Showing posts with label catherine brown. Show all posts
Showing posts with label catherine brown. Show all posts

21 Sep 2019

Ours Is Essentially a Tragic Age: Notes on the Opening of a Novel

Two female readers of the Penguin edition of 
D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover (1960)
showing little interest in the opening lines


Lady Chatterley's Lover opens with the following paragraph:

"Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen."

I think it's an opening that deserves to be looked at a little more closely ...


One immediately notes the use by Lawrence of an omniscient third person narrator; one who sees and knows all things in a god-like manner, even the private thoughts and feelings of the characters. As one Nietzschean little girl informed her mother, there's something indecent about this.

One suspects that Lawrence would seek to justify his narrative technique in terms of perfect empathy rather than epistemological transparency, but I still find it questionable that although in this opening paragraph the narrator describes Connie's position in a rather matter-of-fact manner, thereby ironically distancing himself from her, he will later describe things from Connie's perspective in a far more lyrical fashion, as if even her most intimate experiences were also his own and ours as readers.

Thus, whilst we get to see the workings of Clifford's mind, we get to share Connie's orgasm and made fully complicit in her sexual shenanigans. That's what happens when free indirect discourse meets the pornographic imagination - interiority is taken to a perversely material conclusion.   

What I'd like to suggest is that whenever a narrator says ours is we should be on our guard; we certainly shouldn't be lulled into false consensus or made an accessory after the fact. His - and maybe Connie's - may be an essentially tragic age, but it's not compulsory for any reader to subscribe to this belief.

And what does this claim mean anyway, for those of us living in an essentially inessential age that lacks any intrinsic character or indispensable quality? Lawrence would doubtless say that's the nature of our (postmodern) tragedy; that we have no soul or substance and live accidental lives of random contingency. But Lawrence is more of a metaphysician than he often pretends and still clings to the verb to be in all seriousness. 

Essential or otherwise, it seems that the narrator employs the idea of tragedy in a conventional sense; i.e. this is a post-cataclysmic period of great suffering, destruction, downfall etc. But it's important to note that Lawrence is not a tragic writer and, in fact, hates tragedy as usually conceived; thus his refusal to take it tragically.

This saying no to the tragic reception of tragedy is part of Lawrence's admirable attempt to take a great kick at misery and his refusal to wallow in his or anyone else's misfortune. Lawrence despises those who, in his words, are in love with their own defeat; he would be the last person on earth to subscribe to the contemporary cult of victimhood. 

But what is the terrible deluge that is supposed to have happened? Obviously, it's a reference to the Great War. But, as a Nietzschean, I also conceive of this cataclysmic event as the death of God - a tragic but also joyous event that changes everything and creates opportunities to build new little habitats and opens new spaces for thought in which we might also allow ourselves to dream again and form new little hopes.  

Nietzsche famously (and cheerfully) writes of this event in The Gay Science and the rejuvinating effect it has upon free spirits who feel themselves "irradiated as by a new dawn" by the news that God is dead:

"Our hearts overflow with gratitude, astonishment, presentiment and expectation. At last the horizon seems open once more, granting even that it is not bright; our ships can at last put out to sea in face of every danger; every hazard is again permitted to the discerner; the sea, our sea, again lies open before us; perhaps never before did such an 'open sea' exist."

Thus, to be among the ruins needn't be thought negatively; needn't oblige one to give in before one starts. Indeed, whilst Lawrence doesn't quite go so far as the Situationists and believe in the ruins, I think he understands their appeal and the fun to be had with fragments - or bits as he calls them in Kangaroo. Indeed, one could read the cataclysm as the collapse of grand narratives and understand the building of new little habitats as the attempt to find more localised, more provisional, more relative truths that aren't coordinated by an ideal of Wholeness or swept up into an Absolute.

Almost one is tempted to suggest that in the following paragraph from Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari are rewriting Lawrence's opening to Lady C. and theoretically expanding upon his thinking on plurality and multiplicities: 

"We live today in the age of partial objects, bricks that have been shattered to bits, and leftovers. We no longer believe in the myth of the existence of fragments that, like pieces of an antique statue, are merely waiting for the last one to be turned up, so that they may all be glued back together to create a unity that is precisely the same as the original unity. We no longer believe in a primordial totality that once existed, or in a final totality that awaits us at some future date. We no longer believe in the dull gray outlines of a dreary, colorless dialectic of evolution, aimed at forming a harmonious whole out of heterogeneous bits by rounding off their rough edges. We believe only in totalities that are peripheral. And if we discover such a totality alongside various separate parts, it is a whole of these particular parts but does not totalize them; it is a unity of all of these particular parts but does not unify them; rather, it is added to them as a new part fabricated separately." 

Finally, we come to the last line: We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen. I suppose that's true - even if it's factually not the case. For we could, of course, choose to die; as Gerald chooses to die at the end of Women in Love, rather than accept being broken open once more like Mellors, or voluntarily leave the tomb like the man who died.

And learning how and when to die at the right time is as much an art, requiring just as much courage, as living on regardless of the circumstances and becoming one of those unhappy souls; individuals like Clifford who are afraid to die and fall silent, determined to continue asserting themselves even when they have fallen out of touch with others. 


Notes

D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover, ed. Michael Squires, (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 5.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, (University of Minnesota Press, 1983), p. 42.

Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann, (Vintage Press, 1974), V. 343, p. 280. 

See also: Catherine Brown, 'Resisting Tragedy: A Report on the International D. H. Lawrence Conference, Paris, 2018', in the D. H. Lawrence Society Newsletter (Winter 2018/19), or click here to read in a pre-edited version on her website.

Interestingly, Dr. Brown argues that Lawrence adopts various literary means and devices in order to resist tragedy, whereas the narrator calls for a refusal - something that those researching this topic might like to consider. As a nihilist, I'm more attracted to a strategy of active negation (refusal) than offering a dialectical form of (often complementary) opposition (resistance): click here for an explanation why.  


30 Jul 2019

On Why Lawrentian Werewolves Are Not Vegans 2: A Reply to Catherine Brown

Benicio del Toro in The Wolfman (2010) 
Does he look like he enjoys lentils?


Interestingly, the attempt to not merely anticipate but invoke and affirm a vegan world in relation to the work of D. H. Lawrence is also now being made by the much admired literary scholar Catherine Brown, herself a recent convert to this militant form of ascetic idealism. 

Brown argues that although Lawrence wasn't a vegan - nor even a mild-mannered vegetarian - his thought contains much that resonates with veganism as it is understood and practiced today. This is perhaps true, but, having said that, I don't think we can simply equate Lawrence's work with veganism, nor allow his thinking to be co-opted by any single cause or crusade. 

For whilst I'm sure Lawrence would have despised factory farming as much as Heidegger - the latter notoriously suggesting metaphysical equivalence between mechanized food production and the Nazi death camps long before Morrissey came up with the slogan meat is murder - he remained, as Brown admits, "comfortable within the omnivorism and speciesism that was dominant in his as in our culture".  

Indeed, whilst the tiger and the wolf present terrible problems to those idealists who want to think life exclusively in terms of the lamb, Lawrence invariably sides with those beasts of prey - including man - that feast on the flesh of other creatures in good conscience. What's more, he makes no secret of his contempt for those domestic farm animals - pigs, sheep, and cattle - that fail to attain purity of being and lapse into nullity:

"They grow fat; their only raison d'être is to provide food for a really living organism. [...] It is given us to devour them." [RDP 41]  

You can try and get around this by adopting the trust the tale, not the teller defence, and find fictional passages in which a character might turn their nose up at a plate of beef, or, like Ursula Brangwen, thoroughly enjoy a tasty vegetarian hot-pot, but, still the stubborn fact remains that Lawrence's carnivorous vitalism ultimately trumps any nascent veganism.    

And if, as we have noted, Lawrence despises those creatures that lack creative impulse, so too does he abhor human beings who have become docile grazing animals, subscribing to what Nietzsche calls a herd morality - cry-bullies forever bleating about rights and bloated on their own sense of righteousness. Such people are, he says, "the enemy and the abomination" and he is grateful for the "tigers and butchers that will free us from the abominable tyranny of sheep" [RDP 42].

Ultimately, Lawrence wants men and women with large mouths, big teeth and sharp claws and we can even locate within his work something that might be termed a werewolf manifesto - cf. the vegan manifesto that Dr. Brown finds within his writing. This werewolf manifesto openly sets itself against the Green Age - i.e., the utopia imagined by cabbage-hearted vegans, environmentalists, cows, Christians, and social justice warriors in which the lion lies down with the lamb and "no mouse shall be caught by a cat" [RDP 275].

Lawrence writes:

"This is the [...] golden age that is to be, when all shall be domesticated, and the lion and the leopard and the hawk shall  come to our door to lap [soy] milk and to peck the crumbs, and no sound shall be heard but the lowing of fat cows and the baa-ing of fat sheep. This is the Green Age that is to be, the age of the perfect cabbage." [RDP 275-76]

Of course, Catherine is perfectly at liberty to read Lawrence however she wishes: as am I. And, as a matter of fact, I'm very sympathetic to her idea that if we conceive of veganism "not as a dogma, identity, or state of putative purity, but as a queer nexus of perceptions and affects, then Lawrence can, at moments, be described as vegan".

Although, of course, we could easily replace the word veganism here with any other -ism - including fascism or feminism - and this sentence would still make perfect sense: that's the beauty (and the danger) of Lawrence's text; it invites anyone and everyone to play within the space that it opens up and to invest it with their own forces.  


See:

Catherine Brown, 'D. H. Lawrence and the Anticipation of a Vegan World'. This paper was originally given at the 33rd annual international D. H. Lawrence conference held at the University of Nanterre, Paris (3-7 April 2019). It can be read on the author's website: click here

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

Readers interested in part one of this post - in which I address the comments made by another vegan Lawrentian (David Brock) on an earlier post to do with dental morphology - should click here.


16 Nov 2017

Orophobia (With Reference to the Case of Alexander Hepburn)

Casper David Friedrich: 
Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (1818)
[Oder typischer romantischer Bullshit]


I don't like mountains and can never decide whether it's more depressing to be stuck at the foot of one, or atop the highest peak; the crushing claustrophobia of steep rock looming naked and inhuman, contra the radiant spiritual uplift of ice and snow - which is worse?

Either way, I suffer from a form of acute mountain sickness which has more to do with a philo-pathological disposition than with a lack of oxygen or trouble adjusting to altitude. I don't like being made to feel small and insignificant before what is ultimately just an elevation of the earth's surface, pushed up by tectonic activity (i.e., a large bump when all's said and done); but neither do I like submitting to Alpine ecstasy and being whooshed away into another world and another (higher) life and the promise of icy immortality.   

This is why I'm very sympathetic to the sceptical - some would say orophobic - reaction of Alexander Hepburn when he is taken by his German mistress, Hannele, to the popular Tyrolean resort of Kaprun, in order to experience the majesty of God's mountains.

Despite her strident insistence that the latter are wonderful and empowering, Hepburn soon expresses his disillusion and distaste. For, in his heart of hearts, he loathed the mountains, which seemed to him almost obscene in their unimaginably huge weight and size. As he tells Hannele, he is no mountain-topper or snow-bird, preferring to live as close as possible to sea-level at all times.

Lawrence writes:

"A dark flame suddenly went over his face.
     'Yes,' he said, 'I hate them, I hate them. I hate their snow and their affectation.'
     'Affectation!' she laughed. 'Oh! Even the mountains are affected for you, are they?'
     'Yes,' he said. 'Their loftiness and their uplift. I hate their uplift. I hate people prancing on mountain-tops and feeling exalted. I’d like to make them all stop up there, on their mountain-tops, and chew ice to fill their stomachs. I wouldn't let them down again, I wouldn't. I hate it all, I tell you; I hate it.'"

 Perhaps not surprisingly, Hannele is a little taken aback by this outburst:

"'You must be a little mad' she said superbly 'to talk like that about the mountains. They are so much bigger than you.'
     'No', he said. 'No! They are not.'
   'What!' she laughed aloud. 'The mountains are not bigger than you? But you are extraordinary.'
     'They are not bigger than me' he cried. 'Any more than you are bigger than me if you stand on a ladder. They are not bigger than me. They are less than me.'
      'Oh! Oh!' she cried in wonder and ridicule. 'The mountains are less than you.' 
      'Yes,' he cried, 'they are less.'"

Hannele mistakes this for megalomania, but, actually, it isn't that. It is, rather, a noble refusal to be intimidated by grandeur, be it divine or natural in origin, and a rejection of romantic idealism founded upon notions of transcendence and the sublime. In other words, Hepburn is attempting to curb his - and Hannele's - enthusiasm; something which I think a (pretty) good thing.

Indeed, for me, Lawrence is at his best not when indulging his penchant for theo-poetic speculation (sorry Catherine), but, rather, being sardonic and stubbornly down-to-earth; like one of those Jews of the wrong sort whom Hepburn encounters at his hotel; imparting a "wholesome breath of sanity, disillusion, unsentimentality to the excited Bergheil atmosphere".

Ultimately, as much as Lawrence wishes to make life seem glamorous and rich with cosmic significance, he doesn't want men and women to sprout wings of the spirit too often; nor pose as solitary superhuman beings on mountain summits, as if belonging to a glacial world sufficient unto itself and devoid of cabbages.

His great teaching, rather, is to climb down Pisgah and for man to affirm the horizontal limitations of his own flesh and mortality.  


Notes

See: D. H. Lawrence, 'The Captain's Doll' in The Fox, The Captain's Doll, The Ladybird, edited by Dieter Mehl, (Cambridge University Press, 2002), chapters XIV-XVIII. 

Note: The Captain's Doll (1923) can be read online as an eBook thanks to Project Gutenberg of Australia: click here.

See also the fascinating article by Catherine Brown, 'Climbing Down the Alpine Pisgah: Lawrence and the Alps', which explores Lawrence's relationship to the mountains in much more detail: click here


13 May 2017

D. H. Lawrence: The Reluctant Londoner

Unused design for the 14th International 
D. H. Lawrence Conference (London, 3-8 July 2017) 
by Stephen Alexander 
(Based on a 1929 film poster by the Stenberg Brothers)


Asked to name places associated with D. H. Lawrence and his fiction, many readers will say Italy, whilst others immediately mention Mexico. Those familiar with the novel Kangaroo often fondly recall his descriptions of the Australian bush. Mostly, however, they think back to the dreary coal mining district in the East Midlands from out of which Lawrence rather miraculously extracted himself. 

One thing's for sure: not many readers will say London - even though he and a surprising number of his characters have interesting connections to the capital. In fact, according to Lawrence scholar Catherine Brown, Lawrence visited the city around fifty times between October 1908 and September 1926 and not only did he live and work there at certain periods, he even married Frieda at a registry office in Kensington. 

Of course, given his aggressive anti-urbanism, it's not surprising to discover that Lawrence didn't much like being in the Smoke and that many of his comments and fictional portrayals of the city tend to be negative - although he does admit in a newspaper article written in 1928 to having found it exhilarating upon arrival as a young man:

"Twenty years ago, London was to me thrilling, thrilling, thrilling, the vast and roaring heart of all adventure. It was not only the heart of the world, it was the heart of the world’s living adventure. How wonderful the Strand, the Bank, Charing Cross at night, Hyde Park in the morning!"

But today, says Lawrence in the same article, all the excitement seems crushed out of the city - not least by the sheer weight of traffic, massively rolling nowhere.

Thus, I suppose Lawrence might at best be described as a reluctant Londoner; one who quickly grew tired of its charms - including the West End girls who had at one time fascinated the Eastwood boy as they paraded along Piccadilly, displaying their non-provincial beauty. Not because he was tired of life, as Samuel Johnson would have it, but, on the contrary, because he found it lacking in vitality and full of deathly dullness and the noise of endless chatter ...

And speaking of endless chatter - though hopefully it won't be deathly dull in character - the 14th International D. H. Lawrence Conference will be held in London this summer (3-8 July). Readers interested in finding out more can click here.


Notes

See: D. H. Lawrence, 'Why I Don't Like Living in London', in Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 119-22. 

See also Catherine Brown, 'London in D. H. Lawrence's Words', which can be found as an article on her website - catherinebrown.org - or accessed directly by clicking here

Readers interested in a related post to this one might like to click here.

7 Jun 2016

On the Dog's Bollocks and the Loss of a Penile Bone in Human Males



One of the things my friend Catherine loves most about her new puppy dog is the soft, subterranean nature of his penis, which she characterizes rather nicely as rhizomatic.

"It runs parallel to and just under the surface of the skin (you can see the bulge), with just the very end of it projecting out into the world, like a lipstick."

She adds: "The balls are also mainly under the surface, just at the far end of the semi-submerged penis", though I think she may have mistaken the spherical knot of erectile tissue known as the bulbis glandis for the dog's testicles (not that I'm an expert in canine genitalia).

Catherine concludes with a confession of aesthetico-sexual preference: "I think it so much nicer to have a secret, shy little organ hidden away, rather than a perpendicular penis."

Were I female, I suspect I might very well feel likewise; there is something displeasing about a large dangling dick. But, being male, what really fascinates me about a dog's penis is the fact that it contains a bone (the baculum); a feature common to many placental mammals which provides sufficient stiffness to enable non-erect penetration and allow for an extended period of coition.

Unfortunately, the so-called os penis is absent in man, although present in other primates including chimpanzees and gorillas. Thanks to a malevolent and mocking God removing such from Adam in order to make Eve, human males have never known the joy and reassurance of a true boner and have had to rely on haemodynamics and the vagaries of desire for hardness.


Note; I am grateful to Catherine Brown for suggesting the subject of this post and for allowing me to quote from her correspondence in which we discussed it. Readers interested in Catherine's further views on man and dog should click here


11 May 2016

Of Man and Dog - A Guest Post by Catherine Brown

Penguin, 2012

I have recently read In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw, biologist and founder-director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol. The font is academically-small and intimidating. The book is good.

I will pass on its arguments as though they are true. For Bradshaw has done a great deal of research into canine behaviour and, though his findings and inferences are controversial, I have no independent reason to doubt them. In any case, whether they are true or not, they have prompted some interesting reflections in me about pooches and people.

I.

Bradshaw describes the generic mutt; for example, the village dog that one finds all over Africa. They all look roughly alike and share a common evolutionary history that made them perfectly fit for purpose. Selective breeding, however, at the hands of man over millennia, has necessarily produced dogs which are rather less fit. Unfortunately for them, dogs no longer get to choose their own sexual partners and the characteristics for which they're selected, such as utility or good looks, often don't have anything to do with ensuring their survival or improving their health.

It's little wonder therefore that veterinary science is now needed to bridge the fitness-gap that's been opened up and that animal trainers and psychologists are required to deal with dogs that are deemed suboptimal companions. Given that we don't breed certain types of dog primarily for fellowship, it's a bit rich when we complain of aggression or anxiety in our animals, as though these traits were not entirely of our own creation.

Fortunately, we humans, by contrast, resemble village dogs. Except in aristocracies, which have their own problems with fitness, we breed more or less at will, in order to be all-round, well-adapted men and women. Ease of long-distance travel has broadened our gene pools still further. Huxley's Brave New World gives us one vision as to what would happen were it otherwise. Dogs give us another. Were we to be bred by a scientific elite or an alien master race, it's perfectly feasible (and amusing to imagine) that we too might become subdivided into human equivalents of Schnauzers, Dobermans, Bichon Frises, Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Borzois and the rest.

So, in short, most dogs in the Western world are now more pedigree than mongrel; even what is called a mongrel is likely to have at least one pedigree parent or grandparent. By contrast we are for the most part comfortably and healthily mongrel. We don’t need annual vaccinations and monthly worming, as our dogs do, and we are all the better off for it.

II.

Dogs are wolves at arrested stages of development. Even the skull of a little Pekingese resembles that of the wolf foetus; it just doesn’t keep growing into the long, narrow skull of the wolf. Unlike wolves, however, dogs continue to play when they are adults, and are dependent on humans throughout their lives. They therefore never become psychologically mature and independent, as wolves do. Because of the consistency of food supply throughout the year, they are fertile all the year round, unlike wolves, which mate in winter in order to give birth in spring. But because the food that humans can spare for dogs is limited, they are smaller than wolves. They are less fussy about sexual partners than are wolves, which pair-bond, whereas dogs are promiscuous.

And so we, people, are more dog than wolf. We are smaller than earliest man because of our more herbivorous diet (we are only now re-approaching the size of early humans). We are fertile all the year round, and, although we pair-bond to a degree, we are more promiscuous than wolves are. We play, with our child toys or our adult toys, at our child games or our adult games, throughout our lives. Of course, this dogginess is unsurprising, given that we bred dogs in our own image.

Yet the wolves from which we created dogs are not today’s wolves. Since we have persecuted wolves almost to extinction, we have negatively selected those which are most distrustful of us to be the survivors. It is likely that dogs descended from wolves living around 20,000 years ago which had a mutation which enabled them to form relationships with more than one species - our own as well as their own. This mutation served them well; their numbers now dwarf those of wolves.

But, especially in the twentieth century, dog psychology has misleadingly tried to understand dogs with reference to a) modern wild wolves, which are a distrustful, persecuted minority, and b) captive wolves, which, not being able to form and dissolve their own packs, are far more agonistic and violently hierarchical than are the internally-peaceful nuclear family packs of the wild. These false reference points, combined with the false assumption that dogs are essentially wolves in dogs’ clothing, has led to the stress on dominance in dog training.

The assumptions are: every dog wants to be top dog; dogs treat humans as members of their pack; every attempt at dog dominance must be thwarted, and so on. In fact, dogs relate very differently to humans as compared to others of their own kind, and tend to be far more dependent on the former, even in households of multiple dogs. At our own best, we are dog-like in our sociability with all other members of our species, not just within our nuclear families. Where we become wolf-like, in our rivalry with and violent hostility towards other packs, is at the level of the nation. Best to keep dogs within our sights.

Finally, one of the things that makes us human (and dog-like) is our ability to interact with, and nurture, multiple species. This is apparent in the story of the evolution of dogs from wolves. The explanation that wolves were initially tolerated as scavengers in villages is not sufficient by way of explanation of the beginnings of domestication - why would wolves prefer human scraps to the far better and more plentiful food that they can hunt for themselves? Nor is the idea that humans consciously took wolves to train them for various useful purposes, such as those for which working dogs are used today, sufficient as an explanation.

The evidence is that hunter-gatherers, past and present, adopt a variety of baby animals to bring up alongside their own young, simply for the joy of the process, a delight in their cuteness, a delight in play, and, in some cases, the status that accrues from having pets. Amongst today’s Penan of Borneo, and the Huaorani of the Amazon rainforst, parrots, toucans, wild ducks, raccoons, small deer, rodents, opossums, and monkeys are all adopted. Indigenous Australians foster dingo puppies, which, when they become unmanageable adults, are simply driven away to reproduce in the wild. It is likely that the same happened with wolf puppies - and that, eventually, a few of the puppies became domesticated as well as tame, so that they consented to reproduce in a human environment, and thus were set on their course to become dogs.

This is one of the most charming things about humans that I know - that we care about the survival of species other than our own, for reasons other than utility. We delight in nurturing, cuteness, and play, will spend our limited resources on these things, and have done so for as long as we have been human.



Catherine Brown is an English literature academic who also blogs, tweets, and writes for the media. Her literary interests centre on novels and plays of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the wider cultural histories of England and Russia. Her tweets tend to be about D.H. Lawrence; her blog posts are mostly reviews of books, films, plays, and exhibitions, or reflections on politics and religion. 

Catherine appears here as part of the Torpedo the Ark Gastautoren Programm and I am very grateful for her kind permission to reproduce, revise and edit this text, which originally appeared on her own blog. 


21 Dec 2014

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence



December 1929: Lawrence and Frieda are staying at the Villa Beau-Soleil in the South of France; nothing too grand, just a little house with six rooms and a bath, but with central-heating and overlooking the sea. 

It will be Lawrence's last Christmas. His sisters have kindly sent a plum pudding, a cake, and some mincemeat, but he's not in the festive spirit: "Why make merry when one doesn't feel merry?"

Besides, the cat has attacked the goldfish and the madness of the world is "worse than ever".  

By the 23rd, the weather is "grey and sulky" following a great storm and Lawrence has taken to his sick bed. His bronchials have been "behaving very badly" all winter making him tired and irritable. 

Although Frieda is determined to enjoy "a certain amount of Christmas fun", Lawrence insists he wants nothing to do with it. In fact, he wishes the baby Jesus had been born a turnip and eaten by one of the animals standing by the manager. 

Besides, "there is nothing new in the world", so what's to celebrate. 

In one letter, written just before this, his final Christmas, Lawrence sadly informs Aldous Huxley that the cat has now killed and eaten the goldfish, leaving nothing but a few scales floating in the bowl. It is, says Lawrence, "nothing less than a tragedy".

On that note, all that remains for me to do is send warm seasonal greetings to Catherine Brown and David Brock. And, despite all his mock-tragic humbuggery, I'd also like to say ... Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence!


Note: Quotations are from The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, vol. VII, edited by Keith Sagar and James T. Boulton (Cambridge University Press, 1993). 
       

15 Mar 2014

Lady Chatterley's Body

Photo of Kate Moss by Tim Walker for
Love Magazine, issue 9 (S/S, 2013)

According to a recent tweet from Lawrence scholar Catherine Brown, Wetherspoon's are opening a new pub in Eastwood to be called The Lady Chatterley Arms. I've no objection to this, but think it ironic that the pub is to be named after the one part of her anatomy that Lawrence didn't detail (or fetishize) in his descriptions of Connie. 

We know, for example, she had a ruddy complexion, with soft brown hair, big blue eyes (often full of tears) and a slow, soft voice with an underlying wilfulness. We know too she was golden-skinned and if her navel was rather withdrawn and sad-looking, nevertheless her waist retained its flexibility and her loins their voluptuous curve. 

We also know that whilst Connie wasn't tall and had a somewhat stocky build, she nevertheless had a good figure: she wasn't fat, as Lawrence non-too-subtly puts it. That said, neither was her physique quite fashionable. 

Further, despite having a certain fluid proportion, her body had somehow failed to ripen; her breasts were rather small and drooping pear-shaped, her belly somewhat slack and meaningless. Her thighs, meanwhile, were heavy and inert, whilst her back, her hips and buttocks had lost their distinction and were no longer so gay-looking or sensitive in outline as in her Dresden days (i.e. before her marriage to Clifford).

Nevertheless, these were still the parts of her that seemed most alive; the beautiful, long-sloping hips and the buttocks with their round, heavy contour so full of female energy. It was just the front of her body that made her feel miserable, as it seemed to be making the leap straight from girlhood to old age, without ever knowing its mature perfection. Depressed by this realisation, Connie dramatically loses her appetite and briefly becomes as thin as a rail, with dark shadows under her eyes.

Her affair with Mellors, however, restores her body to its full health and vitality. For he finds her body lovely to touch and to marvel at and this makes her feel beautiful and desirable. Her thighs and belly and hips all perk up and she feels a sort of dawn come into her flesh; even her breasts begin to tip and to stir once more.

Mellors particularly likes her soft, golden-brown pubic hair (in which he ties forget-me-nots) and her silky inner-thighs. And, if he is to be believed, not only does she have the nicest of all arses, but she's also the best bit o' cunt left on earth. 

We know then a good deal about Lady Chatterley's body - perhaps even more than we know about her character. But, as I said earlier, we know nothing about her arms ...


9 Jan 2014

In Praise of Invisible Artworks

Tom Friedman: Untitled (A Curse), 1992


One of the nice things about having English-Lit scholar and TV star Dr Catherine Brown as a friend is that she raises so many interesting topics for discussion: such as invisible artworks, which, until two nights ago, I was completely unaware of, but am now a little obsessed by having seen them (or, rather, not seen them) for myself.

In particular, I'm fascinated with an untitled piece by Tom Friedman in which he commissioned a witch to place a curse in the space above an empty pedestal, thereby creating an enchanted work that makes us think not merely about that old chestnut of what does and does not constitute art and what roles imagination and belief might play in our understanding and appreciation of an object, but also about how sacred or - as in this case - accursed space is divided off from the secular and commercial space which surrounds it.

But what I really like about Friedman's piece is that, like other invisible works, it lends itself to crime: for one could arguably steal it without anyone knowing; or, more amusingly, one could employ a witch of one's own to cast a spell that would lift the curse, thereby destroying the work in an act of magical vandalism.