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Course Syllabi and Announcements
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements and Assignments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2008)
  A Reading of THE TEMPEST

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006)
  Goals of the Course
  Fundamental Questions about Literature
  Valuing Literature
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Literature as ART
  Ambiguity
  Approaching the Art of Fiction
  Defining the Short Story
  Evaluating Short Fiction
  Craft of Fiction: PLOT
  Craft of Fiction: CHARACTER
  Small Group Exercise
  ARABY by James Joyce
  WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? by Joyce Carol Oates
  Our RITES OF PASSAGE Theme
  A note about GIRL
  POE and the art of STORY OF A HOUR
  THE YELLOW WALLPAPER
  YOUNG MAN ON SIXTH AVENUE
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Fiction and Ambiguity - Your Questions
  Writing Workshop - Short Fiction
  Poetry Journal Project Assignment Sheet
  LITERARY SYNTHESIS PROJECT
  Defining Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry
  Drama and Tragedy
  Study Questions: DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006)
  Paper #4 Assignment Sheet
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources Worksheet
  Selecting Information
  Evaluating Arguments
  CASEBOOK PROJECT Assignment Sheet
  Approaching Persuasive Writing
  Topic Development - Profile Essay
  Generating Ideas for the Profile Essay
  Paper #2 Assignment Sheet
  Profile Exercise
  Analyzing THE FIVE BEDROOM, SIX FIGURE ROOTLESS LIFE
  Objective Writing: Selected Readings
  Writing Workshop: Paper #1
  Expressive Writing in the NYTimes
  Writing Effective Introductions and Conclusions
  Paper #1: IDENTITY
  Expressive Writing
  Open Letter Exercise and Examples
  EMERSON on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Literature related to IDENTITY
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'

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  Weblog for WRT 120
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  WCU Homepage
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Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005)
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  Franz Kafka's BEFORE THE LAW
  Analyzing WAITING FOR GODOT
  Approaching WAITING FOR GODOT
  Paper #3: Assignment Sheet
  Paper #4: Independent Project
  The Problem of Stability in BRAVE NEW WORLD
  UTOPIA/DYSTOPIA Links
  Analyzing Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  A Reading of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST
  From today's news (11/3/05)
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #2
  Goodbye to Dante's Imaginary World
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 10-34
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 1-10
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 32-34
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 18-31
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 12-17
  INFERNO: Structure
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 1-5
  INFERNO: Analyzing Canto 1
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Approaching Dante's DIVINE COMEDY
  A Little Help with Dante's INFERNO
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Notes on LEAF BY NIGGLE
  Responses to LEAF BY NIGGLE
  ON FAIRY STORIES: An Essay by Tolkien
  Notes on Axolotl
  Reading Ovid's Tales
  From Myth to Literature: Approaching Ovid's Tales
  Notes on THE EYE OF THE GIANT
  Functions of the Genesis Tales
  Analyzing Mythic Tales
  Defining Mythology
  Filtering the Introduction to FANTASTIC WORLDS
  Commentary on LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI by Keats
  Commentary on DARKNESS by Byron
  Handout: Imagination Poems Set
  What is Imagination?
  Our Course Theme: Imaginary Worlds
  LIT 165 Assignments: Fall 2005
  LIT 165 Announcements: Fall 2005
  Imaginary Worlds: Course Syllabus

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
  Paper #4: Independent Thinking/Reading/Writing
  Casebook Preparation Checklist
  Casebook Assignment Schedule
  Evaluating Sources for the Casebook
  Casebook Project Assignment Sheet
  Notes on Rational Argument
  Argument
  Assignment Sheet: Objective Writing
  Reviewing Elements of the Profile Essay
  Writing the Profile Essay
  Readings: Objective Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Expressive Writing
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  About SKIN DEEP
  Emerson on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Mind-map: Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Assignments Page
  Announcements Page
  WRT 120 Course Syllabus for Fall 2005

ENG Q20: Basic Writing

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

 

~~ Embarking on the Brave New World ~~


PRINTER FRIENDLY

How do we move from Dante’s Inferno into Huxley’s Brave New World?  It might seem like a bit of a jarring transition.  We’re jumping ahead from 1321 to 1932, over six hundred years from the medieval era to our modern one, from an agricultural age to an industrial one, from brilliant poetry to flat prose.  How can we bridge this gap?

One way to bridge this distance is to see some of the interesting parallels between the two works.  Of course, they both present imaginary worlds, but beyond that there are some very interesting parallels (and perpendiculars) for us to note.  

First, although the difference in time periods is striking, we’ve already noted that Dante, in his representation of the “self,” the “individual,” represents a kind of turning from the classical/early medieval view of the self.  He is more modern than his dates might make him seem, and an attentive reading of the Inferno bears out his ability to create vividly human individuals who are not “larger than life” heroes, or grand, allegorical embodiments of abstract ideas.  Instead they are life-size, lifelike, and irreducibly individual.  In that sense, Dante may be the more powerful and even more “modern” artist than Huxley.  Huxley may be closer to us in time, and equally as provocative, but his characters seem to many readers less  like “individuals” and more like those grand allegorical types mentioned earlier, like human cutouts in a large philosophical puzzle.

Surprisingly, there are many challenging parallels and perpendiculars between the Inferno and Brave New World, between Dante’s world and Huxley’s, and this is a good time to explore them, as a way of embarking on our exploration of Huxley’s novel.


PARALLELS, in no particular order

Both authors seem to agree that individual free will—individuality—is the root of all “sin” (immoral decision-making, bad choices), the source of all pain and suffering, as Dante’s Poet might put it, and the source of all unhappiness and instability, as Mustapha Mond, Huxley’s spokesman for the Brave New World might put it.  Individual free will, our messy individuality, is the source of every right and wrong moral choice, every good and bad decision, every sensible and stupid, helpful and hurtful thing we freely do.  The pain, the suffering, the instability doesn’t just affect individuals, however, but spills over into the entire society, affecting us all—so it must be dealt with.  Therefore, both authors suggest, taking aggressive measures against the individual protects the whole society.   There the similarity ends, as we’ll see.  

Both authors seem to believe there must be something better than this.  Both seem radically upset by disturbing trends in their respective societies, and as a result they’ve both become powerful, visionary social critics, the likes of which are rarely seen (and mostly silenced when they are seen).  Dante and Huxley seem equally fed up, determined to confront what’s wrong with the social order surrounding them.  Both respond by creating “utopian” and “dystopian” imaginary worlds to try to express their disgust and to try to it communicate it to us.  They both seem interested, in their way, in consciousness-raising; they’d like to wake us up out of our blind complicity so we can divert the disastrous consequences they feel loom just over the horizon--don’t both writers hypothesize an imaginary “future”?  Despite this projection into the future, the striking similarity is that both of these writers are highly critical of the prevailing current social structure, and their works raise provocative questions that lead readers to challenge some of the deeply held assumptions that lie at the root of their respective cultures.

What are those “provocative questions,” you might ask.  Here’s one way of expressing them.

Huxley: What is the “pursuit of happiness”?  (We know that’s one of our “inalienable rights” but what does it mean?)  What is “progress”?  (Is progress always good?)  What role should science play in helping shape society?  (Is science always ethical?)  In Huxley’s imaginary brave new world, which has eliminated history, art, religion, and individual autonomy, what does it finally mean to be human?  What gives meaning to human life?

Dante: What is evil?  What is sin?  What is justice?  In a morally corrupt world where bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people, what gives this seeming chaos of existence meaning and purpose?      

It’s hard to miss the fact that both Huxley and Dante pursue visions of “paradise.”  Although it may not be obvious in the Inferno, that is only Part One of the Divine Comedy.  But even in the Inferno, we realize we are only on the first stage of a longer journey, and that even at this stage there is a kind of “paradise” of perfection: perfect justice.  Dante takes his vision seriously.  Huxley’s  Brave New World, on the other hand, is a satire of paradise (a dystopia masquerading as “utopia”).  Readers, recognizing the satire, may feel they also are only on the first stage of a journey:  Huxley’s novel challenges us to purse the matter beyond the end of the story:  to ask how we can improve society, whether “utopia” is possible or not, or whether any such attempts will lead to dystopia.

Both authors seem to agree that total conformity is inhuman—that individuality is a necessary human ingredient, a natural human element we can’t part with—not in Hell, and not as a trade-off for Paradise.  Our humanity must travel with us everywhere—in Hell as well as in Paradise, or there can be no Paradise.  In the absence of individuality, the “utopian” Brave New World seems  dehumanizing—a nightmare, a dystopia.  Although Dante would like everyone to act morally, he’s aware that there’s no universal prescription, no one-size-fits-all morality; each individual soul must wage his and her own unique battle.  Even Dante’s worst sinners never lose their individuality; they never “conform” to a one-size-fits-all “sinner mentality.”  On the other hand, the dehumanized, robotic conformists who operate Huxley’s Brave New World seem to signify Huxley’s similar belief that utter conformity is not really human.   Bernard Marx, John the Savage, Helmholtz Watson, Lenina Crowne, and even Linda are all misfits who give the reader glimpses of a kind of debased individuality; together they form the basis of Huxley’s satire on our fragile humanity.  Only Mustapha Mond, one of the “world controllers” seems fully “human” in his ability to make meaningful choices, and he has chosen to support the dehumanized Brave New World, a bitter irony.

Both authors explore in a deeply philosophical, emotional, and artistic way what it means to be human.  The dehumanized environments they vividly bring to life help us ponder this question very meaningfully.  


PERPENDICULARS, in no particular order

Inferno
Brave New World

Individual free will is insisted upon. All choices are meaningful; they create identity, responsibility, consequences. You are either rewarded or punished for the choices you make. There's a moral order that provides meaning.

 

Individual free will is violently obliterated with shock therapy, alcohol in the test tube—whatever it takes. This may seem brutal, but it's in the service of society, which will be "happier" and more "stable."

Individuality, your personal identity—your unique emotions, your personal history, etc.—is what makes you human. Your identity, your individuality endures even in the deepest reaches of Hell. No matter how horrible your choices are, no matter how disgusting an individual you are, your choices are what ultimately define you and make you human.

 

In the absence of choices, individuality cannot exist. If you aren't able to make any decisions about what's right or wrong, then you are a "program" operating under someone or something else's will, and you are not fully "human." You've submerged your personal identity to the larger "state identity."

Dante's Inferno implies that in the absence of moral order, moral consciousness, society suffers; our earthly lives can become like a living hell; we create hellish conditions for ourselves when we could be creating heavenly ones. The individual isn't the only one affected by his or her bad choices (sins); the whole society suffers.

 

We can bypass the whole issue of the need for moral consciousness by waging outright war upon the individual. We can create heavenly conditions, a paradise, a utopia, here on earth by eliminating the individual's ability to make immoral choices. We have to obliterate individual consciousness, individual free will, but it's worth it if it means society will end its suffering.

An earthly paradise is only possible if people become more conscious of the consequences of their actions. Raising consciousness can bring about better, more reasonable, more moral behavior—because people are rational beings who will act in their own best interests if given the chance. Being aware of the consequences, believing that our actions have consequences, that you may damn your immortal soul to hell (or your earthly body to hellish conditions) by the bad choices you make may encourage you to live morally, take the straight path. That would be paradise: lots of people making moral choices.

 

Earthly paradise can only be achieved by obliterating everything in ourselves that we associate with being human. We have to obliterate all emotion, all intelligence, all autonomy. We have to eliminate art, history, religion, and even science (selectively). People may have to be forced to relinquish these things, but the means of forcing them are available.

SO, while Dante is considered one of the west’s (and the world’s) great literary artists, Huxley is rarely given such accolades.  Brave New World may not even be a “good novel,” much less a great one, if you look for qualities like narrative technique, plot design, and character development—all considered hallmarks of the art of the novel.  But even if it turns out to be true that Huxley is a weak “artist” few will argue with the assessment that he’s a brilliant spokesman for some of the most profound issues of our modern era.  Today this novel has the feel of an incredibly prophetic book.  Whatever its status as a work of art, it runs the table when it comes to expressing a certain kind of modern malaise.  If the “cure” Huxley offers is a satiric utopia that seems more like hell than paradise, that may be because he was able to see so clearly the Inferno-like futility of our modern world, with its blind  assumptions about “progress” and the “pursuit of happiness”—and its unbridled faith in science and technology to rescue us from ourselves.  Is this a cheerful satire or a bitter one?  Read and decide.



 

 

 

     

 


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