Aldous Huxley on Mescaline, Botticelli, Scissors

David King Dunaway’s biography of Aldous Huxley, Huxley in Hollywood (1991) touches on the history and difficulties of pacifism in the years leading up to World War II; Hollywood’s ingestion of fine writers for schlocky screenplays in the 1940s; Huxley’s blindness and subsequent obsession with metaphors of vision; his prescient awareness of ecological damage; how the horrors of war turned him inwards toward spiritual and metaphysical study; and finally his sincere embrace of psychedelic drugs as a way to understand his own being.
Some memorable bits:
The first time Huxley took mescaline he decided to go to the World’s Biggest Drug Store, where “he had become a regular at the lunch counter, munching toasted cheese sandwiches on Tuesdays, the cook’s night off. The World’s Biggest Drug Store was a temple of American materialism, or rather, to a Vedantist, a place of maya (the cosmic illusion of material reality). Objects on sale that fateful May afternoon in 1953 are today collector’s items: red, boxy Coca-Cola coolers; corrugated Dixie cups complete with dispensers; lipstick in the lascivious red Marilyn Monroe popularized.”
“As Huxley threaded through the gravy boats and Bakelite dishes, he stumbled upon a row of art books.” He looked through a book on Van Gogh, and then on Botticelli. “His eye slid down to his own clothes; even folds of denim seemed rich and mysteriously sumptuous. Botticelli’s brushstrokes on a purple dress finally opened that long awaited door in the wall, and Huxley unhesitatingly charged through: ‘Poring over Judith’s skirts, there in the World’s Biggest Drug Store, I knew that Botticelli—and not Botticelli alone, but many others too—had looked at draperies with the same transfigured and transfiguring eyes as had been mine that morning.’ “
Botticelli’s Return of Judith
He later said “This is how one ought to see. These are the sorts of things one ought to look at.”
Huxley was “a kind of handy, neighborhood university…I.S. [Igor Stranvinsky] like a radio quiz master, is forever wanting immediate answers to random matters of fact…If Mr. Huxley is in town, however, I.S. need only pick up the telephone, as he did yesterday, when he wanted a run-down on the history of scissors.”—Robert Craft
“To live sanely in Los Angeles (or, I suppose, in any other large American city) you have to cultivate the art of staying awake. You must learn to resist (firmly but not tensely) the unceasing hypnotic suggestions of the radio, the billboards, the movies and the newspapers; those demon voices which are forever whispering in your ear what you should desire, what you should fear. . . the least wandering of attention, the least relaxation of your awareness and already the eyelids begin to droop, the eyes grow vacant, the body starts to move in obedience to the hypnotist’s command. Wake up, wake up.“—Christopher Isherwood, Huxley’s friend and fellow Vedantic disciple
The City of the Angels
More rubber goods than Akron
More celluloid than the Soviets
More Nylons than New Rochelle
More brassieres than Buffalo
More deodorants than Denver
More oranges than anywhere
With bigger and better girls—
The great Metropolis of the West…
[In 2018] a ghost town, what was once
the world’s largest oasis, is now its
greatest agglomeration of ruins in a
wasteland. Nothing moves in the
streets. Dunes of sand have drifted
across the concrete..”
—Huxley, from Ape and Essence, 1948
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