Book Excerpts

Aldous Huxley and Beauty

“The beatific vision of divine beauty is the knowledge of Pure Interval, of harmonious relationship apart from the things related.”

– Aldous Huxley


In his essay, Heaven and Hell, Aldous Huxley recounts sitting on a beach with a friend when, “suddenly, my consciousness was lighted up from within and I saw in a vivid way how the whole universe was made up of particles of material which, no matter how dull and lifeless they might seem, were nevertheless filled with this intense and vital beauty.” Such a dynamic experience of beauty is what he is referring to in this extract from Seven Meditations, a brief exploration of being, beauty, love, peace, holiness, grace and joy. He talks about the beatific vision of divine beauty that resides in Pure Interval, or harmonious relationship. Like Galway Kinnell’s insight into the beauty of a sow, Huxley suggests we can experience the divine through architecture, music, sacred geometries and human relationships.


 

Beauty arises when the parts of a whole are related to one another and to the totality in a manner which we apprehend as orderly and significant. But the principle of order is God, and God is the final, deepest meaning of all that exists. God, then, is manifest in the relationship which makes things beautiful. He resides in that lovely interval which harmonizes events on all the planes, where we discover beauty. We apprehend Him in the alternate voids and fullnesses of a cathedral; in the spaces that separate the salient features of a picture; in the living geometry of a flower, a sea shell, an animal; in the pauses and intervals between the notes of music, in their differences of tone and sonority; and finally, on the plane of conduct, in the love and gentleness, the confidence and humility, which give beauty to the relationships between human beings.

Such then, is God’s beauty, as we apprehend it in the sphere of created things. But it is also possible for us to apprehend it, in some measure at least, as it is in itself. The beatific vision of divine beauty is the knowledge, so to say, of Pure Interval, of harmonious relationship apart from the things related.

“A material figure of beauty-in-itself is the cloudless evening sky, which we find inexpressibly lovely, although it possesses no orderliness of arrangement, since there are no distinguishable parts to be harmonized.”

A material figure of beauty-in-itself is the cloudless evening sky, which we find inexpressibly lovely, although it possesses no orderliness of arrangement, since there are no distinguishable parts to be harmonized. We find it beautiful because it is an emblem of the infinite Clear Light of the Void. To the knowledge of this Pure Interval we shall come only when we have learned to mortify attachment to creatures, above all to ourselves.

Moral ugliness arises when self-assertion spoils the harmonious relationship which should exist between sentient beings. Analogously, aesthetic and intellectual ugliness arise when one part in a whole excessive or deficient. Order is marred, meaning distorted, and, for the right, the divine relation between things thoughts, there is substituted a wrong relation—a relationship that manifests symbolically, not the immanent and transcendent source of all beauty, but that chaotic disorderliness which characterizes creatures when they try to live independently of God.

 

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
From: Huxley and God

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