Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894–1963), English essayist and novelist; pupil of Alexander.
Aldous Huxley was a prominent man of letters and author of more than 38 books. His early novels (Crome Yellow, 1921, Antic Hay, 1923) were satires on the pretensions of the intellectual elite of his day, exposing the impotence of academic knowledge. The witty attacks on modern society and its aimless pursuits continued in later novels (Those Barren Leaves, 1925, Point Counter Point, 1928, Brave New World, 1932, After Many a Summer, 1939) but the tone became more serious and pessimistic as Huxley struggled to ﬁnd a solution to the problem he believed humanity to be facing in the 20th century: that of being a conscious animal in a technological culture. He was critical of and cynical about materialism, politics and religion alike and did not believe they offered practical solutions. Huxley’s inner conﬂict was acutely presented in his most autobiographical novel, Eyeless in Gaza, and he suffered from depression while working on the book in 1935.
Connection with Alexander
The Technique provided him with both a personal and a literary solution. He started having lessons with Alexander (who sent him to Dr J. E. R. McDonagh to improve his diet) in November 1935. His wife, Maria, described the effects on Aldous in a letter in 1936:
Not only does Aldous know about Alexander but goes to him each day since the autumn. He believes he has made a very important, in fact essential, discovery. He certainly has made a new and unrecognisable person of Aldous, not physically only but mentally and therefore morally. Or rather, he has brought out, actively, all we, Aldous’ best friends, know never came out either in the novels or with strangers.
Lessons with Alexander profoundly influenced Huxley’s writing of Eyeless in Gaza. The character ‘Miller’ in Eyeless in Gaza, is said to be an amalgamation of Gerald Heard and Alexander. Inspired by the Technique Aldous Huxley wrote Ends and Means (1937) which is an ‘enquiry into the nature of ideals and into the methods employed for their realization’. It contains a famous analogy (first coined by Ludovici) as to the difficulty of describing sensory experiences which has been quoted often by teachers of the Technique:
One cannot describe the experience of seeing the colour, red. Similarly one cannot describe the much more complex experience of improved physical co-ordination.
In late 1940 Huxley wrote a short article, ‘A new technique for new soldiers’, which was quoted in UCL. Although written for general publication it appears it was not published anywhere else (and the information that the British Army was to incorporate the principles of the Technique turned out not to be correct).
Pacifism was part of Huxley’s suggested solution and he settled in the USA in 1938 partly as a protest against the increasing arms race in Europe. Huxley’s later works were also inﬂuenced by other methods for the potential improvement of the individual: mysticism (e.g. The Grey Eminence, 1941; The Perennial Philosophy, 1946) and hallucinogenic mescaline (The Doors of Perception, 1954; Heaven and Hell, 1956).
Huxley had suffered from poor eyesight since his early teens and in 1942 he wrote The Art of Seeing, inspired by the Dr Bates Method. The book disappointed Alexander as it suggested exercises without consideration of the use of the whole self (and only a brief reference to the Technique). Huxley wrote in a 1942 letter:
The practice of the Bates method, as also of the method for mastering the primary control of the organism devised by F. M. Alexander, has been profoundly important to me.
Huxley continued to have lessons (at least as late as 1960) and referred to the Technique in many of his later writings, both in private letters and in novels and essays. For example in a letter in 1950 he wrote:
Alexander discovered empirically, in experimentation on himself, that there is a correct or ‘natural’ relationship between the neck and the trunk and that normal functioning of the total organism cannot take place except when the neck and trunk are in this right relationship. His findings have been confirmed theoretically by various physiologists and, in practice, in the persons of the numerous pupils he has taught during the last forty-five years. (I am myself am one of his pupils.) For some obscure reason the great majority of those who have come in contact with urbanized, industrial civilization tend to lose the innate capacity for preserving the correct relation between neck and trunk, and consequently never enjoy completely normal organic functioning. . . . This, as I know by experience, is an exceedingly valuable technique. . . . (The merit of Alexander consists in having analysed the essential factors in this posture and having developed a technique for teaching the correct relation of neck and trunk to those who have lost it.)
Further writings on the Alexander Technique
In published writings he mentions the Technique, or the practice of the Technique, in ‘The Education of an Amphibian’ (in Adonis and the Alphabet, 1956), ‘Human Potentialities’ (in The Humanist Frame, 1961), ‘Latent Human Potentialities’ (in The Human Situation, 1978) and in the utopian novel Island, 1963.
In later years Huxley had lessons with F. P. Jones, and Jones wrote about Huxley in his Freedom to Change.
Writings by other people
- ‘Aldous Huxley and F. Matthias Alexander’ by Frank P. Jones relates the influence the Alexander Technique had on Aldous Huxley’s writings.
- ‘Floating islands’ by Claire de Obaldia consides the utopian aspects of Alexander’s writings with reference and comparison to Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Huxley’s Island.