I read Time Must Have a Stop written by Aldous Huxley last weekend. I was thinking how timely it was that I began reading this book as another birthday was here. There are times I wonder if I could have made another career choice or if I could have lived elsewhere or if I could have made better use of my time instead of whiling away my time predominantly daydreaming. I am inclined to be indecisive, quite often with hindsight, I should very well stick to the first idea that I had because the more I deliberated, I ended up with all that chatters in my mind and then I digressed, made a snap decision and it somehow departed from what I had thought I would have wanted. Life has mostly kind of fallen into place by default but some part of it turned out to be contrary to what I had not wanted. I ended up doing exactly what I had told myself I would not do or would not have it. Since you do not have ideas about what you want or unclear about what you want but only have ideas about what you do not want, so you get what you do not want, that is the irony. Perhaps it was just typically a trait of mine for having the tendency to change my mind due to lack of self-possession at the time? It is never easy to know who you are, if you think about it. You must first acquaint with yourself and know your strengths and weaknesses. Never mind about dry skin, greying hair though I must admit that it bothers me and I miss my natural hair colour. I only keep up with some minimal beauty regime, even then I need to allocate time for moisturizing my skin and applying facial cream and mask. Not that I was ever athletic or sporty while I do enjoy hitting tennis and the occasional scuba diving, I am beginning to feel that I need to do more stretching and pay attention to all those muscles. I definitely need my solitary time for reading, as time never seems to be enough. Anyway looking back you cannot help thinking you could have believed in yourself a little more and not easily affected by opinions of others just because they did not approve of you. Maybe you could have done it a little differently. But then why does it matter? We are just passing through, whatever we do, we are just passing the time though we should make it all worthwhile. What happens to my belief about everyone has their own timing just because once upon a time someone I dated chided me for lacking the sense of urgency? Birthday happened to fall on everyone’s birthday according to Lunar calendar. It is the seventh day of the Lunar calendar. With all the kind and well wishes, I feel blessed indeed.
Time Must Have a Stop written by Aldous Huxley is a coming of age story.
The story is straightforward but not the contents, which is scholastic and full of intellectual and philosophical reflections about humanity, literature, politics, faiths, technological progress and society. The narration begins with a vivid description of the protagonist, Sebastian Barnack with his pretty looks, cynism and self-centredness as a seventeen-year-old. All the characters are well portrayed and the dynamics and conflicts between them are well narrated. Sebastian is on bad terms with his socialist father, John Barnack who is a barrister. His barrister father is ‘ not only a great cook (though he had the utmost contempt for those who cared about food for its own sake ), but also a great desk-tidier, a great mountain-climber, a great account-maker, a great botanizer and bird-watcher, a great letter-answerer, a great socialist, a great four-mile-an-hour walker, teetotaler and non-smoker, a great report-reader and statistics-knower, a great everything, in short, that was tiresome, efficient, meritorious, healthful, social-minded. If only he’d take a rest sometimes ! If only his armour had a few chinks in it !’ Sebastian feels aggrieved and angry with his dad because whatever the father makes at the Bar, he gives all ‘to Causes, movements, suffering individuals’ but he will not spend on suits and dinner jacket for Sebastian.
During summer vacation, Sebastian escapes to Florence to be with his uncle, Eustace who lives a hedonistic lifestyle to the distaste and disapproval of John. Eustace tells his nephew, “And never put it off till tomorrow the pleasure you can enjoy today.” During Sebastian’s time in Florence, he meets his distant cousin, Bruno Rontini, a saintly bookseller and his uncle’s mother-in-law and stepdaughter. There he also makes some mistakes and is unable to own up to them. He gets away with things partly due to his charm and his talent in writing poems. Fifteen years on, we learn that through the influences of his uncle, Bruno and family members who love him, he becomes a better version of himself in the process and has also reconciled with his anti-fascist and humanitarian father.
There is a death during Sebastian’s stay in Florence and it is one of the significant characters. Huxley is very descriptive in describing about the heart attack that causes the death. Huxley is also very hilarious in describing how the character who is an atheist discovers that death is not the end. Eustace’s eighty-six-year-old mother-in-law, Mrs Gamble still travels to Europe at her age. She hosts a seance and communicates with the dead through a medium. She is authoritarian and a snob. She finds Sebastian’s speech needs to be worked on as he mumbles due to his shyness. She orders Mrs Veronica Thwale, her paid companion who reads to her to coach the seventeen-year-old so he can speak the king’s English while he is in Florence.
Sebastian is dreamy and poetic. When he first tastes champagne, ‘ Acting the part of a relishing connoisseur, Sebastian took an appreciative sip or two, then gulped down half a glassful. It had the taste, he thought, of an apple peeled with a steel knife.’
From the epilogue, we know that years have passed by, it is now 1944 when Sebastian is thirty-two years old, and has lost a hand through combat. Sebastian has turned out fine. He is a playwright and living off the money that he has earned from the play that he wrote five years ago. He makes random notes in his journal about his thoughts about the cosmic order and he decides to read them on the first day of the year.
Here are a couple of quotes and some musings from Sebastian’s journal.
‘Victims have long memories – a fact which oppressors can never understand.’
‘Democracy is being able to say no to the boss, and you can’t say no to the boss unless you have enough property to enable you to eat when you have lost the boss’s patronage.’
‘If you say absolutely everything, it all tends to cancel out into nothing. Which is why no explicit philosophy can be dug out of Shakespeare. But as a metaphysic by implication, as a system of beauty-truths, constituted by the poetical relationships of scenes and lines, and inhering in the blank spaces between even such words as ‘told by an idiot, signifying nothing, ‘ the plays are the equivalent of a great theological Summa. And, of course, if you choose to ignore the negatives that cancel them out, what extraordinary isolated utterances of a perfectly explicit wisdom!‘
Sebastian keeps thinking of these lines from Shakespeare’s Henry IV.
‘But thought’s the slave of life, and life’s time’s fool,
And time, that takes survey of all the world,
Must have a stop.’
‘Mind is nothing but a tool for making tools ;controlled by unconscious forces, either sexual or aggressive; the product of social and economic pressures; a bundle of conditioned reflexes.‘
‘ For, obviously, if mind is only some kind of nothing – but, none of its affirmation can make any claim to general validity. But all nothing-but philosophies makes such claims. Therefore they can’t be true;for if they were true, that would be the proof that they were false. Thought’s the slave of life – undoubtedly.’
‘Life’s time’s fool. By merely elapsing time makes nonsense of all life’s conscious planning and scheming.’
The title of the book derives from the last clause : time must have a stop.
Sebastian further muses,
‘ And not only must, as an ethical imperative and an eschatological hope, but also does have a stop, in the indicative tense, as a matter of brute experience. It is only by taking the fact of eternity into account that we can deliver thought from its slavery to life. And if it only by deliberately paying our attention and our primary allegiance to eternity that we can prevent time from turning our lives into a pointless or diabolic foolery. The divine Ground is a timeless reality. Seek it first , and all the rest -everything from an adequate interpretation of life to a release from compulsory self-destruction – will be added.’
In Time Must Have a Stop, Aldous Huxley put forth his philosophies through the spiritual journey of his characters. It is an excellent read.