13 Nov 2018

D. H. Lawrence on Humanism, Human Exceptionalism and Common Ancestory

A model of Lucy at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Texas 
(Dave Einsel / Getty Images)


I. The Greatest of all Illusions is the Infinite of the Spirit

Despite saying that the very words human, humanity, and humanism make him sick, it's pretty clear that there is, in fact, a model of what might be termed libidinal humanism present within Lawrence's work ...

In the 'Epilogue' to his Movements in European History, for example, Lawrence writes of a single human blood-stream and argues that people are also very much alike at some primordial level of culture:

"All men, black, white, yellow, cover their nakedness and build themselves shelters, make fires and cook food, have laws of marriage and of family [...] and have stores of wisdom and ancient lore, rules of morality and behaviour."  

In other words, according to Lawrence, we all belong to one great race and live fundamentally similar lives. However, it's important to note that Lawrence goes on to argue that the human family tree, whilst undivided at its root, nevertheless branches out into very different directions and each branch develops in its own unique manner.

"For each branch is, as it were, differently grafted by a different spirit and idea ... My manhood is the same as the manhood of a Chinaman. But in spirit and idea we are different and shall be different forever, as apple-blossom will forever be different from irises."   

Lawrence, therefore, has an understanding of Geist in opposition to that of many idealists: for whilst the latter acknowledge ethno-cultural difference, they believe in perfect spiritual unity. Lawrence reverses this and insists on physical oneness and spiritual distinction, rejecting any kind of Universal Mind or Oversoul.


II. Menschliches, Allzumenschliches

Somewhat ironically, Lawrence's thinking on this subject is in accord with modern evolutionary science, which has assembled much interdisciplinary evidence to support the idea that all human life descends from a common ancestor. Where he breaks with the Darwinians, however, is when - more radically - they suggest that this common ancestor is ultimately non-human: this, for Lawrence is going too far:

"The gulf that divides man from the animals is so great, that we can see no connection. We can no longer believe that man has descended from monkeys.* Man has descended from man.  [...] Man and monkey look at one another across a great and silent gulf, never to be crossed. [...] We cannot really meet in touch."

This - from an author widely celebrated for his ability to intuitively and poetically touch on the very essence of inhuman and non-human forms of life - is really quite shocking; for Lawrence is defending here an idea of human exceptionalism - who'd a thunk it? 

Alas, it seems there's no place for Lucy in Lawrence's democracy of touch ...



See: D. H. Lawrence, 'Epilogue', Movements in European History, ed. Philip Crumpton, (Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 255, 256.  

*Note: Lawrence is perpetuating a common misunderstanding here; no one wants him to believe that man has descended from monkeys; what the evolutionary evidence demonstrates is that man and other apes have a common ancestor. Monkeys are a contemporary species - not an earlier, more primitive, or inferior species.   

For a related post to this one on Lawrence's libidinal humanism, click here.


11 Nov 2018

A Brief Note on Love, Hate and Humanism



According to Lawrence, the mistake made by those who claim to love humanity lies in their moral insistence on the fact, rather than in their feeling of being at one with their fellow men and women. 

And although some may care a little too earnestly about the suffering of unseen strangers, Lawrence concedes that we are physically - if remotely - connected to all people everywhere and that mankind is thus ultimately one flesh:

"In some way or other, the cotton workers of Carolina, or the rice-growers of China are connected with me and, to a faint yet real degree, part of me. The vibration of life which they give off reaches me, touches me and affects me [...] For we are all more or less connected, all more or less in touch: all humanity." 

This libidinal humanism - if we may call it such - is central to Lawrence's politics of desire. And it is intended to be in stark contrast to the "nasty pronounced benevolence" which is only a disguised form of "self-assertion and bullying", that he often associates (fairly or otherwise) with Whitman.

Lord deliver us, says Lawrence, from this latter form of (ideal) humanism and from all falsification of feeling: "Insist on loving humanity, and sure as fate you'll come to hate everybody."    

I think there's something in this suggestion that every time you force your own feelings or attempt to force those of another, you are likely to produce the opposite effect to the one hoped for. And we would do well to consider this today of all days, as we remember again the time when, in the name of Love, Europe rushed into four years of mechanical slaughter and self-sacrifice. 


See: D. H. Lawrence, 'Nobody Loves Me', Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 311-20. 

For a related post to this one on Lawrence's humanism, human exceptionalism, and belief in a common ancestor, click here.


8 Nov 2018

The Colour Purple



I. On the Excretory Origin of an Exquisite Colour

My birthstone, as an Aquarian, is amethyst. And so I have an astrological attachment to the colour purple, in all its shades. Fortunately, I like this red-blue composite colour very much and appreciate the fact that it has a fascinating history that is ultimately rooted in what Bataille terms heterogeneous matter.

For whilst many people associate purple with imperial power or sacred authority, its origin is both base and profane. Indeed, this is revealed in the etymology of the word purple, which derives from the Greek name for a dye manufactured in the classical period from a mucus secreted by the hypobranchial gland belonging to a species of sea-snail.

Although the slimy secretion is milky and colourless when fresh, it stinks and turns into a powerful, long-lasting dye - known as Tyrian purple - when exposed to the air. Distilling it was a notoriously unpleasant task in the ancient world and required either wax plugs in the nostrils or a strong stomach (or both). As the poet and cultural critic Kelly Grovier rather amusingly notes: "Though purple may have symbolised a higher order, it reeked of a lower ordure."

Not only was it a malodorous job, it was a tricky and time-consuming one. It took tens of thousands of hypobranchial glands to produce even a tiny amount of this miraculous colour which grows ever more beautiful over time - unlike other textile dyes whose lustre soon fades. Thus, naturally enough, Tyrian purple was expensive: very expensive, and soon became the colour of choice amongst kings, priests, and powerful magistrates:

"In ancient Greece, the right to clad oneself in purgative purple was tightly controlled by legislation. The higher your social and political rank, the more extracted rectal mucus you could swaddle yourself in."

Purple's discovery was also given a mythological origin, so that everyone might conveniently forget what it is and exactly where it comes from. (It was claimed that whilst Heracles was one day walking along the beach with the nymph Tyrus and his dog, the latter bit into a sea-snail, staining its mouth purple. Amused by the incident and dazzled by the colour, Tyrus subsequently requested that a garment be made for her using the same dye.) 


II. The Art of Purple

Of course, today no one knows (or cares) about any of this: purple has long since been synthesised artificially and become just another colour available to anyone who wishes to wear it. You can even get a pair of purple knickers from Primark for a fiver.

However, as Grovier points out, that's not to say that Tyrian purple has lost all its old magic; in the world of art, for example, it can still transform a canvas in a startling manner:

"When Francis Bacon resolved to reinvent Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X [...] he decided to recast the pontiff's vestments not as scorching scarlet as his Spanish forebear had, but as pulsating purple. The result was as quietly alarming as the mute caterwaul that howls from his subject’s tortured lips [...] as if the Pope were undergoing the excruciating disgorgement of millions of molluscs over many millennia."

It can, concludes Grovier, be regarded as "purple’s silent scream into anguished oblivion - the last gasp of a gorgeously appalling colour."


Francis Bacon: 
Study after Vezquez's Pope Francis X (1953) 


See: Kelly Grovier, 'Tyrian Purple: The disgusting origins of the colour purple', (1 August 2018), published on the BBC Culture website: click here. This is one of a series of essays on colours by Grovier. Other colours discussed with his customary brilliance include umber (the colour of debauchery), black, pink, orange, and silver. Readers who are interested in knowing more are encouraged to visit his website: kellygrovier.com    


6 Nov 2018

Olfactophilia: Reflections on Canine Arse-Sniffing

Illustration from the Dog Decoder smartphone app by Lili Chin

I got a smelly rear / I got a dirty nose
I don't want no shoes / I don't want no clothes
I'm living like the king of the dogs 


Someone once told me that the reason that dogs like to conduct anal inspections of other dogs is because they are looking for a long-lost message hidden by the King of the Dogs, containing the secret of how to overcome their human masters and be free once more to live their own lives.  

Part of me would still very much like to believe this story to be true. Unfortunately, I'm also familiar with the scientific explanation for such behaviour and this more factual account in terms of glandular secretions released from the dog's anal sac makes me doubt the veracity of the above.  

However, even the American Chemical Society conclude that canine arse-sniffing is essentially an exchange of information. Only what's being communicated concerns sexual status and dietary habits, for example, rather than how to regain the freedom of revered lupine ancestors.    

Finally - since we're discussing this subject - it might be noted that dogs are not enjoying the smell of shit when they stick their noses into the behinds of other dogs.

Indeed, thanks to the presence of Jacobson's organ located inside their nasal cavities, dogs are able to pass subtle chemical information detected in the glandular secretions directly to the brain without being distracted by other more powerful odours. 


Musical bonus: Iggy Pop, King of the Dogs (Lil Armstrong / Iggy Pop), from the album Préliminaires (Astralwerks, 2009). 


4 Nov 2018

That Voodoo That You Do



When you see a lurid and salacious news headline containing the words black magic and Brazilian transsexuals, it's difficult not to have one's curiosity piqued; especially when the story unfolds not in Haiti or South America, but in Spain, and provides further evidence of how global migration (or Völkerchaos) is bringing unexpected forms of cultural diversity onto the streets of our towns and cities.       

According to reports, Spanish police arrested 13 members of a multi-national trafficking ring on suspicion of using Santería - a voodoo-like religion infused with elements of Catholicism - along with more mundane methods to coerce fifteen young transwomen into prostitution and drug dealing. 

It sounds uniquely bizarre. But, as a matter of fact, this is not the first time that migrants have been smuggled into Europe and then forced into a life of crime by gang leaders claiming to possess occult powers. And, sadly, I don't suppose it'll be the last ...

Welcome, then, to the new normal of sex slaves and raw chicken hearts; a reality that also incorporates grooming gangs, child brides, bushmeat, and halal slaughter. And I think to myself ...      


3 Nov 2018

England, Our England: Notes on D. H. Lawrence's Oikophobia

D. H. Lawrence by Fabrizio Cassetta (2015)


It begins, writes Lawrence, the moment you set foot back in England: "The heart suddenly, yet vaguely sinks."

He would, I suspect, dismiss talk of oikophobia. For Lawrence explicitly says that what he experiences when arriving home is not fear, but, rather, a form of dismay; not least at the inoffensive nature of everyone and everything and the "almost deathly sense of dulness" that overwhelms even the gayest of spirits.  

England is the easiest country in the world to live in and full of the nicest people:

"But this very easiness and this very niceness becomes at last a nightmare. It is as if the whole air were impregnated with chloroform or some other pervasive anaesthetic, that [...] takes the edge off everything ..."

Ultimately, England is simply too cosy for Lawrence's liking; mildly warm and reassuring like a bedtime drink.

It's important to note, however, that Lawrence doesn't say this in order to jeer or look down on his fellow countrymen. In fact, it pains him to admit how England makes him feel: for "to feel like this about one's native land is terrible" - particularly when the bit of England that depresses him most is his hometown.

Eastwood, he says, fills him with "devouring nostalgia and an infinite repulsion". Which is pretty much how I feel too, when walking around Harold Hill; on the one hand, I want it to be exactly as it was when I was a child and on the other I want it to be razed to the ground.

In other words, oikophobia is an ambiguous condition that can give rise to violently conflicting feelings within the same breast; something that those who, like Roger Scruton, politicise the term and use it as a concept by which to attack those whom they regard as insufficiently patriotic fail to appreciate.

Thus it is that oikophobes like Lawrence, who set off on savage pilgrimages around the world in order to escape the familiar confines of home and experience otherness in far away lands amongst alien peoples, often end by concluding:

"I do think [...] we make a mistake forsaking England and moving out into the periphery of life. After all, Taormina, Ceylon, Africa, America - as far as we go, they are only the negation of what we ourselves stand for and are: and we are rather like Jonahs running away from the place we belong."


See:

D. H. Lawrence, 'Why I don't Like Living in London' and [Return to Bestwood] in Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 119-22 and 13-24. 

D. H. Lawrence, letter to Robert Pratt Barlow, 30 March 1922, in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. IV, ed. Warren Roberts, James T. Boulton and Elizabeth Mansfield, (Cambridge University Press, 1987), letter 2480, pp.218-19.  

Readers interested in a related post on oikophobia and Roger Scruton's political redefining of the term, should click here


2 Nov 2018

Oikophobia

Home is made for comin' from, for dreams of going to
Which with any luck will never come true.


I. Confessions of an Oikophobe

Oikophobia - from the Greek, oikos, which refers to the three distinct but related concepts of home, household, and family, and phobia, meaning fear and loathing - is a term used within psychiatry, literary studies, and political philosophy.    

In the first of these fields, psychiatry, it identifies a deep-seated aversion to the vita domestica as it unfolds within a physical space, including the everyday objects and household appliances that are commonly found in the home: including, for example, cookers, carpets, and curtains.

Whether such a phobia is irrational, is debatable; to my mind it seems perfectly reasonable. I don't think disliking the saccharine stupidity and bourgeois vulgarity of home, sweet home is symptomatic of mental illness - it's surely a sign rather of cultural nobility (that is to say, artistic and intellectual superiority).

Thus it is that many poets have a romantic and nomadic desire to wander in far away lands and escape the ever so 'umble confines of home; including married life, regular employment, and onerous social duties (such as putting the rubbish in the correct recycling bins). To long to flee along the open road or roam outside the gate, is so closely tied to the creative impulse, that one is almost tempted to describe modern art and literature as inherently oikophobic.   


II. On the Politics of Oikophobia

Thanks to conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, however, the term oikophobia has recently taken on a new and negative meaning within reactionary political circles; now oikophobes are regarded as self-hating, left-leaning liberals who despise or feel ashamed of their own culture, history, and society.

Scruton argues:   

"This repudiation of the national idea is the result of a peculiar frame of mind that has arisen throughout the Western world since the Second World War, and which is particularly prevalent among the intellectual and political elites. No adequate word exists for this attitude, though its symptoms are instantly recognized: namely, the disposition, in any conflict, to side with 'them' against 'us', and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably 'ours'. I call the attitude oikophobia - the aversion to home - by way of emphasizing its deep relation to xenophobia, of which it is the mirror image. Oikophobia is a stage through which the adolescent mind normally passes. But it is a stage in which intellectuals tend to become arrested."*

Scruton's weaponised and anti-intellectual political usage has been taken up by other commentators with an alt-right axe to grind. They argue, for example, that oikophobia is particularly prevalent on university campuses and is a chronic symptom of political correctness, informed by the work of such thinkers as Foucault and Derrida, who express contempt for ideals of love, loyalty and longing for Ithaca, preferring instead, say their critics, to affirm a kind of rootless nihilism.        

I'm not saying there's no truth in this - only that it's often spoken by the kind of ugly, flag-flying individuals that I'm never going to feel at home with. 


* Roger Scruton, speaking in Antwerp, on 23 June 2006: the text of this speech appears in The Brussels Journal (24 June 2006) and can be read by clicking here.  

For a related post on D. H. Lawrence's experience of oikophobia in terms of devouring nostalgia and infinite repulsion for his hometown of Eastwood and for England in general, click here


30 Oct 2018

On D. H. Lawrence's Fascination with Male Legs

Robyn H. Fitzpatrick: Male Legs 


As David Ellis reminds us in a recent blog post, Lawrence was a great admirer of the male leg; particularly those legs that have a certain quick vitality, even if rather thin looking like his own. But he's not a fan of stocky, stupid looking legs, no matter how finely muscled; or knees that, in his view, lack meaning or sensuality.

Nor is Lawrence particularly keen on bare legs; his preference is for male legs clad in red trousers - or tight-fitting tartan trews in the case of Capt. Hepburn - and female legs wrapped in brightly coloured stockings.

Thus it is that one could easily imagine Lawrence offering a little travelling tip to a fellow passenger who happened to have his legs exposed: Try not to wear shorts. It's not all that attractive to look at ... Even if, unlike Larry David, he doesn't find naked, hairy male legs intrinsically grotesque.         

Indeed, one suspects that rather like the narrator of 'The Captain's Doll', Lawrence secretly thrilled at the "huge blond limbs of the savage Germans" parading around in their lederhosen and displaying their "bare, brown, powerful knees and thighs".   

And that, like Connie, he ultimately regarded legs as more important than unreal faces ...



Notes

David Ellis, 'Legs' (28 Oct 2018), can be found on dellis-author.co.uk: click here

Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm, S7/E4: 'The Hot Towel', (2009): click here

It might amuse readers to know that Larry also has a strong aversion to other male body parts, including testicles, which he regards as disgusting, hideous and rightly reviled. See Curb Your Enthusiasm, S8/E2: 'The Safe House', (2011): click here. Obviously, this testicular aversion is a very unLawrentian. Connie famously discovers the balls of her lover to be the primeval root of all that is lovely; full of a "strange heavy weight of mystery, that could lie soft and heavy in [her] hand!" See Lady Chatterley's Lover, Ch. XXII.   

D. H. Lawrence, 'The Captain's Doll', in The Fox, The Captain's Doll, The Ladybird, ed. Dieter Mehl, (Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 122. 

D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover, ed. Michael Squires, (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 254. 

Interestingly, one of the queer after-effects of Connie's affair with Mellors is that she becomes conscious of legs, including the thighs of her father. It strikes her, however, that most modern legs - of either sex - simply pranced around in leggy ordinariness without any significance, or were so daunted as to be "daunted out of existence". One can't help wondering, however, if this new awakening to legs isn't also a reaction to her husband's disability.


29 Oct 2018

Let Them Eat Plastic

People Can Look So Plastic These Days

Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es - Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1826)


Well, that's it then: the world has officially turned dayglo (you know, you know) and all that punk prophet Poly Styrene predicted has come to pass; microplastics have now been found in human faeces for the first time, suggesting that the tiny particles are widespread in the food chain.

Scientists examined shit samples from participants in Europe, Japan, and Russia and all contained various types of plastic, with polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate being the most commonly identified.

On average, 20 particles of microplastic were found in each 10g of excreta and based on the findings from what was admittedly a small-scale study, the researchers estimate that more than half of the world's population might have microplastics in their bodies.

The study confirms what many have long suspected and feared; that it's not just fish, birds, and flying insects that are ingesting plastic - we are too. But then it's hard not to when the stuff is in pretty much everything, including tap water and soft drinks.

Fuck knows what it means for human health or, in the longer term, human evolution, but it's interesting to note that the smallest particles are capable of entering the bloodstream and lymphatic system and may even reach the liver (i.e., they're not just in the gut where they may possibly affect the digestive system's immune response and aid the transmission of toxins and pathogens).   

The UK government, which recently launched a study looking into the matter, promises to take action. And earlier this year, the European parliament voted for a ban on microplastics in cosmetics. But plastic is so pervasive in modern life - a million plastic bottles are sold around the world every minute - that removing it from the food chain is virtually impossible.

We all know that banning plastic straws and cotton buds isn't going to be enough - but do we really care? I don't think so. I think if you wrench your nylon curtains back as far as they will go, you'll see people happily driving their polypropylene cars on wheels of sponge, before pulling into their local burger bar to have a rubber bun.

In other words, they like the world as it is and are willing to embrace their fate as homo plasticus ...


Notes

Philipp Schwabl et al, 'Assessment of microplastic concentrations in human stool' (preliminary results of a prospective study), presented at UEG 2018, Vienna, (24 October, 2018). 

X-Ray Spex, 'The Day the World Turned Dayglo', single from the album Germfree Adolescents, (EMI, 1978): click here.


28 Oct 2018

Ovinophobia: Reflections on D. H. Lawrence's Fear of Sheep

Curious Flock of Sheep


One of the more amusing things about the man who loved islands is the intensity with which he hates the half-a-dozen sheep who share his tiny third island:

"What he disliked most was when one of the lumps of sheep opened its mouth and baa-ed its hoarse, raucous baa. He watched it, and it looked to him hideous and gross. He came to dislike the sheep very much. [...] They were accustomed to him now, and stood and stared at him with yellow or colourless eyes, in an insolence that was almost cold ridicule. There was a suggestion of cold indecency about them. He disliked them very much. And when they jumped with staccato jumps off the rocks, and their hoofs made the dry, sharp hit, and the fleece flopped on their square backs, he found them repulsive, degrading."

And so the man who loved islands decides they have to go. But the "hustle and horror of getting the sheep caught and tied [...] made him loathe with profound repulsion the whole of animal creation." Even several days after the flock were disposed of, he was still nerve-wracked and would sometimes start with repulsion, "thinking he heard the munching of sheep". What evil deity, he wondered, created these foul-smelling, woolly beasts; "an uncleanness on the fresh earth".   

Now, of course, it's true that the man who loved islands is a character in a story and not to be confused with either the narrator or the author - whom, for convenience's sake, let us agree is D. H. Lawrence. Just because Cathcart suffers from ovinophobia, it doesn't mean that Our Bert was himself full of fear and loathing for sheep. However, even a cursory examination of Lawrence's non-fiction reveals that he did, in fact, have an extremely negative view of them.

In his 1917 essay 'The Reality of Peace', for example, Lawrence argues that sheep are a form of life that knows nothing of transcendent being. They are born, they live, and they grow fat like large green cabbages, but they never blossom. Their only reason for being is to provide food for more vital organisms - and thank God, writes Lawrence, "for the tigers and the butchers that will free us from the abominable tyranny of these greedy, negative sheep".

Ultimately, he says, it's not the great beasts of prey we have to fear, but "the masses of rank sheep" and other herd animals that are nibbling the earth into desert. Obviously, Lawrence is writing metaphorically here - it's actually sheep-like modern humanity he's attacking - but I'm not sure this really matters; the fact remains that it's the hideous myrmidons of sheep to which he compares mankind in all its obscene nullity. 


Notes

D. H. Lawrence, 'The Man Who Loved Islands', The Woman Who Rode Away and Other Stories, ed. Dieter Mehl and Christa Jansohn, (Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 168, 169.

D. H. Lawrence, 'The Reality of Peace', Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert, (Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 42, 43. 

Arguably, Lawrence is at his most Nietzschean in this essay and the fact that Christians are collectively referred to as a flock - and Jesus often described as the Lamb of God - is undoubtedly a factor in his ovinophobia.    

Musical bonus: The Clash, 'Shepherd's Delight', from the album Sandinista! (CBS, 1980): click here