Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ape and Essence
A forgotten Masterpiece

Book Cover

In 1948 inspired by the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi Aldous Huxley, who wrote Brave New World, wrote Ape and Essence1 a thoroughly pessimistic and dark view of humanity.

The first part of the story relates how two Hollywood producers, on the day of Gandhi’s assassination, found a discarded script in the trash and sought out the writer only to find out that the writer, named William Tallis, had died a few weeks earlier. On a white board in front of his house is the following sign:

The Leech’s kiss, the squids embrace,
The prurient ape’s defiling touch:
And do you like the human race?
No, not much.

Sort of indicates what a misanthrope William Tallis is.

After this short introduction the script that Mr. Tallis wrote is printed. It is divided into two sections. One is a collage of images and texts designed to set up the story the other is the story itself.

In this collage of images we see repeatedly the image of an ape / baboon indicating what the author thinks is the essence of humanity that of primitive primal urges that enslave science and learning. Thus:
…we see a bosomy young female baboon, in a shell-pink evening gown, her mouth painted purple, her muzzle powdered mauve, her fiery eyes ringed with mascara.

Behind her, on all fours and secured by a light steel chain attached to a dog collar, come Michael Faraday.3
As for science this is what is said:

Today, thanks to that Higher Ignorance which is our knowledge, man’s stature has increased to such an extent that the least among us is now a baboon, the greatest an orang-utan or even, if he ranks as a Saviour of Society, a true Gorilla.4
After some more montage shots and narration about all men being if not apes at least baboons we get the narrator saying:

Surely it’s obvious.
Doesn’t every schoolboy know it?
Ends are ape-chosen; only the means are man’s.
Papio’s procurer, bursar to baboons,
Reason comes running, eager to ratify;
Comes a catch-fart, with philosophy, truckling to
Comes, a pimp for Prussia, With Hegel's Patent His-
Comes with Medicine to administer the Ape-King’s
Comes, Rhyming and with Rhetoric, to write his ora-
Comes with Calculus to aim his rockets
Accurately at the orphanage across the ocean;
Comes, having aimed, with incense to impetrate
Our Lady devoutly for a direct hit.

Church and state
Greed and Hate:-
Two Baboon-Persons in one Supreme Gorilla.
Amen, amen.5
A couple of Einsteins, slaves to the Apes eventually die in a world wide nuclear war, complete with terrible chemical and biological weapons.

It is now the year 2108 and an expedition sent from New Zealand is approaching Los Angles. New Zealand survived because it was considered not important enough to bomb, chemically asphyxiate or biologically assault. The result is New Zealand sends an expedition to North America to see what happened and investigate now that the radiation levels are down. Our hero is a Dr. Alfred Poole a botanist with an expertise in plants and agriculture.

He is captured by the natives of the area who have reverted to barbarism. They mine libraries for books to burn as fuel. They worship Satan, calling him Belial. They call the war “the thing”. Deformed babies are sacrificed to Belial each year. The war as changed the biology of most humans so that they go into heat once a year and are basically out of control for two weeks.

Dr. Poole meets Loola who becomes his love interest even though she is wearing a costume saying NO NO NO all over it and refers to herself as a “Vessel of the unholy Spirit”.6

Dr. Poole’s nemesis in the book is the Arch-Vicar who is the head of this Satanic Church. Some of the beau-mots of this faith are as follows:

“Question: To what fate is Man predestined? Answer: Belial has, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity elected all now living to everlasting perdition.”

“Belial has perverted and corrupted us in all the parts of our being. Therefore, we are, merely on account of that corruption, deservedly condemned by Belial”

The Teacher nods approvingly.

“Such” he squeaks unctuously, “is the inscrutable justice of the Lord of the Flies.”7
In the book there is a long section about the ceremony by which the deformed children are sacrificed with the following being chanted.

Semichorus I

Whence, after much wallowing,

Semichorus II

After many long draughts of the swill,

Semichorus I

Mother emerging nine months later,

Semichorus II

Bears this mockery of a man.

Semichorus I

How then shall there be atonement?

Semichorus II

By Blood.

Semichorus I

How shall Belial be propitiated?

Semichorus II

Only by blood.8
Our hero, Dr. Poole faints from seeing the rather bloody sacrifices of infants. When he wakes up he meets the Arch-Vicar who explains how things got to this in which Belial overturned the order of things and created this hell:

The overcrowding of the planet. Five hundred, eight hundred, sometimes as many as two thousand people to a square mile of food-producing land –and the land in the process of being ruined by bad farming. Everywhere erosion, everywhere the leaching out of minerals. And the deserts spreading, the forests dwindling.

-And remember this," he adds: "even without synthetic glanders, even without the atomic bomb, Belial could have achieved all His purposes. A little more slowly, perhaps, but just as surely, men would have destroyed themselves by destroying the world they lived in. They couldn't escape. He had them skewered on both His horns. If they managed to wriggle off the horn of total war, they would find themselves impaled on starvation. And if they were starving, they would be tempted to resort to war. And just in case they should try to find a peaceful and rational way out of their dilemma, He had another subtler horn of self-destruction all ready for them. From the very beginning of the industrial revolution He foresaw -that men would be made so over-weeningly bumptious by the miracles of their own technology that they would soon lose all sense of reality. And that's precisely what happened. These wretched slaves of wheels and ledgers began to congratulate themselves on being the Conquerors of Nature. Conquerors of Nature, indeed! In actual fact, of course, they had. merely upset the equilibrium of Nature and were about to suffer the-consequences. just consider what they were up to during the century and a half before the Thing. Fouling —the rivers, killing off the wild animals, destroying the forests, washing the topsoil into the sea, burning up an ocean of petroleum, squandering the minerals it had taken the whole of geological time to deposit. An orgy of criminal imbecility. And they called it Progress. Progress," he repeats, "Progress! I tell you, that was to rare an invention to have been the product of any merely human mind-too fiendishly ironical!9.
After discussing the ideas of progress and nationalism. The Arch-Vicar concludes that these two notions, both absurd and fatal where adopted because humanity allowed itself to be possessed by Belial.

He wanted [Belial] forced migrations and mass pauperization. He wanted concentration camps and gas chambers and cremation ovens.10
The Arch-Vicar concludes:

“you’d hardly think he[Belial] could have produced us without a miracle,” the Arch-Vicar thoughtfully continues, “But He did, He did. By purely natural means, using human beings and their science as His instruments, he created an entirely new race of men, with deformity in their blood, with squalor all around them and ahead in the future, no prospects but of more squalor, worse deformity and finally complete extinction. Yes, it’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living evil.”11
Then the Church takes over for the time period of when humans mate during their “heat” which was another “gift” of the atomic bomb.

Our hero Dr. Poole and Loola find that they are in love and what is worst that they are both “Hots” and are not tied to a hormonal cycle like the rest.

Further our Dr. Poole is enlisted by the locals to try to improve crop yields and he speedily finds out that virtually all crops have been attacked by a whole legion of biological weapons that significantly reduce yields and make raising crops very difficult.

The Arch-Vicar comments that this further indicates how possessed by Belial all these people were before the war to design such weapons.

Because Dr. Poole sexual urges might get him into trouble the Arch-Vicar suggests that he join the Satanic Church and get castrated. Because of that and because he is in love with Loola both of them flee to San Francisco.

On the way there Dr. Poole and Loola pass by William Tallis’ grave and read the inscription.12

This is in many respects a savage novel. Its contempt for politicians and human self satisfaction is almost suffocating but that is at least partially balanced by a positive view of the virtues of human love.

In many respects Huxley’s vision of a possible future wreaked by human devastation of the planet is rather prophetic and certainly his predictions that in a nuclear war that the devastation wrought by chemical and biological weapons might be even worse than that of the bombs is unsettling to say the least. Certainly it is not surprising that a film was not made in the 40’s with this script.

In the end Ape and Essence is a savage attack on humanity or at least our less positive attributes.

To quote the baboon-girl:

Love, Love, love-
Love’s the very essence
Of everything I think, of everything I do.
Give me, Give me,
Give me detumescence.
That means you.13

Aldous Huxley

1. Huxley, Aldous, Ape and Essence, Harper and Row Pub., 1948.

2. IBID. p. 15.

3. IBID. pp. 26-27.

4. IBID. p. 27.

5. IBID. p. 34.

6. IBID. p. 63.

7. IBID. pp. 69-70.

8. IBID. p. 85.

9. IBID. pp. 93-94.

10. IBID. p. 97.

11. IBID. p. 99.

12. I won’t quote it I will let you find it in the novel, pp. 151-152.

13. IBID. pp. 27-28.

Pierre Cloutier

1 comment:

  1. I read this book when I was in high school just before graduation in 1974. It sticks with me still.