Among Santa Barbara’s finest rumors are some crazy stories about Aldous Huxley living here. Some maintained that the author of Brave New World and Crome Yellow once dwelled in Isla Vista, and whilst across the channel was inspired to write Island. Another tale held that Huxley’s wife would annually procure him a virgin from the then-new UCSB campus for a springtime ritual cloaked in obvious pagan and erotic possibilities. Some rumors suggest that Huxley called the Upham Hotel home while teaching a class at the university, others that his series of lectures became all the rage, spilling audiences out from the auditorium located where UCSB’s lagoon-hugging UCen now stands.
The 50th Anniversary of Aldous Huxley’s UCSB Lecture Series
Remembering a Genius in a Tourist Town
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Actually, the last story is true. The other tales, not so much. It’s true, though, that 50 years ago this month, the university hosted Huxley as its first visiting professor. Besides teaching courses to a select corps of English majors, Huxley gave a series of wildly popular public lectures which can be revisited on tape and in a hard-to-find paperback volume barely available on Amazon. In the talks, Huxley isolated major points that would later engage my generation in angry debates as well as stoned ruminations. Would the future belong to B.F. Skinner’s brand of scientific determinism or Timothy Leary’s mystical adventure? What does it mean to be human in a pervasively technological culture? How can we talk about the future under mushroom-clouded skies?
“I deliberately kept the title of this course as vague and as general as I could,” Huxley declared in his February 9, 1959 intro lecture, “so as not to commit myself too far in advance or to pretend that I know too much.” Modestly titled “The Human Situation,” the lectures today seem remarkably prescient, opening with overpopulation, pollution, and their plausible effects on the climate, and concluding with an intriguing inventory of human possibilities. Besides clearly helping to brand Santa Barbara as the eco-friendly New Age paradise it is today, Huxley in 1959 anticipated language that would not be employed by trendy professors, tree-huggers, and San Francisco hippies for at least another decade.