Showing posts with label dull london. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dull london. Show all posts

11 Jul 2014

London Yawning: Lawrence and the Problem of Big City Boredom

Photo of a London hipster wearing red trousers posted 
by Monsieur Henri de Pantalon-Rouge on 15 Dec 2012
on the brilliant blog look at my fucking red trousers

In an article published in the Evening News on 3 September 1928, Lawrence writes of the queer horror for London that immediately grips his soul whenever he returns to the city:

"The strange, grey and uncanny, almost deathly sense of dullness is overwhelming. Of course you get over it after a while, and admit that you exaggerated. You get into the rhythm of London again, and you tell yourself that it is not dull. And yet you are haunted, all the time, sleeping or waking, with the uneasy feeling: It is dull! It is all dull! This life here is one vast complex of dullness! I am dull. I am being dulled. My spirit is being dulled! My life is dulling down to London dullness."  

One can't help wondering if this isn't simply a sign of weariness and ressentiment caused by early-middle age and rapidly failing health; Lawrence is, by this date, very ill with tuberculosis and has only a year-and-a-half left to live. When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. Or so they say. 

But, perhaps anticipating this response, Lawrence in part refutes it by denying that the sense of excitement and wonder which he used to experience when living in London has in any way faded, or deserted him with age: "True, I am now twenty years older. Yet I have not lost my sense of adventure. But now all the adventure seems to me crushed out of London."

And for this, Lawrence - like many a cyclist or pedestrian today - blames the traffic:

"The traffic is too heavy. It used to be going somewhere, on an adventure. Now it only rolls massively and overwhelmingly, going nowhere, only dully and enormously going. ... The traffic of London used to roar with the mystery of man's adventure on the seas of life ... Now it booms like monotonous, far-off guns ... crushing the earth, crushing out life, crushing everything dead."

Even the cheeky London red buses, says Lawrence, lack fun and crawl along routes which terminate in boredom. For what's to do, he asks, except drift about on your own, or meet up with friends in order to have fun and engage in meaningless conversation: "And the sense of abject futility in it all only deepens the sense of abject dullness ..."

Again, that's Lawrence speaking, but it could be a young friend of mine complaining from the heart of hip and happening Hackney earlier this week. 

I'm not sure what Zena would suggest in order to counter and overcome this urban ennui, but I'm pretty certain she'd not share Lawrence's solution which he arrived at in a related article, also first published in the London Evening News, which involves an ironic dandyism. In other words, for Lawrence, the cure for metropolitan dullness is to be found in humour and fashion.

He writes:

"In the ancient recipe, the three antidotes for dullness, or boredom are sleep, drink, and travel. It is rather feeble. From sleep you wake up, from drink you become sober, and from travel you come home again. And then where are you?"     

This is very true. And, sadly, it's also true that the sovereign solution of love has become an impossibility today, despite what might pretend. But we can still laugh and learn how to treat life as a good joke; not in a cynical, sarcastic, or spiteful manner - but in a gay and carefree fashion:

"That would freshen us up a lot. Our flippant world takes life with a stupid seriousness ... What a bore! 
      It is time we treated life as a joke again, as they did in the really great periods like the Renaissance. Then the young men swaggered down the street with one leg bright red, one leg bright yellow, doublet of puce velvet, and yellow feather in silk cap.
      Now that is the line to take. Start with externals ... and treat life as a good joke. If a dozen men would stroll down the Strand and Piccadilly tomorrow, wearing tight scarlet trousers fitting the leg, gay little orange-brown jackets and bright green hats, then the revolution against dullness which we need so much would have begun."

This, then, is my call (and challenge) to the organizers of and participants in the International D. H. Lawrence Conference which is coming to London in the summer of 2017 - dare to revolt into style like the young man pictured; get yer red trousers on!

Note: The lines by Lawrence are taken from 'Why I Don't Like Living in London' and 'Red Trousers', in Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 119-22 and pp. 135-38.