Still reading Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ for the first time since I was a teenager, and with gagging nausea I keep thinking ‘the public schools.’ They are the engine room of our destruction. And then I realize that I’ve always detested them, starting when I was in them, and that gagging nausea has been my permanent reaction to them. Not that I don’t have fond memories of teachers and schoolmates. I do. It’s the institution itself that I reacted to.
One of the most ghastly things retrieved by re-reading this book, about my experience the first time I read it at age 15, was coming back down to Suffern from upstate, where we had moved, excited about discussing it with my best friend from childhood, and watching him stare into the television with his mouth open, uninterested. Huxley had given me a frame of reference that stayed with me for a very long time and, in fact, is still there, like the empty cabin in the woods that has no glass in its windows.
I see my father as having been a kind of Jesuit mystic and like any Jesuit he was both amused and terrified when he realized that he had, in me, a Dominican on his hands. Worse, I’m sure he realized, was that I didn’t “get that way.” I was born that way. And this never changed, even through my years of apostasy and abject dissolution.