not the Helmholtz of a half-gramme holiday (182-3).
A very similar kind of sentiment is echoed by the narrator just preceding this passage: "One of the principal functions of a friend is to suffer (in a milder and symbolic form) the punishments that we should like, but are unable, to inflict upon our enemies (182). This, of itself, may not be enough to identify Helmholtz with the narrator, but the circumstantial evidence of the novel points to it as well. He certainly could have written Brave New World so to speak. His character could provide the novel's amused disgust toward physical conditioning, and its horror toward mental conditioning. He could find the stupid sensuality of Utopia's inhabitant grotesque, and, in fact, he begins a principled experiment of swearing off sex (68), possibly because of an aversion to the Flesh, and certainly because of an idealization of the Mind-Spirit. He could have both a fascination and repulsion for the lifestyle of the Reservation (its myths and mysticism), and still have a sense of the Savage's ridiculousness with regard to Lenina and his absurdity with respect to self-mortification. He would also, on his island of exile, possibly have had access to the kind of historical information he would need to make reference to Shakespeare, Mozart and Lucrezia Ajugari. And he is also, of course, an aspiring writer.
There is another sense in which Helmholtz makes for an ideal candidate for Brave New World's narrator; he is tongue-tied: "I'm thinking of a queer feeling I sometimes get, a feeling that I've got something important to say and the power to say it--only I don't know what it is and I can't make any use of the power" (69). Later, confronting the World-Controller, Helmholtz declares that his work is idiotic; that he's "[w]riting when there's nothing to say" (226). Mond agrees with him, "Precisely. But that requires the most
enormous ingenuity....[W]orks of art out of practically nothing but pure sensation" (226). A novel of pure sensation, then, would be exactly what Helmholtz in exile would be capable of writing, given his limitations of conditioning and his attempts to grope beyond it. Such a novel is apparently all that Huxley was capable of writing as well, insofar as its nihilism provides nothing but sensations and sensationalism to the reader. Huxley, during his own voluntary "exile" in Italy and Southern France in the early 1930s, would probably not have thought so, since, as Warren Paul notes, Brave New World "marked a departure from earlier fictional treatment of the dilemmas characterizing our time. Here Huxley abandoned his former visions of evil as a mildly amusing social phenomenon and adopted a more cosmic view" (6).
Huxley's combination of sensationalism, cynicism and an art of pure sensation (as nihilism) in more poetic hands, such as Borges' in Ficciones, will compensate for such nihilism by an absolute gorgeousness of prose; Brave New World does not have this advantage. As in much of the modernist writing in this century by males, Huxley seems to affect a very deliberate evasion and obfuscation of "truth." This is understandable in a context of existentialism and the Age of Anxiety, but the Russian intelligentsia's imputation of "moral cowardice" still applies. It seems likely that Huxley probably intended to say something by writing Brave New World, but by making "truth" a vanishing quality in his novel, by giving the reader no "sure place" to stand, his something becomes unrecoverable, and hence meaningless. As a document of the shifting chaos of Huxley's day, Brave New World may be a sterling example, but it fails at precisely the point of the era's dilemma: the absence of a sure place to stand. Eliade diagnoses this syndrome by implying that the historical ("modern") mentality, as opposed to the archaic mentality, creates individuals who cannot "endure great historical pressures without despairing, without committing suicide or falling into that spiritual aridity that always brings with it a relativistic or nihilistic view of history" (152).
It is not necessary, of course, to identify Helmholtz Watson as the "author" or narrator of Brave New World; nevertheless, he still represents the most apt concretization of the narrator in the book. Moreover, his centrality to the novel may be seen in the fact that the Savage and Bernard represent almost caricatures of traits that are idealized in Helmholtz (his physique, his intellect, his character, and his narrative fate). That he has fewer pages than any other important character in the book does not challenge the assertion of his centrality. This may be understood partly as a result of Helmholtz's inarticulateness, but there is a deeper significance to this as well. Insofar as the main themes of Brave New World are joined, however sometimes vaguely, in Helmholtz, he nevertheless represents the closest thing to a spokesperson for "truth" in Huxley's novel; this inarticulation permits this truth to go unchallenged, to avoid the confrontation of dialogue, in the text.
In his typology of discourses, Bakhtin refers to the "hidden polemic," in which:
discourse is directed toward an ordinary referential object, naming it, portraying, expressing, and only indirectly striking a blow at the other's discourse, clashing with it, as it were, within the object itself. As a result, the other person's discourse begins to influence authorial discourse from within. For this reason, hidden polemical discourse is double-voiced, although the interrelationship of the two voices here is a special one. The other's thought does not personally make its way inside the discourse, but is only reflected in it, determining its tone and its meaning. One word acutely senses alongside it someone else's word speaking about the same object, and this awareness determines its structure (Problems 196).
In typical cases, "hidden polemic" then speaks with a forked tongue; the apparent object of discussion, and the structure of that discussion about the object, are actually being determined by an authorially unacknowledged real object. Hidden polemic, then, is similar to allegory, or the parable, except that optimally the true object of the discourse would never be recognized; or, like an "in-joke," could only be recognized by certain (kinds of) people. Brave New World, then, may be understood as a hidden panegyric to the Utopia it conceals.
Perhaps the main method for detecting hidden polemic or panegyric in a text, provided the author has not accidentally revealed the true object of discourse, is by way of "structural deformation"; that is, narrative movements that seem to bear little relation to the actual discourse. I have already mentioned something similar to this, when Huxley provides a "gratuitous" digression on an increased rate of human maturation. Not all such gratuitous digressions, of course, are necessarily instances of structural deformation due to hidden panegyric of polemic; other intents may be momentarily at work. Nonetheless, even if this example is not a genuine instance of hidden polemic or panegyric, it still illustrates a characteristic sense of digression or gratuitousness. A genuine example, however, may be found in the ending of the book.
The narrative climax of Brave New World would appear to be the Savage's anti-climactic revolution; the triumvirate of rebels is brought before the world's Authority, and poetic justice is handed out. At this point, Helmholtz departs from the novel for his island narratively, if not physically; he lingers in the text long enough to say farewell to the Savage (just prior to his own escape), but after the "trial" before Mond, Helmholtz does not figure in the narrative with any significance. As such, even though Helmholtz is still in the novel, it is the Savage who conducts a long conversation with Mond about the nature of, and the justification for, the Brave New World. Following this, the Savage escapes to his Utopia, and is finally driven to suicide when the Brave New World will not leave him in peace.
I have already wondered why the Savage did not simply move once he was discovered in his lighthouse. A more productive answer than Huxley's "And they died miserably ever after" may be found in the fact that the Savage's suicide is a kind of refutation of the idea ("abstinence" and "self-mortification") he represents. More generally, once the true hero of the novel (Helmholtz) has narratively departed, Huxley attempts to substitute the Savage as a spokesperson for the idea ("asceticism") that Helmholtz represents. Furthermore, the plot development of Helmholtz's departure also mandates distinguishing between Helmholtz's and the Savage's value within the Savage himself; the narrative irony of the last chapter indicates this. In fact, the very wrenching of the plot to include the last chapter is the most overt structural deformation in the novel.
The Savage's escape from Utopia, for instance, is so abrupt that only a caesura in the text suggests it. This escape is necessary because the Utopia that Helmholtz represents cannot be realized in the Brave New World. Consequently, the Savage's lighthouse contains both Helmholtz's Utopia (imaged in the Savage's ascetic lifestyle) and the Savage's (imaged especially in self-mortification), the latter of which is "refuted" by the Savage's suicide. This, because it is a sin of the Flesh (either lust for Lenina, or guilt for whipping her, or both) that drives the Savage to self-destruction, not his ascetic lifestyle per se. That such a refutation is a thematic necessity in Huxley's hidden panegyric may help to explain why Mustapha Mond did not retrieve the Savage after his escape from the Brave New World.
A less overt structural deformation occurs in the Savage's solo conversation with Mustapha Mond. Here again, the discourses of asceticism and abstinence are both present within the Savage in implicit and explicit form. An elegantly concise example of the juxtaposition of these two utopian value-sets may be seen in a statement by the Savage: "I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin" (246). Two sentences; two very different sets of desires: Helmholtz's "God, poetry, real danger, freedom, goodness," and the Savage's "sin." Here, it is Mustapha who refutes the Savage, insofar as his response to this outburst is directed at the desire for "sin";
"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
"All right then," said the Savage defiantly. "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."
"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind." There was a long silence.
"I claim them all," said the Savage at last.
Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. "You're welcome," he said (246-7).
The most apparent structural deformation that occurs during this conversation between the Savage and Mond manifests in how the Savage speaks. As Huxley himself admits in his Foreword,
For the sake, however, of dramatic effect, the Savage is often permitted to speak more rationally than his upbringing among the practitioners of a religion that is half fertility cult and half Penitente ferocity would actually warrant. Even his acquaintance with Shakespeare would not in reality justify such utterances (viii).
While descriptively accurate, Huxley's "for the sake of dramatic effect" is disingenuous. It is rather for the sake of Helmholtz's asceticism that the Savage so speaks, because he is the only character still in the text (though Helmholtz has yet to leave the Brave New World) who can speak to the World-Controller.
There is also some bending of Mond's character as well. When the Savage asks him if he thinks there is no God, Mond quite unexpectedly replies, "No, I think there quite probably is one" (240). What makes this unexpected is the complete lack of preparation for it earlier in the novel, but this is less significant than the narrative function of Mond's admission, insofar as it allows a discussion of God (one of Helmholtz's desires) into the text. Had Mond denied the existence of God, this "twist" in the conversation would have been much more difficult to affect. Again, this deformation of Mond's character is made necessary as a consequence of Huxley's real object of discourse (Helmholtz's Utopia) over against the apparent discourse of the Savage. Thus, behind the apparent pain-pleasure dichotomy Brave New World presents, the actual discourse is one of asceticism versus happiness; or, rather, there is a discourse of asceticism that goes unchallenged (for being unrepresented) in the novel, even though it ultimately shapes the entire structure of the text.
This may all seem an excessively verbose belaboring of the obvious, insofar as few would attempt to deny that Brave New World is anti-hedonist. In fact, as I hope I have shown by a kind of reducto ad absurdum, Huxley's novel is more properly read as anti-everything. Whether an artistic conceit or a psychological block, whether a fear of engagement or something more literary, the monologism of Huxley's novel, the lack of truly dialogic communication, the mere juxtaposition of images, the continuous negations of cynicism, satire, irony and grotesque exaggeration--all of these level the meaning of the novel to zero, to the mere sensation and sensationalism of nihilism. The theme of conditioning serves to further undermine any sure ground in the novel, and renders any interpretation vulnerable to ridicule. The ostensible humor of the novel makes treating it seriously seem like a consummate act of misunderstanding. Even Huxley's Foreword, admitting without conceding the defects of the novel, throws additional uncertainty into the interpretation of the text, since the possibility of authorial error may undermine any critical conclusions.
My discussion of the feminine Gothic, however, has already suggested how the self-deprecating introduction may actually serve as a cover story for a deliberate authorial agenda. And humor, inclusive of satire's reduced laughter, has also been shown to have an exculpatory value (as the common phrase, "I was only kidding" demonstrates). In the ironic days of 1932, perhaps it was not "permitted" to write a serious book--at least not from the pen of one of the era's most trenchant voices. Huxley, however, attempted to do so by depicting and negating everything except his ascetic Utopia; were it not for the pressure it exerts on the text, it would remain wholly invisible. This may explain why the narrative does not follow Helmholtz to his exile on the Falklands, and why he comparatively has the fewest pages devoted to him. It may even explain the otherwise curious avoidance of Alpha Plus (Helmholtz's caste's) conditioning (16) and of the Alpha Double Plus classroom at Eton (164). In other words, Huxley attempted to depict something positive by multiple negatives, but if I say, "It is not snowing, not raining, and not cloudy," that does not mean it is sunny; it could be night.
Whatever the arguments against or in favor of Huxley's ascetic Utopia, the sheer unfeasibility of such a suggestion in a capitalist-liberal setting clearly deserves the term "utopian," and as such would probably have been more than enough to make a Pyrrhonic aesthete and burgeoning mystic cagey about openly (much less seriously) presenting it. But the absurdity of asceticism in our modern setting is no excuse for not admitting it into social discourse as literature. The epigraph for Huxley's novel taken but not translated from the French of Nicholas Berdyaev's essay, "Democracy, Socialism and Theocracy," refers to a possible new age "in which cultured and intelligent people will dream of ways to avoid ideal states and to get back to a society that is less ‘perfect' and more free" (188). That the common folk are excluded from this dream is explicit enough ("cultured and intelligent"), even without the "elitism" of leaving the epigraph in French. The epigraph also functions similarly to More's pun on "Utopia," which only the "cultured and intelligent" could have appreciated. With More, as already noted, the facetiousness of "Utopia" as a name ostensibly allowed the right kind of reader to see through More's fiction. With Huxley, the epigraph functions in a reverse capacity, insofar as it proposes not only an avoidance of ideal States (the obvious level of Brave New World), but also that there will also be a "less ‘perfect' and more free" Utopia in the book (which Huxley goes to great lengths to hide). One can only agree with Darko Suvin, that "anticipation in our age will be the more significant the more clearly it rejects both the classical utopia of the Plato-More type and the whilom fashionable dystopia of the Huxley-Orwell type. Both of them are static and closed" (213); that is, they are official.
Neither does an inability to find a sure place to stand excuse nihilism in literature; there may, in fact, be no such sure place, that it is only possible to pitch one's stake for a short time, and to make as much sense of things as one can from that limited perspective. And if this is really the best we can achieve, then it is either self-defeating idealism to insist that there is more, or the Russian intelligentsia's moral cowardice to cynically deny what little sure ground there actually is. In one of his more cryptic remarks, Bakhtin notes, "Irony as a form of silence" (Speech 154). For such a critic, for whom dialogue has the most far-reaching and humanistic implications, the silence of irony as a refusal to enter into (literally a "turning away" from) dialogue has equally far-reaching consequences. Instead of his admirably absurd Utopia, Huxley entered a carping jeremiad into the discourse of Western culture--and few things are sadder than the dreams we cherish, but destroy all the same, because they seem impossible.
G.D.H. Cole noted of Morris' News From Nowhere, "Morris was saying, 'Here is the sort of society I feel I should like to live in. Now tell me yours'" (qtd. in Berneri 259). Huxley had the desire to answer this invitation with Brave New World, but not the courage to do so openly.
THE UNOFFICIAL UTOPIA OF RETURN FROM THE STARS
Darko Suvin summarizes Lem's Return From The Stars in the following way: "A time-contraction astronaut returns to a pseudo-utopian conflictless humanity and finds it degenerating into a hedonist anti-utopia" (209). It is possible to agree with this, up to a point; specifically, to the point of "finds" in Suvin's summary. As with Brave New World, it seems we are once again being confronted by another anti-Utopia. Since Suvin's summary comprises, so far as I have been able to discover, the whole of critical assessments of Lem's Return From The Stars, there seems to be an even greater anti-Utopian unanimity of opinion here than as regards Huxley's Brave New World. Despite this, it is much easier to refute Suvin's somewhat inexplicable anti-Utopian conclusion than to attempt the same with regard to Huxley's novel, and may most easily be accomplished by comparing the two books; an effort that is assisted by the sense that in many respects Lem's book seems to be an answer to Huxley's--a more logically coherent answer at that. (Logical coherence may not always be a valid basis for literary judgment, but for an author of ideas like Huxley it at least seems an appropriate criterion.)
Establishing a direct link of influence between Huxley and Lem, however, is problematic. I have not been able to determine if a Polish version of Brave New World was available to Lem in advance of his writing Return From the Stars (or, for that matter, any edition in any other language that Lem might have been capable of reading). Suvin's reference to the "whilom fashionable dystopia of the Huxley-Orwell type" (213) has already been noted in the last chapter, but this could only be considered the most indirect kind of demonstration of influence at best. A less indirect method would be to seek out internal evidence from Lem's novel itself that links it with Huxley's.
Both novels share the following details: pleasant ecologies, exotic substances, superfast personal transportation, artificially scented air (BNW 169, RFTS 4), an innecessity of sewing (BMW 121, RFTS 61), liquids which characters admit not knowing the origin of (BNW 132, RFTS 34), and both ironize Miranda's "O brave new world that has such people in it"--verbatim in Huxley (162), and in a very loose paraphrase in Lem, "What a world, I thought, what a world this is!" (37). Sleep teaching (‘hypnopaedia') also figures heavily in Brave New World, but is only briefly mentioned in passing in Lem's novel as a "hypnagog" (153). These parallels may well be coincidental, however, and the several thematic parallels may be explained more readily in terms of the novels' shared futurism than by influence. One of the more compelling imagistic parallels may be seen in a similarity of structure in one evening scene; in both novels, light from huge marquees obliterate the night sky, while dancing goes on within the signs' respective buildings (BNW 75-7, RFTS 18). The match between the images, however, is hardly perfect, and a conjunction of obliterated night skies and dancing might again be explained as much by coincidence, if not simply by the fact that all urban lighting (especially around brightly-lit dance halls) tends to affect the night sky.
Looking at both novels less literally, it is possible to assert that Lem adapted the aphorisms of Huxley's novel (e.g., "Ending is better than mending") for the "floating slogans" of Return From The Stars' opening chapter. One of these floating slogans, "SOAMO SOAMO SOAMO" (11) is almost an anagram of Huxley's soma. Of course, there would not seem to be any reason for Lem to resort to anagrams, assuming that the translation has not somehow deformed the anagram, but it is much more significant that this floating slogan and
others like it are incomprehensible, both for the protagonist (Hal Bregg) and the reader. This incomprehensibility is clearly Lem's intent, insofar as these nonsense words are truly non-sense; it takes quite an artificial stretch of imagination to apply any kind of actual referentiality to them at all.
"NEONAX NEONAX NEONAX" (11), for example, drifts fluidly between "NEO NAX (a new ‘nax') and "NEON AX" (which is rather poetically evocative, but hardly meaningful). Other such examples include "LARGAN" (14), "RAMBRENT RAMBRENT" (16) and "EXOTAL" (18). "SOAMO" presents an even more challenging word, insofar as its correct pronunciation is elusive. Is it "sew more" or "so ammo"? Where should the accent be placed? Are these even the right diphthongs? As a result of these defamiliarizations and linguistic decenterings (which the reader experiences with the protagonist), when we encounter a slogan like "REAL AMMO REAL AMMO" (14), the only certainty would seem to be that the phrase definitely does not mean something like "real bullets." Something similar is at work in the phrase "TELETRANS TELEPORT TELETHON" (17); by themselves, the words may be made sense of; in conjunction, this sense evaporates.
Lem's authorial intent by these floating slogans would seem to be to recreate the confusion and alienation of the protagonist in the reader's mind. Bregg has returned from a scientific mission in space that lasted ten years for the spacecraft's crew but (due to the relativistic effects of travel at a fraction of the speed of light) has lasted 127 years as far as Earth's inhabitants are concerned. Thus, Bregg returns to what is no less than an alien civilization. Instead of relying on an official tour to acclimatize Bregg to this new Earth, Lem plunges his hero (and us) into the thick of things--with very disorienting results that are perfectly apropos of the situation. Consequently, there is a major distinction to be noted between Lem's floating slogans (as incomprehensible) and Huxley's aphorisms (as distinctly information-bearing phrases). Despite this enormous difference of deployment and intent, there is a striking similarity of typography and technology used to convey public announcements in both novels. In Brave New World:
The house lights went down; fiery letters stood out solid and as though self-supported in the darkness. THREE WEEKS IN A HELICOPTER. AN ALL-SUPER-SINGING, SYNTHETIC-TALKING, COLOURED, STEREOSCOPIC FEELY. WITH SYNCHRONIZED SCENT-ORGAN ACCOMPANIMENT (170).
This is technologically almost verbatim to what we find in Return From the Stars, with its "letters of fire steadily moving through the air" (11); that these letters are self-supported proves a source of curiosity and mystery for both Bregg and the reader (6). Similarly, a more "informative" public announcement, formed of lines of gigantic gold letters like "burning tightrope-walkers" (16), appears in mid-air:
BACK TODAY GLENIANIA ROON WITH HER MIMORPHIC REAL RECORDING PAYS TRIBUTE IN THE ORATORIUM TO THE MEMORY OF RAPPER KERX POLITR. TERMINAL NEWS BULLETIN: TODAY IN AMMONLEE PETIFARGUE PRODUCED THE SYSTOLIZATION OF THE FIRST ENZOM. THE VOICE OF THE DISTINGUISHED GRAVISTICIAN WILL BE BROADCAST AT HOUR TWENTY-SEVEN. ARRAKER LEADS. ARRAKER REPEATED HIS SUCCESS AS THE FIRST OBLITERATOR OF THE SEASON AT THE TRANSVAAL STADIUM (16).
There again is the obvious distinction between the information-bearing announcement in Huxley versus the virtual incomprehensibility of the announcement in Lem, but I also want to emphasize the typographical shift to all-caps as well.
Tempting as it is to discern influence in the several parallels noted above, they still remain too tenuous; it is too probable that it is my own consciousness creating direct links when there may in fact be none. Even as this may very well be the case, it is still very useful to view Return From the Stars as a kind of answer or revision to Brave New World, as I now intend to demonstrate.
Coherence in Return From The Stars
To do so, however, involves a somewhat perverse strategy; specifically, taking Brave New World's overt Utopia (its surface of images, the actual ends and means it reveals and employs) at face value. This because, despite the scum of irony Huxley sloughs over the overt aspects of the Brave New World, the ideas beneath the scum, as possible solutions to real human problems, at least warrant discussion; Brave New World does not make room, or even allow, for such a discussion in the text, but the reader and critic can. In other words, by reading Brave New World as a World-Controller like Mustapha Mond would (as the work of a discontent Utopian), one can dismiss the irony as discontent, and attempt to recover and examine any positives that are present in the Brave New World's ends and means.
Physical conditioning in Huxley's World-State, for instance, serves several purposes: it regulates population, benefits the economy (directly, by providing a labor force specifically suited to a specific kind of work, and indirectly by increasing the demand for various types of consumer consumption), provides immunity to congenital and communicable diseases, provides a stable basis for hierarchical power (the castes) and the perpetuation of that power, and provides a sense of community (in Bokanovsky Groups or upper-caste solidarity) for all individuals. All of this, taken together, makes physical conditioning one of the "major instruments of social stability" (Brave New World 5).
However innocuous or objectionable these social goals (ends) might be, doubtless it is the Brave New World's means that most often raise hackles. I do not intend, however, to thoroughly dissect Huxley's approach to these ideas, but will say that it belies an overestimation of the actuality of genetic manipulation, and an underestimation of it imaginatively. Granting that direct genetic manipulation would have been pure fantasy in 1932, one can still postulate the equivalent of a "DNA Machine" that could be programmed to build (or to provide the building blocks to build) an ideally tailored human, suited for some kind of work, but who did not have any of the physical defects of Huxley's castes. In fact, the variability of caste in Huxley's novel already seems to be an intellectual lapse; if standard men and women (5) are the basis of social stability, then make everyone identical. If, as Huxley seems to believe, hordes of identical n-tuplets are truly horrific--the Savage retches at the sight (163)--then present the idea at its utmost; physical grotesqueness should not be required for this, and the satire should remain intact (if it has a genuine point to make). In a novel underpinned by an idealization of the Mind-Spirit, the lower caste's grotesqueness seems at least disingenuous. In any case, Huxley, the ostensible novelist of ideas, has presented his idea (for physical conditioning) in an only half-baked way; his satiric "argument" is the equivalent of saying, "The moon can't be made of green cheese, you idiot. Green cheese can't orbit the earth." And by unsystematically ridiculing this only half-pursued idea, Huxley succeeds rather in making himself ridiculous.
John Maynard Smith, in "Eugenics and Utopia," concludes that "[e]ugenics can wait, birth control cannot" (166). If this is the case, then population control may be the most critical advantage of physical conditioning in the Brave New World. Here, however, (as also with the tailoring of humans noted above), virtually insuperable ethical considerations could be raised in objection; genetic sterilization alone would cause an outrage if proposed. ("Who is the State to decide, before I was born, that I could never have a family?") Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Huxley has proposed a solution to the problem of overpopulation.
In Return From the Stars, Lem presents another solution: robots with artificial intelligence. In Lem's Utopia, all labor is performed by robots with sufficiently sophisticated thinking to solve various problems at hand. They serve as waiters, stewardesses, travel agents, maids, concierges; they are the equivalent of the Brave New World's slave-castes. These robots are especially necessary in the Utopia of Return From the Stars because all of humanity has (in the 127 years since Bregg's departure) been "betrizated"; a process that nullifies what Freud called Thanatos, the Death Instinct, aggression. Administered intravenously at birth, it prevents even being capable of thinking about killing, but does not otherwise negatively affect cognitive development (Return 120). With characteristic even-handedness Lem's protagonist reflects (not for the first time) on both sides of this issue:
"This is a great thing," I muttered. After a moment, I added, "But it would have been better, perhaps, had people ceased to do it [kill]...without artificial means" ....
And suddenly came a reflection, surprising in that I myself would never have expected it if someone had presented me with this situation purely as a theoretical possibility: it occurred to me that this destruction of the killer in man was a disfigurement (38,39).
In addition to expunging biological violence (in humans and animals, which are also betrizated), natural violence has also been virtually eliminated, by the science of gravimetrics (gravity control). One of the main applications of gravimetrics is for the absorption of inertia, such that there is no impact whatsoever in a head-on collision between vehicles, no effects of acceleration (launching or landing) during spaceflight, and probably no personal injury from falling (though such individualized "gravity protectors" are not depicted in the novel). Even slight physical exertions have become unnecessary (robots do all the hard work):
[T]he floor moved softly along with us--you can't take a step here, I thought, it's a wonder they still have legs--but this irony was a feeble effort; it came from the constant amazement, from the feeling of unreality of everything that had happened to me in the past several hours (24).
(Note here again the characteristic self-reflection on Bregg's part; his irony is not left to stand unchallenged, as it would be in Brave New World, and he even acknowledges the source of his "feeble effort.")
The general softening of society implied primarily by betrization, and abetted by gravimetrics, has led to a very gentle culture that shuns any hint of risk. Robots perform all operations because humans can no longer stand the sight of blood (153); old fashioned sexual attraction has simply vanished (much to Bregg's confusion and dismay); physical strength hardly exists anymore; even a hypothetical mad dog would be caught and killed by robots (154)--Bregg and his fellow pilot, Olaf, conclude that the same would be true for mad humans as well. (Olaf is an especially hostile critic of betrization.)
Perhaps the most dramatic difference between Lem's and Huxley's versions of physical conditioning may be seen in the simplicity of betrization over against the Baroque excesses of the Brave New World. Betrization is also permanent, where the inhabitants of the Brave New World are required to take pills and intravenals (BNW 39). Part of the reason for the greater simplicity of betrization is that it drives closer to the core of the dilemma of social existence than does the Brave New World. Consequently, Lem depicts a world in which human nature has truly been changed, and thereby opens up new intellectual possibilities; in Brave New World, Huxley remains trapped for the most part in the same old and insoluble terms of the present human condition. Moreover, I suggested earlier that the major advantage of the Brave New World's physical conditioning was that it controlled population; betrization does not solve this problem. Lem offers a partial solution to this problem in that would-be parents must pass an examination "in order to obtain permission to have offspring" (206), but such a policy would little effect population growth; it would, rather, raise the quality of parenting.
Lem's Utopia does not solve the problem of overpopulation, because overpopulation is no longer a problem in his Utopia. What makes overpopulation a problem in the first place? As Huxley implies, and John Maynard Smith asserts, it leads to "war, disease and starvation" (Smith 166). This triad of apocalyptic horsemen, with the fourth not far behind, have at least one common origin: scarcity (of goods, available living space, food and water, and so forth). Solve the problem of scarcity, and you are probably halfway to Utopia.
The Brave New World relies on controlled human mass production for labor; the key word here is "controlled," otherwise controlling overpopulation by human mass production becomes a logical absurdity. Even with this controlled production, however, it is still necessary to feed, clothe and house the labor force. In the hyperconsuming Utopia of the Brave New World, presumably this would lead to booming agricultural, textile and housing markets. But insofar as labor has thus been "rationalized," consumption has not been; this is supply-side economics run completely amok. This becomes even more perplexing, since there does not seem to be any sort of economy in the Brave New World (except, perhaps, for soma as wages, but this is strictly for personal consumption). Who, then, is benefiting from the production itself? Rather, why not condition the Utopians to be happy without helicopters and Escalator Squash. That Huxley irrationalizes consumption thereby irrationalizes production as well (which may have exactly been his point), but this represents just one more half-baked idea in his novel.
All one would need for production would be a cabal of Alpha Double Plus geniuses (or World-Controllers), a handful of engineers, and a protocol for building a specific crew of (disposable) laborers for any particular project. If there were any citizens at all, they could be continuously drugged into blissful oblivion, or go to feelies all the time, mindlessly enjoy true art, or simply spend all their time crammed into little rooms drooling. (Something like this appears to be going on in Lem's The Futurological Congress.) Why citizens, or production projects, are required at all in Huxley's Utopia remains somewhat mysterious. Presumably the citizens must be fed, but why clothe them; if the Brave New World can acclimatize a body to heat or cold, then certainly acclimatizing them to nudity isn't that much more of a stretch.
Lem more or less avoids this problem insofar as robots handle all production, including themselves and their maintenance; the human element is reduced to occasional inspections. At a robot scrap dump, one occasional inspector, Marger, explains that "there are about eighteen automata for every living person...the automata serve us, not we them" (Return 138). Such machines, of course, offer enormous advantages over the human labor in Huxley: energy requirements ("food" and "water") are much reduced, housing requires less space (a niche in a wall) and no clothing is required. Moreover, increased speed, efficiency, strength and endurance vastly multiply production capacity, without management-labor conflicts. Under such conditions, production would likely far surpass demand (thus ending the problem of scarcity) without State mandates on consumption.
I do not intend the above as arguing in favor of the Machine over against humankind in the real-world confrontation of human versus mechanical labor; social and ethical objections might well be raised. Rather, I am comparing the coherence of Lem's solution to overpopulation (ending scarcity) to Huxley's half-baked one. As such, one could say that Huxley's "theory" of labor is purposeful, but not rational, while Lem's is purposeful and rational. By rational, I am referring to the internal "logic" of both images of labor. It is to be expected that Huxley, writing satire, should make his image of labor irrational; that is not at issue. Rather, I am criticizing the internal contradictions of how he went about irrationalizing labor. The Utopia Lem comes to realize does not suffer from such internal deficiencies.
With regard to mental conditioning, the contrast is even more extreme. Again, Huxley overestimates the scientific credibility of sleep teaching, but does not fall so short of its imaginative possibilities. The problem in the Brave New World is that mental conditioning is not effective enough; discontent persists. This partial effectiveness is the psychic analog of the limit Huxley places on bokanovskification (i.e., that only a maximum of 96 identicals are possible in any one batch). In both cases, we have two more ideas only partly pursued; it is Huxley, not real-world science, that imposes these limits on bokanovskification and sleep teaching. Thus, when the Director of Hatcheries reminds Bernard of his moral obligation to be infantile, even though Bernard's conditioning allows otherwise, it is only fair to ask, "Why must it be otherwise?"
Again, postulate something more effective than sleep teaching that as much tailors an individual's mind to whatever work the Social Predestinators require as does physical conditioning; forego all other (obviously irrelevant) considerations. Mass produce several copies of each individual, dispose of any defective models, save the rest as back-up systems in the event that the original dies, and get on with the life of Utopia.
In other words, make people into robots. Or, better still, forego brainwashing altogether and simply build robots with artificial intelligence. Lem's Utopia, however, does feature a minimal quotient of sleep teaching. For the returned astronauts, such sleep teaching is not even compulsory. For the inhabitants of Lem's Utopia, education begins very early; "So-called difficult children were given additional, hypnagogic treatment" (207). The majority of education, however, is not transmitted this way, and consists primarily of socialization to the values of "tolerance, coexistence, respect for other beliefs and attitudes, the unimportance of the differing external features of the children (and hence the adults) of other races" (208); an acceptance of betrization "as a fact of life no less unquestionable than birth or death" (208) marks the cornerstone of this early moral education.
Betrization, then, almost single-handedly removes the need for mental conditioning and social control a la the Brave New World. Consequently, Lem's Utopia is politically classless. It still features vestiges of an economy however. Most services are provided by robots, and are not paid for; certain professions still exist (acting) and new ones have come into existence (e.g., "plasting"--a kind of clothing-sculpture; most clothing in Lem's Utopia is spray-on). All food, drink and entertainment are free; money (‘ets') is printed in a hand-held mint (a ‘calster'), which Bregg uses only three times in the novel; once to pay for a real pair of jeans (1 et), once to rent the top floor of a villa for a month (40 ets), and once to buy an antique car (400 ets). Why he is charged for these, and not other items (a hotel room, transport for his antique car, and so forth), remains a permanent mystery. In effect, "living costs nothing" (53).
From the foregoing, it should be clear that Lem's Utopia is far more coherently realized than Huxley's. This does not mean, of course, that Lem presents it as an unchallenged and perfect world; the entire narrative is determined, in fact, by Bregg's trying to make his peace with this new Earth to which he has returned. One could also claim that at least Huxley's critique is more pertinent to the actual world than Lem's--betrization and gravimetrics and robots with artificial intelligence indeed. Such a claim, however, would misunderstand the nature of Lem's Utopia; it is not at all a social program, like so many official Utopias, but is rather an exploration of speculative possibilities. Should humanity ever find itself confronted by the reality of betrization, for instance, it might do well to consult Lem's novel. But betrization is not the only challenge from the future Lem presents.
Robots in Return From The Stars
As noted earlier, Lem's treatment of robots may be an innovation in his works, although the anthropomorphized "thinking machine" has an eloquent precedent in Capek's R.U.R. The link here, though, is almost purely thematic; the relationship seems to be similar to the one between Walpole's Otranto and the later feminine Gothic. Capek may well be the father, but his progeny in Lem bear little resemblance.
In Return From The Stars, robots are ubiquitous and innocuous. One is an orange-white maid: "‘Welcome to Clavestra,' it said, and its white belly unexpectedly began to sing; tinkling notes, as though it had a music box inside" (115). Later, it serves Bregg breakfast:
"You have to eat, Mr. Bregg," the robot said reprovingly. "Otherwise, you will become weak. Also, reading until dawn is inadvisable. Doctors are very much against it."
"I'm sure they are, but how do you know this? I asked.
"It is my duty, Mr. Bregg,"
It handed me a tray.
"I will try to mend my ways," I said.
"I hope that you do not misinterpret my good will and think me importunate," it replied.
"Ah, not at all," I said...."Listen," I addressed the robot, "I have a favor to ask you."
"I am at your command."
"Do you have a moment? Then play me that tune, the one from yesterday, all right?"
"With pleasure," it answered. To the merry sound of the music box I drank my coffee in three gulps (124).
Another, a server, is "more a piece of furniture than a mannequin. It had one round eye of crystal. Something moved about inside, but I could not bring myself to peer into its stomach" (57). At the travel agency:
Sitting here, of course, was a robot. This time a gold one. Rather, gold-sprinkled.
"What can we do for you?" it asked. It had a deep voice. If I closed my eyes, I could have sworn that the speaker was a muscular, dark-haired man (57-8).
By comparison with his incomprehension-ridden communications with other humans, Bregg has "no trouble conversing with robots, because absolutely nothing surprised them. They were incapable of surprise. A very sensible quality" (58). More and more, Bregg tells us, "I was beginning to like them" (59).
At one time, there were even robots that appeared to be perfectly human, but the occasional inspector (Marger) explains to Bregg that:
"In their day they caused a bit of trouble..."
"Well, you know engineers! They reached such a level of perfection in their simulations that certain models could not be distinguished from live human beings. Some people could not tolerate that...."
Suddenly I remembered the stewardess on the ship that I had taken from Luna.
"Could not tolerate that...?" I repeated his words. "Was it, then, something like a...phobia?"
"I am no psychologist, but I suppose you could call it that" (138-9).
The stewardess Bregg recalls is indeed one such robot. Even after being shoved away by a woman with the phobia suggested above, her smile "was not merely an external smile of official politeness, a smile to cover an upsetting incident. She was not pretending to be calm, she truly was calm" (6).
This indefatigable pleasantness, calm and courtesy are in fact one of the most prominent features of the robots in Lem's novel, even in the simplest of exchanges:
"What do I pay? I asked it.
"Nothing, thank you," it said (57).
The robots are also very solicitous. When Bregg (who is very large compared to the citizens of the Earth to which he has returned) orders coffee in his room, the robot brings a transparent thermos that "held at least three liters. I said nothing. Clearly, it had overcompensated for my dimensions" (118).
What makes Lem's robots so unique is not just the completeness of their anthropomorphized natures, but what might be called their cybernetified natures. They are, in other words, total intelligences, however artificial. In a more comic mode, such as Lem's Fables for Robots (literally fairy tales a robot "mother" might read her "children"), robots can become metropolis-sized kings (full of human and transhuman foibles); in a more serious setting, such as The Star Diaries, robot monks elaborate and extend human theology with profound results. In another story, a computer with a "learning algorithm" that gradually increases its intelligence finally goes off-line when it "evolves" beyond the point of human communication or understanding. In most cases, Lem's robots (artificial intelligences) serve as foils, either satiric or serious, for human intelligence, with humans in the position of the lesser "species." This rarely amounts to a ridiculing of human intelligence as puny (unless the narrative is told from a robot-despot's point of view), but aims more at showing the limits of human thinking, at cautioning humans against overhasty conclusions, and as illustrating the proposition that we must understand our limitations first if we are ever to surmount them.
The innocuousness of Lem's robots in Return From The Stars, then, will not deceive his familiar reader. It is far from out of the question to wonder what kind of robot poetry the travel agent may have written, or what cybernetic concertos the orange-white music box might have composed and performed to itself. This may seem the most wayward kind of speculation, but in Return From The Stars, Lem reveals that his innocuous robots have developed spiritual yearnings. Bregg accompanies Marger on an inspection of a robot scrap dump. Left alone temporarily, Bregg hears strange noises from behind a steel door:
In front of it stood a robot. At the sight of me, the robot opened the door and stepped aside. The curious sounds became stronger. I looked inside; it was not as dark as I had thought at first. Because of the murderous heat from the sheet metal I could hardly breathe, and would have backed out immediately had it not been for the voices. For they were human voices--distorted, merging in a hoarse chorus, blurred, babbling, as though in the gloom a pile of defective telephones were talking. I took two uncertain steps, something crunched beneath my feet, and clearly, from the floor, it spoke:
I stood rooted to the spot. The stifling air tasted of iron. The whisper came from below.
It was joined by a second, monotonous voice, steadily reciting:
"O anomaly eccentric...O asymptote spherical...O pole in infinity...O protosystem linear...O system holonomic...O space semimetrical...O space spherical...O space dielectrical..."
The darkness teemed with husky whisperings, out of which boomed:
"The planetary bioplasm, its decaying mud, is the dawn of existence, the initial phase, and lo from the bloody, dough-brained cometh copper...."
"O class imaginary...O class powerful...O class empty...O class of classes..."
"Can you touch...?"
"Sh-shame...you...you would see what a shiny and cold I am...."
"L-let them re...turn my armor, my golden sword...my inheri...tance...dis...possessed... night...."
"Behold the last efforts of the strutting croaking master of quartering and incarceration, for yea it riseth, thrice riseth the coming kingdom of the nonliving...."
"I'm new...quite new...I never had a short in the skeleton....I am still able...please..."
I did not know which way to look, asphyxiated by the merciless heat and those voices. They came from all sides. From the floor to the window slots below the ceiling rose heaps of twisted and tangled bodies; the little light that filtered in was reflected weakly in their dented metal.
"I had a temp, a temporary defect, but now I am all, am all right, I can see...."
"What do you see...it is dark...."
"Listen, please. I am invaluable, I am expensive. I indicate every power leak, I locate every stray current, every overload, just test me, please....This...this shaking is temporary....It has nothing in common with...please..."
"And the dough-headed took their acid fermentation for a soul, the stabbing of meat for history, the means of postponing their decay for civilization...."
"Please, me...only me...it is a mistake...."
"I will save you...."
"Who is that...."
"Repeat after me: the fire will not consume me utterly, and the water will not turn me all to rust, both elements will be a gate unto me, and I shall enter...."
"The contemplation of the cathode--"
"I am here by mistake....I think...I think, after all..."
"I am the mirror of betrayal...."
"Pleash...shir...yer shervet...haff a look ar-round..."
"O flight of the transfinite, O flight of the nebulae...O flight of the stars..."
"He is here!!!" something cried; and a sudden silence fell, a silence almost as penetrating in its terrible tension as the tension of the many-voiced chorus that had preceded it.
"Sir!!!" said something; I do not know why I was so sure, but I felt
that these words were directed to me, I did not respond. "Sir, please...a moment of your time. Sir, I--am different. I am here by mistake."
There was a stir.
"Silence! I am living!" This outshouted the rest. "Yes, I was thrown in here, they dressed me in metal on purpose, so no one would know, but please, only put your ear to me and you will hear a pulse!"
"I also!" came a second voice over the first. "I also! Sir! I was ill; during my illness, I imagined that I was a machine, that was my madness, but now I am well! Hallister, Mr. Hallister can vouch for me, please ask him, please get me out of here!"
The barracks buzzed and roared with rusty voices, at one point it was filled with a breathless scream, I began to retreat and stumbled backward into the sunlight, blinded, squinting; I stood awhile, shielding my eyes with my hand; behind me was a drawn-out grating sound; the robot had shut the door and bolted it.
"Sirrrr..." This still reached me through the wave of muffled voices from behind the wall. "Pleash...service...a mistake..."
I passed the glass annex. I did not know where I was going--I only wanted to get away from those voices, not to hear them (134-7).
They were mechanisms of metal, wire, glass, one could assemble them and disassemble them, I told myself; but I could not shake off the memory of that hall, of the darkness and the distorted voices, that cacophony of despair which held too much meaning, too much of the most ordinary fear. I could tell myself that I was a specialist on that subject, I had tasted it enough, horror at the prospect of sudden annihilation had ceased to be fiction for me, as it was for them, those sensible designers who had organized the whole thing so well: robots took care of their own kind, did so to the very end, and man did not interfere. It was a closed cycle of precision instruments that created, reproduced, and destroyed themselves, and I had needlessly overheard the agony of mechanical death (139).
Bregg perfectly summarizes the problem for the critic here when he notes, "They were mechanisms of metal, wire, glass...but"; if there is still any doubt here, however, about the human meaning of this passage, when Bregg asks what happens to them, Marger answers, "‘To the scrap? It goes there,' he pointed at the thin, solitary column of the furnace" (138). But to see this scene as simply a reflection on human history's concentration camps is partially to miss the point; and Lem has certainly demonstrated that the terrifying pathos of the tragic suppliant, as noted by Frye in the last chapter, may be evoked by machines (as well as women, children, and animals).
What makes this scene affecting is precisely this pathos; it relies on the smallness of the Mind before the chasm of death. Thus, the repeated helplessness of "Pleash...shir", made all the more awful by the defective pronunciation, by the continuing courtesy and politeness of the robot, and by the desperation and desperation to serve.
Of course, they are just machines, so the whole scene takes on a rather absurd appearance--pitying machines? But this is precisely the point, above and beyond its human meaning. The true value of fantastyka, besides its capacity to criticize the present, lies in its potential for extending the domain of human ideas. The very awkwardness for the reader or critic here lies precisely in the uncertainty of what to do with a feeling of compassion for dying robots (artificial intelligences). Is this a polemic against artificial intelligence? Is a slave-caste of thinking robots too high of a price to pay for Utopia? They are only metal, wire and glass...but; the only is important.
Neither am I exaggerating things here. Bregg, appreciative of robots throughout, nevertheless refers to them as ‘it'; "When a robot appeared, I asked if I could have coffee in my room...‘Of course,' it said. ‘Now?'" (118); "I could see, behind a small glass pane in the center, the glow of its transistorized heart" (19). Insofar as the formal genre of the novel is that of a memoir narrated in the first-person by Bregg, these pronouns may be said to be Bregg's not Lem's. This is evident in the fact that Bregg, not knowing that the stewardess is a robot, refers to it as "she"; "She left" (6).
This use of "it" by Lem, as an aspect of Bregg's narrated memoir, is as innocuous as the robots themselves, but it is quite deliberate, insofar as it underscores and accords with Bregg's and the reader's (i.e., human) indifference to machines. This may be clearly seen by reexamining the crystal-eyed serving robot:
"What do I pay?" I asked it.
"Nothing, thank you," it said. It was more a piece of furniture than a mannequin. It had one round eye of crystal. Something moved about inside, but I could not bring myself to peer into its stomach. There was not even anyone for me to tip. I doubted that it would understand me if I asked it for a paper; perhaps there were none now (57, my emphasis).
The first "it" ("I asked it") is quite unnecessary; typical dialogic transcription would only have included "I asked." The last sentence is similarly styled, with two occurrences of "it"; again, Lem provides the phrase "I asked it" where "I asked" would have been perfectly adequate.
This indifference to machines (artificial intelligences) is elegantly indicated, again with pronouns, in a slightly earlier encounter with the same robot: "Had the waiter been human, I would have asked him to bring what he himself preferred, but it was a robot. It could not matter to a robot" (56, my emphasis). Again, the phrase "I would have asked him to bring what he himself preferred" is overstocked with male pronouns; "I would have ordered what he recommended" would have been perfectly adequate, except that it is Lem's intent to highlight the distinction between human and robot. Of course, Bregg is probably correct that food preferences "could not matter to a robot," but the statement might still cause a reader to wonder, if only irrationally and temporarily, "Well, why not?"--or, more plausibly, "Well then, what would matter?"
After his encounter with the machine Inferno quoted at length above, Bregg continues to use "it" for robots; there is no change of consciousness on his part with respect to them. However, after he wrecks his antique car, he takes it to a station for repair and notes, "I fancied I saw surprise in the glass eyes of the robot that examined the damage" (160); recall that Bregg comes to like robots, and is comfortable with them, precisely because "absolutely nothing surprised them" (58). That Bregg ascribes the robot's surprise to his "fancy" contrasts with the possibility (in the reader's mind at least) that the surprise is not his "fancy"; that the robot is surprised. "Fancied," in fact, is an acutely appropriate word here, inasmuch as it connotes a sense of pleasant self-amusement that the word "imagined" or "thought" would not reflect. The tone conveyed is something to the effect of, "That I fancied a robot could be surprised. Silly me."
This sense of self-bemusement appears elsewhere in the novel.
"Welcome to Clavestra," it said, and its white belly unexpectedly began to sing: tinkling notes, as though it had a music box inside.
Still laughing, I helped it unload my things (114, my emphasis).
It is not possible to determine exactly why Bregg is laughing here. Is he charmed by the music, or is he laughing at the music box? Of course, robots do not have feelings, so it "could not matter to a robot" to be laughed at. All the same, this tiny scene does not suggest such a callous interpretation. I hope I can rely on your imaginative empathy here to accept that there is something very poignant about this robot. On one hand, the delicate notes of the music box are the kind of genteel touch of elegance one might expect at a first-rate resort. It is a detail of exquisite solicitousness on the part of the resort managers. This exquisite solicitousness, though, manifests as part of the robot's personality. As such, the music may be seen as an unabashed expression of joy to be of service to someone; seeing a customer makes the robot's heart sing, literally. There is, then, a delicacy here that is corroborated by Lem's use of a "music box," coupled with an unadulterated expression of sheer joy and eagerness to serve. If Bregg is laughing at this, then the moment seems especially cruel and terrible. It is not the robot's fault that it was built with this "ridiculous" feature of singing like a music box, and to laugh at someone for something that he or she cannot help is normally taken to be cruel.
Of course, Bregg does not mean to be cruel, and machines do not have feelings anyway, but Lem has still again constructed a scene like the Inferno that confronts us with the new, with something our experience has not equipped us to handle. This is a constant dilemma for Lem's protagonists (and readers) in most of his more cosmic works; here, the technique manifests in a much more terrestrial way. In Lem's "alien contact" novels and stories (e.g., Fiasco, His Master's Voice, Solaris), the "alien" is typically unrecognized and/or beyond human comprehension. In Return From The Stars, the alien is the robot and, in spite of the Inferno, Contact goes unachieved, because the alien intelligence of the robots goes unrecognized. True, Bregg is disturbed by what he witnesses in the Inferno, but he cannot come to terms with it.
His final comment, "I had needlessly overheard the agony of mechanical death" (139) is a tour de force of significations. It eloquently expresses his ambivalent reaction of sympathy (in the somberness of the sentence) and the "needlessness" of that sympathy. But "needlessly" also expresses another aspect as well, as the "unnecessary" extermination of artificial intelligence. Not for not repairing robots--as Marger notes, "It wouldn't pay" (137)--but unnecessary in that such artificial intelligences perhaps should not have been created, and condemned to their condition, in the first place. This theme is implicit in the very first robot Bregg encounters in the novel (not including the stewardess, which he did not recognize as a robot):
"A raft for you, sir?" came a courteous voice behind me. I turned around; no one, only a streamlined table strutting on comically bowed legs; it moved forward, glasses of sparkling liquid, arranged in rows on side trays, shook, one arm politely offering me this drink, the other reaching for a plate with a fingerhole, something like a small, concave palette--it was a robot. I could see, behind a small glass pane in the center, the glow of its transistorized heart.
I avoided those insect arms stretched out to serve me, loaded with delicacies, which I refused, and I quickly left the artificial cave, gritting my teeth, as if I had somehow been insulted (19).
Again, the perfect courtesy ("sir," "courteous voice," "politely"). Bregg's amusement ("strutting on comically bowed legs"), and the "dehumanization" of the robot ("it", "no one, only a streamlined table"). The rejection of the (machine) suppliant is especially well-evoked by the proximity of the "transistorized heart" and "I avoided those insect arms stretched out to serve me".
The form of this robot is particularly bizarre, with its rows of sparkling glasses, plates and spindly arms, but it too houses a complete intelligence. As such, this confrontation very much resembles Brave New World's depiction of the Epsilon-Minus Semi-Moron liftman, except that the Semi-Moron is a Semi-Moron; the robot is not. Also, where the laughing and talking lift passengers wholly disregard the liftman, Bregg not only regards, but also flees, the robot. Again, the robot cannot be blamed for its bizarre shape and condition and so Bregg's amusement ("comically bowed legs") and revulsion ("insect arms") seems at least unjust. If the scene is read with a recognition of the intelligence that exists within the robot, then it begins to take on a degree of that terrible pathos Frye associates with the rejection of the suppliant. As such, if an atrocity has been committed against the Epsilon-Minus liftman, then one can say the same for this equally grotesque robot. Again, though, the "tragedy" in Huxley is that the liftman has no mind; in Lem, the tragedy is that the robot does.
In point of fact, the robotic condition is far worse than Epsilonhood, at least from an external point of view. This, because the Epsilon is plunged in a complete lack of self-awareness about his condition. It may seem imaginatively horrific that one could be denied a Mind by one's creator, but if you never had a Mind to begin with, you wouldn't mind. For the robots, there is no indication of any limitation on their cognition (or, for that matter, on their behavior, though they all act with unflagging decency and courtesy). Presumably there is some kind of programming, but there is no reason to believe that the robots are unaware of it; thus, the greater "injustice" of their condition, to be born with a Mind, and then to be prohibited from using it.
On one hand, of course, this reflects the human condition as well. We too are "programmed" (with instincts and social conditioning), and are prevented from using the full capacity of our minds. One can justly raise a critique against a Creator that should make it so; that should embody our minds, like Victor Frankenstein, in these walking corpses. In Return From The Stars, it is the robots who build the robots; it is possible they design one another as well. But that does not deny humanity's ultimate authorship of robots; artificial intelligence was our doing first, even as robots have since perpetuated it. Robots are simply the midwives of Creation, the target of blame for the robotic condition. This scapegoating of the intermediary, this victim baiting, is a precise analog of Christian Creation. God did not create sin--Satan did; or humanity did, and has perpetuated it ever since, in every re-Creation through offspring.
Brave New World's aversion to the flesh may be said to mask an even deeper attraction; hence, the novel's demonizing of the body and the idealizing of the Mind-Spirit, as defense mechanisms. Consequently, the central or leading term of the novel is the Flesh, in spite of the high blown outrage on behalf of the Mind. This may most readily be sensed in the "sensual" descriptions of the novel (of the Reservation in general and the initiation rite in particular, in the Brave New World's "Solidarity Service," and the descriptions of music throughout), as well as in the half-baked intellectuality of the novel's ideas. Idealization in any case (of Mind, or anything else) is not a true picture of something; one could almost conclude that Huxley is actually anti-intellectual and certainly no true friend of the Mind.
Lem, by contrast, does not idealize the Mind (not the human mind at least); he is aware of its limitations, and asserts that these limitations, as boundaries, must be recognized before we can get beyond them. As already noted, Lem's robots usually serve to point out these limitations, but in Return From The Stars, they point up other limitations as well. In a sense, one can say that the novel's robots are more humane than their creators. They are, in fact, almost Christ-like; or, at least, manifestly live the Christian ideal of the Sermon on the Mount in a way few humans, even saints, could attain to. Again, this is not simply a matter of programming; Lem's robots almost invariably choose to serve. (I say almost because in some cases his robots are rulers; there are also the robot monks of The Star Diaries who take the oath Non serviam.) By granting volition to his robots, by not explicitly revealing to the reader the nature of their programming or the Prime Directives that guide their behavior like Asimov and others have done with their cybernetic intelligences, Lem does not therefore deform his depiction of consciousness in existence. Obviously, this consciousness is not, strictly speaking, a human intelligence, and its depiction is therefore again not an aspect of some official Utopia's social program, but rather an unofficial Utopia's exploration of future possibilities.
In one respect, compassion for robots and the robotic condition is misdirected; not because robots do not have feelings, but because what feelings or experience they do have are not directly analogous to humans'. Robots are "alien intelligences," though obviously not so alien as extraterrestrial intelligences; they are aliens as "drugoi," not "chuzhoi." As such, understanding (so long as communication remains possible) can be at least partially achieved, as other works by Lem show, but not when this robotic intelligence goes unrecognized, as in Return From The Stars. Obviously, one can derive a real-world meaning from this with respect to human interaction, but Lem does not employ his robots strictly for their metaphorical value as social commentary. Rather, the potential of such a metaphor is used as the basis for presenting a "wholly new" situation to humankind. Of course, we should learn to recognize other humans (other cultures, other races--"aliens" in the demographic sense), but we must also learn, if we are ever to advance beyond our own current human condition, to recognize non-human intelligences as well ("aliens" in a more literal sense). Such alien (drugoi), non-human intelligences need not necessarily be sought amongst the stars; they may already be amongst us, as dolphins, whales, trees--who knows. Lem does not go quite this far in his novel, but the extension of the idea is not wholly unwarranted. One of the reasons why the inhabitants of Lem's Utopia have abandoned the exploration of space is that "man wanted to conquer the universe without having attended to his own problems on Earth, as though it was not obvious that heroic flights would do nothing to alleviate the sea of human suffering, injustice, fear and hunger on the globe" (208). The terrestrial accent of this, and the whole novel in fact, thereby justifies taking the image of alien intelligences in our midst (robots) in a potentially present-world sense as well.
Am I overreading Lem's text by this? Is there really such a thing as a robotic "world-view" in Return From The Stars? Is the civility of the robots really a sign of their morality, or simply their programming? This last cannot be answered by direct recourse to the text, but we are certainly given a glimpse of a robotic world-view in the Inferno.
"The planetary bioplasm, its decaying mud, is the dawn of existence, and lo! from the bloody, dough-brained cometh copper...." [....]
"Behold the last efforts of the strutting croaking master of quartering and incarceration, for yea it riseth, thrice riseth the coming kingdom of the nonliving...." [....]
"And the dough-headed took their acid fermentation for a soul, the stabbing of meat for history, the means of postponing their decay for civilization...." [....]
"I will save you...." [....]
"Repeat after me: the fire will not consume me utterly, and the water will not turn me all to rust, both elements will be a gate unto me, and I shall enter...." (135-6).
This may be read as a satire of human history (which, in a sense, it is), but it is a satire originating from non-human (robotic) values. As humans, we might agree with a satirical rejection of "stabbing of meat" as deserving the name "history," but it is the "meat," more than the "stabbing," that the robot is rejecting. (If robots for some reason went to war, then there might well be "stabbing," but certainly no "meat.") The soul, as an "acid fermentation," can similarly be seen as a rejection in human terms, but it is a contrast of human organic matter as contrasted with robotic inorganic matter that the robot is drawing attention to. As such, the satirical function of this sermon has been turned inside out, and serves as a point of departure (rather than a goal) for the depiction of robotic intelligence. To see only the satire here is to miss half the point. In a sense, there is no satire here at all; the satirical effect is a byproduct of the robot's earnest, and none too inaccurate, critique. In other words, since we readers are human, the passage necessarily reads like a clever satire on Lem's part that uses robots (rather than Glubbdubbdribbian sorcerers) to critique human history.
Such a reading, however, represents precisely the kind of failure to recognize alien intelligence I have already described. One might object, "But how can such a robotic critique be taken seriously?" That is exactly the point; how would we? Lem is a master at confronting his characters and readers with such dilemmas. It is at this level, beyond the mere expression of ideas or science fiction novelties, at the juncture where ideas meet with the limits of knowledge and experience, that Lem achieves his most profound effects; at the point where he strikes against our conceptual boundaries, and attempts to widen the field of human cognition.
Speaking intuitively, I do not believe Lem intends for us to agree with the robot, or to impute its words to its author; Lem may not even expect us to recognize the robot's alien intelligence, but I suspect he hopes we will. Again, the issue is not whether or not humanity will ever be accosted by such a robot (or talking whales), but rather if it is possible to enlarge the field of human cognition and imaginative experience; after all, hasn't humanity in fact been so accosted, precisely in Lem's novel? Lem aims to be mind-expanding, and what particularly earns his writing the designation of fantastyka (as well as the "fantastic") is precisely this: the hesitation that Bregg and the reader become caught up in. ("Hesitation," as already noted, is a key feature of the "fantastic" in Todorov's view.) Should we take the robot's speech seriously or not, as satire or psychosis, as important or irrelevant? In Huxley, similar contrasts annihilate one another, leaving nihilistic meaninglessness and a glow of sensation. In Lem, one is left with a surfeit of irresolvable meanings. This is not nihilism, though we may feel uncomfortable with our inability to "solve the puzzle" or "answer the question." This discomfort arises in part through a new awareness of our limitations, both individually and as a species; or perhaps by the even more disturbing possibility that there are questions we (humanity) may never be able to answer.
Is the robotic condition humane? (Should the question be rephrased because ‘humane' is humanocentric?) Is the robotic condition fair, or just? Is it too high a price to pay for a human Utopia? Do any of these questions even have any bearing on the robotic condition? Are they the right questions to ask? Is it even possible to ask the right questions? In a sense, of course, the answer to this last question must necessarily be, "Probably not." Every human-authored text about robots (artificial intelligences) will be more anthropomorphized than not; only a robot could truly write from its alien (drugoi) point of view. But this does not make Lem's (or any other author's) attempt at imaginative understanding irrelevant, so long as no claim to perfect understanding presumed. Understanding involves not only imaginative projection, but also self-reflective contemplation; the attempt to understand an Other in one's own terms. As such, "Any true understanding is dialogic in nature" (Vološhinov 102, emphasis in original).
To take the robot's speech as simply a sermon, then, misses half of the point as well; it is both a sermon (from a robotic point of view) and a satire (from a human point of view). The meaning of the speech therefore arises from the superimposition of the one upon the other, from the multiple refractions that issue from it. It should be clear that this doubled speech is not authorially ironic; there is no undermining of one point of view by another. Rather, the satire and sermon coooperatively merge, insofar as they have an object of discourse in common (human history). It is this interacting and interanimating merging of discourses that affects the meaning, the truth, of the scene.
To repeat, understanding ends in an act of self-reflection. Insofar as Lem is a human author, it may be safely said that the meaning of this scene will also be human. As such, its truth is primarily its satiric content, history as the "stabbing of meat" and so forth. This is all the more clear the more aware the reader is that the robot's intelligence is an alien one; that, in effect, since we cannot truly grasp where the robot is coming from, we must all the more necessarily fall back upon our own human perspective. But at the same time, this alien presence also modulates the meaning of the satire. (To sense this, imagine the robot's sermon, delivered by a human.) As such, the very limitedness of the human satire is thrown into sharper relief and is "humbled"; at the same time, a "triumph" over those limitations is implied by the presence of an alien intelligence, something that has already exceeded our human limitations in some (unknowable) way.
The satire, then, ceases to be mere satire; it is not simply destructive of human history, as it would be in Huxley. Lem has, in fact, given us an example of something like the regenerating and renewing aspect of the archaic mentality, if not the festivity of festive laughter itself even though its ambivalence is present as destroying abuse and regenerating praise; the scene dramatizes our limited consciousness, along with the possibility of transgressing that limitation. Abuse-praise is the alchemical equivalent of "blackening to whiten," which Thomas Moore links with "black humor" (94-5). It is a trial by fire; hence, the excoriation of human history, the sloughing of its dead flesh, to be reborn again. This last might seem somewhat tenuous, if it is to be a metallic (not biological) intelligence that will continue history ("from the bloody, dough-brained cometh copper...."), but is history the history of Mind, or of Meat? Might not the first mammal have claimed, "lo! from the cold-blooded scales cometh fur...."
That the robot's sermon is a parody of Genesis and the Gospels is obvious; a titanium revision the very discourse of which, coming from a robot, is surreally unexpected. Unexpectedness can be considered a part of festive laughter; remember the frights of the funhouse. But it is in the larger context of the whole scene that more particularly carnivalesque elements appear. Though the occasional inspector has said, "The automata serve us, not we them" (138), it is clear that the booming robot has become a temporary king, as in Carnival. He rules over piles and piles of distorted, defective, grotesquely deformed bodies, all speaking with the freedom of the condemned on Foucault's scaffold. Moreover, the "murderous heat" and the near total darkness may be construed as a womb; the holding place from where robots (Carnival's effigies of the past) will be carried into the furnace to be melted and be "reborn" again as other robots.
These carnivalesque images with their implications of renewal, however, are conveyed in an atmosphere of horror, not terror--in the face of the snuffing forever of the Mind's flame. Even so, the booming robot promises that fire and water will do no harm; "both elements will be a gate unto me, and I shall enter..." Perhaps the horror of the situation can be viewed in the same way as the robot's speech. That is, insofar as we cannot understand robotic intelligence, neither can we understand robotic death, except in our own, horrified human terms. If so, this would again suggest the possibility of transgressing our humanly limited understanding of death and history by way of the presence of the robot's alien consciousness.
This possibility of transgression does not necessarily imply the defeat of death or history, but it does humble (or humiliate, to use the Carnival term) the disgust of history and horror of death. It makes the all-devouring enormity of death and history less enormous, less overwhelming, easier to handle; it makes them more like the gay monsters of the past that Carnival humiliates and disposes of. In its own way, albeit more grimly determined than festive per se, the robot's speech and its surroundings employ the workings of the archaic mentality to make death and history tolerable. Without his robots, Lem would be much more hard-pressed to accomplish this; they are a relief valve, that allows qualifiers to be hung on the otherwise unqualifiable disgust and horror of death and history, that hold out the possibility of alternatives. If the same scene were attempted with humans instead of robots, then there would be nothing but the unbearable history and intolerable deaths of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Treblinka--the obvious historical source for the scene. Again, by directing his metaphor (the Holocaust) away from a strictly human signification, Lem transforms an image of unmitigated atrocity into something that, if not positive per se, at least no longer is a symbol of pure despair.
The Messianic pronouncement of the booming robot further emphasizes this; Holocaust and Salvation are joined into one. But neither should the booming robot be strictly identified with Christ, and not just because Judaic tradition does not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. One voice has already said, "I will save you..."; another responds, "Who saves?" and the booming robot's message of Salvation immediately follows. Shortly thereafter, "‘He is here!!!' something cried"; then silence; then Bregg hears, "‘Sirr!!!' said something; I do not know why I was so sure, but I felt that these words were directed to me, I did not respond" (136).
The double use of triple exclamation points, along with the word "something," suggests that there is initially only one robot speaking to Bregg. Another anomaly of punctuation here indicates Bregg's confusion: the somewhat odd semi-colon ("said something"), and the comma, instead of a period at "to me, I did not respond." His lack of response would seem to indicate his discomfort as well, especially as he is soon swarmed by supplicating robots; the image recalls Jesus surrounded by lepers. One of the robots even says that a "Mr. Hallister can vouch for me" (137), i.e., save him from death and being scrapped; Bregg's first name is Hal; there is no reason to ascribe this similarity of names to coincidence.
Overwhelmed, Bregg flees--an inadequate Messiah. And this inadequacy contrasts obviously with the Machine Messiah, that remains amongst its people in the midst of their Holocaust. In Lem's Solaris, written at almost the same time as Return From the Stars (both were originally published in Polish in 1961), a similar image, this time an inadequate divinity, is presented in the vision of an "imperfect god":
[O]ne whose imperfections represent his essential characteristics; a god limited in his omniscience and power, fallible, incapable of foreseeing the consequences of his acts, and creating things that lead to horror. He is...a sick god, whose ambitions exceed his powers and who does not realize it at first. A god who has created clocks, but not the time they measure. He has created systems or mechanisms that served specific ends but have now overstepped and betrayed them. And he has created eternity, which was to have measured his power, and which now measures his unending defeat (Solaris 197).
Out of its fuller context (a dialogue that runs 2 1/2 pages), this description is grimmer than it seems, and is not the last word in the dialogue. Even so, it demonstrates that the theme of an inadequate deity (as Creator or Redeemer) is not an overreading of Lem's Return From the Stars, insofar as the idea was present in the author's mind circa 1961. In Solaris, this imperfect god is explicitly defined as not humanity (though the speaker admits the analogy); even so, the above remains apt as applied to humanity with respect to robots. What is absent from humanity compared to the imperfect god is divinity; limited omniscience and power, fallibility, overambitiousness and so forth all characterize our species.
Consequently, Bregg (and all of humankind) must necessarily be an inadequate Messiah; the solution (Salvation) to the problem of the robotic condition cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that originated it. So too with the human condition. But to do so, we must somehow transcend that condition. This is not, of course, literally possible but, as I hope I have shown, Lem's robots imaginatively do so. They mark the boundaries of our consciousness and suggest (at least the hope of) possibilities that lie beyond those boundaries. Thus, even in their Holocaust, Lem's courteous and solicitous robots continue to serve humankind, by offering us hope for, if not glimpses of, our own Salvation.
Polylogism in Return From The Stars
Lem's technique of directing the metaphor of his robots outward, rather than inward toward a strictly human meaning, is only one specific example of polylogism in Return From The Stars; other more general and interrelated examples may be found in the novel's dialogue and narration, and the manner in which Lem presents ideas.
The process of betrization, for instance, is first introduced to the reader (and for all intents and purposes to Bregg as well) in dialogue with one of Utopia's citizens. This occurs during the first chapter, when Bregg has just returned to Earth after 127 years, and when he (and the reader) are hopelessly confused by the social, natural and architectural changes that have occurred on Earth in the interim. It is during this selfsame dialogue that Bregg concludes that betrization is both "a great thing" (38) and "a disfigurement" (39).
Moreover, betrization is not baldly presented as simply a topic for discussion, as is often the case in the official Utopia; rather, it arises as a result of the dialogue's larger context, which is Bregg's attempt to find some female companionship after his ten years in space. In other words, betrization enters the novel not as an abstract idea (as does, for example, Huxley's bokanovskification), but as a part of "the dialogic fabric of human life" (Bakhtin, Problems 293); a reality in which "[t]o live means to participate in dialogue: to ask questions, to heed, to respond, to agree and so forth" (Problems 293). It is precisely the fact that Bregg engages, or grapples, with the "problem" of betrization that reflects the dialogic nature of his conversations; a kind of engagement that is almost wholly absent from Huxley's Brave New World. The polylogic versus monologic nature of Lem's novel compared to Huxley's might also be incidentally indicated by the very processes of the Brave New World's bokanovskification and Utopia's betrization, insofar as the former was developed by only one person (Bokanovsky), while the latter represents the combined effort of three scientists, "Bennett, Trimaldi and Zakharov" (118)--it is an acronym based on this triumvirate's names that gives Lem's process its name. (It may even be possible to discern the slightest hint of influence in the fact that both processes begin with the letter ‘b'.)
From the beginning, then, betrization is deeply embedded thematically in the novel in a way that bokanovskification is not. One can almost say that Huxley's process is gratuitous, that it could be removed from the novel with minimal consequence, since it is functionally more (ugly) ornamentation than innovation. This is not the case with betrization; to remove it from Return From The Stars would result in a completely different novel. What Bakhtin has noted of Goethe's work applies here as well; "everything is intensive, interpreted, and creatively necessary" (43). The interpretation, however, is never final and, again, the theme of betrization serves like the robots to widen the field of human cognition.
Lem conducts the next major "discussion" of betrization in a way characteristic only of him in fantastyka: Bregg (and the reader) learns the rudiments of the history and science of betrization by reading other texts. Those familiar with Borges' Ficciones will recognize the technique; as Borges notes in his Prologue, "The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance....A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a résumé, a commentary" (15). Examples from Ficciones include "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim," "An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain", and "Three Versions of Judas"; "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote" provides a similar instance, though the focus is more on the author than the text. (Lem has, in fact, assembled whole volumes of such imaginary books, e.g., Microworlds, One Human Minute and A Perfect Vacuum.)
This similarity of technique, however, is strongly contrasted by a difference of intent. Borges explains his preference for brevity in terms of his being more "reasonable, more inept, more indolent" (15). Whether this is meant seriously or not (Borges is one of the supreme purveyors of narrative uncertainty), on the face of it at least there are the obvious markings of nihilism, of the modernist male's desire to avoid the truth. Lem's elementary presentation of the history and science of betrization, on the other hand, is wholly devoted to establishing the facts, the truth, of betrization.
To this end, Bregg reads "an ordinary school textbook on history" (110): more advanced texts are beyond him as yet. Ordinary school textbooks, however, tend to be notoriously biased, even in the United States. Following the implementation of universal betrization, then, a period of resistance followed; "The textbook passed over this with a few generalities, for perfectly obvious reasons. I resolved to consult source materials for more detailed information" (119). Having had his fill of the official history, which concludes "with a ringing encomium to the New Epoch of Humanism" (119), he then reads Ullrich's monograph on betrization (in spite of its difficult mathematics) to get a better understanding of its scientific workings; Bregg even provides a quotation from Ullrich's work, and goes on to cite the Tribaldi Institute's experiments, the results of Pilgrin's work, and mentions "Murwick's brief sociographic sketch" (121).
This technique of citing scientific works, rather than simply providing a scientific or pseudoscientific authorial exposition, is not unique to Return From The Stars; in Lem's Solaris, whole chapters of the novel are devoted to surveying the scientific and non-scientific findings of the past 200 years of study with regard to the planet of Solaris. The technique is obviously multi-voiced, and it is easy to see from the various names Lem uses (Bennett, Trimaldi, Zakharov, Ullrich, Pilgrin, Murwick) that it is multi-cultural as well. (In providing the much sketchier scientific background of the Brave New World, Huxley displays a similar international spirit, e.g., Pfitzner, Kawaguchi, Bokanovsky, Podsnap.) More importantly, however, Lem is here presenting the history and science of betrization much as it would be in real-world science; that is, it submits its findings before the court of peer review in the true spirit of the Scientific Method. This does not mean, of course, that the fact that betrization acts "on the developing prosencephalon at an early stage in life by means of a group of proteolytic enzymes" (119) has a basis in scientific reality, even given that Lem (like Huxley) had medical training; plausibility is less of an issue here than how Lem presents the data.
An extreme statement of the Scientific Method would assert that there are no laws; that there are only theories, some of which (admittedly) are so overwhelmingly documented and confirmed to date that they seem to be Laws. One great vindication of this stance may be seen in Einstein's correction (by his theory of relativity) to Newton's Laws of Motion. It is in such corrections, as refinements, that true science exists, as closer and closer approximations of the truth--as in the shift from the Ptolemaic to the Galilean conception of the Universe. Thus, Bregg's (and Lem's) literature review reflects a deep valuation of the truth, approached by the epistemological method of science. This should not, however, be mistaken for an idealization of science; it is simply that science has the best "track record" for establishing "objective facts" through experimentation. Moreover, as Darko Suvin asserts (both generally, and as an aspect of Lem's fiction). "Modern sciences are open-ended" (213, emphasis in original); they will continuously, perhaps interminably, end up posing more questions then they answer. Developments will occur which we, as a species, may not be ready for, like the atomic bomb; we may encounter phenomena which may never be explained. This, however, cannot become an excuse for discontinuing scientific research; to do so would be to abandon the search for the truth as well. If it seems that an ever-expanding field of truth that can never be completely mastered is cause for despair, then one may join Huxley and Borges in their nihilism. For someone like Bakhtin, such an expanding field can only be exhilarating, a cause for the most optimistic hopes. For Lem, the optessimist, his hopes are more guarded, qualified by his clear awareness of human limitations, but hope is still the dominant tone.
In the spirit of an ever-expanding field of truth, the "discussion" of betrization does not end with Bregg's reading. For one, Bregg finds himself thrown from the theoretical to the applied side of betrization, when he falls violently in love with one of Utopia's women. In the midst of this, he has a discussion with his fellow time-contraction astronaut, Olaf, who divulges a number of "shocking facts" to Bregg, e.g., that human doctors no longer perform operations (being no longer able to stand the sight of blood), that there is a chemical, "perto," which can temporarily suspend the effects of betrization, and that humans can command robots to kill in emergencies (though the humans themselves are incapable of it). Olaf is an especially hostile critic of Utopia; by the end of the novel, he decides to depart (again) on another intergalactic expedition.
The specific points of contention between Bregg and Olaf are not as significant here as the nature of the dialogue between them and the fact that the theme of betrization is embedded in a context of its effects on the lives of two unbetrizated, and now hopelessly old-fashioned, men. What occurs in this dialogue is not an exposition of Lem's position on betrization. Had this been the case, the dialogue would have actually been a monologue distributed between two characters (as in Brave New World); "An idea of this sort might be characteristic of a social type or an individual, or it might ultimately be a simple intellectual gesture on the part of the hero, an intellectual expression of his spiritual face" (Bakhtin, Problems 79). Rather, for Lem, as well as for Dostoevsky, "The truth about the world...is inseparable from the truth of personality" (Problems 78).
The dialogue between Bregg and Olaf is also the occasion for another discussion, about the exploration of space, that has undergone a treatment similar to betrization's in the novel. Bregg has spoken with people about the discontinuation of cosmodromia, has read Starck's On Interstellar Flight (which "proves" the futility of space exploration), tries to come to terms with this futility, argues with Olaf about it, listens and absorbs Utopia's side of the story (in the person of the woman he has fallen in love with), and has his "resignation" to this futility challenged one last time when he discovers that another interstellar expedition has been planned and hears the expedition's director and planner refute Starck's arguments.
In both cases, the "discourse" on betrization and cosmodromia are open-ended; further developments continuously correct and refine Bregg's understanding of them. The open-endedness of these discourses, however, does not mean that resolution cannot be reached by individual characters: Bregg, for instance, elects to remain on Earth, while Olaf departs. In conversation with the woman he loves, Bregg comes close to achieving a reconciliation with the idea of betrization; Olaf remains a vociferous opponent to the very end. Clearly, neither Bregg nor Olaf objectively answer the question of the merits or demerits of betrization and cosmodromia, but in a sense, they answer the much more pressing and subjective question of how these features of Utopia affect them personally. In this, again, Lem has reversed the normal direction of the idea in the official Utopia, but much more importantly he has given us the image of human consciousness confronted by "alien" situations, but nevertheless capable of ultimately finding some sure ground to stand on, someplace to stake a claim, without succumbing to despair, nihilism or spiritual aridity.
The theme of Utopia itself is somewhat differently treated, insofar as almost all of Bregg's "data" is accumulated through personal experience (including dialogic interactions and internal monologues). But Lem does not utilize an objective, third-person account to reveal this to the reader; instead, we are plunged with Bregg right into the midst of his own alienation and eventual reconciliation with Utopia by a first-person narrative. The first chapter provides an especially vivid example of this, as Lem provides enough defamiliarization to make even the most diligent and thorough Formalist happy. As Bregg notes, "For the hundredth time I was possessed by a feeling of incredible alienation" (6); the reader soon joins him in the sentiment. The first quoted words out of someone's mouth (actually the perfectly human robot stewardess) are "‘Something to drink? Prum, extran, morr, cider'" (6).
Generally, the reader's and Bregg's alienation run in almost perfect tandem; as he becomes more accustomed to some of the features of Utopia, the text becomes less cryptic for the reader as well. But there is also a readerly disorientation that comes with the beginning of any book, the initial shock of translocation out of our world into the fictional one. In fantastyka, of course, this translocation is even more dramatic, since the presumption that the setting is earth might be just that, a presumption. For the experienced reader of science fiction, of fantasy and of the fantastic in general, the shock may not be so great; certain kinds of clues help to orient the experienced reader, e.g., irising doors, twin moons, purple shadows (indicating a binary star system with a red giant and blue dwarf). With the opening of Return From the Stars, Lem seems determined to thwart even these conventional clues:
I took nothing with me, not even a coat. Unnecessary, they said. They let me keep my black sweater: it would pass. But the shirt I had to fight for. I said that I would learn to do without things gradually. At the very ramp, beneath the belly of the ship, where we stood, jostled by the crowd, Abs offered me his hand with an understanding smile:
That, too, I remembered. I didn't crush his fingers (3).
Nothing is mentioned here that Bregg is boarding a spaceship on the moon; the experienced reader of Lem might recall his penchant for nautical metaphors for spacecraft (hence, the "ship"), but that certainly provides no clue that we are on Luna. In any case, these details are overshadowed by the mystery of the sweater that "would pass" and the shirt the as yet unnamed protagonist "had to fight for"; and why would the protagonist crush Abs' fingers?
On board the "ship," we encounter the stewardess, which suggests little more than merely atmospheric travel, in spite of the reference to a "private compartment" (3), which suggests sea or rail travel. Thus, in a very few lines, Lem has successfully and irreconcilably combined the features of a train, a boat, and a plane. Then, "My seat unfolded without a sound" (3). For the experienced reader of fantastyka, this probably functions as a conventional clue for futuristic technology, although the inexperienced reader's interpretation, that this is just a touch of first-class refinement of present-day technology, is not implausible. A description of strange clothing follows; the mention of "selenium lights" has a futuristic ring to it, and then, "Across the dull ceiling faint shadows began to move from front to rear, like paper cutouts of birds" (4). These are possibly the shadows of the ship in motion, which Bregg does not realize because he (like us) is accustomed to feeling inertia when moving, but inertia has been conquered by Lem's Utopia.
Bregg then notes how he and his fellow returned astronauts "joked about our brawn...in the beginning, intending to get up, would go shooting toward the ceiling" (4). Bregg would go shooting toward the ceiling because of the reduced gravity on the moon, but by linking this fact to Bregg's excessive brawn, even the experienced leader is liable to miss the implication of a lunar setting. Once the moon as the point of departure is realized, probably only on a second reading, the awesomeness of the future's technology is driven home by Bregg's statement that his flight from the moon to Earth would take "fifteen minutes" (5); in Brave New World, it takes 6 1/2 hours to get from England to New Mexico. Soon after, Lem provides a conventional ‘give-away,' when Bregg observes, "Several rows in front of me a woman pushed away the stewardess, who, with a slow, automatic motion, as if from the push--though the push had not been all that hard--went backward down the aisle" (6). This description may seem a bit cryptic, but it is clear that the stewardess does not seem to be walking down the aisle; in fact, she is probably floating down the aisle in the zero-gravity of interplanetary space.
Once Bregg arrives at the terminal on earth, however, not even the experienced reader of fantastyka (or of Lem) can decipher the stunningly sustained visual descriptions. To do justice to them would require quotation at great length; I will limit myself, however, to only a brief excerpt:
It took a moment for me really to see the size of the hall. But was it all one hall? No walls; a glittering white high-held explosion of unbelievable wings; between them, columns, made not of any substance but of dizzying motion. Rushing upward, enormous fountains of a liquid denser than water, illuminated from inside by colored floodlights? No--vertical tunnels of glass through which a succession of blurred vehicles raced upward? Now I was completely at a loss (8).
The descriptions alone, concretely vivid as they are, are already disorienting enough without the startling appearance of the question marks at the end of the penultimate and antepenultimate sentences.
Another of Bakhtin's remarks with respect to Goethe's works may be said to apply to Return From The Stars as well; "Therefore, everything is intensive in Goethe's world; it contains no inanimate, immobile, petrified places, no immutable background that does not participate in action and emergence (in events), no decorations or sets" (Speech 42). Lem, however, literalizes this authorial attitude, such that even architecture becomes animate, mobile and mutable; having backtracked, Bregg finds himself on "the wrong level, it was not even the hall that I had left: I knew this by the absence of those enormous columns. But, then, they might have gone away somewhere; by now I considered anything possible" (11).
Lem's descriptive technique, like Borges', operates on a principle of intense density and precision, such that any readerly sense of uncertainty arises from a surfeit, rather than a dearth, of information. As a result, the images are more cryptic, than vague. One way to achieve this is to tightly compress details together: "There was a fluttering from white and bluish fluorescent tubes, stairs of crystalline brilliance, black façades; the brilliance gave way slowly to stone; the carriage stopped. I got off and was dumbstruck" (16). Another way to create this uncertainty (that is typical of Faulkner's work) is by continuously redefining the images: "Low armchairs, a black liquid with green foam in glasses, lanterns that spilled tiny sparks, no, fireflies, swarms of burning moths" (18, my emphasis). In both cases, the perfectly concrete visuals of the description clash with an indeterminacy of meaning. In the first case, the reader must integrate the accumulated images (fluorescent tubes, stairs, façades); in the second case, the reader must reconcile an accumulation of metaphors (sparks, fireflies, burning moths).
The major difference here between Lem's use of this technique and Borges' may be found in authorial intent. Lem is prompted to disorient the reader, because it recreates in the reader's mind the situation that Bregg finds himself in; Borges uses the technique on aesthetic grounds alone, and very rarely switches to a different style. In both cases, the result for the reader is the same, or very similar; overwhelmed by a surfeit of images, one eventually "gives up" trying to understand the description, and begins to focus on the artistry of the prose itself. In Borges' fictions, this is an especially obvious and especially rewarding experience; it also leads to an art of pure (aesthetic-poetic) sensation and nihilism. In Return From The Stars, this consequence of pure sensation is something Bregg very much wishes to escape; he wants the incomprehensibility of his surroundings to become clear. That Bregg spends the greater part of the book precisely trying to reach some level of social understanding is enough to suggest this, but even in the first chapter this "fact" is apparent; "The all-embracing roar now swelled, now was confined, as thousands of human voices and sounds--meaningless to me, meaningful to them--were swallowed by each successive tunnel of this journey whose destination I did not know" (9).
Lem's descriptive technique in the first chapter has a closer affinity to Faulkner's tendency for substituting one image after another; "Into my palm fell a colored, translucent tube, slightly warm. I shook it, held it up to one eye; pills of some kind? No. A vial? It had no cork, no stopper. What was it for? What were the other people doing? Putting the things in their pockets" (14). This is not the same technique that I criticized in Huxley earlier, of trying to define something positively by negative examples of what it is not. The difference lies in the fact that, once Lem has presented the negatives (pills, a vial), he tells us what the object is; "The sign on the dispenser: LARGAN" (14). Of course, this is equally mysterious, and Bregg never finds out what LARGAN is for; even so, the provision of something positive after the negative marks the difference between Lem and Huxley; Huxley provides only the negatives. It is easy to discern here a parallel with festive laughter's abuse-praise, where Huxley retains only the abuse, while Lem retains both the abuse (authorially disabusing the reader of the ability to understand the text) and the regenerating, positive aspect (by providing a meaning, LARGAN, even when that meaning is unclear).
This "provision of positive meaning" is compactly evident in another example: "foam on glasses, an almost black liquid--not beer, with its virulent, greenish glint" (14). Had the image stopped at "not beer", it would be strictly alienating; with "its virulent, greenish glint," however, we are thus introduced to a new aspect of reality--one that, admittedly, is still not perfectly clear, but an imputation of nihilism here would be completely inappropriate. In the context of the alien environment in which Bregg finds himself, such a descriptive technique is not only justified, but is virtually mandated if any kind of narrative meaning is to be conveyed at all; the new may only be understood at first in terms of the old, the familiar. It is therefore not an evasion of "the truth" or "facts" (i.e., nihilism) to describe this virulent, greenish liquid as "not beer," precisely because it is not beer; it is something altogether different.
In its own tiny way, this image restates the same process that is at work when the reader encounters one of Lem's robots. In the same way that the reader does not know what position to take vis-à-vis an intelligent machine, the reader is equally at a loss as to what to make of this virulent, greenish not-beer. All the same, by being beyond the ken of our familiar experience, the not-beer (in its own very humble way) hints at hitherto unconsidered possibilities. I have focussed on this almost insignificant detail precisely because its very slightness shows how thoroughly the art of possibilities permeates Lem's novel.
The single most important structural aspect of Return From The Stars that allows Lem to affect this art of possibilities is its first-person narration. This, coupled with Bregg's predilection for dialogue (with himself, with others, with texts, with his environment) continuously creates situations where Lem's protagonist encounters alien (drugoi) objects and people; Bregg's willing (if sometimes challenged) open-mindedness thus permits the discourse of these alien objects and people to have a fair hearing. First-person narration, of course, can be a marvelous tool for creating narrative uncertainty in the reader; Lem (for the most part) avoids this by placing the reader in the same predicament as Bregg, especially in the first chapter. This does not mean, of course, that Lem's protagonist is a perfectly reliable narrator at all times; I have already suggested otherwise with respect to Bregg's attitude toward robots. It is also clear that the values he believes in, insofar as they shape how he reports what he sees in the world around him, are more than a century out of date relative to Utopia. This subjective bias is no more, and no less, than the kind of subjective bias that would characterize any individual; that is, Bregg does not (seem to) have any kind of agenda, addiction or madness that would make him into a classically unreliable narrator.
This being so, however, does not prevent Bregg from being a "natural" exponent of heterosexual and patriarchal values, though Bregg's first-person narration (and the dialogic nature of Return From The Stars in general) actually encourages the reader to bring his or her own biases into the picture as well. By presenting as many sides of an issue as possible, whatever value-conclusions Bregg himself draws should not be considered either the only ones possible, or the ones the reader must accept. All the same, fantastyka (until quite recently) has been more male-dominated than high literature itself, with predictable results in the nature of relations between the sexes.
The number of male-female relationships in Lem's total body of work, however, is so small that to generalize would be hazardous. This is partly due to Lem's focus on transhuman encounters, but all the same, these invariably pit men only against the Unknown. Similarly, in the legions of international scientific works and monographs cited by Bregg, there seems to be no reason whatsoever to suspect that Bennett, Trimaldi, Zakharov, Pilgrin and so forth are not male when there is no accompanying "he" as the pronoun. Lem's Solaris (his most famous book) features one of these exceedingly rare male-female relationships--a relationship complicated by the fact that the protagonist's "resurrected" wife is actually no longer human; the accent here comes down heavily on the theme of Woman as Alien.
Given that Return From the Stars was written almost at the same time as Solaris, it is therefore not surprising to find the Woman as Alien theme restated in it as well. Here, the difficulty is precisely of that between the old-fashioned values of Bregg versus the new Woman of Utopia (first in the persons of Nais the "dress"-maker and Aen the actress, and later, much more dramatically, in the person of Eri). In general, Bregg's behavior with the first two may be described as "chivalrous"; in particular, he (unnecessarily) "rescues" Aen, and thereby earns a one-night stand with her. This chivalry reflects also its implied quotient of chauvinism: Bregg constantly refers to Nais and Eri as "girl"; when Nais picks him up in what is probably a bar, he later tells her, "When I left--don't take this in bad part--a girl like you would not have brought me to her place at this hour" (32); and when he discovers that all clothing is sprayed on in Utopia, he remarks to the reader:
I could see how that might appeal to women, because by discharging from a few or a few dozen bottles a liquid that immediately set into fabrics with textures smooth or rough--velvet, fur, or pliable metal--they could have a new creation every time, each for one occasion only (61).
This same scene also features that other companion to heterosexual chauvinism--a mild case of anti-gay innuendo; "I was received by a fellow with the bearing of an artist...I could see that he was not especially delighted with me. Nor was I with him" (61). Earlier, on the flight from the moon: "The bright colors of the women's clothes I had by now learned to accept, but the men I still suspected, irrationally, of affectation, and I had the secret hope that I would come across some dressed normally--a pitiful reflex" (3).
This last example is important, insofar as it shows Bregg to be self-conscious about his distaste for the effeminization of Utopia's males ("irrationally", "a pitiful reflex"); he is equally aware of the anachronistic nature of his chivalry and chauvinism. Moreover, whatever Lem's actual attitude toward women, it is clear that that the male-female encounters in Return From The Stars may be read in the same light as the encounters with robots (and, most generally, in the encounter with Utopia itself). All the same, if the robots suggest a realm unexplored by human intelligence that is exhilarating, then the possibilities suggested in Bregg's encounter with Nais, Aen and especially Eri are not so promising. The general passivity of Utopia's inhabitants, for instance, too easily feeds into the stereotypical mandate of passivity for women. And it is a stereotypical (i.e., old-fashioned) act of heroism on Eri's part that prevents Bregg from committing vehicular suicide: Eri (contrary to her betrizated nature) "risks" life and limb by interposing her vehicle between Bregg and the cliff he intends to drive off. Bregg wonders, "Had that been Eri in the gleeder [the other vehicle]? Impossible" (202). And when Bregg asks her how she had been able to do such a thing: "Her face trembled, her lips quivered, she couldn't say the words, ¶ ‘I ha-a-ad to....'" (202); the mincingness of this is rather annoying. On one hand, Eri's heroism reflects the kind of triumph of initiative one finds in the feminine Gothic, but such triumphs feel very different coming from a male pen. One needs only to consider the kind of heroism only too common to female love interests in otherwise absurdly macho male adventure novels and movies; the kind where a blond blows away a minor villain with a .357 Magnum and a giggle, or where a cat fight with a femme fatale ensues that is finished off by a devastating slap. Such displays seem to inevitably end with a reversion to the mincing and cloying helplessness that has characterized the love interest throughout the previous portions of the book or film.
Eri has an earlier opportunity for another kind of heroism that Lem does not permit her to avail herself of. Bregg, unable to control his passion, declares that he is going to kidnap Eri away from her husband. To say that she agrees to this would be a severe overstatement; Bregg emotionally extorts her into going with him, though he does so because he is helplessly in love with her. Once in their private hideaway, Bregg painstakingly, gently and repeatedly seduces Eri, even though she is invariably cold toward him during the day. After a few days of this, it suddenly dawns on him that the only reason Eri "agreed" to go with him was because she feared Bregg would kill her husband; thus, to protect her husband, she gave herself over to virtual rape. As soon as Bregg realizes this, he is filled with guilt and self-loathing, and returns Eri to her husband, despairing of ever being with her again. This is what prompts his suicidal mood, and sets up Eri's heroic gesture. This dramatic scenario finally brings them together for good -- "As if it was only in the face of extremity that we became close, and only then that we were able to understand each other" (204) -- and they subsequently marry.
Eri's endurance through all of this is certainly to be admired, but it hardly presents the kind of art of possibilities one would want to advocate for women. The high-flown romanticism and morbidity of guilt (reminiscent of the Savage) that is sloughed over the actual events that transpire are just that much more disturbing. Eri certainly did not need to undergo this ordeal. Flight (with her husband) certainly would have been an option and Bregg (as an unbetrizated, hence dangerous) citizen of Utopia might well have discovered first-hand that robots could, in fact, be commanded to kill. Or, allow that Eri could see no other option to protect her husband than to "agree" to her abduction; her change of heart in later saving, and agreeing to marry, Bregg seems more dictated by Lem than Eri's personality. The marriage, in any case, seems improbable, even as it allows Lem to include two chapters that present a great deal about Utopia itself and Bregg's flight amongst the stars; such information might easily have been brought out in other ways--confiding in a new friend, perhaps another (more compatible) woman, and so forth. Disturbing as Eri's ordeal is, that it is ultimately sanctified by the marriage makes it even more so; even when it is allowed that there are times of trouble during "courtship", the scenario Lem provides seems more than a bit over the top. That Eri could forgive Bregg for his actions is a testimonial to her capacity for compassion; that she marries him, however, borders on the perverse; it's almost like one of Reginald Muldew's victims accepting his hand in marriage.
All this being so, there is still another side to the picture. My remarks above are predicated on an interpretation of the situation between Eri and Bregg that does not account for her betrizated nature; in other words, it is an interpretation that is parallel in type to one that views the booming robot's sermon simply as human satire. As with the robots, in one sense a reader's sympathy for Eri is misdirected, since it is not simply the case that she is a different person, but is (like the rest of Utopia's inhabitants) virtually a different species. Thus, a humanocentric reading of the relationship between Eri and Bregg suggests that Lem has presented male-female relations in terms of an "alien contact" metaphor. As usual, however, this metaphor is not limited only to this "inward" direction; it points outward as well, to an actual encounter between male and female aliens of different species. The improbability of Eri's marriage to Bregg then, along with the actual quality of her ordeal, finds a basis for explanation in the radical alteration to human nature affected by betrization, even if the actual explanation itself never enters the text. There does, in fact, seem to be some degree of mystery at the heart of Eri's and Bregg's relationship; "Our trouble returned and progressed, and then retreated. Why? I do not know. She probably did not know, either" (204).
This is very delicate territory. It seems perverse, at the least, to suggest that Bregg did not in some sense rape Eri and, if so, then to applaud the marriage is even more perverse. On the other hand, that one may rely on Lem to direct his metaphors outward, away from a strictly human meaning, makes it equally perverse to deny that alternative interpretations of the scenario exist, at least in potential. Once again, this is the classic dilemma constantly proposed by Lem, except that in this case (and unlike the case of the robots), I can only sense the possibility of alternative interpretations, but cannot discern a positive possibility that is not also almost too disturbing to accept (e.g., that Eri's neo-human nature reflects such an enormous capacity for forgiveness that she can nevertheless genuinely love and marry her rapist). I could imagine such a capacity in myself, even as it borders on psychosis, but it would not be something I would be audacious enough to advocate for others, men or women alike.
The fact that I can only uncomfortably draw a conclusion for myself, while at the same time feel prohibitively uncomfortable at the thought of offering some "general solution" to the above outlined dilemma, reflects at root the ultimate value of Lem's artistic vision, as specifically expressed in Return From the Stars. It is, in fact, precisely at the point of Bregg's encounter with Eri that Lem allows the reliability of his protagonist's narration to break down. How genuine, for instance, is Bregg's guilt? Is there an actual basis in reality for the romanticization of Bregg's feelings for Eri, or is it just a smokescreen for the less ennobled urges of a man who has spent too many years in space? Were Bregg's nights of seduction really conducted so gently as he described them? Did he truly not realize until only days later that Eri had allowed herself to be abducted solely for the sake of her husband's life? What was really going on in that private hideaway? Has Lem substituted Taming of the Shrew for Huxley's Othello and Romeo and Juliet? (Is it the height of overimaginativeness to suggest that Eri's name originates in Shakespeare's Katerina?)
Again, the greatest value in Lem's fiction exists in his ability to confront his readers with challenges that expand the field of human cognition. This is done, first and foremost, by demonstrating the limits of one's present level of thinking, and second, by suggesting the realms that lie beyond those limits. Thus, even when I find myself incapable of going beyond my own cognitive limitations with respect to the image of Eri and Bregg, nevertheless my ability to imagine that possibilities exist beyond my limitations represents a step forward. Lem's fiction, then, is composed in such a way that its readers are invited to adopt the attitude of Dostoevsky's Underground Man with respect to the stone wall of reality, before which "plain men and men of action, as a rule capitulate at once" (Dostoevsky 269):
No doubt I shall never be able to break through such a stone wall with my forehead, if I really do not possess the strength to do it, but I shall not reconcile myself to it just because I have to deal with a stone wall and haven't the strength to knock it down (Dostoevsky 272).
It is the dialogue that is established between the strictly human meaning and the presence of possibilities that exist beyond that meaning that forms the most essential aspect of Lem's artistic vision. As Darko Suvin notes, "Lem's major novels have at their cognitive core the simple and difficult realization that no closed reference system, however alluring to the weary and poor in spirit, is viable in the age of relativity theory and post-cybernetic sciences" (213). This endless open-endedness, which reflects the individuality and optessimism of the continuously renewable archaic mentality, along with potentiality of future possibilities limited only by our capacity to imagine, reflects also an essential pluralism of the kind that Aileen Kelly summarizes in the essays of Isaiah Berlin:
Pluralism, in the sense in which [Berlin] uses the word, is not to be confused with that which is commonly defined as a liberal outlook--according to which all extreme positions are distortions of true values and the key to social harmony and a moral life lies in moderation and the golden mean. True pluralism, as Berlin understands it, is much more tough-minded and intellectually bold: it rejects the view that all conflicts of values can be finally resolved by synthesis and that all desirable goals may be reconciled. It recognizes that human nature is such that it generates values which, though equally sacred, equally ultimate, exclude one another, without there being any possibility of establishing an objective hierarchical relation between them. Moral conduct therefore may involve making agonizing choices, without the help of universal criteria, between incompatible but equally desirable values (Kelly xv).
Again, the first-person narration of Return >From The Stars allows the reader to parallel Bregg's own experiences in Utopia; in other words, it establishes a dialogic rapport between the reader and Bregg such that the "alien contact" theme is restated at the level of the reader as well. What position the reader takes, with respect to Bregg and every aspect of Utopia itself, is, of course, a result of the dialogic interaction of the reader and the text; the result, however, is unique to the individual and as such reflects Suvin's relativity and Berlin's pluralism. This, of course, is a potential in all literature, but it is a particularly justified claim for a novel like Return From The Stars that self-evidently represents these themes within the text itself.
Pluralism and relativity (subjectivity), however, are only part of the Lemian equation. Berlin may be right that synthesis may be incapable of reconciling all desirable goals; and the individuality of Suvin's relativity, of itself, may be said to be one of the sources of intense alienation and social fragmentation in the 20th century. Eliade would be right if he asserted that the terror of history cannot be ameliorated by the historical inadequacy of pluralism and the personal isolation of relativity. Without dialogue, the pluralistic variety of social difference and the specific life-meaning of individual subjective existence can never be appreciated; it would go into the grave unknown and unacknowledged. Dialogue, then, is an absolutely necessary addition to the equation, but Bakhtin points out an even more important possibility:
It is quite possible to imagine and postulate a unified truth that requires a plurality of consciousness, one that cannot in principle be fitted into the bounds of a single consciousness, one that is, so to speak, by its very nature full of event potential and is born at a point of contact among various consciousnesses (Problems 81).
This is precisely the kind of truth that Lem's dialogic and outward-directed metaphors affect. His artistic vision takes the very limitations of pluralism and relativity themselves and directs them outward in dialogue with a field of seemingly limitless possibilities, even if the reader's consciousness (or Lem's own) is not capable of doing any more than merely sensing the possibilities that lie beyond the limitations of human consciousness. What Suvin notes of Lem's Solaris applies equally well to Return From The Stars; it is "neither a warning nor a solution" (216). Rather, it reflects an uncanny dialogue between Eliade's archaic and historical mentalities; one that destroys the nihilism and spiritual aridity of the latter by the former's capacity for re-Creation, and which liberates the former from its endless repetitiveness by the latter's recognition of individual uniqueness in dialogue with others, of our capacity to discover truths born of multiple consciousness that cannot be derived in isolation.
Brave New World ends with a flight to (Helmholtz's) Utopia that Huxley chose not to depict. Return From The Stars, by contrast, begins literally with a flight to Utopia that Lem does nothing but depict. The contrast is telling in and of itself, but Lem also does not take up Morris' invitation to show what kind of world he (Lem) might prefer to live in. Instead, he gives us something far more valuable; he gives us the chance to engage in dialogue with Utopia itself. In Lem's hands, and like all of his outward-directed metaphors, Utopia is not limited to its strictly human meaning as yet another plan for human social arrangements, but takes on as well a transhuman meaning that lies beyond the perimeter of our present human condition, and proffers the possibility that we may one day liberate ourselves.
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