issue 17 :: August 2010

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LITERATURE: A Better Way to Read

Aldous Huxley's Eyeless in Gaza

Written in 1936, Eyeless in Gaza was Huxley's last novel before his move to Hollywood. The sprawling epic explores a favorite topic, the role of the intellectual in English society. Out of place in both high and low English society, the former lacking compassion and the latter intelligence, Huxley's writers, poets and artists struggle with moral truths threatened by dishonest wages. (Of course, Huxley's next novel, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, concerns the role of the intellectual in Hollywood.) The novel is, frankly, long and boring and Huxley had a terrible time completing it. So boring, in fact, that I could not finish it when I went through an obsessive Huxley binge in college. Further marred by an experimental and annoying ordering of the chapters, creating only confusion and none of the interesting results of the experimentations of his contemporaries, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, for example.
The novel breaks down thirty-three years in the intellectual and moral evolution of a writer, loosely based on Huxley's own life, into four broad sections. The chapters of each section are shuffled amongst each other. The reader constantly jumps between the four time periods and focuses more on keeping score of what happened when than the moral dilemmas of the characters. Was this a deliberate rouse to force the reader not to focus on the stale writing and plot? I think so. Was this a cheap mental exercise that provided Huxley with an extra, necessary motivation to finish the book long overdue to his publishers? (Sybille Bedford's biography of Huxley conveys the pressures Huxley felt in producing enough books each year to satisfy his publishing contracts). In the middle of Eyeless after wishing for the hundredth time that the chapters were presented in chronological order, I made the following list. Had I only started reading the book this way in 1990! Just to point out why a chronological ordering is better: at one point in the book, the main character seduces his best friend's gal. But by this point, we've already read numerous chapters that deal with the effects of this betrayal, but without any hint or knowledge of the affair. These cheap tricks are maddening and distracting.
Another nitpick about the book: there is no one blind in the book, and no one even mentions Gaza. Someone does loose a leg while visiting Mexico. “Legless in Mexico?”

Chapter
Date
Page
  
Chapter
Date
Page
4
11/6/1902
17
8
8/30/1933
58
6
11/6/1902
36
12
8/30/1933
103
9
4/2/1903
62
21
8/31/1933
195
15
6/1/1903
131
26
9/5/1933
243
10
6/18/1912
77
26
9/5/1933
243
16
6/19/1912
142
31
9/6/1933
280
19
7/7/1912
168
37
9/20/1933
318
27
5/27/1914
251
41
12/15/1933
334
30
7/2/1914
273
47
1/10/1934
357
33
7/18/1914
287
49
1/12/1934
373
36
7/19/1914
310
51
2/7/1934
386
43
7/20/1914
344
53
2/23/1934
401
48
7/23/1914
366
2
4/4/1934
8
52
7/24/1914
397
7
4/8/1934
56
5
12/8/1926
28
13
5/20/1934
114
11
12/8/1926
94
17
5/26/1934
155
14
12/8/1926
118
23
6/1/1934
220
18
12/8/1926
157
28
6/25/1934
265
20
12/8/1926
182
32
7/29/1934
284
22
12/8/1926
213
35
8/4/1934
307
24
6/23/1927
225
38
8/10/1934
325
34
3/3/1928
297
40
9/11/1934
333
39
3/25/1928
328
42
9/15/1934
341
45
4/14/1928
350
44
9/21/1934
349
25
5/20/1931
238
46
10/30/1934
354
1
8/30/1933
1
50
12/25/1934
385
3
8/30/1933
12
54
2/23/1935
410
The page numbers are from the 1974 Perennial Library (Harper & Row) paperback edition. Dates are in the month/day/year format.
by Josh Ronsen
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