Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Island: Will Tantric Yoga save the world?

This is a tough one. Aldous Huxley's Island than a little bit pontificating, so its going to be sort of hard to talk about it as though it had a plot. But it's definitely food for Lost thought. isn't excellent--it's kind of manifesto-ish and moreThe novel is set on the Southeast Asian island of Pala, which is the namesake of the "Pala Ferry" mentioned in the Pearl Station Orientation video and the General Orientation video in Ben's flashback. Its unused dock is where Michael's boat takes off from (and where Jack, Kate and Sawyer are bound, gagged and hooded) at the end of Season 2, and where Sayid and Co. dock their boat at the beginning of Season 3. Still, even with all the action going on around it, (surprise, surprise) it's not entirely clear what the Pala Ferry seems to have taken Dharma members from station to station and possibly from island to island.

Aldous Huxley's Pala is a little bit more clearly defined. The book serves as a corrective to the dreary distopia of Brave New World by presenting a working utopia that benefits from a synthesis of western science (especially medicine) and eastern spirituality (especially Buddhism). We learn about Pala from its inhabitants alongside a British journalist who has been sent there to scope out its oil resources for his boss (hello Widmore?) but who ends up getting pretty enthralled by what the Island has to offer. What is that exactly? Aside from the initial thrill of learning how much the Island inhabitants value tantric yoga, there are also carefully administered magic mushrooms, Mutual Adoption Clubs where children aren't tied to one set of parents for their whole childhood, and shared communal duties, both physical and intellectual, which strengthen all of the society...there's a really nice little jab at Western intellectuals who study one thing to the exclusion of others and become gross little blobs instead of whole people.

Of course there's a little bit of conflict thrown in for good measure...the soon-to-be rightful ruler (of a ruling family that had control over the island since before this utopian period) and his over-bearing mother, aware of the money they can get from selling off Pala's lucrative oil reserves, are about to really ruin things by cutting a deal with a nearby island that has westernized too fast, leaving a huge gap between the haves and have nots. Having something like this to be in opposition to makes the smooth functioning of Pala all the more appealing.

This could be a really great story, I think, but as it stands, it reads more as Huxley's own musings on the ideal society. And do I put this? I am a little skeptical. And not only because the book was constantly proposing Buddhism-based alternatives to Western Christian attitudes about the way society should be. I will digress here: it is a noble effort for someone, like Huxley, so concerned with the problems of Western civilization, to offer an alternative, but the fact remains that he is a Western thinker and can't completely explain or understand Buddhism. Anyways, I'm skeptical because I think that any working utopia is going to seem a bit far-fetched. It requires too many people to be in sync with each other, or else it has to be so self-contained (as in the case of this island), that it hardly seems like a viable solution for the rest of the world. Which I guess is okay, if a little sad. Plus, dystopias are just so much more fun!

In the end, Pala's new ruler sells the place out for that all too-tempting oil money which he can use to buy himself happiness, by way of material posessions (like scooters purchased from catalogs). Although I hadn't bought into the Pala utopia wholesale, it's easy to see how depressing it is to give up a mellow and equitable society for industrialization, pollution, and gross economic disparities. But the ending of the book seems to suggest that, though the society was destroyed, it lingered in the hearts and minds of its adherents nonetheless.

So where's Lost in this? The Palan establishment is probably just a teensy bit like Dharma, which has ideals and goals that are intellectual, spiritual, and community-building in nature. Admittedly, its not working as well as Pala was (with folks like Roger assigned to one duty that just pissed them off), but maybe the name was chosen in a spirit of high hopes bythe Dharma Initiative.

Then there's the threat of big oil spoiling the fun. Although it doesn't seem like its going to be Big Oil, the corporations who are threatening to ruin the Lost Island(s) seem to want something, and maybe want to send others in to do it for them. I think its entirely probable that some of the Losties could be unwitting pawns for the Bad Guys who are also capable of being turned to the preferability of Island Life (like the reporter character in Island). At the same time, somebody had an inside man (a native son like Pala's ruler) in Dharma once: Ben. Although of course, the Hostiles were around before Dharma was...nonetheless, the crossing paths of the outsiders accepting a society that they were originally sent to hate, and of the natives betraying it are an important part of the big Lost Puzzle.

All that said, I think it's time to admit that the Others/Dharma/Hostiles/Natives jumble has gotten me so mixed up that the more times I allude to it, the less I know what I'm talking about.
Recently Aurora pointed out to me that I was operating on the assumption that the Hostiles (specifically Richard Alpert) were the good guys. And I said oh yeah, he is pretty evil, and I was embarrassed. But really, I think that the "special properties" of the Island have been protected by something good(?) for some time (as in centuries)...does that mean that there's been a bad around all this time too? Oh, man, I cannot wait for some of the Island mythology. If only for the simple fact that I could chase it around in my head for weeks and never get anywhere on my own.

Finally, in fun Huxley facts from Wikipedia, this was Huxley's last book, written after he was diagnosed with cancer. Near to death, he asked his wife to inject him with LSD, which much like the magic mushrooms in Island, eased his mind in his dying moments. His death got little public mention, though, as he died on the same day as President Kennedy and...get this..C.S. Lewis!
I love C.S. Lewis.

On that note, adios. I'll be dropping by for a short post on The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon soonish. I've started Our Mutual Friend (oof!) and want to finish the RansomTrilogy and talk Lewis a bit. Aurora should be doing a bit on literary and cultural threesomes (um?) and what they can tell us about looking at Jack/Kate/Sawyer. I for one, am looking forward to it.

1 comment:

Blairyposa said...

Wow, you have tackled some of the hard books. I am glad to see someone else is doing what we (my wife and I and whoever else we can rope in) are trying. It's been fun for us, especially me, to get into reading again. I am going to try to read a few of the ones on your current list so I can better understand some of the similarities you have written about. Nice work, we will keep checking back.