Aldous Huxley: Island

Aldous Huxley’s Island is a vivid reminder that current Western flirtations with Eastern spirituality are far from new. First published in 1962, the book is a mechanism by which Huxley places the rabid forces of capitalist materialism in stark confrontation with Buddhism, exposing the gaping inadequacies of the former as any means of fulfilment.<br><br>The story takes place on the fictional island of Pala where, by default or destiny, Will Farnaby, a world-weary journalist, has his eyes opened through a journey of enlightenment. ‘Attention’ is the opening word of the novel and a repeated refrain throughout. ‘Here and now’, insists the voice of a distant bird. Attention to the here and now.<br><br>This mantra is familiar to those who frequent the burgeoning self-help shelves of real or virtual bookshops and is the clarion call of Eckhart Tolle’s bestselling manual, The Power of Now. However, the alert stillness required to truly live in the moment gathers an urgent momentum as Huxley’s story progresses. Forever in the background of what is more of a practical possibility than a utopian dream lurk the forces of destruction in the form of power-crazy profit-mongers. <br><br>Neither plot nor characterisation are paramount, and some chapters read simply as philosophical dialogues, yet the message of the novel is perhaps even more compelling today. As blood is increasingly and inhumanely sacrificed for oil, the final pages of Huxley’s narrative plunge us into a world instantly recognisable as that depicted by our daily diet of broadcast news. <br><br>Yet the voice of reason and sanity persists through the hope expressed by one of the island’s inhabitants: ‘One’s justified in feeling extremely pessimistic about the current situation. But despair, radical despair – no, I can’t see any justification for that.’Attention, Huxley warns us, and fifty years on, we would do well to heed his words.


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