“Do you think Gandhi was interested in art? I think you’re right. Neither in art nor in science. And that’s why we killed him… Yes, we. The intelligent, the active, the forward-looking, the believers in Order and Perfection. Whereas Gandhi was a reactionary who believed only in people”.
With the end of the Second World War came the Cold War and inspiration for Ape & Essence, a novel far too often side-lined for the parable of Bernard Marx. Sixteen years after Brave New World Huxley certainly hadn’t given up on his role as dystopian harbinger-in-chief.
The first part of the novel, Tallis, recounts the discovery of the novel’s second part, Ape & Essence. Two producers stumble across the film script for Ape & Essence, narrowly saving it from destruction, before beginning a search for William Tallis, the elusive writer of the piece. Tallis’ script follows a group of scientists from the ever-idyllic New Zealand, untouched for lack of strategic importance, on a journey to re-discover America. Here they meet a brutal race of devil worshipping humans whose Spartan existence involves killing all children with deformities and fiercely punishing anyone caught having sex outside of a short yearly festival.
Ape & Essence is far more overtly political than its predecessor. The prophetic generality of Brave New World is contrasted here with a direct attack on the war mongering superpowers of the 20th Century. The plot is interjected with surreal scenes set, or at least so Tallis wished, to Debussy. Two armies of apes face each other, each with their own Einstein’s, Pasteur’s, and Faraday’s held on leashes. As the two armies orgiastically chant various patriotic songs chemical and biological weapons are released ensuring the total destruction of each side. These are the MAD circumstances that Huxley believed the Second World War had produced and a parody of the coming war that he believed they would foster.
Huxley’s depressingly bleak view of the human condition never fails to impress. Although we live today in no post-apocalyptic New Zealand, mutually assured destruction or even communist water fluoridation no longer pose the same threat as they did 70 years ago. That the resulting narrative at times appears sensationalist is our problem, not Huxley’s. In the context of looming nuclear proliferation Ape & Essence is a truly great example of political commentary.
Ape & Essence sits comfortably among such giants as Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. Sadly it was never revisited by Huxley but nonetheless remains arguably his foremost work, easily challenging Brave New World for the title.
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