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dimanche, 13 août 2017

The Plumed Serpent: D.H. Lawrence on Radical Traditionalism


The Plumed Serpent: D.H. Lawrence on Radical Traditionalism

We must change back to the vision of the living cosmos; we must.
The oldest Pan is in us, and he will not be denied.

The Plumed Serpent is the story of an Aztec pagan revolution that spreads through Mexico during the time of the Mexican Revolution (the 1910s). Published in 1926, it also has themes of anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism, romanticism, nationalism, and primal and traditional roles for men and women.

The protagonist is 40-year-old Kate Leslie, the widow of an Irish revolutionary. She’s not particularly close to her grown children from her first husband, and seeking solitude and change in the midst of her grief she settles temporarily in Mexico.

Soon she meets Don Ramón Carrasco, an intellectual who’s attempting to rid the country of Christianity and capitalism and replace them with the cult of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl (“the plumed serpent”) and Mexican nationalism. He’s assisted in his vision by Don Cipriano Viedma, a general in the Mexican army. Ramón provides the leadership, poetry, and propaganda that helps the movement take off, and Cipriano lends a military counterpoint.


Ramón writes hymns, then distributes copies to the villagers who quickly become fascinated by the idea of the old gods returning to Mexico:

Your gods are ready to return to you. Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc, the old gods, are minded to come back to you. Be quiet, don’t let them find you crying and complaining. I have come from out of the lake to tell you the gods are coming back to Mexico, they are ready to return to their own home.

The Mexican commoners flock to listen as hymns are read (Mexico’s illiteracy rate was about 78 percent in 1910) (Presley). Soon the villagers are inspired to dance and drum in the native trance-inducing style that’s foreign to Christian worship, and they refuse the Church’s orders to quit listening to the Hymns of Quetzalcoatl. According to Smith, Lawrence was “interested in two related concepts of male homosociality: Männerbund and Blutbrüdershaft,” and there certainly are aspects of this in The Plumed Serpent among the Men of Quetzalcoatl. Ramón also employs an array of craftsmen to create the aesthetics for the Quetzalcoatl movement—ceremonial costumes, the Quetzalcoatl symbol in iron, and traditional Indian dress that’s adopted by the male followers.

Orchestrating a Pagan Revolution

The Plumed Serpent has been called D. H. Lawrence’s “most politically controversial novel” (Krockel). Despite its fascinating plot and the brilliant prose readers expect from Lawrence, it’s been called every name modernists can sling at a book—fascist, sexist, racist, silly, offensive, propaganda, difficult, an embarrassment. So many people have slammed the novel that when literary critic Leslie Fiedler said Lawrence had no followers—at a D.H. Lawrence festival, no less—William S. Burroughs interrupted to say how influenced he was by The Plumed Serpent (Morgan).


A primary reason Lawrence’s book is criticized is because his vision for Mexico may have been inspired by a trip to the Weimar Republic in the 1920s, after which he spoke positively of the growing völkisch movement and its focus on pagan traditions, saying in a 1924 letter: “The ancient spirit of pre-historic Germany [is] coming back, at the end of history” (Krockel). This is a misguided view because the Quetzalcoatl movement has none of the vitriol and racism that later characterized National Socialism (a Christianity ideology). Instead, the Quetzalcoatl leaders’ plan is to unite the various ethnicities in Mexico into one pagan culture, and whites living in the country will be allowed to stay if they are peaceful.

In The Plumed Serpent, Ramón speaks of the need for every country to have its own Savior, and his vision for a traditional, anti-capitalistic society includes a rebirth of paganism for the entire world:

If I want Mexicans to learn the name of Quetzalcoatl, it is because I want them to speak with the tongues of their own blood. I wish the Teutonic world would once more think in terms of Thor and Wotan, and the tree Igdrasil. And I wish the Druidic world would see, honestly, that in the mistletoe is their mystery, and that they themselves are the Tuatha De Danaan, alive, but submerged. And a new Hermes should come back to the Mediterranean, and a new Ashtaroth to Tunis; and Mithras again to Persia, and Brahma unbroken to India, and the oldest of dragons to China.

Although Lawrence’s novel has been criticized numerous times for post-colonial themes, such is an intellectually lazy and incomplete reading. According to Oh, “What Lawrence tries to do in The Plumed Serpent is the reverse of colonialist eradication of indigenous religion. The restoration of ancient Mexican religion necessarily accompanies Lawrence’s critiques of Western colonial projects.”

Lawrence and Nietzsche: A Philosophy of the Future

Ramón performs public invocations to the Aztec god and plans to proclaim himself the living Quetzalcoatl. (When the time is right, his friend Cipriano will be declared the living warrior god Huitzilopochtli, and Kate is offered a place in the pantheon as the goddess Malintzi.) But Ramón’s wife is a devout Catholic and fervently tries to convince him to stop the pagan revolution. Nietzsche was a major influence on Lawrence by the 1920s, and Ramón’s harsh diatribe to his Christian wife sounds straight out of The Genealogy of Morals:

But believe me, if the real Christ has not been able to save Mexico—and He hasn’t—then I am sure the white Anti-Christ of charity, and socialism, and politics, and reform, will only succeed in finally destroying her. That, and that alone, makes me take my stand.—You, Carlota, with your charity works and your pity: and men like Benito Juarez, with their Reform and their Liberty: and the rest of the benevolent people, politicians and socialists and so forth, surcharged with pity for living men, in their mouths, but really with hate . . .

The Plumed Serpent has been compared to Thus Spoke Zarathustra as well. Both feature religious reformers intent on creating the Overman, both use pre-Christian deities in their mythos, and both proclaim that God is dead (Humma). (In a priceless scene, Ramón has Christ and the Virgin Mary retire from Mexico while he implores the villagers to call out to them, “Adiós! Say Adiós! my children.”) A brutal overturning of Christian morality is present in both narratives. In addition, Ramón teaches his people to become better than they are, to awaken the Star within them and become complete men and women.

The Plumed Serpent is an engaging handbook for initiating a pagan revival in the West. The methods employed by Ramón would be more effective in a rural society 100 years ago, but readers will likely find inspiration in the Quetzalcoatl movement’s aesthetics and success. It’s an immensely enjoyable read for anyone interested in reconstructionist paganism or radical traditionalism.


Humma, John B. Metaphor and Meaning in D.H. Lawrence’s Later Novels. University of Missouri (1990).

Krockel, Carl. D.H. Lawrence and Germany: The Politics of Influence. Editions Rodopi BV (2007).

Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs. W. W. Norton (2012).

Oh, Eunyoung. D.H. Lawrence’s Border Crossing: Colonialism in His Travel Writing and Leadership Novels. Routledge (2014).

Presley, James. “Mexican Views on Rural Education, 1900-1910.” The Americas, Vol. 20, No. 1 (July 1963), pp. 64-71.

Smith, Jad. “Völkisch Organicism and the Use of Primitivism in Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent.D.H. Lawrence Review, 30:3. (2002)

For more posts on radical traditionalism and Julius Evola, please visit the archives here.

mardi, 23 mai 2017

D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature


D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature

Ex: https://dissidentright.com 

Out of a pattern of lies, art weaves the truth”

David Herbert Lawrence was born into an English working-class family on September 11, 1885.  After the First World War, he went into a voluntary exile from his native England, and travelled the world with his wife.  From 1922 until 1926, the Lawrences lived in the United States, wherein they resided mainly on a ranch in northern New Mexico.  While in the United States, Lawrence composed most of his short, but stunning book Studies in Classic American Literature.  In this all but forgotten work, Lawrence methodically marches down a line of classic American authors, and in turn, pierces the heart, bashes-in the head, rends out the soul, and furiously shakes the corpse of the unsuspecting greats.

Why is Lawrence so vicious with his literary prisoners?  Because, he claims, they are liars.  Benjamin Franklin lies about his ideal American citizen.  Hector St. John de Crevecoeur lies about the bliss and innocence of Nature.  James Fenimore Cooper lies about the Northeastern Brahmin’s veneration of Democracy and Equality.  Edgar Allan Poe lies about the limitless emancipatory effects of sensuousness, ecstasy, and love.  Nathaniel Hawthorne lies about the truth of spiritualism, saviourism, “Selfless Love,” and “Pure Consciousness.”[1]  Richard Henry Dana lies about man’s ability to know the sea and transcend the soil.  Herman Melville lies in his pursuit of harmony and the perfect relationship.  Walt Whitman lies about his belief in sympathy.

Lies!  Lies!  Lies!

For Lawrence, they are all lying, but they aren’t lying to their audiences. They are lying to themselves.  They each tell their own particular lies, but they all share in the big lies.  The lies that are today taken as fundamental American ideals:  Freedom, Democracy, Equality, Education, Equal Opportunity, and so on.  According to Lawrence, the white American puts undo importance on Knowing, self-consciousness, and the mind.  The white American intellectualizes with ideals, and tries to imprison feeling and “blood-consciousness.”  A primary example of this characteristic is the American ideal of Freedom.


Freedom is the ultimate American ideal, and it is the ultimate self-deception.  In the American conception, freedom is pure negation.  It is fleeing Europe, the homeland.  It is, at bottom, escape.  From what are Americans escaping, though?  Lawrence contends that the flight to America was due to the Pilgrim Fathers’ revulsion at post-Renaissance humanism.  The early American settlers fled Europe at the very moment their old masters were weakest:  when “kingship and fatherhood fell.”[2]

America is, as he puts it:

“A vast republic of escaped slaves.  Look out, America!  And a minority of earnest, self-tortured people.  The masterless.”[3]

All of the masterless are equal in their freedom.  Like Freedom, Lawrence rejects the notion of Equality, too.  Lawrence believes in a natural aristocracy, and argues that America has tried to level natural superiority and natural inferiority with the artifice of Equality.

From Lawrence, again:

“When America set out to destroy Kings and Lords and Masters and the whole paraphernalia of European superiority, it pushed a pin right through its own body, and on that pin it still flaps and buzzes and twists in misery.  The pin of democratic equality.  Freedom.”[4]

The American is on a never-ending quest after ideals, and he destroys, and kills, everything that’s in his path.  The American is led around by his mind-consciousness as opposed to his blood-consciousness.  These two forms of consciousness are the upper and the lower forces of Lawrence’s dualism.  The American has an unyielding belief in the former, and he is perpetually trying to know, understand, and reconcile his situation on the North American continent.  According to Lawrence, at the center of the white American’s urge to reconcile is the question of the races:  the red and white races, specifically.

To quote Lawrence at length:

“There has been all the time, in the white American soul, a dual feeling about the Indian.  First was Franklin’s feeling, that a wise Providence no doubt intended the extirpation of these savages.  Then came Crevecoeur’s contradictory feeling about the Red Man and the innocent life of the wigwam.  Now we hate to subscribe to Benjamin’s belief in a Providence that wisely extirpates the Indian to make room for ‘cultivators of the soil’.  In Crevecoeur we meet a sentimental desire for the glorification of the savages.  Absolutely sentimental.  Hector pops over to Paris to enthuse about the wigwam.  The desire to extirpate the Indian.  And the contradictory desire to glorify him.  Both are rampant still, to-day… I doubt if there is possible any real reconciliation, in the flesh, between the white and the red.”[5]

Fenimore Cooper tries to create a reconciliation between white and red in his Leatherstocking Tales, but Lawrence regards this attempt as only a wish-fulfillment.  Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook are bound together in manly, brotherly love, but neither brings forth issue, or marries.  Their reconciliation in the flesh means that they are isolated together, and thus the end of their respective bloodlines.  Their reconciliation is a false myth, but in the character of Natty Bumppo’s earliest incarnation, Deerslayer, Lawrence finds the “true myth” of the “essential white America.”[6]  This “intrinsic-most American” is the “man who turns his back on white society.  A man who keeps his moral integrity hard and intact.  An isolate, almost selfless, stoic, enduring man, who lives by death, by killing, but who is pure white.”[7]

This is surely a chilling, but heroic, image; nevertheless, the essential American who turns his back on white society certainly seems wanting in important qualities.  No less chilling and foreboding is Lawrence’s interpretation of the racial symbolism of Melville’s Moby Dick:

“What then is Moby Dick?  He is the deepest blood-being of the white race; he is our deepest blood-nature.  And he is hunted, hunted, hunted by the maniacal fanaticism of our white mental consciousness.  We want to hunt him down.  To subject him to our will…The Pequod went down.  And the Pequod was the ship of the white American soul.  She sank, taking with her negro and Indian and Polynesian Asiatic and Quaker and good, businesslike Yankees and Ishmael:  she sank all the lot of them.”[8]

This is no doubt a bleak, but understandable, prophecy for the white man.  If Melville foretold the demise of the white race in 1851, what can it possibly do to prevent its own destruction?  According to Lawrence, the white American, with his sententious mind-consciousness, is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of North America.  He is mocked and tormented by the ghosts of the conquered Red Indian.  As already noted, Lawrence holds out little hope for reconciliation in the flesh, but he does allude vaguely towards a possible “reconciliation in the soul.  Some strange atonement:  expiation and oneing.”[9]  Beyond this cryptic offering, Lawrence provides little elaboration.  Perhaps, Lawrence envisions something similar to the character of Tom Outland, in Willa Cather’s novel The Professor’s House, who feels a “filial piety” towards the New Mexican Blue Mesa and the ruins of the ancient pueblo people.  Then again, Outland’s lonely, monastic-like experience reading Virgil’s Æneid atop the Blue Mesa reminds one again of the essential white American turning his back on white society.


Alas, aside from strange spiritual atonements, switching over to a “blood-consciousness”, or some bizarre remarks about following Walt Whitman’s example “along the open road,” Lawrence presents few actionable answers for the plight of the white American.  However, one paragraph in the introduction of the book regarding the nature of freedom struck this reader as particularly powerful:

“Men are free when they are in a living homeland, not when they are straying and breaking away.  Men are free when they are obeying some deep, inward voice of religious belief.  Obeying from within.  Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose.  Not when they are escaping to some wild west.  The most unfree souls go west, and shout of freedom.  Men are freest when they are most unconscious of freedom.  The shout is a rattling of chains, always was.”[10]

Whether or not the white American will experience his freedom unconsciously in the near future is unknown.  The forces pushing anarcho-tyranny seem to make the white American consciously, and vigorously cling to any freedom he once thought sacred and his birthright.  But Lawrence is certainly right about one thing.  The perennial flight west is not a long-term strategy for him.  He will eventually have to settle, claim a space, a landscape, a community, and a mode of being that is his to defend, and not to cast away at the first sign of danger.  He will have to treat the North American continent not as a giant nature space to buzz around as he’s chased by those who are not his own, but as a place that contains a home, a Heimat even, where he can put down roots for his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

[1] D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (London:  Heinemann, 1924; republished in Phoenix edition, 1964), 86.

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Ibid., 5.

[4] Ibid., 41.

[5] Ibid., 34.

[6] Ibid., 59.

[7] Ibid., 60.

[8] Ibid., 152-153.

[9] Ibid., 35.

[10] Ibid., 6.

mercredi, 18 septembre 2013

D. H. Lawrence on the Metaphysics of Life


D. H. Lawrence on the Metaphysics of Life

By Derek Hawthorne

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com

1. Life and the “Creative Mystery”

Lawrence believes that the chief thing modern science simply cannot explain is life itself. And he regards life as an irreducible, and ultimately inexplicable, primary. Further, he believes that there is no such thing as disembodied spirit, or immaterial existence. The only meaningful distinction is that between living and non-living matter.[1]

In addition, Lawrence believes that non-living matter is merely the dead remains of the living. (A position that will strike many as utterly bizarre.) Lawrence makes this claim many times, especially in Fantasia of the Unconscious, but also in his strange, Hermetic essay “The Two Principles.” He writes there, “Inanimate matter is released from the dead body of the world’s creatures. It is the static residue of the living conscious plasm, like feathers of birds.”[2] And: “death is not just shadow or mystery. It is the negative reality of life. It is what we call Matter and Force, among other things. . . . The cosmos is nothing but the aggregate of the dead bodies and dead energies of bygone individuals. The dead bodies decompose as we know into earth, air, and water, heat and radiant energy and free electricity and innumerable other scientific facts.”[3]

Obviously, if the non-living comes from the living and is its residue, then living things must have existed before there were any non-living things. But this seems to present a whole host of difficulties. Where did these living things reside, if not on the non-living rocks we call planets? If they were like the living things we know, then wouldn’t they have had to have breathed oxygen and consumed water? And oxygen and water can hardly be classed as “alive.” Lawrence finds a way around this problem, however, by postulating that in the beginning there were no living things; instead, life was “homogeneous,” and not divided into distinct creatures.

He puts this idea forward in his 1914 philosophical essay “A Study of Thomas Hardy”: “In the origin, life must have been uniform, a great unmoved, utterly homogeneous infinity, a great not-being, at once a positive and negative infinity: the whole universe, the whole infinity, one motionless homogeneity, a something, a nothing.”[4] (I will have reason to return to this quotation later for, as we shall shortly see, Lawrence qualifies this statement in an important way.)

Lawrence’s conception of an undifferentiated, homogeneous “life” is very close to Schopenhauer’s “will.” Recall that in The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer argues that the will is an impersonal, self-perpetuating force, and that it lies at the root of all that exists. Lawrence seems to have held some version of this theory for most of his life. In a letter from 1911 he writes: “There still remains a God, but not a personal God: a vast, shimmering impulse which waves onwards towards some end, I don’t know what—taking no regard for the little individual, but taking regard for humanity. When we die, like rain-drops falling back again into the sea, we fall back into the big, shimmering sea of unorganized life which we call God.”[5]

In Women in Love Birkin often expresses Schopenhauerian ideas: “Well, if mankind is destroyed, if our race is destroyed like Sodom, and there is this beautiful evening with the luminous land and trees, I am satisfied. That which informs it all is there, and can never be lost. After all, what is mankind but just one expression of the incomprehensible.”[6] And, later in the novel, Lawrence expresses Birkin’s thoughts after Gerald’s death:

If humanity ran into a cul-de-sac, and expended itself, the timeless creative mystery would bring forth some other being, finer, more wonderful, some new, more lovely race, to carry on the embodiment of creation. The game was never up. The mystery of creation was fathomless, infallible, inexhaustible, for ever. . . . The fountain-head was incorruptible and unsearchable. It had no limits. It could bring forth miracles, create utter new races and new species in its own hour, new forms of consciousness, new forms of body, new units of being. To be man was as nothing compared to the possibilities of the creative mystery.[7]

Lawrence also sometimes refers to “the pan mystery,” and at one point says “God is the flame-life in all the universe; multifarious, multifarious flames, all colours and beauties and pains and somberness. Whichever flame flames in your manhood, that is you, for the time being.”[8] Finally, in one of Lawrence’s last works of fiction, The Man Who Died, he writes,

And always the man who had died saw not the bird alone, but the short, sharp wave of life of which the bird was the crest. . . . And the man who had died watched the unsteady, rocking vibration of the bent bird, and it was not the bird he saw, but one wave-tip of life overlapping for a minute another, in the tide of the swaying ocean of life. And the destiny of life seemed more fierce and compulsive to him even than the destiny of death. The doom of death was a shadow compared to the raging destiny of life, the determined surge of life.[9]

Unlike Schopenhauer, Lawrence never settles on a single term for this “life force,” and so I have chosen to follow his language in Women In Love and to refer to it consistently here as the creative mystery. I take Lawrence’s discussion in “A Study of Thomas Hardy” of primordial life as a “great unmoved, utterly homogeneous infinity,” as yet another description of the creative mystery that lies at the root, and origin of all things.

It is easy to see that the creative mystery forms the basis for Lawrence’s ontology, his theory of Being.[10] If Lawrence merely followed Schopenhauer and identified the creative mystery with Being (as Schopenhauer himself never explicitly does), he would fall squarely within the tradition of what Heidegger calls “ontotheology.” Ontotheology is the error of identifying Being-as-such with the highest or most basic of all beings, or things that have being. The error is analogous to declaring that the characteristic of Tallness is just the same as a thing that happens to be tall (i.e., a thing that “has” tallness). To recognize what Heidegger calls the “ontological difference” is to recognize that Being is not simply another of the beings, no matter how special.

If the creative mystery is something that has Being, then it cannot be Being-as-such. Fortunately, however, Lawrence does not make this error. One of the few places where Lawrence explicitly refers to Being occurs in his essay “Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine”: “The clue to all existence is being. But you can’t have being without existence, any more than you can have the dandelion flower without the leaves and the long tap root.”[11] Essentially, for Lawrence Being is the emergence of individuals out of the creative mystery. The creative mystery itself is not Being, but what one might call the “ground of Being.”

This ontology comes very close to Heidegger’s understanding of the Pre-Socratic conception of Being as phusis. And surely this is no accident. Lawrence’s understanding of the creative mystery and what emerges from it was not formed solely through his encounter with Schopenhauer. His descriptions of it also reflect his encounter with pre-Socratic philosophy, which he also studied carefully. In particular, one can detect a strong hint of Anaximander’s “indefinite” (apeiron), out of which all things emerge and into which they return. I will return to Lawrence’s ontology later when I discuss his theory of the “Holy Ghost,” which “draws” individuals out of the creative mystery and into the flowering of Being. For now, however, we must continue to investigate Lawrence’s understanding of the creative mystery itself.

2. The Holy Ghost

Earlier I quoted Lawrence’s essay “A Study of Thomas Hardy” concerning the origin of life, when it was “uniform, a great unmoved, utterly homogeneous infinity.” However, he qualifies this statement in the next sentence: “And yet it can never have been utterly homogeneous: mathematically, yes; actually, no.”[12] Indeed, Lawrence makes it very clear elsewhere that he believes in the primacy of the individual.

In Fantasia of the Unconscious he writes, “Life is individual, always was individual and always will be. Life consists of living individuals, and always did so consist, in the beginning of everything.”[13] Later in the same text Lawrence remarks that living individuals are “the one, pure clue to our cosmos.” And then: “I only know there is but one origin, and that is the individual soul. The individual soul originated everything, and has itself no origin.”[14]Lawrence is here going a step further. Life is always individual life, but what accounts for individuality as such is “the soul,” or what he calls elsewhere the Holy Ghost. Lawrence has acquired these terms from his Christian upbringing, but he uses them in a highly unusual way, as we will see in the next section.

But here we must pause to raise a troubling, and obvious objection: doesn’t all of this completely contradict the idea Lawrence puts forward that in the beginning only life existed, but that it was an “utterly homogeneous infinity”? Yes and no. Lawrence frankly admits elsewhere that he does not believe there ever was a literal beginning to the universe. So what was the point, then, in telling us what happened “in the origin”? Is Lawrence simply spinning out myths? The answer is yes: Lawrence is consciously and deliberately expresses his ideas in mythic form.

When Lawrence speaks of a homogeneous life “in the origin” this is a mythic way of speaking of the creative mystery that is the source of all things. In a way, one can say that this is the “origin” of all things. However, the creative mystery has always existed in and through individuals. Because these individuals are all expressions of the creative mystery, they are all one; but the one creative mystery exists only within the many. As Lawrence says, “life” is homogeneous “mathematically,” but not “actually.”

Now, some might charge that the foregoing is merely a facile way of trying to resolve what is quite simply a glaring contradiction in Lawrence’s thought. But this is not the case. Lawrence makes it quite clear, in fact, that he means us to interpret him exactly as I have suggested. In his essay “The Two Principles” Lawrence writes: “When we postulate a beginning, we only do so to fix a starting point for our thought. There never was a beginning, and there never will be an end to the universe. The creative mystery, which is life itself, always was and always will be. It unfolds itself in pure living creatures.”[15]

For Lawrence, existence “begins” with an undifferentiated life force, which then progressively and infinitely individuates itself. Of course, we must remember that Lawrence does not believe in a literal beginning. When this is taken into account, his position comes extremely close to that of Schopenhauer: existence is, at root, an infinite will that never exists as such, purely by itself, but is continually “expressed” through individuals. Lawrence’s account of the course of creation then becomes, in effect, an alchemical ontology giving us the ultimate qualities and categories of being itself—the most fundamental of which are Fire and Water.

Lawrence develops his “creation myth” in Fantasia and in “The Two Principles.” It is complex and obscure, and best set aside for the moment. Instead, I will turn now to another issue, and an important one. We have seen that for Lawrence the purpose of existence itself is individuation: the coming-into-being of individuals of various forms, each unique and, to one degree or another, independent and self-sufficient. But how, in metaphysical terms, can we account of the arising of the individual? Lawrence answers this question with his idiosyncratic theory of the “Holy Ghost.”

Writing of the positive “sun-pole” and negative “moon-pole” in Fantasia, Lawrence states that “Existence is truly a matter of propagation between the two infinities. But it needs a third presence. . . . The hailstone needs a grain of dust for its core. So does the universe. Midway between the two cosmic infinities lies the third, which is more than infinite. This is the Holy Ghost Life, individual life.”[16] Lawrence also speaks of the ‘individual soul” as the “one clue to the universe.”[17] We shall see that the soul and the Holy Ghost are, in a way equivalent.

The Holy Ghost, Lawrence tells us, mediates between dualities. In the language of “The Two Principles” the Holy Ghost is that which “draws together” Fire and Water to produce a new individual. In his essay “The Crown,” Lawrence remarks that every new (living) individual is “a glimpse of the Holy Ghost.”[18] And in “Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine” he writes that “All existence is dual, and surging towards a consummation into being. In the seed of the dandelion, as it floats with its little umbrella of hairs, sits the Holy Ghost in tiny compass. The Holy Ghost is that which holds the light and the dark, the day and the night, the wet and the sunny, united in one little clue. There it sits, in the seed of the dandelion.”[19]

Lawrence’s concept of the Holy Ghost is not unlike Aristotelian entelecheia, or full or completed actuality. It is that for that for the sake of which each thing strives: its end, or, in Lawrence’s terms, its “fullness of being.” The entelecheia of a thing is just the fully-accomplished being or acting of the thing, yet it has the status of an ideality which is, in a sense, logically and ontologically prior to the existence of the thing. This comparison may seem a bit of stretch, so let us consider the following statements Lawrence makes in his essays. In “Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine” he writes,

Any creature that attains to its own fullness of being, its own living self, becomes unique, a nonpareil. It has its place in the fourth dimension, the heaven of existence, and there it is perfect, beyond comparison. . . . At the same time, every creature exists in time and space. And in time and space it exists relatively to all other existence, and can never be absolved. Its existence impinges on other existences, and is itself impinged upon. . . . The force which we call vitality, and which is the determining factor in the struggle for existence is, however, derived also from the fourth dimension. That is to say, the ultimate source of all vitality is in that other dimension, or region, where the dandelion blooms, and which men have called heaven, and which now they call the fourth dimension: which is only a way of saying that it is not to be reckoned in terms of space and time.[20]

dh-lawrence-women-in-love.jpgIn “Him with His Tail in His Mouth” (1925), Lawrence writes “Creation is a fourth dimension, and in it there are all sorts of things, gods and what-not. That brown hen, scratching with her hind leg in such common fashion, is a sort of goddess in the creative dimension.”[21] And in “Morality and the Novel” (1925), Lawrence tells us “By life, we mean something that gleams, that has the fourth-dimensional quality.”[22] Nothing in Lawrence is ever completely clear, but it seems clear enough in these passages that he thinks that living things exist in two ways. In space and time they exist alongside other creatures, and in large measure are what they are in contrast or opposition to those other creatures. In truth, however, their being is located in a realm beyond space and time.

So far, this seems Platonic. However, Lawrence tells us that any creature that attains its own “fullness of being” becomes unique, and “has its place in the fourth dimension.” In other words, being, for Lawrence, is an achievement. When creatures actualize themselves through becoming what they are, this actuality (what Lawrence calls “vitality”), achieved in space-time, partakes of the eternal.[23] Employing Aristotelian terminology to explain these ideas is almost irresistible—but I hope at this point that the reader sees that my use of this terminology is not misuse.

The Holy Ghost is the actuality of each individual living thing, existing “prior” to it, drawing it on to its achieved fullness of being. Lawrence’s statement that in the fourth dimension “there are all sorts of things, gods and what-not” is tantalizing. I take it to support my claims about the Holy Ghost (i.e., that it is a non-spatio-temporal ideality). But Lawrence’s remark about the hen shows very clearly that, as I shall argue more fully later on, each individual thing is itself God or a god insofar as it follows its Holy Ghost and achieves its fullness of being.

As we have seen, the universe for Lawrence tends toward individuation—or, to put it another way, the creative mystery realizes itself through the perpetual blossoming of myriad individuals. “While we live, we are balanced between the flux of life and the flux of death. But the real clue is the Holy Ghost, that moves us into the state of blossoming. And each year the blossoming is different: from the delicate blue speedwells of childhood to the equally delicate, frail farewell flowers of old age: through all the poppies and sunflowers: year after year of difference.”[24] The blossom is the “completed” individual, which is a wholly unique creation; an unrepeatable expression of the creative mystery.

Lawrence tells us that “Blossoming means the establishing of a pure, new relationship with all the cosmos.”[25] According to Lawrence’s fanciful cosmogony, “first” the creative mystery abides as the one existing individual. Yet, in this form, it is simply undifferentiated “life plasm”—and, in truth, it is no individual at all, for it has no other against which it marks itself off as a specific something. The creative mystery then comes to actualization as an individual, not through the introduction of a foreign other, but through “othering itself”: through expressing itself as an infinite plurality of individuals, whose identities mutually determine each other – who are drawn forth from the mystery in blossoming, abide for a while, then die. The residue they leave forms the material out of which other living things are grown, and on which they depend for shelter and sustenance.

That Lawrence is aware that he is formulating an ontology is clear from the language he uses. For example, to repeat a quotation from “Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine,” he states that “The clue to all existence is being. But you can’t have being without existence, any more than you can have the dandelion flower without the leaves and the long tap root.”[26] By “being” Lawrence means “blossoming,” which not only bears a strong similarity to the Aristotelian entelecheia, but also, more generally, to the Greek phusis, mentioned earlier. Existence, on the other hand, refers to the concrete forms through which blossoming takes place: individual flowers, animals, human beings, etc.

Lawrence is telling us that the clue to understanding beings is Being, but that there is no Being without beings. So long as one understands the specific sense Lawrence gives to Being—“blossoming”—these are not vacuous statements. Things exist only insofar as they are, in essential terms, the blossoming forth of an underlying, primal reality—and this underlying, primal reality only exists through the concrete forms of blossoming in terms of which it “specifies” itself.

Unsurprisingly, Lawrence goes on to identify his Holy Ghost with God. To Heideggereans, of course, this means that Lawrence’s ontology slides over into the fallacy of ontotheology, discussed earlier. Lawrence remarks that “The flower is the burning of God in the bush: the flame of the Holy Ghost: the actual Presence of accomplished oneness, accomplished out of twoness. The true God is created every time a pure relationship, or a consummation out of twoness into oneness takes place. So that the poppy flower is God come red out of the poppy-plant.”[27]

In truth, however, this is not ontotheology. Lawrence is in actual fact telling us that there is no separate being called God. If however, what we mean by “God” is simply the most fundamental fact or, we might say, the most fundamental act in the universe, then we may identify God with Being or blossoming as such. Lawrence’s imagery in the above quotation is a particularly brilliant example of both his skills as a writer, and as an interpreter of myth. God is the burning bush—but in truth every bush, every flower, every living thing is the fire of God: the fire of “accomplished oneness.” God, for Lawrence, just is individuation, and God comes into being, in the world, each time a new living individual blossoms forth.

So far I have spoken in general terms of the Holy Ghost as, in effect, an ideality all living things are striving, in Aristotelian fashion, to “realize.” But nothing has been said specifically about the Holy Ghost in us, and our experience of it. In his 1924 essay “On Being Religious,” Lawrence tells us that “Only the Holy Ghost within you can scent the new tracks of the Great God across the Cosmos of Creation. The Holy Ghost is the dark hound of heaven whose baying we ought to listen to, as he runs ahead into the unknown, tracking the mysterious everlasting departing of the Lord God, who is for ever departing from us.”[28]

The Holy Ghost is an “ideality,” in the sense that it is something being striven for, but in the human being it is not the intellect or a part of the intellect. In so far as Aristotle seems to identify the actualization of the human animal with the actualization of its intellect, this is definitely a point on which Lawrence parts company with Aristotle. As I have argued in other essays, for Lawrence the “true self” is not to be identified with the conscious, socially-constructed ego, nor is it to be identified with intellect. In fact, for Lawrence, the Holy Ghost in human beings is more or less the same thing that he calls the true unconscious (see my essay “D. H. Lawrence on the Unconscious [2]”). It is the primal self that knows without abstract concepts, and guides without words and rules. It is this primal self that draws us on to the realization of our “fullness of being.”

Our Holy Ghost is our being—and it is an expression of the ultimate being, the creative mystery. Thus, when Lawrence tells us that “Only the Holy Ghost within you can scent the new tracks of the Great God across the Cosmos of Creation” he means that if we are to identify ourselves with our primal self—if we are able to become, in a sense, just that—then through it we know all of life, all of the universe. Lawrence’s position is, again, structurally similar to that of Schopenhauer. In Schopenhauer’s philosophy, we come to know the will in nature through the will that manifests itself in our deepest self. Indeed, that is the only way in which we may become aware directly of the will as the source of all that is.

“We go in search of God,” Lawrence writes, “following the Holy Ghost, and depending on the Holy Ghost. There is no Way. There is no Word. There is no Light.”[29] Lawrence means that there is no way to God, to awareness of ultimate reality and ultimate goodness, except through following our own Holy Ghost and letting it draw us into blossoming, into fullness of being. In other words, because God just is Being or blossoming, there is no way to God except through each of us becoming what we are.

Words cannot get us there, nor can following a path marked out by others, or a light kindled by others. Each of us is alone before God, and each way to God is individual because God is individuation. Recall the passage quoted earlier: “Creation is a fourth dimension, and in it there are all sorts of things, gods and what-not. That brown hen, scratching with her hind leg in such common fashion, is a sort of goddess in the creative dimension.”[30] In a sense, each living thing is God insofar as it achieves its fullness of being.


[1] “There is no utterly immaterial existence, no spirit. The distinction is between living plasm and inanimate matter.” Phoenix II, 230 (“The Two Principles”).

[2] Phoenix II, 230 (“The Two Principles”).

[3] Fantasia, 150-51.

[4] Phoenix, 432 (“A Study of Thomas Hardy”).

[5] Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. Diana Trilling (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1958), 10. Note that Schopenhauer does not identity will with God. His is an atheistic philosophy. But Lawrence has already gone beyond Schopenhauer and given a religious dimension to the will doctrine. Also, there is no direct evidence that Lawrence read The World as Will and Representation. However, we do know that he read Schopenhauer’s essays, and that they made a major impact on him.

[6] D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love (New York: Viking Press, 1969), 52.

[7] Ibid., 470.

[8] Phoenix II, 426 (“The Novel”).

[9] D. H. Lawrence, The Man Who Died (New York: Ecco Press, 1994), 17-18.

[10] I capitalize the B in Being to distinguish it from a being, or thing which has Being. In other words, beings (things which are) have Being.

[11] Phoenix II, 470 (“Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine”).

[12] Phoenix, 432 (“A Study of Thomas Hardy”).

[13] Fantasia, 150.

[14] Fantasia, 160.

[15] Phoenix II, 227 (“The Two Principles”).

[16] Fantasia, 158.

[17] Fantasia, 150.

[18] Phoenix II, 396 (“The Crown”).

[19] Phoenix II, 470 (“Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine”).

[20] Phoenix II, 469 (“Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine”).

[21] Phoenix II, 431 (“Him With His Tail in His Mouth”).

[22] Phoenix I, 529 (“Morality and the Novel”).

[23] In “Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine,” Lawrence writes “Being is not ideal, as Plato would have it: nor spiritual. It is a transcendent form of existence, as much material as existence is. Only the matter suddenly enters the fourth dimension” (Phoenix II, 470). I take Lawrence to be expressing here (without realizing it) essentially the Aristotelian alternative to Platonism: the being of the thing is not another “thing” existing in another reality. Instead, in some sense a living thing becomes eternal—becomes fourth-dimensional—in its actualization. At the same time, we may speak of this “actualization” as something transcendent precisely because it is not a spatio-temporal “thing” at all, but something ontologically “prior” to things. Insofar as it is the actualization of some spatio-temporal living thing, however, in another way it is immanent.

[24] Phoenix II, 396 (“The Crown”).

[25] Phoenix II, 471 (“Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine”).

[26] Ibid., 470.

[27] Phoenix II, 412 (“The Crown”).

[28] Phoenix I, 728 (“On Being Religious”).

[29] Ibid., 729.

[30] Phoenix II, 431 (“Him With His Tail in His Mouth”).


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lundi, 02 septembre 2013

D. H. Lawrence on the Meaning of Sex

D. H. Lawrence on the Meaning of Sex

By Derek Hawthorne 

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com

D. H. Lawrence is best known to the general public as a writer of sexy books. In his own time, his treatment of sex made him notorious and caused him to run afoul of the authorities on a number of occasions. I have no desire to rehearse in detail the well-known history of Lawrence’s troubles with censorship, but for those who do not know anything of it a few details will suffice.

rainbow.JPGIn September 1915 Lawrence’s novel The Rainbow, one of his major works, was published by Methuen. By November it had been banned by court order, largely due to Lawrence’s brief (and, by today’s standards, extremely tame) depiction of a lesbian affair. The following year Lawrence finished what is arguably his greatest novel, Women in Love. However, owing to the notoriety of The Rainbow as well as to Women in Love’s much more frank depiction of sexuality, he could not find a publisher for the novel until 1920. Disgusted by his treatment at the hands of his fellow countrymen, Lawrence moved himself and his wife Frieda to Sicily that year, thereby beginning a long sojourn abroad that would take them to Sardinia, Ceylon, Australia, California, and New Mexico.

Lawrence was deterred neither by censorship nor by the frequent vilification he suffered at the hands of the press. In 1926, on a visit to Italy he wrote the first of three versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, his most sexually explicit work and, in fact, one of the most sexually explicit “serious” works of literature ever written. A small edition of the novel was brought out in Florence in 1928, and another in Paris. Various pirated editions were also printed.

Copies of the novel were seized by customs in both the United States and Great Britain, and the reviews that appeared were brutal. One English critic declared that the novel was “the most evil outpouring that has ever besmirched the literature of our country. The sewers of French pornography would be dragged in vain to find a parallel in beastliness . . . Unfortunately for literature as for himself, Mr. Lawrence has a diseased mind.”[1] (The famous court case in Britain occurred thirty years after Lawrence’s death, when Penguin Books brought out an unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley.)

In 1926 Lawrence had started to paint. He wrote to his friend Earl Brewster, a Buddhist, “I put a phallus, a lingam you call it, in each one of my pictures somewhere. And I paint no picture that won’t shock people’s castrated social spirituality.”[2] Predictably, when an exhibition of his paintings was held in London in 1929 it was raided by the police, though, as Jeffrey Meyers notes, the officers “politely waited to carry out their orders until the Aga Khan had finished viewing the pictures.”[3]

Why was Lawrence seemingly so preoccupied with sex? The answer is that he saw sex as a means to awaken the true self, and to discover not only our own inner being but the inner being of all things. In Fantasia of the Unconscious he writes, “To the individual, the act of coition is a great psychic experience, a vital experience of tremendous importance.”[4]

Lawrence was unquestionably influenced by Schopenhauer in his views about the metaphysical significance of sex. In his unpublished notebooks—summing up views he expressed more circumspectly in his published writings—Schopenhauer states

If I am asked where the most intimate knowledge of that inner essence of the world, of that thing in itself which I have called the will to live, is to be found, or where that essence enters most clearly into our consciousness, or where it achieves the purest revelation of itself, then I must point to ecstasy in the act of copulation. That is it! That is the true essence and core of all things, the aim and purpose of all existence.[5]

However, Lawrence (unlike Schopenhauer) saw the inner essence of things as having religious significance. He felt that the “life mystery” at the core of all was the only thing that he could honestly call God. Hence, he regarded sex as sacred—indeed as an act of divine worship—since it opens us to the life mystery. In a posthumously published essay Lawrence writes, “In the very darkest continent of the body there is God.”[6] This is the real key to understanding Lawrence’s treatment of sex: it is reverential; he regards sex as sacred, not as profane. The public attacks on Lawrence’s work as “smut” are hugely unjust, for Lawrence had a lifelong hatred of pornography precisely because he saw it as a profanation of sex.

An illustration of Lawrence’s attitude is his reaction to James Joyce’s Ulysses. As Jeffrey Meyers notes, it was, in part, Lawrence’s hostile reaction to Ulysses that spurred him to write Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In a letter Lawrence stated, “The last part of [Ulysses] is the dirtiest, most indecent, obscene thing ever written. . . . This Ulysses muck is more disgusting than Casanova. I must show that it can be done without muck.”[7] This may seem a trifle ironic, given how others had attacked Lawrence’s own work with similar invective. But, in fact, Lawrence’s attitude to Joyce is not hypocritical. He is not attacking the explicitness of Joyce’s treatment of sex, but rather what he regarded as its unforgivable irreverence.

dhl.jpgIn Fantasia of the Unconscious Lawrence writes, “In sex we have our basic, most elemental being.”[8] Further, he declares that the procreative purpose of sex is “just a side-show.”[9] Lawrence rejects the reductive, scientific understanding of sex; part and parcel of the scientific will to nullify beauty and mystery and to make everything mundane and “practical.”

Sex can lead to reproduction, but it is no more correct to say that the “purpose” of sex is reproduction than it is to say that the purpose of eating is to fill our stomachs. More often than not, we eat not because we happen to really need nourishment just then, but because we take pleasure in eating, in the taste of food, and in the company of those we eat with. And frequently the food we enjoy ingesting has little actual nutritional value. If the purpose of eating were simply to acquire nourishment, then we ought not mind the idea of simply ingesting a tasteless paste full of vitamins, minerals, protein, and carbohydrates three times daily.

Sex, Lawrence tells us,

is our deepest form of consciousness. It is utterly non-ideal, non-mental. It is pure blood-consciousness. It is the basic consciousness of the blood, the nearest thing in us to pure material consciousness. It is the consciousness of the night, when the soul is almost asleep. The blood-consciousness is the first and last knowledge of the living soul: the depths.[10]

When we enter into what Schopenhauer calls “ecstasy in the act of copulation,” there is a sloughing off of intellect, of self-consciousness. The act is ecstatic precisely to the extent that this is accomplished. The Greek ekstasis could be translated literally as “standing outside oneself.” In ecstatic acts we have the sense of leaving ourselves, and certainly our consciousness of ourselves (our inner monitor, inner censor, inner doubter) behind. Insofar as we cannot accomplish this, the sexual act will be dissatisfying. The woman may experience little pleasure, and the man may even be unable to perform, should he fail to disengage the intellect.

Of course, when we are caught in the ecstasy of sex we are not literally unconscious. What happens, in effect, is that a different sort of consciousness takes over: what Lawrence calls “blood-consciousness.” What Lawrence means by this term is the pre-reflective, pre-conceptual, subterranean depth in consciousness: what he sometimes confusingly calls the “unconscious.”

Sometimes this type of consciousness is derisively labeled the “animal” in us. This is misleading, for we have a tendency not to think of ourselves as animals, and labeling the blood-consciousness “animal” becomes a way to disown it. But it is our own, and, of course, we are animals. In the heat of true, ecstatic sexual passion, one loses a sense of individuality. It is common to hear the participants speak (later on) of losing the sense of bodily boundaries, and feeling as if the two bodies merged into one. Strange, animal-like cries are uttered and motions become automatic rather than deliberately willed.

In sex we surrender our intellect and self-consciousness, and open ourselves to the blood-consciousness, to our primal self—so that we become, for the space of the act, that primal self. And this is the reason why modern people are so sex-obsessed.

To live in modern, industrialized society means to live almost constantly from what Lawrence calls the “upper centres,” from intellect. And it means to live surrounded at all times by the products of intellect, cocooned in a synthetic, human world built over top of the natural world, operating according to human ideas and ideals. Almost always, this life requires us to lead an existence that is false in certain fundamental ways; false and inimical to life and to the natural, primal self. Passionate sex, insofar as modern people can even manage it, is the only respite from this that most people know. As such, Lawrence believes that in sex we are fundamentally truer than at most other times in life. And reflection on what the sex act means may help us to recover this trueness in daily life, outside of sexual activity.

All of the above is an attempt to say “what sex is.” But Lawrence holds that ultimately it is ineffable:

We can never say, satisfactorily. But we know so much: we know that it is a dynamic polarity between human beings, and a circuit of force always flowing. . . . We know that in the act of coition the blood of the individual man, acutely surcharged with intense vital electricity—we know no word, so say “electricity,” by analogy—rises to a culmination, in a tremendous magnetic urge towards the blood of the female. The whole of the living blood in the two individuals forms a field of intense, polarized magnetic attraction. So, the two poles must be brought into contact. In the act of coition, the two seas of blood in the two individuals, rocking and surging towards contact, as near as possible, clash into a oneness.[11]

Lawrence’s remark about his use of the term “electricity” tells us that we should not take this description very literally. When he speaks of an “electricity” in the blood of a sexually aroused man or woman, he uses this term, for lack of a better one, to describe the peculiar sense of acute, tingling “aliveness” that one feels in sexual ecstasy. When he speaks of a “magnetic attraction” between the blood of man and woman, he means the uncanny, overpowering, and unchosen sense of attraction that one experiences for the other. It is a sense of attraction that at times makes men and women feel that they must come together or die.

We attempt to deflate the mystery of this attraction by chalking it up to “chemistry.” Indeed it may somehow be chemical, but to describe the physical conditions necessary for a profound experience to take place does not render it less profound, or less mysterious. It might seem a bit ironic, given Lawrence’s criticisms of science, that his own language has a kind of scientific veneer, with its talk of “electricity,” “magnetism,” and “polarity.” But Lawrence’s “science” is, in fact, a throwback to the vitalistic philosophy of nature of the Romantics.

Lawrence attempts to sum things up as follows: “Sex then is a polarization of the individual blood in man towards the individual blood in woman.”[12] At the root of this idea is a basic conviction of Lawrence’s, which cannot be overemphasized: that men and women are fundamentally and radically different—metaphysically different. (See my essay “D. H. Lawrence on Men and Women [2].”) In the same text he writes, “We are all wrong when we say there is no vital difference between the sexes.”

Lawrence wrote this in 1921 intending it to be provocative, but it is surely much more controversial in today’s world, where it has become a dogma in some circles to insist that sex differences (now called “gender differences”) are “socially constructed,” and that the only natural differences between the sexes are purely and simply anatomical. Lawrence continues: “There is every difference. Every bit, every cell in a boy is male, every cell is female in a woman, and must remain so. Women can never feel or know as men do. And in the reverse, men can never feel and know, dynamically, as women do.”[13]

dhl2.jpgInterestingly, I believe that Lawrence derives the idea of “cells” being male or female from Otto Weininger’s Sex and Character, a text he was definitely familiar with. Weininger writes: “every cell of the organism . . . has a sexual character.” And: “In a male every part, even the smallest, is male, however much it may resemble the corresponding part of a female, and in the latter, likewise, even the smallest part is exclusively female.”[14]

Setting Weininger aside, this is Lawence’s way of emphasizing that men and women are different all the way down, and that there are ways in which they can never understand each other, and never see as the other sees. Lawrence is concerned in particular (though this is not obvious) to guard against the claim that there are borderline cases of men and women who are (psychically) androgynous, straddling the divide between male and female:

A child is born sexed. A child is either male or female; in the whole of its psyche and physique is either male or female. Every single living cell is either male or female, and will remain either male or female as long as life lasts. And every single cell in every male child is male, and every cell in every female is female. The talk about a third sex, or about the indeterminate sex, is just to pervert the issue.[15]

The reference in the last sentence is to the ideas of figures like Magnus Hirschfeld and, indeed, Otto Weininger, both of whom argued that homosexuals were sexually “intermediate.” Part of the reason Lawrence is so vehement in this passage is that he had strong homosexual inclinations (as any honest reader of Women in Love, especially its deleted “Prologue,” will admit). Early in life he saw himself as an androgynous being, with a hefty share of femininity in his soul. However, he came to repudiate this idea and to regard it as having hindered his development as a man.

The Phallus

In coition, Lawrence writes, “the two seas of blood in the two individuals, rocking and surging towards contact, as near as possible, clash into a oneness.”[16] The means by which this connection occurs, where the blood of the man and the woman is brought together, is the phallus. One of Lawrence’s most important philosophical essays is “A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover,’” which he wrote partly to answer criticisms of the novel, and partly to make explicit and expound upon the novel’s message. He writes at one point that “The phallus is a column of blood that fills the valley of blood of a woman. The great river of male blood touches to its depths the great river of female blood—yet neither breaks its bounds.” The two blood streams, the male and the female, “encircle the whole of life.”[17] They never literally mingle, but coition is essentially an act in which the blood of the male, enfolded within an extension of his flesh, enters the blood-engorged flesh of the woman—and the two blood streams come as close to mingling as they ever will.

The result is a crisis; an ecstatic moment in which—as in the Zen experience of satori—there is the sudden, non-verbal intuition that this here now is all there is, and there is a loss of the sense of individual separateness and isolation; a sense of becoming absorbed into a greater unity. Lawrence describes the orgasm as follows: “There is a lightning flash which passes through the blood of both individuals, there is a thunder of sensation which rolls in diminishing crashes down the nerves of each—and then the tension passes.”[18]

In his later works, Lawrence writes often and explicitly of the metaphysical, indeed the divine significance of the phallus. For example, in the second of Lawrence’s three versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (published posthumously as John Thomas and Lady Jane) there is a scene in which Constance Chatterley lies beside her sleeping lover, contemplating his flaccid penis. “Wasn’t there a weird, grotesque godhead in it?” she asks herself, and what follows is a passage of great significance:

To most men, the penis was merely a member, at the disposal of the personality. Most men merely used their penis as they use their fingers, for some personal purpose of their own. But in a true man, the penis has a life of its own, and is the second man within the man. It is prior to the personality. And the personality must yield before the priority and the mysterious root-knowledge of the penis, or the phallus. For this is the difference between the two: the penis is a mere member of the physiological body. But the phallus, in the old sense, has roots, the deepest roots of all, in the soul and the greater consciousness of man, and it is through the phallic roots that inspiration enters the soul.[19]

Lawrence makes a traditional distinction in this passage (though, as usual, he is slip-shod about it) between the penis and the phallus, which is the erect penis. In cultures that have worshipped the penis, it always the erect penis that is depicted and revered. Why? Because, in a real sense, the phallus does not belong to the individual man. It is—notoriously—not under the control of his personality, his mental self-conscious being. It has a will of its own. It is the “second man within the man,” meaning that it is a direct expression or, if you will, externalization of the deeper, truer, self; of the unconscious, or blood-consciousness.

This self is “prior to the personality,” and indeed it is fundamentally the same in all men. So it transcends the individual—indeed it is an expression of the life mystery which permeates all of nature. The penis, Lawrence tells us, is a “mere member of the physiological body,” but the phallus is something that rises from out of the chthonic depth of nature itself. The phallus is our connection to those depths. When Lawrence says that it is “through the phallic roots that inspiration enters the soul” he means that it is insofar as we are able to surrender our intellect and mental awareness that we are guided by the wisdom of the blood-consciousness.

If a man’s mental self dominates him and grips him, refusing to let go, preoccupying him with thoughts, then he cannot achieve an erection. His mind has “blocked” the primal, unconscious self. This is all that the mind can do to the primal self—it cannot command it. Hence there is no “willing” an erection. But if a man can momentarily surrender his mental self, then the blood-consciousness is awakened, and the phallus comes to life. The virile man is admired because he has a connection to the primal force. The impotent man is pathetic in our eyes, because he has lost that connection. He is literally without power.

Thus, for Lawrence, sexual arousal in the male and the sex act following upon it become emblematic of what must take place if there is to be a general return to the blood-consciousness, and thus an achievement of lasting happiness, lasting satisfaction in the whole of life. There must be a surrender of idealism, and of the tendency to live strictly from the “upper centres.” There is no way to get to the natural self by way of intellect and its ideas, just as there is no willing an erection. All that mind can do is to let go—to do nothing. Then the blood-consciousness takes over and the result is that there rises up from the root of us a new man, a new self. New only in the sense that it is unfamiliar to us, for in truth it is actually the oldest of old selves.

Erection and a full, ecstatic sexual experience symbolize for Lawrence the successful reawakening of the primal self that is needed if we are to again become natural creatures and achieve our “fullness of being.” But they are not merely symbolic. Lawrence also sees coition as the deepest, most profound, and profoundly mysterious way in which we come into contact with our chthonic depth, and the chthonic depth of the natural world itself. Hence, in “A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’” he says the following

[The] phallus is the connecting link between the two rivers [of male and female blood], that establishes the two streams in a oneness, and gives out of their duality a single circuit, forever. And this, this oneness gradually accomplished throughout a life-time in twoness, is the highest achievement of time or eternity. From it all things human spring, children and beauty and well-made things; all the true creations of humanity. And all we know of the will of God is that He wishes this, this oneness, to take place, fulfilled over a lifetime, this oneness within the great dual blood-stream of humanity.[20]

Here Lawrence makes it quite clear, as he does in innumerable other places, that his reverence for the phallus is a religious one. Indeed, it would not be a distortion to call his own, personal religion a form of “phallic worship.” This is, of course, a provocative choice of words, but not an inaccurate one. There is, in fact, a remarkable similarity between Lawrence’s views and Hindu Shaivism, the oldest surviving phallic cult in the world.

The God Shiva is a personification of what Lawrence means by the life mystery or “pan power,” as well as what Schopenhauer meant by the will in nature.[21] Alain Daniélou, one of the foremost Western interpreters of Shaivism, writes

As Lord of Yoga, Shiva is named Yogendra, Yogeshvara, Mahâyogi, since it is he who taught the world the Yoga method through which man can know himself, realize himself and communicate with subtle beings, beasts, plants and gods. He also teaches the dance and the music which leads to ecstasy, the intoxication which takes man out of himself. . . . His festivals are those of Spring, of the Renewal of Life, and of creative Eroticism. . . . He is naked, libidinous, and preaches rapture, love, detachment, and friendship with nature. God of Sensual Pleasure and of Death, he is present in the forest and the funeral pyre. Shiva is at the same time benevolent (Shambhu) and terrible (Bhîma).[22]

Although these and many other qualities are attributed to Shiva, the sacred Shaivite texts indicate that the true Shiva is beyond all human categories: “Shiva (the supreme divinity) is without sign (without sex), without color, without taste, without odor, beyond the reach of words or touch, without qualities, immutable and immobile.”[23] This being can therefore only be known through some tangible sign that it gives of itself in the physical, perceptible universe, and that sign is the phallus.

The Sanskrit word for phallus, lingam, literally means “sign.” Daniélou writes, “The lingam, or phallus, the source of life, is the form by which the Absolute Being, from whom the world is issued, can be evoked. . . . In the microcosm, which is to say in man, the sexual organ, the source of life, is the form in which the nature of the formless manifests itself.”[24]

Daniélou quotes liberally from ancient texts in order to explain the Shaivite attitude toward the phallus and its relationship to Shiva. One such text states, “Shiva said ‘I am not distinct from the phallus. The phallus is identical with me, and therefore must be worshipped. My well-beloved! Wherever there is an upright male organ, I myself am present, even if there is no other representation of me.”[25] This passage indicates that the phallus is not, in fact, merely a symbol of Shiva, but is a physical “expression” of the god—the most perfect expression of the god, in fact. In a way, Shiva is distinct from the phallus, but in a way the phallus is Shiva.

We find just the same sort of mystical logic in Lawrence: the phallus is an expression of the life mystery, as the blood-consciousness that animates it is an expression of the life mystery; but the phallus, and blood-consciousness just are the life mystery, as it expresses itself in us. The phallus is our link to the life force itself. Daniélou writes, “The penis is therefore the organ through which a link is established between man . . . and the creative force which is the nature of the divine.”[26] Lawrence expresses precisely this Shaivite conception in John Thomas and Lady Jane, when Constance Chatterley has an argument with her very modern and irreligious sister:

“I don’t care!” she said stubbornly to Hilda at bedtime. “I know the penis is the most godly part of a man. . . . I know it is the penis which connects us with the stars and the sea and everything. It is the penis which touches the planets, and makes us feel their special light. I know it. I know it was the penis which really put the evening stars into my inside self. I used to look at the evening star, and think how lovely and wonderful it was. But now it’s in me as well as outside me, and I need hardly look at it. I am it. I don’t care what you say, it was the penis gave it me.”[27]

According to Daniélou, Shaivism regards the procreative purpose of sex as “a side show” – just as Lawrence does. Daniélou writes that the phallus has a dual role: “the inferior one of procreation and the superior one of contacting the divine state by means of the ecstasy caused by pleasure (ànanda). The orgasm is a ‘divine sensation.’ So whereas paternity attaches man to the things of the earth, the ecstasy of pleasure can reveal divine reality to him, leading him to detachment and spiritual realization.”[28]

The orgasm, for Lawrence as well as for Shaivism, is a religious experience in which selfhood is transcended and we become reabsorbed, momentarily, into the life mystery; connected to “the stars and the sea and everything.” Daniélou quotes another Shaivite text: “Every orgasm, every pleasure is a divine experience. The entire universe springs forth from enjoyment. Pleasure is at the origin of all that exists.”[29]

Just as Lawrence’s ideas about the metaphysical significance of the phallus and intercourse can be likened to Shaivism, his views about the use of sex as a means to “awakening” can be likened to Tantra. Tantra refers to the set of practical techniques and methods used to bring the individual to union with the divine source.

In the West, we tend to associate Tantra exclusively with a kind of “sex magic,” and although there are other forms of Tantra this is, in fact, the one that I am drawing on in making comparisons to Lawrence. Tantric sex actually involves a rather overwhelmingly complex collection of ritual preparations, mantras, and physical positions. None of these are truly relevant to our concerns here. Suffice it to say that the theory behind Tantric sex involves the belief that if intercourse is approached properly, with an understanding of the metaphysical significance of the act, it affords the participants the opportunity to achieve a state of transcendence.

They lose their sense of individuality and merge with each other, and through merging with each other—through bringing together the male and female natures—they participate in the creative power represented by Shiva. Again, the parallels to Lawrence are obvious. He too regarded the man and the woman as representing eternal male and female powers, and he saw in intercourse a way in which the two become one (“the highest achievement of time or eternity”) and in so doing, lose themselves in the life mystery.


[1] Quoted in Jeffrey Meyers, D. H. Lawrence: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), 362.

[2] Quoted in Meyers, 367.

[3] Meyers, 369.

[4] D. H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious in Fantasia of the Unconscious and Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (New York: Penguin, 1971), 106.

[5] Arthur Schopenhauer, Manuscript Remains, trans. E. F. J. Payne (Oxford: Berg, 1988–90), vol. 3, 262.

[6] D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix, ed. Edward McDonald (New York: Viking, 1968), 759 (“The Novel and the Feelings”).

[7] Quoted in Meyers, 362.

[8] Fantasia, 185.

[9] Fantasia, 106.

[10] Fantasia, 173.

[11] Fantasia, 106–07.

[12] Fantasia, 185.

[13] Fantasia, 102.

[14] Otto Weininger, Sex and Character, trans. Ladislaus Löb (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 17.

[15] Fantasia, 96.

[16] Fantasia, 106–07.

[17] D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix II, ed. Warren Roberts and Harry T. Moore (New York: Viking, 1971), 505 (“A Propos of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover’”).

[18] Fantasia, 106–07.

[19] D. H. Lawrence, John Thomas and Lady Jane (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 238.

[20] Phoenix II, 506 (“A Propos of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover’”).

[21] Alain Daniélou argues that the Greek Pan is equivalent to Shiva. See Alain Daniélou, The Phallus, trans. Jon Graham (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1995), 47–48.

[22] Alain Daniélou, Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus, no translator credited (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1992), 51.

[23] Linga Purána, 1.3.2–3. Quoted in Alain Daniélou, The Phallus, 11.

[24] Daniélou, The Phallus, 11–13.

[25] Quoted in Daniélou, Gods of Love and Ecstasy, 56.

[26] Ibid., 56.

[27] John Thomas and Lady Jane, 312.

[28] Daniélou, The Phallus, 18.

[29] Ibid., 18.


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vendredi, 30 août 2013

D. H. Lawrence’s Phallic Traditionalism


D. H. Lawrence’s Phallic Traditionalism


By Derek Hawthorne

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com

Sex and Religion

D. H. Lawrence argues that through the sex act, individuals participate in some kind of mysterious power running through nature. But does this momentary experience have any kind of long-term effect on them? Lawrence directly addresses this question. When the sex act is over, he writes, “The two individuals are separate again. But are they as they were before? Is the air the same after a thunderstorm as before? No. The air is as it were new, fresh, tingling with newness. So is the blood of man and woman after successful coition.” He states further that coition alters “the very quality of being, in both.”[1]

But how? Not surprisingly, Lawrence actually says little about how the experience changes the woman, but as for the man he has plenty to say. After coitus, “The heart craves for a new activity. For new collective activity. That is, for a new polarized connection with other beings, other men.”[2] As we have seen, Lawrence believes that sex involves an encounter with the creative force at the basis of nature. This encounter renews the male’s own creativity. He is eager, after the encounter, to break away from the woman for a time and to take action in the world, to bring something new into being: “Men, being themselves made new after the action of coition, wish to make the world anew. A new, passionate polarity springs up between men who are bent on the same activity, the polarity between man and woman sinks to passivity. It is now daytime, and time to forget sex, time to be busy making a new world.”[3]

The man yearns for union with the woman. At the time, all other considerations other than that union become trivial. Union must be achieved. But once it is achieved, he is renewed and yearns now to come together with other men in a new kind of union: a union directed toward the accomplishment of purposive activity. Again, however, what of the woman in all of this? Doesn’t she yearn for a purposive activity beyond the marriage bed? Lawrence answers that, in the main, this is not the case. He writes, “Primarily and supremely man is always the pioneer of life, adventuring onward into the unknown, alone with his own temerarious, dauntless soul. Woman for him exists only in the twilight, by the camp fire, when day has departed. Evening and the night are hers.”[4]

Lawrence’s view is that in life we must oscillate between an encounter with the source—through sex, for example—and purposive, creative activity. In other words, we must oscillate between blood-consciousness and mental consciousness. Lawrence is not anti-intellectual. Mental consciousness exists in order to allow us to carry out the inspirations we have received from blood-consciousness (recall that “it is through the phallic roots that inspiration enters the soul”). It is when mental consciousness is cut off from blood-consciousness and tries to make itself radically autonomous that problems result.

Lawrence at one point frames the issue of the relation of the two forms of consciousness in terms of “nighttime” and “daytime” selves:

Well, then, we have night-time selves. And the night-self is the very basis of the dynamic self. The blood-consciousness and the blood-passion is the very source and origin of us. Not that we can stay at the source. Nor even make a goal of the source, as Freud does. The business of living is to travel away from the source. But you must start every single day fresh from the source. You must rise every day afresh out of the dark sea of the blood.

When you go to sleep at night you have to say: “Here dies the man I am and know myself to be.” And when you rise in the morning you have to say: “Here rises an unknown quantity which is still myself.”[5]

When Lawrence speaks of rising in the morning, he means emerging from the world of dreams. Like Jung, Lawrence believed that we encounter our primal, pre-mental selves in dream. But he does not just mean this. He means that whenever we emerge from an encounter with the source – whenever we have sloughed off, for a time, our individuality and then put it back on again – we must be prepared to be changed, to be inspired with something that has emerged from the source. We must be willing to bring this into the light. He alludes to this idea in Studies in Classic American Literature when he tell us he believes “That my soul is a dark forest” and “That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back.”[6]

Human beings generally make the mistake of absolutizing either the daytime self or the nighttime self; either making sex the be all and end all, to the exclusion of purposive activity, or vice versa. Lawrence writes that “With sex as the one accepted prime motive, the world drifts into despair and anarchy.”[7] In the sex act, as we have said, the sense of individuality, of personal identity is lost and the participants have the sense of merging into some larger unity. But what of the rest of life? We must live as individuals, with a sense of ourselves as separate beings for most of our waking existence.

But what are we to make of our individuality? Some people find the burden of separate, individual existence so great that they seek to have the sort of transcendence one can experience through sex on an almost constant basis, through alcohol or drugs or thrill-seeking. And what we often find with such individuals is that their lives come to pieces, they drift into “despair and anarchy.”

We have, according to Lawrence, two selves: the nighttime self which is the same in all of us, and which is an offshoot of the worldself, the life mystery; and the daytime self, which is different in each of us, and individual. To deny either is unnatural. We must shuttle back and forth between the two. If we absolutize the nighttime self, then we are destroyed as individuals. And any society that tries to found itself on the nighttime self would quite literally descend into chaos. (Consider the case of Woodstock, for example.) “Assert sex as the predominant fulfillment, and you get the collapse of living purpose in man. You get anarchy.”[8]

But it is equally mistaken to assert purpose above everything. This is, in effect, the mistake of idealism. There are individuals who deny sex or any act that involves a contact with the source. Such acts involve a loss of control, and a temporary breakdown in the sense of individual separateness. And this is terrifying to many people. So they live, as it were, from the neck up and devote themselves wholly to achievement, to productive work, to purpose. This is essentially what Freud means by the sublimation of the libido. Such individuals may not literally cease to have sex, but their sex is mechanical and without any real sensual depth. “Assert purposiveness as the one supreme and pure activity of life,” Lawrence writes, “and you drift into barren sterility, like our business life of today, and our political life.”[9]

Lawrence sees in these observations a key to understanding world history. “You become sterile, you make anarchy inevitable,” he says.[10] In other words, if a society asserts purposiveness above all, eventually it reaches a mass psychological breaking point, and the society will abandon itself to pure sensuousness. If this happens, however, things are destined to cycle back again. Someone or some movement will arise in response to this sensuous anarchy, and it will put forward the solution: abandon sensuousness, in favor of pure purpose, or pure idealism. And so on. To quote Anaximander (one of Lawrence’s favorite philosophers), “they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice according to the assessment of time.”[11]

For Lawrence, the solution to this problem is for individuals to live in complete acceptance of sex and the blood-consciousness. They must accept these not only without guilt, but with positive reverence. Sex and all that puts us into touch with the primal, chthonic source is to be regarded as the touchstone of life. All plans and purposes of human beings are to draw their inspiration from the encounter with this source, and must be compatible with the free, regular, sensual contact with it.

Lawrence writes that “no great purposive passion can endure long unless it is established upon the fulfillment in the vast majority of individuals of the true sexual passion. No great motive or ideal or social principle can endure for any length of time unless based upon the sexual fulfillment of the vast majority of individuals concerned.” And just to make sure we have gotten his point, he says again a few lines later, “You have got to base your great purposive activity upon the intense sexual fulfillment of all your individuals.”[12] (Mysteriously, he adds, “That was how Egypt endured.”)

To sum up, it is certainly true to say that Lawrence was preoccupied with sex. But that was because for him sex was religion. In sex we awaken the deepest part of ourselves; we become that part, which is itself part of the life energy of which we are an expression. In sex we contact this mystery, and draw creative strength from it. Lawrence insists, however, that we cannot dwell forever in this mystery. Our lives must be a perpetual shifting back and forth between blood-consciousness and mental consciousness. Contact with the chthonic blood mystery spurs us on to purposive action. And in terms of what our purposes are to be, we draw inspiration from opening ourselves to the chthonic and whatever it may bring forth. 

Sex in the Head

Ideally, sex should not be the only means by which we contact the life mystery, but for modern people it usually is. That is, when they can manage to have fulfilling sex at all. The trouble is that modern people live almost exclusively from the intellect, from conscious, mental awareness. And they live with rigid conceptions of selfhood. These are constructions of the intellect and, not surprisingly, they make intellect central to selfhood.

We tend to think, in other words, that we are minds simpliciter. But it is actually worse than that. We tend to think of ourselves almost as disembodied minds, and we relate as one disembodied mind to another. We invest a tremendous amount in maintaining these conceptions. Anything that would break down or challenge our sense of individual distinction is regarded as a threat.

Consequently, as Lawrence tells us over and over again, we have “got our sex into our head.”[13] This is a favorite expression of his. As much as we may locate our sense of self in the head, we cannot ever fully extinguish thereby the flame of the “lower self.” Rather than cede any of its power to the lower self, intellect must find some way to get sex into the head and control it. Sex becomes a matter of ego-aggrandizement, and the object of myriad neuroses. Even sexual arousal comes to be controlled by the head. The instinctual, animal sexual response that nature equips us with is suppressed by intellect. The head develops its own fixations and these become “cues” which trigger arousal.

For example, fetishism is a sexual response triggered not by the presence of an actual man or woman, or male or female genitalia, but by something which somehow symbolizes or refers to these. For example, the fetishist who gets excited over women’s underwear but has difficulty getting excited in the presence of a real woman. This is a person whose response is, again, intellectual and unnatural. He is disconnected from natural sexual feelings, and achieves arousal by routing information through the intellect: “I associate panties with women’s crotches, and they’re sexy, therefore this is sexy.”

The head may even declare some sexual feelings “wrong,” because they are incompatible with the ego’s self-conception. Repression and terrible inner conflict are the result. The more we get our sex into our head, the more a natural, fulfilling sexual response becomes impossible. The end result is almost inevitably impotence in the man and frigidity in the woman. Lawrence would not have been surprised at all had he lived to see the plethora of drugs that have now become available to treat sexual dysfunction, and the massive profits made by the companies that produce them.

One would think that getting sex into the head would put modern people off of sex, but instead it actually makes them terrifically hungry for repeated, transient sexual experiences. Lawrence writes, “The more individual the man or woman, the more unsatisfactory is a non-individual connection: promiscuity.”[14] By identifying only with the “daytime self,” with the mental self alone, we in effect disown our bodies and their sensations and urges. But the urges remain, and we must satisfy them. So we go to a sexual encounter, but because we have rendered our bodies largely insensate, we wind up feeling very little. And because we are terrified of anything that might break down or transform our sense of ourselves, we emerge from the act unchanged.

We are unwilling to surrender ego and make ourselves vulnerable, and so the sex act becomes merely a gymnastic exercise, followed by some mildly pleasurable muscular contractions. Dimly, we sense that something is missing—or that we have missed out on something. So we are driven to go on to another encounter, but the old pattern repeats itself. Of course, part of what drives us to another encounter is the biological sex urge itself, but Lawrence believes that the sex urge alone cannot explain the extraordinary promiscuity of modern people.

A solution to promiscuity, of course, is to find a steady partner, ideally one to hold onto for a lifetime. But modern people tend to approach this from the head as well. Lawrence writes,

We have made the mistake of idealism again. We have thought that the woman who thinks and talks as we do will be the blood-answer. . . . We have made love and sex a matter of seeing and hearing and of day-conscious manipulation. We have made men and women come together on the grounds of the superficial likeness and commonality—their mental and upper sympathetic consciousness. And so we have forced the blood into submission. Which means we force it into disintegration.[15]

We relate to potential love partners through the head, looking for intellectual agreement and a “shared mutuality of values.” This is much more so the case today than when Lawrence wrote. It has become increasingly the case in today’s world that one feels obliged in certain contexts (for example, the workplace) to suppress one’s feelings of magnetic attraction to the opposite sex, and certainly never to give voice to it. Some find an expression of such feelings to be somehow degrading or demeaning, no matter the context. And so men and women tend now to relate to each other primarily through talking, and talking mainly about ideas, opinions, and preferences.

The other side of the coin, of course, is relationships based upon physical attraction. While these may seem superficially more healthy than the relationships just described, in their modern form they are in fact no better. Modern people, as I have said, are caught up in preserving ego boundaries, and that means they are caught up in not losing themselves in the other, in not going too far in the direction of sensuous abandon. Hence, after a while, modern relationships based upon sex reach a dead end, where neither partner is willing to go further for fear of actually becoming something other than what he or she already is. The sex becomes overly familiar, overly mechanical, and, for lack of anything else to sustain it, the relationship ends.

Between dissatisfying sexual encounters, modern people (especially males) steel themselves against the possibility that the next time might be a profound, transformative experience by making a smirking joke of sex; by treating sex as a game in which numbers count: number of conquests, number of orgasms, minutes elapsed before ejaculation, inches of erection, etc. Sex becomes a possession of the ego, something I do which elevates me in my own eyes, a selfish pursuit. What it should be, in fact, is the most selfless pursuit of all—not in the sense of being altruistic, but in the sense of being egoless and ecstatic:

But today, all is image consciousness. Sex does not exist; there is only sexuality. And sexuality is merely a greedy, blind self-seeking. Self-seeking is the real motive of sexuality. And therefore, since the thing sought is the same, the self, the mode of seeking is not very important. Heterosexual, homosexual, narcissistic, normal, or incest, it is all the same thing. . . . Every man, every woman just seeks his own self, her own self, in the sexual experience.[16]

Contrary to appearance, modern people hate and fear sex. They hate and fear the loss of control, the loss of ego, and the abandonment to the life mystery that real, “blood-conscious” sex involves. So they reduce sex to smut and laugh at it, and at themselves for wanting it. In his essay “Pornography and Obscenity,” Lawrence writes, “Pornography is the attempt to insult sex, to do dirt on it. This is unpardonable.”[17] Further, as we have already discussed, scientism conspires with pornography to deflate the sex mystery and render it all a mundane matter of chemicals and “procreative drive.” “The scientific fact of sex is no more sex than a skeleton is a man,” Lawrence writes. “Yet you’d think twice before you stuck a skeleton in front of a lad and said, ‘You see, my boy, this is what you are when you come to know yourself.’”[18]

The “scientific” approach to deflating sex is largely the hard-headed approach of the sexually-repressed male. The sexually-repressed female has given us the “lovey-dovey” approach. Sex is “something wonderful and extra lovey-dovey, a bill-and-coo process of obtaining a sweet little baby.” Both approaches are, Lawrence tells us, “disastrous to the deep sexual life.” “But perhaps,” he adds, “that is what we want.”[19] We want, at some level, to destroy the sexual life because it threatens the ego and the control of intellect.

Phallic Traditionalism

Fear of sex, Lawrence tells us in John Thomas and Lady Jane is “fear of the phallus”:

This is the root fear of all mankind. Hence the frenzied efforts of mankind to despise the phallus, and to nullify it. All out of fear. Hence the modern jazz desire to make the phallus quite trivial, a silly little popgun. Fear, just the same. Fear of this alter ego, this homunculus, this little master which is inside a man, the phallus. Men and women alike committed endless obscenities, in order to be rid of this little master, to be free of it! Free! Free! Freedom![20]

Remember that the phallus—the erect penis—is the second man within the man: the expression of the primal, chthonic self. It is the bodying-forth in the male’s body of the unconscious, or the blood-consciousness. It is not a thing of intellect; its roots go much deeper. And because of this, it is an affront to the intellect, which prides itself on its autonomy. Lawrence is telling us that all of our reductive scientism, our pornography, our sanitized “lovey-dovey” smarm about sex, indeed most of modern life, are a concerted effort to deny the power of the phallus and to assert the radical autonomy of intellect.

It would be a mistake to understand Lawrence as simply saying that modern men and women fear a physical organ. In a way, Lawrence is saying this. The erect penis represents, in the minds of most people, the primal self within the self, deeper than intellect. And, indeed, it is under the control of that primal self; again, an erection cannot be “willed.” But recall also that for Lawrence the phallus is an expression of the life mystery that permeates all of nature.

The fear of the phallus thus represents, in another way, the fear and hatred of that which is greater than ourselves. It is no accident that the scientific “deflation” of sex usually goes hand in hand with atheism. They spring from the very same sort of mentality, the mentality that fears losing itself in something that would break the bounds of ego. To prevent this from ever happening, it must deny mystery, beauty, and God. These are all, in a way, the phallus. It must deny these or somehow explain them away. And above all it must deny itself pleasure. The fear of the phallus goes hand in hand with a fear of pleasure, for pleasure threatens to carry us away and give us a transcendent experience in which we feel absorbed into something greater than ourselves. As a Shaivite text says: “every pleasure is a divine experience. The entire universe springs forth from enjoyment. Pleasure is at the origin of all that exists.”

In “A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’” Lawrence writes that “the bridge to the future is the phallus, and there’s the end of it.” At this point, as strange as it may seem, it should be unsurprising to hear Lawrence make such a claim. What is surprising, however, is that he insists that he is not saying that the bridge to the future is sex. In the same essay, Lawrence goes on to say that if England (and, by extension, the entire modern, Western world) is to be “regenerated . . . then it will be by the arising of a new blood contact, a new touch, and a new marriage. It will be a phallic rather than a sexual regeneration. For the phallus is the only great old symbol of godly vitality in a man, and of immediate contact.”[21]

What can Lawrence mean by “phallic rather than sexual”? One must keep in mind that which the phallus represents. Lawrence is calling upon us to return to consciousness of the life mystery, in every way that we can. Sex is only one way. The phallus is “only the great old symbol of godly vitality in a man,” and it is this godly vitality that we must put ourselves back in touch with. But what does Lawrence mean when he says, further, that the phallus is the old symbol of “immediate contact”?

Here he refers to his provocative claim, discussed earlier, that the phallus “is a column of blood that fills the valley of blood of a woman.” The phallus is the means by which the two great rivers, which are metaphysical opposites, are brought together wordlessly, and more profoundly than any words or ideas could convey. The phallus represents this and all other forms of “blood-contact,” meaning instinctive or intuitive, non-verbal contact between individuals.

Lawrence believes that individuals relate to each other in countless, mysterious ways that he often designates by the term “vibrations.” We relate to the opposite sex through these vibrations. No matter our sexual orientation, the vibrations are there. We relate to members of our own family, or our own ethnic group, or to members of another, different ethnic group through these vibrations. We must learn somehow to recover our awareness of these, and cease attempting to relate to one another exclusively through words and ideas. But this is only part of what we must do to get back in touch with “the phallus.”

In the same essay, Lawrence speaks of the necessity of establishing an entire life lived in connection to the phallus:

We must get back into relation, vivid and nourishing relation to the cosmos and the universe. The way is through daily ritual, and the re-awakening. We must once more practise the ritual of dawn and noon and sunset, the ritual of the kindling fire and pouring water, the ritual of the first breath, and the last. This is an affair of the individual and the household, a ritual of day. The ritual of the moon in her phases, of the morning star and the evening star is for men and women separate. Then the ritual of the seasons, with the Drama and Passion of the soul embodied in procession and dance, this is for the community, in togetherness. And the ritual of the great events in the year of stars is for nations and whole peoples. To these rituals we must return: or we must evolve them to suit our needs.[22]

This is, of course, a description of the kind of life our distant ancestors lived. It was a life lived, in effect, in constant meditation upon and connection with the phallic mystery, the pan power. The phallus is the “bridge to the future,” but this bridge takes us roundabout and back again to the distant past.


[1] D. H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious in Fantasia of the Unconscious and Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (New York: Penguin, 1971), 107.

[2] Fantasia, 108.

[3] Fantasia, 108.

[4] Fantasia, 109.

[5] Fantasia, 182–83.

[6] D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (New York: Penguin, 1977), 22. Italics in original.

[7] Fantasia, 110. Later in the same text he declares, “Sex as an end in itself is a disaster: a vice” (Ibid., 187).

[8] Fantasia, 111.

[9] Fantasia, 111.

[10] Fantasia, 111.

[11] The Presocratic Philosophers, trans. G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven, and M. Schofield (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 118.

[12] Fantasia, 110–11.

[13] Fantasia, 85.

[14] Fantasia, 175.

[15] Fantasia, 175.

[16] D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix, ed. Edward McDonald (New York: Viking, 1968), 381–82 (Review of Trigant Burrow, The Social Basis of Consciousness).

[17] Phoenix, 175 (“Pornography and Obscenity”).

[18] Fantasia, 114.

[19] Fantasia, 114.

[20] John Thomas and Lady Jane, 239.

[21] D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix II, ed. Warren Roberts and Harry T. Moore (New York: Viking, 1971), 508 (“A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’”).

[22] Phoenix II, 510 (“A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’”).




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dimanche, 07 juillet 2013

D.H. Lawrence’s uncensored poems

D.H. Lawrence’s uncensored poems published for the first time


DH Lawrence painting.JPGWhen the ban on D.H. Lawrence’s controversial novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was finally lifted in 1960 it was a watershed moment for censorship in Britain. But many assume it was only Lawrence’s novels that suffered at the hands of the censors.

Now, nearly 100 years after Lawrence wrote them, a collection of his poems have been published for the first time in their original uncensored form by the Press.

The two volume edition – the first ever critical edition of Lawrence’s poetry and the final part of the Press’s 40-volume series of Lawrence’s Letters and Works – restores deleted passages and lines removed by publishers fearing government intervention because of Lawrence’s anti-war stance and his attacks on British imperialism.

Some 860 poems are published in the new edition. They include, All of Us, a sequence of 31 war poems never before published in full and many others unpublished in Lawrence’s lifetime. One poem, Rose Look Out Upon Me, is previously unpublished in any form and was discovered by the volume’s editor Christopher Pollnitz in a typescript formerly held in the private collection of George Lazarus, now located at the University of Nottingham.

Pollnitz said “Few of Lawrence’s poetry collections escaped censorship.  Faber & Faber omitted three poems because two referred to the Victorian statesman, W. E. Gladstone, one to the former Home Secretary of the Tory government, Sir William Joynson-Hicks. And Lawrence’s most important collection of poems, Birds, Beasts and Flowers, suffered extensive censorship at the hands of his American publisher. The new Cambridge volume returns to the original manuscripts and typescripts and what emerges radically shifts our understanding of Lawrence as a poet.”

The Cambridge Edition of the Works of D.H. Lawrence: The Poems, edited by Christopher Pollnitz is published by Cambridge University Press, price £130.00

mercredi, 25 juillet 2012

Paganism & Vitalism in Knut Hamsun & D. H. Lawrence

Paganism & Vitalism in
Knut Hamsun & D. H. Lawrence


By Robert Steuckers 


Knut Hamsun

Ex. http://www.counter-currents.com

Part 1 of 2

Translated by Greg Johnson

The Hungarian philologist Akos Doma, educated in Germany and the United States, has published a work of literary interpretation comparing the works of Knut Hamsun and D. H. Lawrence: Die andere Moderne: Knut Hamsun, D. H. Lawrence und die lebensphilosophische Strömung des literarischen Modernismus [The Other Modernity: Knut Hamsun, D. H. Lawrence, and the Life-Philosophical Current of Literary Modernism] (Bonn: Bouvier, 1995). What they share is a “critique of civilization,” a concept that one must put in context.

Civilization is a positive process in the eyes of the “progressivists” who see history as a vector, for the adherents of the philosophy ofAufklärung [Enlightenment], and for the unconditional followers of a certain modernity aiming at simplification, geometrization, and cerebralization.

But civilization appears as a negative process for all those who intend to preserve the incommensurable fruitfulness of cultural matrices, for all those who observe, without being scandalized, that time is “plurimorphic,” i.e., the time of one culture is not that of another (whereas the believers of Aufklärung affirm that one monomorphic time applies to all peoples and cultures of the Earth). Thus to each people its own time. If modernity refuses to see this plurality of forms of time, it is illusion.

To a certain extent, Akos Doma explains, Hamsun and Lawrence were heirs of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. But which Rousseau? The one stigmatized by Maurras, Lasserre, and Muret, or the one who radically criticized the Enlightenment but without also thereby defending the Old Regime? For this Rousseau who was critical of the Aufklärung, this modern ideology is in reality that exact opposite of the ideal slogan that it intends to universalize though political activism: it is inegalitarian and hostile to freedom, even as it proclaims equality and freedom.

For Rousseau and his proto-Romantic followers, before the modernity of the 18th century, there was a “good community,” conviviality reigned among men, people were “good,” because nature was “good.” Later, in the Romantics, who were conservatives on the political plane, this concept of “goodness” was quite prominent, whereas today one attributes it only to activists or revolutionary thinkers. Thus the idea of “goodness” was present on “Right” as well as on “Left” of the political chessboard.

But for the English Romantic poet Wordsworth, nature is “the theater of all real experience” because man is really and immediately confronted by the elements, which implicitly leads us beyond good and evil. Wordsworth is certainly “perfectibilist”: man in his poetic vision reaches for excellence, perfection. But man, contrary to what was thought and imposed by the proponents of the Enlightenment, is not perfected solely by developing the faculties of his intellect. The perfection of man happens mainly through the ordeal of elemental nature.

For Novalis, nature is “the space of mystical experience, which allows us to see beyond contingencies of urban and artificial life.” For Joseph von Eichendorff, nature is freedom, and in this sense it is a transcendence, as it allows us to escape from the narrowness of conventions, of institutions.

With Wordsworth, Novalis, and Eichendorff, the themes of immediacy, of vital experience, the refusal of contingencies arising from the artificial conventions are in place. From Romanticism in Europe, especially in Northern Europe, developed a well thought out hostility to all forms of modern social life and economics. Thomas Carlyle, for example, praised heroism and disdained the “cash flow society.” This is the first critique of the rule of money. John Ruskin, with his plans for a more organic architecture and garden cities, aimed to beautify the cities and to repair the social and urban damage of the rationalism that had unfortunately arisen from Manchesterism. Tolstoy propagated an optimistic naturalism that owed nothing to Dostoevsky, the brilliant analyst and dramatist of the worst blacknesses of the human soul. Gauguin transplanted his ideal of human goodness in the islands of Polynesia, to Tahiti, among flowers and exotic beauties.


D. H. Lawrence

Hamsun and Lawrence, unlike Tolstoy or Gauguin, develop a vision of nature without teleology, without a “good end,” without marginal paradisal spaces: they have assimilated the double lesson of pessimism from Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. Nature, for them, is no longer an idyllic excursion, as in the English Lake District poets. It is not necessarily a space of adventure or violence, or posed a priori as such. Nature, for Hamsun and Lawrence, is above all the inwardness of man; it is his inner springs, his dispositions, his mind (brain and guts are inextricably linked together). Therefore, a priori, in Hamsun and Lawrence, the nature of man is neither demonic nor pure intellectuality. It is rather the real, as real as the Earth, as real as Gaia, the real source of life.

Before this source, modern alienation leaves us with two opposing human attitudes: (1) to put down roots, a source of vitality, (2) to fall into alienation, a source of disease and paralysis. It is between the two terms of this polarity that we can fit the two great works of Hamsun and Lawrence: Growth of the Soil for the Norwegian, The Rainbow for the Englishman.

In Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil, nature is the realm of existential work, where Man works in complete independence to feed and perpetuate himself. Nature is not idyllic, as in some pastoralist utopia. Work in not abolished. It is an unavoidable condition, a destiny, an essential element of humanity, whose loss would mean de-humanization. The main hero, the farmer Isak, is ugly in face and body. He is crude, simple, rustic, but unwavering. He is completely human in his finitude but also in his determination.

The natural space, the Wildnis, this space that sooner or later will receive the stamp of man, is not the realm of human time, that of clocks, but of the rhythm of the seasons, of periodic rotations. In that space, in that time, we do not ask questions, we work to survive, to participate in a rhythm that surpasses us. This destiny is hard. Sometimes very hard. But it gives us independence, autonomy; it allows a direct relationship with our work. Hence it gives meaning. So there is meaning. In Lawrence’s The Rainbow, a family lives on the land in complete independence on the fruits of its own crops.

Hamsun and Lawrence, in these two novels, leave us with the vision of a man rooted in a homeland (ein beheimateter Mensch), a man with a limited territorial base. The beheimateter Mensch needs no book learning, needs no preaching from the media; his practical knowledge is sufficient; thanks to it, he gives meaning to his actions, while allowing imagination and feeling. This immediate knowledge gives him unity with other beings participating in life.

In this perspective, alienation, a major theme of the 19th century, takes on another dimension. Generally, the problem of alienation is addressed from three different bodies of doctrine: (1) The Marxists and historicists locate alienation in the social sphere, whereas for Hamsun and Lawrence, it lies in the inner nature of man, regardless of social position or material wealth. (2) Alienation is addressed by theology and anthropology. (3) Alienation is seen as a social anomie.

For Hegel and Marx, the alienation of the people or the masses is a necessary step in the gradual process of narrowing the gap between reality and the absolute. In Hamsun and Lawrence, alienation is more fundamental; its causes are not socio-economic or political; they lie in our distance from the roots of nature (which to that extent is not “good”). One does not overcome alienation by creating a new socioeconomic order.

According to Doma, in Hamsun and Lawrence, the problem of the cut, of the caesura is essential. Social life has become uniform, tends toward uniformity, automation, excessive functionalization, while nature and work in the cycle of life are not uniform and constantly mobilize vital energies. There is immediacy, while everything in urban, industrial, modern life is mediated, filtered. Hamsun and Lawrence rebelled against this filter.

In “nature” the forces of interiority count, particularly for Hamsun, and to a lesser extent for Lawrence. With the advent of modernity, men are determined by factors external to them, such as conventions, political agitation, public opinion that gives them the illusion of freedom while it is in fact the realm of manipulation. In this context, communities are breaking up: each individual is content with his sphere of autonomous activity in competition with others. Then we arrive at anomie, isolation, the hostility of each against all.

The symptoms of this anomie are crazes for superficial things, for sophisticated garb (Hamsun), signs of a detestable fascination for what is external, for a form of dependence, itself a sign of inner emptiness. Man is torn by the effects of external stresses. These are all indications of loss of vitality in alienated man.

In the alienation of urban life, man finds no stability because life in the metropolis resists any form of stability. Such an alienated man cannot return to his community, his family of origin. For Lawrence, whose writing is more facile but more striking: “He was the eternal audience, the chorus, the spectator at the drama; in his own life he would have no drama.” “He scarcely existed except through other people.” “He had come to a stability of nullification.”

In Hamsun and Lawrence, EntwurzelungUnbehaustheit, rootlessness and homelessness, this way of being without hearth or home, is the great tragedy of humanity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. To Hamsun, place is vital for humans. Every man should have his place. The location of his existence. One can not be cut off from one’s place without profound mutilation. This mutilation is primarily mental; it is hysteria, neurosis, imbalance. Hamsun is a psychologist. He tells us: self-consciousness from the start is a symptom of alienation.

Already Schiller, in his essay Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung [On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry], noted that agreement between thought and feeling was tangible, real, interior for natural man, but it is now ideal and exterior in cultivated humans (“the concord between his feelings and his thoughts existed at the origin, but no longer exists except at the level of the ideal. This concord is no longer in man, but hovers somewhere outside of him; it is no more than an idea that has yet to be realized; it is no longer a fact of life”).

Schiller hoped for an Überwindung (overcoming) of this caesura, for a total mobilization of the individual to fill this caesura. Romanticism, for him, aimed at the reconciliation of Being (Sein) and consciousness (Bewußtsein), fighting the reduction of consciousness solely to rational understanding. Romanticism values, and even overvalues what is “other” to reason (das Andere der Vernunft): sensual perception, instinct, intuition, mystical experience, childhood, dreams, pastoral life.

The English Romantic Wordsworth deemed this desire for reconciliation between Being and consciousness “rose,” calling for the emergence of “a heart that watches and receives.” Dostoevsky abandoned this “rose” vision, developing in response a quite “black” vision, in which the intellect is always a source of evil that led the “possessed” to kill or commit suicide. In the same vein, in philosophical terms, G. E. Lessing and Ludwig Klages emulated this “black” vision of the intellect, while considerably refining naturalist Romanticism: to Klages, the mind is the enemy of the soul; to Lessing, the mind is the counterpart of life, born of necessity (“Geist ist das notgeborene Gegenspiel des Lebens”).

Lawrence, in some sense faithful to the English Romantic tradition of Wordsworth, believes in a new adequation of Being and consciousness. Hamsun, more pessimistic, more Dostoyevskian (hence his success in Russia and its impact on such ruralists writers as Belov and Rasputin), persisted in the belief that as soon as there is consciousness there is alienation. Once man begins to reflect on himself, he detaches himself from the natural continuum, in which he should normally be rooted.

In Hamsun’s theoretical writings, there is a reflection on literary modernism. Modern life, influences, processes, refine man to rescue him from his destiny, his destined place, his instincts which lie beyond good and evil. The literary development of the 19th century betrays a feverishness, an imbalance, a nervousness, an extreme complexity of human psychology. “The general (ambient) nervousness has gripped our fundamental being and has rubbed off on our feelings.” Hence the writer now defines himself on the model of Zola, as a “social doctor” who describes social evils to eliminate disease. The writer, the intellectual, and develops a missionary spirit aiming at a “political correctness.”

Against this intellectual vision of the writer, Hamsun replies that it is impossible to objectively define the reality of man, for an “objective man” would be a monstrosity (ein Unding), constructed in a mechanical manner. We cannot reduce man to a catalog of characteristics, for man is changing, ambiguous. Lawrence had the same attitude: “Now I absolutely flatly deny that I am a soul, or a body, or a mind, or an intelligence, or a brain, or a nervous system, or a bunch of glands, or any of the rest of these bits of me. The whole is greater than the part.” Hamsun and Lawrence illustrate in their works that it is impossible to theorize or absolutize a clear and distinct view of man. Thus man is not the vehicle of preconceived ideas.

Hamsun and Lawrence note that progress in self-awareness is not the process of spiritual emancipation, but rather a loss, a draining of vitality, of vital energy. In their novels, it is the characters who are still intact because they are unconscious (that is to say, embedded in their soil or site) who persevere, triumphing over the blows of fate and unfortunate circumstances.

There is no question, we repeat, of pastoralism or idyllism. The characters of Hamsun’s and Lawrence’s novels are traversed or solicited by modernity, hence their irreducible complexity: they may succumb, they suffer, they undergo a process of alienation but can also overcome it. This is where the Hamsun’s irony and Lawrence’s notion of the phoenix come in. Hamsun’s irony ridicules the abstract ideals of modern ideologies. In Lawrence, the recurrent theme of the phoenix indicates a certain degree of hope: there will be resurrection. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes.

Paganism & Vitalism in Knut Hamsun & D. H. Lawrence, Part 2


Ludwig Fahrenkrog, “The Holy FirePart 2 of 2

Translated by Greg Johnson

The Paganism of Hamsun and Lawrence

If Hamsun and Lawrence carry out their desire to return to a natural ontology by rejecting rationalist intellectualism, this also implies an in-depth contestation of the Christian message.

In Hamsun, we find the rejection of his family’s Puritanism (that of his uncle Hans Olsen), the rejection of the Protestant worship of the book and the text, i.e., an explicit rejection of a system of religious thought resting on the primacy of pure scripture against existential experience (in particular that of the autarkical peasant, whose model is that of Odalsbond of the Norwegian countryside).

The anti-Christianity of Hamsun is rather non-Christianity: it does not give rise to religious questioning in the mode of Kierkegaard. For him, the moralism of the Protestantism of the Victorian era (in Scandinavia, they called it the Oscarian era) is quite simply an expression of devitalisation. Hamsun does not recommend any mystical experience.

Above all, Lawrence is concerned with the caesura between man and the cosmic mystery. Christianity reinforces this wound, prevents it from clotting, prevents it from healing. However, European religiosity preserves a residue of this worship of the cosmic mystery: it is the liturgical year, the liturgical cycle (Easter, Pentecost, Midsummer, Halloween, Christmas, Epipany).

But these had been hit hard by the processes of disenchantment and desacralization, starting with the advent of the primitive Christian church, reinforced by Puritanism and Jansensim after the Reformation. The first Christians clearly wanted to tear man away from these cosmic cycles. The medieval church, however, sought adequation between man and cosmos, but the Reformation and Counter-Reformation both clearly expressed a return to the anti-cosmism of primitive Christianity. Lawrence writes:

But now, after almost three thousand years, now that we are almost abstracted entirely from the rhythmic life of the seasons, birth and death and fruition, now we realize that such abstraction is neither bliss nor liberation, but nullity. It brings null inertia.

This caesura is a property of the Christianity of urban civilizations, where there is longer an opening to the cosmos. Thus Christ is no longer a cosmic Christ, but a Christ reduced to the role of a social worker. Mircea Eliade spoke of a “cosmic Man,” open to the vastness of cosmos, the pillar of all the great religions. From Eliade’s perspective, the sacred is reality, power, the source of life and fertility. Eliade: “The desire of the religious man to live a life in the sacred is the desire to live in objective reality.”

The Ideological and Political Lessons of Hamsun and Lawrence

On the ideological and political plane, on the plane of Weltanschauungen, Hamsun and Lawrence had a rather considerable impact. Hamsun was read by everyone, beyond the polarity of Communism/Fascism. Lawrence was labeled “fascistic” on a purely posthumous basis, in particular by Bertrand Russell who spoke about his “madness” (“Lawrence was a suitable exponent of the Nazi cult of insanity”). This phrase is at the very least simple and concise.

According to Akos Doma, the works of Hamsun and Lawrence fall under four categories: the philosophy of life, the avatars of individualism, the vitalistic philosophical tradition, and anti-utopianism and irrationalism.

1. Life-philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) is a polemical term, opposing the “vivacity of real life” to the rigidity of conventions, the artificial games invented by urban civilization to try to give meaning to a totally disenchanted world. Life-philosophy appears under many guises in European thought and takes shape beginning with Nietzsche’s reflections on Leiblichkeit (corporeity).

2. Individualism. Hamsun’s anthropology postulates the absolute unicity of each individual, of each person, but refuses to isolate this individual or this person from any communal context, carnal or familiar: he always places the individual or the person in interaction, in a particular place. The absence of speculative introspection, consciousness, and abstract intellectualism make Hamsun’s individualism unlike the anthropology of the Enlightenment.

But, for Hamsun, one does not fight the individualism of the Enlightenment by preaching an ideologically contrived collectivism. The rebirth of the authentic man happens by a reactivation of the deepest wellsprings of his soul and body. Mechanical regimentation is a calamitous failure. Therefore, the charge of “fascism” does not hold for either Lawrence or Hamsun.

3. Vitalism takes account of all the facts of life and excludes any hierarchisation on the basis race, class, etc. The characteristic oppositions of the vitalist movement are: assertion of life/negation of life; healthy/unhealthy; mechanical/organic. Thus one cannot reduce them to social categories, parties, etc. Life is a fundamentally apolitical category, because it subsumes all men without distinction.

4. For Hamsun and Lawrence, the reproach of “irrationalism,” like their anti-utopianism, comes from their revolt against “feasibility” (Machbarkeit), against the idea of infinite perfectibility (which one finds in an “organic” form in the first generation of English Romantics). The idea of feasibility goes against the biological essence of nature. Thus the idea of feasibility is the essence of nihilism, according to the contemporary Italian philosopher Emanuele Severino.

For Severino, feasibility derives from a will to complete a world posited as being in becoming (but not an uncontrollable organic becoming). Once this process of completion is achieved, becoming inevitably ceases. Overall stability is necessary to the Earth, and this stability is described as a frozen “absolute good.”

In a literary manner, Hamsun and Lawrence have foreshadowed such contemporary philosophers as Emanuele Severino, Robert Spaemann (with his critique of functionalism), Ernst Behler (with his critique of “infinite perfectibility”), and Peter Koslowski. Outside of Germany or Italy, these philosophers are necessarily almost unknown to the public, especially when they criticize thoroughly the foundations of the dominant ideologies, which is rather frowned upon since the deployment of an underhanded inquisition against the politically incorrect. The cells of the “logocentrist conspiracy” are in place at all the publishers in order to reject translations, keep France in a state of philosophical “minority,” and prevent any effective challenge to the ideology of power.

Vitalistic or “anti-feasibilist” philosophers like Nietzsche, Hamsun, and Lawrence, insist on the ontological nature of human biology and are radically opposed to the nihilistic Western idea of the absolute feasibility of everything, which implies the ontological inexistence of all things, of all realities.

Many of them — certainly Hamsun and Lawrence — bring us back to the eternal present of our bodies, our corporeality (Leiblichkeit). But we can not fabricate a body, despite the wishes reflected in some science fiction (and certain projects from the crazy early years of the Soviet system).

Feasibilism is hubris carried to its height. It leads to restlessness, emptiness, silliness, solipsism, and isolation. From Heidegger to Severino, European philosophy has focused on the disaster of the desacralization of Being and the disenchantment of the world. If the deep and mysterious wellsprings of Earth and man are considered imperfections unworthy of the interest of the theologian or philosopher, if all that is thought abstractly or contrived beyond these (ontological) wellsprings is overvalued, then, indeed, the world loses its sacredness, all value.

Hamsun and Lawrence are writers who make us live with more intensity than those sometimes dry philosophers who deplore the wrong route taken centuries ago by Western philosophy. Heidegger and Severino in philosophy, Hamsun and Lawrence in creative writing aim to restore the sacredness of the natural world and to revalorize the forces that lurk inside man: in this sense, they are ecological thinkers in the deeper meaning of the term.

The oikos and he who works the oikos bear within them the sacred, the mysterious and uncontrollable forces, which are accepted as such, without fatalism and false humility. Hamsun and Lawrence have therefore heralded a “geophilosophical” dimension of thought, which has concerned us throughout this summer school. A succinct summary of their works, therefore, has a place in today’s curriculum.

Lecture at the Fourth Summer School of F.A.C.E., Lombardy, in July 1996.

Source: Vouloir, August 1997; online: http://www.centrostudilaruna.it/paganisme-et-philosophie-de-la-vie-chez-knut-hamsun-et-david-herbert-lawrence.html [2]


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/07/hamsun-and-lawrence-part-2/

samedi, 29 janvier 2011

D. H. Lawrence on America

D. H. Lawrence on America


Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

LAW1.jpgI have contributed several essays to Counter-Currents dealing with D. H. Lawrence’s critique of modernity. Those essays might lead the reader to believe that Lawrence treats modernity as a universal ideology or worldview that could be found anywhere.

However, in many of his writings Lawrence treats modernity as, in effect, a spiritual disease that specifically afflicts white, northern Europeans. Everything I have said in other essays about the modern overemphasis on the “spiritual sympathetic centres” and how we starve the “lower centres” in favor of the upper, or how love and benevolence are our undoing, Lawrence usually frames in explicitly racial terms. Modernity, in other words, is the condition of white, Northern European peoples, the peoples who initiated modernity in the first place.

In a letter from October 8, 1924, when he was living in New Mexico, Lawrence writes: “I loathe winter. They gas about the Nordic races, over here, but I believe they’re dead, dead, dead. I hate all that comes from the north.” Like Nietzsche, Lawrence does not lament the “death” (or decline) of the Nordic races. He merely observes it. Nor, generally speaking, does he fall into the common error of romanticizing other races. (However, he does on occasion contrast “northern” to “southern” culture, usually to the detriment of the former.)

In Women in Love, Gerald Crich represents the white race in general; his life is an allegory of what Lawrence believes is wrong with the “northern people,” and his death symbolizes what Lawrence regarded as their degeneration. Early in the novel, Gudrun Brangwen reacts to him:

There was something northern about him that magnetised her. In his clear northern flesh and his fair hair was a glisten like sunshine refracted through crystals of ice. And he looked so new, unbroached, pure as an arctic thing. . . . “His totem is the wolf,” she repeated to herself.

Later in the novel, Birkin reflects on Gerald: “He was one of these strange white wonderful demons of the north, fulfilled in the destructive frost mystery. And was he fated to pass away in this knowledge, this one process of frost-knowledge, death by perfect cold?”

Like Gerald’s, the end of the white race shall be an ice death: a death brought about by cold ideals and abstractions; a cutting off from the source, from the life mystery. “The white races, having the Arctic north behind them, the vast abstraction of ice and snow, would fulfill a mystery of ice-destructive knowledge, snow-abstract annihilation.” It is a self-destruction, just as Gerald’s death is self-destruction.

The Great Death Continent

Though the process of snow-abstract annihilation began in Northern Europe, for Lawrence the “epicenter” of the process has shifted to North America. Lawrence’s most dramatic statement of this occurs in one of his last books, The Plumed Serpent, in a passage so important that I shall quote it at length:

Was that the clue to America, she sometimes wondered. Was it the great death-continent, the continent that destroyed again what the other continents had built up? The continent whose spirit of place fought purely to pick the eyes out of the face of God? Was that America? . . .

And did this account for the great drift to the New World, the drift of spent souls passing over to the side of godless democracy, energetic negation? The negation which is the life-breath of materialism.—And would the great negative pull of the Americas at last break the heart of the world? . . .

White men had had a soul, and lost it. The pivot of fire had been quenched in them, and their lives had started to spin in the reversed direction, widdershins [counterclockwise]. That reversed look which is in the eyes of so many white people, the look of nullity, and life wheeling in the reversed direction. Widdershins. . . .

And all the efforts of white men to bring the soul of the dark men of Mexico into final clenched being has resulted in nothing but the collapse of the white men. Against the soft, dark flow of the Indian the white man at last collapses, with his god and his energy he collapses. In attempting to convert the dark man to the white man’s way of life, the white man has fallen helplessly down the hole he wanted to fill up. Seeking to save another man’s soul, the white man lost his own, and collapsed upon himself.

There is much to digest in this passage. Lawrence is suggesting that America (by which he means North America, including Mexico and Canada) acts as a vast engine of negation, wiping away or adulterating all human characteristics and all human distinctions that are “natural,” and doing so in the name of the Ideals of democracy and materialism (i.e., commerce).

Second, Lawrence is suggesting that the soul of the “dark man” is fundamentally different from that of the white man (a point he makes again and again in the Mexican writings) and that the white man’s soul has not been shifted to the “upper centres,” or knocked widdershins and out of touch with the life mystery. Therefore, all the efforts by the white man to “civilize” the dark man are in vain and it is the latter that will in fact win the day, because in some primal sense he is “stronger.” America, in short, is the continent of nihilism; the lead actor in the final drama of white, western civilization, the Ragnarok.

One of Lawrence’s heresies is to believe in essential national and racial characters. Culture, for Lawrence, flows from natural differences between human beings—and this means that humans are not fundamentally malleable and interchangeable; certain cultures simply cannot be fitted to certain people. Nevertheless, Lawrence does not believe in any doctrine of racial superiority. (The references that Lawrence makes from time to time to an “Aryan race” and, more narrowly, to the “Nordic” type may raise eyebrows today, but such terminology was common for the time.)

The Studies in Classical American Literature

Much of Studies in Classical American Literature (1923) is devoted to developing these points. This book—one of Lawrence’s most entertaining—is misleadingly titled for it is really not so much about American literature as it is about America itself. Note that in the quote above from The Plumed Serpent Lawrence refers to America as the continent “whose spirit of place fought purely to pick the eyes out of the face of God.”

The first essay in Studies is entitled “The Spirit of Place,” Lawrence explains this term as follows:

Every continent has its own great spirit of place. Every people is polarized in some particular locality, which is home, the homeland. Different places on the face of the earth have different vital effluence, different vibration, different chemical exhalation, different polarity with different stars; call it what you like. But the spirit of place is a great reality.

America’s spirit of place, Lawrence tell us, is one which draws men who want to “get away” and to be masterless. It is the land of those drawn to a kind of negative freedom: not the freedom actually to be something, but, in essence, the freedom to not have to be anything at all, and especially not to be subject to another’s will. But as Hegel recognized this negative freedom—freedom to say no—does not translate into any positive sort of freedom at all. True freedom, Lawrence states, only comes about through finding something you “positively want to be.” Americans, on the other hand, “have always been shouting about the things they are not. Unless, of course, they are millionaires, made or in the making.”

The spirit of America, for Lawrence, thus begins to resemble very much the spirit of Gudrun Brangwen in Women in Love: negation; a fierce desire really to be nothing at all. This is American “freedom.” America is the land where the white race has gone to die, and to literally kill all its old forms: its traditions, customs, blood-ties, myths and folktales, morality, religion, high culture, even its memory of its past.

America is the land where men have come to free themselves of everything in life that is unchosen, especially when the unchosen is the natural. Again, there is a break from the primal self or true unconscious and a shift to life lived entirely from the Ideal “upper centres.” Lawrence writes, “The American has got to destroy. It is his destiny. It is his destiny to destroy the whole corpus of the white psyche, the white consciousness. And he’s got to do it secretly. As the growing of a dragon-fly inside a chrysalis or cocoon destroys the larva grub, secretly.”

The self-destruction of the white man takes place secretly, marching under the banner of the Ideal. America is the land where all the old forms are destroyed in the name of “Freedom,” “Democracy,” and, above all else, “Progress”:

Destroy! Destroy! Destroy! Hums the under-consciousness [of Americans]. Love and produce! Love and produce! cackles the upper-consciousness. And the world hears only the Love-and-produce cackle. Refuses to hear the hum of destruction underneath. Until such time as it will have to hear.

The cause of Liberty in Europe, Lawrence tells us, was something vital and life-giving. But he detects in American icons like Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson something strident, cold, and life-killing in their appeals to Democracy. American democracy, Lawrence claims, is at root a kind of “self-murder”; that is, when it is not “murdering somebody else.”

Lawrence’s analyses of American literature basically consist in showing how these American tendencies play themselves out in authors like Franklin, Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, Whitman, and others. Whitman—an author with whom Lawrence had a love-hate relationship—gets by far the roughest treatment:

ONE DIRECTION! toots Walt in the car, whizzing along [in] it. . . .

ONE DIRECTION! whoops America, and sets off also in an automobile.

ALLNESS! shrieks Walt at a cross-road, going whizz over an unwary Red Indian.

ONE IDENTITY! chants democratic En Masse, pelting behind in motor-cars, oblivious of the corpses under the wheels.

law2.jpgIt is Lawrence’s analysis of Melville’s Moby Dick, however, that is perhaps his most incisive. He sees in this simple story an encapsulation of the American spirit, the American thanatos itself. Here is Lawrence summing up his interpretation:

What then is Moby Dick? He is the deepest blood-being of the white race; he is our deepest blood-nature.

And he is hunted, hunted, hunted by the maniacal fanaticism of our white mental consciousness. We want to hunt him down. To subject him to our will. And in this maniacal conscious hunt of ourselves we get dark races and pale to help us, red, yellow, and black, east and west, Quaker and fire-worshipper, we get them all to help us in this ghastly maniacal hunt which is our doom and our suicide.

The last phallic being of the white man. Hunted into the death of the upper consciousness and the ideal will. Our blood-self subjected to our will. Our blood-consciousness sapped by a parasitic mental or ideal consciousness.

When a people loses a sense of blood-relatedness, what basis is there for community? American community is not based on blood ties, shared history, shared religion, or shared culture: it is based on ideology. He who professes the American creed is an American—he who does not is an outcast.

The American creed is based principally on a belief in freedom, equality, and Progress. For Lawrence, the first of these is (in its American form) empty, and the other two are a lie. American equality is a lie because in fact people are not equal, and virtually everyone realizes this in their heart of hearts.

American ethics requires, however, that everyone pay lip service to the idea that no one is, or can be, fundamentally better than anyone else. This is one of the country’s core beliefs. In fact, Lawrence points out that this is so fundamental to being an American that Americans are terrified lest they somehow let on to their fellow countryman that they really don’t believe that everyone is equal, or that all opinions are equally valid and valuable. They are afraid of seeming “judgmental,” and they parrot an absurd relativism in order to be seen by others as “tolerant.” Lawrence writes of America, “I have never been in a country where the individual has such an abject fear of his fellow countrymen. Because, as I say, they are free to lynch the moment he shows he is not one of them.”

Essentially the same point was made by Alexis de Tocqueville. In his Democracy in America, Tocqueville includes a section titled “The Power Exercised by the Majority in America over Thought,” and writes as follows:

I know no country in which, speaking generally, there is less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America. . . . In America the majority has enclosed thought within a formidable fence. A writer is free inside that area, but woe to the man who goes beyond it. . . . Before he goes into print, he believes he has supporters; but he feels that he has them no more once he stands revealed to all, for those who condemn him express their views loudly, while those who think as he does, but without his courage, retreat into silence as if ashamed of having told the truth. . . . Hence the majority lives in a state of perpetual self-adoration; only strangers or experience may be able to bring certain truths to the Americans’ attention. (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. George Lawrence [New York: Doubleday, 1969], 254–55)

A creedal state such as America is as intolerant as a creedal religion. A Jew who does not believe in the Exodus story does not cease thereby to be a Jew, since being Jewish is an ethnic as well as a religious identification. Similarly, Hinduism (another ethnic religion) tolerates and subsumes a vast number of doctrines and differences of emphasis. (It is even possible, in a certain sense, to be an atheist Hindu.) Christianity and Islam, however, are creedal religions and therefore much less tolerant of doctrinal deviations. One can stop being a Christian or a Muslim—immediately—by believing or not believing certain things.

America early on divided itself into ethnic communities—the English, the Germans, the Irish, etc. A genuine spirit of community existed within these groups, in virtue of their blood ties and shared history, culture, and religion. But gradually these communities mixed and lost their unique identities. The creed of “Americanism” was the only thing that then arose as something that was supposed to bind people together. But since Americanism consists mostly of the recognition of negative liberties, how effective could it be at creating community? The result is that Americans became increasingly alienated from each other.

In his Preface to Edward Dahlberg’s Bottom Dogs (1929) Lawrence speaks of the breakdown in America of “blood-sympathy” and argues that it is responsible for a seldom-discussed facet of the American character, one which Europeans find particularly strange and amusing: the American pre-occupation with hygiene and super-cleanliness:

Once the blood-sympathy breaks . . . human beings become secretly intensely repulsive to one another, physically, and sympathetic only mentally and spiritually. The secret physical repulsion between people is responsible for the perfection of American “plumbing,” American sanitation, and American kitchens, utterly white-enamelled and antiseptic. It is revealed in the awful advertisements such as those about “halitosis,” or bad breath. It is responsible for the American nausea at coughing, spitting, or any of those things. The American townships don’t mind hideous litter of tin cans and broken rubbish. But they go crazy at the sight of human excrement.

With the blood-sympathy broken, Americans seek as much as possible to isolate themselves from their fellow citizens, who they fear and find repulsive. In his essay “Men Must Work and Women as Well,” Lawrence writes presciently of how technology serves to abstract us from human relationships: “The film, the radio, the gramophone were all invented because physical effort and physical contact have become repulsive to us.”

The radio and the gramophone brought individuals and families indoors and isolated them in their individual dwellings. No longer did they sit on their front porches and converse with their neighbors. The rise of the automobile contributed to this as well. Front porches were built for the cleaner, slower paced horse-and-buggy days. Sitting on the front porch was no longer so attractive when it meant being subjected to the noise and exhaust of automobiles whizzing by. Architecture began to reflect this change in the early part of the twentieth century, with designs for new houses sometimes eliminating the front porch altogether, and often with entrances concealed from view.

In the early days of the radio and the gramophone, only some families owned them, and they would often invite the neighbors in to listen to the gramophone or to the radio. This was also the case in the early days of television. But as these technologies became cheaper, just about every family acquired them and instead of facilitating social interaction they came to positively inhibit it. One can see this same phenomenon playing itself out in an even more radical way in the age of personal computers. It is now quite common for many Americans to live almost completely isolated lives, interacting with others via the Internet and carrying on “virtual relationships.”

Progressively, the lives of Americans became denuded of most of the features that have made life worth living throughout human history: community, extended family relations, participation in rituals, customs, traditions, remembrance of the past through shared stories, and the transmission of folk wisdom through myths, fables, and songs. The lives of most Americans became entirely dominated by the concerns of what Hegel called bürgerliche Gesellschaft, or “bourgeois society”: the realm of commerce.

“Getting ahead” becomes the primary concern in life, and all else—all the products of High Culture and most of the simple pleasures of life—become distractions, impracticalities. In his essay “Europe v. America,” Lawrence writes that “the American grips himself, at the very sources of his consciousness, in a grip of care: and then, to so much of the rest of life, is indifferent. Whereas the European hasn’t got so much care in him, so he cares much more for life and living.”

This is the secret to much of the inadequacy that Americans still feel when in Europe or in European company. Partly it is the (usually correct) sense that Europeans are better educated. But it is also the sense that these people have mastered the art of life. Life for most Americans is a problem to be solved, something we will eventually be able to do better than the Old World, thanks to the marriage of commerce and science.

Hence the tendency of Americans to believe anything that is asserted by scientists and medical men, no matter how ridiculous and ill-founded, and to distrust all that comes from tradition and “the past.” As witness the bizarre American reliance on “self-help books” and “how-to” manuals, even on such subjects as making friends or raising children. Americans are aware that these things were done in the past, without manuals, but believe that “experts” can teach us how to do them better than they have ever been done before.

While we wait for science to tell us how to live, life slips by. As Lawrence writes in a letter, “They can’t trust life until they can control it. So much for them—cowards! You can have the Land of the Free, as much as I know of it.”

Perhaps Lawrence’s most eloquent and succinct summation of the difference between the New World and the Old comes is the following line from “Europe v. America”: “The Europeans still have a vague idea that the universe is greater than they are, and isn’t going to change very radically, not for all the telling of all men put together.”

With life narrowed to the concerns of “getting ahead,” and natural human sympathies submerged or obliterated, Americans began to see each other more and more merely as objects: as consumers, or competitors, or employees, or bosses, but seldom as flesh and blood human beings. Thus we find the terrible American record of exploitation of the workers; frauds committed against the consumers, often at the expense of their health or even their lives; the devastation of communities wrought by the dumping of industrial waste; and the dumping of armies of workers in massive “layoffs.”

Heidegger was right: in its disregard for human life, American capitalism reveals itself as metaphysically identical to communism. And like communism, it tramples human life in the name of Progress. In its paper-thin idealism, its inhumanity, its self-destructiveness, and in its uncertainty of exactly what it is or should be, America is Women in Love’s Gerald Crich made real on a vast scale. Or, rather, Gerald Crich—coupled with the nihilism of Gudrun Brangwen—is the spirit of America. (Remember, those two are a couple: they complement one another. See my essay on Women in Love.)

The spirit of America—at once nihilism and “benevolent” idealism—can be seen very clearly in how it has treated other peoples both on its own soil and abroad. Earlier we saw in The Plumed Serpent Lawrence commenting on the white man’s attempt to “civilize” the “dark men.” Why do Americans feel that they must bend others to their way of life? American universalism leads to the belief that inside every foreigner is an American just screaming to get out.

Americans are like fresh converts to a religion, who feel that they have to convert all their friends—subconsciously in order to reassure themselves that they have made a sound choice. Americans have given up so much that was once thought to be essential to life and to community—so they simply must be right; others must find their way the most desirable way. If they do not, then they are ignorant and don’t know what’s good for them; or their governments have prevented them from seeing the truth.

Americans have been converting foreigners into Americans for a long time now, through exporting their consumer culture (irresistibly appealing to the baser elements in all peoples), and through less peaceable means.

On their own soil, white Americans have also tried to convert the “dark man” to Americanism. In his essay “Certain Americans and an Englishman,”  Lawrence speaks of Americans trying to turn the Red Man into a “wage earner.” This can be done, up to a point, but at the price of the Red Man sacrificing his soul. But ultimately Lawrence believes there can be no true harmony between different races, because they are so different, and that the attempts of white men to create “multicultural societies” will end in the destruction of the whites (an outcome he does not particularly lament).

Writing of Hector St. John de Crèvecouer in Studies, Lawrence states that he only wanted to know the Red Man in his head, abstractly because “he must have suspected that the moment he saw as the savages saw, all his fraternity and equality would go up in smoke, and his ideal world of pure sweet goodness along with it.” Later on in Studies, Lawrence writes that “The Red Man and the White Man are not blood-brothers: even when they are most friendly. When they are most friendly, it is as a rule the one betraying his race-spirit to the other.”

Lawrence’s views on America are apocalyptic. He sees no hope for the country, and seems to believe that it will drag the rest of the white world down with it. What, then, are we to make of these extreme views? Much of what Lawrence has to say about the emptiness of American ideals, and the emptiness of American lives, presages arguments that would be made by numerous social critics years later, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. I am thinking of such writers as Erich Fromm, Wilhelm Reich, Christopher Lasch, and Daniel Bell. Much of what he has to say would strike any Leftist as uncontroversial.

But once again Lawrence shows himself to be a kind of political hybrid, for his remarks on race, his opposition to the ideal of equality, and his opposition to multiculturalism seem to put him, by today’s standards, on the extreme right. Of course, contrary to what many Leftists might think, simply to point this out does not serve to refute Lawrence. Nor is it entirely convincing to accuse him of inconsistency: perhaps it is today’s Leftists and Rightists who are confused. And there is some plausibility to this suggestion.

For example, leftists today advocate both multiculturalism and “diversity,” which they tend to equate. But it is hard to see how the latter can be preserved if the former is achieved. In other words, inevitably a multicultural society would lead to the blending of peoples and the blending and watering-down of cultures, thus potentially destroying diversity rather than maintaining it. Lawrence challenges us to critique our own views, and to question their consistency—and their sanity.

There is no easy, ready-to-hand answer to Lawrence’s charges—about America in particular, or modernity in general. They strike at the heart of what is believed by most people in the West today. Whatever else one may say about his views, it is striking how their capacity to shock and to challenge us has only increased over the years.

vendredi, 28 janvier 2011

D. H. Lawrence's "Women in Love": Anti-Modernism in Literature

D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love :
Anti-Modernism in Literature

Derek Hawthorne

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

L2.jpgD. H. Lawrence’s greatest novel is also his most anti-modern. Written between April and October of 1916 in Cornwall, during some of the darkest days of the First World War, Women in Love was conceived as a sequel to The Rainbow. (Both novels were brilliantly filmed by Ken Russell.) Women in Love continues the story of Ursula Brangwen’s life, and the fulfillment she finds in a love affair with Rupert Birkin (who does not figure in The Rainbow at all). This relationship is, in fact, paired with another: that of Gudrun, Ursula’s sister (a very minor character in The Rainbow), and Gerald Crich, Birkin’s best friend. The novel follows the course of both relationships.

The connection between the two novels seems a tenuous one at best, however, and one can read and appreciate Women in Love without any knowledge at all of The Rainbow. This has a great deal to do with the dramatic difference in tone between the two. In a letter, Lawrence described the relationship between the two novels as follows: “There is another novel, sequel to The Rainbow, called Women in Love . . . this actually does contain the results in one’s soul of the war; it is purely destructive, not like The Rainbow, destructive-consummating.”

Women in Love is indeed “purely destructive”: it is grimly apocalyptic and misanthropic. There is little sense of the presence of nature this time: the novel moves almost entirely within the conscious and (more importantly) subconscious minds of its four main characters. And the backdrop is the ugly, human–built mechanicalness of the industrialized Midlands. It is easy to attribute the change in tone between the two novels as due to Lawrence’s horror at the war (“The war finished me,” he later said).

But one must not lose sight of the fact that the two novels do, in fact, tell one continuous story, and that the switch in tone is appropriate to what the second half of the story depicts: the fragmentary lives of individuals struggling to find fulfillment in the modern world. In his “Foreword” to the novel Lawrence wrote that it “took its final shape in the midst of the period of war, though it does not concern the war itself. I should wish the time to remain unfixed, so that the bitterness of the war may be taken for granted in the characters.” For Lawrence, as for Heidegger, the war was ultimately just an inevitable extension of the industrial age itself.

At the beginning of the story, Birkin is involved in an unhappy love affair with Hermione Roddice, the daughter of an aristocrat and a thinly-disguised portrait of Lady Ottoline Morrell. Birkin is already acquainted with Ursula professionally, as he is the local school inspector and she the school mistress. After they are brought closer together and love begins to grow between them, Birkin abandons Hermione. The memorable episode that precipitates the final break between them involves Hermione trying to bludgeon him to death with a lapis lazuli paperweight.

However, Birkin’s relationship with Ursula is, from the first, difficult in its own way. Much of the reason has to do with Birkin’s misanthropy and Schopenhauerian pessimism. At some level, Ursula sympathizes with Birkin’s views, but she is put off by his extraordinary vehemence, and, more importantly, seems to feel that if he would admit his love for her and fully surrender himself to their relationship he would be freed from his all-consuming hatred of the world. She is carrying on with life, in spite of everything, and eventually she succeeds in drawing him back into life.

The character of Rupert Birkin is universally acknowledged to be a self-portrait of Lawrence, though it would be dangerous to assume that Lawrence has no critical distance from the character (or from himself, for that matter). Nevertheless, Birkin often speaks for Lawrence. Early in the novel Birkin declares that it would be much better if humanity “were just wiped out. Essentially they don’t exist, they aren’t there.” Later, in conversation with Ursula, Birkin declares:

“Humanity is a huge aggregate lie, and a huge lie is less than a small truth. Humanity is less, far less than the individual, because the individual may sometimes be capable of truth, and humanity is a tree of lies. And they say that love is the greatest thing: they persist in saying this, the foul liars, and just look at what they do! . . . It’s a lie to say that love is the greatest. . . . What people want is hate—hate and nothing but hate. And in the name of righteousness and love they get it. . . . If we want hate, let us have it—death, murder, torture, violent destruction—let us have it: but not in the name of love. But I abhor humanity, I wish it was swept away. It could go, and there would be no absolute loss, if every human being perished tomorrow. . . .”

“So you’d like everybody in the world destroyed?” said Ursula. . . .

“Yes truly. You yourself, don’t you find it a beautiful clean thought, a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass, and a hare sitting up?”

The pleasant sincerity of his voice made Ursula pause to consider her own proposition. And it really was attractive: a clean, lovely, humanless world. It was the really desirable. Her heart hesitated and exulted. But still, she was dissatisfied with him.

If anything, in his own correspondence Lawrence goes further than Birkin. In a letter to his friend S. S. Koteliansky, dated September 4, 1916, while Lawrence was working on Women in Love, he declares:

I must say I hate mankind—talking of hatred, I have got a perfect androphobia. When I see people in the distance, walking along the path through the fields to Zennor, I want to crouch in the bushes and shoot them silently with invisible arrows of death. I think truly the only righteousness is the destruction of mankind, as in Sodom. . . . Oh, if one could but have a great box of insect powder, and shake it over them, in the heavens, and exterminate them. Only to clear and cleanse and purify the beautiful earth, and give room for some truth and pure living.

Where Women in Love is most interesting, however, is not in such outpourings of venom, but in Lawrence’s attempts to pinpoint why things have gone so disastrously wrong in the modern world. As have many other authors, Lawrence places a great deal of weight on the materialism and mechanism of industrialized modernity. Another, later, exchange between Birkin and Ursula is particularly revealing in this regard. The pair have just bought a chair at a flea market and Birkin states:

“When I see that clear, beautiful chair, and I think of England, even Jane Austen’s England—it had living thoughts to unfold even then, and pure happiness in unfolding them. And now, we can only fish among the rubbish-heaps for the remnants of their old expression. There is no production in us now, only sordid and foul mechanicalness.”

“It isn’t true,” cried Ursula, “Why must you always praise the past at the expense of the present? Really, I don’t think so much of Jane Austen’s England. It was materialistic enough, if you like—”

“It could afford to be materialistic,” said Birkin, “because it had the power to be something other—which we haven’t. We are materialistic because we haven’t the power to be anything else—try as we may, we can’t bring off anything but materialism: mechanism, the very soul of materialism.”

L1.jpgBut why did Jane Austen’s England have the power to be something else? And what else did it have the power to be? For the answers to these questions we must, in essence, look back to The Rainbow. Jane Austen’s England still preserved some connection to the land—a sense of belonging to nature. What England then had the “power to be” was nothing grand and idealistic: it had the power simply to be its natural self. The people of Jane Austen’s England made and enjoyed beautiful objects—but these objects were an ornament to a life lived in relative closeness to the earth.

In the industrialized world of 1916, however, objects are all that human beings have. The object of life itself becomes the production and acquisition of objects. This by itself cannot, of course, provide any sense of “meaning in life,” and to fill this void we have introduced idealism and given to our materialism a moral veneer: we are making Progress, alleviating hunger and disease and want, promoting equality, and in general perfecting ourselves and the world through the marriage of science and commerce.

Gerald Crich and the Mastery of Nature

In Women in Love the coupling of industrial materialism with idealism is personified by Birkin’s friend Gerald Crich, son of the local colliery owner. On the train together, the two men speak of the modern world: “So you really think things are very bad?” Gerald asks. “Completely bad,” Birkin responds. Throughout the novel, Gerald is drawn to Birkin, fascinated by the man and his notions—yet he is repelled by him at the same time, and frightened. He encourages Birkin to explain what he means, and Birkin obliges him:

“We are such dreary liars. Our idea is to lie to ourselves. We have an ideal of a perfect world, clean and straight and sufficient. So we cover the earth with foulness; life is a blotch of labour, like insects scurrying in filth, so that your collier can have a pianoforte in his parlour, and you can have a butler and a motor-car in your up-to-date house, and as a nation we can sport the Ritz, or the Empire, Gaby Deslys and the Sunday newspapers. It is very dreary.”

But Gerald responds that he thinks the pianoforte represents “a real desire for something higher” in the collier’s life.

“Higher!” cried Birkin. “Yes. Amazing heights of upright grandeur. It makes him so much higher in his neighboring collier’s eyes. He sees himself reflected in the neighboring opinion, like in a Brocken mist, several feet taller on the strength of the pianoforte, and he is satisfied. He lives for the sake of that Brocken spectre, the reflection of himself in the human opinion.”

Material things and the zeal for material things do not lift up the average man. They merely produce what Christopher Lasch aptly called “the culture of narcissism,” and what Wendell Berry has called a “consumptive culture.” One of the absurdities of modern life is the pretence that human beings who have been reduced to the level of mere consumers are somehow more “advanced” than their ancestors.

But aside from man the consumer, what of man the producer? After all, someone has to produce all those pianofortes. This is where men like Gerald come in. Birkin asks Gerald what he lives for. Gerald answers: “I suppose I live to work, to produce something, in so far as I am a purposive being. Apart from that, I live because I am living.” Ursula remarks to Gudrun that Gerald has “got go, anyhow” and Gudrun replies, “The unfortunate thing is, where does his go go to, what becomes of it?” Ursula suggests, jokingly, that it “goes in applying the latest appliances!” This remark, however, is truer than she supposes.

The most brilliantly-written chapter of Women in Love is “The Industrial Magnate,” in which Lawrence depicts Gerald’s mastery of the mine. Gerald spends the first few years of his adult life wandering aimlessly, but always in hearty, masculine fashion: living the wild life of a student, becoming a soldier, then an adventurer. Always with Gerald there was an overweening curiosity and a desire truly to master something—a desire which masks a real, inner feeling of helplessness and lostness. He finds his true calling in running the mine, for there he believes he has found the meaning of life:

Immediately he saw the firm, he realized what he could do. He had to fight with Matter, with the earth and the coal it enclosed. This was the sole idea, to turn upon the inanimate matter of the underground, and reduce it to his will. . . . There were two opposites, his will and the resistant Matter of the earth. . . . He had his life-work now, to extend over the earth a great and perfect system in which the will of man ran smooth and unthwarted timeless, a Godhead in process.

By writing “Matter” with a capital M, Lawrence underscores the fact that for Gerald the mine is important not in itself but for what it represents. Gerald sees himself not merely as a colliery owner, but as a titanic being: a participant in the long, historical process of man’s divinization through the conquest of nature, now coming to full consummation in the industrial age.

But where has he gotten such ideas? Lawrence tells us that Gerald “refused to go to Oxford, choosing a German university,” and that he “took hold of all kinds of sociological ideas, and ideas of reform.” It is plain that Gerald has been exposed to a great deal of German philosophy. In depicting Gerald’s outlook on life, Lawrence seems to be blending ideas and terminology from three German philosophers: Fichte, Hegel, and Nietzsche.

Fichte and the Mastery of Nature

Lawrence writes that through Gerald’s domination of his will (or his ideals) over Matter “there was perfection attained, the will of mankind was perfectly enacted; for was not mankind mystically contradistinguished against inanimate Matter, was not the history of mankind just the history of the conquest of the one by the other?” The philosophy this is closest to is that of Fichte, though Lawrence is probably thinking of Hegel.

Fichte believed, essentially, that an objective world—an other standing opposed to ego—existed merely as an instrument for the expression of human will. Nature, or what Lawrence here calls “Matter,” exists as something that must be overcome and transformed by human beings according to human ideals. In doing so, human beings realize themselves. All of human history for Fichte, indeed all of reality, is the unending imposition of the ideal on the real, or the transformation of material otherness into an image of human will.

Even though Fichte’s philosophy, at first glance, appears to be something novel, in fact in a sense it is (and was) nothing new at all: it is the underlying metaphysics of modernity laid bare. In the modern world, again, human beings essentially relate to nature as raw material that must be forced to fit human designs or interests—or at best as a mere background for human action. Further, time is conceived in linear fashion and history as a movement from darkness to light, from primitivism to progressivism.

The humanism of the Renaissance becomes, in the modern period, anthropocentrism. Man is a titanic being without any natural superior, whose vocation is to better the world and other men. It is pointless to ask when, exactly, these modern attitudes took hold. In part, they are an outgrowth of Christian monotheism, which taught the idea that the earth and all its contents has been given to man by God for his exclusive use.

Renaissance humanism, which was in many ways a kind of neo-pagan revolt against Christianity, celebrated the ideal of man as Magus, and as a kind of mini-God here on earth. In part, though these Renaissance ideas were bound up with the revival of Hermetic occultism, they paved the way for the scientific revolution represented by men such as Francis Bacon.

By that point in history, belief—real belief—in the God of monotheism was dying, at least among the intelligentsia, who veered more and more toward abstract conceptions of divinity which had little to do with human life. God, in other words, had become irrelevant and human beings found themselves alone in this world that had been given to them for their mastery, with nothing watching from above. It was only a matter of time before man would declare himself God, as Fichte virtually does.

Hegel’s Idealism

Hegel took over Fichte’s ideas and, among other things, amplified them with a theological interpretation. God, for Hegel, is pure self-related Idea which becomes real and concrete in the world through human self-awareness—a self-awareness achieved primarily through the analysis and mastery of nature, as well as through art, religion, and philosophy.

Although Hegel insisted that he had not meant to make man God, a great many of his followers and detractors saw that this is precisely what his philosophy had done. The “young Hegelian” Ludwig Feuerbach saw this and in his influential work The Essence of Christianity (1841) declared that God was, in fact, nothing but an ideal projection of human consciousness, a stand-in, in fact, for humanity itself.

The Hegelian (or, perhaps, young Hegelian) element in Gerald’s metaphysics comes in when Lawrence tells us that Gerald found his “eternal and his infinite” in the endless cycle of machine production. God, as Hegel learned from Aristotle, is an eternal act. The never-ending cycles of modern, industrial production—the apex of man’s mastery of nature—becomes, for Gerald, God incarnate: “the whole productive will of man was the Godhead.”

Nietzsche, Hegel, and the End of History

What seems Nietzschean here is simply the insistence on Will. In allowing himself to be used as an instrument of the “productive will of man” Gerald believes that he is aggrandizing his own personal power. However, as I noted earlier, in believing so Gerald is deceiving himself, and in the end “the God-motion, this productive repetition ad infinitum” simply burns him away in a cold fire. However, there is more to Gerald’s Nietzscheanism than this.

The relation of Nietzsche to Hegel is a complex one, but it can be boiled down in the following way. Hegel believed that in the modern period history had, in effect, ended. This assertion seems nonsensical if we make the mistake of confusing history with time. Of course, Hegel did not think time had stopped. He merely believed that the story of mankind had come to an end in the modern age, because it was in the modern, post-Christian age that mankind came to realize its true nature as radically self-determining (and other-determining, as well). With this realization of radical human freedom, and the realization that man actualizes God in the world, Hegel believed that essentially all the important questions and controversies of human history had been answered. The destiny of man was to live in more or less liberal societies, under more or less democratic states, and to practice more or less humanistic versions of Christianity. And in this condition mankind would continue to exist and prosper.

013019.jpgFor Nietzsche, on the other hand, the end of history meant the death of everything that ennobles the human race. Without anything to struggle over or to believe in so strongly that one would be willing to fight and die for it, humanity would sink to the level of what Nietzsche called the Last Man, Homo economicus: the man whose aspirations do not rise above material comfort, safety, and security. The only hope was the arrival of the Overman, who would create new values, new systems of belief, and initiate new conflicts among human beings. In short, the Overman would re-start history. Nietzsche’s writings, in their trenchant critique of all Western beliefs and values, can be seen as an attempt to actually hasten the collapse of the modern world and usher in the Overman.

Nietzsche’s Will to Power

Essentially, Gerald Crich represents the Nietzschean Overman—or at least someone who believes himself to be a Nietzschean Overman. Gerald, himself a “great blonde beast,” is riding the tiger by riding his employees, expressing his “will to power” through mastering the mines.  What Gerald doesn’t realize is that, in Nietzschean terms, he is merely, the instrument of will to power, expressing itself in the modern age as industrialism and mechanization. As Colin Milton has discussed at some length, this may actually indicate a confusion, or at least an inconsistency, in Lawrence’s understanding of Nietzsche.

Nietzsche is explicitly invoked in the novel when Ursula identifies Gerald with “Wille zur Macht.” The episode which prompts this comment from her is one of the most famous in the novel. In the chapter “Coal Dust,” Ursula and Gudrun go for a walk, but when they come to the railway crossing have to stop to wait for the colliery train to pass. As they stand there, Gerald Crich trots up riding a “red Arab mare.” The mare is frightened by the locomotive and moves away from it, but Gerald forces her back again and again, cutting into her flesh with his spurs. Ursula is horrified and cries “No—! No—! Let her go! Let her go, you fool, you fool—!” Gudrun, on the other hand, is fascinated by Gerald’s show of brute force over the mare and cries out only as he rides away, “I should think you’re proud.” As we shall see, Gudrun is Gerald’s counterpart, a portrait of the other, purely destructive side of modern will.

The episode with the mare is a good example of Lawrence’s sometimes obvious, but very effective symbolism. The mare represents nature—any and all natural beings—forced into submission before the designs and mechanisms of modernity. There is no other way to bring nature into accord with modern unnaturalism, other than by force and sheer bullying. And so later on Ursula refers to “Gerald Crich with his horse—a lust for bullying—a real Wille zur Macht—so base, so petty.”

In his essay “Blessed are the Powerful” Lawrence remarks, “A will-to-power seems to work out as bullying. And bullying is something despicable and detestable.” In short, in Women in Love Lawrence seems to understand Wille zur Macht as a kind a kind of egoistic self-aggrandizement. In fact, however, what Nietzsche teaches is the surrender to Wille zur Macht, as an impersonal force that expresses itself through us.

Interestingly, perhaps the clearest parallels to Gerald Crich’s philosophy of life, and Lawrence’s treatment of it, are two thinkers Lawrence knew nothing about when he wrote Women in Love: Oswald Spengler and Ernst Jünger, both of whom were strongly influenced by Nietzsche.

Spengler: Faustian Man and Technology

2235978055390419269357Pic.jpgSpengler’s major work Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West) was published in 1918, two years after Lawrence first began working on Women in Love. According to Spengler, “Faustian man” creates a human world of artifacts and schemes not out of any economic motivation but rather out of a sheer desire for mastery.

However, Spengler believed that in the modern world, at the very height of his technological prowess, Faustian man has begun to decline. In Mensche und Technik (Man and Technics, 1932) Spengler argued that technology had, in effect, taken on a life of its own. In building a technological world, humanity has been caught in the logic and the inevitable course of technology itself.

Technology rapidly becomes indispensable and human beings find themselves unable to do without it. Technological problems inevitably require technological solutions, and the sheer amount of gadgetry that the average human has to be conversant with grows exponentially. Technology comes to dominate the economy, so that most people find themselves not just being served by technology but working most of their lives for its advancement. In short, Faustian man, who had originally created the machines, now comes to be ruled by them.

Gerald certainly presents us with a vivid portrait of Spengler’s Faustian man. Lawrence does not explicitly make anything like Spengler’s argument concerning technology, but something like it lies beneath the surface of Women in Love and some of his other writings. Certainly Lawrence conveys the idea that Gerald foolishly believes himself to be master of the machines. Lawrence writes, “It was this inhuman principle in the mechanism he wanted to construct that inspired Gerald with an almost religious exaltation. He, the man, could interpose a perfect, changeless, godlike medium between himself and the Matter he had to subjugate.”

The medium Lawrence refers to is technology. “And Gerald was the God of the machine, Deus ex Machina.” In Man and Technics, Spengler writes: “To construct a world for himself, himself to be God—that was the Faustian inventor’s dream, from which henceforth arose all projects of the machines, which approached as closely as possible to the unachievable goal of perpetual motion.” Of course, what Gerald doesn’t realize is that he is Spengler’s Faustian man caught in the trap: servant of that which he had created.

Ernst Jünger and the Gestalt of the Worker

Ernst Jünger’s promethean, Nietzschean philosophy of technology comes uncannily close to Gerald’s own ideas. Jünger’s views were forged on the battlefields of World War I, at the very same time Lawrence was writing Women in Love. The war affected both men profoundly, but in profoundly different ways. As I have already mentioned, much of the misanthropy and apocalyptic quality of Women in Love is to be attributed to Lawrence’s horror of the war and what it had reduced men to. Jünger himself regarded the war as horrifying, and his memoir of his days as a soldier, In Stahlgewittern (The Storm of Steel, 1920), is as frightening and chastening an account of war as has ever been written. For Jünger, as for Lawrence (and, later, Heidegger) the war was essentially a technological phenomenon.

However, Jünger came to believe that technology—including the technology of war—was, in effect, a natural phenomenon: the product of some kind of primal, expressive force not unlike Schopenhauer’s Will or Nietzsche’s Will to Power. The very title In Stahlgewittern suggests this understanding of things. Michael E. Zimmerman writes in Heidegger’s Confrontation with Modernity:

On the field of battle, [Jünger] experienced himself at times as a cog in a gigantic technological movement. Yet, unexpectedly, by surrendering himself to this enormous process, he experienced an unparalleled personal elevation and intensity which he regarded as authentic individuation. Generalizing from this experience, he concluded that the best way for humanity to cope with the onslaught of technology was to embrace it wholeheartedly. (Zimmerman, 49)

In Der Arbeiter (The Worker, 1932) Jünger heralded the coming of what Zimmerman calls his “technological Overman.” The productive power underlying all of reality shall body itself forth in the “Gestalt of the worker,” who is essentially a steely-jawed soldier on perpetual march to the technological transformation and mastery of nature. Zimmerman writes how

Jünger asserted that in the nihilistic technological era, the ordinary worker either would learn to participate willingly as a mere cog in the technological order—or would perish. Only the higher types, the heroic worker-soldiers, would be capable of appreciating fully the world-creating, world-destroying technological-industrial firestorm. (Zimmerman, 54–55)

This passage rather uncannily brings to mind Lawrence’s description of the effect that Gerald’s managerial style has on his workers. This is a crucially important passage and I shall quote it at length:

But they submitted to it all. The joy went out of their lives, the hope seemed to perish as they became more and more mechanized. And yet they accepted the new conditions. They even got a further satisfaction out of them. At first they hated Gerald Crich, they swore to do something to him, to murder him. But as time went on, they accepted everything with some fatal satisfaction. Gerald was their high priest, he represented the religion they really felt. His father was forgotten already. There was a new world, a new order, strict, terrible, inhuman, but satisfying in its very destructiveness. The men were satisfied to belong to the great and wonderful machine, even whilst it destroyed them. It was what they wanted. It was the highest that man had produced, the most wonderful and superhuman. They were exalted by belonging to this great and superhuman system which was beyond feeling or reason, something really godlike. Their hearts died within them, but their souls were satisfied.

One can see here that Lawrence seems to accept the Spengler-Jünger thesis that there is an inexorable logic to the modern, technological society and that a fundamental change has come over humanity which makes it possible for men to become servants of the machine. The passage above continues, “It was what they wanted, Otherwise Gerald could never have done what he did.” Lawrence clearly believes that there is something inevitable about what human beings are becoming—but unlike Jünger he cannot embrace it. The Nietzschean-Jüngerian answer to modernity—to ride the tiger—is perhaps the best that one can do to harmonize oneself with the technological world and its apparent dehumanization. But Lawrence absolutely rejects it, and paints Gerald as a tragic, deluded figure. Why?  In answering this question, we confront Lawrence’s central objection to modernity.

History: Progressive of Cyclical?

women_in_love.jpgIn the deleted “Prologue” to Women In Love (which is interesting for a good many other reasons), Lawrence describes Birkin in the early days of his affair with Hermione as “a youth of twenty-one, holding forth against Nietzsche.” Yet when Lawrence introduces us to Birkin’s own views they seem strikingly Nietzschean. First, however, Lawrence describes how Birkin had studied education (and become a school inspector) under the influence of what seems unmistakably like a warmed-over Hegelianism:

He had made a passionate study of education, only to come, gradually, to the knowledge that education is nothing but the process of building up, gradually, a complete unit of consciousness. And each unit of consciousness is the living unit of that great social, religious, philosophic idea towards which mankind, like an organism seeking its final form, is laboriously growing.

But Birkin quickly becomes disillusioned with this vision, and responds to it in true Nietzschean fashion:

But if there be no great philosophic idea, if, for the time being, mankind, instead of going through a period of growth, is going through a corresponding process of decay and decomposition from some old, fulfilled, obsolete idea, then what is the good of educating? Decay and decomposition will take their own way. It is impossible to educate for this end, impossible to teach the world how to die away from its achieved, nullified form. The autumn must take place in every individual soul, as well as in all the people, all must die, individually and socially. But education is a process of striving to a new, unanimous being, a whole organic form. But when winter has set in, when the frosts are strangling the leaves off the trees and the birds are silent knots of darkness, how can there be a unanimous movement towards a whole summer of fluorescence? There can be none of this, only submission to the death of this nature, in the winter that has come upon mankind, and a cherishing of the unknown that is unknown for many a day yet, buds that may not open till a far off season comes, when the season of death has passed away.

What is Nietzschean here is Birkin’s conviction that he is living at the end of history—but, contra Hegel, it is a time of disintegration and decay. However, unlike Nietzsche and his followers (including Gerald), Lawrence and Birkin do not see any way to transmute this situation into something that becomes life-advancing. What Gerald cannot see, but Birkin and Lawrence clearly can, is that the submission of the miners to “the Gestalt of the worker” represents the first stage in the complete breakdown of the Western world. The same passage quoted earlier from “The Industrial Magnate” chapter continues:

[Gerald] was just ahead of [his workers] in giving them what they wanted, this participation in a great and perfect system that subjected life to pure mathematical principles. This was a sort of freedom, the sort they really wanted. It was the first great step in undoing, the first great phase of chaos, the substitution of the mechanical principle for the organic, the destruction of the organic purpose, the organic unity, and the subordination of every organic unit to the great mechanical purpose. It was pure organic disintegration and pure mechanical organisation. This is the first and finest state of chaos.

Submission to or mastery of the modern, technological world—whether that world represents an advance or a degeneration—is not the answer for Lawrence because he believes that true human fulfillment lies in submission to something higher, or perhaps deeper: the true unconscious. Gerald offers his miners a kind of “freedom,” but it is the illusory freedom of the mind and ego from the call of the natural self.

Essentially, for Lawrence, the modern world is characterized by the subordination of the organic to the mechanical; of the natural to the planned, automated, and “rational.” But in severing the tie to the organic and placing themselves in the service of the machine and the idea, human beings lose their fundamental being, and their sense of having a place in the cosmos.

The real problem with Nietzsche is that although he talks a great deal about the body and about “instincts,” everything for him is still, to borrow Lawrence’s language, “in the head.” In his Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche presents us with an attractive discussion of the healthy, “natural” morality of the master type, which values such things as health, strength, and beauty.

But Nietzsche’s own approach to morals amounts to a conscious and willful desire to relativize all values—to declare that there is no natural source, and no natural values. The Overman, in fact, gets to simply posit new values. This appears to be a purely intellectual, and largely arbitrary affair. The idea of “creating” values is psychologically implausible: how can anyone believe in, let alone fight for, values and ideals that they have consciously dreamed up?

The Impotent Übermensch

In his characterization of Gerald Crich, Lawrence gives us a realistic portrait of what would become of an “Overman” in real life. Keep in mind that it is Lawrence’s belief that when we abstract ourselves from the natural world, and from the promptings of the nature within us, we suffer and even, in a way, go mad. This is, in effect, what becomes of Gerald. In the concluding passages of the “Industrial Magnate” chapter Lawrence describes the psychological toll that mastery of Matter has taken on Gerald:

And once or twice lately, when he was alone in the evening and had nothing to do, he had suddenly stood up in terror, not knowing what he was. And he went to the mirror and looked long and closely at his own face, at his own eyes, seeking for something. He was afraid, in mortal dry fear, but he knew not what of. He looked at his own face. . . . He dared not touch it, for fear it should prove to be only a composition mask.

Inevitably, Gerald’s sense of dissociation displays itself in a sexual manner:

He had found his most satisfactory relief in women. . . . The devil of it was, it was so hard to keep up his interest in women nowadays. He didn’t care about them anymore. . . . No, women, in that sense, were useless to him any more. He felt that his mind needed acute stimulation, before he could be physically roused.

The clear suggestion is that Gerald is practically impotent. Like Clifford in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, whose impotence has a purely physical cause, Gerald is physically numb; he lives from the mind alone. Disconnected from his natural being, he no longer feels spontaneous, animal arousal for the opposite sex. He has become “re-wired,” so to speak, so that the route to the sexual center, in his case, is by way of the intellect; he can only become sexually aroused through his mind.

The irony here is that Gerald is portrayed throughout the novel as handsome, strong, and virile in both a physical and spiritual sense: he is a master of matter, and of women. In fact, however, both his physical and spiritual virility is mere appearance. He is master neither of himself nor of his world. Nor is he even master of his erection. On the other hand, Birkin, who is portrayed as physically weaker, is at least truly virile in a spiritual sense. This is the reason he manages to avoid becoming “absorbed” by Ursula.

lady_chatterley,1.jpgLawrence is famous for characterizing relations between the sexes as a battle, or, more accurately, a struggle unto death. In Women in Love, the two couples battle each other continuously, but most of the fighting is done by the women against the men. (The famous nude wrestling match between Gerald and Birkin is a purely honest, physical contest, whose only psychological undertones are homoerotic.)

Birkin compromises with Ursula in settling for love rather than something “higher.” But despite this he maintains his integrity and individuality. It is a difficult feat, and even at the novel’s end we see Ursula working to try and undermine his desire for another kind of love in his life: “Aren’t I enough for you?” she asks him.

Gerald, however, cannot pull it off. He lacks Birkin’s spiritual virility: his ability to maintain himself, inviolate, even in giving himself to a woman. Gurdrun’s onslaughts are much more destructive and insidious than Ursula’s, and in the end the “manly” Gerald is broken by them.

Gudrun Brangwen, the Modern Woman

Gerald Crich is only one half of Lawrence’s portrait of the “modern individual.” The other half is Gudrun Brangwen. Of course, Birkin and Ursula are modern individuals, though in a different sense. The latter couple are both seeking some fulfilling way to live in, or in spite of, the modern world. They (especially Birkin) have achieved some critical distance from it.

Gerald and Gudrun, however, are both creatures of modernity. Gerald has consciously embraced the modern rootless prometheanism; Gudrun unconsciously. Further, Gudrun is not simply a female version of Gerald. Her “modernity” consists in certain traits which complement those of Gerald. What complicates matters is that Ursula and Gudrun also represent, for Lawrence, the two halves of femininity, and not just modern femininity.

In the first chapter of the novel, Gudrun reacts with revulsion to one of the locals as she and Ursula walk through Beldover: “A sudden fierce anger swept over the girl, violent and murderous. She would have liked them all annihilated, cleared away, so that the world was left clear for her.” It is interesting to compare this with Birkin’s (and Lawrence’s) fantasies of annihilation. Birkin, the complete misanthrope, wants to wipe the earth clean of humanity, including himself, so that there is only “uninterrupted grass, and a hare sitting up.” In Gudrun’s fantasy, she is left sitting up and everyone else is wiped away.

This small detail gives us an important clue to Gudrun’s character, which is fundamentally egoistic. A thoroughgoing egoism is always nihilistic, for it wills that all limitation or opposition to the ego be cancelled. But even the mere existence of other human beings (or anything else, for that matter) constitutes a limitation on the ego.

Just as Lawrence does with Gerald, this “self-assertion” on Gudrun’s part is connected, by allusion, with Nietzsche. This time, however, the allusion is put into the mouth of the character herself in what seems on the surface like a purely innocent remark. Enjoying the snowy Tyrol, Gudrun exclaims, “Isn’t the snow wonderful! Do you notice how it exalts everything? It is simply marvellous. One really does feel übermenschlich—more than human.”

Like Gerald, Gudrun lives in a state of abstraction from the body and from nature. In sex she remains perfectly detached. Writing of the aftermath of Gudrun’s first sexual encounter with Gerald, Lawrence emphasizes again and again her full consciousness, while Gerald lays on top of her, asleep and satiated. He tells us “she lay fully conscious.” And: “Gudrun lay wide awake, destroyed into perfect consciousness.” And: “She was suspended in perfect consciousness—and of what was she conscious?” (He does not truly answer the question.)

Gudrun is revolted by the rhythms of nature and by natural objects—even though, ironically, it is small animals that she depicts in her sculpture (perhaps this is the only way she can encounter them, as things she molds and creates herself). Holding Winifred Crich’s pet rabbit Bismarck, who puts up quite a struggle, “Gudrun stood for a moment astounded by the thunderstorm that had sprung into being in her grip. Then her colour came up, a heavy rage came over her like a cloud. . . . Her heart was arrested with fury at the mindlessness and bestial stupidity of this struggle, her wrists were badly scored by the claws of the beast, a heavy cruelty welled up in her.”

The mechanical succession of day after day revolts her. Very early in the novel she confesses to Ursula, “I get no feeling whatever from the thought of bearing children.” She looks at Ursula, who is clearly flustered by this, with a “mask-like expressionless face.” When Ursula, intimidated by her sister, stammers out a reply, “A hardness came over Gudrun’s face. She did not want to be too definite.” This desire to remain indefinite is essential to Gudrun’s character.

In fact, the essence of Gudrun is nothingness. In the first chapter, Lawrence tells us “there was a terrible void, a lack, a deficiency of being within her.” In conversation with Gerald, Birkin describes her as a “restless bird,” and says that “She drops her art if anything else catches her. Her contrariness prevents her from taking it seriously—she must never be too serious, she feels she might give herself away. And she won’t give herself away—she’s always on the defensive. That’s what I can’t stand about her type.” Gudrun’s “type” is the modern individual who cannot stand to be tied to anything, who is in constant flux, wary of anything that would compel her to make a commitment, whether to a relationship or a career, or whatever. Plato in the Republic essentially winds up describing this modern type when he attempts to characterize the sort of character produced by a democracy:

“Then,” [said Socrates], “he also lives along day by day, gratifying the desire that occurs to him, at one time drinking and listening to the flute, at another downing water and reducing; now practicing gymnastic, and again idling and neglecting everything; and sometimes spending his time as though he were occupied with philosophy. Often he engages in politics and, jumping up, says and does whatever chances to come to him; and if he ever admires any soldiers, he turns in that direction; and if it’s money-makers, in that one. And there is neither order nor necessity in his life, but calling this life sweet, free, and blessed, he follows it throughout.”

“You have,” [said Adeimantus], “described exactly the life of a man attached to the law of equality.”

Near the end of the novel, Lawrence tells us of Gudrun:

Her tomorrow was perfectly vague before her. This was what gave her pleasure. . . . Anything might come to pass on the morrow. And to-day was the white, snowy iridescent threshold of all possibility. All possibility—that was the charm to her, the lovely, iridescent, indefinite charm—pure illusion. All possibility—because death was inevitable, and nothing was possible but death.

She did not want things to materialize, to take any definite shape. She wanted, suddenly, at one moment of the journey tomorrow, to be wafted into an utterly new course, by some utterly unforeseen event, or motion.

amant-de-lady-chatterley-1981-aff-01-g.jpgWhen Gudrun is asked the question wohin? (where to?) Lawrence tells us that “She never wanted it answered.”

The quintessential modern individual does not, in fact, want to be anything at all, for to be something definite would close off other possibilities. And so the modern individual is always oriented toward the future, which contains all possibilities, rather than toward the present. In this respect, Gudrun’s character perfectly complements Gerald’s. Gerald has completely abstracted himself from the present by regarding everything else as “Matter” to be transformed according to his will.

This is, again, what Heidegger tells us is the modern perspective on nature. Because everything is merely raw material to be made over into something else, nothing is ever regarded as possessing a fixed identity. The essence of everything, really, is to become something else, something better. The being of things is thus something projected into the future; something that will be revealed at a later date, through human ingenuity. The result of this treatment of things as raw material is that it produces individuals who live for the future: for what will be, and for what they will be. This is how “abstraction” from the present occurs. A key ingredient in this, of course, is a kind of radical subjectivism and anthropocentrism: the being of things is something that will be created by human beings.

The modern world is therefore a world of individuals who are, mentally, quite literally elsewhere. On the one hand they are disconnected from the nature world (which to them is essentially “stuff”) and from their own nature, which they erroneously believe is something they can decide on or even re-make. They are disconnected, in fact, from presentness in general.

At one point Lawrence reveals to us that Gudrun suffers from the nagging feeling that she is merely an “onlooker” in life whereas her sister is a “partaker.” Indeed she is an onlooker and this is the key to her weird “consciousness” in the sex act. Gerald is an onlooker too, hence the sense of unreality he experiences when looking at himself in the mirror. They are both creatures of the mind, of idealism, and of futurity.

And this is truly the heart of Lawrence’s critique of modernity: that we have lost touch with the sense of being a part of nature, and of being in our bodies, in present time. The ultimate result of such abstraction from nature, the body, and the present is the destruction of nature, of any possibility of inner peace and fulfillment, and of community.

Both Gerald and Gudrun are fundamentally destructive, nihilating individuals, but of the two Gudrun represents destruction in its purest form. Gerald destroys in order to transform and, as we saw earlier, he believes himself to be an agent of history and of social reform. (Or, at least, this is the moral veneer he paints over his activities.) With Gudrun, there is not such self-justification. Of course, ultimately Gerald’s transformation of Matter is perfectly destructive, and so one can plausibly claim that in a sense Gudrun is the more honest of the two, though she is not self-aware in her destructiveness.

Gudrun represents the inner truth of Gerald’s prometheanism laid bare. This point is conveyed through the structure of Lawrence’s novel itself. Gudrun is a presence throughout the entire book, but by the last few chapters the story becomes focused very much on her. And it is in the last few chapters that the pure nihilism of her character is brought to the fore. At the same time, Gerald, who had earlier been a relatively strong figure, is reduced to inefficacy and becomes almost a shadowy presence. His physical death comes, in way, as merely an outward expression of an internal death that had already taken place in his soul.

Gudrun and Loerke

What seems to immediately precipitate Gerald’s suicide is that Gudrun gives every indication of leaving him for an artist named Loerke who she has met in the Tyrol. Loerke, better than Gerald, personifies Jünger’s promethean modernism. Loerke is a sculptor who shares with Gudrun and Ursula his plans for a granite frieze for a huge factory in Cologne. Churches, he tells the two sisters are “museum stuff,” and since the world is now dominated by industry, not religion, art should come together with industry to make the modern factory into a new Parthenon:

“And do you think then,” said Gudrun, “that art should serve industry?”

“Art should interpret industry as art once interpreted religion,” he said. . . .

“But is there nothing but work—mechanical work?” said Gudrun.

“Nothing but work!” he repeated, leaning forward, his eyes two darknesses, with needle-points of light. “No, it is nothing but this, serving a machine, or enjoying the motion of a machine—motion, that is all. . . .”

Loerke exhibits the same destructive, modern will we find in Gerald and Gudrun, but come to full consciousness of itself. This is what attracts Gudrun to Loerke. She has realized that Gerald is weak—he possesses the destructive will, but cannot own up to it; he must hide it under his idealism. Loerke has embraced the Will to Power without illusion:

To Gudrun, there was in Loerke the rock bottom of all life. Everybody else had their illusion, must have their illusion, their before and after. But he, with a perfect stoicism, did without any before and after, dispensed with all illusion. He did not deceive himself in the last issue. In the last issue he cared about nothing, he was troubled about nothing, he made not the slightest attempt to be at one with anything. He existed a pure, unconnected will, stoical and momentaneous. There was only his work.

Birkin describes him a bit later as “a gnawing little negation, gnawing at the roots of life.” Loerke is completely detached from nature and from the body. His sexuality is indeterminate. Though he has a male lover, he is drawn to Ursula. But he tells her that it wouldn’t matter to him if she were one hundred years old: all that matters is her mind.

The Gudrun-Gerald relationship plays itself out, and reaches its tragic end, in the Alps. The choice of locations is significant. Attentive readers of Lawrence’s fiction will note that he tends to depict his characters as either “watery” or “fiery.” In Women in Love Birkin and Ursula are the fiery pair, contrasted to Gudrun and Gerald, who are watery. Gerald meets his end in the novel when he commits suicide by wandering off into the snow and freezing to death. For Lawrence, this act represents Gerald quite literally “returning to his element.” Though Gudrun and Ursula are bound together by blood, the deeper bond is between Gudrun and Gerald, and it is metaphysical. They are the two aspects of the modern soul: one productive without a purpose; the other destructive, nihilating.

Ursula’s Primacy

In a sense it is strange to argue as I did earlier that Women in Love represents the continuation of Ursula’s story. For one thing, the novel seems to focus more directly on the Birkin-Gerald relationship. Further, Gudrun is actually a more vivid character than Ursula. Nevertheless, I would still argue that Ursula is the central character. She is the most “natural” of any major character in the novel; the least in conflict with herself.

We are made to feel closer to Birkin, as he is transparently Lawrence’s self-portrait. But Birkin is “abstracted” from life in his own way. He berates Hermione for having everything in her head and lacking real sensuosity. Yet so much of Birkin is theory and talk. He wants some kind of total, transformative experience that would give him a real sense of being alive—yet he wants to hold onto his ego boundaries. He wants love, but then again he doesn’t. He wants to give himself to Ursula, but not totally. Admirers of Lawrence the man often miss the rather obvious flaws in Birkin’s character, and are thus oblivious to how Lawrence may have achieved a critical distance from Birkin (and from himself).

In the end, Birkin’s “problems” are in large measure solved by the oldest means in the world: the force of natural love, and the institution of marriage. Up to a point (but only up to a point) Birkin simply surrenders his abstract ideas about relationships—about finding something “more” than love—and surrenders to Ursula. Ursula knows from deep within herself, the falsity of Birkin’s ideals. Through her he comes to know what Lawrence would call “the sweetness of accomplished marriage.” There is only one part of him that remains unfulfilled. But that is a subject for another essay . . .

dimanche, 16 janvier 2011

D. H. Lawrence's Critique of Modernity

D. H. Lawrence’s Critique of Modernity,
Part 1


Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

d-h-lawrence.jpg1. The Genealogy of Modernity


The entire corpus of D. H. Lawrence’s writing is devoted to addressing the problem of life in the modern world, and his view of modernity was extraordinarily negative. Consider the following striking image Lawrence provides us with in his essay “The Novel and the Feelings”:

Supposing all horses were suddenly rendered masterless, what would they do? They would run wild. But supposing they were left still shut in their fields, paddocks, corrals, stables, what would they do? They would go insane. And that is precisely man’s predicament. He is tamed. There are no untamed to give the commands and the direction. Yet he is shut up within all his barbed wire fences. He can only go insane, degenerate.

According to Lawrence, we have created a human world for ourselves: a world of concrete and ideals, and have excluded nature. What does it mean to say that we have become “tamed”? It means that we have lost our wildness; our connection to the natural self, or the true unconscious. We have “corralled” ourselves; imprisoned ourselves in this tame, human, “ideal” world voluntarily. When Lawrence remarks that there are no “untamed to give the commands and the direction” he means that we have lost touch with the true unconscious, the untamed source within us, from which “natural man” draws his guidance. We can only go insane – in the sense that we lose our grip on reality, our orientation to the greater universe. We become degenerate through losing everything great in life, all aspiration, all spirit, and become instead Nietzsche’s “Last Man”: a creature whose concerns never rise above the level of comfort and security, and who lives from distraction to distraction, trying never to reflect upon the emptiness within him.

Though it all we reassure ourselves with the thought that “Progress” is being made. Lawrence offers the following amusing description of Modern Progress in Fantasia of the Unconscious:

“Onward, Christian soldiers, towards the great terminus where bottles of sterilized milk for the babies are delivered at the bedroom windows by noiseless aeroplanes each morn, where the science of dentistry is so perfect that teeth are implanted in a man’s mouth without his knowing it, where twilight sleep is so delicious that every woman longs for her next confinement, and where nobody ever has to do anything except turn a handle now and then in a spirit of universal love–” That is the forward direction of the English-speaking race.

Much of Lawrence’s critique of modernity is simply devoted to pointing out the folly of our devotion to abstract ideals. But Lawrence was not merely a gadfly – he was a (literary) revolutionary. He believed that the existing social order was not salvageable and that it would have to be utterly and completely destroyed:

It is no use trying merely to modify present forms. The whole great form of our era will have to go. And nothing will really send it down but the new shoots of life springing up and slowly bursting the foundations. And one can do nothing but fight tooth and nail to defend the new shoots of life from being crushed out, and let them grow. We can’t make life. We can but fight for the life that grows in us.

In order to fully understand Lawrence’s critique of modernity one must understand how he believes that modernity has come about. In a number of his works, Lawrence tries to work out a philosophy of history that would shed light on the mechanisms of historical change. In Movements in European History (1919) and elsewhere Lawrence develops a theory of history founded on a metaphysics derived from Empedocles. The twin principles that govern all of human life, and all human history are, according to Empedocles and Lawrence, Love and Strife. The forces are, respectively, attractive and repulsive. The first tends toward unity, the second toward disintegration or apartness. In the language Lawrence employs, the lives of human beings are governed by “sympathetic” and “voluntary” impulses, on both individual and global levels. In the modern West, due primarily to the influence of Christianity, there has been an overemphasis on the sympathetic, unitive, and “feminine” element. When an imbalance in the two forces occurs, whether in an individual psyche or in history, a swing to the other pole will occur. Thus, modern individuals have swung to the voluntary pole. Ironically, however, they have vented their aggressive willfulness through fanatical devotion to a secularized version of the ideals implicit in “sympathetic” Christianity: liberty, equality, fraternity, and, most pernicious of all, universal love.

In Apocalypse, much of which is devoted to a critique of Christian values, Lawrence refers to Lenin, Abraham Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson as “evil saints.” These are men who aimed to advance the “noble” ideals of modernity regardless of the cost in human lives. He tells us elsewhere that “What has ruined Europe, but especially northern Europe, is this very ‘pure idea.’ Would to God the ‘Ideal’ had never been invented. But now it’s got its claws in us, and we must struggle free. The beast we have to fight and to kill is the Ideal. It is the worm, the foul serpent of our epoch, in whose coils we are strangled.”

The secularization of Christian ideals, and their transformation into “isms” such as socialism, communism, liberalism, and multiculturalism is a manifestation of a deeper process, however. It is the process by which the intellect comes to usurp all else in the soul. The complex and often beautiful mythology of Judaism and Christianity, which operates on a visceral level, is replaced by the abstract ideologies of men like Hegel and Marx. This simply reflects the modern shift away from “mythopoetic thought” to a form of rationalism which seeks to do away with myth and to make everything explicit and transparent by means of “the concept.” Lawrence understands this cultural shift in actual physiological terms, as a shift from a life lived in contact with the “lower centers” of the body to one which operates exclusively from the “upper centers.” (He also understands the aforementioned “sympathetic” and “voluntary” forces as grounded in human physiology.)

Lawrence states in Fantasia, “We have almost poisoned the mass of humanity to death with understanding. The period of actual death and race-extermination is not far off.” Yet, underneath our intellectualism and devotion to ideals, in the deeper recesses of the body, nothing has changed. Lawrence writes, “What really torments civilized people is that they are full of feelings they know nothing about; they can’t realize them, they can’t fulfill them, they can’t live them.” These feelings may be sexual. They may be moral sentiments, such as archaic stirrings of the sense of honor. Or they may be religious: an inchoate yearning for the lost gods. Modern society gives us no one way to make sense out of many of these feelings, especially the religious ones. And others it positively condemns. Yet the feelings remain, and the feelings are very often—indeed, almost always—against the ideals. In our society, these feelings stir most strongly in children. But children are soon “put right” by an educational system that forces them, as Lawrence puts it, into “mental consciousness.” They are forced to suppress their heretical feelings, and are fed full of the Ideal.

We imagine that we live in a golden age of Progress, but Lawrence dismisses it as wholly false:

Everything is counterfeit: counterfeit complexion, counterfeit jewels, counterfeit elegance, counterfeit charm, counterfeit endearment, counterfeit passion, counterfeit culture, counterfeit love of Blake, or of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, or Picasso, or the latest film-star. Counterfeit sorrows and counterfeit delights, counterfeit woes and moans, counterfeit ecstasies, and, under all, a hard, hard realization that we live by money, and money alone: and a terrible luring fear of nervous collapse, collapse.

In the eyes of modern people, however, it is very often nature itself that seems counterfeit or, at least unreal. Lawrence believes that in modernity nature is essentially seen as raw material to be made over into the products of human design. This point was famously made by Heidegger in his essay “The Question Concerning Technology.” Heidegger argues that in the modern period, as a result of the advancement and proliferation of technology, the being of the natural world has revealed itself to humankind in a manner that is vastly different from how it revealed itself to our ancestors. It has become for us the “standing reserve” (Bestand). Heidegger writes:

The earth now reveals itself as a coal mining district, the soil as a mineral deposit. The field that the peasant formerly cultivated and set in order appears differently than it did when to set in order meant to take care of and to maintain. The work of the peasant does not challenge the soil of the field. In the sowing of the grain it places the seed in the keeping of the forces of growth and watches over its increase. But meanwhile [in the modern period] even the cultivation of the field has come under the grip of another kind of setting-in-order, which sets upon nature. It sets upon it in the sense of challenging it. Agriculture is now the mechanized food industry. Air is now set upon to yield nitrogen, the earth to yield ore, ore to yield uranium, for example; uranium is set upon to yield atomic energy, which can be released either for destruction or for peaceful use. (Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt [New York: Harper and Row], 14–15.)

In a similar vein Lawrence writes, “To the vast public, the autumn morning is only a sort of stage background against which they can display their own mechanical importance.” In his essay “Aristocracy,” Lawrence speaks in general of how modern man has lost the connection to nature, and of how we have lost the connection to “Amon, the great ram” in particular. “To you, he is mutton. Your wonderful perspicacity relates you to him just that far. But any farther, he is—well, wool.” (This promethean perspective on nature—the perspective that sees nature as “standing reserve”—is perfectly exemplified in the character of Gerald Crich in Lawrence’s greatest novel, Women in Love.)

Nature seems unreal to moderns because to them it is unfinished: it waits upon us to put our stamp upon it; to “make it into something.” Natural objects always therefore have the status of mere potentials: potentials for being made over, improved upon, or re-used or re-arranged in some fashion. At root, this is because the modern consciousness is radically future oriented. The past, for moderns, is something that has been gotten beyond, and is well lost. Only the future matters, and the future promises to carry on the march of progress; to be cleaner, faster, and smarter. Everything has its true being, therefore in the future. Everything—including ourselves—is always what it is going to be. The being of things is always promissory.

Modern people live in reaction against the past, and in anticipation of the future. What drops out is the present. Hence, the notorious inability of modern people to appreciate what is present at hand, or to recognize when enough is enough. Lawrence writes in an essay, “Why do modern people almost invariably ignore the things that are actually present to them?” He goes on to speak of an elderly tourist he encountered who left England “to find mountains, lakes, scythe-mowers, and cherry trees,” and asks “Why isn’t she content to be where she is?”

Lawrence’s answer to all of this will be unsurprising at this point. He wants us to somehow re-connect with those primal feelings and impulses that modernity requires us to suppress. The Fall of Man had nothing to do with sex; on the contrary God was on the side of sex. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit they became creatures of the “upper centres”; self-aware and self-conscious. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked” (Genesis 3:6). In Lawrence’s words, the Fall did not arise “till man felt himself apart, as an apart, fragmentary, unfinished thing.” Somewhere along the way, we reached a point where we came to see ourselves as on the earth, but not of it. At one point, Lawrence refers to modern people as “parasites on the body of earth.”

He writes in “A propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover,”

Oh, what a catastrophe for man when he cut himself off from the rhythm of the year, from his unison with the sun and the earth. . . . This is what is the matter with us. We are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the Tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.

But how exactly are we to go about connecting with our primal instincts, and to the earth? This is the central problem for Lawrence, and his writings explore different ideas about how to accomplish it. Of course, one approach might be purely negative or critical. It might consist in a ruthless critique of everything that is, and everything that we are, until we get to that within us which is “natural.” This is indeed one of Lawrence’s approaches, and I am exploring it in this essay. It consists, in essence, of a kind of emptying or burning away. It is the alchemical nigredo, in which some lowly stuff (in this case, us) is burned and purified; made ready for transformation into something of a higher or better sort. Lawrence’s approach to modernity is certainly destructive, but it is not purely destructive.

Lawrence reminds us of Nietzsche, going around philosophizing with a hammer. His attitude in Women in Love seems, at least on the surface, particularly Nietzschean (a point to which I shall return later). But Lawrence’s position seems to evolve over time into a version of the nostalgia Nietzsche rejected. It is a nostalgia for something like the consciousness of the “Master” type Nietzsche discussed in On The Genealogy of Morals. At times Lawrence seems clearly to yearn for a return to something like a pre-modern pagan mentality. This element in his makeup becomes more pronounced over time, culminating in his “Mexican” works, The Plumed Serpent (1926) and Mornings in Mexico (1927).

There is a major problem with such a position, however. Doesn’t our ability to understand and to critique our own history mean that we have advanced beyond the position of our ancestors? We might yearn to return to paganism, but we have lost pagan innocence. And the more we believe we have understood paganism, the further we are removed from the life of an actual pagan. In other words, Nietzsche was right. Yet the Nietzschean alternative, the literal creation of “new values” by an Overman is unnatural: it is yet another manifestation of the modern dislocation from the earth and from the body. The current values are dead all right, but Lawrence believes they were laid over top of our suppressed natural values, which must now be unearthed. But how? And how can we “go back” while preserving what we have gained in going forward, even if the going forward was into degeneration? I believe these questions get to the heart of Lawrence’s concerns about modernity, and finding an answer to it.

D. H. Lawrence’s Critique of Modernity,
Part 2

5041.jpgLawrence encountered the effects of modernity—especially the Industrial Revolution—directly in his native Midlands. He saw how if affected people, generally for the worse. Again and again he sets his stories against the backdrop of the collieries. He saw the miners become increasingly dehumanized. Working in the earth, they become cut off from it and from themselves. They lived, but they did not flourish. Lawrence’s remarks about the Industrial Revolution, capitalism, and the condition of the miners put him quite close to the thought of Marx and other socialist writers. In fact, it would not be at all unreasonable to claim Lawrence as a kind of socialist. However, as we shall see, few socialists would wish to do so!

Though The Rainbow can hardly be thought of as a novel about the Industrial Revolution, nevertheless that is its backdrop. The novel is the saga of several generations of an English family, the Brangwens, following them from the pre-industrial to the industrial age. A pastoral mood dominates throughout most of the work, and one feels a vivid sense of connection to nature and to place. Little of great significance really happens to the Brangwen family until one gets to the present day, and the story of Ursula Brangwen. Up to that point their lives are as cyclical and as repetitive as the seasons, but what we feel in reading about them is great peace, not boredom. As the narrative moves into the thick of the industrial age, it becomes populated with characters— Ursula among them—who have lost the sense of connection to the soil and to traditional culture that was the mainstay of their forebears’ existence. Ursula and her lover, Skrebensky, are lost souls, in search of some connection somewhere. Skrebensky betrays the search, and flees from Ursula. (Ursula continues it, though we must read the novel’s sequel, Women in Love, to see where it takes her.)

In his essay “Nottingham and the Mining Countryside,” Lawrence writes,

In my father’s generation, with the old wild England behind them, and the lack of education, the man was not beaten down. But in my generation, the boys I went to school with, colliers now, have all been beaten down, what with the din-din-dinning of Board Schools, books, cinemas, clergymen, the whole national and human consciousness hammering on the fact of material prosperity above all things.

How were these mean beaten down? Lawrence answers in the same essay that “the industrial problem arises from the base forcing of all human energy into a competition of mere acquisition.” Human concerns, in other words, are narrowed to economics.

It is unsurprising to see people concerned solely with making a living if they face starvation. But, for Lawrence, what is queer about modern Europeans—including the working classes—is that actual starvation is seldom a danger for any man, yet they behave as if it is. Indeed, he begins his lengthy philosophical essay “The Education of the People” with exactly this issue: “Curious that when the toothless old sphinx croaks ‘How are you going to get your living?’ our knees give way beneath us. . . . The fear of penury is very curious, in our age. In really poor ages men did not fear penury. They didn’t care. But we are abjectly terrified of it. Why?” Whoever has wits (and guts), Lawrence points out, doesn’t starve, nor does he care about starving. But today the only thing that seems to really move people is a threat to their safety and security. We are all, it seems, Nietzsche’s Last Man.

Lawrence’s analysis of what has “beaten down” modern working men places him close to Karl Marx. Clearly, Lawrence believes that modern workers exist in the condition Marx referred to as “wage slavery.” Under capitalism, it becomes less and less feasible to be self-sustaining or self-employed and workers must sell their labor to bosses, who pay the workers only a fraction of the profit produced by their hard work. Although workers are de jure free to leave their jobs, they are de facto enslaved because the same conditions of economic exploitation will be found on the next job, and the next. In his essay “Is England Still a Man’s Country?” Lawrence writes “The insuperable difficulty to modern man is economic bondage. Slavery!” Lawrence would probably also have found Marx’s theory of “alienation” under capitalism quite congenial. (That theory is to be found in the so-called “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts” of 1844, which were not published until 1932.)  Lawrence would probably have agreed with Marx’s idea that capitalist relations of production alienate us from our “species being” by making it nearly impossible for us to realize ourselves and find fulfillment through work.

We know that Lawrence went through a period in his youth when he certainly thought of his himself as a socialist. In 1905, Lawrence met Alice Dax, a socialist and early feminist. Dax introduced him to a circle of socialist thinkers active in the Midlands, and also to her book collection, which included works by authors like John Ruskin, William Morris, and Edward Carpenter. Later, of course, Lawrence would make the acquaintance of an even more eminent group of “progressive” thinkers, including Bertrand Russell. On February 12, 1915 Lawrence wrote to Russell:

We must provide another standard than the pecuniary standard, to measure all daily life by. We must be free of the economic question. Economic life must be the means to actual life. . . . There must be a revolution in the state. . . . The land, the industries, the means of communication and the public amusements shall all be nationalized. Every man shall have his wage till the day of his death, whether he work or not, so long as he works when he is fit. Every woman shall have her wage till the day of her death, whether she works or not, so long as she works when she is fit—keeps her house or rears her children.

Then, and only then, shall we be able to begin living.

Throughout his career, Lawrence would again and again toy with the sort of thing he proposes here: a political solution to the problem of modernity. Ultimately, as we shall see, he came to completely reject the final assertion quoted above: that only when the right political action has been taken can we “begin living.” Ultimately, Lawrence realized that politics is not the answer; that the hope lies in the very personal quest of private individuals. (But more on this later.)

Lawrence’s “socialism” was always of the utopian variety, never the “scientific” sort advanced by Marxists. In so far as there are affinities with Marx’s thought, they are affinities—as I have already pointed out—with the early, “humanistic” Marx, not the Marx of Das Kapital. In addition, Lawrence eventually came to combine socialist ideas with a form of elitism, and an emphasis on ties to blood and soil. This, as many others have pointed out, puts him closer to fascism and national socialism than to Marx or to the left-wing progressives of Alice Dax’s circle. (However, Lawrence’s occasional flashes of Luddism and his vigorous critique of modern science distance him from both the Communists and the Nazis.)

Lawrence agrees with the Marxists in deploring the perniciousness of class warfare under capitalism. However, he rejects the Marxist (and, for that matter, national socialist) ideal of the “classless society.” For Lawrence, the problem with modern, industrial civilization is not that it has classes, but that the classes have lost the ability to relate to each other in a healthy way. In “A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover” he writes, “Class-hate and class-consciousness are only a sign that the old togetherness, the old blood-warmth has collapsed, and every man is really aware of himself in apartness. Then we have these hostile groupings of men for the sake of opposition, strife. Civil strife becomes a necessary condition of self-assertion.” For Lawrence, true community depends upon shared blood ties, shared history, and closeness to the soil. In traditional, aristocratic societies relations between the classes were never so bad as they are under capitalism, for all individuals felt a kinship for one another based on an intuition of ethnic and cultural ties. But in the modern period, our awareness of these ties has been destroyed by what Lawrence calls in the same essay “individualism,” by which he means something like “atomization.” People have lost the common tie to the earth; they have forgotten their history and their folk culture. They exist in a state of apartness and mutual distrust. Industrialization and wage slavery have exacerbated this condition, pitting the new classes of bosses and workers, bourgeoisie and proletariat, against each other. The irresponsible exploitation of the earth, and of human beings, by business is only possible because these ties have been broken. This breakdown was furthered by industrialization and capitalism, but the deeper cause is what we have seen Lawrence denouncing as “idealism”: the tendency to live according to mental conceptions, ideals, and grand designs, rather than according to our “natural” and intuitive blood-consciousness, and blood-warmth.

In a late essay, “Men Must Work and Women as Well,” Lawrence writes,

Now we see the trend of our civilization, in terms of human feeing and human relation. It is, and there is no denying it, towards a greater and greater abstraction from the physical, towards a further and further physical separateness between men and women, and between individual and individual. . . . Recoil, recoil, recoil. Revulsion, revulsion, revulsion. Repulsion, repulsion, repulsion. This is the rhythm that underlies our social activity, everywhere, with regard to physical existence.

Lawrence rejects the ideal of the classless society, but he also rejects class division as it has been hitherto established in history. And he rejects traditional, hereditary aristocracy in favor of a quasi-Nietzschean “aristocracy of the spirit.” However, like much else in his social thought, Lawrence leaves it completely vague how such an aristocracy could be established and maintained. He certainly objects to the plight of the proletarians, but unlike the Marxists he does not romanticize them. In fact, Lawrence argues that in modern society virtually everyone has become “proletarian,” or proletarianized. In John Thomas and Lady Jane (the second of three versions of the novel that would become Lady Chatterley’s Lover) Connie Chatterley hears the following from the musician Archie Blood:

The proletariat is a state of mind, it’s not really a class at all. You’re proletarian when you are cold like a crab, greedy like a crab, lustful with the rickety egoism of a crab, and shambling like a crab. The people in this house are all proletarian. The Duchess of Toadstool is an arch proletarian. . . . The proletarian haves against the proletarian have-nots will destroy the human world entirely.

In other words, capitalism has turned us all into people whose lives revolve around work and money, through which we hope to gain greater security and greater buying power. When not working, we engage in various forms of mindless indulgence. It is the sort of life which (via the character of “Walter Morel”) he depicts his father living in Sons and Lovers: a day spent in the pit, followed by an evening getting drunk and stumbling home.

Essentially, the aim of communism is to do precisely what capitalism has already accomplished in a much more sinister way: to make everyone proletarian. The communists just sought to erase the distinction between the proletarian haves and have-nots. And this brings us back to Heidegger. One of Heidegger’s more notorious claims was that capitalist and communist societies were “metaphysically identical.” In Introduction to Metaphysics Heidegger states, “Europe lies in the pincers between Russia and America, which are metaphysically the same, namely in regard to their world-character and their relation to the spirit.” Both are fundamentally materialist in their orientation: in both social systems human concerns do not rise, and are not supposed to rise, above the level of material comfort and security. Both deny the higher needs of the human spirit: communism explicitly, capitalism implicitly (and far more insidiously). In his essay “Democracy” Lawrence speaks of how in modern, democratic societies the “Average Man” is exalted above all: “Please keep out all Spiritual and Mystical needs. They have nothing to do with the average.”

Early in life, Lawrence had half-idealized the “working men” (or the miners, at least) as more in touch with their chthonic, primal feelings. Lawrence came to realize that this was an illusion. In “Democracy” he asserts that the working men are “even more grossly abstracted” from the physical. But why? Here we encounter an aspect of Lawrence’s socialism that situates him far away from Marx, but close to William Morris and the socialists of the “arts and crafts movement.” The working man is abstracted from the physical because he has been beaten down by ugliness.

Now though perhaps nobody knew it, it was ugliness which really betrayed the spirit of man, in the nineteenth century. The great crime which the moneyed classes and promoters of industry committed in the palmy Victorian days was the condemning of the workers to ugliness, ugliness, ugliness: meanness and formless and ugly surroundings, ugly ideals, ugly religion, ugly hope, ugly love, ugly clothes, ugly furniture, ugly houses, ugly relationship between workers and employers. The human soul needs actual beauty even more than bread.

How does one square this thesis about the debilitating effects of ugliness with Lawrence’s claim that it is “idealism” that is the culprit here, “beating down” the working man and everyone else? The two claims are not mutually exclusive. Ugliness is a consequence of idealism: where the Ideal is all important, “aesthetic concerns” will be denigrated. This was very obviously a feature of communist societies such as the Soviet Union, where Lenin explicitly declared such concerns “momentary interests.” Westerners living in capitalist societies were always quick to point out the ugly, utilitarian quality of Soviet life—while being generally blind to it in their own countries. The typical American capitalist attitude is that unless something makes a profit it is valueless. What good is beauty, poetry, or good food—unless they can be sold on a mass scale? Since human life cannot be entirely free of these things, capitalism finds an indirect way of justifying them. The sight of beauty “relaxes” us. Reading poetry “lowers the heart rate.” Good food is a “reward for a hard day’s work.” In short, the fine and noble is not beautiful and useless at all—because it can make better, healthier, longer-lived workers of us! But the claim that the fine and noble could have any intrinsic value apart from its relation to work simply doesn’t get a hearing.

American education reflects this prejudice and students follow along like good proletarians in training, objecting to “useless” classes on literature, history, and art. All of this may make it seem like the capitalist attitude is not idealistic at all but cynically “practical.” This is not the case, however, for the ugliness and barrenness of life under capitalism is seen as part of the march of Progress. Like a disciple of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Lawrence suggests that beauty is the key to solving the “industrial problem”:

If they had made big, substantial houses, in apartments of five or six rooms, and with handsome entrances. If above all, they had encouraged song and dancing—for the miners still sang and danced—and provided handsome space for these. If only they had encouraged some form of beauty in dress, some form of beauty in interior life—furniture, decoration. If they had given prizes for the handsomest chair or table, the loveliest scarf, the most charming room that men or women could make! If only they had done this, there would never have been an industrial problem. The industrial problem arises from the base forcing of all human energy into a competition of mere acquisition.

In the essay “Red Trousers” he playfully suggests that “If a dozen men would stroll down the Strand and Piccadilly tomorrow, wearing tight scarlet trousers fitting the leg, gay little orange-brown jackets and bright green hats, then the revolution against dullness which we need so much would have begun.”

Of course, such suggestions may seem highly romantic, and unrealistic, but there is nevertheless a great deal that is right about them. The essays from which the above two quotes were taken were written in the period 1928–1930. They reflect the fact that Lawrence never entirely gave up on his early “utopian socialist” sentiments. He simply became a good deal wiser about the prospects for translating them into reality. His early naïveté is perfectly reflected in the finale of The Rainbow, in which Ursula Brangwen looks down upon the ugliness of the mining countryside, only to see a rainbow rising above it: “She saw in the rainbow the earth’s new architecture, the old, brittle corruption of houses and factories swept away, the world built up in a living fabric of Truth, fitting to the over-arching heaven.” The First World War destroyed Lawrence’s naïve hopes that the modern world might be cleansed and redeemed, at least through some kind of social reform. His next novel, Women in Love, would be a complete repudiation of the optimism with which The Rainbow ends. My next essay will be devoted to an analysis of Women in Love as anti-modern novel.

vendredi, 17 décembre 2010

D. H. Lawrence on Men & Women

D. H. Lawrence on Men & Women


Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

1. Love and Strife

Lawrence.jpgIn a 1913 letter D. H. Lawrence writes that “it is the problem of to-day, the establishment of a new relation, or the readjustment of the old one, between men and women.” Lawrence’s views about relations between the sexes, and about sex differences are perhaps his most controversial – and they have frequently been misrepresented. But before we delve into those views, let us ask why it should be the case that establishing a new relation between men and women is “the problem of to-day.” The reason is fairly obvious. The species divides itself into male and female, reproduces itself thereby, and the overwhelming majority of human beings seek their fulfillment in a relationship to the opposite sex. If relations between the sexes have somehow been crippled—as Lawrence believes they have been—then this is a catastrophe. It is hard to imagine a greater, more pressing problem.

Lawrence came to relations with women bearing serious doubts about his own manhood, and with the conviction that his nature was fundamentally androgynous. Throughout his life, but especially as a boy, it was easier for him to relate to women and to form close bonds with them. Thus, when Lawrence discusses the nature of woman he draws not only upon his experiences with women, but also upon his understanding of his own nature. One of the questions we must examine is whether, in doing so, Lawrence was led astray. After all, Lawrence eventually came to repudiate the idea of any sort of fundamental androgyny and to claim that men and women are radically different. In Fantasia of the Unconscious he writes, “We are all wrong when we say there is no vital difference between the sexes.” Lawrence wrote this in 1921 intending it to be provocative, but it is surely much more controversial in today’s world, where it has become a dogma in some circles to insist that sex differences (now called “gender differences”) are “socially constructed.” Lawrence continues: “There is every difference. Every bit, every cell in a boy is male, every cell is female in a woman, and must remain so. Women can never feel or know as men do. And in the reverse, men can never feel and know, dynamically, as women do.”

Lawrence saw relations between the sexes as essentially a war. He tells us in his essay “Love” that all love between men and women is “dual, a love which is the motion of melting, fusing together into oneness, and a love which is the intense, frictional, and sensual gratification of being burnt down, burnt into separate clarity of being, unthinkable otherness and separateness.” The love between men and women is a fusing—or a will to fusing—but one that never fully takes place because the relation is also fundamentally frictional. Again and again Lawrence emphasizes the idea that men and women are metaphysically different. In other words, they have different, and even opposed ways of being in the world. They are not just anatomically different; they have different ways of thinking and feeling, and achieve satisfaction and fulfillment in life through different means.

Lawrence’s view of the difference between the sexes can be fruitfully compared to the Chinese theory of yin and yang.  These concepts are of great antiquity, but the way in which they are generally understood today is the product of an ambitious intellectual synthesis that took place under the early Han dynasty (207 B.C.–9 A.D.). According to this philosophy, the universe is shot through with an ultimate principle or power known as the Tao. However, the Tao divides itself into two opposing principles, yin and yang. These oppose yet complement each other. Yang manifests itself in maleness, hardness, harshness, dominance, heat, light, and the sun, amongst other things. Yin manifests itself in femaleness, softness, gentleness, yielding, cold, darkness, the moon, etc.

Contrary to the impression these lists might give, however, yang is not regarded as “superior” to yin; hardness is not superior to softness, nor is dominance superior to yielding. Each requires the other and cannot exist without the other. In certain situations a yang approach or condition is to be preferred, in others a yin approach. On occasion, yang may predominate to the point where it becomes harmful, and it must be counterbalanced by yin, or vice versa. (These principles are of central importance, for example, in traditional Chinese medicine.) The Tao Te Ching, a work written by a man chiefly for men extols the virtues of yin, and continually advises one to choose yin ways over yang. Lao-Tzu tells us over and over that it is “best to be like water,” that “those who control, fail. Those who grasp, lose,” and that “soft and weak overcome stiff and strong.”

Like the Taoists, Lawrence regards maleness and femaleness as opposed, yet complementary. It is not the case that the male, or the male way of being, is superior to the female, or vice versa. In a sense the sexes are equal, yet equality does not mean sameness. The error of male chauvinism is in thinking that one way, the male way, is superior; that dominance and hardness are just “obviously” superior to their opposites.

Yet the same error is committed by some who call themselves feminists. Tacitly, they assume that the male or yang characteristics are superior, and enjoin women to seek fulfillment in life through cultivating those traits in themselves. To those who might wonder whether such a program is possible, to say nothing of desirable, the theory of the “social construction of gender” is today being offered as support. According to this view, the only inherent differences between men and women are anatomical, and all of the intellectual, emotional, and behavioral characteristics attributed to the sexes throughout history have actually been the product of culture and environment. (And so “yin and yang,” according to this view, is really a rather naïve philosophy which confuses nurture with nature.) Clearly, Lawrence would reject this theory. In doing so, he is on very solid ground.

It would, of course, be foolish not to recognize that some “masculine” and “feminine” traits are culturally conditioned. An obvious example would be the prevailing view in American culture that a truly “masculine” man is unable, without the help of women or gay men, to color-coordinate his wardrobe. However, when one sees certain traits in men and women displaying themselves consistently in all cultures and throughout all of human history it makes sense to speak of masculine and feminine natures. It is plausible to argue that a trait is culturally conditioned only if it shows up in some cultures but not in others. Unfortunately, the “social construction of gender” thesis has achieved the status of a dogma in academic circles. And, in truth, ultimately it has to be asserted as dogma since believing in it requires that we ignore the evidence of human history, profound philosophies such as Taoism, and most of the scientific research into sex differences that has taken place over the last one hundred years.

I said earlier that Lawrence believes men and women to be “metaphysically different,” and in his essay “A Study of Thomas Hardy” he does indeed write as if he believes they actually see the world with a different metaphysics in mind:

It were a male conception to see God with a manifold Being, even though He be One God. For man is ever keenly aware of the multiplicity of things, and their diversity. But woman, issuing from the other end of infinity, coming forth as the flesh, manifest in sensation, is obsessed by the oneness of things, the One Being, undifferentiated. Man, on the other hand, coming forth as the desire to single out one thing from another, to reduce each thing to its intrinsic self by process of elimination, cannot but be possessed by the infinite diversity and contrariety in life, by a passionate sense of isolation, and a poignant yearning to be at one.

So, men seek or are preoccupied with multiplicity, and women with unity. What are we to make of such a bizarre claim? First of all, it seems to run counter to the Greek tradition, especially that of the Pythagoreans, which tended to identify the One with the masculine, and the Many with the feminine. However, if one looks to Empedocles, a pre-Socratic philosopher Lawrence was particularly keen on, one finds a different story. Empedocles posits two fundamental forces which are responsible for all change in the universe: Love and Strife. Love, at the purely physical level, is a force of attraction. It draws things together, and without the intervention of Strife it would result in a monistic universe in which only one being existed. Strife breaks up and divides. It is a force of repulsion and separation. Now, Empedocles seems to identify Love with Aphrodite, and we may infer, though he does not say so, that Strife is Ares. In other words, he identifies his two forces with the archetypal female and male. This can offer us a clue as to what Lawrence is up to.

In Lawrence’s view, it is the female who wants to draw things, especially people, together. It is the female who yearns to heal divisions, to break down barriers. “Coming forth as the flesh, manifest in sensation” she seeks to overcome separateness through feeling, primarily through love. In the family situation, it is the female who tries to unite and overcome discord through love, whereas it is the male, typically, who frustrates this through the insistence on rules and distinctions. The ideal of universal love and an end to strife and division is fundamentally feminine—one which men, throughout history, have continually frustrated. It is characteristic of men to make war, and characteristic of women, no matter what cause or principle is involved, to object and to call for peace and unity.

Now the male, as Lawrence puts it, suffers from a sense of isolation, and a “yearning to be one.” He yearns for oneness, in fact, as the male yearns for the female. Yet his entire being disposes him to see the world in terms of its distinctness, and, indeed, to make a world rife with distinctions. Lawrence implies that polytheism is a “male” religion, and monotheism a “female” one. It is easy to see the logic involved in this. Polytheism sees the divine being that permeates the world as many because the world is itself many. Further, societies with polytheistic religions have always been keenly aware of ethnic and social differences, differences within the society (as in the Indian caste system), and between societies. Monotheism, on the other hand, tends toward universalism. Christianity especially, however it has actually been practiced, declares all men equal in the sight of God and calls for peace and unity in the world. (Lawrence, as we shall see later on, does indeed regard Christianity as a “feminine” religion, and blames it, in part, for feminizing Western men.)

This fundamental, metaphysical difference has the consequence that men and women do, in a real sense, live in different worlds. But perhaps such a formulation reflects a male bias towards differentiation. It is equally correct to say, in a more “feminine” formulation, that it is the same world seen in two, complementary ways. Indeed, it may be the case that it is difficult to see, from a male perspective, how the two sexes and their different ways of thinking and perceiving can achieve a rapprochement. Lawrence believes, of course, that they can live together, and that their opposite tendencies can be harmonized. In this way he is like Heraclitus, Lawrence’s favorite pre-Socratic, when he says “what is opposed brings together; the finest harmony is composed of things at variance, and everything comes to be in accordance with strife.” Heraclitus also tells us that “They do not understand how, though at variance with itself, it [the Logos] agrees with itself. It is a backwards-turning attunement like that of the bow and lyre.” In order to make a lyre or a bow, the two opposite ends of a piece of wood must be bent towards each other, never meeting, but held in tension. Their tension and opposition makes possible beautiful music, in the case of the lyre, and the propulsion of an arrow, in the case of the bow. Both involve a harmony through opposition.

In a 1923 newspaper interview Lawrence is quoted as saying “If men were left to themselves, they would rush off . . . into destruction. But women keep life back at its own center. They pull the men back. Women have enormous passive strength, the strength of inertia.” Here Lawrence uses an image he was very fond of: women are at the center, the hub. This is because they are closer to “the source” than men are.

womeninlove.jpgIn Fantasia of the Unconscious, Lawrence tells us “The blood-consciousness and the blood-passion is the very source and origin of us. Not that we can stay at the source. Nor even make a goal of the source, as Freud does. The business of living is to travel away from the source. But you must start every single day fresh from the source. You must rise every day afresh out of the dark sea of the blood.” Lawrence believes that men yearn for purposive, creative activity, which involves moving away from the source. However, the energy and inspiration for purposive activity is drawn from the source, and so there is a complementary movement back towards it.

In The Rainbow, Lawrence describes how Tom Brangwen, besotted with his wife, seems to lose himself in a sensual obsession with her, and with knowing her sexually. But gradually,

Brangwen began to find himself free to attend to the outside life as well. His intimate life was so violently active, that it set another man in him free. And this new man turned with interest to public life, to see what part he could take in it. This would give him scope for new activity, activity of a kind for which he was now created and released. He wanted to be unanimous with the whole of purposive mankind.

Sex is one means of contacting the source. Men contact the source through women. This does not mean, of course, that blood-consciousness is in women but not in men. Rather, it means that in most men the blood-consciousness in them is “activated” primarily through their relationship to women. Second, in women blood-consciousness is more dominant than it is in men. Women are more intuitive than men; they operate more on the basis of feeling than intellect. It should not be necessary to point out that whereas such an observation might, in another author, be taken as a denigration of women, in Lawrence it is actually high praise. Women are also much more in tune with their bodies and bodily cycles than men are. Men tend to see their bodies as adversaries that must be whipped into shape.

When Lawrence continually tells us that we must find a way to reawaken the blood-consciousness in us, he is writing primarily for men. Women are already there—or, at least, they can get there with less effort. There is an old adage: “Women are, but men must become.” To be feminine is a constant state that a woman has as her birthright. Masculinity, on the other hand, is something men must achieve and prove. Rousseau in Emile states “The male is male only at certain moments, the female is female all of her life, or at least all her youth.” We exhort boys to “be a man,” but never does one hear girls told to “be a woman.” One can compliment a man simply by saying “he’s a man,” whereas “she’s a woman” seems mere statement of fact. The psychological difference between masculinity and femininity mirrors the biological fact that all fetuses begin as female; something must happen to them in order to make them male. It also articulates what is behind the strange conviction many men have had, including many great poets and artists, that woman is somehow the keeper of life’s mysteries; the one closest to the well-spring of nature.

In “A Study of Thomas Hardy,” Lawrence states that “in a man’s life, the female is the swivel and centre on which he turns closely, producing his movement.” Goethe tells us “Das ewig Weiblich zieht uns hinan” (“The Eternal Feminine draws us onwards”). The female, the male’s source of the source, stands at the center of his life. The woman as personification of the life mystery entices him to come together with her, and through their coupling the life mystery perpetuates itself. But he is not, ultimately, satisfied by this coupling. He goes forth into the world, his body renewed by his contact with the woman, but full of desire to know this mystery more adequately, and to be its vehicle through creative expression.

Without a woman, a man feels unmoored and ungrounded, for without a woman he has no center in his life. A man—a heterosexual man—can never feel fulfilled and can never reach his full potential without a woman to whom he can turn. As to homosexual men, it is a well-known fact that many cultivate in themselves characteristics that have been traditionally usually associated with woman: refined taste in clothing and decoration, cooking, gardening, etc. What these characteristics have in common is connectedness to the pleasures of the moment, and to the rhythms and necessities of life. Men are normally purpose-driven and future-oriented. They tend to overlook those aspects of life that please, but lack any greater purpose other than pleasing. They tend, therefore, to be somewhat insensitive to their surroundings, to color, to texture, to odor, to taste. They tend, in short, to be so focused upon doing, that they miss out on being. Heterosexual men look to women to ground them, and to provide these ingredients to life—ingredients which, in truth, make life livable. Homosexual men must make a woman within themselves, in order to be grounded. (This does not mean, however, that they must become effeminate – see my review essay of Jack Donovan’s Androphilia for more details.)

Homosexual men are, of course, the exception not the rule. Lawrence writes, of the typical man, “Let a man walk alone on the face of the earth, and he feels himself like a loose speck blown at random. Let him have a woman to whom he belongs, and he will feel as though he had a wall to back up against; even though the woman be mentally a fool.” And what of the woman? What does she desire? Lawrence tells us that “the vital desire of every woman is that she shall be clasped as axle to the hub of the man, that his motion shall portray her motionlessness, convey her static being into movement, complete and radiating out into infinity, starting from her stable eternality, and reaching eternity again, after having covered the whole of time.” Man is the “doer,” the actor, whereas woman need do nothing. Just by being woman she becomes the center of a man’s universe.

The dark side of this, in Lawrence’s view, is a tendency in women towards possessiveness, and towards wanting to make themselves not just the center of a man’s life but his sole concern. In Women in Love, Lawrence’s describes at length Rupert Birkin’s process of wrestling with this aspect of femininity:

But it seemed to him, woman was always so horrible and clutching, she had such a lust for possession, a greed of self-importance in love. She wanted to have, to own, to control, to be dominant. Everything must be referred back to her, to Woman, the Great Mother of everything, out of whom proceeded everything and to whom everything must finally be rendered up.

Birkin sees these qualities in Ursula, with whom he is in love. “She too was the awful, arrogant queen of life, as if she were a queen bee on whom all the rest depended.” He feels she wants, in a way, to worship him, but “to worship him as a woman worships her own infant, with a worship of perfect possession.”

Woman’s possessiveness is understandable given that the man is necessary to her well-being: she is only happy if she is center to the orbit and activity of some man. Again, for Lawrence, such a claim does not denigrate women, for he has already as much as said that a man is nothing without a woman. Nevertheless, some will see in this view of men and woman a sexism that places the man above the woman. From Lawrence’s perspective, this is illusory. It is true that the man is “doer,” but his perpetual need to act and to do stands in stark contrast to the woman, who need do nothing in order be who she is. It is true, further, that men’s ambition has given them power in the world, but it is a power that is nothing compared to that of the woman, who exercises her power without having to do anything. She reigns, without ruling. The man does what he does, but must return to the woman, and is “like a loose speck blown at random without her” – and he knows this. Much of misogyny may have to do with this. From the man’s perspective, the woman is all-powerful, and the source of her power a mystery.

Many modern feminists, however, conceive of power in an entirely male way, as the active power of doing. Lawrence recognized that in trying to cultivate this male power within themselves, women do not rise in the estimation of most men. Instead they are diminished, for men’s respect for and fascination with women springs entirely from the fact that unlike themselves women do not have to chase after an ideal of who they ought to be; they do not have to get caught up in the rat race in order to respect themselves. They can simply be; they can live, and take joy just in living.

One can make a rough distinction between two types of feminism. The most familiar type is what one might call the “woman on the street feminism,” which one encounters from average, working women, and which they imbibe from television, films, and magazines. This feminism essentially has as its aim claiming for women all that which formerly had been the province of men—including not only traditionally male jobs, but even male ways of speaking, moving, dressing, bonding, exercising, and displaying sexual interest. Ironically, this form of feminism is at root a form of masculinism, which makes traditionally masculine traits the hallmarks of the “liberated” or self-actualized human being.

The other type of feminism is usually to be found only in academia, though not all academic feminists subscribe to it. It insists that women have their own ways of thinking, feeling, and relating to others. Feminist philosophers have written of woman’s “ways of knowing” as distinct from men’s, and have even put forward the idea that women approach ethical decision-making in a markedly different way. It is this form of feminism to which Lawrence is closest. Lawrence’s writings are concerned with liberating both men and women from the tyranny of a modern civilization which cuts them off from their true natures. Liberation for modern women cannot mean becoming like modern men, for modern men are living in a condition of spiritual (as well as wage) slavery. In an essay on feminism, Wendell Berry writes

It is easy enough to see why women came to object to the role of [the comic strip character] Blondie, a mostly decorative custodian of a degraded, consumptive modern household, preoccupied with clothes, shopping, gossip, and outwitting her husband. But are we to assume that one may fittingly cease to be Blondie by becoming Dagwood? Is the life of a corporate underling—even acknowledging that corporate underlings are well paid—an acceptable end to our quest for human dignity and worth? . . . How, I am asking, can women improve themselves by submitting to the same specialization, degradation, trivialization, and tyrannization of work that men have submitted to? [Wendell Berry, “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine,” in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. Norman Wirzba (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2002), 69–70.]

I will return to this issue later.

Having now characterized, in broad strokes, Lawrence’s views on the differences between men and woman, I now turn to a more detailed discussion of each.

2. The Nature of Man

As we have seen, Lawrence believes that men (most men) need to have a woman in their lives. Their relationship to a woman serves to ground their lives, and to provide the man not only with a respite from the woes of the world, but with energy and inspiration. However, this is not the same thing as saying that the man makes the woman, or his relationship to her, the purpose of his life. In Fantasia of the Unconscious Lawrence writes, “When he makes the sexual consummation the supreme consummation, even in his secret soul, he falls into the beginnings of despair. When he makes woman, or the woman and child, the great centre of life and of life-significance, he falls into the beginnings of despair.” This is because Lawrence believes that true satisfaction for men can come only from some form of creative, purposive activity outside the family.

women1.jpgHaving a woman is therefore a necessary but not a sufficient condition for male happiness. In addition to a woman, he must have a purpose. Women, on the other hand, do not require a purpose beyond the home and the family in order to be happy. This is another of those claims that will rankle some, so let us consider two important points about what Lawrence has said. First, he is speaking of what he believes the typical woman is like, just as he is speaking of the typical man. There are at least a few exceptions to just about every generalization. Second, we must ask an absolutely crucial question of those who regard such claims as demeaning women: why is being occupied with home and family lesser than having a purpose (e.g., a career) outside the home? The argument could be made—and I think Lawrence would be sympathetic to this—that the traditional female role of making a home and raising children is just as important and possibly more important than the male activities pursued outside the home. Again, much of contemporary feminism sees things from a typically male point of view, and denigrates women who choose motherhood rather than one of the many meaningless, ulcer-producing careers that have long been the province of men.

Lawrence writes, “Primarily and supremely man is always the pioneer of life, adventuring onward into the unknown, alone with his own temerarious, dauntless soul. Woman for him exists only in the twilight, by the camp fire, when day has departed. Evening and the night are hers.” Lawrence’s male bias creeps in here a bit, as he romanticizes the “dauntless” male soul. Men and women always believe, in their heart of hearts, that their ways are superior. Nevertheless, Lawrence is not here relegating women to an inferior position. Half of life is spent in the evening and night. Day belongs to the man, night to the woman. It is a division of labor. Lawrence is drawing here, as he frequently does, on traditional mythological themes: the man is solar, the woman lunar.

Lawrence characterizes the man’s pioneering activity as follows: “It is the desire of the human male to build a world: not ‘to build a world for you, dear’; but to build up out of his own self and his own belief and his own effort something wonderful. Not merely something useful. Something wonderful.” In other words, the man’s primary purpose is not having or doing any of the “practical” things that a wife and a family require. And when he acts on a larger scale—Lawrence gives building the Panama Canal as an example—it is not with the end in mind of making a world in which wives and babes can be more comfortable and secure (“a world for you, dear”). He seeks to make his mark on the world; to bring something glorious into existence. And so men create culture: games, religions, rituals, dances, artworks, poetry, music, and philosophy. Wars are fought, ultimately, for the same reason. It is probably true, as is often asserted, that every war has some kind of economic motivation. However, it is probably also true to assert that in the case of just about every actual war there was another, more cost-effective alternative. Men make war for the same reason they climb mountains, jump out of airplanes, race cars, and run with the bulls: for the challenge, and the fame and glory and exhilaration that goes with meeting the challenge. It is an aspect of male psychology that most women find baffling, and even contemptible.

Now, curiously, Lawrence refers to this “impractical,” purposive motive of the male as an “essentially religious or creative motive.” What can he mean by this? Specifically, why does he characterize it as a religious motive?

It is religious because it involves the pursuit of something that is beyond the ordinary and the familiar. It is a leap into the unknown. The man has to follow what Lawrence frequently calls the “Holy Ghost” within himself and to try to make something within the world. He yearns always for the yet-to-be, the yet-to-be-realized, and always has his eye on the future, on what is in process of coming to be. Yet there seems to be, at least on the surface, a strange inconsistency in Lawrence’s characterization of the man’s motive as religious. After all, for Lawrence the life mystery, the source of being is religious object—and women are closer to this source. Man is entranced by woman, and with her he helps to propagate this power in the world through sex, but his sense of “purpose” causes him to move away from the source. So why isn’t it the woman whose “motives” are religious, and the man who is, in effect, irreligious?

The answer is that religion is not being at the source: it is directedness toward the source. Religion is possible only because of a lack or an absence in the human soul. Religion is ultimately a desire to put oneself at-one with the source. But this is possible only if one is not, originally or most of the time, at one with it. In a way, the woman is not fundamentally religious because she is the goddess, the source herself. The sexual longing of the man for the woman, and his utter inability ever to fully satisfy his desire and to resolve the mystery that is woman, are a kind of small-scale allegory for man’s large-scale, religious relationship to the source of being itself. He is, as I have said, renewed by his relations with women and, for a time, satisfied. But then he goes forth into the world with a desire for something, something. He creates, and when he does he is acting to exalt the life mystery (religion and art), to understand it (philosophy and science), or to further it (invention and production).

Lawrence speaks of how a man must put his wife “under the spell of his fulfilled decision.” Woman, who rules over the night, draws man to her and they become one through sex. Man, who rules the day, draws woman into his purpose, his aim in life, and through this they become one in another fashion. The man’s purpose does not become the woman’s purpose. He pursues this alone. But if the woman simply believes in him and what he aims to do, she becomes a tremendous source of support for the man, and she gives herself a reason for being. The man needs the woman as center, as hub of his life, and the woman needs to play this role for some man. Without a mate, though a man may set all sorts of purposes before him, ultimately they seem meaningless. He feels a sense of hollow emptiness, and drifts into despair. He lets his appearance go, and lives in squalor. He may become an alcoholic and a misogynist. He dies much sooner than his married friends, often by his own hand. As to the woman, without a man who has set himself some purpose that she can believe in, she assumes the male role and tries to find fulfillment through some kind of busy activity in the world. But as she pursues this, she feels increasingly bitter and hard, and a terrific rage begins to seethe beneath her placid surface. She becomes a troublemaker and a prude. Increasingly angry at men, she makes a virtue of necessity and declares herself emancipated from them. She collects pets.

In Studies in Classic American Literature Lawrence writes:

As a matter of fact, unless a woman is held, by man, safe within the bounds of belief, she becomes inevitably a destructive force. She can’t help herself. A woman is almost always vulnerable to pity. She can’t bear to see anything physically hurt. But let a woman loose from the bounds and restraints of man’s fierce belief, in his gods and in himself, and she becomes a gentle devil.

If a woman is to be the hub in the life a man, and derive satisfaction from that, everything depends on the spirit of the man. A few lines later in the same text Lawrence states, “Unless a man believes in himself and his gods, genuinely: unless he fiercely obeys his own Holy Ghost; his woman will destroy him. Woman is the nemesis of doubting man.” In order for the woman to believe in a man, the man must believe in himself and his purpose. If he is filled with self-doubt, the woman will doubt him. If he lacks the strength to command himself, he cannot command her respect and devotion. And the trouble with modern men is that they are filled with self-doubt and lack the courage of their convictions.

Lawrence, following Nietzsche, in part blames Christianity for weakening modern, Western men. Men are potent—sexually and otherwise—to the extent they are in tune with the life force. But Christianity has “spiritualized” men. It has filled their heads with hatred of the body, and of strength, instinct, and vitality. It has infected them with what Lawrence calls the “love ideal,” which demands, counter to every natural impulse, that men love everyone and regard everyone as their equal.

Frequently in his fiction Lawrence depicts relationships in which the woman has turned against the man because he is, in effect, spiritually emasculated. The most dramatic and symbolically obvious example of this is the relationship of Clifford and Connie  in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Clifford returns from the First World War paralyzed from the waist down. But like the malady of the Grail King in Wolfram’s Parzival, this is only (literarily speaking) an outward, physical expression of an inward, psychic emasculation. Clifford is far too sensible a man to allow himself to be overcome by any great passion, so the loss of his sexual powers is not so dear. He has a keen, cynical wit and believes that he has seen through passion and found it not as great a thing as poets say that it is. It is his spiritual condition that drives Connie away from him, not so much his physical one. And so she wanders into the game preserve on their estate (representing the small space of “wildness” that still can rise up within civilization) and into the arms of Mellors, the gamekeeper. Their subsequent relationship becomes a hot, corporeal refutation of Clifford’s philosophy.

In Women in Love, Gerald Crich, the industrial magnate, is destroyed by Gudrun essentially because he does not believe in himself. Outwardly, he is “the God of the machine.” But his mastery of the material world is meaningless busywork, and he knows it. Gudrun is drawn to him because of this outward appearance of power, but when she finds that it is an illusion she hates him, and ultimately drives him to his death. For Lawrence, this is an allegory of the modern relationship between the sexes. Men today are masters of the material universe as they have never been before, but inside they are anxious and empty. The reason is that these “materialists” are profoundly afraid of and hostile to matter and nature, especially their own. Their intellect and “will to power” has cut them off from the life force and they are, in their deepest selves, impotent. The women know this, and scorn them.

In The Rainbow, Winifred Inger is Ursula’s teacher (with whom she has a brief affair), and an early feminist. She tells Ursula at one point,

The men will do no more,–they have lost the capacity for doing. . . .  They fuss and talk, but they are really inane. They make everything fit into an old, inert idea. Love is a dead idea to them. They don’t come to one and love one, they come to an idea, and they say “You are my idea,” so they embrace themselves. As if I were any man’s idea! As if I exist because a man has an idea of me! As if I will be betrayed by him, lend him my body as an instrument for his idea, to be a mere apparatus of his dead theory. But they are too fussy to be able to act; they are all impotent, they can’t take a woman. They come to their own idea every time, and take that. They are like serpents trying to swallow themselves because they are hungry.”

In Fantasia of the Unconscious Lawrence writes, “If man will never accept his own ultimate being, his final aloneness, and his last responsibility for life, then he must expect woman to dash from disaster to disaster, rootless and uncontrolled.”

It is important to understand here that the issue is not one of power. Lawrence’s point not that men must dominate or control their wives. In fact, in a late essay entitled “Matriarchy” (originally published as “If Women Were Supreme”) Lawrence actually advocates rule by women, at least in the home, because he believes it would liberate men. He assumes the truth of the claim—now in disrepute—that early man had lived in matriarchal societies and writes, “the men seem to have been lively sorts, hunting and dancing and fighting, while the woman did the drudgery and minded the brats. . . . A woman deserves to possess her own children and have them called by her name. As to the household furniture and the bit of money in the bank, it seems naturally hers.” The man, in such a situation, is not the slave of the woman because the man is “first and foremost an active, religious member of the tribe.” The man’s real life is not in the household, but in creative activity, and religious activity:

The real life of the man is not spent in his own little home, daddy in the bosom of the family, wheeling the perambulator on Sundays. His life is passed mainly in the khiva, the great underground religious meeting-house where only the males assemble, where the sacred practices of the tribe are carried on; then also he is away hunting, or performing the sacred rites on the mountains, or he works in the fields.

Men, Lawrence tells us, have social and religious needs which can only be satisfied apart from women. The disaster of modern marriage is that men not only think they have to rule the roost, but they accept the woman’s insistence that he have no needs or desires that cannot be satisfied through his relationship to her. He becomes master of his household, and slave to it at the same time:

Now [man’s] activity is all of the domestic order and all his thought goes to proving that nothing matters except that birth shall continue and woman shall rock in the nest of this globe like a bird who covers her eggs in some tall tree. Man is the fetcher, the carrier, the sacrifice, and the reborn of woman. . . . Instead of being assertive and rather insentient, he becomes wavering and sensitive. He begins to have as many feelings—nay, more than a woman. His heroism is all in altruistic endurance. He worships pity and tenderness and weakness, even in himself. In short, he takes on very largely the original role of woman.

Ironically, in accepting such a situation without a fight, he only earns the woman’s contempt: “Almost invariably a [modern] married woman, as she passes the age of thirty, conceives a dislike, or a contempt, of her husband, or a pity which is near to contempt. Particularly if he is a good husband, a true modern.”

3. The Nature of Woman

In Fantasia of the Unconscious Lawrence writes, “Women will never understand the depth of the spirit of purpose in man, his deeper spirit. And man will never understand the sacredness of feeling to woman. Each will play at the other’s game, but they will remain apart.” But what is meant by “feeling” here? Lawrence is referring again to his belief that women live, to a greater extent than men, from the primal self. In the case of most men today, “mind-consciousness” and reason are dominant—to the point where they are frequently detached from “blood-consciousness” and feeling.

In describing the nature of woman Lawrence once again draws on perennial symbols: “Woman is really polarized downwards, towards the centre of the earth. Her deep positivity is in the downward flow, the moon-pull.” The sun represents man, and the moon woman. Day belongs to him, and night to her. However, another set of mythic images associates the earth with woman and the sky with man. The “pull” in women is towards the earth, and this means several things. First, the earth is the source of chthonic powers, and so, as poetic metaphor, it represents the primal, pre-mental, animal aspect in human beings. In a literal sense, however, Lawrence believes that women are more in tune than men with chthonic powers: with the rhythms of nature and the cycle of seasons. Further, the “downward flow” refers to Lawrence’s belief that the lower “centres” of the body are, in a sense, more primitive, more instinctual than the upper, and that women tend to live and act from these centers more than men do. Lawrence writes, “Her deepest consciousness is in the loins and belly. . . . The great flow of female consciousness is downwards, down to the weight of the loins and round the circuit of the feet.”

Finally, to be “polarized downwards, towards the centre of the earth” means to have one’s life, one’s vital being fixed in reference to a central point. If Lawrence intends us to assume that man is polarized upwards then we may ask, toward what? If woman is oriented towards the center of the earth, then–following the logic of the mythic categories–is man oriented toward the center of the sky? But the sky has no center. Man is less fixed than woman; he is a wanderer. He is a hunter, a seeker, a pioneer, an adventurer. Woman, on the other hand, lives from the axis of the world. Mircea Eliade writes that “the religious man sought to live as near as possible to the Center of the World.” Woman is at the center. Man begins there, then goes off. He returns again and again, the phallic power in him rising in response to the chthonic power of the woman. And his religious response is an ongoing effort to bring his daytime self into line with the life force he experiences when in the arms of the woman.

Woman, Lawrence tells us, “is a flow, a river of life,” and this flow is fundamentally different from the man’s river. However, “The woman is like an idol, or a marionette, always forced to play one role or another: sweetheart, mistress, wife, mother.” The mind of the male is built to analyze and categorize. But the nature of woman, like the nature of nature itself, defies categorization. Even before Bacon, man’s response to nature was to force it to yield up its secrets, to bend it to the human will, or to see it only within the narrow parameters of whatever theory was fashionable at the moment. The male mind attempts to do this to woman as well–and the woman, to a great extent, cooperates. She fits herself into the roles expected of her by authority figures, whether it is dutiful daughter-sister-wife-mother, or dutiful feminist and career-woman.

Lawrence writes, “The real trouble about women is that they must always go on trying to adapt themselves to men’s theories of women, as they always have done.” Two opposing wills exist in women, Lawrence believes: a will to conform or to submit, and a will to reject all boundaries and be free. In Women in Love, Birkin compares women to horses:

“And of course,” he said to Gerald, “horses haven’t got a complete will, like human beings. A horse has no one will. Every horse, strictly, has two wills. With one will, it wants to put itself in the human power completely—and with the other, it wants to be free, wild. The two wills sometimes lock—you know that, if ever you’ve felt a horse bolt, while you’ve been driving it. . . . And woman is the same as horses: two wills act in opposition inside her. With one will, she wants to subject herself utterly. With the other she wants to bolt, and pitch her rider to perdition.”

Ursula, who is present at this exchange, laughs and responds “Then I’m a bolter.” The trouble is that she is not.

Lawrence’s fiction is filled with vivid portrayals of women (arguably much more vivid and well-drawn than his portrayals of men). The central characters in several of his novels are women (The Rainbow, The Lost Girl, The Plumed Serpent, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover). All of Lawrence’s major female characters exhibit these two wills, but frequently he presents pairs of women each of whom represents one of the wills. This is the case in Women in Love. Ultimately, in Ursula’s character the will to surrender emerges as dominant. In her sister Gudrun the will to be free and wild dominates, with tragic results. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Connie Chatterley exhibits the will to surrender, and her sister Hilda the will to be free. The two lesbians in Lawrence’s novella The Fox are cut from the same cloth. Similar pairs of women also crop up in Lawrence’s short stories. In each case, one woman learns the joys of submitting, not to a man but to the earth, to nature, to the life mystery within her. The man is a means to this, however. The best example of this in Lawrence’s fiction is probably Connie Chatterley’s journey to awakening. In John Thomas and Lady Jane, an earlier version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence has Connie speak of the significance of her lover and of his penis: “I know it was the penis which really put the evening stars into my inside self. I used to look at the evening star, and think how lovely and wonderful it was. But now it’s in me as well as outside me, and I need hardly look at it. I am it. I don’t care what you say, it was penis gave it me.” As to the other woman in Lawrence’s fiction, she tends to be horrified by the primal self in her, and its call to surrender. She lives from the ego. She rages against anything in her nature that is unchosen, and against anything else that would hem her in, especially any man. She views herself as “realistic” and hardheaded, but the general impression she gives is of being hardhearted and sterile.

In his portrayals of the latter type of woman, Lawrence is partly depicting what he believes to be a perennial aspect of the female character, and partly depicting what he regards as the quintessential “modern” woman. It is in the nature of woman to counterbalance the will to submit with an opposing will that “bolts,” and kicks against all that which limits her, including her own nature. Lawrence believes that modern womanhood and all the problems of women today arise from the over-development of that will to freedom.

A “will to freedom” sounds like a good thing, so it is important to realize that essentially what Lawrence means by this is a negative will which tries either to control, or to destroy all that which it cannot control. Lawrence’s critique of modernity is a major topic in itself, but suffice it say that he believes that in the modern period a disavowal of the primal self takes place on a mass, cultural scale. The seeds of this disavowal were sown by Christianity, and reaped by modern scientism, which becomes the avowed enemy of the religion that helped foster it. Individuals live their lives from the standpoint of ego and mental-consciousness, and distrust the blood-consciousness. The negative will in women seizes upon reason and ego-dominance as a means to free herself from the influence of her dark, chthonic self, and from the influence of the men that this dark, chthonic self draws her to. The will to negate, using the mind as its tool, thus becomes the path to “liberation.”

Lawrence writes in Apocalypse:

Today, the best part of womanhood is wrapped tight and tense in the folds of the Logos, she is bodiless, abstract, and driven by a self-determination terrible to behold. A strange ‘spiritual’ creature is woman today, driven on and on by the evil demon of the old Logos, never for a moment allowed to escape and be herself.

And in an essay he writes, “Woman is truly less free today than ever she has been since time began, in the womanly sense of freedom.” This is, of course, exactly the opposite of what is asserted by most pundits today, when they speak of the progress made by woman in the modern era. Why does Lawrence believe that woman is now so unfree? The answer is implied in the quotation from Apocalypse: she is not allowed to be herself.

In Studies in Classic American Literature Lawrence tells us

Men are not free when they are doing just what they like. The moment you can do just what you like, there is nothing you care about doing. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes.

And there is getting down to the deepest self! It takes some diving.

Because the deepest self is way down, and the conscious self is an obstinate monkey. But of one thing we may be sure. If one wants to be free, one has to give up the illusion of doing what one likes, and seek what IT wishes done.

aaron'srod.jpgWhat Lawrence says here is applicable to both men and women. “To be oneself” in the true sense means to answer to the call of the deepest self. We can only achieve our “fullness of being” if we do so. The mind invents all manner of goals and projects and ideals to be pursued, but ultimately all that we do produces only frustration and emptiness if we act in a way that does not fundamentally satisfy the needs of our deepest, pre-mental, bodily nature.

Lawrence writes further in Apocalypse: “The evil Logos says she must be ‘significant,’ she must ‘make something worth while’ of her life. So on and on she goes, making something worth while, piling up the evil forms of our civilization higher and higher, and never for a second escaping to be wrapped in the brilliant fluid folds of the new green dragon.” Earlier in the same text, Lawrence tells us that “The long green dragon with which we are so familiar on Chinese things is the dragon in his good aspect of life-bringer, life-giver, life-maker, vivifier.” In short, the “green dragon” represents the life force, the source of all, the Pan power. Lawrence is saying that modern woman, in search of something “significant” to do with her life, falls in with all the corrupt (largely, money-driven) pursuits that have brought men nothing but ulcers, emptiness, and early death. “All our present life-forms are evil,” he writes. “But with a persistence that would be angelic if it were not devilish woman insists on the best in life, by which she means the best of our evil life-forms, unable to realize that the best of evil life-forms are the most evil.” Like men, she loses touch with the natural both within herself and in the world surrounding her. Lawrence’s dragon symbolizes both of these: primal nature as such, and the primal nature within me. It is this dragon which Lawrence seeks to awake in himself, and in his readers. The tragedy of modern woman is that she has renounced the dragon, whereas she would be better off being devoured by it.

In John Thomas and Lady Jane Lawrence also links the ideal of fulfilled womanhood to the dragon. Following Connie Chatterley’s musings on the meaning of the phallus (which I quoted earlier), Lawrence writes:

The only thing which had taken her quite away from fear, if only for a night, was the strange gallant phallus looking round in its odd bright godhead, and now the arm of flesh around her, the socket of the hand against her breast, the slow, sleeping thud of the man’s heart against her body. It was all one thing—the mysterious phallic godhead. Now she knew that the worst had happened. This dragon had enfolded her, and its folds were pure gentleness and safety.

Make no mistake, Lawrence believes that women can adopt the ways of men; he believes that they can succeed at traditionally male work. But he believes that they do this at great cost to themselves. “Of all things, the most fatal to a woman is to have an aim,” Lawrence tells us. In general, he believes that the ultimate aim of life is simply living, and that we set a trap for ourselves when we declare that some goal or some ideal shall be the end of life, and believe that this will make life “meaningful.” This applies to men, but even more so to women. Why? Because, again, women are so much closer to the source that men tend to regard women as the life force embodied (“Mother Nature”). For a woman to live for something other than living is to pervert her nature, and her gift. Again, Lawrence’s position is not that a woman is incapable of doing the work of a man, but ultimately she will find it deadening: “The moment woman has got man’s ideals and tricks drilled into her, the moment she is competent in the manly world—there’s an end of it. She’s had enough. She’s had more than enough. She hates the thing she has embraced.”

In our age, many women who have forgone marriage and children in order to pursue a career are discovering this. The body has its own needs and ends, and the organism as a whole cannot flourish and achieve satisfaction unless these needs and ends are satisfied. With some exceptions, women who have chosen not to have children regret it, and suffer in other ways as well (for example, they are at higher risk for developing ovarian cancer than women who have given birth). The same goes for men, many of whom spend a great many “productive” years without feeling a need to reproduce–then are suddenly hit by that need and launch themselves on a frantic, sometimes worldwide search for a suitable mate able to father them a child. Lawrence wrote the following, prophetic words in one of his final essays:

It is all an attitude, and one day the attitude will become a weird cramp, a pain, and then it will collapse. And when it has collapsed, and she looks at the eggs she has laid, votes, or miles of typewriting, years of business efficiency—suddenly, because she is a hen and not a cock, all she has done will turn into pure nothingness to her. Suddenly it all falls out of relation to her basic henny self, and she realizes she has lost her life. The lovely henny surety, the hensureness which is the real bliss of every female, has been denied her: she had never had it. Having lived her life with such utmost strenuousness and cocksureness, she has missed her life altogether. Nothingness!

This quote suggests that Lawrence believes that the woman, the hen, ruins herself by taking up the ways appropriate and natural for the cock – but this is not exactly what he means. In Lawrence’s view, the modern ways of the cock are destroying the cock as well, but they are doubly bad for the hen. What’s bad for the gander is worse for the goose. Lawrence believes that in order to achieve satisfaction in life, we must get in touch with that primal self that the woman is fortunate enough always to be closer to.

4. A New Relation Between Man and Woman

So what is to be done? How are we to repair the damage that has been done in the modern world to the relation between the sexes? How are we to make men into men again, and women into women?

Lawrence has a great deal to say on this subject, but one of his oft-repeated recommendations essentially amounts to saying that relations between the sexes should be severed. By this he means that in order for men and women to come to each other as authentic men and women, they must stop trying to be “pals” with each other. In a 1925 letter he writes, “Friendship between a man and a woman, as a thing of first importance to either, is impossible: and I know it. We are creatures of two halves, spiritual and sensual—and each half is as important as the other. Any relation based on the one half—say the delicate spiritual half alone—inevitably brings revulsion and betrayal.”

In order for men and women to be friends, they must deliberately put aside or suppress their sexual identities and their very different natures. They must actively ignore the fact that they are men and women. They relate to each other, in effect, as neutered, sexless beings. They can never truly relax around each other, for they must continually monitor the way that they look at each other or (more problematic) touch each other. Sitting in too close proximity could awaken feelings that neither wants awakened. If, with respect to their “daytime selves,” men and women are forced to relate to each other in this way regularly, it has the potential of wrecking the ability of the “nighttime self” to relate to the opposite sex in a natural, sensual manner. Once accustomed to the daily routine of suppressing thoughts and feelings, and taking great care never to show a sexual side to their nature, these habits carry over into the realm of the romantic and sexual. Dating and courtship become fraught with tension, each party unsure of the “appropriateness” of this or that display of sexual interest or simple affection. The man, in short, becomes afraid to be a man, and the woman to be a woman. “On mixing with one another, in becoming familiar, in being ‘pals,’ they lose their own male and female integrity.” Writing of the modern marriage, Wendell Berry states

Marriage, in what is evidently its most popular version, is now on the one hand an intimate “relationship” involving (ideally) two successful careerists in the same bed, and on the other hand a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be constantly asserted and defended. Marriage, in other words, has now taken the form of divorce: a prolonged and impassioned negotiation as to how things shall be divided. During their understandably temporary association, the “married” couple will typically consume a large quantity of merchandise and a large portion of each other.

If we must suppress our masculine and feminine natures in order to be friends with the opposite sex, in what way then do we actually relate to each other? We relate almost entirely through the intellect. Lawrence writes, “Nowadays, alas, we start off self-conscious, with sex in the head. We find a woman who is the same. We marry because we are ‘pals.’” And: “We have made the mistake of idealism again. We have thought that the woman who thinks and talks as we do will be the blood-answer.” Modern men and women begin their relationships as sexless things who relate through ideas and speech. The man looks for a woman, or the woman for a man who thinks and talks as they do; who “knows where they are coming from,” and has “similar values.” They might as well not have bodies at all, or conduct the initial stages of their relationships by telephone or email. Indeed, that is exactly the way many modern relationships are now beginning. But the primary way men and women are built to relate to each other is through the body and the signals of the body; through the subtle, sexual “vibrations” that each gives off, through the sexual gaze (different in the male and in the female), and through touch. No real, romantic relationship can be forged without these, and without feeling through these non-mental means that the two are “right” for each other. We cannot start with “mental agreement” and then construct a sexual relationship around it.

Lawrence, like Rousseau, had a good deal to say about education, and in fact much of what he says is Rousseauian. His ideas on the subject are expressed chiefly in Fantasia of the Unconscious and in a long essay, “The Education of the People.”

In Fantasia of the Unconscious, in a chapter entitled “First Steps in Education,” Lawrence lays out a new program for educating girls and boys: “All girls over ten years of age must attend at one domestic workshop. All girls over ten years of age may, in addition, attend at one workshop of skilled labour or of technical industry, or of art. . . . All boys over ten years of age must attend at one workshop of domestic crafts, and at one workshop of skilled labour, or of technical industry, or of art.” The difference between how boys and girls are to be educated (at least initially) is that whereas both are required to attend a “domestic workshop,” only boys are required to attend a “workshop of skilled labour or of technical industry, or of art.” Keep in mind that Lawrence is laying down the rules for education in his ideal society. He anticipates that whereas all males will work outside the home (in some fashion or other), not all females will. His system is not designed to force women into the role of homemakers, for he leaves it open that girls may, if they choose, learn the same skills as boys. As to higher education, Lawrence leaves this open: “Schools of mental culture are free to all individuals over fourteen years of age. Universities are free to all who obtain the first culture degree.” The system is designed in such a way that individuals are drawn to pursue certain avenues based on their personalities and natural temperaments. Unlike our present society, in Lawrence’s world there would be no universal pressure to attend university: only individuals with certain natural gifts and inclinations would go in that direction. Similarly, the system leaves open the possibility that some women will pursue the same path as men, but only if that is their natural inclination. The intent of Lawrence’s program is not to force individuals into certain roles, but to cultivate their natural, innate characteristics. And as we have seen, Lawrence believes that males and females are innately different.

Lawrence makes it clear elsewhere that in the early years education will be sex-segregated. This is intended to facilitate the development of each student’s character and talents. Males, especially early in life, relate more easily to other males and are better able to devote themselves to their studies in the absence of females. The same thing applies to females. Sex-segregated education in the early years also has the advantage, Lawrence believes, of promoting a healthier interaction between males and females later on. In Fantasia of the Unconscious he states, “boys and girls should be kept apart as much as possible, that they may have some sort of respect and fear for the gulf that lies between them in nature, and for the great strangeness which each has to offer the other, finally.” After all, “You don’t find the sun and moon playing at pals in the sky.”

But this is, of course, all in the realm of fantasy. Lawrence’s system would be practical, if modern society could be entirely restructured, and he is aware that this is not likely to occur anytime soon. So what are we to do in the meantime? Here we encounter some of Lawrence’s most controversial ideas, and most inflammatory prose. He writes, “men, drive your wives, beat them out of their self-consciousness and their soft smarminess and good, lovely idea of themselves. Absolutely tear their lovely opinion of themselves to tatters, and make them look a holy ridiculous sight in their own eyes.” It is this sort of thing that has made Lawrence a bête noire of feminists. Yet, in the next sentence, he adds “Wives, do the same to your husbands.” Lawrence’s intention, as always, is to destroy the ego-centredness in both husband and wife; to destroy the modern tendency for men and women to relate to each other, and to themselves, through ideas and ideals.

As a man and a husband, however, he writes primarily from that standpoint: “Fight your wife out of her own self-conscious preoccupation with herself. Batter her out of it till she’s stunned. Drive her back into her own true mode. Rip all her nice superimposed modern-woman and wonderful-creature garb off her, Reduce her once more to a naked Eve, and send the apple flying.” Does he mean any of this literally? Is he advocating that husbands beat their wives? Perhaps. Lawrence and Frieda were famous for their quarrels, which often came to blows, though the blows were struck by both. Lawrence states the purpose of such “beatings” (whether literal or figurative) as follows: “Make her yield to her own real unconscious self, and absolutely stamp on the self that she’s got in her head. Drive her forcibly back, back into her own true unconscious.”

As we have already seen, Lawrence believes that healthy relations between a man and a woman depend largely on the man’s ability to make the woman believe in him, and the purpose he has set for himself in life. Sex unites the “nighttime self” of men and women, but the daytime self can only be united, for Lawrence, through the man’s devotion to something outside the marriage, and the woman’s belief in the man. This is just the same thing as saying that what unites the lives of men and women (as opposed to their sexual natures) is the woman’s belief in the man and his purpose. And so Lawrence writes:

You’ve got to fight to make a woman believe in you as a real man, a pioneer. No man is a man unless to his woman he is a pioneer. You’ll have to fight still harder to make her yield her goal to yours: her night goal to your day goal. . . . She’ll never believe until you have your soul filled with a profound and absolutely inalterable purpose, that will yield to nothing, least of all to her. She’ll never believe until, in your soul, you are cut off and gone ahead, into the dark. . . . Ah, how good it is to come home to your wife when she believes in you and submits to your purpose that is beyond her. . . . And you feel an unfathomable gratitude to the woman who loves you and believes in your purpose and receives you into the magnificent dark gratification of her embrace. That’s what it is to have a wife.

Friends of Lawrence must have smiled when they read these words, for he was hardly giving an accurate description of his own marriage. As I have mentioned, Lawrence and Frieda frequently fell into violent quarrels, and she would often demean and humiliate him, and he her. Yet, ultimately, Frieda believed in Lawrence’s abilities and his mission in life; he knew it and derived strength from it. Those who may think that Lawrence’s prescriptions for marriage require an extraordinarily submissive and even unintelligent wife should take note of the sort of woman Lawrence himself chose.

Now, some might respond to Lawrence’s description of marriage by asking, understandably, “Where is love in all of this? What has become of love between man and wife?” Yet Lawrence speaks again and again, especially in Women in Love, of love between man and wife as a means to wholeness, as a way to transcend the false, ego-centered self. In a 1914 letter he tells a male correspondent:

You mustn’t think that your desire or your fundamental need is to make a good career, or to fill your life with activity, or even to provide for your family materially. It isn’t. Your most vital necessity in this life is that you shall love your wife completely and implicitly and in entire nakedness of body and spirit. Then you will have peace and inner security, no matter how many things go wrong. And this peace and security will leave you free to act and to produce your own work, a real independent workman.

Initially in these remarks Lawrence seems to be taking a position different from the one he expressed in the later Fantasia of the Unconscious, where he asserts that the man derives his chief fulfillment from purpose, not from the home and family. But Lawrence’s position is complex. He believes that the man requires a relationship to a woman in order to be strengthened in the pursuit of his purpose. Recall the lines I quoted earlier, “Let a man walk alone on the face of the earth, and he feels himself like a loose speck blown at random. Let him have a woman to whom he belongs, and he will feel as though he had a wall to back up against; even though the woman be mentally a fool.” Man fulfills himself through having a purpose beyond the home, but he must have a home and a wife to support him. Through romantic love (which always involves a strong sexual component) the man comes to his primal self, and emerges from the encounter with the strength to carry on in the world. Lawrence is telling his correspondent—and this becomes clear in the last lines of the passage quoted—that in order to accomplish anything meaningful he must first submerge himself, body and soul, into love for his wife.

Of course, this makes it sound as if Lawrence regards married love merely as a means to an end: merely as a means to pursuing a male “purpose.” Elsewhere, however, he speaks of it as if it were an end in itself. This is particularly the case in Women in Love. Early in the novel Birkin tells Gerald, “I find . . . that one needs some one really pure single activity—I should call love a single pure activity. . . . The old ideals are dead as nails—nothing there. It seems to me there remains only this perfect union with a woman—sort of ultimate marriage—and there isn’t anything else.” Again, Lawrence is seeking a way to get beyond idealism, and all the corrupt apparatus of modern, ego-driven life. To get beyond this, to what? To the true self, and to relationships based upon blood-consciousness and honest, uncorrupted sentiment. In Women in Love, Lawrence’s plan for achieving this involves a “perfect union” with a woman (and, as he states in the same novel, “the additional perfect relationship between man and man—additional to marriage”).

Birkin wants to achieve this with Ursula, but he keeps insisting over and over (much to her bewilderment and anger) that he means something more than mere “love.” The reason for this is that Birkin and Lawrence associate “love” with an ideal that is drummed into the heads of people in the modern, post-Christian world. We are issued with the baffling injunction to “love thy neighbor,” where thy neighbor means all of humanity. Any intelligent person can see that to love everyone means to love no one in particular. And any psychologically healthy person would find valueless the “love” of someone who claimed also to love all the rest of humanity. Lawrence is reacting also against the lovey-dovey, white lace, sanitized, billing and cooing sort of “love” that society encourages in married couples. Lawrence’s disgust for this sort of thing is expressed in his short story “In Love.” The main character, Hester, is repulsed by the “love” her fiancé, Joe, shows for her. They had been friends prior to their engagement and got on well

But now, alas, since she had promised to marry him, he had made the wretched mistake of falling “in love” with her. He had never been that way before. And if she had known he would get this way now, she would have said decidedly: Let us remain friends, Joe, for this sort of thing is a come-down. Once he started cuddling and petting, she couldn’t stand him. Yet she felt she ought to. She imagined she even ought to like it. Though where the ought came from, she could not see.

Birkin (like Lawrence) wants to avoid at all costs falling into this sort of scripted, stereotyped love relationship, but Ursula has a great deal of difficulty understanding what it is that he does want. He tries his best to explain it to her:

“There is,” he said, in a voice of pure abstraction, “a final me which is stark and impersonal and beyond responsibility. So there is a final you. And it is there I would want to meet you—not in the emotional, loving plane—but there beyond, where there is no speech and no terms of agreement. There we are two stark, unknown beings, two utterly strange creatures, I would want to approach you, and you me. And there could be no obligation, because there is no standard for action there, because no understanding has been reaped from that plane. It is quite inhuman—so there can be no calling to book, in any form whatsoever—because one is outside the pale of all that is accepted, and nothing known applies. One can only follow the impulse, taking that which lies in front, and responsible for nothing, giving nothing, only each taking according to the primal desire.”

The “final me and you” refers to the primal self. “The old ideals are dead as nails” and so is modern civilization. Birkin does not want his relationship to Ursula to “fit” into the modern social scheme, to become conventional or “safe.” He also fears and abhors the impress of society on his conscious, mental self. He does not want to come together with Ursula “though the ego,” as it were. He wants them to come together through their primal selves and to forge a relationship that is based on something deeper and far stronger than what the overly socialized creatures around him call “love.” Yet, at the same time, one could simply say that what he wants is a truer, deeper love, and that what passes for love with other people is usually not the genuine article. They are doing what one “ought” to do, even when in bed together.

In The Rainbow (to which Women in Love forms the “sequel”), Tom Brangwen offers his views on love and marriage in a famous passage:

“There’s very little else, on earth, but marriage. You can talk about making money, or saving souls. You can save your own soul seven times over, and you may have a mint of money, but your soul goes gnawin’, gnawin’, gnawin’, and it says there’s something it must have. In heaven there is no marriage. But on earth there is marriage, else heaven drops out, and there’s no bottom to it. . . . If we’ve got to be Angels . . . and if there is no such thing as a man or a woman among them, then it seems to me as a married couple makes one Angel. . . . [An] Angel can’t be less than a human being. And if it was only the soul of a man minus the man, then it would be less than a human being. . . . An Angel’s got to be more than a human being. . . . So I say, an Angel is the soul of a man and a woman in one: they rise united at the Judgment Day, as one angel. . . . If I am to become an Angel, it’ll be my married soul, and not my single soul.”

À la Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium, men and women form two halves of a complete human being. Human nature divides itself into two, complementary aspects: masculinity and femininity. A complete human being is made when a man and a woman are joined together. But they cannot be joined—not really—through the mental, social self, but only through the unconscious, primal self.

In Women in Love, this view returns but in a modified form. Now Birkin tells us, “One must commit oneself to a conjunction with the other—for ever. But it is not selfless—it is a maintaining of the self in mystic balance and integrity—like a star balanced with another star.” And Lawrence tells us of Birkin, “he wanted a further conjunction, where man had being and woman had being, two pure beings, each constituting the freedom of the other, balancing each other like two poles of one force, like two angels, or two demons.” Tom Brangwen’s view implies that men and women, considered separately, do not have complete souls, and that a complete soul is made only when they join together in marriage. There is a suggestion in what he says that the “individuality” of single men and women is false, and that only a married couple constitutes a true individual. Birkin’s ideal, on the other hand, involves the man and the woman each preserving their selfhood and individuality and “balancing” each other.

Despite the fact that Birkin frequently, and transparently, speaks for Lawrence we cannot take him as speaking for Lawrence here. I believe that it is Brangwen’s position that is closest to Lawrence’s own. When Women in Love opens, Birkin is in a relationship with Hermione, who Lawrence portrays as a woman living entirely from out of her head, without any naturalness or spontaneity. Yet there is a bit of this in Birkin as well, which is perhaps why he reacts against it so violently when he sees it in Hermione. After the passage just quoted from Women in Love, Lawrence writes of Birkin, “He wanted so much to be free, not under the compulsion of any need for unification, or tortured by unsatisfied desire. . . . And he wanted to be with Ursula as free as with himself, single and clear and cool, yet balanced, polarised with her. The merging, the clutching, the mingling of love was become madly abhorrent to him.” Lawrence then goes on to describe Birkin’s fear and loathing of women’s “clutching.” Birkin is a conflicted character. He wants to lose himself in a relationship with a woman, but fears it at the same time. He wants Ursula, and talks on and on about spontaneity and the evil of ideals, yet he is continually preaching to Ursula about his ideal relationship which, conveniently, is one in which he can unite with her yet preserve his ego intact. This at first bewilders then infuriates Ursula, who never understands what it is that he wants. In the end, the problem resolves itself, probably just as it would in real life. Drawn to Ursula by a power stronger than his conscious ego, Birkin eventually drops all of his talk, surrenders his will, and settles into a married bliss that is marred only by his continued desire for the love of a man.

Ultimately, Lawrence believes that the “establishment of a new relation” between men and women depends upon a return to the oldest of relationships, and that this is possible only through a recovery of the oldest part of the self. We must, he believes, drop our ideal of the unisex society and be alive again to the fundamental, natural differences between men and women. Men and woman do not naturally desire to enjoy each other’s society at all times. We must not only educate men and women apart, but re-establish “spaces” within civilized society where men can be with men, and women with women. We must not force men and women together and command them to forget that they are men and women. Education and, indeed, much else in society must work to cultivate and to affirm the natural, masculine qualities and virtues in men, and the feminine qualities and virtues in women. Having become true men and women and having awakened, through their apartness, to the mystery and the allure that is the opposite sex, they will then come together and forge romantic alliances that are not based upon talk and “common values” but upon the “pull” between man and woman. Lawrence is not referring here simply to lust. A sexual element is, of course, involved, but what he means is the mysterious, ineffable attraction between an individual man and a woman, what we often call “chemistry,” which has nothing to do with the words they utter or the ideals they pay lip service to. And once this attraction is established, if the two desire to become bound to each other, then they must surrender themselves to the relationship. They must overcome their fear of the loss of ego boundaries. They must drop all talk of “rights” and not fall into the trap of treating the marriage as if it were a business partnership. For both, it is a leap into the unknown but in this case the unknown is the natural. When we plant a seed we must close the earth over it and go off and wait in anticipation. But we know that nature, being what it is, will produce as it has before. If all goes well, in that spot will grow the plant we were expecting. Similarly, marriage is not a human invention but something that grows naturally between a man and woman if its seed is planted in the fertile soil of the primal selves of each.

samedi, 27 novembre 2010

Paganismo e Filosofia da Vida em Knut Hamsun e D.H. Lawrence

Paganismo e Filosofia da Vida em Knut Hamsun e D.H. Lawrence

por Robert Steuckers
Ex: http://legio-victrix.blogspot.com/

hamsun_3_1093822a.jpgO filólogo húngaro Akos Doma, formado na Alemanha e nos EUA, acaba de publicar uma obra de exegese literária, na qual faz um paralelismo entre as obras de Hamsun e Lawrence. O ponto em comum é uma "crítica da civilização". Conceito que, obviamente, devemos apreender em seu contexto. Em efeito, a civilização seria um processo positivo desde o ponto de vista dos "progressistas", que entendem a história de forma linear. Em efeito, os partidários da filosofia do Aufklärung [*Iluminismo] e os adeptos incondicionais de uma certa modernidade tendem à simplificação, à geometrização e à "cerebrização". Sem embargo, a civilização mostra-se a nós como um desenvolvimento negativo para todos aqueles que pretendem conservar a fecundidade incomensurável em relação aos venenos culturais, para os que constatam, sem escandalizar-se com isso, que o tempo é plurimorfo; quer dizer, que o tempo para uma cultura não coincide com o da outra, em contraposição aos iluministas quem se afirmam na crença de um tempo monomorfo e aplicável a todos os povos e culturas do planeta. Cada povo tem seu próprio tempo. Se a modernidade rechaça esta pluralidade de formas do tempo, então entramos irremissívelmente no terreno do ilusório.

Desde um certo ponto de vista, explica Akos Doma, Hamsun e Lawrence são herdeiros de Rousseau. Porém, de qual Rousseau? Do que foi estigmatizado pela tradição maurrasiana (Maurras, Lasserre, Muret) ou daquele outro que critica radicalmente o Aufklärung sem que isso comporte defesa alguma do Antigo Regime? Para o Rousseau crítico do Iluminismo, a ideologia moderna é, precisamente, o oposto real do conceito ideal em sua concepção da política: aquele é anti-igualitário e hostil à liberdade, ainda que reivindique a igualidade e a liberdade. Antes da irrupção da modernidade ao longo do século XVIII, para Rousseau e seus seguidores pré-românticos, existiria uma "comunidade sadia", a convivência reinaria entre os homens e as pessoas seriam "boas" porque a natureza é "boa". Mais tarde, entre os românticos que, no terreno político, são conservadores, esta noção de "bondade" seguirá estando presente, ainda que na atualidade tal característica se considere como patrimônio exclusivo dos ativistas ou pensadores revolucionários. A idéia de "bondade" tem estado presente tanto na "direita" como na "esquerda".

Sem embargo, para o poeta romântico inglês Wordsworth, a natureza é "o marco de toda experiência autêntica", na medida em que o homem se enfrenta de uma maneira real e imediatamente com os elementos, o que implicitamente nos conduz mais além do bem e do mal. Wordsworth é, de certa forma, um "perfectibilista": o homem fruto de sua visão poética alcança o excelso, a perfeição; porém dito homem, contrariamente ao que pensavam e impunham os partidários das Luzes, não se aperfeiçoava somente com o desenvolvimento das faculdades do intelecto. A perfeição humana requer acima de tudo passar pela prova do elemento natural. Para Novalis, a natureza é "o espaço da experiência mística, que nos permite ver mais além das contingências da vida urbana e artificial". Para Eichendorff, a natureza é a liberdade e, em certo sentido, uma transcendência, pois permite escapar aos corpetes das convenções e instituições.

Com Wordsworth, Novalis e Eichendorff, as questões do imediato, da experiência vital, do rechaço das contingências surgidas da artificialidade dos convencionalismos, adquirem um importante papel. A partir do romantismo se desenvolve na Europa, acima de tudo na Europa setentrional, um movimento hostil a toda forma moderna de vida social e econômica. Carlyle, por exemplo, cantará o heroísmo e denegrirá a "cash flow society". Aparece a primeira crítica contra o reino do dinheiro. John Ruskin, com seus projetos de arquitetura orgânica junto à concepção de cidades-jardim, tratará de embelezar as cidades e reparar os danos sociais e urbanísticos de um racionalismo que desembocou no puro manchesterismo. Tolstói propõe um naturalismo otimista que não tem como ponto de referência a Dostoiévski, brilhante observador este último dos piores perfis da alma humana. Gauguin transplantará seu ideal da bondade humana à Polinésia, ao Taiti, em plena natureza.

Hamsum e Lawrence, contrariamente a Tolstói ou a Gauguin, desenvolverão uma visão da natureza carente de teologia, sem "bom fim", sem espaços paradisíacos marginais: assimilaram a dupla lição do pessimismo de Dostoiévski e Nietzsche. A natureza nesses não é um espaço idílico propício para excursões tal como sucede com os poetas ingleses do Lake District. A natureza não somente não é um espaço necessariamente perigoso ou violento, mas sim que é considerado aprioristicamente como tal. A natureza humana em Hamsun e Lawrence é, antes de nada, interioridade que conforma os recursos interiores, sua disposição e sua mentalidade (tripas e cérebro inextricavelmente unidos e confundidos). Tanto em Hamsun como em Lawrence, a natureza humana não é nem intelectualidade nem demonismo. É, antes de nada, expressão da realidade, realidade tradução imediata da terra, Gaia; realidade enquanto fonte de vida.

Frente a este manancial, a alienação moderna leva a duas atitudes opostas: 1º necessidade da terra, fonte de vitaldiade, e 2º soçobra na alienação, causa de enfermidades e escleroses. É precisamente nessa bipolaridade em que se deve localizar as duas grandes obras e Hamsun e de Lawrence: 'Benção da Terra', para o norueguês, e 'O Arco-Íris', do inglês.

Em 'Benção da Terra' de Hamsun, a natureza constitui o espaço do trabalho existencial no qual o homem opera com total independência para se alimentar e se perpetuar. Não se trata de uma natureza idílica, como sucede em certos utopistas bucólicos, e ademais o trabalho não foi abolido. A natureza é inabarcável, conforma o destino, e é parte da própria humanidade de tal forma que sua perda comportaria desumanização. O protagonista principal, o camponês Isak, é feio e desalinhado, é tosco e simples, porém inquebrantável, um ser limitado, porém não isento de vontade. O espaço natural, a Wildnis, é esse âmbito que tarde ou cedo há de levar a pegada do homem; não se trata do espaço ou o reino do homem convencional ou, mais exatamente, o delimitado pelos relógios, mas sim o do ritmo das estações, com seus ciclos periódicos. Em dito espaço, em dito tempo, não existem perguntas, se sobrevive para participar do refúgio de um ritmo que nos transborda. Esse destino é duro. Inclusive chega a ser muito duro. Porém em troca oferece independência, autonomia, permite uma relação direta com o trabalho. Outorga sentido, porque tem sentido. Em 'O Arco-Íris', de Lawrence, uma família vive de forma da terra de forma independente, apenas com o lucro de suas colheitas.

Hamsun e Lawrence, nessas duas novelas, nos legam a visão de um homem unido à terra (ein beheimateter Mensch), de um homem ancorado em um território limitado. O beheimateter Mensch ignora o saber livresco, não tem necessidade das prédicas dos meios informativos, sua sabedoria prática lhe é suficiente; graças a ela, seus atos tem sentido, inclusive quando fantasia ou dá rédea solta aos sentimentos. Esse saber imediato, ademais, lhe proporciona unidade com os outros seres.

Desde uma ótica como essa, a alienação, questão fundamental no século XIX, adquire outra perspectiva. Geralmente se aborda o problema da alienação desde três pontos e vista doutrinais:

1º Segundo o ponto de vista marxista e historicista, a alienação se localizaria unicamente na esfera social, enquanto que para Hamsun ou Lawrence, se situa na natureza interior do homem, independentemente de sua posição social ou de sua riqueza material.

2º A alienação abordada a partir da teologia ou da antropologia.

3º A alienação percebida como uma anomalia social.

Em Hegel, e mais tarde em Marx, a alienação dos povos ou das massas é uma etapa necessária no processo de adequação gradual entre a realidade e o absoluto. Em Hamsun e Lawrence, a alienação é um conceito todavia mais categórico; suas causas não residem nas estruturas sócio-econômicas ou políticas, mas sim no distanciamento em respeito às raízes da natureza (que não é, consequentemente, uma "boa" natureza). Não desaparecerá a alienação com a simples instauração de uma nova ordem sócio-econômica. Em Hamsun e Lawrence, assinala Doma, é o problema da desconexão, da interrupção, o que tem um traço essencial. A vida social tornou-se uniforme, desemboca na uniformidade, na automatização, na funcionalização extrema, enquanto que a natureza e o trabalho integrado no ciclo da vida não são uniformes e requerem em todo momento a mobilização de energias vitais. Existe imediatidade, enquanto que na vida urbana, industrial e moderna tudo está mediatizado, filtrado. Hamsun e Lawrence se rebelam contra ditos filtros.

Para Hamsun e, em menor medida, Lawrence as forças interiores contam para a "natureza". Com a chegada da modernidade, os homens estão determinados por fatores exteriores a eles, como são os convencionalismos, a luta política e a opinião pública, que oferecem um tipo de ilusão para a liberdade, quando em realidade conformam o cenário ideal para todo tipo de manipulações. Em um contexto tal, as comunidades acabam por se desvertebrar: cada indivíduo fica reduzido a uma esfera de atividade autônoma e em concorrência com outros indivíduos. Tudo isso acaba por derivar em debilidade, isolamento e hostilidade de todos contra todos.

Os sintomas dessa debilidade são a paixão pelas coisas superficiais, os vestidos refinados (Hamsun), signo de uma fascinação detestável pelo externo; isto é, formas de dependência, signos de vazio interior. O homem quebra por efeito de pressões exteriores. Indícios, por fim, da perda de vitalidade que leva à alienação.

No marco dessa quebra que supõe a vida urbana, o homem não encontra estabilidade, pois a vida nas cidades, nas metrópoles, é hostil a qualquer forma de estabilidade. O homem alienado já não pode retornar a sua comunidade, a suas raízes familiares. Assim Lawrence, com uma linguagem menos áspera porém acaso mais incisiva, escreve: "He was the eternal audience, the chorus, the spectator at the drama; in his own life he would have no drama" ("Ele era a audiência eterna, o coro, o espectador do drama; porém em sua própria vida, não haveria drama algum"); "He scarcely existed except through other people" ("Ele mal existia, salvo através de outras pessoas"); "He had come to a stability of nullification" ("Ele havia chegado a uma estabilidade de nulificação").

Em Hamsun e Lawrence, o Ent-wurzelung e o Unbehaustheit, o desenraizamento e a carência de lar, essa forma de viver sem fogo, constitui a grande tragédia da humanidade de fins do século XIX e princípios do XX. Para Hamsun o lar é vital para o homem. O homem deve ter lar. O lar de usa existência. Não se pode prescindir do lar sem provocar em si mesmo uma profunda mutilação. Mutilação de caráter psíquico, que conduz à histeria, ao nervosismo, ao desequilíbrio. Hamsun é, ao fim e ao cabo, um psicólogo. E nos diz: a consciência de si é não raro um sintoma de alienação. Schiller, em seu ensaio Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung, assinalava que a concordância entre sentir e pensar era tangível, real e interior no homem natural, ao contrário que no homem cultivado que é ideal e exterior ("A concordância entre sensações e penamente existia outrora, porém na atualidade somente reside no plano ideal. Esta concordância não reside no homem, mas sim que existe exteriormente a ele; trata-se de uma idéia que deve ser realizada, não um fato de sua vida").

Schiller advoga por uma Überwindung (superação) de dita quebra através de uma mobilização total do indivíduo. O romantismo, por sua parte, considerará a reconciliação entre Ser (Sein) e consciência (Bewusstsein) como a forma de combater o reducionismo que trata de encurralar a consciência sob os grilhões do entendimento racional. O romantismo valorará, e inclusive sobrevalorará, ao "outro" em relação à razão (das Andere der Vernunft): percepção sensual, instinto, intuição, experiência mística, infância, sonho, vida bucólica. Wordsworth, romântico inglês, representante "rosa" de dita vontade de reconciliação entre Ser e consciência, defenderá a presença de "um coração que observe e aprove". Dostoiévski não compartilhará dita visão "rosa" e desenvolverá uma concepção "negra", em que o intelecto é sempre causa de mal, e o "possesso" um ser que tenderá a matar ou suicidar-se. No plano filosófico, tanto Klages como Lessing retomarão por sua conta esta visão "negra" do intelecto, aprofundando, não obstante, no veio do romantismo naturalista: para Klages, o espírito é inimigo da alma; para Lessing, o espírito é a contrapartida da vida, que surge da necessidade ("Geist ist das notgeborene Gegenspiel des Lebens").

dh-lawrence_000.jpgLawrence, fiel em certo sentido à tradição romântica inglesa de Wordsworth, crê em uma nova adequação do Ser e da consciência. Hamsun, mais pessimista, mais dostoievskiano (daí sua acolhida na Rússia e sua influência nos autores chamados ruralistas, como Vasili Belov e Valentín Rasputin), nunca deixará de pensar que desde que há consciência, há alienação. Desde que o homem começa a refletir sobre si mesmo, se desliga da continuidade que confere a natureza e à qual deveria estar sempre sujeito. Nos ensaios de Hamsun, encontramos reflexões sobre a modernidade literária. A vida moderna, escreveu, influencia, transforma, leva o homem a ser arrancado de seu destino, a ser apartado de seu ponto de chegada, de seus instintos, mais além do bem e do mal. A evolução literária do século XIX mostra uma febre, um desequilíbrio, um nervosismo, uma complicação extrema da psicologia humana. "O nervosismo geral (ambiente) se apossou de nosso ser fundamental e se fixou em nossa vida sentimental". O escritor mostra-se a nós assim, ao estilo de um Zola, como um "médico social" encarregado de diagnosticar os males sociais com o objetivo de erradicar o mal. O escritor, o intelectual, se embarca em uma tarefa missionária que trata de chegar a uma "correção política".

Frente a esta visão intelectual do escritor, a reprovação de Hamsun assinala a impossibilidade de definir objetivamente a realidade humana, pois um "homem objetivo" é, em si mesmo, uma monstruosidade (ein Unding), um ser construído como se tratasse de um mecanismo. Não podemos reduzir o homem a um compêndio de características, pois o homem é evolução, ambigüidade. O mesmo critério encontramos em Lawrence: "Now I absolutely flatly deny that I am a soul, or a body, or a mind, or an intelligente, or a brain, or a nervous system, or a bunch of glands, or any of the rest of these bits of me. The whole is greater than the part" ("Agora eu nego em absoluto que eu sou uma alma, ou um corpo, ou uma mente, ou uma inteligência, ou um cérebro, ou um sistema nervoso, ou um monte de glândulas, ou qualquer dos restos desses pedaços de mim. O todo é maior do que a parte"). Hamsun e Lawrence ilustram em suas obras a impossibilidade de teorizar ou absolutizar uma visão diáfana do homem. O homem não pode ser veículo de idéias pré-concebidas. Hamsun e Lawrence confirmam que os progressos na consciência de si mesmo não implicam em processos de emancipação espiritual, mas sim perdas, desperdício da vitaldiade, do tônus vital. Em seus romances, são as figuras firmes (isto é, as que estão enraizadas na terra) as que logram se manter, as que triunfam mais além dos golpes da sorte ou das circunstâncias desgraçadas.

Não se trata, em absoluto, de vidas bucólicas ou idílicas. Os protagonistas das novelas de Hamsun e Lawrence são penetrados ou atraídos pela modernidade, os quais, pese a sua irredutível complexidade, podem sucumbir, sofrem, padecem de um processo de alienação, porém também podem triunfar. E é precisamente aqui onde intervem a ironia de Hamsun ou a idéia da "Fênix" de Lawrence. A ironia de Hamsun perfura os ideais abstratos das ideologias modernas. Em Lawrence, a recorrente idéia da "Fênix" supõe uma certa dose de esperança: haverá ressurreição. É a idéia da Ave Fênix, que renasce de suas próprias cinzas.

O paganismo de Hamsun e Lawrence

Sua dita vontade de retorno a uma ontologia natural é fruto de um rechaço do intelectualismo racionalista, isso implica ao mesmo tempo uma contestação silenciosa à mensagem cristã.

Em Hamsun, vê-se com clareza o rechaço do puritanismo familiar (concretizado na figura de seu tio Han Olsen) e o rechaço ao culto protestante pelos livros sagrados; isto é, o rechaço explícito de um sistema de pensamento religioso que prima pelo saber livresco frente à experiência existencial (particularmente a do camponês autosuficiente, o Odalsbond dos campos noruegueses). O anticristianismo de Hamsun é, fundamentalmente, um a-cristianismo: não se propõe dúvidas religiosas ao estilo de Kierkegaard. Para Hamsun, o moralismo do protestantismo da era vitoriana (da era oscariana, diríamos para a Escandinávia) é simples e completa perda de vitalidade. Hamsun não aposta em experiência mística alguma.

Lawrence, por sua parte, percebe a ruptura de toda relação com os mistérios cósmicos. O cristianismo viria a reforçar dita ruptura, impediria sua cura, impossibilitaria sua cicatrização. Nesse sentido, a religiosidade européia ainda conservaria um poço de dito culto ao mistério cósmico: o ano litúrgico, o ciclo litúrgico (Páscoa, Pentecostes, Fogueira de São João, Todos os Santos, Natal, Festa dos Reis Magos). Porém inclusive isto foi agrilhoado como consequência de um processo de desencantamento e dessacralização, cujo começo arranca no momento mesm oda chegada da Igreja cristã primitiva e que se reforçará com os puritanismos e os jansenismos segregados pela Reforma. Os primeiros cristãos se apresentaram com o objetivo de separar o homem de seus ciclos cósmicos. A Igreja medieval, ao contrário, quis adequar-se, porém as Igrejas protestantes e conciliares posteriores expressaram com clareza sua vontade de regressar ao anti-cosmicismo do cristianismo primitivo. Nesse sentido, Lawrence escreve: "But now, after almost three thousand years, now that we are almost abstracted entirely from the rhythmic life of the seasons, birth and death and fruition, now we realize that such abstraction is neither bliss nor liberation, but nullity. It brings null inertia" ("Porém hoje, depois de três mil anos, depois de estarmos quase completamente abstraídos da vida rítmica das estações, do nascimento, da morte e da fecundidade, compreendemos ao fim que tal abstração não é nem uma benção nem uma liberação, mas sim puro nada. Não nos aporta outra coisa além de inércia"). Essa ruptura é consubstancial ao cristianismo das civilizações urbanas, onde não há abertura alguma para o cosmos. Cristo não é um Cristo cósmico, mas sim um Cristo reduzido ao papel de assistente social. Mircea Eliade, por sua parte, referiu-se a um "homem cósmico" aberto à imensidão do cosmos, pilar de todas as grandes religiões. Na perspectiva de Eliade, o sagrado é o real, o poder, a fonte de vida e da fertilidade. Eliade nos deixou escrito: "O desejo do homem religioso de viver uma vida no âmbito do sagrado é o desejo de viver na realidade objetiva".

A lição ideológica e política de Hamsun e Lawrence

No plano ideológico e político, no plano da Weltanschauung, as obras de Hamsun e de Lawrence tiveram um impacto bastante considerável. Hamsun foi lido por todos, mais além da polaridade comunismo/fascismo. Lawrence foi etiquetado como "fascista" a título póstumo, entre outros por Bertrand Russel que chegou inclusive a referir-se a sua "madness": "Lawrence was a suitable exponent of the Nazi cult of insanity" ("Lawrence foi um expoente típico do culto nazista à loucura"). Frase tão lapidária como simplista. As obras de Hamsun e de Lawrence, segundo Akos Doma, se inscrevem em um contexto quádruplo: o da filosofia da vida, o dos avatares do individualismo, o da tradição filosófica vitalista, e o do anti-utopismo e do irracionalismo.

3941.jpg1º. A Filosofia da Vida (Lebensphilosophie) é um conceito de luta, que opõe a "vivacidade da vida real" à rigidez dos convencionalismos, aos fogos de artifício inventados pela civilização urbana para tratar de orientar a vida para um mundo desencantado. A filosofia da vida se manifesta sob múltiplas faces no contexto do pensamento europeu e toma realmente corpo a partir das reflexões de Nietzsche sobre a Leiblichkeit (corporeidade).

2 º O Individualismo. A antropologia hamsuniana postula a absoluta unidade de cada indivíduo, de cada pessoa, porém rechaça o isolamento desse indivíduo ou pessoa de todo contexto comunitário, familiar ou carnal: situa à pessoa de uma maneira interativa, em um lugar preciso. A ausência de introspecção especulativa, de consciência e de intelectualismo abstrato tornam incompatível o individualismo hamsuniano com a antropologia segregada pelo Iluminismo. Para Hamsun, sem embargo, não se combate o individualismo iluminista sermoneando sobre um coletivismo de contornos ideológicos. O renascimento do homem autêntico passa por uma reativação dos recursos mais profundos de sua alma e de seu corpo. A soma quantitativa e mecânica é uma insuficiência calamitosa. Em consequência, a acusação de "fascismo" em relação a Lawrence e Hamsun não se sustenta.

3º O Vitalismo tem em conta todos os acontecimentos da vida e exclui qualquer hierarquização de base racial, social, etc. As oposições próprias do vitalismo são: afirmação da vida/negação da vida; sadio/enfermo; orgânico/mecânico. Daí, que não possam ser reconduzidas a categorias sociais, a categorias políticas convencionais, etc. A vida é uma categoria fundamental apolítica, pois todos os homens sem distinção estão submetidos a ela.

4º O "irracionalismo" lançado sobre Hamsun e Lawrence, assim como seu anti-utopismo, tem sua base em uma revolta contra a "viabilidade" (feasibility; Machbarkeit), contra a idéia de perfectibilidade infinita (que encontramos também sob uma forma "orgânica" nos românticos ingleses da primeira geração). A idéia de viabilidade choca diretamente com a essência biológica da natureza. De fato, a idéia de viabilidade é a essência do niilismo, como apontou o filósofo italiano Emanuele Severino. Para Severino, a viabilidade deriva de uma vontade de completar o mundo apreendendo-o como um devir (porém não como um devir orgânico incontrolável). Uma vez o processo de "acabamento" tendo concluído, o devir detem bruscamente seu curso. Uma estabilidade geral se impõe na Terra e esta estabilidade forçada é descrita como um "bem absoluto". Desde a literatura, Hamsun e Lawrence, precederam assim a filósofos contemporâneos como o citado Emanuele Severino, Robert Spaemann (com sua crítica do funcionalismo), Ernst Behler (com sua crítica da "perfectibilidade infinita") ou Peter Koslowski. Estes filósofos, fora da Alemanha ou Itália, são muito pouco conhecidos pelo grande público. Sua crítica profunda dos fundamentos das ideologias dominantes, provoca inevitavelmente o rechaço da solapada inquisição que exerce seu domínio em Paris.

Nietzche, Hamsun, e Lawrence, os filósofos vitalistas ou, se preferível, "antiviabilistas", ao insistir sobre o caráter ontológico da biologia humana, se opuseram à idéia ocidental e niilista da viabilidade absoluta de qualquer coisa; isto é, da inexistência ontológica de todas as coisas, de qualquer realidade. Bom número deles - Hamsun e Lawrence incluídos - nos chamam a atenção sobre o presente eterno de nossos corpos, sobre nossa própria corporeidade (Leiblichkeit), pois nós não podemos conformar nossos corpos, em contraposição a essas vozes que nos querem convencer das bondades da ciência-ficção.

A viabilidade é, pois, o "hybris" que chegou a seu ápice e que conduz à febre, à vacuidade, à pressa, ao solipsismo, e ao isolamento. De Heidegger a Severino, a filosofia européia se ocupou sobre a catástrofe causada pela dessacralização do Ser e pelo desencantamento do mundo. Se os recursos profundos e misteriosos da Terra ou do homem são considerados como imperfeições indignas do interesse do teólogo ou do filósofo, se tudo aquilo que foi pensado de maneira abstrata ou fabricado mais além dos recursos (ontológicos) se encontra sobrevalorizado, então, efetivamente, não pode nos estranhar que o mundo perca toda sacralidade, todo valor. Hamsun e Lawrence foram os escritores que nos fizeram viver com intensidade essa constante, acima até mesmo de alguns filósofos que também deploraram a falsa rota empreendida pelo pensamento ocidental há séculos. Heidegger e Severiano no marco da filosofia, Hamsun e Lawrence no da criação literária, trataram de restituir a sacralidade no mundo e revalorizar as forças que se esconem no interior do homem: desde esse ponto de vista, estamos diante de pensadores ecológicos na mais profunda acepção do termo. O oikos nos abre as portas do sagrado, das forças misteriosas e incontroláveis, sem fatalismos e sem falsa humildade. Hamsun e Lawrence, em definitivo, anunciaram a dimensão geofilosófica do pensamento que nos ocupou durante toda essa universidade de verão. Uma aproximação sucinta a suas obras se fazia absolutamente necessária no temário de 1996.

Tradução por Raphael Machado