Sunday, July 10, 2011

Aldous Huxley on ready-made v. personal creative expression

I remember first contemplating the very topic that Mr. Huxley writes about in this early 20th century article after one of my many viewings of "Out of Africa". There is a scene where the men are singing after dinner and then Isak Dinesen's character tells a story. I thought at the time how sad it is that we have "lost" our own voices only to be replaced by "ready-made" songs and music. Are we all the best singers? Maybe not, but that isn't the point. We all have talents to share with friends and family: a recitation of a poem, playing a song on the piano, telling a story, etc. We could each find a song or two that we could sing as after dinner entertainment for our family. Well, it appears that there is nothing new under the sun...The following is a transcription of a short article Aldous Huxley wrote for Vanity Fair in the 1920's.

"The really great simplifications of our mental life, it is asserted, have been brought about 'as a result of the commercial application of scientific inventions.' The results of this excessive facilitation are, first, an atrophy of the artistic, musical, and dramatic faculties of those who accept their amusements ready made; and, second, an increase of boredom. There is nothing nowadays corresponding to the peasant art, the folk songs, the traditional plays and mummings of the past. The talent which produced these things lies latent; ready-made standardized entertainment has effectively prevented it from expressing itself. But ready-made art can never be as completely satisfying to a man as the art he makes himself. The cinema, the gramophone, the wireless are distractions; but they do nothing to satisfy man's desire for self-assertion."

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