Category Archives: Huxley, Aldous

Encounter in Pyongyang

The Study House in Kim Il-sung Square

The Study House in Kim Il-sung Square

Strolling through the North Korean capital, Dalrymple finds himself

in the enormous and almost deserted square in front of the Grand People’s Study House. (All open spaces in Pyongyang remain deserted unless filled with parades of hundreds of thousands of human automata.)

A young Korean slides surreptitiously up to him and asks:

Do you speak English?

It is, says Dalrymple, an electric moment, for in North Korea, unsupervised contact between a Korean and a foreigner is as unthinkable as shouting, ‘Down with Big Brother!’ Dalrymple nods. The young Korean says:

I am a student at the Foreign Languages Institute. Reading Dickens and Shakespeare is the greatest, the only pleasure of my life.

It is a

searing communication. We parted immediately afterwards and of course will never meet again. For him, Dickens and Shakespeare (which the régime permitted him to read with quite other ends in view) guaranteed the possibility not just of freedom but of truly human life. Orwell and Huxley had the imagination to understand why—unlike me, who had to go to Pyongyang to find out.

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The secret of Madoff’s success

Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 21.51.22The appeal to snobbery was part of it, explains Dalrymple. (As Aldous Huxley notes in his essay ‘Selected Snobberies’, we are all snobs about something.) Bernard Madoff’s originality, writes Dalrymple,

seems to have consisted largely of offering not fabulous, but steady profits; his pretence of being indifferent whether anyone invested with him or not; and the successful creation of an impression that his fund was for an élite, not for the hoi polloi. One of the reasons for his success (if success is quite the word I seek) was his appeal to snobbery. His story is proof, if proof were needed, that in finance, as in art and science, originality is not in itself a virtue.

The uses of intoxicants

An evidently stupefied Aldous Huxley in early 1938

An evidently LSD-stupefied Aldous Huxley in early 1938

Admirably level-headed on this as on so many other matters, Dalrymple writes that it seems cannabis

can relieve nausea (one of the most unpleasant of all symptoms when it is persistent) and some kinds of pain. Its side effects in this context are unlikely to be serious or severe.

This is undeniable. However, we should not go further than this. The claims that are sometimes made, by for example Aldous Huxley, that such intoxicants (Huxley’s own favourite was LSD) can transport us to higher regions of consciousness and deepen our awareness are just a little foolish. To smoke marihuana in moderation is nothing more than a civilised pleasure, as is consuming the better beers or decent gin. It will not cause us to levitate, attain enlightenment or touch God.

Teach Yourself Poisoning

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 19.56.50A discovery — in one of the few second-hand bookshops in Britain that have not been killed off by the state-funded ‘charity’ shops — of the 1929 (third) edition of Malay Poisons and Charm Cures by John D. Gimlette, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., Residency Surgeon, Kelantan, Un-Federated Malay States (Retired); Formerly Surgeon-Magistrate, Selinsing, Pahang; Sometime Temporary Major, R.A.M.C.

Gimlette (1867-1934) lost a finger and a foot after contracting septicæmia in the course of his work. He was invalided back to England in 1921.