Monday, April 2, 2012

Portraits From Memory, "Chapter" Eighteen

“D.H. Lawrence,” pages 111-116

“My acquaintance with Lawrence was brief and hectic, lasting altogether about a year [p. 111].” Russell and Lawrence shared rebellious attitudes and some superficial features of viewpoints, but these disguised deep differences. Lawrence was passionate, imaginative, and full of loathing. “It was only gradually that I came to feel him a positive force for evil and that he came to have the same feeling about me [p. 112].”

Lawrence was a proto-fascist, having developed the theory before the politicians put it into practice; his views included a rejection of democracy and support for a Caesar-like sovereign. Presumably he was the model of the Caesar he envisioned. Lawrence had vague ideas about communicating truths to the populace, but these were airy nothings, unmoored to any practical plan of implementation. “Gradually I discovered that he had no real wish to make the world better, but only to indulge in eloquent soliloquy about how bad it was [p. 113].” He was happy to lead a small cultish band that would revere his utterings.

Lawrence, while requesting a monetary bequest from Russell, nevertheless took Bertie to task for being a critic of society from within, as opposed to someone who abandoned society – and the potential to build an estate to bequeath – altogether. Lawrence had some mystical belief in a non-mental but inherent, blood-based form of knowing. Lawrence was intolerant of claims that people could feel kindly towards each other, and distrusted Russell’s objections to war and the attendant suffering. Lawrence’s epistolary attacks on Russell were intense, and, briefly, they undermined Russell’s confidence in his own path. But then Bertie lost confidence in Lawrence, instead. They agreed, like Jaques and Orlando, to be better strangers.

Russell felt that his own attraction to reason might be excessive, and at first he welcomed Lawrence’s challenge, his championing of unreason. The challenge probably even made Russell’s Principles of Social Reconstruction a better book. But Lawrence’s ideas were pernicious, “the ideas of a sensitive would-be despot who got angry with the world because it would not instantly obey [p. 115].” He had complete disregard for others, except when they came to his notice, and then he despised them. His focus on sex is a reflection of his solipsism, because sex required Lawrence to notice at least one other human being. The personal torment of having to give that notice is what made Lawrence view sex as so destructive.

Lawrence’s views were of a piece with a general embrace of unreason between the wars, displayed most overtly in Nazism. “I am not sure if the cold inhuman sanity of Stalin was any improvement [p. 116].”

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