English Novelist, Short-Stories, Playwright and Editor including Brave New World and Oxford Poetry
Aldous Leonard Huxley
English Novelist, Short-Stories, Playwright and Editor including Brave New World and Oxford Poetry
After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
From pure sensation to the intuition of beauty, from pleasure and pain to love and the mystical ecstasy and death ? all the things that are fundamental, all the things that, to the human spirit, are most profoundly significant, can only be experienced, not expressed. The rest is always and everywhere silence.
In a different mode, or another plane of being, music is the equivalent of some of man?s most significant and most inexpressible experiences. By mysterious analogy it evokes in the mind of the listener, sometimes the phantom of these experiences, sometimes even the experiences themselves in their full force of life ? it is a question of intensity; the phantom is dim, the reality, near and burning. Music may call up either; it is chance or providence which decides. The intermittences of the heart are subject to no known law.
Listening to expressive music, we have, not of course the artist?s original experience (which is quite beyond us, for grapes do not grow on thistles), but the best experience in its kind of which our nature is capable ? a better and completer experience than in fact we ever had before listening to the music.
Moonless, this June night is all the more alive with stars. Its darkness is perfumed with faint gusts from the blossoming lime trees, with the smell of wetted earth and the invisible greenness of the vines. There is silence; but a silence that breathes with the soft breathing of the sea and, in the thin shrill noise of a cricket, insistently, incessantly harps on the fact of its own deep perfection. Far away, the passage of a train is like a long caress, moving gently, with an inexorable gentleness, across the warm living body of the night.
Music ?says? things about the world, but in specifically musical terms. Any attempt to reproduce these musical statements ?in our own words? is necessarily doomed to failure. We cannot isolate the truth contained in a piece of music; for it is a beauty-truth and inseparable from its partner. The best we can do is to indicate in the most general terms the nature of the musical beauty-truth under consideration and to refer curious truth-seekers to the original. Thus, the introduction to theBenedictus in the Missa Solemnis is a statement about the blessedness that is at the heart of things. But this is about as far as ?our words? will take us. If we were to start describing in our ?own words? exactly what Beethoven felt about this blessedness, how he conceived it, what he thought its nature to be, we should very soon find ourselves writing lyrical nonsense? Only music, and only Beethoven?s music, and only this particular music of Beethoven, can tell us with any precision what Beethoven?s conception of the blessedness at the heart of things actually was. If we want to know, we must listen ? on a still June night, by preference, with the breathing of the invisible sea for background to the music and the scent of lime trees drifting through the darkness, like some exquisite soft harmony apprehended by another sense.
Silence is an integral part of all good music. Compared with Beethoven?s or Mozart?s, the ceaseless torrent of Wagner?s music is very poor in silence. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why it seems so much less significant than theirs. It ?says? less because it is always speaking.
The Benedictus. Blessed and blessing, this music is in some sort the equivalent of the night, of the deep and living darkness, into which, now in a single jet, now in a fine interweaving of melodies, now in pulsing and almost solid clots of harmonious sound, it pours itself, stanchlessly pours itself, like time, like the rising and falling, falling trajectories of a life. It is the equivalent of the night in another mode of being, as an essence is the equivalent of the flowers, from which it is distilled.
There is, at least there sometimes seems to be, a certain blessedness lying at the heart of things, a mysterious blessedness, of whose existence occasional accidents or providences (for me, this night is one of them) make us obscurely, or it may be intensely, but always fleetingly, alas, always only for a few brief moments aware. In the BenedictusBeethoven gives expression to this awareness of blessedness. His music is the equivalent of this Mediterranean night, or rather of the blessedness at the heart of the night, of the blessedness as it would be if it could be sifted clear of irrelevance and accident, refined and separated out into its quintessential purity.
When the inexpressible had to be expressed, Shakespeare laid down his pen and called for music. And if the music should also fail? Well, there was always silence to fall back on. For always, always and everywhere, the rest is silence.
These [are] extremely important facets of education, which have been wholly neglected. I do not think that in ordinary schools you could teach what are called spiritual exercises, but you could certainly teach children how to use themselves in this relaxedly active way, how to perform these psychophysical skills without the frightful burden of overcoming the law of reversed effort.
This is the greatest gift which man has ever received or given himself, the gift of language. But we have to remember that although language is absolutely essential to us, it can also be absolutely fatal because we use it wrongly. If we analyze our processes of living, we find that, I imagine, at least 50 percent of our life is spent in the universe of language. We are like icebergs, floating in a sea of immediate experience but projecting into the air of language. Icebergs are about four-fifths under water and one-fifth above. But, I would say, we are considerably more than that above. I should say, we are the best part of 50 percent ? and, I suspect, some people are about 80 percent above in the world of language. They virtually never have a direct experience; they live entirely in terms of concepts.
We as personalities ? as what we like to think of ourselves as being ? are in fact only a very small part of an immense manifestation of activity, physical and mental, of which we are simply not aware. We have some control over this inasmuch as some actions being voluntary we can say, I want this to happen, and somebody else does the work for us. But meanwhile, many actions go on without our having the slightest consciousness of them, and ... these vegetative actions can be grossly interfered with by our undesirable thoughts, our fears, our greeds, our angers, and so on? The question then arises, How are we related to this? Why is it that we think of ourselves as only this minute part of a totality far larger than we are ? a totality which according to many philosophers may actually be coextensive with the total activity of the universe?
We have to learn, so to speak, to get out of our own light, because with our personal self ? this idolatrously worshiped self ? we are continually standing in the light of this wider self ? this not-self, if you like ? which is associated with us and which this standing in the light prevents. We eclipse the illumination from within. And in all the activities of life, from the simplest physical activities to the highest intellectual and spiritual activities, our whole effort must be to get out of our own light.
What are we in relation to our own minds and bodies ? or, seeing that there is not a single word, let us use it in a hyphenated form ? our own mind-bodies? What are we in relation to this total organism in which we live? ? The moment we begin thinking about it in any detail, we find ourselves confronted by all kinds of extremely difficult, unanswered, and maybe unanswerable questions.
When we see a rose, we immediately say, rose. We do not say, I see a roundish mass of delicately shaded reds and pinks. We immediately pass from the actual experience to the concept? We cannot help living to a very large extent in terms of concepts. We have to do so, because immediate experience is so chaotic and so immensely rich that in mere self-preservation we have to use the machinery of language to sort out what is of utility for us, what in any given context is of importance, and at the same time to try to understand?because it is only in terms of language that we can understand what is happening. We make generalizations and we go into higher and higher degrees of abstraction, which permit us to comprehend what we are up to, which we certainly would not if we did not have language. And in this way language is an immense boon, which we could not possibly do without. But language has its limitations and its traps.
I wish to raise my hand. Well, I raise it. But who raises it? Who is the ?I? who raises my hand? Certainly it is not exclusively the ?I? who is standing here talking, the ?I? who signs the checks and has a history behind him, because I do not have the faintest idea how my hand was raised. All I know is that I expressed a wish for my hand to be raised, whereupon something within myself set to work, pulled the switches of a most elaborate nervous system, and made thirty or forty muscles ? some of which contract and some of which relax at the same instant ? function in perfect harmony so as to produce this extremely simple gesture. And of course, when we ask ourselves, how does my heart beat? how do we breathe? how do I digest my food? ? we do not have the faintest idea.
Idolatry is ... the worship of a part ? especially the self or projection of the self ? as though it were the absolute totality. And as soon as this happens, general disaster occurs.
In general, we think that the pointing finger ? the word ? is the thing we point at... In reality, words are simply the signs of things. But many people treat things as though they were the signs and illustrations of words. When they see a thing, they immediately think of it as just being an illustration of a verbal category, which is absolutely fatal because this is not the case. And yet we cannot do without words. The whole of life is, after all, a process of walking on a tightrope. If you do not fall one way you fall the other, and each is equally bad. We cannot do without language, and yet if we take language too seriously we are in an extremely bad way. We somehow have to keep going on this knife-edge (every action of life is a knife-edge), being aware of the dangers and doing our best to keep out of them.
Obviously, if we have to get out of the way of the traffic on Hollywood Boulevard, it is no good being aware of everything that is going on in the universe; we have to be aware of the approaching bus. And this is what the brain does for us: It narrows the field down so that we can go through life without getting into serious trouble. But ... we can and ought to open ourselves up and become what in fact we have always been from the beginning, that is to say ... much more widely knowing than we normally think we are. We should realize our identity with what James called the cosmic consciousness and what in the East is called the Atman-Brahman. The end of life in all great religious traditions is the realization that the finite manifests the Infinite in its totality. This is, of course, a complete paradox when it is stated in words; nevertheless, it is one of the facts of experience.
One of the reasons for the lack of attention to the training of the mind-body is that this particular kind of teaching does not fall into any academic pigeonhole. This is one of the great problems in education: Everything takes place in a pigeonhole... The pigeonholes must be there because we cannot avoid specialization; but what we do need in academic institutions now is a few people who run about on the woodwork between the pigeonholes, and peep into all of them and see what can be done, and who are not closed to disciplines which do not happen to fit into any of the categories considered as valid by the present educational system!
Take the piano teacher, for example. He always says, Relax, relax. But how can you relax while your fingers are rushing over the keys? Yet they have to relax. The singing teacher and the golf pro say exactly the same thing. And in the realm of spiritual exercises we find that the person who teaches mental prayer does too. We have somehow to combine relaxation with activity... The personal conscious self being a kind of small island in the midst of an enormous area of consciousness ? what has to be relaxed is the personal self, the self that tries too hard, that thinks it knows what is what, that uses language. This has to be relaxed in order that the multiple powers at work within the deeper and wider self may come through and function as they should. In all psychophysical skills we have this curious fact of the law of reversed effort: the harder we try, the worse we do the thing.
The liberal arts ... are little better than they were in the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages the liberal arts were entirely verbal. The only two which were not verbal were astronomy and music... Although for hundreds of years we have been talking about mens sana in corpore sano, we really have not paid any serious attention to the problem of training the mind-body, the instrument which has to do with the learning, which has to do with the living. We give children compulsory games, a little drill, and so on, but this really does not amount in any sense to a training of the mind-body. We pour this verbal stuff into them without in any way preparing the organism for life or for understanding its position in the world ? who it is, where it stands, how it is related to the universe. This is one of the oddest things. Moreover, we do not even prepare the child to have any proper relation with its own mind-body.
The superficial self ? the self which we call ourselves, which answers to our names and which goes about its business ? has a terrible habit of imagining itself to be absolute in some sense... We know in an obscure and profound way that in the depths of our being ... we are identical with the divine Ground. And we wish to realize this identity. But unfortunately, owing to the ignorance in which we live ? partly a cultural product, partly a biological and voluntary product ? we tend to look at ourselves, at this wretched little self, as being absolute. We either worship ourselves as such, or we project some magnified image of the self in an ideal or goal which falls short of the highest ideal or goal, and proceed to worship that.
What we perceive and understand depends upon what we are.