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
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.
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.
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’.”
In 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