Showing posts sorted by relevance for query isabel. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query isabel. Sort by date Show all posts

15 Mar 2019

Are You Pervin on Me? (Notes on The Blind Man, by D. H. Lawrence)


There's something creepy and disturbing about Maurice Pervin. As his name suggests, he's a man born beneath a black star and full of the potential for violence; "like an ominous thunder-cloud".

So at home is Maurice within the invisible world of touch, that whilst his loss of sight during the war is something of an inconvenience, it doesn't profoundly affect him: "Life was still very full and strangely serene for the blind man, peaceful with the almost incomprehensible peace of immediate contact in darkness."

Indeed, so content is Maurice to live in connubial intimacy with his wife Isabel and perform menial farm work - milking the cows, attending to the pigs and horses - that he "did not even regret the loss of his sight".

His fits of depression and dark moods were rooted, therefore, in something else; in his hypersensitivity, perhaps; or his resentment of those individuals such as his wife's old friend Bertie Reid, who were less passionate but more quick-witted than he; "a resentment which deepened sometimes into stupid hatred".


Bertie was a barrister and a man of letters; "a Scotchman of the intellectual type" - ironical, sentimental, and - one suspects - a repressed homosexual. For whilst he is extremely fond of his close female companions, he has no desire to marry any of them:

"He was a bachelor, three or four years older than Isabel. He lived in beautiful rooms overlooking the river, guarded by a faithful Scottish man-servant. And he had his friends among the fair sex - not lovers, friends. So long as he could avoid any danger of courtship or marriage, he adored a few good women with constant and unfailing homage, and he was chivalrously fond of quite a number. But if they seemed to encroach on him, he withdrew and detested them. 
      Isabel knew him very well, knew his beautiful constancy, and kindness, also his incurable weakness, which made him unable to ever enter into close contact of any sort. He was ashamed of himself, because he could not marry, could not approach women physically. He wanted to do so. But he could not. At the centre of him he was afraid, helplessly and even brutally afraid. He had given up hope, had ceased to expect any more that he could escape his own weakness." 

As noted, Maurice hates him: hates his Scottish accent; hates the other man's complacency. But perhaps his hatred wasn't born of homophobia, but, rather, his own homosexual desire: "He hated Bertie Reid, and at the same time he knew the hatred was [...] the outcome of his own weakness."


To cut a short story even shorter, Bertie has come to visit the Pervins ...

After an uncomfortable meal and some small talk by the fire over drinks, Maurice excuses himself, taking his leave of Isabel and her friend in order to attend to some farm business. Several hours pass and, worried that it was getting late, Isabel asks Bertie to go find her absent husband:

"Bertie put on an old overcoat and took a lantern. [...] He shrank from the wet and roaring night. Such weather had a nervous effect on him [...] He peered in all the buildings. At last, as he opened the upper door of a sort of intermediate barn, he heard a grinding noise, and looking in, holding up his lantern, saw Maurice, in his shirt-sleeves [...] holding the handle of a turnip-pulper. He had been pulping sweet roots, a pile of which lay dimly heaped in a corner behind him."

The blind man is stroking a sinister-looking half-wild grey cat, as if it were some kind of familiar. He asks Bertie about the nature of the scar upon his face: "'Sometimes I feel I am horrible,' said Maurice, in a low voice, talking as if to himself. And Bertie actually felt a quiver of horror."

What happens after this isn't quite clear: one suspects that Lawrence wants us to read between the lines. Maurice asks Bertie if he might touch him and the latter, although a man who instinctively shrinks from physical contact, gives consent in a small, submissive voice: "But he suffered as the blind man stretched out a strong, naked hand to him."

Maurice lays his hands on Bertie's head:

"closing the dome of the skull in a soft, firm grasp [...] then, shifting his grasp and softly closing again, with a fine, close pressure, till he had covered the skull and the face of the smaller man, tracing the brows, and touching the full, closed eyes, touching the small nose and the nostrils, the rough, short moustache, the mouth, the rather strong chin."

Maurice also allows his hands to wander south; he grasps the shoulders, the arms, the hands of the other man - and who knows what else? "He seemed to take him, in the soft, travelling grasp." Lawrence could have chosen to stop here, but, instead, he intensifies this scene of queer eroticism; Maurice asking Bertie to touch his eyes, with his young and tender hands:

"Now Bertie quivered with revulsion. Yet he was under the power of the blind man [...] He lifted his hand, and laid the fingers on the [...] scarred eyes. Maurice suddenly covered them with his own hand, pressed the fingers of the other man upon his disfigured eye-sockets, trembling in every fibre, and rocking slightly, slowly, from side to side. He remained thus for a minute or more, whilst Bertie stood as if in a swoon, unconscious, imprisoned."

The scene culminates thusly:

"Maurice  removed the hand of the other man from his brow, and stood holding it in his own.
      'Oh my God,' he said, 'we shall know each other now, shan't we?  We shall know each other now.'
      Bertie could not answer. He gazed mute and terror-struck, overcome by his own weakness. He knew he could not answer. He had an unreasonable fear, lest the other man should suddenly destroy him. Whereas Maurice was actually filled with hot, poignant love [...] Perhaps it was this very passion [...] which Bertie shrank from most."


Whether the knowledge that fills Maurice with delicate fulfilment is carnal in nature is debatable, making the question of whether this is or is not a scene of sexual abuse impossible to answer with certainty. But it's certainly a traumatic and shattering experience for poor Bertie who is desperate to escape throughout, and who returns to the house in silence looking haggard and with eyes that were glazed over with misery:

"He could not bear it that he had been touched by the blind man, his insane reserve broken in. He was like a mollusc whose shell is broken."
Maurice, meanwhile, is elated - and, curiously, so is Isabel who takes her husband's hand in both hers and whispers to him "'You'll be happier now, dear.'"

One almost wonders if she hasn't set the whole thing up; knowing the cause of her husband's depression to be frustrated homosexual desire; inviting her vulnerable friend to visit - a man whom she secretly despised and felt contemptuous of; sending Bertie out to the barn in the dark of night like a lamb to the slaughter, so that her husband might find some degree of (momentary) satisfaction.    

What this tale illustrates is that Lawrence's notion of touch or phallic tenderness isn't always loving and consensual; it can involve submission, it can involve violence, it can involve all manner of perversity and fetishistic behaviour, and it can even include rape (be it of middle-aged women by Mexican bullfighters, or physically reserved young men by powerful figures like Maurice Pervin who exist as towers of darkness upon the face of the earth).


D. H. Lawrence, 'The Blind Man', in England, My England and Other Stories, ed. Bruce Steele, (Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 46-63. All lines quoted here are from this edition, but note that an online version of the story can be read by clicking here. Readers who are interested can also find an earlier version of the tale, from 1918, in The Vicar's Garden and Other Stories, ed. N. H. Reeve, (Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 175-91. 

For an alternative reading of the story see Abbie Garrington, 'D. H. Lawrence: Blind Touch in a Visual Culture', Ch. 5 of Haptic Modernism, (Edinburgh University Press, 2013). Dr. Garrington argues that Maurice Pervin's disability gives him 'access to other modes of seeing - the potential for spiritual insight, and an ability to attune himself to the tides of his own blood'. She also considers the character in his phallic aspect and as a kind of living sculpture.

Finally, readers might also be interested in a short film adaptation of 'The Blind Man' (dir. Travis Mills, 2011) made by Michael Coleman, Jason Cowan, McKenzie Goodwin, Travis Mills and Jess Weaver (Running Wild Films): click here.

24 Apr 2016

The Moon at the End of My Street

According to Lawrence, who insists on an essential and dynamic correspondence between man and the heavenly bodies, the moon is a strange, white, soft-seeming world; a great cosmic nerve centre from which we quiver forever. 

Now, as readers of this blog may know, I'm philosophically hostile to such naive vitalism and what Quentin Meillassoux terms correlationism. However, la luna continues to attract my interest and affection and I agree with Lawrence that it's a far lovelier thing than merely a dead lump of rock in the night sky. 

And so it is that - just the other evening - I took the above photo of the moon at the end of my street, which, coincidentally, happens to be the title of a new collection of poems by Isabel del Rio, who, kindly, has given me permission to reproduce the following lines from a verse entitled 'If you and I did not have the moon':

If we did not have the Moon,
we would not know what to call
the night, perhaps only
darkness, we would describe it
only by its colour, black,
by its lack of purpose, pointless.

Other lunar-inspired verses in Ms del Rio's new book include 'wondering moon', 'this Moon is but a quaver on the sky', and 'Moon Haiku Number 1':

Like you, the Moon is
not in the universe, but
is the universe

Obviously, as a poet, there are moments when Ms del Rio falls into the same anthropocentric idealism and affectation as Lawrence. It's not so much that either author wilfully privileges the human over other objects, but each seems unable to help thinking the latter unless they conform to the mind of a knowing subject and in this way become products of human cognition and aesthetic fancy.

Still, it's been said that I often do the same, despite my best efforts to adhere to a strict form of speculative realism and object-oriented ontology (i.e. to know that the moon and stars exist independently of Man and are not ontologically exhausted by their relation to us), so who am I to criticise ... 

Note: Isabel del Rio is a writer and linguist, born in Madrid and living in London. She writes in English and Spanish and has published fiction and poetry. Her new book is published by Friends of Alice Publishing (2016).  

2 Jan 2015

It is your age - A Poem by Isabel del Rio

It is your age that pulls away the veil
From eyes expecting so much more than seen.
And what you did or who you were prevailed
just briefly, what you are is just has-been.

Dreams are no more and even love is dreamt,
No longer hope of saving skin or soul
From surest damnation, all feelings spent
On make-believe things until they run cold.

Don't say it's sad, unfair or undeserved,
this is the only journey you will take,
at least you're here for now, a sentence served

with no purpose but solely for its sake,
to prove or disprove nothing, even less
an answer to the question: what's this mess?

Isabel del Rio is a writer and linguist, born in Madrid and living in London. She writes in both English and Spanish, and has published fiction and poetry. Her bilingual book, Zero Negative / Cero Negativo appeared in 2013 (Araña Editorial). She works for an international organization as head of terminology, and is currently writing a memoir. 

Ms. del Rio appears here as part of the Torpedo the Ark Gastautoren Programm and I am very grateful for her kind submission of a sonnet written last year and, indeed, for the photograph.  

11 Jul 2013

On the Stuttering of Language

I recently had an interesting and enjoyable evening at Europe House, where bilingual Spanish/English writers Isabel del Rio and Susana Medina were discussing their work and promoting new books.

Both women seemed keen to advance the idea that by writing in two languages simultaneously they were evolving a new literary genre that was beyond simple translation. Although their argument was coherent and their experimental practice of writing in the space between different cultures perfectly commendable, I'm afraid I wasn't convinced that anything radically new was on offer.  

In fact, I agree with Deleuze that great writers always and already inhabit their native languages like foreign agents and bring writing to a crisis in some manner by carving out a nonpreexistent language within their own tongue:

"This is not a situation of bilingualism or multilingualism. We can easily conceive of two languages mixing with each other, with incessant transitions from one to the other; yet each of them nonetheless remains a homogeneous system in equilibrium, and their mixing takes place in speech. But this is not how great authors proceed ... they do not mix two languages together, not even a minor language and a major language .... What they do, rather, is invent a minor use of the major language within which they express themselves ... They are great writers by virtue of this minorization: they make the language take flight ... ceaselessly placing it in a state of disequilibrium .... They make the language itself scream, stutter, stammer, or murmur."

- Gilles Deleuze, 'He Stuttered', Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael E. Greco, (Verso, 1998), pp. 109-10.