Tuesday, October 14, 2014

falling of waters

There are senses in all three of them, the touching in Lawrence, the seeing for Wordsworth and the listening for the character in Jahn, Geoffrey Hill being closest to Lawrence, early Hill most directly: “There is no bloodless myth will hold,” from Genesis, and those lines about things being struck, faced, and walked on; then going on through more forces until the revealment of forces becomes one of the oeuvre's purposes. “The mountain stamped its foot | Shaking, as from a trance. And I was shut | With wads of sound into a sudden quiet” (God's Little Mountain (1959)). The biggest force has always been the one that is trying to shut him up. It appears in different disguises. “Recap on words like compassion that I | never chanced in your living presence” (In Memorium: Gillian Rose (2007)).

John Donne in his tenth sermon believes that prophets should always speak with strength, which means against some opposition. “[T]hunder, and wind, and tempests, and chariots, and roaring of Lyons, and falling of waters are the ordinary emblems of his [ie, God's] messages, and his messengers, in the Scriptures.”

Dorothy Wordsworth, though, just states everything that is most immediate: that's how she seems to proceed, and very gentle, but I never forget her glittering sheep, which I mention often.

“Do I need to touch the world if I want to experience it at the swooning level, or do I look at it instead, or hear it?” you ask, and there you go; you have various replies. The purpose or goal is that greater privacy which comes through the flesh: other people might make up thoughts for you but no one else can look for you, and no one else is swooning in the garden except Mrs Morel. Lawrence is all about a collaboration between flesh and non-flesh. Still, it looks as if it is the frustration with people outside himself that helps him to write, especially later. The Plumed Serpent is a frustrated book. Not even the violence at the end seems cathartic for him. In Sons and Lovers it is enough to have Mrs Morel putting her hand in a flower. In Serpent he wants cults, drums, and costumes, and I laughed. An artist needs to find their scale, said Richard Tuttle as he was being interviewed by Ross Simonini recently. “One can distinguish between scale and size. Usually, we are happy with the issue of size—if it's small, it's small; if it's big, it's big. But scale is a question of the individual. Each person, everyone ever born, has a unique scale. They have it like a unique fingerprint. You can decide to find your scale. The day you find it is a day you remember. It changes your life. Your parents may determine your size, but you determine your scale.” In the Serpent I think I see Lawrence mislaying whatever it is that Tuttle means by the word scale. Lawrence is scaled to a lily.


  1. Even in Women in Love, Lawrence seems to be trying to write an immense social novel, with his colliers and his wealthy families and his trips to London for smart people's cabaret and orgies, but his best and best-felt work is always focused on the things going wrong between two individuals; I think of his novels as collections of these incidents (of things going wrong). His world is rich and interconnected and alive, especially with those lilies and other flowers, but they are rich and interconnected and intimate. I feel like Lawrence was trying to smash the walls that kept his stories intimate. He beats against them constantly in the works I've read, but never brings them down, so he plants them with vines and sunflowers. I steal your metaphor, ta.

    Novelists, quite unfairly, are judged according to the scale of their work. Write a big novel, they say. I think I'd rather have Lawrence's lily than his serpent.

  2. I don't usually feel that he's trying to reflect society by depicting it in a novel, more that he's trying to make society itself explode or erupt, and literature is the tool he's been given to do it with. When society manifests itself to him (by expecting him to go to work and earn money, for instance), it hits him like a personal insult.

  3. On second thoughts that's too reductive, the word "tool."

    1. Yeah, maybe more "system" or "grand metaphysic."

      I don't know if he was trying to reflect or change society, but I do feel that DHL was trying in some way to make his narratives as big as the real world, and frustratingly could not. But they're weirdly 4-dimensional in a way I'm not sure I can explain; they come off the page in all directions and his narratives are much bigger than the pages upon which they are printed, so in some ways he was successful, but again I think that success is limited to stressful situations between individuals. Maybe.

    2. Change society. There's enough evidence to say that with confidence. When he assesses other authors in Classic American Literature he wants to know if they "slough" or not: are they resisting the modern world or are they complying? "To open out a new wide area of consciousness means to slough the old consciousness. The old consciousness has become a tight-fitting prison to us, in which we are going rotten. You can't have a new, easy skin before you have sloughed the old, tight skin." That's in chapter five. In chapter ten he's still going. "I say, let the old guns rot. Get new ones, and shoot straight." You find the same idea in him again and again. It's there at the end of Lady Chatterley's Lover -- it's one of the thoughts he wants you to go out with: "That's our civilization and our education: bring up the masses to depend entirely on spending money, and then the money gives out [...] If only they were educated to live instead of earn and spend." They should wear red trousers, he says, or get naked and worship Pan. He wants the American eagle to be an agent of cleansing Nietzschean destruction.

      "Eagle of the Rockies, bird of men that are masters,
      Lifting the rabbit-blood of the myriads up into something
      Leaving a few bones"

      (The American Eagle)

      But as for gently reflecting society as it is, without making a comment, that's not his style.