Showing posts with label d. h. lawrence society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label d. h. lawrence society. Show all posts

17 May 2020

On D. H. Lawrence's Sandals


There's an interesting post on the D. H. Lawrence Society website, by Kate Foster, concerning Lawrence's favourite footwear; namely, a pair of primitive-looking, thong-style sandals of tan coloured leather, that he either picked up on his global travels, made for himself, or was gifted by his friend Earl Brewster.

Well, I say interesting, though, as a matter of fact, I have no interest, personally, in a pair of old shoes held in the Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham as if they were a bona fide religious relic; i.e., the personal effects of a saint.

For whilst Lawrence's books certainly deserve to be read with close critical attention and his astonishing achievement as a writer should be acknowledged, he was no saint or person deserving of religious veneration and the way we show our indebtedness to singular individuals like Lawrence is - as Zarathustra teaches - by losing them and finding ourselves; not by attempting to follow in their footsteps or by putting (proto-hippie) footwear on display in a glass case.  


Having said that, there's no denying that shoes are, of course, objects of great cultural significance (and, for some, fetishistic fascination). They are not simply worn to cover or protect the feet and allow us to walk about more easily. They are worn also as indicators of class, gender, and identity and tell us something about a person's values, tastes, and even sexual preferences.   

So the fact that Lawrence chose to wear sandals is, I suppose, not without interest; they betray his bohemianism, for example, and the fact that he loved to go a little bit native when in sunny foreign climes.   

And, I suppose, if one wanted to get a bit Heideggerian, one might suggest that Lawrence's sandals have something of the same aura about them as a pair of Van Gogh's boots; they enable us to genuinely encounter a shoe as a shoe. That is to say, as something worn and rich with life and equipmentality - that primordial modality of existence via which we are intimately involved with the world.

In other words, when we reflect on Lawrence's sandals, we are obliged to ask not only what are they made of and where did they come from, but what is their purpose and what world do they open up and belong to ...

27 Jun 2016

Thoughts on D. H. Lawrence (Stephen Alexander in Conversation with David Brock)

Back in the far-off summer of 2014, I was interviewed by then Editor of the D. H. Lawrence Newsletter, David Brock, who wanted to know my thoughts on a number of questions that were then troubling him in relation to his hero poet.

As most torpedophiles are not members of the D. H. Lawrence Society and will not therefore have read the published interview, I thought it might be helpful to reproduce extracts of it here, thereby making my own rather ambivalent relationship to Lawrence a little clearer ... 

DB: In her guide to the life and work of D. H. Lawrence entitled The Country of My Heart (1972), Bridget Pugh argues that Lawrence looked deeper into the human soul than any of his contemporaries, concerned as he was with the hidden and unconscious sources of the self. Do you feel that any writers today look as deeply?

SA: Probably not. But then this metaphysical notion of subjective depth is no longer one that greatly troubles us in an essentially non-essential age of irony, inauthenticity, and insincerity. We are far more Wildean in this regard than we are Lawrentian and have become - in Nietzschean terms - superficial out of profundity. Personally, I think this is a good thing and much prefer Lawrence when he sticks to the surface, writing about the importance of fashion for example, than when he indulges in folk psychology and starts speculating about fundamental human desire, feeling, and belief.

DB: Bridget Pugh also writes that Lawrence "saw the invasion of the landscape by the ugliness of industrialism as a reflection of the destruction of natural man removed from his instinctive communion with the rest of the universe ..." Other than by reading and re-reading Lawrence, how do you feel we can regain that vital communion? What hope is there for humanity?

SA: Well, hope isn't something I cling to or seek to offer others; not only does it encourage optimism, but it's one of the three theological virtues upon which Christianity is founded and, like Lawrence, I am, in a sense, with the Anti-Christ, rather than with Jesus and all the saints and angels of heaven. As for humanity, that's something to be overcome, is it not? A form that is restrictive and no longer tenable. Sorry to be so Nietzschean about this once again.

As for the quotation from Bridget Pugh, I'm afraid that doesn't interest me in the least. That's not to say it's wrong: Lawrence clearly subscribed to certain romantic and neo-pagan narratives regarding nature, industrialism, and the vital character of the cosmos. But it's very difficult for us to share his beliefs without sacrificing intellectual integrity. We can have an immensely exciting understanding of the universe we inhabit - thanks to modern science - but we cannot enter again into any kind of religious communion with the earth and stars in good faith. Or, as Lawrence concedes when face to face with the religious rituals of Native America: Sorry, I can no longer cluster at the drum. This might seem like typical English reserve in the face of genuine otherness, but it is rather one of the most honest admissions that Lawrence makes anywhere in his writings. He knows there’s no going back to an earlier way of being.

DB: As Lawrentians, Stephen, how do we justify our joy and our continual celebration of his creative genius? Would Lawrence prefer to have loyal readers, or active followers who put his ideas into practice?

SA: Nietzsche once said that there was only ever one Christian and that he died on the Cross; that for others to call themselves Christians was a fatal misunderstanding. I think we can - and should - feel something similar whenever the term Lawrentians is used. Thus I would answer your question this way: we don’t need to justify our pleasure in reading his books and celebrating his life; there’s no need for apology or explanation here. Those who seek to make others feel guilty about their pleasures are the kind of censor-morons sitting in judgement on life that Lawrence despised and so courageously fought against.

Lawrence would prefer unashamed readers, rather than loyal ones. Like Zarathustra, he would quickly lose patience with followers and tell them that ultimately their task is simply this: Lose me and find yourselves. That’s the key. Unashamed readers must be prepared to challenge Lawrence and recontextualise his ideas; which isn’t the same as simply putting them into practice as if Lawrence supplied a convenient set of dos and don’ts. The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze - who happens to be one of Lawrence’s great readers - says the task is to pick up the arrow that he fired into the world and then shoot it anew into the future, in a new direction and at a new target. As a reader - particularly as a reader of a writer like Lawrence - you remain loyal by an act of infidelity.

DB: Do you think that Lawrence Society members should oppose factory farming and care about animal rights?

SA: In principle I’m tempted to say yes. Obviously the question of the animal and its suffering is an important one, although I’m not sure it’s one that is best addressed in terms of ‘rights’. I’d like to think we might develop an altogether different relationship with non-human forms of life - and it’s here that Lawrence might perhaps prove useful.

To be clear on this: I don’t think we should plead the case for animal liberation, or argue that they have specific interests that give rise to certain moral claims; rather, I’m interested in the becoming-animal of man and undermining the singular status of the human. We need to find a post-metaphysical way of thinking man and animal both; one that does away with anthropocentrism and deconstructs the violent hierarchy that places us in opposition to the animal and accords us superiority.

Having said this, whilst you have every right to imagine Lawrence as an ardent animal activist, I’m not sure you’re entitled to imply that those members of the Lawrence Society who don’t concern themselves with the exploitation of animals and who don’t think meat is murder, are somehow morally deficient or missing the point of his work. It should always be remembered that Lawrence was primarily a writer and his concern was language and thus, even when seemingly celebrating the otherness of the animal, be it a bat, snake, or fish, it might be argued that Lawrence is really still just playing textual games on the page. Amit Chaudhuri makes a very powerful argument that even in the famous poems of Birds, Beasts and Flowers Lawrence doesn’t accurately describe such things at all, or directly touch on them as things in themselves. Rather, he recreates and imitates them for his own amusement and that of his readers, assembling an exhibition of stuffed creatures; “his collection of textual mannequins, his pantomime of nature”.

DB: You once reminded me that Lawrence thought there was nothing romantic about madness - that it was a tragic waste of sane consciousness. Do you consider that we have an insane and romantic view of the importance of human life and are we wasting our consciousness in this respect?

SA: We certainly have a conceited and somewhat sentimental view of our own importance and one of the things I love most about Lawrence is that, for the most part, he avoids (and combats) anthropocentric vulgarity. Unfortunately, he doesn’t go far enough in his attempt to thoroughly dehumanize nature and remains trapped within what Quentin Meillassoux terms correlationism - i.e., Lawrence continues to make a link between thinking and being and so can never quite accept the possibility of a mind-independent reality.

This is a great shame and a great failing in his work; one which keeps him within a theo-humanist tradition. Ultimately, he’s not really interested in the stars, animals, trees, or other objects, but only in their relation to man, who, in turn, cannot be considered outside of his relation to the world. That’s the contradiction or paradox at the heart of his writing. For whilst he repeatedly insists that he wants to know the great outside - that inhuman space of the savage exterior - like all critical thinkers after Kant Lawrence too is fundamentally more interested in consciousness and language and these concerns keep him tied to a form of correlationism. 

DB: Despite all Lawrence's best efforts, one has a strong sense that most people are still only half alive. Should this concern us, do you think?

SA: No, I don’t think so. As is perhaps clear from some of the earlier answers, I’m not a vitalist and don’t fetishize or privilege being alive over being dead. As Nietzsche pointed out, being alive is only a rare and unusual way of being dead. Death is ultimately a welcome return to material actuality and an escape from complexity and, as Heidegger argued, all being is a being-towards-death. I think Lawrence recognised this as is clear in his late poetry.

Perhaps the undead fascinate more, philosophically-speaking, than the half-alive. The zombie, for example, embodies the Derridean notion of undecidability which so threatens the traditional foundations of Western metaphysics and so-called common sense. Like the vampire, or, more recently, the cyborg, the zombie cannot be classified as either alive or dead. Rather it belongs to the indeterminable realm of the neither/nor whilst also being, paradoxically, both at once.

Zombies not only indicate the limits of our thinking on life and death, but help to subvert all of those other binary oppositions upon which we establish conceptual coherence and build a stable world - but also a world of violent inequality. It might be stretching things a bit, but might we not read the story of The Man Who Died as a piece of zombie fiction?