Studies in a Literary Genre
CHAPTER 6 Aesthetics of Utopia
The title page identifies Aldous Huxley’s Island (1962) as a novel. Most reviewers, accepting the designation without question, proceeded to belabor the book accordingly: despite its interesting ideas, one of the worst novels ever written, Frank Kermode decided; and William Barrett, outraged, accused Huxley of abandoning the novelist’s task altogether in order to make propaganda. The indignation of other writers who took this line rose in proportion as they resisted the free love and drugs of utopian Pala. Wayne Booth, however, made a start at sorting out the literary issues.lxxxii Although it calls itself a novel, Island actually belongs, he said, to another, non-Leavisonian “great tradition,” along with Gulliver’s Travels, Candide, Rasselas, Erewhon—works which use fictional devices to provoke thought. Booth avowed his interest in Island, although he felt unable to pronounce an aesthetic judgment, the criteria for this “nameless and tricky genre” not yet having been worked out. He issued a cordial invitation to critics to do the working. Northrop Frye and Richard Gerber had already made notable incur- sions into the field. Gerber’s Utopian Fantasy (1955), although ostensibly concerned with English utopian fiction from 1900 to 1955, is in fact a wide- ranging and acute study of most of the interesting generic problems. The last third of the book, called “Aesthetic Concretion,” deals with precisely the issues that must be clarified if the simple confusions which bedevilled reviewers of Island are to be avoided; and if I disagree with Gerber’s con- clusions, I want to record my...
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