A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

DH Lawrence: A New Consciousness

DH Lawrence at 21 years old (Wikimedia Commons).

I have beside me a stack of books by and about three of my favourite writers: Rainer Maria Rilke, Thomas Hardy and DH Lawrence. Right now I've nearly finished DH Lawrence: The Savage Pilgrimage by his friend and admirer Catherine Carswell. It's a fascinating narrative. Through Carswell I feel I've got closer to the character and personality of Lawrence than in any other biography of him I've read.

Lawrence spent some of the happiest times of his relatively short life (he died of complications resulting from tuberculosis at the age of forty-four) in Taos, New Mexico. He identified immediately with Native American culture, joining in at times with ritual Indian dances. Out of this experience, and his trips over the border into Mexico, came the novel The Plumed Serpent. For Lawrence, old pre-Christian ways of life still retained a true consciousness of what it was to be fully human, a primal life-force guided by feeling not intellect — far removed from what he regarded as insipid, sanctimonious, hypocritical western Christian society.

In New Mexico, and for the first time, he found physical relief from the 'cheerful, triumphant success' which was killing the white races with ennui. He became a partaker as well as a spectator. Not by the abnegation of the Christian saint or the Oriental fakir, not by the psychic powers of the yogi, not by the short cut by which a modern world contemplates the conquest of the cosmos by science, not by any victory over matter by either the spirit or the intellect did Lawrence see the possibility of our salvation from boredom and sterility. We were all starving in the midst of plenty. Nothing was needed but for us to perceive religiously that the cosmos itself was alive, and to enter into the richness of that perception. In wrestling with a live cosmos men would immediately become themselves gods of a kind — fallible still, but potent with cosmic energy. Then, and only then, could man properly solve his great problems. But to do so we had to 'destroy our own conception', our accustomed consciousness.

CATHERINE CARSWELL DH Lawrence: The Savage Pilgrimage    


Rachel Fox said...

Taos is also just a really lovely spot! We loved it. Big, big skies, mountains, fresh air, huge river, open spaces.

Wendy said...

I like this: "Nothing was needed but for us to perceive religiously that the cosmos itself was alive, and to enter into the richness of that perception" especially when you consider one possible etymological origin of religion as being religare which is to bind or connect - so, not just perceive the cosmos as alive, but to connect with/be bound to that livingness as an experience. I think that's likely to stir up anybody's day-to-day life!

Though my recently posted quote about biognosis mentioned it mostly as "knowledge from life" (the knowledge you get from paying attention to living things), I don't think that brief explanation takes us deep enough to what I get from this assessment of DH Lawrence's view - that of gnosis as insight/knowledge arising directly from being part of a living cosmos.

or something... I think I'm rambling.


The Weaver of Grass said...

I am certainly a DH Lawrence fan Roberet - he seems to have gone out of favour over the past few years.

George said...

A very interesting post on Lawrence and his experiences in New Mexico. Taos, like northern New Mexico in general, has long been a rather mystical place that attracts seekers of all sorts (though the town has recently become a little too touristy).

The passage from Carswell is very rich. To say that "we were all starving in the midst of plenty" is to echo the present no less than the past. And, as one would expect, I completey agree that cosmic consciousness can only be obtained by destroying our own conceptions — our "accustomed consciousness."

ksam said...

Your not helping my reading list get any shorter 'ya know!

Goat said...

Funny, I was wondering yesterday (after a friend and I were discussing our love of Orwell) why so many British writers and intellectuals succumbed to TB. (Here's a list, if you're interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tuberculosis_cases ). Didn't know that about DHL. Fascinating to learn that Bukowski got it as recently as 1988! (He survived.) Which has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of your post - just interesting...

The Solitary Walker said...

Rachel: would love to go there...

Lawrence's 'philosophy' is impossible to summarise in a few words, Wendy, but you're certainly right in your assessment here: 'gnosis as insight/knowledge arising directly from being a living part of a living cosmos.' Although he shunned vehemently Christianity, I think he's essentially and in its broad sense a 'religious' writer.

Yes, I agree, Pat — I think it all started in the late 60s/early 70s when feminists wrongly accused him of being a misogynist. Lawrence was so misunderstood by his contemporaries — and is still misunderstood today.

It's all still true now, isn't it, George..?

Karin, must-read lists just keep getting longer and longer for us all..!

And Goat — I'm a big Orwell fan too. BBC Radio is featuring him at the moment, and 'Homage To Catalonia (the best book ever written on the Spanish Civil War, in my opinion), Animal Farm and 1984 have been dramatised.

I've always been amazed Bukowski lived as long as he did!

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

I'm with Wendy. Those words just make sense to me.
Change is needed yet we cannot seem to get to place that works fairly for all.

Anonymous said...

Sorry my DH Lawrence et al comments weren't approved. Perhaps you feel that poets/poetry always should be honoured no matter how ugly the view. I don't know, but that's what I hoped people would discuss...

What I didnt say about DH, was that we know he was against votes for the working class, against trades unions, called for a dictatorship, and wanted to send the ordinary people whom he despised, into a 'lethal chamber', soft music playing. Sounds familiar? He said this in the 1920s, so you might say he was a seer, a prophet. I wouldn't. You do say he's a religious writer, though misunderstood. Ah yes.

Still, he did express these views in lovely English, so I suppose that's all that counts. Perhaps we might have had a reading of his poetry as the masses shuffled into the lethal chamber. That'd be good.

The Solitary Walker said...

Well, I'll publish your comment if you wish, I don't believe in censorship, but I get a regular number of comments from 'Anonymous' (I'd rather comments were from named people, truth to tell) and most of the time the Spam sorter trashes them automatically.

To hint I may feel that poets and poetry should always be honoured no matter what their views is patently ridiculous, and would seem so to anyone who knows me or who has been reading my blogs for a long time.

I know a fair amount about Lawrence, and maintain my view that he is essentially a religious writer, and an important one — though I'm quite aware of some of his eccentric, apocalyptic political views. Still, I take your point, and it's an interesting discussion, the one about the artist's work and his private life, the teller and the tale.

I don't think I really want to go on at length about it here — but Larkin's distasteful and misogynistic letters are not going to stop me reading his amazing poetry, just as Kipling's out-datedcolonialism is not going to stop me appreciating the rhythm of 'Gunga Din'.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you published the post and in future I'll come in with a name. As the Anonymous feature is there, I assumed you approved of it. For someone with no Google account, it's an option.

I mentioned a few key points about Lawrence, which you didn't comment on. I think they are crucial to the substance of his work, tho' not the style. Though his tough minded poem about birds and self pity may confound that notion on style.

I have great difficulty with this question myself and genuinely wanted the views of others - there's no 'spam ' in that to be 'trashed'.

I don't want censorship, but I want to be aware of literary proponents of mass murder.

The best compromise I find is to acknowledge the literary qualities of a work but also flag up the repulsive views a writer may have. Lawrence's are particularly life denying, whatever is said about life and the cosmos. I am working class and he wants to kill me and my kind, he clearly says. Difficult to admire a killer's style when the message is lethal.

I do not expect any writer to be a wonderful human being. But looking at the comments already posted about Lawrence, it is remarkable just how well the nastiness has been forgotten/denied, or not known about. For this reason I doubt the topic has legs.But here absence can say as much as presence.

Lawrence is an extreme example of the matter. Roy Campbell may be another. There are more.