Depth in the Shallows

Month: August, 2016

The Dinosaur From Dystopia

Restoring the Roar of Huxley

Words and their Meanings by Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) does not fit easily into any category. Of course, many consider him an elder statesman of Dystopia as the author of Brave New World. While dystopian tales go centuries back, Brave New World is part of a modern triumvirate of dystopian writers that includes George Orwell (1984, Animal Farm) and Yevgeny Zamyatin (We). Of course there are many others. But the particular concerns that Huxley explored in Brave New World carried over into his other work. Huxley was a poet, essayist, novelist, screenwriter, and a public intellectual. Given to non-academic pursuits like parapsychology, Ramakrishna, and psychedelic drugs, Huxley is perhaps best remembered for his futuristic concerns.

One concern, shared with Orwell (a pupil of Huxley’s), was the use and meaning of words. Orwell railed against euphemisms in the English language, especially when used by politicians and those in power to mask their destructive deeds. Huxley shared a similar concern, which is, in short, words matter. This seems to run counter to a political culture that loves to redefine events and programs and arguments in language that is at once dead and full of malignant life. It runs counter to a popular culture that tweets before it thinks and issues apologies almost as fast. There are consequences in the words we use, and as Huxley notes, there is an ethical dimension in our choice of language that, if ignored, leads to barbarism.

Huxley also belonged to another famous trio. He died on the same day as C.S. Lewis and John F. Kennedy.

“Words and the meanings of words are not matters merely for the academic amusement of linguists and logicians, or for the aesthetic delight of poets; they are matters of the profoundest ethical significance to every human being.”

Walk Away René

You’re Not To Blame

The One By Whom Scandal Comes by René Girard 

I can’t help but think of the Left Banke’s 1966 chart breaking song when I read the Frenchman René Girard. Historian, critic, and anthropological philosopher, Girard wrote deeply and widely. Known primarily for his work, Violence and the Sacred, as well as his mimetic (imitative) theory of desires and rivalry (with profound thoughts on scapegoating), he sheds great light on the thinking, acting, and mythologizing of our age. He is worth reading by non-academics for many reasons, chief among them that Girard writes of human development from the perspective of several disciplines (philosophy, sociology, literature) with penetrating theological understanding. He is not so narrow as to be blind to the big picture, or so broad as to miss the quotidian experiences of human life. Reading Girard, who died only last year, you will discover, as the lead singer of the Left Banke did, that “the empty sidewalks on my block are not the same.”

“The Church has never been a scapegoat more than it is today. But one must see the symbolic value of this: whatever the Church may have lost by its compromises with the world, its enemies now give back by obliging it to play the same role as Christ. This is its true vocation. And now that it has been reaffirmed, it will enable the Church to shake off the indolence and decadence of the age that is now drawing to a close. ”

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