Perils of Expansion: Aldous Huxley and the Counterculture

Stevenson, Guy. 2019. 'Perils of Expansion: Aldous Huxley and the Counterculture'. In: Modernism and Alternative Spiritualities Symposium. Royal College of Art, London, United Kingdom 10 January 2020. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

Halfway through his novel Point Counterpoint, Aldous Huxley has his author-alter ego Philip thinking back wryly to a time when ‘I tried to persuade myself that reality did not exist’. Such self-awareness was always going to mark Huxley out from the reams of other writers, artists, musicians and philosophers who experimented with the effects of hallucinogens in the 1960s. It was the quality that stopped his Blake-inspired study on LSD, The Doors of Perception, from descending into mystical reverence or naïve grandstanding – and which makes it still worth reading where so much else from that genre categorically is not. This paper will look at Huxley in the context of the Counterculture that adopted him, reading Doors alongside his essays from the same period to discuss what his cool and intellectually unimpressionable take on the expansion of consciousness reveal both in themselves and about a period that was otherwise defined by opposite qualities. Reading Huxley’s forays into new spiritual and psychological terrain next to those of other skeptical 60s experimenters – people like the Beat ¬novelist William Burroughs and media theory guru Marshall McLuhan – I‘ll consider a pessimistic counter narrative and force in a movement that was and is celebrated for its progressivism. In doing so, I’ll also explore connections between an early century modernist sensibility – which Huxley had been instrumental in shaping – and a post-1945 American milieu determined to repudiate that past.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception, Anti-Humanism, The 60s Counterculture, Modernism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


October 2019Accepted
10 January 2020Completed

Event Location:

Royal College of Art, London, United Kingdom

Date range:

10 January 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Jun 2024 15:38

Last Modified:

13 Jun 2024 15:46


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