The Greatness of Silence…

Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth. ~ Aldous Huxley, 1946 preface to Brave New World

Several of the terms Huxley chooses to use in the quote above create quite the analytic challenge: the comment seems to offer a complex perspective on power and its manipulation—on action and inaction—but how can one define “truth” or “great” or “practical” or even “silence.” How far does one want to take each of these definitions; for instance, should one take them to the extremes such as exist in the Utopist experiment of Brave New World?

Given the purpose of this interdisciplinary seminar, perhaps we can talk of “silence” as what has occurred on the part of the Humanities, whose qualified representatives have either struggled to find a voice in the world of public policy or have felt themselves unwanted or irrelevant in discussions of science or government regulations, etc.

If we understand silence in such a way, then despite uncertainties about the other terms (“truth,” “great,” “practical”), then perhaps Huxley’s statement really begins to resonate for our twenty-first–century and literarily inclined ears. Or maybe, because of the uncertainty about those other terms, and because of our skills at critically analyzing and carefully considering what they mean, the “silence” on the part of the Humanities gains even more responsibility, has an even larger effect on a world that is looking to understand some version of “truth,” some direction in which it can invest as a society looking toward its future.

The novel starts, and the narrative immediately provides a scene of education in which students are given instruction about the conditions and systems of this brave new world. Let’s look at some of those moments in the text in which characters are specifically taught how to think about new technologies and human relations and goals for the future. How does the novel represent that powerful “great” silence to which Huxley refers? Does it? And how can we begin to replace that silence with something else?

Erin Spinka


~ by erinspinka on February 12, 2009.

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