Ape and Essence, by Aldous Huxley

roxanamalinachirila's review against another edition

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Two guys from Hollywood are talking about... stuff. One of them is the first-person narrator, the other is a guy who's gotten a mistress despite the fact that he didn't really want one, and now he's in trouble with his wife.

I'm making it sound way more interesting than it actually is. I spaced out while reading some of their discussion, which was about Gandhi getting murdered and the nature of marxism and fascism and politics and whatever.

In the middle of the philosophy, I shut the book and read the summary on the back - "In February 2108, the New Zealand Rediscovery Expedition reaches California at last. It is over a century since the world was devastated by nuclear war, but the blight of radioactivity and disease still gnaws away at the survivors." Yeah, no relation to what I was reading. I had the weird feeling the book's cover had been replaced, you know?

So, as the two Hollywood guys walk around, a truck filled with manuscripts headed for the incinerator takes a sudden turn and three scripts fall out. Two are declared to be crap, one is read by the two friends, who go in search of the mysterious writer, but find out that he died a few weeks before and has no family, but his neighbors piece together a short history of the guy, which... whatever.

And then the script is reproduced in its entirety - and, well, to be honest, no wonder it was heading to the incinerator.

It starts with SYMBOLISM!!!! and baboons who act like humans and who have Albert Einsiteins on leashes, making them create weapons which let them destroy the world. Very symbol, much wow. More spacing out on my side, I had to re-read some of this stuff.

Later on, New Zealanders go off to explore the world, since they're the only ones who apparently escaped the nuclear war because nobody cared much about them (go, New Zealand!). They land in America, somewhere next to L.A., and one of the characters, a botanist, is captured by a tribe of genetically mutated people who have extra fingers, toes and pairs of nipples, who have mating seasons, and who are dead-set on worshiping the devil, seeing him as a cause of the world's destruction.

I'm making this sound interesting again. It's all very symbolic and philosophical and the priests keep explaining how the devil convinced humanity to self-destruct.

So the New Zealand dude gets left behind by his colleagues, falls in love with one of the natives and runs off with her in search of a colony of other humans, because the devil-worshipers hate people who have sex out of mating season.

Symbolism, poking fun at humanity, philosophising about the world, more poetry thrown everywhere, more random words your eyes will skip over, and less fun than "Brave New World".

jiji17's review against another edition

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A very odd book, with an utterly cynical, strange and horrific idea of a dystopian future set after a nuclear war. It was short and easy to read and definitely very interesting, it also had some interesting points to make, but at times it was just very very weird.
However, I am very glad I read it and would recommend if you are really into dystopia.

hhhhhggguu's review against another edition

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This is a wierd book.
Flavours of Vonnegut.

It seems both incredibly modern in its commentary on war, politics, exploitation and ignorance about the environment, and incredibly prurient and old fashioned.
I found the satirical commentary really interesting, topical and insightful. The style and framing though, make it a difficult and often uncomfortable read which has sadly not aged very well.
I'm pleased that I read it, but no more than 'okay' for me.

msand3's review against another edition

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“The leech's kiss, the squid's embrace,
The prurient ape's defiling touch:
And do you like the human race?
No, not much.”

The above quote comes in the opening pages of Ape and Essence, one of the most viciously cynical works of fiction I've ever read. The setting of the frame narrative is "the day of Gandhi's murder," which sets the tone for this pessimistic and misanthropic gem. As with some of Huxley's other writings, I get the impression that Huxley is brilliant-bordering-on-mad. He clearly expresses the fears and foibles of mid-20th-century politics and culture, but also tends to exaggerate or present extreme scenarios in his dystopian visions. The result is writing that compels me to keep reading, even if I find myself disagreeing with his critiques or shaking my head at his over-the-top conclusions. (I almost wrote "rantings," but that's the thing: he never quite reaches the point of "rant," despite some truly disturbing prophesies.) And yet these marvelously grotesque landscapes are what keep me turning pages.

In the case of Ape and Essence, Huxley delivers a text that's postmodern in structure: two Hollywood agents in 1948 discover a bizarre screenplay by a reclusive man named Tallis (Huxley's alter ego?). In the first few pages, they arrive at his desert hermitage, only to discover he has recently died. The remaining 180 pages is Tallis' complete screenplay (without notes or further commentary) about a post-apocalyptic world in which humans who have survived a nuclear war become Satanists, embracing all the most negative attributes of humanity. Moments from the frame narrative return in the screenplay, but only briefly. I can't even begin to describe Huxley's surreal imagery, in which he cynically portrays man as nothing more than apes with slight self-awareness. It must be read to be appreciated. As the screenplay's narrator intones: "Only in the knowledge of his own Essence / Has any man ceased to be many monkeys." This is a weird, wild book!

blackoxford's review against another edition

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America the Fearful

Fear turns democracy into tyranny. Perhaps fear is the foundation of democracy, the fear of material or spiritual loss. Isn’t that the sentiment behind the dispersion 0f power in constitutional government? If so, the Trump-phenomenon may be an inevitable consequence of democratic politics. And the thing to be feared most.

I am reading Ape and Essence, written in 1948, while the racist Trump rally is taking place in North Carolina. Chants of ‘Send her back’ are being directed at black congresswomen by the Evangelical Christian crowd. Huxley has his crowd at a not dissimilar rally shouting
“Church and State,
Greed and Hate: --
Two baboon-persons
In one Supreme Gorilla.”

‘Ape and Essence’ is actually a screenplay contained within this novel of post-World War II paranoia in America. The narrator of the screenplay makes the context clear: “And fear, my good friends, fear is the very basis and foundation of modern life.” Then it was fear of the godless Russians who were intent on taking away America’s Christian heritage. Today it is fear of Central Americans and women with headscarves who... well, threaten to take away America’s Christian heritage.

Huxley understood the problem of democracy as well as de Tocqueville did. As his narrator says, “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 orangutan or even, if he takes rank as a Saviour of Society, a true Gorilla.” It is not inapt, I think, to perceive the North Carolinans and their political hero in exactly this way. The problem is not the Gorilla, who is merely a somewhat defective human being; the problem is the baboons, who use democracy as a means to exercise their fear and hatred without fingerprints.

“Cruelty and compassion come with the chromosomes,” says the narrator. Which one gets switched on is a matter of culture, of the habits and social training to which we all are exposed. Something has gone deeply wrong in the culture of America. It has happened before in other democratic states, but rarely with such global publicity and even more rarely with such unified support from the rank and file religionists of Christianity. “Ends are ape-chosen; only the means are man's,” The narrator laments. The apes are in charge, from the bottom up. Democracy, it seems, releases “the Blowfly in every individual heart.”

slashslasher's review

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dark funny fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? It's complicated
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


metallicbranch's review against another edition

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Certainly nothing compared to Brave New World, or even Island, another of his lesser-known books, though I found some of the post-apocalyptic descriptions in this book intriguing.

borislimpopo's review against another edition

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Aldous Huxley (1949). Ape and Essence. London: Vintage. 2005. ISBN 9781409079668. Pagine 176. 6,01 €

Aldous Huxley è un autore che mi piace molto: Brave New World è e resta la mia distopia preferita, ho molto amato Chrome Yellow (se non l’avete letto, attualmente è gratis su Kindle) ma soprattutto Point Counter Point è stato il libro per eccellenza di un periodo (burrascoso) della mia vita. Naturale, quindi, che potessi essere tentato da un libro di Huxley, pur sapendo che correvo qualche rischio (Huxley è un autore discontinuo, che ha scritto anche delle solenni porcate), soprattutto dopo averne sentito parlare 2 volte a poche settimane di distanza.

La prima volta mi ero imbattuto in quest’opera minore di Huxley a partire dalla scoperta della lettera inviata da Huxley a Orwell nell’ottobre del 1949 (trovata su Letters of Note e da me riportata nel già citato post sulla distopia). La seconda nel libro di George Dyson Turing’s Cathedral, che non ho ancora terminato di leggere, e che fa iniziare così (un po’ a sproposito per la verità):

“THE CAMERA MOVES across the sky, and now the black serrated shape of a rocky island breaks the line of the horizon. Sailing past the island is a large, four-masted schooner. We approach, we see that the ship flies the flag of New Zealand and is named the Canterbury. Her captain and a group of passengers are at the rail, staring intently toward the east. We look through their binoculars and discover a line of barren coast.”
Thus begins Ape and Essence, Aldous Huxley’s lesser-known masterpiece, set in the Los Angeles of 2108, after a nuclear war (in the year 2008) has devastated humanity’s ability to reproduce high-fidelity copies of itself. On the twentieth of February 2108, the New Zealand Rediscovery Expedition North America arrives among the Channel Islands off the California coast. The story is presented, in keeping with the Hollywood location, in the form of a film script. “New Zealand survived and even modestly flourished in an isolation which, because of the dangerously radioactive condition of the rest of the world, remained for more than a century almost absolute. Now that the danger is over, here come its first explorers, rediscovering America from the West.” [6369-6429]

Lesser-known masterpiece! Non direi proprio, dopo averlo letto, ingannato dal giudizio di George Dyson. A dirla tutta, adesso, ho il sospetto che Dyson il libro di Huxley non l’abbia neppure letto per intero.

Anche se il libro nel complesso è mal riuscito e indisponente, Huxley è pur sempre un autore intelliugente e raffinato, e qualche perla ce la dispensa:

Tragedy is the farce that involves our sympathies; farce, the tragedy that happens to outsiders. [1080]

[…] Copulation resulted in population—with a vengeance!’ [2004]

[…] 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!
Progress — the theory that you can get something for nothing; the theory that you can gain in one field without paying for your gain in another; the theory that you alone understand the meaning of history; the theory that you know what’s going to happen fifty years from now; the theory that, in the teeth of all experience, you can foresee all the consequences of your present actions; the theory that Utopia lies just ahead and that, since ideal ends justify the most abominable means, it is your privilege and duty to rob, swindle, torture, enslave and murder all those who, in your opinion (which is, by definition, infallible), obstruct the onward march to the earthly paradise. Remember that phrase of Karl Marx’s: “Force is the midwife of Progress”? He might have added—but, of course, Belial didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag at that early stage of the proceedings — that Progress is the midwife of Force. [2031-2039]

For a moment Dr. Poole hesitates between the inhibitory recollection of his Mother, the fidelity to Loola prescribed by all the poets and novelists, and the warm, elastic Facts of Life. After about four seconds of moral conflict, he chooses, as we might expect, the Facts of Life. [2368]

saltypitchfork's review

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It's certainly unique - I think whatever it's trying to say gets muddled at times but there's enough fascinating ideas here to keep me interested and horrified. Also its written beautifully and I enjoy the layered narration. Though, it's again hard to tell whos saying what, and what ideas are being critiqued. Is the author of the fake movie script a little too into himself? Or is it entirely huxley's voice? Hard to tell, but a handy way to hide any flaws it might have. "Oh? No, that's TALLIS speaking, I'm not that haughty and pretentious, ha!" Or maybe it's critiquing everyone at the same time, including Huxley himself?

You know, it just might be genius.

Oh, by the way, not for the weak of heart! AT ALL! Holy shit. It gets dark.


ariereads's review

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Though I adored [b:Brave New World|5129|Brave New World|Aldous Huxley||3204877], and therefore considered myself familiar with its famous author, I had never even heard of Ape and Essence before stumbling across it on one of the dustier shelves in the local library. Never again will I make the mistake of relegating an author to the "one-book-wonder" list. This little 150 page book is so utterly bizarre, eerie, beautiful and perfect that from the very first reading it has leapt straight into my list of all-time favourites.

Brave New World makes it very clear that Huxley had a huge problem with the egotistical nationalism of modern society. Ape and Essence takes this view to an extreme, and though I agreed with many of his points, it was the writers unusual and eloquent way of getting them across that made me fall in love.

The story is told in two sections. The first, only 25 pages long, is from the point of view of a screen writer who finds a rejected screenplay entitled "Of Ape and Essence" and goes on a journey to meet the author. The second, much longer part is the transcription of this screenplay. It details how the world has been destroyed through atomic warfare, and human-kind worship the devil, "Beliel", as they cannot face the idea that they are in fact to blame for their own destruction. Such an inherently human trait, the fear of guilt, the need to feel blameless. I suppose this is where the term "scapegoat" comes in handy.

The prose is strange and quite beautiful, with a narrator who speaks in poetry, and details that come from the "screenplay" nature of the work. Potential soundtracks are mentioned, as are details such as "close-up on..." or "wide shot of...", "Voices fade out as Narrator speaks again"...

The themes are all politically charged, a warning against selfish hedonism and, equally, deprivation and self harm caused by religion and patriotism. Lines include "Church and State, Greed and Hate:- Two baboon-persons In one Supreme Gorilla." and "The longer you study modern history, the more evidence you find of Beliel's Guiding Hand." (these lines fall far short of giving any idea as to the odd beauty of the writing, but I wanted to include them anyway)

Quite honestly, writing a short review of this book is near impossible - it would be all too easy to write an essay-like discussion, dissection, dissertation of Huxley's ideas about religion, war, politics etc, but I think to do so would in fact be detrimental to the book itself, at leasst without having the anaylitical skills to do it justice. I will leave the in-depth analysis to a possible future thesis, but by not going in depth there is little more to say here other than this is a book that begs for many more readings, and I will do so very happily. I strongly suggest you do the same.