Huxley’s Counterpoint



Although Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point was received with international acclaim on its appearance and, as Isaiah Berlin, Kenneth Clark and others have testified, marked a turning point in the intellectual careers of many members of that generation, it has never fared well with critics in terms of its artistic achievement.1 Some have, with reservation, applauded its amusing and irreverent parody of contemporary fashions; but any claim to its being a serious literary work, deserving to be placed among the major novels of the century, was rejected by David Daiches and others many years ago. The characters, Daiches argued, do not develop organically in the manner required by the novel genre, and the musical theme of counterpoint, which provides the structural frame of the novel, contributes little, he maintained, to the central theme of the work. E. B. Burgum echoed that view in his statement that ‘No development takes place in the totality of relationships. These remain what they were at the beginning, a chaos of contrasts’, concluding accordingly that the novel was ‘an aesthetic failure, since the pattern promised by the title is never achieved’. And Laurence Brander claimed in 1969 that the novel has no plot, is grossly mismanaged, and is pieced together simplistically and arbitrarily.2


Auditory Nerve Stag Beetle Authorial Voice Religious Piety Musical Theme 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Cf. their tributes in Julian Huxley (ed.), Aldous Huxley: a memorial volume (London, 1965), pp. 144–5.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    David Daiches, The Novel and the Modern World (Chicago, 1939), p. 209;Google Scholar
  3. Edwin B. Burgum, The Novel and the World’s Dilemma (New York, 1947), p. 152;Google Scholar
  4. Laurence Brander, Aldous Huxley: a critical study (Lewisburg, 1969), pp. 370f.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    The main defenders of Huxley in recent years have been Peter Bowering, Aldous Huxley: a study of the major novels (New York, 1969) andGoogle Scholar
  6. Jerome Meckier, Aldous Huxley: satire and structure (London, 1969). Both are valuable studies of the author but base their defence of Point Counter Point on the play of ideas it contains rather than its achievement as a literary work.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Peter Quennell, ‘A Critical Symposium on Aldous Huxley’, The London Magazine, 2 (1955), 51–64.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Peter Fichow, Aldous Huxley: satirist and novelist (Minneapolis, 1972), p. 95, Others interpreting the counterpoint as mere amusing juxtapositions includeGoogle Scholar
  9. Keith M. May, Aldous Huxley (London, 1972), pp. 79f., andGoogle Scholar
  10. George Woodcock, Dawn and the Darkest Hour: a study of Aldous Huxley (New York, 1972), pp. 150–60. Meckier’s more sensitive, although still, I believe, unsatisfactory reading of the musical theme is presented in Meckier, Aldous Huxley: satire and structure, op. cit., pp. 43, 132.Google Scholar
  11. 6.
    Sanford Marovitz, ‘Huxley and the Visual Arts’, Papers on Language and Literature, 9 (1973), 172, correctly notes Huxley’s acute and perceptive response to painting despite his poor sight.Google Scholar
  12. 7.
    Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World (Chicago, 1914), p. 89.Google Scholar
  13. 8.
    Olivier-Hourcade argued the case in an article in La Revue de France et de Pays Français in February 1912 and another in Revue Française in June of the same year. The remark by Braque is recorded in Dora Vallier, ‘Braque, la Peinture et Nous’, Cahiers d’Art, 29:1 (1954). See also John Golding, Cubism: a history and an analysis (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), especially pp. 17–18. Although synchronic study is less interested in proving direct influence, it may be noted that Huxley joined the Bloomsbury circle at Garsington in 1914, where Roger Fry and Clive Bell were becoming leading advocates of the contemporary French painters, including the Cubists.Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    Jacques Rivière, ‘Sur les tendances actuelles de la peinture’, Revue d’Europe et d’Amerique, 1 March 1912, pp. 384f. The idea that the Cubist painters were interpreting each object sequentially, as if they were walking around it, has been disputed, as in Guy Habasque, Cubism (New York, 1959), p. 52. It is now generally agreed that it functioned according to the concept of ‘simultaneity’, the representation of objects concurrently from a number of different angles.Google Scholar
  15. 10.
    Quoted in Suzi Gablik, Progress in Art (London, 1976), p. 81.Google Scholar
  16. 11.
    Paul M. Laporte, ‘Cubism and Science’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 7 (1949), 243;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Laura D. Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (Princeton, 1983), pp. 353f. Cf. alsoGoogle Scholar
  18. Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture: the growth of a new tradition (Cambridge, Mass., 1962), p. 357.Google Scholar
  19. 12.
    Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism (London, 1957), and The Logic of Scientific Discovery (London, 1959). Darwin, while in the midst of composing his Origin of Species, discovered an article by Wallace propounding the identical theory. As perfect gentlemen, they submitted a joint paper to the Linnean Society, after which Wallace generously permitted Darwin to publish the larger treatise and then retired into obscurity. One may note as a similar instance how, at a time when Baroque art and literature were fascinated by dazzling light as an emanance of the divine and interpreting the material massivity of planets and stars as testimony to the Supreme Creator, Newton, instigating an era of rationalist enquiry, devoted his main investigations precisely to those two elements, producing his analytical theories of the spectrum and of gravity.Google Scholar
  20. 13.
    Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, Du Cubisme (Paris, 1912), quoted from the translation inGoogle Scholar
  21. Robert L. Herbert (ed.), Modern Artists on Art (Englewood Cliffs, 1964), p. 5.Google Scholar
  22. 14.
    Cf. Leo Steinberg’s valuable discussion in his Other Criteria: confrontations with twentieth-century art (Oxford, 1976), pp. 193f. Steinberg traces this element back to earlier forms of recto/verso, such as the representation around 1500 of a skeletal Death behind the carved figures of a couple embracing. But that, I feel, derives from an essentially different impulse, a didactic attempt to nullify or qualify the pleasures of this world in the tradition of media vita in morte sumus rather than to experiment with concepts of three-dimensionalism. The non-spatial referentialism of such art and the principle of ‘faceting’ is discussed inGoogle Scholar
  23. Douglas Cooper, The Cubist Epoch (Los Angeles, 1970).Google Scholar
  24. 15.
    John Atkins, ‘Point Counterpoint and the Uncongenital Novelist’, Studies in the Literary Imagination, 13 (1980), 69.Google Scholar
  25. 16.
    Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point, in Collected Works (London, 1971), p. 266.Google Scholar
  26. 18.
    C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning: Study of the influence of language upon thought and of the science of symbolism (London, 1923) especially Chapter 2.Google Scholar
  27. 19.
    I. A. Richards, Science and Poetry (1926).Google Scholar
  28. 20.
    June Deery, Aldous Huxley and the Mysticism of Science (Basingstoke, 1996), makes out a case for Huxley as one of the few Modernists who was able to bridge the cultures, to coordinate literature with science, and to bring them together with the mysticism of religion. But she fails to perceive, as the underlying theme of his work, his conviction of the sheer impossibility of reconciling these diverse cultures.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 21.
    A. Huxley, ‘Ninth Philosopher’s Song’ (1920).Google Scholar
  30. 24.
    Cf. Benedick’s comment, ‘Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?’ (Much Ado, 2:3:611), although in that instance Shakespeare is merely remarking on the queerness of the fact, not struggling with a conflict between empiricism and the intuitive response. On the place of music in fiction during the modern period, see Alex Aronson, Music in the Novel (Totowa, 1980), and more specifically,Google Scholar
  31. Gerald Cockshott, Music and Nature: a study of Aldous Huxley (Salzburg, 1979).Google Scholar
  32. 25.
    Wallace Stevens, ‘The Idea of Order at Key West’, in Collected Poems (New York, 1980), pp. 128–9.Google Scholar
  33. 26.
    See, for example, E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion: a study in the psychology of pictorial representation (Princeton, 1972), pp. 84f.Google Scholar
  34. 27.
    The close parallel between Huxley’s affair with Nancy Cunard and the fictional account of Walter’s experience with Lucy Tantamount is noted in Sybille Bedford, Aldous Huxley: a biography (New York, 1974), pp. 135–8.Google Scholar
  35. Walter Allen, ‘Point Counter Point Revisited’, Studies in the Novel, 9 (1977), 373, notes that Philip Quarles, Walter Bidlake and Spandrell are all partial projections of Huxley himself, but only to argue that it adds a ‘personal’ dimension to the novel.Google Scholar
  36. 28.
    Karl Miller, Doubles: studies in literary history (Oxford, 1985).Google Scholar
  37. 29.
    Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York, 1979), pp. 201–2.Google Scholar
  38. 30.
    Robert Rosenblum, Cubism and Twentieth-century Art (New York, 1976), especially p. 90.Google Scholar
  39. 31.
    Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves (London, 1950), p. 54.Google Scholar
  40. 32.
    ‘D. H. Lawrence’ (1932), reprinted in Aldous Huxley, Stories, Essays, & Poems (London, 1937), p. 336.Google Scholar
  41. 33.
    Aldous Huxley, ‘Water Music’, in The Athenaeum (1920).Google Scholar
  42. 34.
    Sanford E. Marovitz, ‘Aldous Huxley’s Intellectual Zoo’, Philological Quarterly, 48 (1969), 495–507, views the zoological elements in the novel simply as literary devices to display the idiosyncracies of the characters.Google Scholar
  43. 36.
    Milton Birnbaum, ‘Politics and Character in Point Counter Point’, Studies in the Novel, 9 (1977), 468, for example, follows the usual approach in discussing Spandrell simply as a ‘diabolical nihilist’, merely noting as an afterthought that there are ‘occasional traces of his yearning for some beauty and spiritual ascent’.Google Scholar
  44. 37.
    The comment on Baudelaire appears in his collection of essays Do What You Will, published the year after Point Counter Point. For an analysis of Spandrell in exclusively Freudian terms, in which the search for God is interpreted as a transposed longing for the mother figure he had idolised in his youth, see Robert S. Baker, The Dark Historic Page: social satire and historicism in the novels of Aldous Huxley, 1921–39 (Madison, 1982), pp. 112f.Google Scholar
  45. 38.
    T. S. Eliot, ‘Baudelaire in Our Time’, in For Lancelot Andrewes (London, 1928).Google Scholar
  46. 39.
    Aldous Huxley, Time Must Have a Stop (London, 1946), p. 289.Google Scholar
  47. 40.
    For a close study of Huxley’s view of Lawrence, see Keith May, ‘Accepting the Universe: the “Rampion-Hypothesis” in Point Counter Point and Island’, reprinted in Jerome Meckier (ed.), Critical Essays on Aldous Huxley (New York, 1996), pp. 229f.Google Scholar
  48. 42.
    Bowering, Aldous Huxley, op. cit., pp. 96–7. Harold H. Watts, Aldous Huxley (New York, 1969), p. 64, in an otherwise discriminating and, rarely enough, laudatory reading of the novel, remarks apologetically that, although the contrasts and juxtapositions are presented there with a satiric brilliance, the novel, ‘it must be confessed, does not wait for an answer’, as if an answer would have improved its effectiveness.Google Scholar
  49. 43.
    Cf. E. K. Brown, Rhythm in the Novel (Toronto, 1950), p. 8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Murray Roston 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bar Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael

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