Theodore W. Adorno, sociologist, philosopher and musicologist collected the most fundamental problems of the 20th century in his writings, which serve as a useful guide to understand and decipher not only the historical events of the last century, but modern literature as well. Adorno was a prominent member of the Frankfurt School, a school of Neo-Marxist interdisciplinary social theory. Other well-known thinkers of the age as Marx Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse and Jürgen Habermas were and are also widely read members of this group. Adorno’s collection of essays, Prisms, published in 1967, includes studies in contemporary German social thought, besides, it touches upon Huxley’s Brave New World, works by Walter Benjamin, Proust and Kafka. Although his essay, Aldous Huxley and Utopia shows a strong sociological approach, I find that he highlights several aspects of the novel hidden or not fully fleshed for scholars of literature.
The essay sets out from a diagnosis claiming ‘a shock of the individual’. The promise of the New Land (America’s) turns out to be a sugar-coated slogan, where opposingly one does not prevail but perish with some exaggeration. Immigrants no longer seek prosperity, but only wish to pull through. They have to adjust to the new system, where ” has arisen a civilization which absorbs all of life in its system, without allowing the unregimented mind even those loopholes which European laxness left open into the epoch of the great business concerns”( Adorno, p97). The intellectual needs to eradicate himself to integrate into the new world of commercialism to survive. This realization results in panic, which according to Adorno, manifests itself in Huxley’s novel.
The act of dehumanization is obvious in Brave New World, but Adorno proceeds claiming that the individuals literally cease to exist. “Men are no longer merely purchasers of the concerns’ mass-produced consumption goods but rather appear themselves to be the deindividualized products of the corporation’s absolute power” (Adorno, p98). The Fordian world succeeds in the fusion of the self into the system itself. The satirical alteration of the motto of the French Revolution: “Community, Identity, and Stability” magnifies the fundamental principles of the system. Everyone is “unconditionally subordinate to the functioning of the whole” (Adorno, p99). One particularly shivering example of this is the recycling of the dead. ‘Identity’ is a witty choice, since it implies two absolutely conflicting meanings. The first association can be the identity of an individual, referring to one’s possession of a set of unique traits; meanwhile identity also signifies the state of being identical with the surroundings. The Fordian system has precisely done the latter by not only manipulating the psyche of the individuals, but pre-conditioning them biologically. ‘Stability’ indicates the achieved harmony by the aforementioned; however, it also results in a lack of progress. It is unspoken still indicated that the ultimate goal of the system lies within itself, that is, merely to uphold the system. This coincides with Adorno’s observation as well, since he later states that “the blame rests with the substitution of means for all ends”( Adorno, p100). The lack of purpose is hidden behind the fancy celebration; the hollow cult of the devices. This is a result of the objectification of the modern era. Adorno explains in The Dialects of the Enlightenment that the Age of Enlightenment declared knowledge as the ultimate goal banishing God in order for man to reach a god-like, omniscient position. With the gained knowledge man subordinated his surroundings. Things are present or re-formed in the world to suit and serve humans. As a result of this desire, things are represented by their mere functions. They no longer possess an ‘aura’ as Walter Benjamin put it in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In the capitalistic settings of the modern era, everything is looked at as a piece of merchandise. Civilians are defined by what they purchase. Huxley extends this line of thought, objectifying the individual itself into a product. Due to the several stages of conditioning, Adorno says that the Fordian people surrender to the system; abandon their desires, without even being aware of their sacrifice. This reveals the system’s strike of genius.
Adorno raises a lot of thought provoking questions concerning Huxley’s utopia, but I wish to concentrate rather on his critical judgements regarding the shortcomings of the book. He claims that the orgy-porgy sessions, the prescribed short-term change of sexual partners give witness to the interchangeability of the individuals.
“It’s highest moral principle, supposedly, is that everyone belongs to everyone, an absolute interchangeability that extinguishes man as an individual being, liquidates as mythology his claim to exist for his own sake, and defines him as existing merely for the sake of others and thus in Huxley’s mind, worthless” (Adorno, p104-105).
I agree with his remark on people being created in order to serve others as one of the main reasons of the loss of identity. However, Adorno also argues that if the people are as exchangeable, then the totalitarian authority of the Fordian world has no stable grounding to gain support from. “Domination may be defined as the disposition of one over others but not as the complete disposition all over all, which cannot be reconciled with the totalitarian order” (Adorno, p105). I am rather certain Adorno was more acquainted with the philosophy of totalitarianism; nevertheless, I find the interchangeability of the people an efficient tool to control the masses. Although the civilians often have sexual intercourses, they lack any personal relationships as their simplistic and shallow dialogues also reflect. Still, the archaic desire of man, namely, to belong and to love is present in the Fordian people, only they are given the mystified concept of ‘Ford’ and ‘society’, both designed to be incomprehensible to love and serve. Their cramped insistence on the system is due to their conditioning, and the impossibility of belonging to anyone else. No wonder the Fordian system banished the concept of family to the realm of the uncivilized. Adorno is correct on the one hand that there is a disposition of all over all, but this will the civilians possess is ironically vague and meaningless since they don’t get true joy out of personal intercourses. They are a herd of sheep waiting for the shepherd’s orders. With the abolition of the self, the Fordian Controllers achieved creating a mass wishing to actually belong to and melt into the greater being that is society. The Controllers do not have to manipulate the minds of the individuals but one unconscious mind of billions.
Another one of Adorno’s curious instances is Huxley’s use of rigid opposites. The erotic collision of Lenina and John is for some reason seen as the “scene á faire” by Adorno mirroring the clash between the two worlds. He regards John’s surrender to Lenina’s preconditioned charm to ease the tension between the world of the conventional and the natural. With John, who is associated with Shakespeare, evoking the values of the lost world Huxley had banished culture to barbarianism. John’s falling for Lenina does not symbolise conventions conquering nature, but John’s natural inability to overcome the new world. John is rather the already mentioned modern intellectual who realizes his possibilities and panics without reaching an alternative solution. Adorno, however, claims that the opposing extremes are in accordance with the utopian tradition.
“Huxley cannot understand the humane promise of civilization because he forgets that humanity includes reification as well as its oppositeâ€¦subjective are realized, but only by being objectified. All the categories examined by the novel, family, parents, the individual and his property, are already products of reification” (Adorno, p106).
The objectification of such concepts is indisputable still they evoke personal experiences and derive from subjective perceptions. Such archaic notions possess a past of their own; they carry their own myths and how they evolved. What Huxley wishes to do is to highlight the fundamental human values represented by these concepts.
Adorno criticises the depiction of the Savage as “neurotic” and states that the novel ceases to be a social criticism with the fall of John. Adorno rather enhances the importance of Bernard Marx. He claims Bernard’s “organic inferiority and inevitable inferiority complexâ€¦ [and] moral cowardice” (Adorno, p106) to be his most dominant traits due to the Jewish pattern; however, he sees Bernard’s character as the voice of social critic. The rebellious behaviour of Bernard expires with the satisfaction of his sexual needs by the desired women. He abandons his opposing views when he ceases to be an outcast. Bernard’s character turns rather into the emblem of arrogance. The same happens when innocent leaders become intoxicated with power. The depiction of the Savage to say the least of it is imperfect. Still his reactions are in a cause and effect relation. His actions do result in a comical end due to his self-sacrifice was in vain.
Another interesting point in Adorno’s essay is the objectification of happiness. In the Fordian world happiness derives from the satisfaction of people’s artificial needs. Adorno recalls a scene from the novel in which Lenina and the Savage watch a Fordian circumscribed movie. This episode shows the retarded perception of happiness.
“He [Huxley] believes that by demonstrating the worthlessness of subjective happiness according to the criteria of traditional culture he has shown that happiness as such is worthless. Its place is to be taken by ontology distilled from traditional religion and philosophy, according to which happiness and the objective good are irreconcilable” (Adorno, p111)
Considering subjective happiness, it can only exist when there is subjectivity, namely, individuals and their own personal desires. However, in the case of the Fordian world we cannot speak about true individuals, or subjective happiness. Therefore, what we encounter is broadly speaking objective happiness with its preconditioned uniformity however retarded it is. Although they achieve objective happiness it does not coincide with the objective good from the past ideologies. It rather draws a retarded good with it, that is, a constant satisfaction transforms into an ‘animal status quo’. The aforementioned film amplifies uselessness and pointlessness of this retarded happiness which is ‘subjectively’ perfect though objectively meaningless. Adorno quotes what Mond answers to John’s accusation regarding the degradation of man. Mond claims that a set of postulates always have to be chosen, in order for a community to function. Huxley contrasts John’s conscious choice of suffering and Mond’s somaic problem solving technique. The reader is given two choices according to Adorno: “the choice is between the barbarism of happiness and culture as the objectively higher condition that entails unhappiness” (Adorno, p112).
Adorno makes another thought provoking observation concerning the extreme ideology of individualism in the modern era as the counterpoint of totalitarian rule. He notes this ideology in Huxley’s novel as an “unreflective individualism asserts itself as though the horror which transfixes the novel were not itself the monstrous offspring of individualist society” (Adorno, p115). In my research so far, no other author has stressed this aspect of the book. The Fordian system is so dehumanized that the reader does not linger on the thought of who has actually thought up this world of utter control. The Controllers seem only the executives of power as if the main authority lied elsewhere. The power of the system and this does not come as a surprise by now, lies within the system itself. The mystification of Ford’s person, the conditioned minds of the people and the fragmented knowledge scattered around the Alphas, Betas and Epsilons create a world of blurry water, in which the strong current of the system keeps the particles in motion. There is a constant circulation without any individual development. This is the reason why Fordian people are never left in peace to meditate; they are conditioned to remain active, so their awakening of consciousness is prohibited in more than one way. But let us return to Adorno’s line of thought, “For Huxley, in the authentic bourgeois spirit, the individual is both everything – because once upon a time he was the basis of a system of property rights – and nothing, because, as a mere property owner, he is replaceable” (Adorno, p115). Once again, Adorno draws a strong parallel between the capitalistic world of commerce and the social world, due to which the individuals and their relations to the outside world are dramatically transformed.
Adorno finds the vanity aspect of the book, on one hand appropriate, but on the other, a bit too reactionary. He claims this approach to root from the “impotence of presumption” (Adorno, p116). Futility does dominate Huxley’s novels regarding all characters. Bernard is paralysed by his own inferiority, and criticises the system until he is no longer an outcast. But at the moment of recognition from his cast, he willingly gives up his views, since all his conditioned desires are met to. John’s character dissolves into a meaningless figure, since his actions lack any result. Even Mustapha Mond, a superior figure compared to the two above mentioned symbolizes vanity. His private collection of books and all the knowledge he had gained from them have little importance. He has made the sacrifice of banning his own interests for the sake of humanity (according to the Ford’s ‘dictionary’). Although he values them fascinating, he holds them to be a memorial of the old civilization.
Adorno most strongly criticizes Huxley for giving humanity simply two alternatives. “Humanity must not only choose between totalitarian world state and extreme individualism” (Adorno, p107). In excuse of Huxley, the author himself stated in Brave New World Revisited that he repented proposing only two alternatives in his novel. Maybe this book simply serves as a mirror to the sinister transformations of the modern age, although I doubt it has no other thought provoking ideas. Still Adorno is right, although his own essay lacks any momentum of this sort. What would be a possible solution to tear ourselves out of these tendencies, have remained unsaid by both authors.
In Adorno’s essay, scholars can benefit from his ideas concerning the death of the individual; the interchangeability of subjects; Huxley’s rigid opposites; objectification of self and happiness; individualism taken to extremes; vanity and reduced alternatives. Some may find my interpretation of his ideas too simplistic, but my aim was to transpose his ideas into the interpretation of Brave New World as a piece of literary work. My objections concerning a few of his observations are game-like, in order for other readers to feel free to take the field against famous scholars. But with all my respect, I find Adorno’s writings brilliant, well argued texts, which should be quoted a lot more often in literature studies.
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