Friday, July 26, 2013

July 26 - Birthdays of Utopian-Dystopian Writers Aldous Huxley, Stanley Kubrick, Bernard Shaw

Aldous Huxley
Garrison Keillor in The Writer's Almanac gives us some poetry every day and then lists birthdays of authors (and sometimes other people) he thinks we might be interested in. Today he has three Time Travelers on his list of four authors and I could not resist commenting here, because all three have written about Utopias and Dystopias.

Aldous Huxley was born in Surrey, England in 1894. After reading some H.G. Wells (The Time Machine?) he decided to write about the future in Brave New World (1932), summarized by Keillor as:
...a future in which most human beings are born in test-tube factories, genetically engineered to belong in one of five castes: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. There are no families; people have sex all the time and never fall in love, and they keep themselves happy by taking a drug called "soma." 
George Orwell's 1984 came out a few years later, and Huxley argued his own imagined dystopian future was more likely than Orwell's, because "it would be easier to control people by keeping them happy than it would be by threatening them with violence."

I would say that Huxley predicted several paths in the evolution of capitalist countries and Orwell predicted paths in the futures of totalitarian countries. Between them they offer equal-opportunity gloom for those not spaced out on "soma".

Stanley Kubrick was born today in New York City in 1928. Many of his movies, like "The Shining" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" have a time-traveling theme. His adaptation of Burgess's "A Clockwork Orange" provides a scenario for a dystopian outcome of a capitalist attempt at utopia.

George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin in 1856, the most ancient of the three. Of his 60+ plays, he wrote three plays with the theme of looking forward to the working of a benign force to create an eventual Utopia. Back to Methuselah (1920) as the name suggests, goes back to world origins and forward to a distant future. He was very proud of this long play but critics were not so favorable. His next play, Saint Joan, was widely applauded.

Two other plays had a similar theme - The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles (1934) and Farfetched Fables (1950, shortly before he died). He wanted to believe that Karl Marx was in some way going to be right, but he favored the Fabian Socialist route rather than revolution. He wrote tracts and articles in favor of Fabian Socialism.

Such great minds wrestling with the same topic! Born on the same day! Makes you wonder...