Student Essay: Lawrence as an eco-critical writer.

Tayla-Sam Malyon is an English student at Nottingham Trent University. As part of her dissertation she was asked to create a visual essay that explored one aspect of Lawrence’s work. She decided to explore Lawrence as an ecocritical writer through the poem Snake. You can see this and other visual essays created by students at our YouTube channel: D.H.Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage.  

Written whilst Lawrence was in Sicily in 1923, Birds Beast and Flowers is a collection of poems that encapsulates not only Lawrence’s adoration for nature but his growing consciousness of the implications of humans on wildlife. Snake is probably the most famous poem in the collection and captures the moment a man encounters a snake at a water trough.

The narrator is in two minds about the snake, in some parts of the poem he seems to be admiring the snake referring to him as a “king” and “god”, and in others “the voice of [his] education [is saying to him] He must be killed”. In Reversing The Fall: The sense of place in D.H Lawrence, John Middleton Murray claims, “man has two distinct fields of consciousness, two living minds” he likens one to our human nature, a primary mind and one as the secondary mind, which is all that we are taught by society. We can see Lawrence representing both these ‘minds’ or states of consciousness through the admiration yet fear of the snake. According to Lawrence Buell, a pioneer of ecocriticism, the four characteristics that make a text environmentally aware are as follows:

  1. The nonhuman environment is present not merely as a framing device but as a presence that begins to suggest that human history is implicated in natural history.
  2. The human interest is not understood to be the only legitimate interest.
  3. Human accountability to the environment is part of the [preferred] text’s ethical orientation.
  4. Some sense of the environment as a process rather than as a constant or a given is at least implicit in the text.

There is a sense of the above-mentioned biocentrism here as Lawrence genders the snake ‘him’ while also referring to it as ‘someone’. When he waits for it to finish drinking, it gives the impression there’s an equality between them. At first he shows the snake respect, “someone was before me at my water trough, And I, like a second-comer, waiting”. However, as the poem progresses, seemingly out of nowhere, the narrator becomes aggressive and throws a log to scare the snake away. He goes on to scorn his “human education” for making him commit such a “mean act”. This shows the human accountability Buell mentions when characterising environmental texts. Furthermore, we get a sense that Lawrence is aware the cracks in the earth serve as a home for the snake and not a known place he can describe as a ‘framing device’, “out the dark door of the secret earth”.

Poorani claims “The ecocritical interpretation manifests the destructive tendency and loss of humanitarianism towards the benevolent nature”. Looking at Snake through an eco-critical lens, Lawrence appears to be highlighting the disturbed balance between nature and humans, condemning how we have come into their habitat yet are taught to scare them out of it instead of living harmoniously.

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Indecision from an ‘island no bigger than a back garden’

It’s fair to say that British culture is defined by indecision. Presently, this is most evident with Brexit. On June 23, 2016 17.4 million voters (51.9 percent of the votes cast), backed leaving the EU while 16.1 million voters (48.1 percent of votes cast), favoured staying. The referendum proved one thing: the country was completely split. Nobody was entirely sure what they wanted. And so that split continues now, with talk of a second referendum and the countless permutations of possible exits. This has led the Tory party to implode as they squabble over who should be the next non-elected PM. We shouldn’t be surprised, though. This indecision was prevalent during the Civil War. In 1649 we executed Charles I for treason; had a very puritanical republic for eleven years under Oliver Cromwell; then restored Charles II to the throne in 1660.

As a nation, we oscillate with ease between seemingly binary opposites. We switch positions like musical chairs, and when the chairs have gone, we sit on the floor. I mention this because English PEN have launched a crowdfunding campaign to keep an annotated copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the UK. The copy was annotated by Lady Dorothy Byrne, wife of the Hon. Sir Laurence Byrne, the presiding judge of the 1960 obscenity trial against Penguin books.

The Arts minister, Michael Ellis, has determined that the book should stay in the UK and not be exported abroad. It is now deemed a national treasure, part of our literary heritage. The irony is not wasted on Lawrence scholars, given that the British government did everything it could to keep the novel out of print for so long. Lawrence was of regular interest to the censor. Other novels, poetry collections and a set of thirteen painting were all deemed unfit for public purpose, with copies of The Rainbow burned and the paintings locked up in a prison cell. It is little wonder that Lawrence dedicated so much energy towards getting out of England as quickly as he could and as far away as he could – travelling across Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Philippe Sands QC, President of English PEN, said:

“DH Lawrence was an active member of English PEN and unique in the annals of English literary history. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was at the heart of the struggle for freedom of expression, in the courts and beyond. This rare copy of the book, used and marked up by the judge, must remain in the UK, accessible to the British public to help understand what is lost without freedom of expression. This unique text belongs here, a symbol of the continuing struggle to protect the rights of writers and readers at home and abroad.”

The copy was recently sold at auction to an overseas bidder for £56,250. English PEN have created a ‘Go Fund Me’ page to match the bid and keep it in Blightly. It is with this in mind that we have produced another short film for you that addresses parochialism and Lawrence’s views of the British. Written in 1924, Lawrence was infuriated that “an island no bigger than a back garden” should have such an inflated sense of grandeur. How true that sentiment remains today.

Lady C

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we represent the Lady Chatterley Trial? How do we determine what is obscene and what should be censored?  In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

D.H. Lawrence and the Phoenix of Regeneration

In our second guest blog exploring the relevance of the Phoenix, David Brock takes a broader look at representations of the Phoenix in Lawrence’s work and asks why he believed it was important to be “erased, cancelled, made nothing”. 

It is almost central to a satisfactory understanding of D.H. Lawrence to be aware that his life and creative output are packed with symbolic meaning. One has only to consider such works as The Rainbow, The Plumed Serpent, The Thimble, The Ladybird, The Fox, The Captain’s Doll, or the powerful novella, St Mawr, where the titular fiery Welsh stallion is an almost phoenix-like messenger from a lost world, representing the instinctive life which man has lost, to realise how vitally important symbols are in Lawrence’s writing.

In fact, in St Mawr, it is significant that there is a character, named Phoenix, who understands the horse, and helps lead the heroine of the story to the possibility of a new life. But, more about that another time.

Plumed Serpent
Artwork from www.dawnoftheunread.com

The Plumed Serpent, is the Mexican God, Quetzalcoatl – which is the title Lawrence chose for the novel, prior to interference from his publisher. As Lawrence scholar Keith Sagar points out, Quetzalcoatl “is a phoenix, for he threw himself into a volcano… there to sleep the great sleep of regeneration until his cycle should come round”.

There are many quite fabulous references to Lawrence’s cherished symbol, that fabled bird, the phoenix, in his amazing, large-scale, post-war symbolic essay, The Crown. Here the phoenix is “like an over-sumptuous eagle” which “passes into flame above the golden palpable fire of the desert”. We glimpse “the young phoenix within the nest, with curved beak growing hard and crystal, like a scimitar, and talons hardening into pure jewels”. Lawrence wills that our souls should come “into being in the midst of life, just as the phoenix in her maturity becomes immortal in flame”.

In Aaron’s Rod – where the “Rod”, which is Aaron’s flute, is a symbol itself, at the point where Aaron’s desire returns, Lawrence writes, “The phoenix had risen in fire again, out of the ashes”.

Phoenix by D.H. Lawrence

Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled,
made nothing?
Are you willing to be made nothing?
dipped into oblivion?

If not, you will never really change.

The phoenix renews her youth
only when she is burnt, burnt alive, burnt down
to hot and flocculent ash.
Then the small stirring of a new small bub in the nest
with strands of down like floating ash
shows that she is renewing her youth like the eagle,
immortal bird.

It should go without saying that Lawrence’s headstone in Vence, where he died, depicted a phoenix (now displayed at the Birthplace Museum, Eastwood), or that one appears on his memorial plaque at his ranch, in Taos, in New Mexico. Or there being a play by Tennessee Williams, a playwright who adored Lawrence, which is called I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phoenix. And here on this digital screen, hosting this guest blog, Lawrence is reborn once more, this time for 21st century audiences, soon to transform into a series of artefacts in James Walker and Paul Fillingham’s Memory Theatre.

Lawrence defiantly designed and drew the phoenix which appeared on the privately printed, signed, limited edition of 1,000 copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, published in Florence, in 1928, when the novel was banned in England. And, in 1929, the year before his death, Lawrence wrote a challenging, yet affirmatory, short poem, called Phoenix, in which he interrogates his reader, asking “Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled, made nothing?. . .If not you will never really change”, explaining that the phoenix can only renew her youth when she is “burnt down to hot and flocculent ash”.

It is only then that “the small stirring of a new bub in the nest with strands of down like floating ash shows that she is renewing her youth like the eagle, immortal bird”.

David organises a D.H. Lawrence reading, study and performance group, The Lawrence Players, which meets fortnightly, between 5 and 7 pm in Chapel-en-le-Frith library (16th, 30th May and so on). Any enquiries, please contact David at vegan.lawrentian@gmail.com

dhl-trunk redIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we represent the phoenix or encourage our audience to render themselves “sponged out, erased, cancelled, made nothing”?  In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

D.H. Lawrence and his Immortal Bird, the Phoenix

Badger with phoenix
David Brock with the Phoenix tapestry. Photo: James Walker

In this guest blog, David Brock explains how the phoenix became an iconic symbol of Lawrence’s intellectual and spiritual struggles, as well as being a familiar sign used by local businesses close to his birthplace of Eastwood. David also discusses how he came to become the owner of a phoenix tapestry created by Lawrence and Frieda during their troubled stay in Cornwall.   

The phoenix was a frequently employed symbol in D. H. Lawrence’s day. Insurance companies, in particular, favoured it. There were Phoenix Cottages in Eastwood, and a Phoenix Coffee Tavern. The famous mythical bird featured in the catalogue produced by Haywoods, the surgical goods factory in Nottingham, where Lawrence worked as a clerk for a few months, in 1901, before leaving due to illness.

Owing to its association with Lawrence, the phoenix is still a familiar sight to Eastwood residents and visitors, clearly visible on canopies, set as metal studs into the pavement and as the name of the local snooker hall. And many companies large and small throughout the country employ it, even those as seemingly mundane as Phoenix Mould Tools Ltd. or Phoenix Damp Proofing!

Pheonix_stuff eastwood

But, Lawrence was first seriously struck by this ancient symbol, and drawn to adopt it as his life-long and dearly-held symbol of regeneration, on being given a book containing Christian iconography. From being connected to the sun-god in Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations, the pagan phoenix becomes an image of resurrection used by Christianity, representing the triumph of life over death, as in the Easter story.

It became D.H. Lawrence’s own great religion of life that man must die away from the disastrous living-death of mass industialism in order to be reborn into a more complete existence, and the phoenix represented his hope for this regeneration of humanity splendidly. In Lawrence’s fiction, many of his characters break down and lose their former consciousness before achieving individual renewal. The central character and eponymous hero of Aaron’s Rod, for instance, must undergo the phoenix experience, having “to go to destruction to find his way through from the lowest depths”.

A century ago, in order to distance himself from horrendous critical attacks – his great novel, The Rainbow, had been prosecuted, banned and burned in the streets of London, outside the courthouse, by the Public Hangman, rather deterring publishers from taking on any other of his works – Lawrence moved to that most pagan part of the country, Cornwall. While living near Zennor, and helping on the farm at Higher Tregerthen, Lawrence embroidered a tapestry of a phoenix. It represented his deep desire to found a new community, leading to a new civilisation, from what he regarded as the ashes of the old. He gave this phoenix to his young farmer friend, William Henry Hocking, who was very much impressed by Lawrence and Frieda, never having previously come across such lively free spirits. I am now the proud owner of the tapestry phoenix, as you can see in the picture, which I purchased from an auction a long time ago.

David organises a D.H. Lawrence reading, study and performance group, The Lawrence Players, which meets fortnightly, between 5 and 7 pm in Chapel-en-le-Frith library (16th, 30th May and so on). Any enquiries, please contact David at vegan.lawrentian@gmail.com

dhl-trunk redIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we represent the phoenix or Lawrence’s ideas on community and creating a new civilisation?  In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

 

D.H. Lawrence and the Risen Lord in All of Us.

DHL Easter Egg image

To celebrate Easter, David Brock takes a look at Lawrence’s controversial take on the Crucifixion in the essay ‘Resurrection’ and how Easter eggs led to the novel The Man Who Died.  

In our so-called ‘Christian country’, we’re told fewer couples choose to marry in church. But let’s welcome this greater honesty. And while Easter is a commercial bonanza now. . .the stores stacked with machine-laid eggs – Easter is symbolic of Oestrus, and the Pagan origin of our great spring festival.

Unsurprisingly, D.H. Lawrence – who was brought up steeped in the Bible and Christian mythology, and has been depicted as a Christ-like figure himself, even described by some as ‘messianic’ – offers some challenging, alternative suggestions when it comes to the Church, the Easter Story and the Resurrection. What he says can help us all to rise up again, achieving fuller being, at this most regenerative time of year.

Inspired by the sight of eggs at Easter, and at first called The Escaped Cock, the subsequent title of Lawrence’s controversial fictional version of Christ coming back to life, and emerging from the tomb, The Man Who Died, tells us quite a lot. This is a mortal ‘Man’, rather than a Saviour, King of Kings or Son of God. This ‘Man’ has died the death of his old self, and his new, individual, flesh and blood self, has returned to life. He is taking the first hesitant steps away from a past he now repudiates, towards his difficult but vital human resurrection. He is becoming ‘The Man Who Lived’, rather than ‘The Christ Who Died’.

In a short essay, ‘Resurrection’, Lawrence berates fellow writer, Tolstoy, for wanting Christ to go on ‘being crucified everlastingly’, and urges all of that ilk to ‘Put away the Cross; it is obsolete.’ For the ‘stigmata’ are ‘healed up’. And ‘The Lord is risen,’

The Cross has become the ‘Tree of Life’ again, Lawrence insists. It has taken root and is issuing buds. However, the multitudes are mistakenly putting their Lord on the Cross again.

Whereas those who are prepared to rise along with the Risen Lord can do so as lords themselves. Facing inwards towards the ‘Whole God’ – which is, our central living integrity, the hub of our being – on the ‘Wheel of fire’, we can all be lit up with ‘bright and brighter and brightest and most-bright faces’, Lawrence believes.

In his poem, ‘The Risen Lord’ Lawrence’s Jesus opens his eyes ‘afresh’, seeing for the first time ‘people of flesh’. Having conquered the fear of death, he must now ‘conquer the fear of life’ – living as a ‘man among men’. He rejects the old denial of substance and physical desires – ‘never can denial deny them again.’

This vision in Lawrence of us all as Lords of Life is infectious. The last of his Pansies, ‘Prayer’, written as his health declined, expresses an extraordinary wish. . .one we might share – ‘Give me the moon at my feet / Put my feet upon the crescent, like a Lord!”

David organises a D.H. Lawrence reading, study and performance group, The Lawrence Players, which meets fortnightly, between 5 and 7 pm in Chapel-en-le-Frith library (18th April, 2nd, 16th, 30th May and so on). The ultimate aim of the group is to raise the profile of this radical exciting author by performing his work on stage.
Any enquiries, please contact David at vegan.lawrentian@gmail.com

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we get across Lawrence’s indifferent relationship with religion or the self-deification of his later works? Will chocolate eggs melt inside our memory theatre or hatch and rise from the flames? In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

 

Lawrence and Sillitoe celebrated as rebel writers by Forza Garibaldi at the City Ground.

D.H. Lawrence made an unlikely appearance at the City Ground on 26 February as Forest hosted arch rivals Derby County. Lawrence was one of five local ‘rebels’ celebrated in large banners alongside suffragette Helen Watts, fictitious leader of the luddites Ned Ludd, author Alan Sillitoe, Eric Irons – the first Black magistrate, and ode Big Head, Brian Clough. The banners were organised by Forest supporters’ group Forza Garibaldi. In the previous outing with Derby, Forza organised a large flag depicting Guiseppe Garibaldi as well as opening the previous season with a ‘Rise of the Garibaldi’ banner. The spectacles have caused great excitement for fans as well as evoking a sense of civic pride, and it’s had an impact on the players with some of them coughing up to fund the banners.

Forza banner
Image from http://www.forzagaribaldi.com

After years of mouthing off at the rest of the world, Nottingham has slowly started to stand up for itself and think about its own identity. There’s been a bit of a rebranding exercise of late, with the idea of the ‘Rebel City’ starting to take shape, creating more pride than the £120,000 spent on the ‘Slanty N’ in 2005. Part of the ‘Rebel City’ idea is coming from the £29.4 million investment into the Castle which is using the Hood legend to link out to wider examples of rebellion within the city. Rebellion (or to use the more UNESCO friendly alternative – ‘contrarian’) was a feature of the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature bid. Rebel writers were also featured in our previous project Dawn of the Unread, as well as a large banner on Station Street organised by Rob Howie Smith and others.

rebel-writers-1
Photograph by David Sillitoe from sillitoe.com

Writing on their blog, Forza explained: “The city’s rebel heritage runs deep; it has passed through the centuries and across various forms. While certainly not an exclusive trait of Nottingham it has developed a reputation for being a place where the locals will stand up for what they believe and support each other. It is that underdog spirit that has been a bedrock of Nottingham and one that has seeped into the consciousness of many of its residents.”

I think the Forza campaign is superb as it’s got fans discussing things they would perhaps not have discussed otherwise. Hearing people say, ‘Who’s she?’ and ‘I’ve heard of him, didn’t he write that dotteh book?’ is a great way of capturing the imagination of the city and creating a sense of identity and place. Forest are in the top 20 of best attended clubs in the UK so these messages are reaching a large audience.

rebels
Image from http://www.forzagaribaldi.com

However, if Lawrence or Sillitoe had ever attended a football match it would most likely be at Meadow Lane. Arthur Seaton wears a Notts County scarf in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and the pit strikers in Lawrence’s short story ‘Strike Pay’ have just returned from a match between County and Villa.

As far as I am aware, neither author was a fan of football. I wrote to Sillitoe many years ago asking him what he thought would have happened to Arthur Seaton if his father had been Brian Clough (at the time I had been asked to write a book about Clough, spent three years researching it, then decided not to go ahead with it because there were so many being churned out I felt like I was capitalising on his death). Sillitoe wrote back and said he didn’t have much interest in football.

Sillitoe’s only story to feature football is ‘The Match’ which appears in the short story collection The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. It opens with a game between County and Bristol City on a cold winter’s day, a game which County lose. The match is watched by forty year-old Lennox, a mechanic who knew County would lose ‘because he himself, a spectator, hadn’t been feeling in top form’ and Fred, recently married and much younger, who wears his ‘best sports coat’ rather than the tribal colours of his team. After seeing his team defeated, Lennox returns home and takes it out on his wife, she eventually leaves him. Fred, who lives next door, overhears the argument. His 19 year-old wife is “plump like a pear, not round like a pudding, already pregnant though they’d only been married a month”. They are young and full of hope, but a couple of decades down the line…

D0UiE_lWoAA2uS9
Image from http://www.forzagaribaldi.com

Lawrence wrote three strike-inspired stories, ‘Strike Pay’, ‘The Miner at Home’ and ‘Her Turn’ during March 1912. This was a reaction to the first National coal strike which aimed to secure a minimum wage. It started at the end of February in Alfreton, Derbyshire and spread nationally. It ended on 6 April after 37 days and resulted in over one million striking miners. Strike Pay (I and II) was published in the Westminster Gazette on 6 and 13 September 1913.

Like Sillitoe’s ‘The Match’, Lawrence’s reference to football acts as a backdrop to wider social issues. At eleven o’clock, a gang of striking miners set off on a nine mile walk to Nottingham.

“The road was crowded with colliers travelling on foot to see the match between Notts and Aston Villa… It was a good match between Notts and Villa — no goals at half-time, two-none for Notts at the finish. The colliers were hugely delighted, especially as Flint, the forward for Notts, who was an Underwood man well known to the four comrades, did some handsome work, putting the two goals through.”

W FlintInterestingly, Lawrence does reference a real footballer and a real match. Notts County played Aston Villa on Wednesday March 13, 1912. According to the Gottfried Fuchs blogging site Billy Flint, who went on to represent County 408 times (1908-26), is credited as scoring both goals but this is factually incorrect. He scored one, the other was by Billy Matthews.

Lawrence’s short story was turned into an ITV Play of the Week and was aired on 6 June 1967 staring Angela Morant, John Ronane and Bill Kenwright. The director was Richard Everitt.

Forza Garibaldi have done a fantastic job in creating a real sense of civic pride through football. On their website they explain that Lawrence’s inclusion on their banners isn’t for all of the usual reasons we might associate with Lawrence but because he spoke out on behalf of black writers and that he was ’… a rebel and unrelenting enemy of oppression and repression in whatever form he encountered them.’’ Their source was a 1990 article by Leo Hamalian in the Journal of Modern Literature. I’d never heard about this before myself, and now, thanks to a banner at a football match, have tracked down the article and am about to learn more. Molto buona, Forza. Grazie.

dhl-trunk redIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we get across Lawrence’s short stories about the miners strike of 1912? Is there space for one of the banners by Forza Garibaldi? In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

‘Upside Down at the Bottom of the World’ with David Faulkner

Upside Down at bottom of world.

Upside Down at the Bottom of the World was originally performed in 1980 and won David Allen the Australian Writers’ Guild Award for Best Play. Set in 1922, the play explores Lawrence’s brief time in Australia where he wrote Kangaroo. The controversial novel includes ‘The Nightmare’ chapter that details Lawrence’s experiences of living in Cornwall during World War One. The play has particular resonance for David Faulkner as he has played the part of Lawrence and is now directing the latest production at Lane Theatre, Newquay.  

Tell us a little bit about yourself…
When I was a kid my father introduced me to the world of theatre and film. Acting from the age of twelve the smell of the greasepaint has never left me. But like so many other aspiring actors I was persuaded to get ‘a proper job’ with greater security than treating the professional boards. Even so, I continued my theatrical course as an actor and later as a director in both amateur and semi-professional theatre.

Chichester Festival Theatre played an important role in helping develop your career, as did a relationship breakup…  
In Chichester I became involved with the Festival and made many helpful contacts that opened for me a number of otherwise closed doors, most importantly an agent. When my first wife and I parted company, I decided to fulfil my dream and ran away to the metaphorical circus so to speak.

IMG_5643
David Faulkner. Photograph Carolyn Oakley

Frieda once said that what she loved most about Lawrence was his saying ‘yes’ to life, known as ‘Bejahung’ in German. You’ve taken some risks that have helped share your career…
One day, while on the London tube, I happened to see an advert in Time Out which read, ‘English Speaking Actors wanted for the Cafe Theatre Frankfurt’. Rather than send my CV, photograph and covering letter, I bought a £17.50 Magic Bus Ticket, packed an overnight bag and the next thing I knew I was in Frankfurt looking for The Cafe Theatre. Probably due to bare faced cheek rather than my chosen audition pieces I was offered the job. Eighteen months later I was still working at the Cafe theatre as both an actor and director, doing three monthly rep.

It was here that you first encountered Davis Allen’s play… 
Whilst there I saw Upside Down at the Bottom of the World performed by ESTA (English Speaking Theatre of Amsterdam) and when they needed a replacement for the role of Lawrence, due to illness of the previous actor playing the role, I was fortunately their first choice. As director, I had just previewed Samuel Becket’s Happy Days, and was happy to leave the run in the capable hands of the stage manager, and made the trip to Amsterdam to take over the role of Lawrence. No time for research as I had just ten days to learn the lines and replicate the role in preparation for a continued three-month tour of Holland and Germany. I remember so little of that production but often returned to the script with the thought that one day I would revive it.

And now you’re directing the play at Lane Theatre… 
Now retired and living in Cornwall I run a small touring company as well as guest directing for several local community groups. In this role I have met many talented actors and when I discovered that two of these talented actors bore more than a passing resemblance to Lawrence and Frieda I decided the time was right to revive the play, this time with sufficient time to research the characters in depth and put my own spin on the text.

Lighting is very important in the play… 
The text specifies that there should be no elaborate sets and that the actors create the character roles with minimal costume changes and in full view of the audience. Flash back scenes to – Cornwall – Eastwood – Bavaria etc – are marked by lighting effects and projected images and pre-recorded voices. As a director this approach to staging a play has always fascinated me and the creativity of the acting/technical team allow us to take what is, after all, no more than words on a page to an exciting and thought- provoking piece of pure theatre.

You’ve introduced some fascinating extra detail, such as Lawrence knitting bloomers…
Both Stuart Ellison and Jean Lenton who play Lawrence and Frieda respectively have done a great deal of homework in preparation for their roles and their research have identified aspects of the Lawrence’s relationship which is not found in the play yet together we have given a gentle nod in that direction. For example, Frieda liked wearing French knickers yet Lawrence preferred her to wear bloomers, which he often made for her. Therefore, at the beginning of the play we see Lawrence sewing a pair of bloomers which Frieda puts on in front of him. We see this sexual game playing is indeed a significant part of their relationship.

DHL 3
Photograph Carolyn Oakley

They had quite a turbulent relationship. Is this addressed in the play? 
The turbulence and violence between the Lawrence’s is a known fact, therefore, it forms an important aspect of the play. My attitude is that as it is historically true is must be approached as real as possible. Unfortunately, as we live in a nanny state, with so many subjects that are deemed too sensitive to explore, there will always be some audience members who will feel uncomfortable with certain subjects. Theatre has always been there to challenge the status quo and I like to challenge.  I can’t be side tracked by what someone else might think. My job is to present the play as honestly and as truthfully as I can and if it upsets those with a sensitive bent then so be it.

Presumably your audience will be aware of Lawrence’s reputation… 
I am sure that the majority of people who come to see the play will be aware of Lawrence, whether in book or film, and will understand that it would be impossible to present a play about Lawrence without it dealing with sex, love and turbulent relationships.

Who else features in the play? 
Gary Smith plays not only Jack Calcott but also the Doctor who rejected Lawrence from active service, the Cornish policeman who gave them the order to leave the county and a German Policeman who caught Lawrence and Frieda bonking in the Bavarian woods and arrests Lawrence for spying. Rachel Bailey plays Victoria Calcott and Jessie Chambers. Rachel bears a striking resemblance to Jessie.

Do you address Lawrence’s sexual ambiguity in the play? 
There is no mention in the text to indicate Lawrence’s sexual ambiguity yet I have explored this aspect of Lawrence’s life in the scenes between Lawrence and Jack, during their political discussions. A look – A hand on a shoulder or knee – A long pause as they stare into each other’s eyes – directorial licence perhaps but I think it worth referencing in the play.

Cornwall had a profound effect on Lawrence, in particular the granite coastline which he wrote ‘had its own life force’. Was he on to something?
There is indeed a something about Cornwall that seeps from rocks and very much felt by the blood-conscious and not necessarily by the mind-conscious. Whether Lawrence was ‘on to something’ I don’t know but Cornwall has in my experience always attracted free thinkers and aging hippies and those creative types are not necessarily adverse to expanding their minds in whatever forms take their fancy.

How important is Lawrence’s literary legacy to the South West?  
There is a DH Lawrence society in St Ives and Zennor and when we approached Zennor Hall with the idea of performing the play there they were very interested in everything connected with Lawrence in Cornwall and were able to give us lots of information about the couple when they lived there, and what they might have got up to. Sadly, Zennor Hall is too small for our production.

Why have you decided to stage the play now? 
Sometimes a play comes along that has particular relevance at a certain time. Upside Down at the Bottom of the World is one of those plays. The political turmoil of the Diggers, the right/left struggle, the influence of the Unions in conflict with the capitalists is almost a mirror to what we are experiencing here and now.

Would Lawrence have voted ‘leave’ or ‘remain’?   
Which way would Lawrence have voted in the referendum? Now that’s a hard one. Married to a German, he may have voted Remain. Then again having no truck with a capitalist world order, and being the son of a miner, perhaps, Leave.  Now that would make a great play, haha.

Lane Theatre

Upside Down at the Bottom of the World is at Lane Theatre, Newquay, Cornwall, TR8 4PX from 14-16 March and 21 – 23 March 2019. Tickets £11 (£10 concessions)

dhl-trunk vibration noiseIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we get across Lawrence’s time spect in Cornwall and Australia? Is there room to show various plays that explore his life? In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

Promo video: Dreams

Dreams

All people dream, but not equally.
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind,
Wake in the morning to find that it was vanity.

But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people,
For they dream their dreams with open eyes,
And make them come true.

According to D.H. Lawrence we all dream, but some dreamers are more unequal than others. There are those who dream at night with their eyes shut, and those who dream in the sun with their eyes wide open. Before we examine this a little deeper, let’s take a moment to reflect on the purpose of sleep given that it has become such a hot topic of late.

Lack of sleep can make us fat. It can increase the risk of a stroke. It can cause depression, etc – you get the picture. Whereas plenty of shuteye can improve concentration and productivity. Sleep functions as a kind of housekeeper that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake. According to neuroscientist Matthew Walker (no relation), lack of suboptimal shut-eye levels can also have an effect on your testicles, and whether you live into your mid 60s. All of this got me thinking about my dad who proudly got by on 4-5 hours a sleep a night. For him, sleeping was an affront to life. You made the most of everyday and maximised the hours. He was overweight, had a stroke and died at 67. But he never suffered from depression and there was nothing wrong with his testicles – he had eight children. He was incredibly productive – running his own business because he hated people telling him what to do. His downfall wasn’t lack of sleep. It was a love of cigars, Mars bars and quadruple whiskies.

I don’t care much for the latest lifestyle tip. I’m old enough to have read that drinking wine is good for your health only for it to be reinvented as middle-class smack. Woe betide anyone taking more than two glugs on a school night. Lawrence would certainly scoff at such advice having lived his entire life in denial at his own poor health. The mere mention of a doctor sent him into a rage. So I doubt he would care to be told how many hours kip he needed to sleep each night.

Dreams, on the other hand, are more complex. They are either a weird by-product of sleep – like plastic is to oil, or some kind of clever programming that functions to preserve the brain, a bit like how a screensaver protects computer monitors from phosphor burn-in when not being used.

Our brains digest so much information throughout the day that it has to be processed somehow.  Take this blog. As I type my brain is also observing a messy desk with coffee stains, the picture of a dinosaur pinned to the wall behind the monitor, tuning into overheard Brexit debates in the office. This irrelevant data has to be classified, ordered and expunged. Dreams, then, are a bit like C Cleaner. They defrag. They take all of this collected information and mash it together into a surreal narrative. In this respect, dreams are incredibly democratic as all of the non-essential data gets a more prominent role when we hit the pillow. Tonight I’ll be dreaming of being chased by a coffee slurping dinosaur screaming ‘remain and you’ll die. Leave and you’ll be free’.

Lawrence wasn’t a fan of democracy, believing, like Nietzsche, that levelling down dimmed the light of those destined to lead. As abhorrent as that might sound to modern ears – and clearly it does have its problems – it needs to be seen in context. Lawrence’s work was censored, banned and vilified for daring to offer alternative ways of living on Planet E. The nation as a democratic ideal was responsible for an ugly passivity that brought about harm to the environment and stifled spiritual growth. Modernity claimed to bring about progress but all this meant was the destruction of the natural landscape, as well as producing bullets and bombs that would kill millions of people in the trenches.

Lawrence had no time for resting his head on a pillow and taking refuge in sleep. There were too many battles to be fought in daylight. We see this in his restlessness, making his way across the globe in search of Rananim, settling nowhere for more than two years, refusing to own property because he knew possessions ended up possessing you. We see it time and again in his novels, not least in Kangaroo where Richard Somers outlines ‘a new religious idea’ that ‘must gradually spring up and ripen before there could be any constructive change. And yet he felt that preaching and teaching were both no good, at the world’s present juncture. There must be action, brave, faithful action: and in the action the new spirit would arise.’

This is why Lawrence remains relevant today. He was a dangerous person in a peaceful sense. He dared to dream with his eyes wide open.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we convey Lawrence’s ideas about dreaming with your eyes wide open when it’s a lot easier to keep them shut? In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

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Promo video: We are Transmitters; but what are we transmitting?

D.H. Lawrence is a writer who divides opinion. He may be part of the literary canon, but he’s there begrudgingly, on the margins, peering in and mocking those revelling in their grandeur. For others he must be removed from the canon with haste. He’s sexist, a fascist and many other ‘ists’ that are often born from a simplistic understanding of his work – though not without reason. He is a complex and contradictory writer, adulated and abhorred in equal measures. Most definitely not average.

Ever since F.R Leavis (1955) labelled D.H Lawrence: Novelist, everyone has put claim to one element of his writing as distilling his essence more than others. Dallas Kenmare (1951), in Fire Bird: A Study of D.H Lawrence, would have us believe that everything that Lawrence had to say was contained solely in his poetry. Geoff Dyer (1997), points us towards his letters in Out of Sheer Rage. For others, his travel writing contains a simplicity and clarity of observation that found a more honest mode of expression than those novels that tend to go on a bit. More recently James Moran (2015), a professor of Modern English Literature and Drama at the University of Nottingham, puts the case forward for Lawrence to be recognised for his plays in his study The Theatre of D.H Lawrence, the first major book-length study of DHL’s plays for four decades.

Whatever our opinion of Lawrence, we can agree to disagree. He’s a complex bugger which is why we continue to gossip about him 89 years after his death. This is evident in the poem ‘We are Transmitters’, which, like much of his work, asks us how we want to live while telling us exactly how we should live. In places, it reads like a religious sermon (‘Give, and it shall be given unto you’) it’s imbued with the Protestant work ethic (have pride in your puddings and stool making) and then there’s that stuff about ‘sexless people transmitting nothing’ that will get the ‘ist’ crowd foaming at the lips because the smutty author is at it again. But Lawrence wasn’t really a smutty author. In many ways he was quite a prude. And of course, when he’s talking about ‘sexless people’ he’s not talking about ‘sex’, he’s talking about blood consciousness; ways of being and connecting with the world, and and and…

We are Transmitters

As we live, we are transmitters of life.
And when we fail to transmit life, life fails to flow through us.

That is part of the mystery of sex, it is a flow onwards.
Sexless people transmit nothing.

And if, as we work, we can transmit life into our work,
life, still more life, rushes into us to compensate, to be ready
and we ripple with life through the days.

Even if it is a woman making an apple dumpling, or a man a stool,
if life goes into the pudding, good is the pudding
good is the stool,
content is the woman, with fresh life rippling in to her,
content is the man.

Give, and it shall be given unto you
is still the truth about life.
But giving life is not so easy.
It doesn’t mean handing it out to some mean fool, or letting the living dead eat
you up.
It means kindling the life-quality where it was not,
even if it’s only in the whiteness of a washed pocket-handkerchief.

One of the aims of the D.H. Lawrence memory theatre is to drag Lawrence into the 21st century by transmitting his thoughts across media platforms and in byte-sized chunks that are more accessible to modern audiences. That’s why we’ve started the conversation on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, here and there. We’re pretty certain he would have hated the digital age, as there’s nothing more sexless and artificial than screens mediating human contact. But he may have enjoyed the freedom of expression it allows, particularly given the lifelong censorship he endured.

Lawrence talked of finding Rananim – a community of like-minded people. He wanted to sail off around the world on a boat, live remotely up mountains, get his hands dirty with peasants in Europe. He was driven to move; attempting to find peace in a post-war world. Now we are doing that virtually and digitally across networks. The usual suspects are still out there trying to influence and manipulate our thoughts, but now they do this more subtly through algorithms. There’s no need to publicly burn books in the age of bots.

karina
Karina Bush. Go check her out at karinabush.com

In this complex, layered network of digital voices, we were sent a message from poet Karina Bush. Like Lawrence, Karina appears to be unsettled (in a good way). Over the last five years she’s lived in Europe, Asia and the US but is ‘not one of those travellers who jumps into a culture with a GoPro on my head’. Recently, Karina has become frustrated with ‘flat writing’ and the constraints of the physical page and is experimenting more with visual poetry. Consequently, she offered to make the abridged version of ‘We are Transmitters’ at the top of this page.

Lawrence, too, experimented with form. Alongside Joyce et al, he helped define new forms of modernist writing that would help us better understand the human condition. Digital should be seen as continuing this journey, this pushing of boundaries. Paul and I did this in Dawn of the Unread through embedded content, so as to create different layers of meaning in a text. Karina is doing it through visual poetry, and graphics that are constantly moving, refusing to be pinned down. We are all transmitters.

There are so many things wrong with our digital lives but there are so many magical things as well. Lawrence would have hated social media, but he’d have been brilliant on Twitter, scalding and lashing out at his peers as he did with his letters. He’d have hated the democratisation of thought but welcomed the freedom of expression. And although being ‘alone together’ online does not constitute proper community, it would be hard to imagine him not enjoying connecting with fellow Blutsbruders across the digital void. He fled across the world trying to find people, now this is being done on forums and digital spaces. The more things change, the more they stay the same. But, whatever mode of expression we adopt, we must be committed and do it well. We must say yes.

dhl Yes we can

This sentiment, outlined in ‘We are Transmitters’, reminds me very much of why Frieda put up with Lawrence’s tantrums. He was a yes man, and his lust for life was infectious – although I suspect Frieda would have preferred a few more orgasms from him too. Frieda wrote: “To me his relationship, his bond with everything in creation was so amazing, no preconceived ideas, just a meeting between him and a creature, a tree, a cloud, anything. I called it love, but it was something else – Bejahung in German, ‘saying yes’.”

 

dhl-trunk vibration noiseIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we transmit Lawrence’s ideas and what shape and form should they take? Do we need a bouncer to guard our memory theatre so that sexless people aren’t allowed in? In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

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Karina Bush is an Irish writer and visual poet born in Belfast and now living in Rome. She is the author of three books, Brain Lace (BareBackPress, 2018), 50 Euro (BareBackPress, 2017), and Maiden (48th Street Press, 2016). She has a new book, Christo & Nicola, forthcoming from Analog Submission Press. For more, visit her website  and Instagram 

Promo video: Good vibrations

D.H. Lawrence lived in Cornwall from 30 December 1915 to 15 October 1917 in what he hoped would be a new beginning. It didn’t quite work out as planned. His short tenure on the edge of Britain would have a profound effect on his ideas, not least his developing fascination with cosmic vibrations and the mysterious secrets of primitive cultures emanating from the dark black granite coastline.

Prior to the move, Lawrence married a German woman called Frieda Weekley, a distant relation of Manfred von Richthofen, the ‘Red Baron’, on 13 July 1914, 15 days before the outbreak of WWI. The Rainbow, published in September 1915 lasted two months in print before being seized under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. Prosecutor Herbert Musket declared it ‘a mass of obscenity of thought, idea, and action’. Critic JC Squire suggested Lawrence’s characters were under ‘the spell of German psychologists’, for daring to question fundamentals of their life (religion, love, relationships), and by implication were anti-British in nature. Judge Sir John Dickinson therefore ruled that the book ‘had no right to exist in the wind of war’, and that Lawrence was in effect mocking the very principles British men were fighting to defend. With no sense of irony, copies of The Rainbow were publicly burned, while ‘our’ boys fought for freedom on the Western Front.

If this wasn’t enough to rile the easily riled Lawrence, his passport was seized, meaning he was unable to fulfil his dream of moving to Florida to begin a new life, a new way of being. Cornwall represented his stepping stone to this other world. Lawrence described Cornwall as “outside England…Far off from the world”. Nick Ceramella writes that “in those nightmarish Great War years, he thought that Cornwall, with its calm atmosphere, was a welcoming shelter far from the war, the madding London crowd and its intellectuals, and the national institutions.” But he was wrong. He would face more parochial forms of prejudice, and the ignominy of being expelled under the Defence of the Realm Act, all of which would provide material for the ‘Nightmare’ chapter of Kangeroo (1923).

While in Cornwall, Lawrence started to develop his own philosophy of man’s place in the world. He described this as blood consciousness, whereby we should yield to our more inherent and intuitive nature, the opposite of mental consciousness – the kind of logic that resulted in his books being banned. These ideas weren’t new. In 1913 he wrote “My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as wiser than the intellect”. But now he had time to develop it further.

Jane Costin argues that Lawrence’s views on blood consciousness begin to change during his time in Cornwall. In particular, he senses a life force in the rocks, a latent energy that can connect blood consciousness with the primitive tribes that went before. He describes the landscape as belonging “still to the days before Christianity, the days of Druids, or of desolate Celtic magic and conjuring” (2L 493) and that the water “is so white and powerful and incomprehensible under the black rock, that is not of this life. I feel as if there were a strange, savage, unknown God in the foam – heaven knows what God it be” (2L 501).

Lawrence sounds very much like he is undergoing some form of epiphany, inspired by the landscape that is ‘like the first craggy breaking of dawn in the world, a sense of the primeval darkness just behind, before the Creation’. The phoenix is rising.

Lawrence was under an incredible amount of stress during this period, both financially and creatively, so it’s hardly surprising that the environment took on greater resonance. He was also isolated. His hopes of creating Rananim with John Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield were short-lived, forging wounds that never quite healed. It was also difficult for friends to visit due to wartime costs. Two return train tickets from London to Cornwall costs £7 whereas his entire rent of a cottage in 1916 was £5. It is for this reason that Andrew Harrison argues that in analysing Lawrence’s time in Cornwall we must ‘understand how desperately important the idea of Cornwall was to Lawrence.’

zennor 3
Zennor coastal path: photograph James Walker

When Lawrence and Frieda moved to Zennor, they were effectively isolated between the sea and the Moors. A lack of roads meant their cottage was cut off. This allowed the locals to retain old traditions, languages, and a ‘primitive’ way of life that felt very different to the metropolis. Lawrence, believing he had found new kin, would observe that ‘race is ultimately as much a question of place as heredity’.

The Zennor coastline is home to large lumps of granite that Lawrence felt ‘had its own life force’ and sent out ‘vibrations that could be detected by people who were sensitive to their own blood-consciousness and not dominated by mind-consciousness.’

dhl-hope

Lawrence’s essay on Edgar Allen Poe, published in 1918, draws on these feelings developed in Cornwall: ‘Surely all material things have a form of sentience, even the inorganic: surely they all exist in some subtle and complicated tension of vibration which makes them sensitive to external influence and causes them to have an influence on other external objects, irrespective of contact.’

The concept of a vibrating material world would be addressed more thoroughly in Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922), but it also gets a thorough working through in Kangaroo (1923), where we are informed ‘the body has its own rhythm, with the sun and with the moon. The great nerve ganglia and the subtle glands have their regular times and motions, in correspondence with the outer universe’.

The thing is, not everybody is able to tune into these vibrations, as Somers points out in Kangaroo: “I haven’t got only just the two eyes in my head that can tell the kettle from the teapot. I’ve got another set of eyes inside me somewhere that can tell real differences, when there are any. And that’s what these people don’t seem to have at all. They’ve only got the outside eyes.”

kangaroo
Artwork: Dawn of the Unread

Lawrence’s characters, like Lawrence, can be condescending, arrogant and preachy, while warning others not to be condescending, arrogant and preachy. Kangaroo also opens itself up to some pretty harsh criticisms, and rightly so. But if we put the observations of people as ‘ants’ and ‘canaille’ to one side for a moment, the novel is also an attempt to outline a new religious idea. The great ideas of modernity weren’t working and had simply led to war and industrialisation. Radical alternatives were needed, and Lawrence was prepared to offer up suggestions. To do this, he draws heavily on his experiences of Cornwall and WWI in Kangaroo.

Richard Lovat Somers is a bearded ‘thought adventurer’ essayist and poet who has left England after being detained there during World War I. He was harassed for his independent ideas and his political opinions and faced prejudice and suspicion because he was married to a German wife. Sound like someone we know….

Somers is frustrated by his contemporaries who he diplomatically describes as ‘carrion-eating, filthy-mouthed canaille, like dead-man-devouring jackals’. Realising he can’t change the rest of humanity – and that they’re probably not worth saving anyway – he discovers the great secret: ‘to stand alone as his own judge of himself’ and to leave ‘the mongrel-mouthed world’ to ‘say and do what it liked’.

Somers is absolutely seething at how he has been treated by humanity and can feel his spine sending ‘out vibrations that should annihilate them–blot them out, the canaille, stamp them into the mud they belonged to’. But we also learn that having a proper strop is actually very cathartic: ‘the death-hot lava pours loose into the deepest reservoirs of the soul. One day to erupt: or else to go hard and rocky, dead’. i.e. We can either use our rage to transform ourselves or we can allow it to solidify and render us passive.

It’s at this point in the book that some readers will have had enough of Somers tantrums and thrown the novel onto the fire. Mistake. This is the exact moment the novel takes on another layer of sophistication and broadens out into a scathing attack of ideology. ‘Say what you like, every idea is perishable: even the idea of God or Love or Humanity or Liberty–even the greatest idea has its day and perishes. Each formulated religion is in the end only a great idea. Once the idea becomes explicit, it is dead’.

Yes, we must have ideas but ‘persisting in an old, defunct ideal’ is what eventually brought down Rome, Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire, and ‘now our turn’. Can we apply this logic to the current political climate? Is capitalism, monarchy, national identity, gender, or the EU (I voted remain BTW) defunct ideals that are no longer worth persisting in? Answers on a postcard please…

Somers warns us (sounding a bit like a trailer for the new series of Game of Thrones) ‘If you sow the dragon’s teeth, you mustn’t expect lilies of the valley to spring up in sweet meekness’, therefore he decides to cut himself off from humanity altogether, and focus his attention on ‘the old dark gods, who had waited so long in the outer dark’. Winter is definitely coming…

The God in church is an ideal God. A product of mental consciousness. A human, oh so human invention. As is the money God, and modernity with its fallacious claims of progress. We are all wrapped up in our ‘nice, complete, homely universe’, worrying about ‘running their trains and making their wars and saving the world for democracy’ and consequently do not hear the ‘throb-throb-throb’ of something else calling. This throbbing, this vibration, offers a different way of being, a different connection with the world, and a way of acknowledging a dark unknowable God.

dhl-trunk vibration noiseIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we get across these cosmic vibrations and connections with the old dark Gods? Is there a place for blood consciousness and if so, how do we convey this? In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

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Sun-Struck: On the Question of Solar Sexuality and Speculative Realism in D. H. Lawrence

dhl hope

In this guest blog, Stephen Alexander, author of Torpedo the Ark, attempts to relate Lawrence’s work to recent trends in philosophy; speculative realism and object-oriented ontology.                                                                                                                                

“How strange it would be if some women came

forward and said:

We are sun-women!

We belong neither to men nor our children nor

even to ourselves

but to the sun.”

– D. H. Lawrence, Sun-Women [1]

Indeed! This would be queer, wouldn’t it? And yet this is precisely the phenomenon that I wish to discuss: what might be termed solar sexuality or sun-fucking. Like many forms of edgeplay, if such a practice promises bliss and fulfilment, so too does it risk death. Indeed, one of the arguments that I wish to put forward is that in learning how to love and be loved by the sun in a cosmic-carnal sense, one is left dehumanised and stripped naked before an uncaring universe wherein integral being ceases and life is soon extinguished. Thus what I’m offering here is a not simply a mixture of Lawrentian fantasy and pagan astro-porn, but a counter-vitalism that can be thought of either as a perverse form of speculative realism, or an aggressive material nihilism. What I’m not interested in is the sun understood mythologically, or as an object of religious veneration. For me, the sun is neither alive, nor is it a god.

For Lawrence, however, as for many other people who share his predilection for vitalism and divinity, the sun is more than a material object that can be adequately described and understood by physicists and astronomers. And if, primarily, Lawrence is concerned with the relationships between men and women, he nevertheless insists on the importance of the relation between humanity and the sun. Thus the first question that arises is how might we best define or determine this relationship? Is it, as the story ‘Sun’ suggests, potentially erotic in character? Might we really talk of ‘sex’ between a woman and the sun? Certainly we might, if we choose to subscribe to Lawrentian metaphysics. For Lawrence explicitly states that sex is solar in origin, describing it as a “majestic reserve in the sun”.[2] This is an interesting and novel definition and one that obliges us to think of sex in a far wider sense than usual; as something “so much more than phallic, and so much deeper than functional desire”.[3]

Because Lawrence thinks of sex as a type of solar activity within the living tissue of men and women, perhaps the term that best describes our relation to the sun is correlation. For there is clearly a notion of mutual interdependence between the sun and humankind in Lawrence’s work: we can’t think one without thinking the other. And yet, correlation – something which, as a philosophical concept, we’ll be returning to in the closing remarks – doesn’t sound a very Lawrentian term and I think Lawrence would be happier speaking about correspondence.

For correspondence, implies a far closer level of intimate proximity between terms: they become not merely interdependent, but analogous at a certain level. There is also a vital implication: abstract figures or ideas correlate; living things correspond and communicate. And so it’s not surprising to find this term, correspondence, being used frequently within Lawrence’s work when he wishes to discuss human relationships with non-human bodies and forces. To give but one example of many, in the first version of his essay ‘The Two Principles’, he writes:

“There certainly does exist a subtle and complex sympathy, correspondence, between the plasm of the human body … and the material elements outside. The primary human psyche is a complex plasm, which quivers, sense-conscious, in contact with the circumambient cosmos.”[4]

Correspondence, we can therefore agree, is a privileged term in the Lawrentian vocabulary. And doubtless its appeal lies in the fact that it is the more religious term: for correspondence is an essentially theological doctrine, associated with Emanuel Swedenborg, who believed in a correspondence between spiritual and natural forces extending to all objects in the physical world. If, for Swedenborg, ultimately everything corresponded to God, then, for Lawrence, all things seem to refer back to the sun, understood as a religious symbol, rather than a real object.

Not only does Lawrence wish to reject modern cosmology, he hopes to reverse it. In particular, he wants to reverse the idea that life evolves from matter. On the contrary, he argues, the material universe results from the breakdown of primary organic tissue. This is the central claim of his anti-scientific vitalism and Lawrence insists on this point in full knowledge that it is, as a matter of fact, not the case.[5]

Unfortunately, Lawrence is not alone in this opposition. Rather shamefully, many philosophers have also often been antagonistic and condescending towards science, accusing it, for example, of dogmatism or naïve realism. But, unlike Lawrence, I do not believe a so-called ‘life-mystery’ has ultimate control over the mechanistic and material universe, nor: “If it be the supreme will of the living that the sun should stand still in heaven, then the sun will stand still.”[6] This is simply an occult conceit: the frankly preposterous belief that there can be a magical suspension of the laws of physics at the behest of human will power.[7]

That said, I understand Lawrence’s objection to positivism and his response to the inhuman scale of the universe as given to us within astronomy. When you first encounter the facts and figures of the universe you can indeed become “dizzy with the sense of illimitable space”.[8] But I think we should accept the challenge of this and affirm our ‘imprisonment’ – Lawrence’s word – within an indifferent, uncaring, essentially godless universe. Nihilism is not something to fear, or seek to overcome, but, as a form of intellectual integrity, something to affirm.[9]

Lawrence, I know, wants imaginative wonder and release and would rather have religious myth than scientific description, as the former guarantees him this. Essentially, he’s a theo-humanist and a fantasist, who dismisses empirical evidence in favour of subjective ‘truth’ as he feels it. And so he prefers astrology to astronomy. And why not, when the former is so much more flattering to our sense of self-importance? For astrology gives us man translated in onto-cosmic terms. Lawrence writes:

“In astronomical space, one can only move, one cannot be. In the astrological heavens … the whole man is set free, once the imagination crosses the border. The whole man, bodily and spiritual, walks in the magnificent field of the stars … and the feet tread splendidly upon … the heavens, instead of untreadable space.”[10]

The first sentence is doubtless true: our being is mortal and terrestrial and we do cease to exist in human terms once we venture into the “horrible hollow void”[11] of outer space. But I don’t like Lawrence’s desire to place his feet upon the heavens – it seems an impertinence and embarrassingly allzumenschliches. Small and insignificant, Lawrence wants to project himself into “the great sky with its meaningful stars and its profoundly meaningful motions”.[12] He wants to declare his unity with the cosmos. But this is surely the same kind of transcendental egoism that Lawrence ridicules Whitman and others for. He boasts that he is not afraid to feel his own nothingness “in front of the vast void of astronomical space”,[13] but, actually, he does seem afraid when confronted with reality and ontological hollowness.

However, scared or not, Lawrence at least knows what it is he wants: a release of the imagination in order that it might make him “feel stronger and happier”.[14] Science doesn’t provide this, he asserts. At best, it satisfies the intellect, even as it gives us a sun and a moon that are “only thought-forms … things we know but never feel by experience”.[15] This, I have to say, is a bit rich. For so too are the sun and moon given us by astrology only thought-forms – and, arguably, nothing but colourful thought-forms, whereas the sun spoken of within astronomy has some actual basis in material reality.

So if, in a sense, I agree with Lawrence that we have ‘lost the sun’ in the same manner and for the same reason we have lost all things as things in themselves,[16] still I might question what the best way to recover the sun is: poetry, astrology, eroticized sunbathing? Or perhaps a speculative and material form of philosophy that will liberate us from the personal entanglement of correlationism.

sun dhl

D.H. Lawrence’s Sun

Originally written in 1925, ‘Sun’ was significantly revised three years later and it is this ‘unexpurgated’ text to which I’ll be referring here. The central protagonist, Juliet, is an embryonic Lady Chatterley: rich, bored, and sexually frustrated. However, instead of taking a human lover, she establishes an erotic relationship with the sun, that strangest of strange attractors. Such a relationship is both pleasurable and dangerous: the sun kisses us into life, but it cares nothing for the personal, the egoic, or the human. In fact, as we shall see, it incinerates these things and, as one commentator rightly notes, whilst the sun helps Juliet overcome her depression, it also challenges her pale-faced American idealism and her status as a modern independent woman. For whilst the Italian sun is rather less fierce and demanding than the Aztec sun that thrives upon blood, nevertheless it is just as relentless and Juliet’s body “is made to acknowledge its subjection to the inexorable processes of fertility and procreation, in spite of her will’s resistance”.[17] Clearly, there’s a sexual politics being promoted in this biological fatalism, though whether it’s solar or simply sexist in origin is debatable.

The story opens with Juliet’s husband and mother being instructed by her doctors to take her away into the sun. Despite her initial scepticism, she allows herself to be carried away from the New World to the Old: from a land of steel, to a land of olive trees and lemon groves. It sounds lovely – and it is lovely. But initially, Juliet is unimpressed:

“She saw it all, and in a measure it was soothing. But it was all external. She didn’t really care about it. She was herself just the same, with all her anger and frustration inside her, and her incapacity to feel anything real.” [20]

We have already noted this loss of world and the feeling of being somehow out of touch with things in the phenomenal universe; certain only of our own subjective thoughts and feelings; our own rage, rather than the physical reality of objects. Again, the question is what can we do about it. For Lawrence, it invariably seems to involve taking your clothes off:  “‘You know, Juliet, the doctor told you to lie in the sun, without your clothes. Why don’t you?’ said her mother.” [20] Juliet responds aggressively to this suggestion: “‘When I am fit to do so, I will. Do you want to kill me?’” [20], she demands.

It seems a slightly hysterical overreaction, but, actually, she’s quite right to fear for her mortal well-being. For the sun will destroy her, even when she feels strong enough to go naked before it. In becoming sun-woman, Juliet sets off on an “adventure into the material universe”[18] and hers is not a story of a being among beings, nor a tale of human self-discovery, but, rather, a flirtation with death. As we will see, her soul “is in a sense dehumanised”[19] in its encounter with the sun in its stark reality and her story offers us a “vision of life hovering tiny and isolated”[20] against a solar system where individuality is spent and meaningless.

sun gazing

Sun-Gazing

Juliet’s solar affair begins one morning “when the sun lifted himself molten and sparkling, naked over the sea’s rim” [20] and she finds herself transfixed whilst lying in her bed:

“It was as if she had never seen the sun rise before. She had never seen the naked sun stand up pure upon the sea-line, shaking the night off himself, like wetness. And he was full and naked. And she wanted to come to him.

So the desire sprang up secretly in her, to be naked to the sun. She cherished her desire like a secret. She wanted to come together with the sun.” [20]

There are a couple of points I’d like to comment on here. Firstly, note the typical engendering of the sun. In most cultures and languages the sun is invariably male. This lazy sexual dualism, that divides everything into polarised male and female forces, is not only untenable, but it fosters and perpetuates a deeply reactionary sexual politics. Happily, even within loyalist Lawrence circles such binary thinking is today met with suspicion and deserved hostility.

Secondly, I’d like to say something about the odd practice of sun-gazing. Throughout the story Juliet continually looks at the sun and there is an esoteric practice that advocates precisely this: staring at the rising or setting sun for unusually prolonged periods, in order to gain physical and spiritual well-being. The fact that looking directly at the sun, even for a short time, can cause solar retinopathy and lead to permanent damage or blindness, is not something that seems to cause proponents of sun-gazing any real concern. They don’t deny such risks, but they do play them down and many assert that, if done with due diligence, sun-gazing can actually improve eyesight.[21] Indeed, some sun-gazers claim that not only does the practice make you feel happier and healthier, but it can directly increase your energy levels and thus radically reduce the need for food: that one can, as it were, meet one’s nutritional requirements directly from sunlight, a bit like a plant. The fact that people don’t possess chlorophyll and so cannot photosynthesise is discreetly overlooked and, as with other forms of inedia, there is no credible scientific evidence to support this claim.

sun fuck

Sun-Fucking

Having decided to give herself to the sun in order to fulfil her desire, Juliet attempts to find a suitable spot where she may consummate her solar-sexual relationship. She realises that it will have to be away from the house – and away from people. But it is not easy finding a place in the modern world in which one may go hidden and alone in order to have “intercourse with the sun” [21].

However, find such a place she does and here, in a series of explicitly eroticised passages, Lawrence describes how Juliet strips naked and gives herself to the sun, exulting in the fact that ‘he’ was no human lover: “She could feel the sun penetrating into her bones: nay, further, even into emotions and thoughts.” [21] She is left feeling not only sun-kissed, but sun-dazed, and sun-fucked. If Lawrence’s language, with its incantatory rhythm and its porno-poetic quality encourages us to think more fully the nature of solar-coition, so too does it have something troubling about it: something voyeuristic and, indeed, sexually violent. For Juliet is stripped and subject not just to the gaze of the sun, but also to the gaze of the reader, who is invited and encouraged to stare at her nakedness just as the sun looks down upon her body laid bare and described in detail. As Juliet is penetrated by the sun, “she lay stunned with the strangeness of the thing that was happening to her” [21]. Can a woman, we might ask, ever give consent to sexual intercourse with the sun? It’s debatable. Indeed, we might also enquire, as in the case of Leda or the Virgin Mary, is this not ultimately a form of rape to which we bear witness?

Less disturbing, but perhaps more surprising, is Lawrence’s sometimes rather crude use of sexual punning and double entendre. When he tells us that Juliet wanted to have intercourse with the sun and come with the sun, I think he fully intends for the sexual connotation to be heard and understood. The verb, to come, for example, meaning to orgasm, would certainly have been familiar in the 1920s, although probably not used in polite society. I’m surely not the first reader to find this peculiar mix of mytho-religious language and sea-side postcard eroticism (taken to its climax in the Chatterley writings) less than successful.

woman-sun-goddess

Becoming Sun-Woman

Despite being ravished by the sun during this first encounter and left feeling dazed and violated by the sun’s power, Juliet’s only vital concern is now for the sun: “She was thinking inside herself, of the sun in his splendour, and his entering into her. Her life was now a secret ritual.” [23] And so, every day, she went at some point to her secret spot among the cactus, wearing only a light wrap and sandals, so that “in an instant … she was naked to the sun” [23]. Soon, she feels as if she knows the sun “in every thread of her body” [23] and she becomes increasingly confident and carefree: “Her heart of anxiety … had disappeared altogether … And her tense womb, though still closed, was slowly unfolding, slowly, slowly, like a lily bud under water, as the sun mysteriously touched it.”[23]

This is followed by a passage crucial to the anti-humanism of the story:

“With her knowledge of the sun, and her conviction that the sun was gradually penetrating her to know her, in the cosmic carnal sense of the word, came over her a feeling of detachment from people, and a certain contemptuous tolerance for human beings altogether. They were so un-elemental, so un-sunned. They were so like graveyard worms.” [23-4]

This seems a bit harsh – and Juliet isn’t only thinking of sophisticated urbanites, or middle-class persons such as herself and her husband, for even the local peasants “with their donkeys, sun-blackened as they were, were not sunned right through. There was a little soft core of fear … where the soul of man cowered in fear of death, and still more in fear of the natural blaze of life. … All men were like that. – Why admit men!” [24]

Why indeed? And yet, fairly soon after reaching this conclusion, this is exactly what Juliet decides to do: to disappointingly admit a man; a sun-darkened peasant with a donkey and a wife and a hard-on.[22] We’ll meet this peasant and his erect penis shortly. But what I want to stress here is how her new contempt for sun-fearing mankind results in Juliet being far less cautious about being seen naked by the local people and increasingly insouciant: all she cared about was being thought beautiful by the sun and not the judgement of society. This might be thought liberating, but we must remember, of course, that the sun doesn’t care about her in the least: this is just her fantasy and conceit.[23]

As her misanthropy and insouciance continue to develop side-by-side, so too does her skin begin to change colour: “all her body was rosy, rosy and turning to gold. She was like another person. She was another person.” [24] This makes her sun-proud and sun-happy: to lose that white, un-sunned body that the Greeks thought fishy and unhealthy and to become at last a transhuman sun-woman:

“It was not just taking sun-baths. It was much more than that. Something deep inside her unfolded and relaxed, and she was given to a cosmic influence. By some mysterious will inside her, deeper than her known consciousness and her known will, she was put into connection with the sun, and the stream of the sun flowed through her, round her womb. She herself, her conscious self, was secondary, a secondary person, almost an onlooker. The true Juliet lived in the dark flow of the sun within her deep body, like a river of dark rays circling, circling dark and violet round the sweet, shut bud of her womb.” [26]

It’s interesting how Lawrence is at pains to stress that what Juliet is doing is something entirely different to and so much more than the sunbathing indulged in by millions of other women around the world: interesting, but not entirely convincing. Clearly, for Lawrence, becoming sun-woman isn’t just a matter of removing your clothes and lying naked in the sun.[24] Indeed, for Lawrence, most modern women have no nakedness and if they strip it is merely to flaunt their bodies in a peculiarly non-physical, optical aspect. Today, says Lawrence, in or out of her knickers makes very little difference to her desirability: “She’s a finished off ego, an assertive conscious entity, cut off like a doll from any mystery. And her nudity is about as interesting as a doll’s.”[25]

Leaving aside this slight towards modern women – and indeed towards dolls – the key point is that, for Lawrence, if you want to have sex with the sun then you have to do more that seek out yourself in the sky: you have to discover solar otherness and accept the cost and the consequence of so doing. If you only seek out yourself in your relationships – be it with human or non-human lovers – then it is just a form of narcissism and you may as well just masturbate.

As Juliet becomes increasingly subject to the sun, or, perhaps, we should say sexually objectified by the sun, she spends more and more time naked, admiring her own red-gold breasts and thighs, and aware that, in spite of herself, her womb was beginning to open “wide with rosy ecstasy, like a lotus flower” [28]. It’s at this point she encounters the peasant and her desire switches from sun to man: a man who is in her eyes the sun made flesh. As he looks at her, transfixed by her nakedness, she experiences the same “blue fire running through her limbs to her womb … spreading in helpless ecstasy” [29] as she feels before the sun. This fire flows between them: “like the blue, streaming fire from the heart of the sun. And she saw the phallus rise under his clothing” [29].

phallus
Haesindang Park (해신당 공원), also called Penis Park, is a park in South Korea. 

Phallic Philosophy

Strangely, it always becomes necessary to speak about the phallus when thinking about the sun: for what is an erection other than the body of man declaring: I am the Sun. As Bataille writes, the verb to be and the integral erection tied to it, is ultimately nothing other than an articulation of amorous solar frenzy.[26] For the erection, like the sun, is something that rises and falls and scandalizes, being equally obscene, equally demanding; a quasi-miraculous phenomenon resulting from a complex interaction of factors, often triggered by some form of sexual stimulation, though this need not always be the case. Indeed, Lawrence explicitly challenges the idea that love calls potency into being. On the contrary, he suggests, it is power that gives rise to love: and it’s not love, but power – which is essentially solar power – that is the first and greatest of the ‘life mysteries’. Arguably, this is what Juliet is after: a taste of power that comes to us from outside; not something self-generated, or which can be bought with American dollars: “However smart we be,” writes Lawrence, “however rich and clever … it doesn’t help us at all. The real power comes in to us from beyond. Life enters us from behind, where we are sightless, and from below, where we do not understand.”[27] And so, to be sun-fucked is, also, to be sodomised and some of us might once more think of Bataille and his notion of the solar anus at this point.

Juliet wants to live, and to live she must have life and life is power. Or, perhaps more precisely, it is the feeling of power [Machtgefühl] – which comes, ironically, through the expenditure and exercise of power, not from its possession. When one is powerful, like the sun, one gives oneself away: the solar economy is supremely wasteful: it shines and shines to no end on one and all. Lawrence writes:

“We must live. And to live, life must be in us. It must come to us, the power of life, and we must not try to get a strangle-hold upon it. …

But the life will not come unless we live. That is the whole point. ‘To him that hath shall be given’. To [her] that hath life shall be given life: on condition, of course, that [she] lives.

And again, life does not mean length of days. Poor old Queen Victoria had length of days. But Emily Brontë had life. She died of it.”[28]

This is a profoundly provocative thought: Life kills! Energy eventually escapes its entrapment within form and is liberated back into the solar flux and that’s all life is; a temporary arrest of sunlight. And that’s all death is; a release of sunlight. And those who live with the greatest intensity and imitate the sun often die young, burning out like tiny stars. Those who go on and on into old age either lack vitality, or they are monsters of stamina like Picasso. As a rule, it is better to live fast and die young than live like one who has never known the power of the sun, or the love of another in whom the sun can be glimpsed.

So, Juliet wants life and to feel the power of life in herself. She achieves this primarily via a direct relationship with the sun, but she also toys with the possibility of fucking a man in whom the sun is embodied: in whom she sees the sun rise – or at least the penis stir into tumescence. First, we might say, she opens her womb to the sun; then she thinks about opening her legs to the man. For the phallus, according to Lawrence, is the bridge not just between man and woman, or the present and the future, but also between humanity and the cosmos: it is the phallus which connects us sensually to the stars and which is the symbol of our unison with all things as things.[29] And it’s this that Juliet wants – not the man per se.

Initially, however, Juliet retreats from this first encounter and attempts to collect herself – which is not so easy when your womb is “wide open like a lotus flower … in a radiant sort of eagerness” [29] and sexual desire for the sun, the man, and the sun-in-man, dominates your consciousness. Not, as I have said, that she is personally interested in the peasant. As a human being, he doesn’t exist for her and is far too much of “a crude beast” [30] to take seriously. However, “the strange challenge of his eyes had held her, blue and overwhelming like the blue sun’s heart. And she had seen the fierce stirring of the phallus under his thin trousers” [30]. Thus, for Juliet, he is the sun on earth and she feels him so powerfully, that she can’t ignore him: “And her womb was open to him.” [30]

However, despite their mutual attraction, “she had not the courage to go down to him” [30] and he lacked the courage to approach her. As in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, there are three things standing in the way of love: class, culture and convention. But, before we get too carried away, we might like to stop and ask, as one critic asks, just what precisely would be demonstrated “by a middle-class woman’s odd half-hour of anonymous sex with a peasant”?[30]

Would it really have shown ‘courage’ to have let herself be fucked by the latter? Wouldn’t it have just been exploitative: a form of sex tourism and sexual objectification? We might argue that just as Juliet is objectified by the sun into an impersonal sun-woman and open womb, then so too is the peasant objectified by her into a walking dildo and sperm bank. I’d like to say a little more on this idea of sexual objectification, as it is central to any discussion of the wider sexual politics of this story.

 

object
Objectification 4 by Lee Tonks

Objectification

 

Whilst within philosophy objectification refers to the process by which abstract concepts are treated as if they were concrete objects, it is more commonly understood to refer to the manner in which people – human subjects – are treated as things: things to be exploited, for example, in the labour market; things to be fucked in the bedroom; or things to be disposed of in the death camps: tools to be used, toys to be played with, corpses to be burnt.

Thus, usually, and with good reason, objectification is seen as a bad thing and people don’t like to be treated as objects. That is to say, they don’t want to be stripped of their humanity by which they mean, amongst other things, their autonomy, their agency, their individuality, etc. These things are what most people pride themselves on and upon which they assemble a whole series of human rights. Thus to be seen or treated as an object or thing is, in a word, degrading.

Often, it is within the amorous realm that this question of objectification continually comes to the fore. Indeed, for many feminists objectification is always sexual objectification  and is a form of violence in itself, closely tied to fetishism, in which the body, parts of the body, or qualities such as shape, size, and colour are invested with greater erotic fascination than the person as a whole.

But if we are to rethink the object and rethink relations in terms of seduction, then this issue is no longer so straightforward. We might then ask for example: What’s wrong with being appreciated physically and impersonally? Why is it any better to be valued for one’s ideas, rather than one’s breasts? What’s wrong with judging by appearance? These are questions rarely raised, however, and objectification remains one of those issues that seems to unite critics across the political spectrum, although there are maverick commentators, like Camille Paglia, who contend that the ability to see other people as objects is a species speciality closely tied to our ability to conceptualise and think aesthetically (i.e. it’s a good thing and is that which, ironically, makes us distinctly human).

Paglia, however, belongs to a small minority of thinkers. Most who discuss objectification continue to regard it as a morally and politically problematic issue, often tied to discussions around pornography, but which has its philosophical roots in the work of Immanuel Kant, who believed that all forms of extramarital sex invariably resulted in objectification. Obviously, therefore, Kant would almost certainly not have approved of Juliet’s projected dalliance with an Italian peasant. For Kant, all human beings have an absolute ‘inner worth’ or dignity and it’s morally imperative that each person respects not only their own humanity, but the personhood of others. And this means never merely treating them as a means, but always as an end in themselves. Like Lawrence, he strongly objects to instrumental sex in which one of the partners is treated as a mere toy or tool for the other’s own pleasure and purposes.

Personally, I find it difficult to share this concern about diminished personhood and loss of integrity etc. I don’t see what’s so great about being a subject, or what’s so objectionable about being an object. In fact, I’m almost tempted to agree with Alan Soble who argues that human subjectivity is simply an anthropocentric conceit and that no one can therefore be ‘objectified’, as no one actually possesses any higher ontological status. Thus, for Soble, there can be no moral objection to Juliet’s proposed sexual exploitation of the Italian peasant.   Indeed, it might be argued that very often people like feeling useful; to feel that they have no instrumental part to play in society is what makes many men and women feel unhappy. Clearly the peasant is sexually interested in Juliet and one doubts very much whether he – unlike Mellors – would have any objection to becoming ‘her ladyship’s fucker’. Probably he would be more than happy to serve as a willing stud-animal and solar substitute to the rich, beautiful foreigner. With that thought, let us now return to the tale and to its conclusion.

sun womb
Sun Womb by Mara Friedman

Fate

Juliet now has a problem: “The sun had opened her womb, and she was no longer free” [30]. And then, unexpectedly, her husband, Maurice, arrives on the scene. At first she has to struggle to remember him and the fact that she was married. But with her troublesome womb-flower in full bloom she thinks to herself ‘at least he’s a man’ – even if, in his dark-grey business suit, he looks “pathetically out of place” [32] on the Italian hillside: “like a blot of ink on the pale, sun-glowing slope” [32].

Understandably, Maurice is rather taken aback by the sight of his sun-ravished wife. She looked like an obscene goddess: “standing erect and nude … glistening with the sun and with warm life” [32]. And yet, somehow, “she did not seem so terribly naked” [32]. It was as if she were clothed in the fire of the sun, like the Scarlet Woman of Revelation. Nevertheless, she makes him nervous: for it was a new woman he saw before him, with her “sun-tanned, wind-stroked thighs” [33] – not the white-skinned woman he had waved off months earlier from New York harbour. Nervous or not, he felt a strange desire “stirring in him for the limbs and sun-wrapped flesh of the woman … It was a new desire in his life, and it hurt him” [33] as all new feelings do:

“He was dazed with admiration, but also, at a deadly loss. He was used to her as a person. And this was no longer a person, but a fleet, sun-strong body, soulless and alluring as a nymph …” [33]

To Juliet, however, her husband is now revealed as “utterly, utterly sunless!” [34] and he casts a cold, grey shadow over the flower of her womb. She tells him that she can never go back to New York and her old life: that she cannot abandon the sun. He, to be fair, agrees that it would be best for her to stay. But, really, how can she stay? Stay and do what? Sunbathe for the rest of her days until she is old and wrinkled? Stay and be pleasured by a sun-vital peasant who exists for her only as a kind of “inarticulate animal” [37] whom she might fuck? Admittedly, the latter idea still tempts her. For sex with the peasant: “would be like bathing in another kind of sunshine, … and afterwards one would forget … It would be just a bath of warm, powerful life … the procreative bath, like sun” [37].

And for Juliet, this would be most welcome. For she was “so tired of personal contacts, and having to talk with the man afterwards” [37]. With the peasant, she could take her satisfaction and have done. And, should she conceive a child with him, well, so what? Why shouldn’t she? It would, she tells herself, “be like bearing a child to the unconscious sun” [37]. This thought again arouses her desire: “And the flower of her womb radiated. It did not care about sentiment or possession. It wanted man-dew only …” [37]

But, despite the promptings of her sperm-thirsty womb, Juliet refuses this solar-biological destiny and chooses instead to submit to a more conventional fate: to remain married to Maurice and to bear his children: “She was bound to the vast, fixed wheel of circumstance, and there was no Perseus in the universe, to cut the bonds” [38], writes Lawrence.

And that is how the tale ends: with circumstance and society more powerful even than the sun, or the desire for impersonal sex. This suggests, surprisingly perhaps, that solar-erotic forces are pretty feeble after all. Or, alternatively, that Juliet was not the sun-woman that Lawrence dreamed of, but just another bored, rather selfish and narcissistic middle-class woman flirting with the possibility of a foreign affair, before settling back into a bourgeois life that promised to always pop an olive into her vodka martini.

dhl hope

Coda: On Correlationism (Towards a Speculative Realism)

I’d like to close this paper on a contemporary philosophical note and return to an idea that I briefly mentioned in the opening remarks, namely, the idea of correlation:

“By ‘correlation’ we mean the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other. We will henceforth call correlationism any current of thought which maintains the unsurpassable character of the correlation so defined. Consequently, it becomes possible to say that every philosophy which disavows naive realism has become a variant on correlationism.”[31]

I think Lawrence often falls into this correlationist trap. Indeed, he often willingly jumps into it. For he’s not really interested in the stars, animals, trees, or other objects, but only in their relation to man, who, in turn, cannot be considered outside of his relation to the world. That’s the contradiction or paradox at the heart of his writing. For whilst he repeatedly insists that he wants to know the great outside – that inhuman space of the savage exterior etc. – like all critical thinkers after Kant, Lawrence too is fundamentally interested in consciousness and language and these concerns keep him tied to a form of correlationism.

Quentin Meillassoux writes that if so many recent thinkers have insisted so adamantly that their thought is entirely oriented towards the outside, “this could be because of their failure to come to terms with a bereavement … For it could be that contemporary [thinkers] have lost the … absolute outside of pre-critical thinkers: that outside which was not relative to us … existing in itself regardless of whether we are thinking of it or not …”[32]

Lawrence has lost the sun as a thing-in-itself and he knows it. And like a lot of recent theorists, whilst he might rage against ideas of representation, this in no way means he is prepared to abandon the more originary correlation between thought and being, or Dasein and world. Perhaps this is why he ‘instinctively’ hates the statements made by science such as ‘the universe is 13.5 billion years old’, or ‘the sun is 4.6 billion years old’, because these statements obviously posit a pre-human and non-human cosmos and Lawrence, for all his professed anti-humanism, simply doesn’t want (or know how) to think such ideas.[33]

But whilst we may not like what empirical science tells us about the universe and those events that are “anterior to the advent of life as well as consciousness”,[34] the fact is that these statements exist and present a very real and very serious challenge to those philosophies that are reliant upon some form of correlationism. For they tell us something about an independent reality that has been met with scepticism and contempt for over two hundred years. Further, they oblige us to ask how we are to grapple with scientific statements “bearing explicitly upon a manifestation of the world that is posited as anterior to the emergence of thought and even of life – posited, that is, as anterior to every form of human relation to the world?[35]

Put simply, the sun pre-dates us: it has ancestral reality, i.e. a reality that comes before “the emergence of the human species – or even anterior to every recognized form of life on earth”.[36] Lawrence, as I have said, seems not to want to admit this, or is careless of its significance. For if life is in fact “inscribed in a temporality”[37] within which it is just one rare event among others, then it is far from being the crucial and determining factor that vitalists believe; it is simply a stage, rather than an origin. Lawrence flatly denies this: but then, as I have said, he’s not interested in that which is factually correct, but only in that which is imaginatively true for him as a human being. He wants a meaningful universe and the universe is meaningful “only as a given-to-a-living (or thinking)-being”.[38] He wants to know the sun; but he wants to know the woman naked beneath the sun to whom the latter is made manifest still more. He hates idealism, but he is himself a subjective idealist par excellence. For ultimately, argues Meillassoux, “every variety of correlationism is exposed as an extreme idealism, one that is incapable of admitting … what science tells us about … occurrences of matter independent of humanity”.[39] [18].

Of course, it might be asked what harm does it do for our philosophers and poets to remain idealists at heart? The answer is that it does the very greatest possible harm; for it lends credibility and support to the forces of stupidity and fundamentalism: “And our correlationist then finds herself dangerously close to contemporary creationists: those quaint believers who assert today, in accordance with a ‘literal’ reading of the Bible, that the earth is no more than 6,000 years old”.[40]

Surely no one wants this? At any rate, I don’t want it. And that’s why I have become increasingly frustrated with much of Lawrence’s thinking and, indeed, uncomfortable with a good deal of modern European philosophy – including works by authors who are still often uncritically cited as intellectual authorities in academic circles.[41] What then do I want? Well, like Meillassoux, whilst obviously wishing to “remain as distant from naive realism as from correlationist subtlety”,[42] I ultimately want the very thing  that Lawrence claims he wants: i.e., to achieve what modern philosophy has been telling us for the past two centuries is impossible to achieve: “to get out of ourselves, to grasp the in-itself, to know what is whether we are or not”.[43] I want, in other words, to think a world without thought and to think things as things.

Further, like Ray Brassier, I wish to push nihilism – understood not as something to be overcome, but as a vector of intellectual discovery – as far as possible. For rather than trying, like Lawrence, to safeguard the experience of human meaning and value from the incursions of scientific discovery, I think philosophy today should deploy its full intellectual resources to facilitate the disenchantment of the world. So, yes, I want to know the sun, but not a mythological sun, or a metaphorical sun, or the ideal sun of Plato. I want to know the real sun: the sun that will never know humanity, even as it burns the earth to a cinder and fucks us all. For we would do well to remember in closing Nietzsche’s fable:

“Once upon a time, in some remote corner of that universe which is dispersed into innumerable twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowledge. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of ‘world history’, but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever animals had to die.”[44]

– And when the human adventure into thought is all over, nothing will have changed.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. Stephen is one of our featured writers and has submitted something. You’ll have to wait to find out what it is. In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

Notes   

[1] D. H. Lawrence, ‘Sun-Women’, in The Complete Poems, ed. Vivian de Sola Pinto and F. Warren Roberts, (Penguin Books, 1977), p. 525.

[2] D. H. Lawrence, ‘The Novel’, Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, ed. Bruce Steele, (Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 190.  

[3] Ibid., p. 189. Despite this remark, Lawrence cannot resist offering us a phallocentric model of sex in ‘Sun’ as we will see.

[4] D. H. Lawrence, ‘The Two Principles’, First Version, 1918-19, Studies in Classic American Literature, ed. Ezra Greenspan, Lindeth Vasey, and John Worthen, (Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 260.

[5] Lawrence is not alone in developing a metaphysics that rests upon some organic, sentient, or vital term: Hegel gives us Geist; Schopenhauer, Will; Nietzsche, Will to Power; and Deleuze, Life. The thing that unites these thinkers is that they simply cannot accept or take seriously “the possibility that there is nothing living or willing in the inorganic realm”. In other words, there is an underlying agreement (rooted in Kant’s transcendental idealism) that “anything that is totally asubjective cannot be”. And this is so even in writers like Lawrence who are otherwise highly critical of traditional metaphysics and notions of the subject. See Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude, trans. Ray Brassier, (Continuum, 2009), p. 38.

[6] D. H. Lawrence, ‘Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance’ (1920-1), Appendix IV: Studies in Classic American Literature, p. 395.

[7] Ultimately, we might suggest that Lawrence is not simply concerned with questions of correlation or correspondence between mankind and the cosmos, but in exercising the direct control of mind over the material universe, the independence of which he describes as illusory. Thus, whilst he is not interested in the scientist’s attempt to understand the laws that govern the latter, he remains fascinated by the magician’s attempt to exert  ‘life-power’ over mechanistic forces and matter.

[8] D. H. Lawrence, ‘Introduction to The Dragon of the Apocalypse, by Frederick Carter, in Apocalypse and the Writings on Revelation, ed. Mara Kalnins, (Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 46.

[9] I find myself in agreement here with Ray Brassier, who argues that nihilism is an important “speculative opportunity” and an “unavoidable corollary of the realist conviction that there is a mind-independent reality”. See the Preface to his Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), p. xi.

[10] D. H. Lawrence, ‘Introduction to The Dragon of the Apocalypse, by Frederick Carter, in Apocalypse and the Writings on Revelation, p. 46.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., p. 47.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., p. 51.

[16] Actually, I’m not sure that even here I agree with Lawrence. For he suggests that we have lost the sun by coming out of ‘responsive connection’ with it, but how could that be? For if we are connected, as he says, via an “eternal vital correspondence between our blood and the sun”, then we surely couldn’t break such a relationship, any more than, for example, we could choose to ignore the laws of gravity. Lawrence, however, insists that once we exchange our religious-mythical understanding of the sun for a scientific conception, then it no longer revitalises us, but, on the contrary, subtly disintegrates the very blood within our veins. See Apocalypse, p. 77. See also Fantasia of the Unconscious, where he pushes his correlationism to the extreme and insists that: “The sun sets and has his perfect polarity in the life-circuit established between him and all living individuals. Break that circuit, and the sun breaks. Without man, beasts, butterflies, trees, toads, the sun would gutter and go out like a spent lamp.” Psychoanalysis of the Unconscious and Fantasia of the Unconscious, ed. Bruce Steele, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 188.

[17] Neil Reeve, ‘Introduction’ to D. H. Lawrence’s The Woman Who Rode Away and Other Stories, ed. Dieter Mehl and Christa Jansohn, (Penguin Books, 1996), p. xxxi. Note that page references to the story ‘Sun’ as it appears here (based on the Cambridge edition of 1995), will be given directly in the text.

[18] D. H. Lawrence, ‘Dana’ (intermediate version, 1919), Studies in Classic American Literature, p. 320.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., p. 321.

[21] I’m thinking here of the so-called Bates Method, a form of alternative eye-care developed by William Bates (1860-1931), who counted the visually-impaired Aldous Huxley amongst his famous followers.

[22] This turning to the man is, I think, rather disappointing, but predictable to anyone who knows anything about Lawrence’s sexual politics. I’m fairly relaxed about Juliet losing her ‘independence’ and indeed her humanity in order to become a sun-woman. But I’m a little more troubled by the idea that even sun-women ultimately need to find men for validation and need, in particular, for men to gaze upon them with desire. Lawrence falls back into a conventionally phallocentric way of thinking the moment he tells us that whilst sun-women might not belong to their husbands, they remain subordinate nevertheless to sun-men: “walking each in his own sun-glory / with bright legs and un-cringing buttocks.” See ‘Sun-Men’, The Complete Poems, p. 525.

[23] To be fair to Juliet, many women within our society are encouraged to develop a high degree of narcissism, due to the fact that they are endlessly judged on their physical appearance, rather than on their ideas and achievements. This preoccupation with always looking young, slim, sexy and attractive, leads to a form of self-objectification: women adopt a male attitude towards their bodies and find erotic satisfaction in displaying their own flesh and being gazed at. Of course, men are also increasingly subject to powerful regimes that determine their masculinity and appearance: in fact, it might be argued that within consumer culture we are all objectified and narcissistic as a consequence.

[24] As Lawrence makes clear in Apocalypse, the only way modern men and women can get back the sun is via a form of religious worship: “We can’t get the sun in us by lying naked like pigs on a beach.” Indeed, according to Lawrence, the sun hates sunbathers who have failed to strip themselves of “the trash of personal feelings and ideas” and get down to their genuinely “naked sun-self” and it destroys them even as it bronzes their skin. See pp. 76-8.

[25] D. H. Lawrence, ‘…… Love Was Once a Little Boy’, Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert, (Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 346.

[26] See Georges Bataille, ‘The Solar Anus’, in Visions of Excess, ed. Alan Stoekl, (University of Minnesota Press, 1985), pp. 5-9.

[27] D. H. Lawrence, ‘Blessed are the Powerful’, in Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, p. 325.

[28] Ibid., p. 322.   

[29] See, for example, what Lawrence writes in Lady Chatterley’s Lover Version I, in The First and Second Lady Chatterley Novels, ed. Dieter Mehl and Christa Jansohn, (Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 132-33.

[30] Neil Reeve, ‘Introduction’ to D. H. Lawrence’s The Woman Who Rode Away and Other Stories, p. xxxi.

[31] Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude, p. 5.

[32] Ibid., p. 7.

[33] Just to be clear on this important point: it doesn’t matter whether Lawrence chooses to think such statements true or false, but the fact that he is completely unconcerned with the status of a discourse – namely, the modern scientific discourse – which “renders the verification or falsification of such statements meaningful”, does bring shame upon him. As Meillassoux argues, what’s at stake here is empirical science in general and the remarkable fact that only the latter allows us to have a rational and meaningful debate “about what did or did not exist prior to the emergence of humankind, as well as what might eventually succeed humanity”. It is science and only science – not myth, religion, or poetry – that posits dia-chronic statements and makes dia-chronic knowledge possible (i.e. knowledge of a world without witness). Whether Lawrence likes it or not, no man, god, or sentient being need be on the scene for the world of objects to exist and to carry on just as it has always carried on; solar activity, for example, occurs irrespective of life. See After Finitude, pp. 113, 114.

[34] Ibid., p. 9.

[35] Ibid., pp. 9-10. Again, note that there are of course not just ancestral statements concerning events that occur in a pre-human time, but also ulterior statements which refer to possible events in a post-human era. As indicated above, Meillassoux uses the term dia-chronicity to refer to all such statements that describe events that are either anterior or ulterior to our own relation to the world.

[36] Ibid., p. 10.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid., p. 15.

[39] Ibid., p. 18.

[40] Ibid.

[41] These philosophers – and I prefer not to name names – are ones who have, if you like, hastily surrendered the right to refute religious belief on the ground of logic. Meillassoux writes: “It is important to understand what underlies this attitude: religious belief is considered to be beyond the reach of rational refutation by many contemporary philosophers not only because such belief is deemed by definition indifferent to this kind of critique, but because it seems to these philosophers to be conceptually illegitimate to undertake such a refutation.” In other words, subscribing to a strong model of correlationism results in lending support to the notion that “reason has no right to deploy its own resources to debate the truth or falsity of dogma”. It thus – often inadvertently – collaborates with irrationalism and allows for a return of a return of fundamental religious faith. This has been an ironic consequence of postmodernism. See After Finitude, p. 44.

[42] Ibid., p. 27.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘On Truth and Lies in a Non-moral Sense’, in Philosophy and Truth, ed. and trans. Daniel Breazeale, (Humanities Press International, 1979), p. 79. Note that I have modified the translation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Promo video: Green by D.H. Lawrence

In our third blog exploring Look! We Have Come Through! we have created a YouTube short (thanks Izaak Bosman) to celebrate the poem ‘Green’. This was originally published in the Poetry Review (1914) and then in an anthology of imagist poetry in 1916, meaning that Lawrence could no longer be simply cast as a Georgian poet.

Lawrence started and ended his career with verse, writing around 750 poems. One of his earliest collections was Look! We have come through! which was written between 1911 and 1917 and followed on the tails of Love Poems and Amores.

In the forward to the collection, Lawrence states ‘These poems should not be considered separately, as so many single pieces. They are intended as an essential story, or history, or confession, unfolding one from the other in organic development, the whole revealing the intrinsic experience of a man during the crisis of manhood, when he marries and comes into himself. The period covered is, roughly, the sixth lustre of a man’s life.’

Graham Hough describes the collection as ‘simply the development of an intelligible train of feeling through a number of fragmentary occasions’. These fragmentary occasions are mainly structured between 1912-14, the period when Frieda Weekley left her husband and three children and eloped with Lawrence, before marrying him once her divorce came through. Consequently, the poems were written on the hoof in Germany, Austria and Italy.  Given the scandal their relationship aroused, it’s not surprising that Bertrand Russell chose to snort ‘They may have come through, but I don’t see why I should look.’

The collection includes this somewhat unnecessary ‘argument’ before the poems, detailing Lawrence’s relationship verbatim. ‘After much struggling and loss in love and in the world of man, the protagonist throws in his lot with a woman who is already married. Together they go into another country, she perforce leaving her children behind. The conflict of love and hate goes on between the man and the woman, and between these two and the world around them, till it reaches some sort of conclusion, they transcend into some condition of blessedness.’

Perhaps to get across this struggle, Lawrence uses free verse (which doesn’t adhere to set structures) having previously used closed forms. The flexibility of form allows him to articulate, in the immediate, the trials and tribulations of love as two people struggle to unite their wills. As Joyce Carol Oats notes, ‘For Lawrence, as for Nietzsche, it is the beauty and mystery of flux, of “Becoming,” that enchants us; not permanence, not “Being.” Permanence exists only in the conscious mind and is a structure erected to perfection, therefore airless and stultifying.

One poem in the collection that particularly stands out is ‘Green’. This was published in an anthology of imagist poetry, Des Imagistes (1916), meaning that Lawrence could no longer be simply cast as a Georgian poet. Imagism, according to the British Library, ‘was a small but influential poetry movement that flourished between 1912 and 1917. It was crucial in the development of modernist literature. Rebelling against Romantic and Victorian verbosity, Imagists abandoned poetic metre and traditional narratives. Instead they cultivated short, exact poems in vers libre (free verse) built around distilled, emotionally-intense single images that often depicted the natural world. They drew influence from Japanese haiku as well as ancient Greek lyric poetry’. However, the Modernist Journals Project states that ‘Imagism was anything but a cohesive movement’ and instead ‘resembles a Gerhard Richter painting, a fuzzy work of art undertaken by several artists with different styles over a long period of time, or perhaps a William Burroughs-like cut-up composition aimlessly meandering in search of the “image.”’

frieda green

The inspiration for ‘Green’ was Frieda’s eyes, which Lawrence compares to dawn. Dawn represents the beginning of an unknown new day, and her eyes represent a new unknown love: ‘For the first time, now for the first time seen.’ The use of assonance throughout the short poem (green, between, seen/ sun, undone) helps weave these elements (love, new day, nature) together through the colour green. If green were to be used in Georgian poetry it would most likely be as a reference to nature and fields. Here it is something more spiritual, more transient, a ‘becoming’ to use Joyce Carol Oates expression.

The imagists were established by Ezra Pound in 1912 in opposition to the perceived parochial outlook of the Georgian poets. Lawrence may very well have been included, along with other established names such as Richard Adlington, as a means of validating this new poetic movement. His books may have been banned and burned, but his reputation was a commodity always ready to be exploited. This was certainly the case with the publication of Look! We Have Come Through! which Andrew Nash has argued was taken on by Chatto and Windus as a means of resurrecting an otherwise dying brand. Frank Swinnerton, part of their new editorial board, agreed to publishing Lawrence ‘on the ground that Lawrence’s name would be valuable to our list’. There is no such thing as a bad reputation.

It’s worth noting that another seminal Nottingham writer, Alan Sillitoe, refers to Doreen’s eyes in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), as ‘green like novelty matches’. Clearly this colour means a lot to folk from the East Midlands.

dhl-trunk GREENIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer.  Was he a Georgian poet, or an Imagist, or simply someone who defied categorisation? How do we incorporate the colour green into our design? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here.

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Promo Youtube shorts