22 Feb 11 | Re: Literary retro-futurism
It’s harmlessly enjoyable, when reading the classic dystopian novels, to have fun spotting retro-futuristic anachronisms. I’ve just read Brave New World and it’s no exception. In fact, my edition gives you double the fun by including Huxley’s foreword to the revised edition, where he himself looks back and picks out retro-futuristic mistakes from his own original. Interestingly, he sees his failure to mention nuclear power as his biggest blind-spot - to today’s reader that is largely a concern that has come and gone, and the fact, say, that all the bottle-grown babies’ records are stored in a giant, room-sized card index seems far more out of place*.
One thing that I missed on first reading was Huxley’s oddly frequent mentions of zips. Margaret Atwood’s introduction reveals the zips’ full significance: we learn that when they were first invented, zips were denounced by the guardians of morality because they made clothes too easy to take off! So Huxley makes all clothes zip-up as one way to show us the brave new world’s hyperliberal attitude to sexuality.
That then-clever device most certainly has not dated well. When I think of zips, I don’t think of naively coquettish clothes-shedding at all. Zips to me are more likely to be something that jams or sticks or even catches things - good material for sit-com sex, in other words, but hardly much of a catalyst to institutionalised promiscuity. If Huxley was writing now, ten to one on it would have been velcro.
Posted by CONQUISTADOR UNO at 21:06
*Though of course one could infer of any missing technology that the World State had deemed it to be too labour-saving and done away with it.