16 Jan 2022

Richard Lovatt Somers: Notes Towards a Character Study (Part 2)

Garry Shead: Flaming Kangaroo (1992) 
From the D. H. Lawrence Series  
So, as we have seen in part one of this study, R. L. Somers is a queer fish, who desires (at times at least) to actually become-fish and leave cloying humanity behind. At other times, however, as we shall discuss here, he pledges his allegiance to dark gods and prides himself on the daimonic aspects of his nature. 
It might be argued, therefore, that in as much as he has a politics, the latter rests upon a philosophy of inhuman otherness and an opening up of self to alien forces; not something that is shared with Ben Cooley, who acts in the name of Love and remains human, all too humanistic (even when, physically, he resembles a kangaroo). 
Anyway, let's pick up from where we left off in Lawrence's Australian novel: I remind readers that page numbers given below refer to the Cambridge Edition of Kangaroo (1994), ed. Bruce Steele.
Somers is a man who wants to be convinced by Kangaroo, so that he might submit to him. But he isn't convinced, so he can't and won't submit. Not to Ben Cooley, not to anybody. Nor will he allow himself to be carried away: "He had a bitter mistrust of seventh heavens and all heavens in general." [132] Like Larry David, Somers has learnt to curb his enthusiasm and come to the end of transports. 
"'I don't quite believe that love is the one and only, exclusive force or mystery of living inspiration. [...] There is something else'" [134], Somers tells an exasperated Kangaroo. And this something else is that which enters us not from above via the spirit, but from behind and below, marking the end of all that we are (or, rather, all that we think we are). 
With his devilish blue-eyes sparkling, Somers says: "'What you call my demon is what I identify myself with. It's the best me, and I stick to it.'" [136-37] As a reader of Nietzsche, I know precisely what he means and I sympathise with this position [a]. Many of us have grown tired of being moral-ideal automatons and long to escape our humanity as founded upon the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
Whether this means flirting with one's next door neighbour's wife, however, is another matter; not that Somers follows through with his illicit desire for Victoria, despite having "stroked her hot cheek very delicately with the tips of his fingers" [142] and justified the possibility of an adulterous affair in his own mind by giving reference to the gods. 
For in his heart of hearts, Somers remained stubbornly puritanical and "his innermost soul was dark and sullen, black with a sort of scorn" [143] even for extramarital shenanigans. Better to collect differently coloured sea-shells on the beach, or to take off one's clothes and run naked in the rain, or to go for a swim in the sea and delight in the fresh cold wetness. 
Indeed, better even to chase rainbows than to get mixed up with the world: "The rainbow was always a symbol to [Somers ...] of unbroken faith, between the universe and the innermost" [155]. The problem is, even when feeling relatively peaceful Somers found himself in a "seethe of steady fury" [163] - a kind of general rage aimed at no one and everyone: 
"He didn't hate anybody in particular, nor even any class or body of men. He loathed politicians, and the well-bred darling young men of the well-to-do middle classes made his bile stir. [...] But as a rule the particulars were not in evidence [...] and his bile just swirled diabolically for no particular reason at all." [163]
At times, Somers feels himself to be a sort of human bomb ready to explode and cause the maximum amount of havoc. Again, one is reminded of Nietzsche, who declared: "I am not a man - I am dynamite!" [b] Is this longing for chaos a resentful expression of anarcho-nihilism? Perhaps. But more likely, it's related to the abuse Somers suffered at the hands of the authorities during the War years whilst in Cornwall (a period he refers to as the Nightmare and which inflicted lasting psychological damage upon him) [c].
But, thankfully, Somers manages to refrain from exploding and resist the urge to involve himself in bloody revolution; for he realises that this simply leaves behind "'the same people  after it as before'" [161-62]. His pessimism and his inability to summon up sufficient enthusiasm for any form of militancy or direct action is, of course, his saving grace. When, inevitably, there's a row in town (Chapter XVI), it's not Somers who breaks heads with an iron bar. 
Ultimately, Somers simply doesn't care: "How profoundly, darkly he didn't care." [178] What does the modern world of men and politics matter compared to the ancient fern-world, "before conscious responsibility was born" [178] and men too were shadowy like trees, "with numb brains and slow limbs and a great indifference" [179]

Later, Somers confesses his indifference: "'I try to kid myself that I care about mankind and its destiny. [...] But at the bottom I'm as hard as a mango nut. [...] I don't really care about anything [...]" [203] For Kangaroo, this - combined with his obsession with the magic of the dark world - makes Somers a traitor to his own human intelligence; a remark that causes Richard to smile and recall Nietzsche once more [d].
Thus, no surprises then that Richard Somers leaves Australia shortly after his falling out with Kangaroo - and shortly after the latter dies from a gun shot wound that resulted from a political meeting turning violent (Chapter XVI). 
Although Somers visits Kangaroo in hospital, there's no reconciliation and although Cooley pleads with Somers to concede that love is the greatest thing of all, the latter cannot make this concession - even to comfort a dying man. In fact, he tells Cooley: "'I don't want to love anybody. Truly. It simply makes me frantic and murderous to have to feel loving any more.'" [326]      
Jack Callcott thinks Somer's was a bit hard on Cooley as the latter lay on his death bed. But Kangaroo surely shouldn't have been surprised, as Somers has already made it perfectly clear that he wants an understanding between them that is deeper than love and allows each to retain their integrity: "'Let's be hard, separate men.'" [209] [e]      

Again, I find this diamond-like Somers who loves nobody and likes nobody, rather amusing (my middle name, as Katxu once said, is Hate). But so too do I like the Somers who walks round the Zoo and feels tenderness for the animals (to whom he feeds extra-strong peppermints). But then, tenderness isn't the same as love; it's deeper, darker and, as Lawence will later conclude, more phallic in origin than the latter. 
The Australian bush and the wildlife - the (mostly) unique flora and fauna - are what, ultimately, cause Somers (despite all that we say above) to declare his love for the country: "'I don't love the people. But this place - it goes into my marrow, and makes me feel drunk.'" [347]

But still he leaves: waving his orange silk handkerchief in the air as he sets sail for America; arguably one of the most fascinating characters ever to have found himself upside down at the bottom of the world (to borrow David Allen's phrase) [f]
[a] See the section entitled 'The Convalescent' in Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in which he asserts that man needs what is most evil in him for what is best in him. I am following Walter Kaufmann's translation in The Portable Nietzsche (Penguin Books, 1976), p. 330.
      It's clear that Richard Somers has read Zarathustra - later in the novel he quotes from the book re the idea of great events (and the need to unlearn our belief in them when they consist only of a lot of noise and smoke). See Kangaroo, p. 161 and see the section entitled 'Of Great Events' in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  
[b] See Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (Penguin Books, 1988), p. 126. 
      One wonders if, in making this startling declaration, Nietzsche forgets what he wrote in The Gay Science: "I do not love people who have to explode like bombs in order to have any effect at all." Perhaps it betrays a certain self-contempt; or perhaps it demonstrates how Nietzsche's position (and temperament) becomes more violent (more desperate) over the years. See The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann, (Vintage Books, 1974), III. 218, p. 210.
      Finally, readers might like to note that an actual bomb is thrown at the violent climax of Chapter XVI, just as a bomb explodes at the end of Lawrence's previous novel, Aaron's Rod. See p. 282 of the Cambridge Edition (1988), ed. Mara Kalnins. 
[c] See Chapter XII, pp. 212-259. Somers, we are informed, has an "accumulation of black fury and fear" [260] submerged like a horrible pool of lava ready to erupt deep in his unconscious. And when he does remember his time in Cornwall and what he experienced, it leaves him "trembling with shock and bitterness" [260] and a feeling not only of intense humiliation, but desecration.  
[d] Somers recalls, with a smile, the title of Nietzsche's third book, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (1878-80). When Cooley goes on to call him a perverse child, this makes Somers laugh and reply: "'Even perversity has its points'". See Kangaroo pp. 206 and 208. 
      Ultimately, what Somers wants is to get clear of humanity: "That was now all he wanted: to get clear. Not to save humanity or to help humanity or to have anything to do with humanity. [...] Now, all he wanted was [...] to be alone." [265] This, for Richard, is the true starting (and finishing) point: "a man alone with his own soul: and the dark God beyond him" [281].     

[e] Again, this is Somers at his most Nietzschean. See the section entitled 'Of Old and New Law Tables' (29), in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in which the diamond instructs the charcoal on the need for creators to become hard. 
[f] Upside Down at the Bottom of the World is the title of a drama, written by David Allen, about the Lawrence's in Australia. It was published by Heinemann Educational Australia, in 1981. 
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