Science Fiction Studies

#47 = Volume 16, Part 1 = March 1989


 

CORRESPONDENCE ET CETERA

James Sexton: Aldous Huxley's Bokanovsky

It is a commonplace that many of the 10,000 officially approved surnames in the Brave New World belonged to giants of the Capitalist and Communist worlds: Ford and Hoover in the former; Marx and Trotsky in the latter. However, some of the once instantly recognizable names have become obscure as reputations have dimmed. Who but a historian recognizes the name Alfred Mond? Yet Huxley assumed that this important industrialist-politician was sufficiently well-known to allude to him twice in Point Counter Point (1928) as well as to give his name to the World-Controller of Brave New World (1932). Probably Huxley associated him with the rationalization of industry and multi-national business conglomerates since he was the driving force behind the series of amalgamations of several British chemical firms into the massive multi-national corporation Imperial Chemical Industries, or ICI. He was also apparently the model for H.G. Wells's William Clissold.1

Another once-famous advocate of the rationalization of industry has completely escaped notice, even though his name lives on in Brave New World as the father of the World State's ectogenesis program. I refer, of course, to Bokanovsky. Perhaps the main reason for the absence of critical commentary on the name is that it is Slavic. Presumably readers think of it as a suitably Russian-sounding name and go no further, assuming that Huxley invented it. Such invention would have been unique, however, since all the names Huxley used, even obscure references like Kawaguchi, can be traced to actual or literary eponyms. While he was probably aware of a minor Russian revolutionary, Ivan Vasil'evich Bokhanovsky (1848-1917), Huxley probably had in mind a "Bokanovsky"—again with minor spelling changes—who was far from obscure in French politics of the '20s. Maurice Bokanowski (1879-1928) was a French politician who held important posts in two Third Republic cabinets, and most notably that of Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Aviation in Raymond Poincaré's Union Nationale cabinet from 1926 until Bokanowski's death in March 1928, ironically in a plane crash while on his way to an aviation conference.                

Why the name Bokanovsky should have suggested itself as an approved name to the fathers of the Brave New World is not far to seek.2 First, like his counterpart Mond in England, Maurice Bokanowski was a high-profile advocate of the rationalization of industry as a response to the economic crisis after the Great War, especially as a means of reducing unemployment.

As Georges Bonnefous, a historian of the Third Republic, states (p. 229), M. Bokanowski's rationalizing industry as the true remedy to France's economic ills helped deflect the attacks of the left-wing opposition critics in the French Assembly. In addition, William Shirer tells us that he was a spokesman for the business and financial interests in France (p. 154). Furthermore, references in the conservative Paris daily, Le Figaro, show that he was an implacable enemy of instability, both parliamentary and governmental ("Une conférence de M. Bokanowski," p. 3). By November 1927, he was able to announce that "monetary stability could only be compromised from now on by political crises which French common sense will know how to avoid" ("M. Bokanowski montre les résultats de l'Union Nationale"). Indeed, no one in France was more closely associated with the last term of Brave New World's motto, "...Stability."               

Perhaps Bokanowski's emphasis on stability made him appear to Huxley as cut from the same cloth as a Wellsian "open conspirator." After all, politicians have been replaced by technocrats in the Brave New World. Such a change was long advocated by Wells, and its realization in the Fordian era is one of the clearer satiric allusions to Wells's canon. From 1926 on, Bokanowski likewise advocated during the economic crisis, if not the abolition of party politics, at least a de-emphasis of the division of political power along party lines in favor of a coalition of businessmen and technocrats capable of remedying the falling franc by technical measures. Bokanowski's speech made at a meeting of L'Union pour la France in January 1926 could serve as a paradigm of the Wells-Mond line of thinking. Here he reveals his impatience with "the struggles and divisions of parties," adding that the conditions for economic well-being are a "moratoruim on politics and the constitution of a strong, durable majority around a program of union uniquely determined by technical necessities" ("A la Salle Wagram," p. 2).               

M. Bokanowski's coalition ideas were given full hearing in Le Figaro, M. Coty's newspaper; and it is worth noting that a few weeks after Bokanowski's speech to the Amiens Chamber of Commerce (a speech reported on the second page of Le Figaro), the lead article in Le Figaro, headed "Le Salut financier hors du parlement," advocated the formation of a national union cabinet. An illustration of the degree of urgency with which M. Coty (at least) viewed the economic crisis is his announcement in Le Figaro nine days later of a plan to create a de facto rival treasury, what he called "La Caisse Autonome d'Amortissement," which would have placed 25 million francs at the disposal of "certain competent and probacious men...for the purposes of maintaining budgetary equilibrium, imposing on politicians a [sense of] order and economy, and restoring the French structure [`l'édifice française']" ("La Caisse," p. 3).                

Bokanowski's well-known internationalism—"he had France participate in all the major international expositions" (Franceschini)—and his advocacy of customs reforms which prefigure the Brave New World's anti-protectionist world economy are two other reasons why Huxley alludes to him. As well, the fact that Bokanowski was the Minister of Aviation and a believer in trans-oceanic commercial airlines links him yet more concretely to the world of A.F. 632, where flights from New York to London in the Red Rocket are so punctual that an increase of seven minutes over the estimated arrival time is looked upon as scandalous.                

The most telling link between the fictional and the real Bokanowski, however, may lie in the fact that "after the peace, [Bokanowski] returned to the study of economic questions, particularly those concerning the birth rate" (Franceschini). Since Huxley was a frequent visitor to France during Bokanowski's heyday, it is probable that he was aware of his concern with the falling French birthrate (from 30 per 1000 at the beginning of the 19th century to about 15 per 1000 in 1934-38). In any case, it is ironic that the imaginary biologist who perfected the cloning of human beings and thereby solved the economic problem of undesirable birth rates should be named after a politician who advocated government supplements to alleviate the economic hardships of large families (cf. Franceschini). Thus a Third Republic champion of the family (and the precursor of la politique de la famille, which helped raise the birth rate) is immortalized as the inventor of one of the techniques which help to abolish it.                

That Huxley was alluding to a contemporary French politician is clear and of some historical interest. What is less apparent in establishing that Huxley refers to Maurice Bokanowski is that this helps support the evidence marshalled by Jerome Meckier to push back the date of composition of Brave New World—or at least its planning—to a time in or before 1928, and in any event well before April 1931, the month Mrs Bedford asserts that Huxley began the book.3                

In addition to the neglected "preface" to Brave New World that Meckier cites, at least three other late-'20s' works had been mentioned by Huxley before late 1929: Fülöp-Miller's The Mind and Face of Bolshevism, Berdayev's Un nouveau moyen age, and Séché's La Morale de la machine.4 And just as these three works impressed themselves upon Huxley's consciousness, the reports in the French press of Bokanowski's speeches and actions would have been noted by Huxley as well. But after Bokanowski's untimely death, he ceased to be spoken of in the press, confirming Hamlet's mordant reflection that a man's memory may outlive him six months. Had Huxley begun writing Brave New World in 1931, it is most unlikely that he would have alluded to a figure who three years after his death was only moderately well-known.

NOTES
                1. For a lengthy discussion of Huxley's allusions to Mond's career, see my article "Brave New World and the Rationalization of Industry," English Studies in Canada, 12 (1986):424-39. For a brief discussion of the Mond-Wells connection, see Warren Wagar's H.G. Wells and the World State (New Haven, 1961).
                2. The French novelist Georges Duhamel also apparently alludes to Bokanowski, giving the name Bouchonoff to the founder of a Laputan academy which venerates rationalized industry and neon advertising in his 1931 satire Les jumeaux de Vallangoujart.
                3. See Jerome Meckier on this point.
                4. These works provide a rationale for Huxley's attack on materialism. He, of course, took his epigraph from Berdayev's work, and he had written an approving review of Fülöp Miller's book as well as a critical one of Séché's. See my article for Séché's place in Huxley's satire.

WORKS CITED

[Bokanowski, Maurice]. "La salle Wagram," Le Figaro, 9 Jan. 1926, p. 2.
________. "M. Bokanowski montre les résultats économiques de l'Union Nationale," Le Figaro, 8   Nov. 1927, p. 2.
________. "Une conference de M. Bokanowski," Le Figaro, 4 May 1926, p. 3.
Bonnefous, Georges. Histoire politique de la troisième république, vol. 4. Paris, 1960.
Coty, François. "La Caisse Autonome d'Amortissement," Le Figaro, 18 Mar. 1926, p. 1.
________. "Le Salut financier hors du parlement," Le Figaro, 9 Mar. 1926, p. 1.
Duhamel, Georges. Les jumeaux de Vallangoujart. Paris, 1931.
Franceschini, E. "Maurice Bokanowski," Dictionnaire de biographie française (Paris, 1954), 6:879.
Meckier, Jerome. "A Neglected Huxley `Preface': His Earliest Synopsis of Brave New World,"         Twentieth Century Literature, 25 (1979):1-20.
Shirer, William L. The Collapse of the Third Republic. NY, 1969.

 

S.A. Cowan: Five-Finger Exercise: Asimov's Clues to the Plot-Solution of "Catch That Rabbit"

The stories in Isaac Asimov's I, Robot frequently are built upon a problem-solving or detective-story plot.1 A classic instance is "Little Lost Robot," in which robopsychologist Susan Calvin must discover, through logic and an experiment involving personal risk, the identity of a potentially dangerous robot. In other stories, responsibility for solving the problem or clearing up the mystery lies with the troubleshooters Powell and Donovan, whose field-testing assignments subject them to life-threatening, though invariably comical, dangers. The climactic scene of "Catch That Rabbit" has Powell and Donovan trapped by a tunnel cave-in. At the critical moment, Powell's insight into the solution of the mystery results in their rescue by robot DV-5 and his subsidiaries, who have been the object of the experiment that placed Powell and Donovan in peril in the first place.                

"Catch That Rabbit" has the distinction of illustrating better than any other piece in I, Robot Asimov's meticulous provision of clues that enable the reader to participate in the literary game of problem-solving. As usual with such stories, the reader is unlikely to figure out the problem before it is resolved by the author; but looking back over the story when the solution has been revealed, one finds pleasure in locating the clues that were given. The reader may even imagine that if he had paid closer attention to details on first reading, he might have penetrated the mystery.                

The clues given in "Catch That Rabbit" are appropriate to the plot, which, simply stated, turns on a case of what might be termed "robot-overload": like a hand with five fingers, DV-5 can manage five subsidiaries, but the six he has been assigned create a dysfunction when any kind of emergency arises. When Powell reasons this out, the problem is resolved and the story ends. The clues Asimov provides are unified with his theme and are of two kinds: references to fingers and hands; and references to numbers, especially the crucial numbers five and six.

When numbers appear with such frequency in a story of this length, the feeling that they are important to the plot and theme is inevitable. The impression developed by the sheer quantity of references to numbers directs attention to the means by which Powell and Donovan's problem is to be resolved. "Look at us!" is the message insistently broadcast by the approximately 125 appearances in verbal form of cardinal and ordinal numbers and their specific equivalents, such as "a dozen," "a full minute," and "a quarter of a mile."2 Besides cardinals, ordinals, and their equivalents, the idea of numbers is contained in references to mathematics and calculations, as in "multiple," "multiplied," and "prime numbers." Through constant repetition, numbers become the setting, or background, for the events which will take place.                

Against this background, the numbers five and six are both hidden and revealed. On a casual reading, these numbers blend into the setting—the fives and sixes are inconspicuous among the threes, fours, thousands, and millions—for clues must not, after all, be too obvious. On closer reading, the key numbers emerge from this background like a pattern in a quilt, enabling the reader to see that the clues were always there to be found. Sixes, including the equivalent phrase "half-a-dozen," occur 14 times, twice in the opening paragraph and three times in the "solution" passage:

`It's a six-way order. Under all ordinary conditions, one or more of the "fingers" would be doing routine tasks requiring no close supervision—in the sort of offhand way our bodies handle the routine walking motions. But in an emergency, all six subsidiaries must be mobilized immediately and simultaneously. Dave must handle six robots at a time and something gives.' (p. 82)3

The remaining sixes are unobtrusively spaced throughout the story.                

As sixes prove to be the essence of Powell and Donovan's problem, fives are the clue to the solution. In addition to the designation "DV-5," which appears six times,4 the number five is found eight times. Besides these occurrences in its "pure" form, the number turns up five more times in multiples of five formed on the root word, such as "fifteen" and "fifty" (p. 81; and twice in words based on the Latin root for five, "quintillions" (p. 67) and "quintuple" (p. 68). Each appearance produces the "five" impression in the reader's mind.               

Asimov has placed his fives artfully. The first occurrence is in the paragraph that sets the dramatic situation and spells out the problem in five logical steps, the fifth of which establishes the motivation for the action to follow: either Donovan and Powell manage to "explain why...[the robots] don't pass" the performance test or the heroes may lose their jobs (p. 65). The next two appearances of five are in proximity to its equally important counterpart, six. "Look," says Powell to Donovan, "that robot, DV-5, has six robots under it. And not just under it—they're part of it" (p. 66). Look indeed, Asimov seems to say to the reader, for what does the "5" in the designation represent? If the robot were meant to have six robots as "part of it," why not designate it DV-6? On the heels of this clue comes another: "Those six subsidiaries are part of DV-5 like your fingers are part of you..." (p. 66). "Part of me?" the reader protests, "What planet do you think I'm from? Six fingers is one too many." Again, near the phrase "A few quintillions of positrons," is found another reference to Dave's "six subsidiaries" (p. 67). On a single page, DV-5 multiplies "five-place figures," Powell reminds Donovan that a robot's brain is "quintuple-checked back on Earth," and the author teases the reader with the numbers "five hundred," "a thousand," "fifteen hundred," "ten thousand," and "twenty thousand"—all even multiples of five (p. 68).                

Asimov's references to fingers and hands combine with the pattern of fives and sixes to weave a theme in harmony with his plot. Descriptions that call attention to the hands occur 35 times, excluding references to fingers, soon to be discussed. Most of these descriptions show the hand in motion, as in pulling a moustache (p. 66), reaching for a book (p. 66)5 groping for a cigarette (p. 67), or scratching a neck (p. 68). Through images such as these, Asimov emphasizes the five fingers—his central image and essential clue.                

The word "finger" appears 20 times in "Catch That Rabbit"; six times it is used literally, referring to the human hand, 14 times figuratively, denoting DV-5's subsidiaries. As in the case of the fives and sixes, analysis reveals Asimov manipulating his images to achieve a particular purpose. A few examples will make this clear. As earlier pointed out, the first occurrence of a five is in the paragraph that establishes the dramatic situation, defines the problem, and provides the motivation for Powell and Donovan's action. That same paragraph opens with these words: "`All right. Look—logic!' He lifted his hairy fingers and pointed" (p. 65). Donovan's words and gesture can be taken as playful advice to the reader to observe carefully, use logic, and remember that fingers are going to be important pointers to the solution. To ensure that we do not forget this advice, Asimov uses the paired phrases "five years" and "five minutes" to frame another paragraph which prominently features Powell's finger:

`Your job,' said Powell, evenly, `for the last five years has been to test new robots under actual working conditions....That,' he jabbed holes in the air with his finger in Donovan's direction, `is your work. You've been griping about it, from personal memory, since about five minutes after United States Robots signed you up.' (p. 70)

The last example is a passage earlier quoted, in which Powell compares DV-5's subsidiaries to Donovan's fingers (p. 66). Considering Asimov's punch line, which explains DV-5's strange behavior as equivalent to a man's "twiddling his fingers" (p. 83), it should not be necessary to labor the point that all images of fingers are integral to the plot and theme. Each time fingers are mentioned, the concept of five is naturally evoked. Adding together the references to each, one can see how many signposts Asimov has erected pointing to the solution of the mystery.               

Enumerating instances of key words and numbers is not meant to be seen as a virtue in itself, nor as an attempt to demonstrate quality by quantity. Rather, it is a method of perceiving the density of the thematic atmosphere in which the events take place. The examples of strategic placement, juxtaposition, and clustering of key images that I have highlighted reveal Asimov's skill in developing his basic mystery plot. The furthest end of the study has been to demonstrate Asimov's craftsmanship, seen in the care he gives to making all details functional, resulting in a story with discernible form and unity. Conclusive evidence of that unity is found in Asimov's title: even the verb he has chosen, cast in the imperative mode to seize attention, evokes an image of five grasping fingers. The "five-fingered" theme, executed with virtuosity throughout "Catch That Rabbit," adds a touch of literary tone and texture to Asimov's straightforward tale and uncomplicated style.

NOTES

                1. Cf. Raymond J. Wilson: "many of...[Asimov's] straight science fiction stories...have mystery-story structures"—"Asimov's Mystery Story Structure," Extrapolation, 19 (1978):103.
                2. This count includes the numeral in DV-5's designation. Throughout my study, I have been careful—but not compulsively careful—in counting. Slight divergences from my totals would have no influence on my argument or conclusion.
                3. All page references are to I, Robot (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Crest, n.d.).
                4. Seven, if one includes DV-5-2, Dave's subsidiary.
                5. Significantly, and true to Asimov's delight in puns and wordplay, the book is the "Handbook of Robotics" (my italics).

 

 

Another Response to John Fekete

Taken together, John Fekete's "The Stimulations of Simulations: Five Theses on Science Fiction and Marxism" and the "Response" by Marc Angenot and Darko Suvin constitute an interesting exchange which bracingly raises questions fundamental not only to SF criticism but to literary and social theory in general. Fekete describes his own piece as "deliberately provocative," and I write here (very briefly) as one duly provoked—as I was evidently meant to be, since Fekete refers to me in a footnote as the author of "a pleasantly genial example of...[a] kind of demure Marxist minimalism." Not that I necessarily find this characterization to be personally offensive. To be sure, "demure Marxist minimalism" is not exactly something of which I have ever been accused before; but, as Joe Chip would say, I guess I can live with it.                

Actually, one of the most striking things about the whole exchange is how relatively traditional both positions have already become. Fekete employs what he himself describes, with engaging candor, as "a classical Reconstructive maneuver," while the Angenot-Suvin rebuttal boils down, I think, to the Marxist version of the Galilean, "And yet it moves"(perhaps most aptly to be rewritten, "And yet it hurts" —I am thinking now of Jameson's definition of history itself as what hurts). My own sympathies are of course with Angenot and Suvin, but there is no point in my repeating arguments which they have made ably. I only want to tease a little general meaning out of one especially astonishing observation by Fekete.                

Fekete ends a one-paragraph history of l9th-century Marxism with these words: "In short, Marxism always presupposed the real as the referent for its representational montage: the real served as its origin, its ground, its objective. But its 'real' was always the product of a narrative method, guaranteed and privileged only by the rhetoric of science." With that strategically italicized term, we are of course in Paul de Man's ballpark, where the games may by played with considerable elegance but where the score is always fixed in advance at 0-0. Fekete may now proceed with his "classical Reconstructive maneuver." What staggers me, however, is not so much his apparent assumption that he can philosophically dismantle Das Kapital as his more basic assumption that something called "Marxism" can, at least in its l9th-century version, be practically equated with Das Kapital (and other, allied texts). You can at once grasp something of the oddity of this notion if you try to imagine yourself explaining it to Marx—or to Engels, or Lenin, or Trotsky, or any other major figure of the classical Marxist tradition. For classical European Marxism, as for much Third World and other Marxism today, the real was (and is) indeed imbricated in narrative and (there's no denying it) in rhetoric. But to reduce the real to those properly formal categories would surely have seemed to Marx, as it still seems to some of us, the most barren academicist formalism. If Marxism (like psychoanalysis) is indeed committed to a concept of the real, it is a real which can neither be dissolved by the formalism which would reduce the real to a rhetorical inscription nor contained by the empiricism which would project the real into positivistic facticity. On the contrary, the real is produced historically, and through processes of class (and other) struggle only partly comprehended by theory, as Engels observed in his famous remark that the German workers' movements were the real heirs of classical German philosophy. I do not expect Fekete to agree, for he has clearly said good-bye to all that, having determined to his own satisfaction that the "finalities of desire, productive energy, and social organization" have been "set afloat and disseminated." Still, if he is to set up as not merely an opponent but a historian of Marxism, he really ought not to leave the impression that what Marx and his colleagues were about was preparing for a seminar at Yale. That someone of Fekete's evident brilliance and erudition could make so fundamental a blunder only indicates—so far as our North American culture is concerned—the shocking but not surprising extent to which the Marxist tradition remains an undiscovered continent. -- Carl Freedman, Louisiana State University

 

"Moxon's Master" Again: The Definitive Solution

I am fascinated by the speculations of Mr Bleiler about "Moxon's Master," and by the wicked emendations of Mr Rottensteiner; but I don't feel the subject has yet been fully explored.                

First, alcohol cannot be the cause of the narrator's or Moxon's extraordinary behavior: it is not possible to talk that much while drinking seriously unless you pour the liquor in your ear. A much more plausible explanation is the killer weed, hashish. This would account in part for the narrator's elevated state, which causes him to return to Moxon's house. (Some would say that the philosophical ecstasy he experiences is merely a device of Bierce's to get him back into the house and that a simpler trick would have worked better—for example, the narrator could have forgotten something, perhaps his bong. But this would be to ignore Bierce's wellknown subtlety and his ingenuity in creating puzzles for unborn scholars.)                

Second, Rottensteiner is quite wrong in suggesting that Haley is the incendiary. A close reading makes it clear that the culprit is Moxon's brother's dentist. Notice that Bierce never mentions the brother: this in itself is sinister. The brother must have had a dentist, and yet the dentist is never mentioned either. Dentists of that period were known to use ether and chloroform, both of which are inflammable. The case is open and shut.               

If this doesn't clear up the matter once for all, I don't know what will. -- Damon Knight, Eugene, OR

                                                                                                                                                              

Upcoming Conferences

The organizers of a conference on "The Fantastic in New Critical Theory," to be held at Texas A&M University, Feb. 28-Mar. 4, 1990, are looking for papers on the challenges and opportunities that fantasy (including SF) poses for specific contemporary critical theories. Abstracts or inquiries, mailed in time to reach their destination by May 15th, should be directed to Brett Cooke/Dept. of Modern & Classical Langs., CAMU/College Station, TX 77843; or telephone 409-845-2198. Texas A&M, it should be added, holds one of the largest collections of SF, and particularly of SF magazines. It is located about 100 miles from both Austin and Houston.

A conference on Utopian Studies—"Space, Time, and Simultaneity in Utopia"— sponsored by the Associazione Internazionale per gli Studi sulle Utopie, will take place in Reggio Calabria, May 16-24, 1989.  Those interested in attending should write for information to: Prof. Guiseppa Saccaro Del Buffa/166, Viale dei Quattro Venti/00152 Roma/Italy.  By the time you read this, it will probably be too late to put in for a paper. (Notice of the conference did not reach us in time for our previous issue.) In any event, however, please be advised that mail to Italy (from North America or virtually anywhere else) regularly takes at least 30 days (and that's when it's moving well). Unfortunately, we are unable to provide Professor Del Buffa's telephone number; but presumably it is obtainable from Rome's version of Directory Assistance.

The annual fan convention in Canada, Ad Astra, will take place at Toronto's Constellation Hotel, June 9-11, 1989. Guest writers will include John Varley and Judith Merrill For further information, write to Lloyd Penney/Ad Astra 9/PO Box 7276, Sta. "A"/Toronto, Canada MSW 1X9.

An international conference on "Cyberpunk and After: Fiction Approaching the Year 2000" will take place at the University of Leeds, June 27-30, 1989. The goal is to examine the nature of fictional responses to a perceived new acceleration in scientific and technological innovation and to new visions of the world's future. For further information about attending, contact Thomas Shippey/School of English /The University of Leeds/ Leeds, UK LS2 9JT; or George Slusser/Dept. of Lit. and Langs./University of California/Riverside, CA 92517.


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