Huxley's brave new world — and ours

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Huxley's Brave New World —— and Ours
Büülent Diken
Available online: 13 Jun 2011 To cite this article: Büülent Diken (2011): Huxley's Brave New World —— and Ours, Journal for
Cultural Research, 15:2, 153-172
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— and Ours
Taylor and Francis Journal for Cultural Research 1479-7585 (print)/1740-1666 (online) The article discusses the continuing relevance of Huxley's dystopic novel in acontemporary, post-political context in which a passive nihilist version of "happi-ness" is elevated to the level of a political and ethical ideal and "freedom" istaken for granted. Significantly, although Huxley's target was Stalinism when hewrote the novel, revisiting Brave New World forces one to reflect on contempo-rary, "democratic" versions of totalitarianism as well. And yet Huxley himself didnot follow the political and ethical consequences of his critique. The articleseeks to map these consequences by rethinking the maxims of the brave newworld in relation to three main themes: biopolitics, nihilism and network society.
Indeed, seen through this conceptual prism, there is a remarkable homologybetween Huxley's Brave New World and our world.
"Our dreams", says Agamben (1995, p. 74), "cannot see us — this is the tragedyof utopia". What makes utopian dreams so disappointing is their distance fromwhat we are, their inability to "see" our present alienation and unfreedom. Butour nightmares are closer to us. In contrast to dreams, fear provokes weariness,an indispensible element of all dystopias, including Huxley's Brave New World(originally published in 1932), which projects our civilization "along the lines ofits own teleology to the point where its monstrous nature becomes immediatelyevident" (Adorno 1967, p. 98). It interrogates a society in which time and eo ipsoall potentiality have stopped making sense. Thus, Lenina, who stands in for thespontaneous ideology of the brave new world, asks: "what's time for?" (Huxley Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 2007, p. 77). The brave new world is the end of history. It is what is left in a soci-ety when you take away the possibility of revolt, revolution and critique, a worldin which radical change is rendered not only impossible but also undesirable. And"yes, everybody is happy now" (Huxley 2007, p. 65). Through ideological "condi-tioning", the brave new world is free of antagonism, pain and conflict (Huxley2007, p. 110). Yet, this "happiness" is one reduced to sheer consumerism, justas "politics" in the brave new world is degraded to conformism. More tellinglyyet, the only alternative set in the book against this sterile, suffocating civiliza-tion is religious fundamentalism. Therefore, John the Savage, the fanatic, the ISSN 1479–7585 print/1740–1666 online/11/020153–20 2011 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/14797585.2011.574056 passionate miscreant, is the only person who can look beyond what exists (seeAttwood 2007). Hence a crucial similarity between the brave new world and ours:both take themselves for granted and only know of one enemy — fundamental-ism. Hence the false "choice" on offer in both: between post-politics, politicswithout belief, vis-à-vis fundamentalism, belief without politics.
The "Happiness" of Stability The novel opens in "A.F. 632", 632 years after Ford. And we are immediatelyintroduced to the brave new world's maxim, which is a reversal of that of theFrench Revolution: "Community, Identity, Stability". The setting is a globalwelfare state. The main political instrument is biological engineering. As biologyand politics coincide, people are no longer born from natural parents, which isconsidered "obscene" (Huxley 2007, p. 31), but raised in "hatcheries" and"conditioning centers" to fill predetermined positions in the biological classstructure: on top the Alphas, "perfected" by eugenics; at the very bottom Epsi-lons, "subhuman" products of dysgenics, workers who are, like everybody else inthe world state, distracted from politics by drugs and entertainment, embodyingthe fantasy generated by a control society: slaves who cannot (even think of)revolt.
In this utilitarian world, everybody has to be "socially useful" (p. 63). Thus, spending time alone is considered suspect. In a highly networked society, thedesire for solitude signals a danger of unbonding. Concomitantly, art and philos-ophy are banished. If people need "distraction", they get it by "soma", a drugthat provides an escape, "a holiday from reality", an ersatz religious experience:"Christianity without tears — that's what soma is" (p. 210). With soma, thepursuit of bodily pleasures is an ethical imperative. Sex, for that reason, is nolonger repressed but is a prescribed activity. Thus, as "everyone belongs toeveryone else", the body becomes a networked common good, a public property(p. 34). One "ought" to be promiscuous and have "fun" (see pp. 36, 81). In thissense, Brave New World is an allegory of regressive evolution; a society in which"to be infantile" is a "duty" (p. 84). After all, in control societies, "you never Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 finish anything" (Deleuze 1995, p. 179). That includes childhood, too. If, in disci-plinary societies, childhood is considered an exceptional period, in control soci-eties exception becomes the rule. Thus, the conduct of the nursery becomesgeneralized throughout the society. So the governmental imperatives in thebrave new world are the same as those of the nursery: play, learning, stabilityand happiness.
"Play" coincides with hedonistic consumption. And as consumption is subli- mated as a virtue, under-consumption becomes a danger to the social bond.
Everything must justify itself with reference to consumption. "You can'tconsume much if you sit still and read books" (Huxley 2007, p. 42). And consump-tion, like children, cannot wait: "Never put off till tomorrow the fun you canhave today" (p. 81). The most "horrible" fate in the brave new world is being HUXLEY'S BRAVE NEW WORLD "compelled to live through a long time-interval between the consciousness of adesire and its fulfillment" (p. 38). The fear of the "interval", of time, is also thefear of desire. And to extinguish passion, the brave new world adopts appliedscience as the cornerstone of its materialism. Every specialized caste "learns" tobe happy on the basis of its own ideological prejudices. Since everyone is bred todo their own job and ideologically conditioned to be happy with this, there areno class antagonisms: "all men are physic-chemically equal" (p. 63). As such, asa lack (of antagonism), "happiness" becomes the bedrock of socio-politicalstability.
And, of course, freedom in such a world can only be a freedom from condition- ing. Bernard Marx, a key figure in the book, articulates this desire as he wonders"what passion is", what it would be like to be subjected to pain with no soma,and so on (pp. 81, 89). As he questions the value of dominant values, he alsomaterializes a discontent, which is, nevertheless, fuelled by his "complexion", abiogenetic mistake in his hatching. He is also the first who develops a taste forsolitude, which frightens Lenina, who never questions her society: Lenina was crying. "It's horrible, it's horrible," she kept repeating. "And how canyou talk like that about not wanting to be a part of the social body? After all,everyone works for everyone else. We can't do without anyone. Even Epsilons …" "Yes, I know," said Bernard derisively. "‘Even Epsilons are useful'! So am I. AndI damned well wish I weren't!" Lenina was shocked by his blasphemy. "Bernard!" she protested in a voice ofamazed distress. "How can you?" In a different key, "How can I?" he repeated meditatively. "No, the real problemis: How is it that I can't, or rather — because, after all, I know quite well why Ican't — what would it be like if I could, if I were free — not enslaved by my condi-tioning." "But, Bernard, you're saying the most awful things." "Don't you wish you were free, Lenina?" Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 "I don't know what you mean. I am free. Free to have the most wonderful time.
Everybody's happy nowadays." He laughed, "Yes, ‘Everybody's happy nowadays.' We begin giving the childrenthat at five. But wouldn't you like to be free to be happy in some other way,Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else's way." "I don't know what you mean," she repeated. (Huxley 2007 pp. 78–79) The more a society becomes its own justification, the more it brands as blas-phemy every suspicion "against the notion that what is, is right — just becauseit exists" (Adorno 1967, p. 101). This accord with what exists, an ideological positivism, which adopts the actual as its norm, paradoxically restores themythic power in the form of a new taboo, and disagreement only provokesressentiment: "I don't know what you mean". What such "freedom" excludesis negative dialectics, the insistence that what exists "cannot be true"(Marcuse 1964, pp. 122–123). The virtual idea of "freedom" cannot be fullyactualized; people can have certain liberties but these concrete libertiescannot embody the idea of freedom as such. Since an idea "denotes thatwhich the particular entity is, and is not", the idea of freedom comprehends,at once, "all the liberty not yet attained" as well as those liberties attained(Marcuse 1964 p. 218). Hence, what looks like "freedom" to the brave newworld is not, and cannot be much more than voluntary servitude (see Marcuse1969, pp. 12–13).
But in what sense, precisely, is the brave new world a totalitarian society? In this respect a comparison to Orwell's 1984 (published in 1949) is an obligatorypoint of passage. As Huxley (2004, p. 5) himself points out, whereas 1984portrays a totalitarianism that seeks control through fear, through punishment,the brave new world controls its citizens by rewards, in non-violent ways. In this,"science" is supported with a permissive, sexualized ethics. Thus, if in 1984people are compelled to conform to a puritan ethics, permissiveness is whatguarantees the brave new world against destructive (and creative) passions. Ithumiliates its subjects through pleasure, not pain. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared thosewho would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.
Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truthwould be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become acaptive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. (Postman1985, pp. vii–viii) Huxley himself links this change of scene to the trajectory of totalitarianism inthe Soviet Union, where, already at the end of the 1950s, Stalin's "1984-styledictatorship" was evolving into a system that sought to control part of its popu-lation, especially the high-ranking professionals, through rewards, granting themcertain liberties to think and act, while, at the same time, imposing conformity Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 on the masses through the fear of punishment (Huxley 2004, p. 6). Effectively,the Soviet Union looked like a system that combined discipline and seduction,1984 and Brave New World (Huxley 2004, p. 6). Certainly, there is also a certaindose of anti-Americanism in Brave New World; hence its critique of commercialjoviality. However, while Huxley sees totalitarianism as a natural line of devel-opment for the Soviet Union, he considers it only as a potential danger for theWest (see Huxley 2004, p. 15). He overlooks two issues here.
First, the duality between "fear" and "reward" is not specific to Stalinism but pertains to sovereignty in general. Thus, although Huxley is adamant that in thebrave new world power is exercised by granting freedoms, not through restric-tions, a restrictive aspect nevertheless transpires. As Mond, the ruler, says: "asI make the laws here, I can also break them. With impunity" (Huxley 2007, HUXLEY'S BRAVE NEW WORLD p. 192). What we have here is, of course, sovereignty, the "law beyond the law"(Agamben 1998, p. 59). In this sense, Brave New World cannot be structurallyseparated from, but contains within itself its own, 1984. Sovereignty is always aparallax of 1984 and Brave New World. It is because it can be exercised by bothrestricting and granting freedoms that sovereign power is per definition arbi-trary, intimately bound to the exception.
And second, if totalitarianism is identified with Stalinism, the concept starts to function as an ideological fantasy, allowing one to dream away from themalfunctions of one's own society. Nonetheless, if we detach the concept oftotalitarianism from this ideological function, using it minimally to designate asociety that cannot question itself, it can uncannily link the former totalitariansociety of the East with that of the contemporary West, aided by thought control,entertainment industries, manipulated masses, biogenetic sciences, and so on.
After all, there is a structural homology between obeying the iron laws of thecapitalist "market" and the iron laws of Stalinist "history".
The Tourist's Reservation The brave new world is not one world; there are vast areas, "savage reserva-tions", which its network bypasses. Everything it has sent to the "bunk" ofhistory — for example, religion, family relations, primitive passions, violent ritu-als, and so on — continues to exist here, where people are still born and raisedby biological parents. As such, the reservations stand for what is abandoned, forwhat "has not been worth the expense of civilizing" (Huxley 2007, p. 141). Butthere are organized tours to reservations, which resemble today's favela tour-ism. Incidentally, Bernard and Lenina go to a reservation for a "holiday", a holi-day which signifies a search for experience in a society in which everything is asimulacrum, "far more real than reality" (p. 146). The mise en scène of thebrave new world is, after all, the disappearance of experience; the subjectsundergo, but never have, experiences. And the hysteria of such a world is theproduction of the real (see Baudrillard 1994, p. 23). Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 "I don't like it," said Lenina. "I don't like it." She liked even less what awaited her at the entrance to the pueblo, where theirguide had left them while he went inside for instructions. The dirt, to start with,the piles of rubbish, the dust, the dogs, the flies. Her face wrinkled up into agrimace of disgust. (Huxley 2007, p. 94) Bianca Freire-Medeiros (2009a; 2009b, p. 163), an expert on favela tourism,reports that the most commonly photographed object by the favela tourists isrubbish. Similarly, for Lenina, for whom "civilization is sterilization" (Huxley2007, p. 94), the reservation is rubbish. She is like Hegel's "beautiful soul" whoengages with the social world without recognizing her own active role in itsproduction, disavowing the fact that the reservations are a necessary outcome of an order-building process and economic progress, through which the bravenew world produces a surplus population of homines sacri.
The "main problem" of our society, says Luhmann, is indifference and neglect … We will have, apparently, in the next century alarge mass of, say, bodies which have to survive somehow on their own, and notso much as kind of parts, or kind of persons used for whatever purpose in functionsystems. (Luhmann 1994) But this reduction to "bodies", abandonment, takes place not outside but frominside the world society; it is a manifestation of sovereignty. The reservations areinstances of the camp insofar as they emerge as an expression of "untying" (seeAgamben 1998, p. 90). Thus, in their very exclusion, they are also included in thebiopolitics of the brave new world. The favela/reservation is hierarchicallyplaced qua power relations, which, by the same token, "includes" it in a broadercontext, that of the biopolitical capitalist economy.
However, the "reservation" functions in Brave New World as an orientalist image of a chaotic space, an archaic state of nature beyond "our" space andtime, and therefore beyond our responsibility — a space of secret enjoyments(rituals, "obscene" family ties, passionate encounters) or of despotism (violence,repression), like the "rogue states" of our time. But this dichotomy breaks downif we consider the reservations as a symptom of the brave new world itself. Inthe end, homo sacer is at the heart of the brave new world in which eugenics anddysgenics together reduce its citizens' lives to bare life. Hence, the first intima-tion to revolt occurs when Bernard recognizes a biopolitical dimension in theculture of hedonism, as he hears two male characters talking about Lenina "asthough she were a bit of meat", only to find out later that she, too, "thinks ofherself that way. She doesn't mind being meat" (Huxley 2007, pp. 39, 80).
Let us open a parenthesis here. Huxley himself made references to eugenics before and during the period in which he wrote Brave New World. He went as faras defending it to prevent "the rapid deterioration … of the whole West Europeanstock" (quoted in Bradshaw 2007, p. xxii). After the Holocaust, however, wheneugenics started to lose its appeal for the liberal democratic intelligentsia,Huxley, too, was warning against domination by technological means. Thus, Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 revisiting Brave New World in 1958, he writes: The Nazis did not have time … to brainwash and condition their lower leadership.
This, it may be, is one of the reasons why they failed. Since Hitler's day thearmoury of technical devices has been considerably enlarged … Thanks to tech-nological progress, Big Brother can now be almost as omnipresent as God.
(Huxley 2004, p. 52) Indeed, as Esposito (2008) argues, even though Nazism was militarily and politi-cally defeated in the Second World War, it has won a cultural victory in the sensethat its emphasis on biopolitics, its focus on the body as a political category, hasnow become a commonplace in Western liberal culture. If "man for Nazism is his HUXLEY'S BRAVE NEW WORLD body and only his body" (Esposito 2008, p. 13), "man" in our culture tends tobecome one who possesses his own body as an individual property, can use it, buyand sell it, as if it were a commodity. It is telling, therefore, that today's "liberaleugenics", which describes its project as improving human well-being, can onlydistinguish itself from the Nazi eugenics by insisting on state neutrality (eugenicsmust be practised on the basis of liberal individual freedoms, without state inter-vention) and by distancing itself from biological reductionism (liberal eugenicsdoes not suppose an essential "norm" — for example, the Aryan as an "idealtype" — which can serve as a criterion to evaluate all individuals [Mills 2007,p. 198]). Notwithstanding the plausibility of such arguments (for example, theeconomic resources to make use of such biogenetic technologies to enhanceone's life are unevenly distributed, or, that it does not contradict the normativeprinciples of liberalism, does not justify eugenics, and so on), they inevitablyentail a propensity for increasing biopolitical regulation of potential life throughlegal and technological intervention (Mills 2007, p. 201).
What can we say about Brave New World's focus on biopolitics in this context? Certainly, here one should focus not only on how fiction is mistaken for reality(for example, Brave New World distorts reality by "fictionalizing" it, exaggerat-ing, and so on), but also on how reality itself is mistaken for fiction (for example,Brave New World as "just fiction"). Perhaps books like Brave New World deceivenot by presenting what is fiction as true but by creating the illusion that what istrue (biopolitics, inequalities, unfreedom) is fiction (see i ˇ zek 2002a, p. 19).
Perhaps the real function of dystopia is this: to project real problems into afuture temporality, a fantasy space.
Violent Disjunctions In their tourist escape, Bernard and Lenina meet a woman, Linda. Originallyfrom the brave new world, she came to the reservation years ago, as a tourist,but, becoming pregnant, a catastrophic fate in her world, she could not go back.
Thus, without hope and without soma, her life in the reservation has beenexcruciatingly hard, the life of an outcast, and also because her promiscuity was Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 hated by the savages. Hence, she is excited to meet Bernard and Lenina, to seetheir "civilized" faces and clothes. But in Lenina's eyes — noticing her missingteeth, her obesity, her wrinkles, the filthy blanket over her head, and so on —Linda is just such a disgusting creature (Huxley 2007, pp. 102–103). And as muchas Linda is nostalgic about the brave new world, her son, John, is curious aboutit. John is also an outcast; although religious, he is excluded from the religiousrituals of the reservation. So Bernard, the outcast of the brave new world,arranges a special permit for Linda and John to visit the brave new world,presenting the idea to the authorities with reference to scientific purposes:analyzing savage life.
When they arrive, John immediately becomes a celebrity, a noble savage.
Lenina, too, whom John fell in love with at first sight, comes to like him. The repulsive, toothless, old and fat Linda, however, is isolated and escapes into a"permanent soma holiday". Meanwhile, John gradually tires of the new world,which appears to him more and more trivial. He is also "distressed" by hismother's abandonment, her permanent holiday. But he refuses to take soma.
Even in relation to Lenina, his feelings turn ambivalent; while still loving her, hedetests her promiscuity. The tipping point comes when Linda dies alone in ahospital. Her death like a homo sacer, unmourned, provokes John to violence(pp. 139–142).
At this point, Mustapha Mond, the ruler, has a conversation with John the Savage, which is the most interesting part of the book, for it reveals the stakesof the confrontation between the two worlds. Mond articulates the brave newworld's philosophy, its fixation on stability, which results in a fear of time andchange. It comes to light that what is most frightening to the brave new world isthe idea of the event, transcendence. It is for this reason that the brave newworld sacrifices philosophy and art, to "shift the emphasis from truth and beautyto comfort and happiness" (p. 201). When John insists that religion is necessaryto "compensate" for the miseries of the world, Mond answers that religion isuncalled for in the brave new world. If the idea of God is grounded in humanbeings' suffering and pain, society can get rid of it, if it can provide anothersolution to the problem: And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehowhappen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. Andthere's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, tomake you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish thesethings by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, youswallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can bevirtuous now. (Huxley 2007, pp. 209–210) The idea of God, in the end, is not compatible with scientific ideals. But Mond'senlightened rejection of religion does not amount to a consistent atheism. Thebrave new world merely replaces monotheistic religions with an earthly, decafdeity: soma — or rather, since soma is a commodity, with "capitalism as religion"(see Benjamin 1996). Responding to the same fears — for example, pain, weak- Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 ness and mortality — soma functions as a pure cult religion, without a specificdogma and theology, and celebrates permanent duration, to the point at whichGod himself is included in the logic of capital.
Towards the end of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, we meet some of Zarathustra's guests, who all think they have "unlearned" from Zarathustra the religious senti-ment, the despair that follows from feeling weak in this world and promptshumans to imagine a transcendent heaven in which pain and antagonism no longerexist. Thus, they are in the carnival mood. Yet, Nietzsche makes it clear that kill-ing God is not enough to get rid of him. A materialist, hedonist world is prone tonew, this-worldly illusions, even new gods and idols. At one point in the carnival,therefore, the noise abruptly stops and, precisely when they think they have over-come it, the crowd falls back upon a religious mood: "They have all become pious HUXLEY'S BRAVE NEW WORLD again, they are praying, they are mad!" (Nietzsche 1961, p. 321; emphases in orig-inal). But what they worship is a this-worldly God: an ass. They explain that theass carries their burden, he is patient and never says "no", indeed he neverspeaks, and so on: "Better to worship God in this shape than in no shape at all"(Nietzsche 1961, p. 322). In Zarathustra, it is the "ugliest man", the passive nihil-ist, who has murdered God and delivers the tribute to the ass that has "createdthe world after his own image, that is, as stupid as possible" (Nietzsche 1961,p. 322). In the brave new world, too, "providence takes its cue from men" (Huxley2007, p. 208). The ass is embodied in utilitarianism, and the desire for change,for transfiguration, has disappeared into the cry of the ass.
Against this pseudo-religion, John maintains that "tears are necessary" (Huxley 2007, p. 210). He wants God, poetry, freedom — and sin. "In fact", Mondreplies, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy". "All right then", John saysinsolently, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy" (pp. 211–212). He chooses reli-gion, self-denial and chastity. Then he isolates himself in a hermitage in searchof purification, starting to mourn his mother. Yet, his religious ritual, his "hittinghimself with a whip", becomes a sensation when the media rediscover thewhereabouts of the "mystery savage" (pp. 219–221). His self-flagellation, now aspectacle exposed to the public gaze, attracts more and more "tourists" to hishermitage. Even Lenina comes to see him one day, mixing with the crowd chant-ing, "Whip, whip, the whip!" (p. 225). But at the sight of Lenina, and unable tonotice her tears, John loses control and attacks her, whipping her "like a madman" (p. 227). Something interesting follows. Fascinated by pain and impelled,from within, "by that habit of cooperation, that desire for unanimity and atone-ment, which their conditioning had so ineradicably implanted in them", themembers of the crowd begin to "mime" John's passionate gestures, everybodystriking at one another in a mass orgy of soma, sex and violence (p. 228). Thesame night, as a last attempt to escape the brave new world, John commitssuicide.
Let us, at this point, note a symmetry between Mond's and John's positions; two opposite tendencies connected and disconnected at once, juxtaposed toeach other in the same social space, united in a "disjunctive synthesis" (seeBadiou 2000, p. 22; Deleuze & Guattari 1983, pp. 75–83). If Mond is obsessed with Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 the eternal present, John is crippled by his traumatic past; whereas Mond is fear-ful of the future, John, realizing that he cannot realize his ideals in the bravenew world, dreams of another, ideal future (see Baker 1990, p. 133). Both char-acters have an aversion to time, and this aversion finds an outlet in the hatredof the feminine excess. As Mond loathes the female, which he associates with the"obscene" temporality of natural birth and mothering, John's obsession withself-denial as a religious gesture finds a concrete target in female promiscuity,in Lenina's sexual bluntness (Baker 1990, p. 132).
Such disjunctive synthesis is not original. It is a common theme already in nine- teenth-century literature and philosophy, and finds its ultimate expression inNietzcshe's discussion of nihilism. For Nietzsche, nihilism is originally an inabilityto accept pain, conflict and antagonism. But since these are parts of life, the search for a pain-free life amounts to the denial of the world as it is. As such, inits origin, nihilism is the invention of a transcendent world in which pain, conflictand antagonism do not exist, which is why Nietzsche (1967, p. 95) calls the threemonotheistic religions "nihilistic religions". With modernity, or with the "deathof God", this originary, religious nihilism divides itself into two: "radical" and"passive" nihilism. Hence Nietzsche's (1967, p. 318) definition: "a nihilist is a manwho judges of the world as it is that it ought not to be, and of the world as itought to be that it does not exist". If existing values are devalued while, at thesame time, this world is preserved, we encounter passive nihilism, or a "worldwithout values" (Deleuze 1983, p. 148). Thus, for the "last man", the actual real-ity "becomes the only reality" (Nietzsche 1967, pp. 12–13). His is a reactionarylife, in which happiness is reduced to passivity, to something that "appears essen-tially as narcotic, anesthetic, calm, peace" (Nietzsche 1996, pp. 23–24). If, onthe other hand, despite realizing that one's supreme values are not realizable,one still desperately clings to them, we confront the situation of the radicalnihilist, described in the first part of the definition: values without a world.
Then, Mond's ethical disorientation (passive nihilism) and John's despair (radi- cal nihilism) are homological positions that have a shared origin in an originary,religious nihilism. This shared origin is revealed when Mond's state ideology ulti-mately sides with religion, banning a scientific paper, declaring pure science an"enemy" — "Yes, even science" (Huxley 2007, p. 198). Here, Mond is compelledto quote Cardinal Newman, a nineteenth-century British theologian: "indepen-dence was not made for man" (pp. 204–205). Nonetheless, this shared origin doesnot mean that the two existential strategies coexist peacefully. In John, there-fore, we find an instinctual revolt, almost a "biological hatred", through which"the energy of the human body rebels against intolerable repression" (Marcuse1969, p. 16) — an open-ended energy which can seek political channels or,becoming suicidal, can lead to self-destruction, even to terror. In this sense, theuneasy relationship between the brave new world and John's fundamentalism isvisionary regarding the contemporary "war" between post-politics and funda-mentalist terror (see Diken 2009, pp. 93–101). Passive nihilism gives rise to aparadoxical violence, the violence of a society bent on neutralizing dissent androoting out negativity; a violence that seeks to put an end to the idea of violence Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 as such and therefore can only be met by hatred (Baudrillard 2002, pp. 92–93).
Thus, in contrast to political violence, which focuses on systemic contradictionsand thus mirrors the level of conflict, John's hatred only reflects the level ofconsensus. Being reactionary, it produces no new value and, in this sense, itsviolence is as hyperreal as the society that produces it. It makes sense, there-fore, to emphasize that John is "not really a savage" (Baker 1990, p. 138) — heis a hybrid or the brave new world's own shadow, which has fallen out in thereservations but, as in Hans Christian Andersen's fable "The Shadow" (firstpublished 1847), somehow returns to take its revenge on its old master by forcinghim to follow his shadow, turning him into a shadow of a shadow. John's radicalnihilism, like an "antibody", turns against the organism that created him. But hisradicalism is also a nihilism, which cannot create new, immanent values, and HUXLEY'S BRAVE NEW WORLD which reconciles him to what he rebels against. Thus, John's suicide ultimatelyconfirms the brave new world's ultimatum: "it is impossible to live while ques-tioning society" (Brito 2007, p. 63).
Yet radical nihilism is not the only route to violence in the brave new world.
What is interesting in the whipping scene is that the body is metamorphosed,through the orgy, into an instance of pure enjoyment and excess, into a potlatchin which individuality is totally "dis-possessed" (see Bataille 2001, pp. 17–18).
Thus, the crowd experiences a kind of abandonment, a metamorphosis into barelife, which comes in an unexpected way: as a Sadist orgy. Sade's modernity does not consist in his having foreseen the unpoliticalprimacy of sexuality in our unpolitical age. On the contrary, Sade is as contem-porary as he is because of his incomparable presentation of the absolutelypolitical (that is, "biopolitical") meaning of sexuality and physiological lifeitself. Like the concentration camps of our century, the totalitarian characterof the organization of life in Silling's castle — with its meticulous regulationsthat do not spare any aspect of physiological life (not even the digestive func-tion, which is obsessively codified and publicized) — has its root in the fact thatwhat is proposed here for the first time is a normal and collective (and hencepolitical) organization of human life founded solely on bare life. (Agamben1998, p. 135) While the political and the biological become interchangeable, the bed takes theplace of the agora. The significance of the whipping scene lies in this substitu-tion. Thus, the Sadean maxim of unconstrained enjoyment ("I have the right toenjoy your body, and you have the equal right to enjoy mine") is adopted by thebrave new world: "everyone belongs to everyone else". In this sense, the booktakes issue with the valorization of transgression in our culture. If the idea of a"culture" of transgression, a generalized transgression, is impossible to sustain,it is not only because this would mean the becoming rule of transgression , butalso because the pleasure principle cannot be sustained without the reality prin-ciple. The pleasure of eroticism consists in breaking a taboo, which is, in turn,acknowledged in the breaking; the rule works because it is broken. Therefore,transgressing the norm is not an emancipatory move in itself. But then for whomis this orgy staged? For the Big Other, the anonymous machine which works inde- Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 pendently of human will, like Orwell's Big BrOther or the authority that K inKafka's stories searches for but never finds; or, for the brave new world's deadGod "that manifests himself as an absence" (Huxley 2007, p. 206). At any rate,the orgy is staged for an imaginary father figure, and precisely as such concealsthe fact that there is no Big Other which commands us to obey, or, of course, toenjoy — the system is us.
To put it differently, in the brave new world perversion is père-version, the version of the father; a society in which the dominant mode of subjectivity is nolonger the disciplinary subject of normalization but the "polymorphouslyperverse" subject following the command to enjoy (see i ˇ zek z1999, p. 248). This is why the sexualized, naked body does not disturb the existing order. After all,what makes sexuality disturbing is not the sexual act itself but the "mode of life" related to it, which "can yield a culture and an ethics" (Foucault 2001, pp. 298,300). The "body" itself is already a biopolitical body which is not outside thereach of power (Agamben 1998, p. 187). The sexual "freedom" of the brave newworld is what opens up the very space for extending the range of the biopoliticalparadigm. Hence, the regular orgies and the frequent partner swapping becomea boring, "official sexual routine", which "turns pleasure to fun and denies it bygranting it" (Adorno 1967, pp. 104–105).
The brave new world is a control society in which everything is commodified —all sociality is filtered through the logic of businesses. Its passive nihilism is thusin perfect harmony with the "age of cynicism", with capitalism, in which moral-ity ceases to be a register for critical reflection (see Deleuze & Guattari 1983,p. 225). It can do with soma. However, cynicism is not merely a matter of "falseconsciousness". The cynic is aware of the distance between the ideological mask,the "soma holiday", and the social reality; but he insists upon the mask. Heknows that what soma provides is merely an illusion, but he enjoys it. It is in thisgap that cynicism, the lack of affect, paradoxically becomes an affect; not as adirect position of immorality but rather as a morality that serves immorality (see ˇ zek 1989, pp. 29–30).
In this manner, the brave new world is close to our reality. In the end, one of the defining characteristics of contemporary capitalism is the commodificationof experience. Our culture increasingly "exists in the form of commodified expe-riences" (Rifkin 2000, p. 154). And what is crucial in this context is not theownership of material but immaterial property — for example, copyrights andbrands that relate to experience. Thus, there is the emerging split between theeconomy of spectacles, based on the commodification of experience, and its"real" base, material production, which is "transfunctionalized into the support-ing mechanism for the stage production" a world in which work, "not sex,appears as the site of obscene indecency to be concealed from the public eye"( i ˇ zek 2002b, p. 289).
Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 This obscenity of work, as sex is normalized, is grounded in Brave New World through a subtraction — that of needs: "People are happy; they get what theywant, and they never want what they can't get" (Huxley 2007, p. 194). ButHuxley, reducing "need" to a biological notion, ignores the fact that human needsare "historically mediated" through praxis (Adorno 1967, p. 109). In a capitalistsociety, this mediation takes place through the link between commodity andfetishism. Further, it is because commodities are desired, as well as needed, thatthe capitalist economy has an inbuilt totalitarian tendency; that the world ofcommodities can "indoctrinate and manipulate" (Marcuse 1964, p. 12). However,instead of dealing with the antinomies of commodity fetishism, Huxley choosesto naturalize capitalism, making "a fetish of the fetishism of commodities"(Adorno 1967, p. 113).
HUXLEY'S BRAVE NEW WORLD Yet, in the brave new world, the "satisfaction of needs" does not really weaken the hold of fetishism. When it is decoupled from its material use value,the fetish becomes even more pervasive. Soma, for instance, signifies a purefetish value completely decoupled from its material stand-in. This total emanci-pation of fetish value from use value is the "ecstasy" of the commodity form, amovement through which the commodity disappears into the simulacra by multi-plying itself infinitely "in order at every moment to make up for a reality that isabsent" (Baudrillard 2005, p. 224). This, of course, compels us to reformulate completely the classical Marxist topicof "reification" and "commodity fetishism", in so far as this topic still relies onthe notion of the fetish as a concrete object whose stable presence obfuscatesits social mediation. Paradoxically, fetishism reaches its acme precisely when thefetish itself is "de-materialized", turned into a fluid, "immaterial" virtual entity.
( i ˇ ek 2002b, pp. 287–288) Thus, the danger is not only forgetting that there are real people and social rela-tions behind the logic of capital. Such a critique of commodity fetishism, adoptedby Adorno above, must be supplemented with the point that the "abstraction"at work here is not only a misperception of a social reality but is a processthrough which reality itself attains the status of a spectre, a fiction, while itsconcrete effects become even more overwhelming ( i ˇ zek 2002b, p. 287). This is the status of the economy in Brave New World. Thus, despite revealing a worldwhere everything and everybody are subjected to the logic of capital, Huxleyavoids problematizing the economy itself, which "strengthens the reified situa-tion Huxley cannot tolerate: the neutralization of a culture cut off from thematerial process of production" (Adorno 1967, p. 108). It is also the lack of medi-ation between material and spiritual needs that allows Huxley to sidestep thequestion of justice, which is intrinsically linked to the fulfilment of material aswell as spiritual needs. Thus, he criticizes mass culture for diminishing thepredisposition for metaphysics, overseeing how mass culture, precisely as a formof metaphysics, contributes to inequality and alienation, to a condition in whichmen "come to terms with injustice" (Adorno 1967, p. 109). Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 Full of fictitious concern for the calamity that a realized utopia could inflict onmankind, he refuses to take note of the real as a far more urgent calamity thatprevents the utopia from being realized. It is idle to bemoan what will becomeof men when hunger and distress have disappeared from the world. (Adorno1967, p. 116) Thus, without a politics, an exit route from the deadlock of the two nihilisms,Huxley oscillates between them. On the one hand, while he laments the loss ofidealism, passing a negative judgment on the brave new world's passive nihilism,his saviour becomes, in a liberal democratic spirit, the individual. Yet, on the otherhand, he elevates John's fundamentalist view on happiness to the level of a realalternative, creating the impression that "the happiness produced by the trans-gression of taboos could ever legitimate the taboo" (Adorno 1967, p. 104). The choice remains between two already reified categories: the bourgeois individualversus the prohibition, both confirming a fetishized present. Huxley paradoxicallycondemns the totalitarian new world while, at the same time, glorifying the indi-vidualism which created it; he "curses" the imaginary future with reification,"without realizing that the past whose blessing he invokes is of the same nature"(Adorno 1967, pp. 106, 114). This, then, is what Huxley leaves us with: the disjunc-tive synthesis the novel imposes on the reader, the struggle between Mond andJohn, is a false antagonism against the background of a dominant ideology whichforecloses the event. Therefore, a radical politics in the brave new world would,first and foremost, seek to subtract itself from this dualism. Likewise, in our world, the hegemonic ideological field imposes on us a field of (ideological) visibilitywith its own "principal contradiction" (today, it is the opposition of market–free-dom–democracy and fundamentalist–terrorist–totalitarianism–"Islamofascism"etc.), and the first thing to do is to reject (to subtract from) this opposition, toperceive it as a false opposition destined to obfuscate the true line of division …The true antagonism is always reflective, it is the antagonism between the "offi-cial" antagonism and that what is foreclosed by it … Today, for example, the trueantagonism is not the one between liberal multiculturalism and fundamentalism,but between the very field of their opposition and the excluded Third (radicalemancipatory politics). ( i What Huxley does not do is think the social field beyond the disjunctive synthesisof the prohibition and the logic of the market. This is also what gives a totalitar-ian twist to the novel. There is no alternative. In the brave new world, there isno line of flight that can escape the continuum of the disjunctive synthesis, notruly antagonistic praxis that can confront and change the system.
However, there is an internal, logical limit to totalitarian tendency. Totalitar- ianism is unachievable because the virtual possibilities of a society can neverbecome fully actualized or be contained within an actual structure. Because it isopen, history always gives rise to becomings. Or, mathematically speaking, soci-ety can never become a totality because this would amount to assuming theexistence of a set that includes itself in it, a total set or a closed universe, whichis neither possible nor imaginable; in this sense, totalitarianism "does not exist"(see Badiou 2009, pp. 12, 92). There is always something that escapes the social Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 organization (Deleuze & Guattari 1987, p. 216). Even in Brave New World, a lineof flight can materialize behind its protagonists' back. Hence, for all the effortHuxley puts into emphasizing Lenina's unerotic effect on John, and on thereader, Lenina's artificial promiscuity, against the author's intentions, produces"a highly seductive" effect "to which even the infuriated cultural savagesuccumbs at the end of the novel" (Adorno 1967, pp. 105–106).
New Spirit, Old Spectre One of the most intriguing aspects of Brave New World is its interpretation ofsexual freedom as something that leads to debasement. In the brave new world, HUXLEY'S BRAVE NEW WORLD when the conjugal bond is abolished and sexual freedom is legalized, sexualitybecomes subsumed within the system, which "over-organizes" all aspects of life(see Huxley 2004, pp. 34–35). Consequently, that "everyone belongs to everyoneelse" refers, for Huxley, to a sexual communism, which leads to the disappear-ance of individuality along with other prohibitions. But why does Huxley insist onthis trajectory, that everybody "belonging" to everybody else necessarily leadsto lack of freedom? And what does "belong" mean here? Huxley, a liberal, perceives "belonging" as a property relation. Correspond- ingly, sexuality is socialized in the brave new world only in the sense that thebody is no longer private property but becomes a public property, a property ofthe state. As erotic drives are institutionalized, the body is captured by thesystem and functions as an instrument of regulation and domination, or as adispositif, as a "sacred" object untied from the domain of the common, which iswhy it is "blasphemy" not to allow one's body to "belong" to everyone else. Inthis sense, the "profanation" Huxley describes has a meaning only in relation toprivate property. But you Communists would introduce community of women, screams the wholebourgeoisie in chorus. The bourgeoisie sees in his wife a mere instrument ofproduction. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited incommon, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion than the lot of beingcommon to all will likewise fall to the women. (Marx & Engels 1967, p. 240) However, a true "profanation" of the body — that is, its untying from the domainof the law — would take place only insofar as the sacralized body ceases to be aprivate or public property, and becomes "common" again. The communist Utopiais thus a system in which property as such, as a dispositif, is destroyed, a situa-tion in which "belonging" would attain a communist meaning, as "the free devel-opment of the individual is the condition for the free development of all" (Marx& Engels 1967, p. 244). This is what is unimaginable for Huxley. The tension hedescribes — between private and public property, between capitalism andsocialism — excludes the idea of communism. And insofar as true "happiness" isprofanation, the deactivation of the law, it is fair to say that Huxley's "anger atfalse happiness sacrifices the idea of true happiness as well" (Adorno 1967, Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 pp. 103–104). It is even imaginable that in a world without (private and public)property, "pure fungibility", which Huxley is so alarmed by, "would destroy thecore of domination and promise freedom" (Adorno 1967, p. 105).
Having said this, is there not, however, a truth in Huxley's diagnosis in relation to contemporary, post-Fordist network society? Given that Brave New Worlddescribes a Fordist dystopia, a "solid modernity" which sacrifices authenticity,difference and creativity in the name of "stability", it does not, at first sight,have much to offer to the understanding of contemporary society. In "liquidmodernity", speed, not stability, is the major factor of domination (Bauman2000, pp. 150–151). Thus, whereas the brave new world found its inspiration forthe cult of stability in Henry Ford, the inspiration for the "liquid" brave newworld is Bill Gates, who "has the ability to let go" (Sennett 1998, p. 62).
Huxley's dystopia requires a commitment, defined in Fordist terms, to a common good: "happiness". But what would be the common good in a rewrittenBrave New World with Bill Gates as its deity? In The New Spirit of Capitalism,Boltanski and Chiapello (2005, p. 169) discuss that because capitalism is a worldwithout value, an inherently "absurd" system, it is constantly in need of justifi-cation. And justification can only come to it from outside. Following Weber, thisexternal source, the ideology that justifies participation in capitalism, is the"spirit" of capitalism: a set of values and beliefs which helps to justify it as anorder and can provide people with moral reasons for engaging with it. While thefirst spirit, the "protestant ethic", focused on the nineteenth-century image ofthe bourgeoisie entrepreneur, the second, consolidated especially between the1930s and 1960s, was centred on the figure of the director/manager responsiblefor the workings of the large-scale, Taylorist, bureaucratized firm. Needless tosay, this is also the spirit Brave New World reacts to. And today we are enteringa new, globalized phase in which the "new spirit of capitalism" finds a new"hero" in the figure of the "network-extender", who justifies his or her actionswith reference to creativity, difference and mobility (see Boltanski & Chiapello2005, pp. 16–20, 356).
The third spirit values "projects" as a general form of activity. Hence, the activity of the mediator in establishing and extending networks is becoming "avalue in itself", irrespective of the specific goal or substantial character of themediated entities (Boltanski & Chiapello 2005, p. 107). "In a connexionistworld, a natural preoccupation of human beings is the desire to connect withothers, to make contact, so as not to remain isolated" (Boltanski & Chiapello2005, p. 111; emphases in original). And for this purpose, one must be "adapt-able, physically and intellectually mobile" (Boltanski & Chiapello 2005, p. 112;emphases in original). A stable habitus à la Bourdieu is no longer desirable.
Rather, today's grand person is the one who is able to distance oneself fromone's own environment and immediate circle of relations. The connexionistman is a "nomad" (Boltanski & Chiapello 2005, p. 122).
Consequently, a networked world is a complex world of interdependencies in which "everyone belongs to everyone else". But is it another brave new world?What is decisive here is an essential open-endedness that pertains to networks, Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 for the competences such as mobility, adaptability and connectionism canalways, potentially, be used in an individualistic, egoistic way. This opportunism,however, is not justified in the new spirit of capitalism: one should be acting insearch of the "common good", that is, in order to engage with others, inspireconfidence, be tolerant, respect differences and pass information to others, sothat everyone in a network can increase their "employability" (Boltanski & Chia-pello 2005, p. 115). In this sense, the new capitalism has an ethical scheme ofevaluation. Accordingly, to "belong" in networks does not mean belonging inHuxley's sense. In networks, everything "belongs" to everything else; "every-thing may be allied to everything else" but "nothing can be reduced to anythingelse, nothing can be deduced from anything else, everything may be allied toeverything else" (Latour 1988, p. 163). "Belonging" here is an "irreductionist" HUXLEY'S BRAVE NEW WORLD affair which cannot be thought of in functionalistic, systemic terms. And, assuch, Huxley's mode of "belonging" is antithetical to the logic of networking; a"network" is not only relations between people and things in terms of property,but all kinds of associations.
However, there is a potential link between the two types of belonging. This link corresponds to the difference between what Boltanski and Chiapello (2005)call the "network-extender" and the "networker". Whereas the first acknowl-edges debts contracted with others participating in the same network, the latterengages in opportunistic behavior, making a selfish use of the networks — thenetworker is, as such, an emblematic figure who stands for a "network world thatis not subject to the control of the projective city" (Boltanski & Chiapello 2005,pp. 356, 378). In a certain sense, then, that "everyone belongs to everyone else"can have two very different meanings within networks, too. Moreover, the"networker" reduces others in the network to a commodity. Insofar as thepursuit of profit remains the fundamental horizon of networks — that is, insofaras the distinction between "disinterested" sharing in the interest of the"common good" and the strategic utilization of network relations blurs —"commodification of human beings" occurs because the intermediaries start tobehave as if they have "a property right over the person of the one whom he putsin contact with a third party, who anticipates an advantage from this liaison"(Boltanski & Chiapello 2005, p. 456); as if, in other words, "everyone belongs toeveryone else", in Huxley's sense. And such commodification fully coincides withexploitation in its strongest, biopolitical sense, which involves an "offenceagainst the very dignity of human beings" and assumes an intense form that"affects vitality itself" (Boltanski & Chiapello 2005, pp. 364, 365). Then, if Ford-ism conferred "an official form on the commodification of human beings" byreducing them to machine-like appendices to the assembly line, the post-Fordistlogic of networking penetrates "more profoundly into people's interior being",transgressing once more the moral (and partly legal) imperative not to commod-ify human beings (Boltanski & Chiapello 2005, pp. 464–465).
So, the risk of networking is falling back upon biopolitics. And since this risk is an inbuilt, structural risk, the world of networks is always prone to become aworld in which "everyone belongs to everyone else", in Huxley's sense. This Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 tendency is accentuated by a paradox internal to the new spirit of capitalism, aparadox which becomes visible if we consider Spinoza as the grammatician of thenew, post-Fordist spirit of capitalism, because most of his themes (anti-teleology, anti-dialectic, multitude, the plane of immanence occupied by bodiesand souls, power as potentiality, the destruction of the subject, and so on)converge with the characteristics of this new capitalism (Illuminati 2003, p. 317).
Further, in the network society, Spinoza's pragmatic ethics tends to become anorm, a normative injunction. In this sense, "post-Fordism is the communism ofcapital" (Virno 2004, p. 111). The paradoxical logic here consists in including andexcluding immanence in the same movement, transforming immanence into atranscendent rule (Albertsen 2001). It is also this logic of indistinction (betweenimmanence and transcendence, capitalism and communism, and so on) that generates a coincidence between yesterday's brave new world and today'snetwork society as the two meanings of "everyone belongs to every else" areblurred.
To end with, let us turn to the fate of critique in Brave New World. Its trajectoryin the book follows three stages: discontent, reconciliation and exclusion. Thus,we meet Bernard first as a sceptic. Then, he experiences bringing John theSavage to the brave new world as intoxicating "success", which makes him popu-lar among the high society and transforms him into a reconciled conformist.
However, he still rides on the narcissistic privileges of critique, constantly parad-ing "a carping unorthodoxy" (Huxley 2007, pp. 136–137). Finally, when John stopsattending his parties, Bernard falls from favour, too, and metamorphoses backinto an outcast. At this point, power avenges his vanity. But since the rulers haveno wish to cut throats while they can silence dissent in other ways, they exile himto an island: That's to say, he's being sent to a place where he'll meet the most interestingset of men and women to be found anywhere in the world. All the people who,for one reason or another, have got too self-consciously individual to fit intocommunity-life. All the people who aren't satisfied with orthodoxy, who've gotindependent ideas of their own. Everyone, in a word, who's anyone. (Huxley2007, pp. 199–200) Here we have the intellectual as a stranger, "a skeptically compassionate caricature of a Jew" (Adorno 1967, p. 106). However, attributing Bernard'srevolt to his inferiority complex, charging him with vulgar snobbism and moralcowardice, Huxley participates in a long-established bourgeois tradition:"unmask anyone who seeks to challenge things as both the genuine child and theperverse product of the whole which he opposes" (Adorno 1967, pp. 106–107). Isthis not still the fate of critique in today's post-politics, which welcomescritique, but only by reducing it to something without consequence, confining it Downloaded by [Lancaster University Library] at 10:46 11 September 2011 to pragmatic negotiations and strategic compromises, and thus rendering poli-tics in the sense of a radical questioning of the social impossible? As such, BraveNew World is an early demonstration of the crisis of critique, which, in liquidmodernity, continues in the form of a deepening gap between vita contempla-tiva and vita activa (see Bauman 2000, p. 43). People know more, become morereflexive, even more critically disposed, but, as the distance between knowl-edge and action increases, their critique turns out to be "toothless" — excep-tional freedoms coincide with exceptional impotence (Bauman 2000, p. 23). Andif radical critique still persists, refuses to disappear into the simulacra, it canalways be "unmasked" as the perverse child of post-politics. Are we not all partof the system? HUXLEY'S BRAVE NEW WORLD Adorno, T. W. (1967) Prisms, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
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