Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley review

Have you ever had to be the designated driver while your buddies got wasted? Watching them laugh at nothing and behave like asses while you’re (unfortunately) stone cold sober is a pretty miserable experience as your mind hasn’t been altered by chemicals. Reading “The Doors of Perception” is like this - Aldous Huxley does mescaline and then describes it extensively to the bored reader who is probably not on mescaline. And it’s not nearly as fascinating as Huxley believes it to be - because we’re probably not on mescaline (I know I wasn’t when reading this crap). “The Doors of Perception” is a 50 page essay and it’s sequel, “Heaven and Hell”, a 33 page essay, read like far longer works because they’re so unreadable. 

The point of the essays is that Huxley believes there is more to human nature than the base level of survival and that it’s because of how our species has developed that has made us forget ways in which we can perceive things beyond the ordinary. He wants to allow people to experience mescaline in order to see things he believes are there but beyond our reach without the help of hallucinogenics. 

And here’s the big problem I have with this view - it’s that assuming that what you experience while high is worth more and is more real than what you experience everyday. I mean, what you’re experiencing is simulated with the aid of chemicals - why would it be more “real” than reality? A problem endemic to this book is that Huxley is talking about experiences that are purely visceral and “beyond man-made constructs” such as language and are therefore indescribable - yet he’s trying to describe them with language. Which is why you get drivel like this: 

“I spent several minutes - or was it several centuries? - not merely gazing at those bamboo legs, but actually being them - or rather being myself in them; or, to be still more accurate (for “I” was not involved in the case, nor in a certain sense were “they”) being my Not-self in the Not-self which was the chair.” p.10

“Confronted by a chair which looked like the Last Judgement - or, to be more accurate, by a Last Judgement which, after a long time and with considerable difficulty, I recognized as a chair - I found myself all at once on the brink of panic.” p.33

Good lord, this crap goes on and on for nearly a 100 pages and it doesn’t help that he’s not a very good writer to start with. His rambling style fused with a dry, almost academic, vernacular makes reading this book of insubstantial observations and half-formed ideas all the more insufferable. All he proves is that drugs make intelligent people sound like morons.

He feebly attempts to make the argument that researchers and scientists don’t take “spiritual” experiences seriously because they can’t see it, measure it, rationalise it, in any scientific way. Duh. He bewails methods (eg. taking mescaline) that allegedly “make you more perceptive, more intensely aware of inward and outward reality, and more open to the spirit” which constitute the “non-verbal humanities” aren’t taken more seriously. Well, when you put it like that, Aldous...

He attempts to rectify this by constantly referencing William Blake, Homer, and Goethe in an effort to make the essay appear academic and therefore substantial and worthy of consideration. It’s truly pretentious and pathetic in its ineffectiveness. 

This quote basically sums up the essays:

“Those folds in the trousers - what a labyrinth of endlessly significant complexity! And the texture of the grey flannel - how rich, how deeply, mysteriously sumptuous!” p.16

Wooaaaah, Aldous got fucked up on mescaline!

The Doors of Perception / Heaven and Hell

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