Critical Analysis of Aldous Huxley’s Essay Pleasures

The prescribed piece “Pleasures has been taken from a collection of Aldous Huxley’s essays known as, “On the Margin”. Here Huxley presents a searching criticism of modern civilization. He points that the real dangers to modern civilization are not external but internal. We talk so much of German or French militarism causing wars and threatening civilization. But civilization is really corrupted to the core (heart). Modern man does not like to have intellectual pleas-ires or pleasures involving the exercise of intelligence, initiative or personal colouring. Modern man runs after ready-.made distractions in the shape of mechanical pleasures. This shows that modern man is enervated and debilitated. Modern man has a taste for crude and violent pleasures. Modern man has a decadent taste.

“Pleasures” is a thought-provoking essay written by Aldoux Huxley in 1923. It is fully characteristic of the early Huxley in its ruthless (severe) criticism of modern civilization. The main point of Huxley in the essay is that the real dangers to modern civilization are not external but internal. Since the first Great War, various things were described as dangers to modern civilization. The rise of Prussian (German) military power-war, years of stupid peace, even such a minor thing as prohibition- all have been described as threats to civilization. But the real dangers to civilization come from within. There is something wrong with the state of modern man. The mind of modern man has become mechanical. It does not like intelligent pleasures. It relishes organized, ready-made distractions. This is a dangerous sign. In the past, people enjoyed intelligent pleasures. In the seventeenth century, all sections of people wanted mental entertainment. The Elizabethan music was highly complex: yet people appreciated it. The royal personages wanted mental/ pleasures. Debates were held on the occasion of the marriage of princes. But in the present age “Pleasures” have come to stand for mechanical and readymade distractions. This is a sad state of affairs. The modern films have lowered the taste of the people, Dancing was a highly subtle art in the past. now it has become purely mechanical.

According to Huxley, modern civilization is doomed. It is self-poisoned. It stands in danger of being destroyed through its inner weaknesses. It may go the way of Roman civilization. The Romans had lost the taste for intelligent pleasures. They tried to satisfy themselves with cheap entertainment. At last they grew tired of their cheap pleasures. They tried to satisfy their taste for pleasures in violent ways. They became cruel in their pleasures. Modern man will also get bored because his pleasures do not demand any personal participation. He will also try to satisfy his pleasure in violent ways. He will follow the example of Romans. He will like to have cruel pleasures by becoming a member of a secret society like Ku Klux Klan. The presence of a few idealists among us may check this wild tendency for sometime, but the desire to find relief from mental boredom is sure to find expression in violent ways.

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Aldous Huxley here makes a searching criticism of the bases of modern civilization. He sounds a note of warning to modern man. Man is fast becoming a machine even with regard to his pleasures. Pleasures must have something to do with the mind, otherwise, they are sure to lead to mental boredom. Huxley points out the psychological weakness of modern man. The key- sentence in the essay is the following-

“Self poisoned in this fashion, civilization looks as though it might easily decline into a kind of premature senility.” Our civilization will decline if we do not revive the taste for intelligent pleasures. We have lost the proper sense of values. This is a dangerous symptom. It may lead to the destruction of modern civilization.

Huxley is a learned writer. His study is vast. He has an encyclopedic mind. His learning is shown in the essay in reference to public taste in various periods. Huxley’s range of studies covers every subject. Hence there is a wealth of reference in the essay. Huxley’s illustrations are always to the point. Thus while referring to modern man’s taste for secret pleasures, he refers to the anti-social activities of such a secret society as Ku Klux Klan.

The style of the essay is appropriate to the subject. Huxley’s expressions are forceful. He hits at the low taste of people in the present age.



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