How do you represent Phallic Tenderness?

The third artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre is the phallus which we are publishing in September to coincide with both Lawrence (11th) and Millett’s (14th) birthdays. But representing such a divisive symbol as the phallus has been difficult…

If somebody hacked my Google account, they might jump to some fanciful conclusions about who I am. This is because my searches have included ‘penis shaped plants’, ‘penis shaped buildings’, cockerels, etc. Consequently, my Google algorithm is generating a variety of unwelcome suggestions for leisure activities and body enhancing surgery. As always, context is everything.

The third artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre is phallic tenderness. For this, we’ve commissioned Stephen Alexander, author of Torpedo the Ark, to write twelve mini essays that explore it’s use by Lawrence. I asked Stephen to write twelve as I originally had the idea of creating a Speaking Cock, with a phallus as an hour handle. Visitors to our website would touch the screen, the cock handle would spin around, and one of the generated essays would be read aloud. I even contacted a Flemish woman to see if she would like to read out the essays. She never responded.

Todger talk is very embarrassing for us Brits. Lawrence was acutely aware of this, observing in the essay ‘Introduction to These Paintings’ that British artists are only able to paint the landscape because ‘it doesn’t call up the more powerful responses of the human imagination, the sensual, passional response[i]’thus the English ‘have delighted in landscape, and have succeeded in it well. It is a form of escape for them, from the actual human body they so hate and fear, and it is an outlet for their perishing aesthetic desires[ii]’.

It’s partly for this reason that he painted a phallus into his pictures to ‘shock people’s castrated social spirituality’. I thought the ‘Speaking Cock’ was a fun way of broaching a potentially divisive theme, particularly given the sensitive times we live in, but decided against it for fear of trivialising what was a sacred symbol to Lawrence. This would have turned our project into a cabinet of curiosities, a gimmick to gawp at, rather than a careful curation of artefacts that explore key themes in his work.

Another reason for rejecting the Speaking Cock is technological and related to how users access the memory theatre through different devices. Viewed on a laptop or iPad, our website content can be structured in columns and rows. The Speaking Cock could be broken up into three rows of four, meaning we could emulate a clock face of twelve hours – one for each essay. But when viewed on a phone, each essay would be broken down into a singular row to be scrolled through and so the image wouldn’t make sense.  

Phallus horizontal

In the end I created an image that combines a phallus and a phoenix – Lawrence’s personal emblem of rebirth – and then framed it with a border of flowers. I used the ‘fringe’ filter in Pixlr to distort the colours and create a hallucinogenic effect – to represent the energy flow of this transformative symbol.

Another issue was finding appropriate holding images for each essay. The two previous artefacts in the memory theatre comprised of four essays. As this one included twelve (because they were originally intended to form a clock) it would have looked like we’d gone willy mad if I’d populated it with twelve phallic images. Thus, it took a long time to design appropriate images that reflected the content of each essay.

The essays were initially published between November and December 2021 on our Instagram
I was hoping the essays would appear on the website at the same time but this has not been possible because Paul, my co-producer, has been too busy. He has his hands in various pots and also has his own business, Think Amigo, to run. Fortunately, I was able to secure some funding to lure him away for a bit and he’s produced a superb WordPress interface which means I now have access to the website and can help with layout and design content.

I’ve spent many years as an editor on projects and I become hungrier and hungrier for complete autonomy. Over the past few years, I’ve learned graphic design, video and sound editing, and can even read a bit of code. This not only provides the stimulation and variety to get out of bed each morning, but, on a pragmatic level, means you are less reliant on other people to get a job done. It is our intention to submit a funding bid at some point and bring in other people to help us with the project, but until we have time to do that, learning
new skills is vital to ensure the memory theatre, like Lawrence, keeps moving,
and what’s more, with haste.      

[i] ‘Introduction to these Paintings’ in D.H. Lawrence: Complete Essays, Blackthorn Press.
2009. Page 449

[ii] Ibid

You can read the essays here: