Book 8: Brave New World

I have nothing to say about Brave New World that hasn’t already been said, so instead I’ll tell this story:

My aunt was one of those people who found beauty wherever she looked. She never had to remind herself to stop and find beauty in the ordinary; she saw it automatically, overwhelmingly, in everything from new landscapes to familiar streets.

About a year before she died, I took a day to drive the 30 miles and visit her. I was poking around her living room (cluttered with legal briefs, books, half-finished quilting projects and empty cigarette boxes) and I saw she had left her camera out.

“Were you taking some photos?”

(Her photos were gorgeous, but you usually had to trick her into letting you see them)

“Yes!” She grabbed my arm and dragged me away from the camera, to the sliding glass door that took up one wall, and pointed at the little table outside. “I was trying to get a picture of that!”

It was, as far as I could tell, a gray blob. I stared at it for a second, trying to make sense of what it was.

“What does it look like?” she prodded.

“Is it a statue?” I asked, not sure why she’d ask me from here, instead of taking me outside and letting me see the little sculpture up close. My brain was figuring it out now. It was a small woman kneeling, her hands folded in front of her and her head bowed. The lines of the sculpture were round and generous, more suggesting the figure than delineating it in perfect detail.

I described this to my aunt, who nodded in agreement. Then, pulling open the glass door, she said, “It’s a bag of trash!”

Which it was. The gardener had swept some clippings into a gray plastic bag, tied it, then left it forgotten on the table when he finished for the day.

When my aunt saw it, she had been convinced that someone had left her a beautiful little statue. When she realized what it was, she spent hours trying to get a photo of it at exactly the right angle, but something about it didn’t translate. You had to actually see it to mistake it for a piece of art, which was why it was still sitting there, days after the gardener had left it behind.

The thing about order is, it leaves no room for accidental beauty. The problem with a perfectly controlled world is that the uncontrollable is so often the most meaningful part of life. My feelings about Brave New World are summed up in the opening quote:

“Perhaps a new century will begin, a century in which intellectuals and the privileged will dream of ways to eliminate utopias and return to a non-utopic society less ‘perfect’ and more free.”
-Nicolas Berdiaeff


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