Aldous Huxley, renowned novelist, essayist, and inventor of the term “psychedelic,” often expressed his disdain for work. Born in 1894, Huxley gained fame in his twenties with witty novels like Crome Yellow, eventually becoming best known for his dystopian masterpiece, Brave New World. He once stated, “Like every man of sense and good feeling, I abominate work.” And, this sort of makes him a hero of mine…
Huxley’s aversion to labor was evident even during his tenure as a book reviewer for Vogue in London, where he lamented his boredom and growing hatred for work. As his career progressed, he mused that perhaps he was never meant for regular employment. In fact, he complained to his father; “I moulder along in a pretty chronic state of boredom, and my dislike of work grows steadily towards a fanatical passion.”
This theme of escaping work resonated through Huxley’s life, as with the lives of many other writers, artists, and musicians. In his novel Antic Hay, the protagonist, an Eton schoolmaster named Gumbril, shares Huxley’s disdain for labor. “Work, thought Gumbril, Lord, how passionately he disliked work!” In an attempt to evade work, Gumbril devises a new invention—pneumatic trousers, which can be inflated to provide comfort on hard surfaces. He believes these inflatable pants will bring him financial success and liberation from toil.
Throughout his life, Huxley too sought a similar financial windfall, hoping it would release him from the need to generate income through books, journalism, and film scripts. He wrote plays with dreams of a West End hit, but never achieved such success.
To Huxley, work represented a form of enslavement to the machine. He believed that humankind’s unwavering devotion to technology would eventually lead to its downfall. Like the mystic William Blake, Huxley viewed the military-industrial complex as “Moloch,” an Old Testament god notorious for demanding child sacrifices. Although technology offered distractions and pleasure, it also perpetuated a state of servitude. Fun fact; this is referenced in Ginsberg’s Howl.
As a “philosophic anarchist,” Huxley envisioned humanity’s escape from Moloch through self-sufficient communities and the promotion of mystical consciousness—a precursor to the New Age movement. In his eyes, mysticism united all religions, transcending time and human constructs. His book The Perennial Philosophy offers a collection of mystical writings demonstrating the shared wisdom of various spiritual traditions: to live fully in the present moment. It is a handy primer of mystical writings which shows that Christian mystics, Islamic mystics, Buddhist mystics, Hindu mystics, Taoist mystics and all the rest are saying the same thing: be here now. “Mysticism has the enormous merit of being concerned with the eternal present, and not, as humanism is, with the future.”
Huxley’s final novel, Island, outlines his vision of an ideal society. Despite literary critic Frank Kermode’s scathing review, calling it “one of the worst novels ever written,” Island serves as a testament to Huxley’s lifelong quest to break free from the chains of work and embrace a more harmonious existence by painting a picture of his Utopia.
On a personal note; it was Huxley’s book The Doors Of Perception that helped me through a difficult period in my life. But, to find out about that, you will have to buy me a pint and sit me down in one of this town’s great pubs…