This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Portions of this book have appeared in scholarly journals. 1 have completely revised and rewritten these essays to suit the argument of the present book. Chapter One was published as “The Nirvana Dimension: D.H. Lawrence’s Quarrel with Buddhism,” in The D.H. Lawrence Review 15 (1982): 51-67: Chapter Three as “Ars Erotica or Scientia Sexualis? Narrative Vicissitudes in D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love," in The Journal of Narrative Technique 26 (1996): 137-57: Chapter Four as “The Greatest Show on Earth: D.H. Lawrence’s St. Mawr and Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty,” in The D.H. Lawrence Review 22 (1990): 5-21: Chapter Six as “The Darkest Source: D.H. Lawrence, Tantric Yoga, and Women in Love," in Essays in Literature 11 (1984): 211-22: Chapter Seven as “The Throes of Aphrodite: The Sexual Dimension in D.H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent," in Studies in the Humanities 12 (1985): 67-78: Chapter Eight as “Connie and the Chakras: Yogic Patterns in D.H. Lawrence’s Lacfy Chatterley’s Lover,” in The D.H. Lawrence Review 13 (1980): 79-93.1 want to thank the editors of these journals for their permission to republish these essays in book form.
This has no pretensions to being a scholarly book in any traditional sense of that term, nor does it offer a comprehensive literary survey of Lawrence’s engagement with the East, though it does not ignore scholarly procedures where they seem called for. They are useful, for example, in charting Lawrence’s (always fragile) knowledge of Eastern thought systems, especially Yoga and Buddhism, which were the focal points of his interest. Because his engagement was eclectic, intuitive, ready-to-hand (he was a classic bricoleur), a rigorous scholarly approach would be, in the end, self-defeating. He seems never to have read systematically the great Yogic and Buddhist texts, which were being translated at more or less the same time he commenced his quest for new “alien” religious and philosophical systems. (He seems never to have read the great Hindu texts— the Vedas and Upanishads—at all). He picked up contingently whatever best suited his writing needs at the time, worked these new insights into his “pollyanalytics” (his speculative essays), and absorbed them later into the fiction (they make their first spectacular on-stage appearance in Women in Love). Such eclecticism is not wholly surprising, since he always maintained a vigorous scepticism towards scholarly approaches and disciplines.
While this introduction makes a broad sweeping survey of Eastern theories and themes, situating them in the widest possible Lawrentian context, the eight chapters that follow are in-depth interpretations that back up with “proper” evidence the claims made in the introduction. They probe the nature of Lawrence’s fascination with Eastern systems, the idiosyncratic twists that he gives them, the roles they play in the fiction, and the narrative needs they fulfil. One point becomes immediately clear: Lawrence looked to the East less for social, political or cultural resolutions to those chronic problems that beset the West, but to engage with limit-situations, i.e. moments of radical transformation when the self sheds its social accoutrements, and discovers dynamic new ways of being-in-the-world (this coincides in the fiction with the protagonists’ access to states of maximum being). In short, he sought those new levels of awareness, new modes of desire, new ways of transmuting the self, and new soteriological goals that the West seemed unable to offer.
Lawrence’s turn to the East was not, of course, an isolated phenomenon, but part of the late Victorian upsurge of interest in Eastern thought— itself a product of a dramatic loss of confidence both in a Judeo-Christian culture that seemed to pose more problems for belief than it resolved, and in a scientific materialism that, in virtually denying the self, excluded possibilities of self-transformation. Through its urgent interrogations of the East, the West confronted its own crises in religion, science and reason which had been its traditional bulwarks. Like the Romantics before him, Lawrence seized on Eastern thought to subvert Western rationalism, which, as he saw it, diminished the human potential for vision, and produced the deep-seated ills of contemporary culture. As with other European writers (Nietzsche, Musil, Yeats, Pound, Eliot), a hostility to nineteenth-century ideals of reason and progress, allied to a fascination with Western theories of decadence and degeneration motivated his turn to the East, which thus functioned as a significant other—a radical alternative to what he conceived of as the enervated religious and philosophical Weltanschauung of his day.1
Inevitably parts of this book deal in what are now recognized as cultural stereotypes (the East/West divide itself is a part of this ambience). Indeed these stereotypes conditioned Lawrence’s own responses, which frequently derived from ingrained imperial attitudes (I examine these responses to Buddhism in Chapter One). Thus the stereotypical association of the East with mysterious secret rites and rituals, which are screened from the West lay behind Lawrence’s responses, and indeed formed a part of its fascination for him. Unlike, however, Edward Said’s East, which, for the West, is the site of “sexual promise (and threat), untiring sensuality, unlimited desire” (Orientalism 188), Lawrence’s East holds the secrets of transforming the self, and transmuting desire into states of transcendent awareness.2
And, of course, Lawrence succumbs to other cultural stereotypes, juxtaposing, for example, the cyclical time of the East (Mircea Eliade’s myth of the Eternal Return) to the unidirectional, linear, irreversible time of the West in a manner that is itself largely mythical.3 Indeed this particular myth generates its own concatenation of submyths, all of which Lawrence, at one time or other, embraced: visual (East) versus abstract (West); quiet-istic, stagnant versus active, dynamic; pessimistic, escapist versus optimistic, engaged. It is however none of the purpose of the present book to deconstruct these historical stereotypes, but to show how Lawrence reinvents and transforms them, especially in the major fiction. But at what point (and why) did Lawrence break with his Western religious inheritance, and look to Yoga and Buddhism?
Already by 1908, he rejects his Christian affiliation (Congregationalism) as too repressive, too dogmatic and rational, too bound to social conformity, and too life-denying and negative in its sexual attitudes.4 Already he was in quest of something sexier (how he would have loathed that word!), something richer and more impulsive, more compulsive and exotic than (what he saw as) Christianity’s parched and pedestrian doctrines. Already he solicits the inner voice that uncovers the mysterious secrets of life and of writing. The antithesis to culturally prescripted communication, this voice, secreted deep in the flesh, is the body’s hermetic sound-substance— ’’our godhead in the flesh,” as he calls it (Apocalypse 101). Unleashed from an untapped source in the psyche, leaping the barriers of ratiocination, it announces the imminence of a unique, individual vision, unmediated by conceptual thought—the revelation of the hitherto unsayable, unthinkable.5 Opposed to a Western theology that represses desire, this dark-god theophany draws on desire as its agent of self-transformation.
Of the two major Eastern systems Lawrence engaged with, Yoga fulfilled the theophanic and soteriological side of his aspirations more than did Buddhism. The latter, as he (mis)perceived it, was too rational (“philosophical” was the contemporary buzz-word): it resembled too closely the organized Christianity he rejected. Like the latter, it was too collective in orientation (another potent Western myth6), though he also recognized the “individual” element in its meditational practices, and in its quest for insight and liberation, too bound up with exoteric ritual and ceremony—in short, too established. Like Christianity, it appeared to deny the life of the body, especially the promptings of erotic desire. Downgrading eros, it viewed sex as a disruptive intruder to be wormed out and extirpated. Unlike Christianity, however, which embraces the concept of an enduring self (“soul” or “spirit”), Buddhism embraces process—the notion of a dynamic, ever-changing protean real without ontological substratum—a view very close to Lawrence’s own.7
On his world-map of universal degeneration, however, Lawrence locates Buddhism at more or less the same zero-point of the apocalyptic equation as Christianity, though, as we will see, he was far from consistent about this. In the Nietzschean sense, both are decadent religions. Long since past their prime, they display striking symptoms of regression and atrophy without correlative signs of hope and renewal: both lack the soteriological force to revitalize psychic life. On a vitality/depletion scale, both occupy the latter end of the spectrum.
For Lawrence, Yoga, by contrast, preserved the flavour of the alien and esoteric. Constrained neither by dogma nor institution nor by a strong theological framework, its rites and liturgies celebrate individual action— “the purely individual experience of pagan initiation,” as he calls it in Apocalypse (85). It possessed precisely that aura of the secret, the exclusive, the clandestine and screened (at least from Western eyes) that riveted his attention. Unlike Christianity, it escapes the pull of apocalypse, since it shows minimal concern with final judgements and endings. Indeed its techniques for transcendence aim to shatter temporal sequence, and induce rapturous now-moments of self-present being. Unlike Western apocalypse, which draws end-time ever closer, embracing the fate it most fears, Yoga stops time by abolishing terminal thinking. In short, it replaces the dreaded end-moment with the here-and-now in a manner that reflects Lawrence’s own mystical aspirations. But what are these aspirations, and how do they connect up with the East?
Perhaps the basic tension in Lawrence’s “pollyanalytics” is between his eschatological thinking—destruction, judgement, parousia—and a now-moment perception—direct “sense-awareness, and sense-knowledge” (Apocalypse 91). Indeed the latter book sharpens the tension between these two kinds of vision: between the revelation of the truth of the end, which is forever deferred, and the unveiling of the truth of the now-mo-ment itself: between a collective hunger for universal catastrophe, and the individual desire to embrace immediate seeing, and to dispense with all eschatology. Lawrence increasingly espoused the latter orientation which is more Eastern than Western in type.
Western mysticism’s thrust is obsessively elevatory (Plato’s Symposium is the great prototype). An hierarchical ladder stretches upward towards an ineffable union, an all-encompassing silent embrace beyond discourse or speech. In the kind of radical devaluation of the phenomenal world that Lawrence repudiated, the mystic sees through that world to some spiritual domain that lies behind it.8 Refusing to subject sensible to transcendental, Lawrence habitually deconstructs such non-symmetrical pairs. Because one term only makes sense when opposed to the other, neither, for Lawrence, reveals the true state of affairs.9
Lawrence’s contrasting mystical vision—the instantaneous being-in-the-world—is strikingly Eastern in orientation. Ontologically it is closest to (Mahayana) Buddhism’s celebrated assertion that samsara (the phenomenal world) is nirvana: there is no hidden universe concealed behind things, but there are different modes of perceiving the real. While both Western and Eastern mysticism share the notion of a progressive linguistic rarefaction on the path to illumination, their perceptions of this process are radically different. In the former, signs rarify in the ascent towards an ultimate vision upon which words have no purchase. The latter, by contrast, deconstructs settled meanings and signs—those grammatical (and other) fictions that ensnare the mind, and that block access to the world as it is.10 There are not two distinct worlds—a ghostly spiritual one subtending a grosser material one—but a numinous “seeing” that emerges when linguistic mystifications dissolve. This is also the essence of Lawrentian “sense-knowledge” seeing.
Though an ardent advocate of the efficacy of an ultimate silence, Lawrence never reneged on language (his novelistic vocation precluded this). Language’s prime function, as he saw it, was neither epistemologi-cal (as a means to knowledge), nor socio-cultural (as a means to communication), but soteriological (as a means to self-transformation). (Chapter Two explores all these dimensions in depth). Language at once precedes constructions of the conventional self, and works toward their final undoing. Indeed Lawrence shares Jacques Derrida’s notion of language as something that “started without us, in us and before us” (“How to Avoid Speaking” 99). The manifestation of an originary trace (Lawrence variously terms it the “spark,” the “clue,” the “glimmer,” the “between”), language wells up from an unconscious somatic matrix—pristine, virginal, as yet “untouched”—before it crosses the threshold of consciousness and becomes the vehicle of socialized desire. Conscious articulation creates the illusion of an autonomous ego, busily manipulating desire to achieve satisfaction. It was about the nature of desire that Lawrence learned most from his Eastern encounters.
But what precisely did Lawrence mean by desire, and what were its special valencies? It has two contrasting ones, which (not wholly surprisingly) he labels “true” and “false.” True (or “great”) desire, for Lawrence, “proceeds from within, from the unknown, spontaneous soul or self ... (it requires that) each single individual be incommutably himself. . . that he shall not in any way be reduced to a term (linguistic subjection), a unit of any Whole (socio/political subjection)” (emphases mine). False desire, by contrast, is the outcome of the “fixed, arbitrary control of ideals . . . like a machine control.” Superimposing itself on true desire, it automatizes it “into functional appetites . . . into fixed aspirations or ideals.” As such, it succumbs to foreknowledge, prior calculation, and the pressure of established laws (Phoenix 713-15). We can unravel these notions a little, and set them in an Eastern context.
For Lawrence, false desire is the great (negative) force of his day, the root-cause of contemporary angst. It works, not through recognizing the “present otherness” of the other, as true desire does, but by incorporating the other into the ego (Phoenix 715). Lawrence’s general term for this process—“grasping”—is one mode of the larger (Theravada) Buddhist term “craving” (tanha)—that contingent, inevitable, frustrated desiring, attending the life-process itself. Conceived of as “grasping” or “craving,” desire generates chains of substitute objects to maintain its momentum, and to keep it ahead of itself with always some new object in view. Their shared evaluation of “false desire” (Freud calls it “identification”) was Lawrence’s major source of agreement with Buddhism.
The agreement about “true” desire, by contrast, was more problematic, because it involves erotic jouissance.11 Opposed to incorporation, it lets the other be in his/her freedom, as a separate dependency in a larger force-field of interdependencies. It generates the nirvanic state that attends the extinction of false desire (Lawrence frequently interprets nirvana this way12). Its jouissance-power is directly proportional to its escape from symbolic conditioning. For Lawrence and Buddhism (in its Tantric Yoga manifestation), true desire induces a radical shift: instead of one incorporating the other, the partners are silent witnesses of one another’s ineffable bliss (Chapters Six and Seven explore this dimension in Women in Love and The Plumed Serpent).
But false desire has a further dimension that I alluded to earlier without analysing. As in (Mahayana) Buddhism, one major root-cause of false desire is its mediation through language. Forced through the defiles of representation, it projects verbal (or filmic) fantasies—libidinal spreads— on to screens of its own fabrication. False desire, for Lawrence, is always socially sanctioned desire. It involves either the insatiable demand for the other’s appraisal (please look at me) or the anxiety involved in deciphering the other’s desire (what does (s)he want?).13 Hungry for status and prestige, it colonizes the other’s desire to recharge its own.
True desire, by contrast, is presymbolic, presocial—anterior to cultural enmeshment in the intricate coils of the verbal. It eludes the logocentrism that grounds being in language, and the self in rational thought. Here, for Lawrence, lies the depersonalizing excess of the orgasm—that uncanny manifestation of maximum being before social discourse and habit usurp it. Unmediated, unpredictable, unstaunchable, the orgasm is the potency over which the subject has no conscious control. Welling up involuntarily from the unconscious depths of the psyche, it establishes a subject-less rapport with the other, and (for Lawrence) with those vaster cosmic constellations that potentiate and sustain it (its prototype is Birkin and Ursula’s “star-equilibrium” in Women in Love). The most urgent Lawrentian proof of the other’s existence—the attestation that (s)he is fully alive—is the capacity for jouissance (this is in sharp contrast to Christianity whose proof is neighbourly love, or to (Theravada) Buddhism where it is universal compassion). Indeed Slavoj Zizek poses the kind of question that Lawrence would most approve of: “When do I effectively encounter the Other ‘beyond the wall of language,’ in the real of his or her being?” Not in an intersubjective personal encounter (habits, opinions, gestures, looks etc.), Zizek suggests, but through a jouissance that shatters the limits conventional life-situations impose (Abyss 25). This captures something of the soteriological force of Lawrentian jouissance—that untamed excess that drives the subject over the edge—“the sudden accesses of violent desire, wild sexual desire, or violent hunger, or great desire of any sort. . . (i)t is something beyond him, yet within him . . . (i)t leaps up from somewhere inside him, and has the better of him” (Apocalypse 123). These are the real moments of Lawrentian glamour (for whose articulation he turned to the East), when the social self sheds its accoutrements, and being shines forth undisguised in its naked intensity.
But, of course, religious systems that espouse jouissance as soteriological strategy are not exactly thick on the ground. It is not surprising, therefore, that Lawrence’s fascination with Yoga quickly led him to Tantrism (I examine the evidence for this in Chapter Five). In Tantrism, the partners encounter each other, not intersubjectively through the discourse of love that reveals their desires, but through a (Lawrentian) jouissance. Breaking through the walls of language generates an ontological “high”—a subjectless ecstasy that resists symbolic assimilation. Floating free of linguistic constraints, seized by larger than human powers, the Tantric partners witness each other as ecstatically seized by these powers (they identify with the great pantheon gods, Shiva and Shakti). They address one another, not through social codes of communication, but through an ineffable silence that is the sign of their bliss. To adapt Zizek’s terms (he is discussing the Lacanian concept of drive), they exist as silent witnesses, mute presences that endorse one another’s jouissance by way of “emitting a silent sign of acknowledgment” (Abyss 81). As with Lawrence, at the moment that language fails, silence becomes the index of maximum being.14
In his quest for fresh insights from Yoga and Buddhism, what exactly was Lawrence repudiating? What metaphysical “illnesses” was he shedding in his turn to the East? Christian orthodoxy, of course, was the first major one. Since, as he viewed it, Christianity’s extreme logocentrism—its ardent love-affair with the word—rationalized its own more exotic and mysterious elements, it too readily succumbed to theological domestication and taming. Christianity, however, was merely one strand in a vaster Western conspiracy to scientize sensation (to conscript desire for the mind), and to reduce life itself to conceptual categories. It advanced on two leading fronts, where Lawrence fought out his polemical wars: science (the cultivation of closed, empirical mind-sets) and psychoanalysis (the translation of sex into discourse). To these early twentieth century orthodoxies, he juxtaposed the alien heterodoxies of Yoga and Buddhism.15
Some two years before he encountered Yoga (1917), and seven years after his first engagement with Buddhism (1908), Lawrence’s wartime essay “The Crown” (1915) already identifies science as the father of all rationalizing enterprises, and as the arch-enemy of jouissance: its concepts are “prison-walls” that shut out the “living sun” (Reflections 287). (Recent scholarship shows, however, that Lawrence’s involvement with science was more complicated than this total repudiation might indicate: he frequently smuggles in scientific concepts to bolster his “pollyanalytics,” exploiting thermodynamics, for example, as the model for the male/female exchange to buttress a misogynist ideology.16) For Lawrence, science was the advocate of epistemological (as opposed to soteriological) thinking, its aim being to know rather than to transform the self and the world. Because it works through cause and effect, sequential progression, and a proleptic planning that fixes its goals in advance, it induces precisely the split-vision effect—the subject/object dichotomy—that separates human beings from the world they inhabit. Like the Foucauldian discourse of power, it controls the libidinal flow, generating the “false” desire to master its objects. Worst of all, in Lawrence’s demonizing hierarchy, science explains sex away, taming its dangerous excess, and stifling jouissance at its inception. Alienating the body from its generative source, it creates the kind of disembodied virtual beings whom Lawrence loved to mock (Clifford is their representative spokesman in Lady Chatterley’s Lover) and who recognize one another only through the clinical gaze that disincamates them. Within science’s formal framework, desire circulates reductively without disturbing the framework itself. Indeed, in Lawrence’s prognosis, science’s ultimate aim is to eradicate desire, since it represents the irrational other that disrupts its own refined calculations.17
Now Yoga offered the perfect foil to Western “scientizing.” Its meditative practices—its formal center of gravity—are not epistemological, but soteriological: their prime aim is not to know but to transform the self. In addition, Tantric Yoga cultivates jouissance—the transmutation of desire through desire—as the path towards that end. Instead of spiritualizing the flesh, it roots psychic transformations in the body itself. Lawrence’s fascination with the Yogic somatic “centers” of energy (the chakras) stems from this source (Chapter Five deals with these centers in depth). Through them, he distinguished between true and false desire, and theorized how jouissance works. Yoga, for Lawrence, radically controverted science’s drive to reduce psychical functions to metaphysical categories, and to marginalize soteriology by calling it mysticism.
Unlike science, but like all “pagan” thinking, Yogic “thought-processes” revolve around image-formations: they work, not through conceptual fabrication, but through powerful visualizations, which, as he puts it, are “little cycle(s) of action and meaning” (Apocalypse 95).18 Through the practice of visualization, the Yogic adepts assimilate the power of the god whom they espouse. Moreover, the proof that Yogic discipline works lies not in empirical verification (like Buddhism, it offers no “scientific” testimony), but in its potential to induce self-transformation. Its logic of action turns on the shift from quotidian consciousness to a subject-less jouissance, from verbal communication to a numinous silence that is its own validation.
But what of psychoanalysis which, unlike science, shared with Yoga a concept of self-transformation (the cure), though its cure-concept, as Freud shrewdly recognized, is much less “extreme” than Yoga’s (Freud Civilization 266)? Lawrence’s resistance to psychoanalysis resembles Paul Valery’s, as Jacques Derrida defines it: not that psychoanalysis interprets “in such or such a fashion, but quite simply that it interprets at all“ (Margins 304)— that it imposes a language of meanings on the unconscious where no such meanings apply. In addition, because psychoanalysis engages exclusively with false desire (personal, social, oedipal), Lawrence dismissed it out of hand (it left no room for jouissance). Because its verbalizations of unconscious desire staunch the libidinal flow, it reduces the body to fetishized zones. Replacing anarchic infantile wishes with more sophisticated adult identifications, it still trades in “graspings” and “cravings,” which it rationalizes into more socially acceptable forms. In the end, Lawrence destitutes the Freudian unconscious of significant status: a mere repository of repressed desires, it is the psychological trash can into which consciousness thrusts its own “bastard spawn” (Psychoanalysis 200).
Once again, Yoga mapped out an alternative scene, which Lawrence explores in Fantasia—its somatic centers functioning as electric flashpoints on the blissful path to jouissance. Their unconscious dynamics track a wholly different route to the cure than the Freudian one, replacing the verbal intricacies of the transference with silent somatic states of awareness, subverting the appropriation of desire for interpretation that is the sine qua non of the psychoanalytical cure. In sum, they tap into a nonverbal, impersonal energy-source instead of a personal, language-bound one.
But Yoga, for Lawrence, has an even deeper significance. Because psychoanalysis “scientizes” by verbalizing the libido, trapping it in a network of prohibitive signs, its talking-cure is a mere symptom of the disease it sets out to cure. Fundamentally non-verbal, Yoga, by contrast, works, not through linguistic or narrative protocols, but through vibrant image-systems (visualizations) that possess their own liberating potential. For Yoga adepts, the point is not to rationalize the impact of these images by unearthing their roots in the past (as Freud’s dream-analysis does), but to assimilate their now-moment transfiguring power.19 Through the re-flexivity of its micro/macrocosmic conjunctions—its shared inner and outer cosmological worlds—Yoga flexes the imagination, generating new visions and wisdoms in exactly the manner Lawrence thought all “liberating” systems should do.20 (Chapter Five deals in depth with Lawrence’s complex play-off of Yoga against psychoanalysis).
To sum up: Lawrence’s utopian quest is not for an archetypal “true” self that, as in Jungian theory, lies buried beneath the cultural rubble of Western civilization, nor for a stable (Freudian) self, resistant to traumatic incursions, but for those limit-states (of which he thought the East held the secrets) that shatter all concepts, whether of the true or false self. He thus moves beyond the fashionable present-day binary that juxtaposes identity as surface (social construction) to identity as depth (hidden essence). The ultimate Lawrentian truth lies neither in a purely performative self that acts out the roles a symbolic language imposes, nor in a core foundational self with an ontological substratum in being, but in a hovering, high-tensional frisson, an ecstatic no-self that dissolves the distinction between these two modalities. This is the secret of Lawrentian jouissance, where only the high moments finally count, and the secret source of his aphrodisiac art.
Finally, a brief resume of the plot of the book which expands and substantiates these general reflections.
Chapter One deals in a straight-forward scholarly manner with the history of Lawrence’s quarrel with Buddhism—the attraction/repulsion dynamic that fuelled all his encounters. It also explores his fictional reinventions of Buddhist ideas, especially in those texts— Women in Love, Aaron's Rod, “The Man Who Died,” “Things,” Lady Chatterley’s Lover— where the references to Buddhism are precise and explicit. Chapter Two foregrounds a crucial dimension that Chapter One left untouched: language. It sets Lawrence’s theories about language—its origins, its cycles of growth and decay, its role in psychic construction, its soteriological power, its relation to silent states of awareness—side by side with those Eastern theories they most resemble. In so doing, it probes those cruxes and contradictions that his theories posed for his own writing practice. Chapter Three narrows the focus, uncovering a major narrative tension in Women in Love. While novelistic narration in general thrives on Western sexological motifs—libidinal snares and frustrations, delays and digressions, suspenses and climaxes—it has neither a plot nor a language for Eastern jouissance states, whose non-verbal excess undoes all attempts to inscribe them. Indeed, Women in Love highlights a startling paradox: while the narrative burgeons on the false desire it most loathes, it fails, or falls silent, in the presence of rapturous being (true desire). Chapter Four further narrows the focus, taking the “theater” in St. Mawr as the dominant metaphor for a vaster East/West divide that includes it: between a Western theater of false desire—those prescripted social charades played out in London and Shropshire—and an Eastern natural arena of jouissance—the primordial “amphitheater” of the untamed Mexican desert, which, as the text presents it, is what a genuine theater of action should be. The protagonist, Lou Witt, makes the “savage pilgrimage” from one to the other.
Chapter Five sets the scene for the three chapters that follow. In a scholarly manner, it tracks Lawrence’s deepening involvement with Yoga— its consciousness-raising techniques, its somatic mappings, its occult psychology, its affirmations of jouissance—all of which he confronts with Western mediations of false desire. Chapters Six, Seven and Eight are easily summarized: each explores the role of Yoga, both as a primary subtext and as limit-concept (for the protagonists, it mediates major crises of choice) in three central fictions. In so doing, they also track a kind of “orgasmic” trajectory: from an ecstatic mind-shattering jouissance that abolishes the ego (the “Excurse” episode in Women in Love), through the repudiation of a Western-style orgasm in favour of an Eastern coitus reservatus (the climatic sex-scenes in The Plumed Serpent), on to the return of the orgasm as soteriological therapy in Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Between East and West: Reinventing BuddhismBetween East and West: Language and SilenceWomen in Love: Narrative and SexualitySt Mawr: Theater and JouissanceReinventing YogaWomen in Love: New Styles of OrgasmThe Plumed Serpent: Transcending the OrgasmConclusionIndex
Between East and West: Reinventing Buddhism
Lawrence discovered the East when he was a comparatively young man— twenty-three years old. Not surprisingly, the date of his discovery (1908) coincides almost exactly with his excited rejection of his Christian inheritance. As Jessie Chambers recalls the event, he railed to his mother and Chambers against the Chapel ethos and ethics, especially its hostility towards the sexual life, and its “assumption of the primacy of the rationality of religion over its mystery” (Masson 57).1 Lawrence’s preference for theophanic illumination over rational theology is already in evidence.
At about the same period, he read about Buddhism which, along with Yoga, became the specific foci of his engagement with Eastern philosophical systems. (His knowledge of Hindu philosophy, and of the great Hindu scriptures, by contrast, seems slight. Reviewing Chaman Nahal’s D.H. Lawrence: An Eastern View, which explores parallels between Lawrence’s ideas and those found in the Vedas and the Upanishads, Dennis Jackson concludes that Lawrence had “scant familiarity with Hindu scriptures,” though his intuitive thinking sometimes seems close to theirs (15)). While he neither accepted Buddhism’s beliefs (about karma and rebirth, for example), nor its meditational disciplines, he was greatly attracted to its analysis of false desire (tanha) or “grasping,” as he called it, and of impermanence (anicca). His approach to Yoga was equally eclectic: his theories of the dynamics of the psyche, and of mystical illumination, based on high-tension sex, had their basis in the Yogic somatic centers of energy, and in the transformation of desire through desire into jouissance states. In this first chapter, however, I shall track the erratic history of Lawrence’s engagements with Buddhism, as well as his reinventions of Buddhist ideas for fictional ends.
Lawrence’s knowledge of Buddhism was not profound: it never quite escaped the pull of the stereotypes, propagated by 19th century English colonial civil-servants and missionaries whose own special agendas (political and religious) blinded them to Buddhism’s subtle complexities. They rarely perceived it as other than an inferior and decadent Eastern belief system, which they aspired to replace with (what they imagined was) a superior Western one. Nevertheless, Lawrence’s engagement with Buddhism spans his complete writing-life, from 1908-29, taking the shape of a miniature Barthesian narrative sequence: first, Buddhism represents the fascinating enigma that arouses his hope and expectation: second, delays take the form of an acceptance/rejection dialectic, vacillations between commitment and withdrawal which culminate in his decision to put his “faith” to the test; he moves East to Ceylon rather than West to America in his quest for a revitalizing life-node: third, the disclosure of the ultimate truth—in this case, that Buddhism was not his predestined vehicle for release, liberation.2
From the start, Lawrence’s attitudes towards Buddhism show a characteristic ambivalence that marks all his responses to institutionalized religion. Certain aspects of Buddhism always had his approval—its profound critique of “grasping” or “greed,” its aspiration to a nirvanic serenity beyond the cultural constraints that language imposes, and its affirmation of private theophanies (“awakenings”), as opposed to collective commitments. At the same time, he was repelled by Buddhism’s association, stereotypical of that period, with ascetic renunciation, libidinal quietism, and transcendental idealism. The Buddha seemed to have superseded the creative clash of opposites—the play of differential effects that fuels and energizes the psyche. Like Christianity, Buddhism had exhausted its potential for transforming itself and for inducing self-transformation in others: the soteriological potential of both religions was zero.
There is no evidence that Lawrence studied Buddhism—read its basic scriptures which, from 1899 onwards, F. Max Muller and T.W. Rhys Davids translated into English in the same intensive manner that he read the anthropologists James G. Frazer and Edward B. Tylor.3 His knowledge of Buddhism came from three secondary sources: first, from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (the central European transmission of Buddhism, still maintained by Jaspers and Heidegger): next, from theosophical writers— H.P. Blavatsky, James M. Pryse and Annie Besant, all of whom interpreted Buddhism in the light of their own theosophical beliefs: third, from the common lore about Buddhism, which the English colonists propagated through semi-popular books and tracts. Each source needs a short comment.
Between 1908-12, Lawrence read Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, each of whom displays a sympathetic, if erratic, fascination with Buddhism. Schopenhauer’s essay “Religion,” for example, contrasts Buddhism’s atheistic “tolerance” with the fierce “intolerance” that Western monotheistic systems engender (since, however, Lawrence associated liberal tolerance with “weakness”—rationality, neutrality, impartiality—it was not an attribute that would have attracted him much).4 His reading of Nietzsche is more to the point. Nietzsche identifies Buddhism (and Christianity) as essentially decadence religions, where the pursuit of universal good and benevolence masks a decline in the will to power—in vitalistic force and exuberance. Buddhism, Nietzsche conjectured, is a religion for “late human beings” (and not for “supermen”), appropriate to “the end and fatigue of a civilization”—the notion of an apocalypse without renewal that became a veritable idee fixe for Lawrence. In sharp contrast to his satirical treatment of Christianity, however, Nietzsche celebrates Buddhism’s transvaluation of all values, its leap beyond concepts (good/evil, etc.) and symbolic systems, and its transcendence of desire and ressentiment. What Nietzsche recognized was this: that Buddhism applies its inbuilt selfdeconstructions to all metaphysical categories, including its own.5 Lawrence’s attitude towards these issues was acutely ambivalent: while he endorsed the leap beyond concepts and conventional ethics, he habitually refused to renege on desire, which, as we saw in the Introduction, he split into two categories (true/false) to save its more consummate manifestations. (One may add that William James, whom Lawrence read during this period, equates Buddhism with transcendental idealism, thus providing one source for Lawrence’s identification of Buddhism with the kind of solipsistic detachment that emaciates and etherializes the phenomenal world).6
The second source of Lawrence’s ideas about Buddhism was “esoteric”—theosophical writers, like Blavatsky, Pryse, Besant, A.P. Sinnett and R.M.Bucke—whom he read eclectically between 1915-18. These writers share certain common assumptions about Buddhism, at least three of which were important for Lawrence. Like the other Theosophists, Blavatsky presents the Buddha as a great religious reformer, the incarnation of universal love—of the cosmic “oversoul” that subsumes each individual soul into itself.7 (Towards this progressive spiritualization, which theosophical writings trope as a type of Platonic ascent beyond the sensible world towards an ineffable cosmic reunion, Lawrence remained in-veterately hostile). In addition, these writers debate what was the most contentious contemporary issue in Buddhism: whether nirvana connoted the ultimate annihilation of the individual, as academic and Christian interpreters commonly maintained or whether it pointed to a transpersonal source where all sentient beings found their home. (Rejecting the annihilation hypothesis, theosophical writers invariably chose the latter alternative).8 Finally, Blavatsky, Pryse and Sinnett all draw a sharp distinction between the “exoteric” teachings of the Buddha, a kind of vulgate for the uninformed and uninitiated, and his “esoteric wisdom”—the secret knowledge of the mysteries, which adepts imparted to acolytes through crypted symbols and rituals, and whose divulgence endangered the knowledge itself.9 Indeed in 1917, exasperated with public incomprehension of his work, Lawrence applied this distinction to all special publications, including his own. When it seemed possible that Women in Love might never be published, he proclaims the need for “a body of esoteric doctrine,” touching the “mystery of the initiation into pure being,” which a secret society would preserve “sacred and clean from the herd” (Letters III 143). (In Chapters Four and Six, I discuss the problems for novelistic narration in Women in Love that such esoteric notions exacerbate).
English colonial books about Buddhism—Lawrence’s third source—reinforce popular Western (mis)conceptions of Buddhism. While writers like R. Spence Hardy and Joseph Edkins concede that the Buddha was a great “philantrophist” and an exalted teacher of ethics (a type of Eastern Protestant evangelist), Buddhism itself, beneath its veneer of philosophical sophistication,was a quagmire of superstition, witchcraft and animistic magic (they projected on to Buddhism precisely those elements that threatened Western religion, and which it extirpated, repressed). Buddhism was basically “selfish” (though the Buddha denied the existence of a permanent self), since it offered neither a god-concept to shake people out of their lethargy nor a motive for acting on anyone else’s behalf but one’s own (“selfishness,” implying lassitude and indifference, were typical colonists’ terms for the refusal of the colonized to accede, except under duress, to their wishes). It encouraged quietism and withdrawal (further subaltern traits)—the consequences, as these writers perceived it, of Buddhism’s rejection of the phenomenal world as illusory. Its Weltanschauung was pessimistic, its theology vacuous, and its goals nihilistic.
There is only one point in recording these views: they were precisely those upon which Lawrence based his rejection of Buddhism when he went to Ceylon.10
The narrative of Lawrence’s engagement with Buddhism, we recall, enacts a three-stage Barthesian sequence: enigma, equivocation, disclosure. In the first (1908-20), the fascinating and ambiguous puzzle of Buddhism provokes questions and calls for an answer. His close encounters (1921-22) with Earl and Achsah Brewster, both Buddhist devotees, heighten uncertainty, and precipitate his sudden decision to visit Ceylon. The final disclosure identifies Buddhism with a life-denying idealism, which exposes the yawning gap between exalted ethical ideals and the dubious beliefs they conceal.11
Lawrence’s earliest contact with Buddhism came through that most popular of Victorian books (it sold over a million copies)—Edwin Arnold’s The Light of Asia (1879), extracts from which appeared in Richard Garnett’s anthology The International Library of Famous Literature (1899), whose twenty volumes formed part of the Lawrence family library. In Book Eight, he read the four Truths, the eightfold Path, the five rules, the law of karma, and the concept of nirvana (Arnold rejects the annihilationist hypothesis in favour of the eternalist one—a transcendental state beyond birth, death and change).12 Such already prescripted formulae were, however, unlikely to fascinate Lawrence: they resemble too closely the Ten Commandments he rejected, though they possess nothing like the latter’s dogmatic force. In addition to the concept of desire I touched on in the Introduction, two central Buddhist tenets made a life-long impact on him: the idea of the self as devoid of a permanent, immutable core, and the equivocal status of language, which may either block access, or lead the way, to the ultimate truth (I discuss these ideas in Chapter Two).
That Lawrence absorbed Arnold’s poeticized exposition is clear from the early letters where he quotes Arnold almost verbatim. The first reference, in a 1908 letter to Louisa Burrows, is clearly facetious: his mother’s continual sighings make him long for absorption into “some blessed Nirvana,” just as “the Dewdrop slips/into the shining sea” (Arnold’s depiction of the Buddha’s death) (Letters 1 46). The second letter is of more consequence, and marks a seismic shift from Western to Eastern hypotheses about cosmological origins and ends. Writing to his sister, Ada, in 1911, concerning her “religious unbelief,” he rejects the Western concept of a personal God who oversees human history in favour of (quoting Arnold again) the “big, shimmering sea of unorganized life,” which at once generates and reabsorbs individual lives: “christians (sic), Buddhists, Mrs. Dax, me” all “strive towards the same God” and reach the same destination (Letters I 256). This marks a dramatic transition from his earlier sense of history as apocalypse—a divinely-plotted, end-stopped, chronological progress whose truth is the truth of the end—to his later sense of a self-powered, open, cyclical process (a Buddhist conception), where the same returns, not as itself, but as difference. The shift, however, was never absolute, and Lawrence held both views in uneasy suspension.
His reading of Niccolao Manucci’s history of India in 1916 triggers his next significant reference to Buddhism—in a letter to Ottoline Morrell:
Buddha-worship is completely decadent and foul nowadays: and it always was only half-civilized. Tant pour I’Asie: it is ridiculous to look East for inspiration . . . The East is marvellously interesting, for tracing our steps back. But for going forward, it is nothing.
(Letters II 608)
This association of the East with regressive stagnation was perhaps the most intransigent of Western stereotypes (it goes back to Hegel). It also underwrites the vignette in Women in Love where Gudrun, “seated like a Buddhist” by the lakeside “star(es) fixedly” at the muddy water-plants in a trance-like stupor of self-absorbed meditation (for Lawrence, meditation was sometimes mere navel-gazing, sometimes tranquil attainment). Gudrun’s “sensuous vision”—the “soft, oozy, watery” mud from which the “water-plants rose up”—is itself a local metaphor for a vaster, primeval geological past (“tracing our steps back”) of which the East offers the West a spectacular glimpse (119). Her hypnotized, quietist, lotus-like pose also plays on the Western identifications of nirvana with a self-centered emptiness.
Lawrence, however, frequently plays off positive against negative views of nirvana, even in the same novel. He does so, for example, in Aaron’s Rod, where he first identifies nirvana positively with (what he was later to call) the “fourth dimension, the heaven of existence.”13 Following his ritual massage of Aaron’s sick body (he concentrates especially on the chakra pressure-points), Lilly declares that at last he is “learning to possess (his) soul in peace,” as the “Buddhists teach:” his marriage to Tanny is the perfect equipoise of two separate nirvanas, which eradicate both the sense of a personal self, and the exacerbations of false desire that reinforce and sustain it. As mute presences that endorse one another’s jouissance (I borrow the phrase from my Introduction), they exist together “in silence, beyond speech.” And Lilly assures Aaron that this is not a “negative Nirvana either” (it is neither self-indulgent nor vacuous nor narcissistic) (96, 104-05).
The negative view, in effect, is reserved for the end of the novel. There, the narrator equates Aaron’s quest to revivify the “lost illusions of love”— his urge to join “the Buddhists in Burmah, or the newest tangled Christians in Europe”—with a self-deluded, solipsistic nirvana, the false desire to “lose (him)self” in a woman or in humanity or in God. His “nervous-neurasthenic self” is a mere symptom of a deeper Western malaise that the pursuit of delusory “paradisal ideal(s)” engenders (293-95).14
At precisely the moment the text derides all negative nirvanic aspirations, it suppresses a more crucial debt to Buddhism. Lilly’s ultimate counsel to Aaron—“(t)here’s no goal outside you—and there’s no God outside you. No God, whom you can get to and rest in” (295)—evokes a nontheistic and ongoing self-liberation, which is one of the distinguishing marks of Buddhism. It thus echoes the celebrated last words of the Buddha in the MahaParinibbana sutra—“Be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge to yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge”—phrases which Lawrence would have come across in a dozen different contexts.15
The trajectory of Lawrence’s brief flirtation with Buddhism, the sudden identification that precipitated his “pilgrimage” to Ceylon in 1922, is best charted through the letters he exchanged with Earl Brewster, and through Brewster’s own book, D.H.Lawrence: Reminiscences and Correspondences (1934). In tandem with the developing relationship between the two men, these texts record Lawrence’s intensifying love/hate responses to Buddhism, his bouts of attraction/repulsion, his dramatic East/West vacillation, all culminating in his decision to visit Ceylon and make an experimental trial of Buddhism. Among other things, the letters record their strongly divergent understandings of Buddhism.
An extended letter (May 1921) crystallizes the one essential area of agreement between them: the ethical dimension. Both men advocate the eradication of false desire—of “grasping” and “greed,” though Lawrence characteristically hedges about motivation (he emphasizes the damage done to himself, not to the other): “But I agree quite about the not grasping: first because of the thorns, then because it is so horrid ... to be grasped.” Beyond this point, however, there is little meeting of minds. The nirvana dimension, he insists, must include jouissance (those limit-states that rupture conventional consciousness), not seek to transcend them, as Brewster proposes: “I believe in fear and in pain and in oh, such a lot of sorrow” (Letters III 718-19).16 (Lawrence’s real fear was that nirvana eradicated true desire). A November 1921 letter to Brewster confirms this hypothesis. Exemplifying the consequences of the elimination of jouissance, the Buddha is the apotheosis of an abstract and terminal attainment, the renouncer of desire, the negator of process: “Buddha is so finished and perfected and fulfilled and vollendet, and without new possibilities—to me, I mean.” The glamour of apocalypse—the new site of renewal—still “lies in the west, not in the fulfilled east” (Letters IV 125).
The question of meditation is equally divisive. Lawrence habitually vacillated between a strong attraction to meditation as an “achieved stillness”—the direct seeing which is the “most perfect form of action” (Letters V 130)—and an outright rejection of it as a form of egocentric indulgence. At this crucial juncture, he holds both views in suspension: while he repudiates “Buddhistic inaction and meditation,” he seeks out “Buddhistic peace,” if only as a stable vantage-point from which to make his next apocalyptic leap into the future (Letters IV 175). In this state of suspended resolve, he decides to visit Ceylon.
The letter communicating his decision to Brewster (January 1922) represents a theatrical volte-face. In anticipation, he drops his earlier defensive pose for one of questing receptiveness. He frankly admits to Brewster that he persistently misinterpreted the four Noble Truths, assuming the first Truth (“Life is sorrow/suffering”) to be a terminal statement (the stereotypical Western identification of Buddhism with pessimism) rather than a preliminary diagnosis.17 This conceded, he admits that the succeeding Truths may track the path of liberation, and may constitute the core foundation upon which to build a new epoch. His “spite” against the Buddha, he grants, was grounded in psychological resistance, “the kicking against the pricks” that concealed his own anxious uncertainty. Perhaps, he conjectures, the East is “the source” after all, and America “the extreme periphery”—a startling reversal of his earlier location of the site of apocalyptic renewal (Lawrence habitually imposes a schematic Western eschatological structure—the imminence of the end and the promise of renewal—on Eastern systems, such as Buddhism, whose apocalyptic thinking is much more loose and amorphous). By the end of the letter, Lawrence works himself up into a state of active commitment: “Perhaps it is true, Buddhism is true realism, things as they are. And America is utterly things as they are not” (Letters IV 170-71).18 Spurred by these anticipations, he undertook his pilgrimage to Ceylon.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Lawrence’s epistolary reports to his friends is his refraction of Buddhism through stereotypical colonial lenses, however narrow and bigoted such perceptions were (Brewster records Lawrence’s “fury” if “British activities” in Ceylon were “adversely criticized” by anyone else but himself (Reminiscences 48). Indeed this was Lawrence’s first visit to a country colonized by the English, and he spontaneously identified with the colonizers). Buddhism’s “barbarism,” its “selfishness,” its “annihilationism”—key terms in the colonial assessment of Buddhism, as I indicated—are precisely those that Lawrence chooses for censure. Thus, beneath a sophisticated philosophical veneer, the substratum of Buddhism is “very barbaric.” Its “denial of the soul” makes it essentially “barren” (here Lawrence reverts defensively to the belief in a permanent, enduring “soul,” which in other contexts he vehemently repudiates) (Letters IV 218-19). In another letter, he links Buddhism’s “conceit” to its “selfishness,” and its serenity to its base in an ontological void: “Buddhism seems to me a very conceited, selfish show, a vulgar temple of serenity built over an empty hole in space” (Letters IV 225-26). A revived patriotic commitment (the colonial syndrome?), which pinpoints England as the “growing tip” of the cosmos, intensifies his (Nietzschean) identification of Buddhism with decadence, and the East in general with a primeval “world before the Flood”—“spiritual voluptuousness” crossed with an ultimate indifference of which Buddhism is the representative symbol: “What does life in the particular matter?—why should one care? one doesn’t. Yet I don’t believe in Buddha—hate him in fact” (Letters IV 233-34). The East, he suggests, is no more than a coagulation of primordial patterns, a window on to atavistic history, fascinating but futile. Compelled by this recognition, he ended his six-week stay in Ceylon, and debouched on Australia. His repudiation of Buddhism— the disclosure of its “untruth”—finds its way into the subsequent fiction, and into the last polemical letters and essays, which project Buddhism as the religious progenitor of solipsism, escapism and mauvaise foi. We can briefly explore the fiction first.
Lawrence wrote the novel Kangaroo (1922) in the immediate wake of his Ceylon experience. That the main character, Kangaroo, is a chiliast, a visionary mystic, and a messianic reformer in the apocalyptic Judeo-Chris-tian tradition has long been recognized. What has received less attention is the fact that Kangaroo is also assimilated to a charismatic Buddha-like teacher, a gentle father-figure who offers his disciples comfort, refuge and the promise of enlightenment in the face of inevitable suffering.
Like the Buddha, Kangaroo is repeatedly associated with flowers (even “his face (is) like a flower” (110)). Moreover, his doctrinal orientation is more specifically Buddhist than Judeo-Christian. In the “principle of permanency,” for example, he locates the “root of evil” (the Buddha’s dying words were “impermanent indeed are all component things”).19 Kangaroo dedicates himself, he declares, not to questions of “sin and repentance and redemption,” as Christian evangelists do, but, like the Buddha, to the eradication of “physical misery” (suffering) in the present existence. He reveals himself to Somers, the novel’s quester, not as a Western “suffering saviour,” promulgating a creed or an ethic, but as a “gentle father . . . stern against anti-life.” Indeed, just as the Buddha initiated his neophytes into secret esoteric “wisdom” in the legendary Saptaparna cavern,20 Kangaroo too offers his “heart of wisdom,” as a “strange warm cavern where the voice of the oracle steams in from the unknown.” Kangaroo’s sudden transfiguration makes the identification more explicit: before Somers’s fascinated eyes, he appears “like a god”—“(a)lmost a grotesque, like a Chinese Buddha. And yet not a grotesque. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful as some half-tropical, bulging flower from a tree” (111— 15).
But the Buddha is thus exalted so that his fall may be greater. When Somers later rejects Kangaroo, his grounds for so doing are identical with those upon which Lawrence mounted his subsequent attacks on Buddhism. The burst “bubble” of Somers’s “worship” discloses Kangaroo as an abstract idealist who, in putting his “cold intellectual quality” into the pseudoservice of love,21 represses the deep “phallic self” (a further metaphor for jouissance). Indeed, Kangaroo’s second transfiguration (he becomes “a frozen, antagonized Buddha,” an “impassive,” superannuated idol) coincides with Somers’s Nietzschean-style charge against Buddhism: like the latter, Kangaroo exemplifies merely blindness, regression and decadence. As a “late human being,” Kangaroo fails to recognize the new god of desire, who stands challengingly “dark on the threshold” (133-37).
As the relationship between the two men abruptly disintegrates, Somers feels his “particular self” stifled in the same kind of all-encompassing, collective embrace that was one of the traditional marks of the Buddha’s universal benevolence.22 Somers’s intense “hatred” of Kangaroo (the term Lawrence reserved for his repudiation of the Buddha) precipitates the final transfiguration: Kangaroo mutates into a “great ugly idol” with a “yellowish face”—a type of the earlier “antagonized Buddha,” who, Somers fears, will grasp, “clutch” and possess him.
Following this climactic repudiation, the narrator, now openly using the text as his own sounding-board, promulgates a new kind of nirvana, designed to supersede the old Buddhist one, which he condemns as “half at least illusion.” He projects a supreme logocentric identity, based on direct intuition and vision, with untrammelled access to the godhead as its sine qua non:
In his supreme being, man is alone, isolate, nakedly himself, in contact only with
the unknown God.
This is our way of expressing Nirvana. (301)
Here, in effect, Lawrence Westernizes nirvana, giving it a neo-Platonic mystical stamp (its closest analog perhaps is Meister Eckhart’s theophany, “when (the soul) contemplates only the unique One . .. the naked being of the soul encounters the naked being without form” (qtd. from Derrida “How to Avoid” 320)).23 But of course he gives his nirvana its own special twist: the antithesis of the progressively spiritualized flesh, this nirvana roots itself in the body, in upspringing desire—the irruption of jouissance “in the dark red soul of the living flesh of humanity.” This, as he gleefully conjectures, is “the bitter pill which Buddhists and all advocates of pure Spirit must swallow” (332).
The death of Kangaroo exorcises the ghostly presence of Buddhism so effectively that it virtually disappears from the fiction and essays, submerged beneath new radical theories of leadership, new collective theophanies, and new versions of primitivism and apocalypse (The Plumed Serpent). In 1926, however, Lawrence renews his flirtation with Buddhist “peace” and “withdrawal” as ambiguously seductive propositions. The result is the short story “Things” (1926)—the mordant fable of a New England couple whose intense commitment to the fashionable Buddhism of the period induces the exact opposite of the liberation they set out to achieve. One may read “Things” (biographically) as Lawrence’s savage revenge on a Buddhism that shattered his expectations, however deluded and misguided these expectations were.24
The central, ironic theme of the story is the basic contradiction inherent in all idealist aspirations which contain the destructive desires they exclude. Such contradiction is already configured in the topographical layout of the story: the couple’s horizontal literal quest—incessant journeyings from America, through Europe and back to America—crosses their vertical aspirations—their metaphorical climbing and falling, as, like “yearning tendrils,” they clutch, “clamber,” ascend and then collapse back to the ground. The conclusion makes this crucifixion configuration explicit: the woman is finally “nailed” to her “things,” and the man is caught like a “rat” in a trap.
The opening of the story situates the couple’s exalted idealism squarely in the context of the trendy Buddhism of the ‘20’s:
They entered the swelling stream of modern Buddhistic emotion, and they read the books, and they practised meditation, and they deliberately set themselves to eliminate from their own souls greed, pain, and sorrow. They did not realize— yet—that Buddha’s very eagerness to free himself from pain and sorrow is in itself a sort of greed. No, they dreamed of a perfect world, from which all greed, and nearly all pain, and a great deal of sorrow, were eliminated. (210)
Here the couple’s self-deception has its genesis in the Buddha himself whose own motive for eradicating “greed” was “greed” itself (as in
Kangaroo, “greed” here connotes the secret desire to exercise power over others by coercing them to love one in return). Such self-deception in turn infects all the couple’s subsequent actions, as each idealist aspiration engenders its own troubled opposite. Their pursuit of the “priceless treasure” of “freedom” produces constraint and encagement; their desire to eradicate suffering induces irritation and anger; their longing for peace makes them endlessly restless; and their transcendental “spirituality” generates their rabid materialism, their obsessive attachment to “things.” In Lawrence’s psychoanalytical-style reading, what is repressed returns as a disfiguring symptom—a painful personal message that the couple refuse to decipher. A final shock of recognition, however, tears the veil of illusion away. As idealistic “vision” extinguishes vision, the numinous “halo” fades from their “things:” their beautiful objects become “lumps of matter that just stood there or hung there, ad infinitum” (214). The final point of the story is sardonic: the narrator teaches the couple the basic lesson of Buddhism—attachment is suffering—which, as naive Buddhists (attached to their things), they cannot see for themselves.
Writing this story, which has the force and authority of an exemplary fable, coincides with Lawrence’s second, even briefer, flirtation with Buddhism. As before, the attraction starts with repulsion: a 1926 letter declares unequivocally: “I don’t like Buddha, at the best: much prefer Hinduism” (Letters V 390). Later that same year, however, he confesses to Brewster that he has come round to his “position,” “in a certain way,” and is once again prepared to follow his soteriological path—this time to India—to meditate under a “bo-tree,” to withdraw from the world, and to eradicate “greed” and “lust” (false desire), but, as always not true desire and “anger” (jouissance) (Letters V 436-38).
With Lawrence’s excited discovery of the Etruscans, however, this tentative rapprochement collapses. Their “phallic” civilization, he conjectured, celebrates jouissance, and affirms all that the Buddha denies: “I suppose they are the dead opposite of Buddha” (Letters V 455-56). By August 1926, he greets Brewster’s “disillusionment” with India with undisguised schadenfreude, admonishing him that his Buddhism was always a utopian fantasy, a “form of side-tracking,” an immersion in “the universal lotus pool” where “the mud is too awful” (Letters V 519-20). Thereafter he continues to warn Brewster about the “dangers” of Buddhism, and the “peculiar paresse de l’ame” it engenders (Letters VI 90). At the same time, in the essays, and, as the writing of Lady Chatterley’s Lover gets under way, the attacks on Buddhism sharpen.
A 1929 essay “We Need One Another,” for example, identifies Buddhism as the most life-denying of the universal religions, where the “supreme Nirvana” becomes unattainable if a single sex-impulse intrudes. Both it and Christianity exemplify the “overweening individualism”—the “disastrous modern egoism”—that separates one self from another, and that now is everywhere rampant (Phoenix I 188). Indeed “A Propos of Lad\; Chatterley’s Lover" pinpoints the Buddha, Plato and Jesus as a triumvirate of great self-contradictors, who disfigure the desires they set out to eradicate. These three “grand idealists” were “utter pessimists,” whose doctrines of spiritual salvation alienate whole civilizations from jouissance, whose “liberation” generates only servitude, and whose “tragic excursus” Lawrence now seeks to reverse (330-31). This is the rabid voice of the preacher/polemicist. As usual with Lawrence, the narrative voice is more flexible, more ambivalent, and more attuned to the dialectic of opposites. This is especially true of the two final manifestations of Buddhism in the fiction.
The first occurs in “The Man Who Died” (1927-28), where the newly-arisen Jesus-figure embodies the unresolved tension at the core of Lawrence’s responses to Buddhism—between “greed” as a manifestation of egoistic desire that one must eradicate, and true desire as the blissful at-one-ment with the phenomenal world that one must affirm (the Buddha, Lawrence assumed, sought to transcend both). In simple terms of the dialectic, the Jesus-figure dies to “greed” and rises up to desire.
In greed, he locates not only the source of his earlier ascetic “virginity” (the greed for renunciation), but also the power-drive that fuelled his messianic intensity—his urge to “embrace multitudes” and to “lay the compulsion of love on all men” (136,140,146).25 Returned from the grave, his role as teacher and savior now obsolete, he is “driven by no greedy desire, either to give himself to others, or to grasp anything for himself” (140). In the light of this self-recognition, he rejects Madeline’s excessive Salvationist “greed of giving” (seeking others’ approval) and the peasant woman’s equally rapacious “greed of taking” (seeking self-satisfaction), determined to await the encounter with someone who was not “greedy to give, not greedy to take, and with whom he could mingle his body” (138-40). Here Lawrence penetrates the core motives for Buddhist detachment from “greed:” the liberation from the thrall of desire (the “greed” for the other’s approval), and from the attachment to “things,” which stimulate, without satisfying, desire.
The remainder of the story charts the dialectical shift from greed to true desire, from the “little” to the “greater” life of the body, mirrored in the topographical shift from the dark, enclosed space of Part I (the claustrophobic confine of the tomb) to the open, luminous arcs of the landscape in Part II. The Jesus-figure’s recognition that (false) “desire has failed” fuels its slow resuscitation as true desire, first, in his fresh, urgent response to the phenomenal world, and then in the jouissance the Isis priestess incarnates. Their “piercing transcendence of desire”—their mind-shattering climax—transforms desire through desire: from being a painful subjection to “greed,” it becomes a liberating mode of enlightenment (163,169). Read in this way, “The Man Who Died” engages in two major subversive revisions: of the Christian resurrection story, revivified as a parable of earthly and sensual fulfillment, and of Buddhist “greed,” now transmuted into true desire.
Given Lawrence’s habitual association of the Buddha with ascetic renunciation, the last Buddhist manifestation in the fiction is distinctly peculiar. The fifth, dawn-love encounter in Lady Chatterley’s Lover transfigures Mellors into a type of Buddhist solar-god, “his face motionless in physical abstraction, almost like the face of Buddha ... in the invisible flame of another consciousness” (212). One explanation for this unlikely conjunction lies in Lawrence’s discovery, communicated in a 1927 letter to Brewster, that the most primitive Buddha figures were phallic in origin, and had evolved out of stupas—themselves “monumental phallic symbols,” resembling the Etruscan cippi (Letters VI 208). He thus co-opts the Buddha for jouissance at last. This fact confirmed his belief that anterior to the traditional Buddha figure, seated in nirvanic abstraction, and whom he dislikes (“Oh I wish he would stand up!”), existed a more primordial figure, “meditating on the lotus at the solar plexus.”26 This fictional vignette, in effect, converts Mellors into a type of primitive Buddha, his consciousness plunged downwards (displaced from head down to navel), absorbed in the deep somatic centers of sexual bliss.
This vignette—the last of these subversive rewritings—reverses, in its miniature way, the “tragic excursus” which, Lawrence felt, the Buddha, Plato and Jesus inaugurated. Thus the Buddha reappears, reincarnated in physical consciousness. And at last, he is made to stand up.
Between East and West: Language and Silence
With its traditional, source-orientated scholarly approach, the first chapter tracked Lawrence’s fluctuating mood-responses to Buddhism which, over a period of twenty years, was one focus of his quest to harness desire as a catalyst for the transformation of consciousness. To name this a quest for transcendence, however, calls for a radical revision of that term’s semantics, since the Lawrentian goal is the reverse of the kind of ascetic spiritualization that de-voids the body of its libidinal power. His aim, by contrast, was to destroy those fixed thought-constructions (he dubs them “ideas” or “concepts”) that intervene between perception and the sensual reality of the thing-in-itself—to recover pristine sensation, stripped of its symbolic and cultural aggregations. Such unmediated “seeing” is a function of true desire, which glamourizes the object by releasing it from the “greed” to appropriate it.
Terms like “thought-construction,” “unmediated,” however, evoke a crucial third term—language—to whose resonances the first chapter was virtually deaf. I proceeded as if language (his chosen art-medium) played no significant role in his quest for the freedom from “greed” and for jouissance that the chapter explored. 1 discussed transformations of consciousness without pinpointing the medium through which these become known.
This second chapter juxtaposes Lawrence’s own “theories” about language (too pretentious a term, as we shall see, for his occasional, casually thrown-off observations) with some more systematized Eastern theories to highlight affinities between them. Terms like nirvana, meditation, greed and desire all have strong linguistic implications, bound up, as they are, with how language conditions sensation, and superimposes its own dual-istic grammar on perception itself. Correlatively, both Lawrence and the
East maintain that such conditioning can be unlearned, and its coercions undone. Certain psychic intensities shatter thought-constructions, and silence becomes the most significant mode of recognizing the other. Language is thus an ambiguous force, which can (alternately) lead to entrapment or liberation.
One of the more remarkable aspects of Lawrence’s art-essays—on painting, sculpture and the novel—is his uncanny avoidance of sustained discussion of his own chosen medium—language. While he frequently explores how painting and sculpture create their effects,1 he rarely applies the same insights to language: he seems, at least partially, blind to the determining force of his own special instrument. There is one obvious explanation for this: while his identification with painting and sculpture was at most partial (these were art-forms practised by others), that with language was total. Incorporated into his psyche, bound up with habitual ways of perceiving the world, its determining power as a system of representation goes largely unnoticed. Like a near-invisible veil, it conceals its own complex mediations. As a consequence, thematic rather than linguistic issues dominate Lawrence’s discussions of literature, which incessantly probe psychic transformations but rarely the rhetorical forces that generate them.
Lawrence’s particular blindness was, of course, part of a general Western philosophical blindness to the way language shapes consciousness— that is, until Saussure (in the early twentieth-century) forefronted its role as a sign-system that organizes subjective perception. In a typically nineteenth century manner, Lawrence accepts as unproblematic the transactions between consciousness and speech, between the self and the words that define it. He takes the transparency of language for granted, though he is also sceptically aware of its limits as one meaning-code among others.2 Language is a potent libidinal force that converts active (i.e. true) desire into writing and speech. Accessing being to itself, it charges the existential “I am” with transcendental power and assurance. From this perspective, Lawrence is a logocentric master, par excellence.
At the same time, Lawrence’s writing-practice frequently forefronts its rhetorical mediations, its mode of producing dynamic effects. His finest novels replace an identificatory language (where descriptions of states of mind coincide with their putative essences) with one of extreme differentiation that thwarts and disrupts such identifications. Instead of shoring up the self by reconstituting its essence from moment to moment, this practice takes it apart, dismantling its now-moments of self-present being. It projects a mobile, transitional self, continually subject to fluctuation and change, forever readapting itself to fresh psychic impulsions from within and without. It points to a jouissance outside the (Lacanian) Law—a utopian bliss-state that abolishes the prohibitions that govern the Law.3 It thus shatters logocentric assertions of a stable identity, instead of staunchly upholding their metaphysical claims.
Because Lawrence’s theories about language are close to Eastern ones,
I shall situate them within a broad Eastern conceptual framework. The question of direct influence, however, is not an issue. Indeed, even if such an influence existed, it would be impossible to prove, since Lawrence’s comments on language are characteristically non-systematic—thrown off as adjuncts to other, seemingly more urgent, preoccupations. Because he never produced analyses of language to match those of the pictorial image or symbol (see the essays on painting), one can at most speculate about the influence of Eastern conceptions. Both, however, share a number of fundamental concerns—with the origin of language, its potential for growth and decay, its impact on psychic construction, its soteriological force, its libidinal charge, and its kinship with silence. These are explicit issues in Eastern approaches to language, and implicit in Lawrence’s speculations and writing-practice. By way of approach, I shall take up the general question of language and identity.
of the same elementary substratum (carbon) (Letters II 183). The “mineral” metaphor, however, tacitly implies that there is no unchanging substratum to being. Though carbon generates the ever-changing elements of diamond and coal, and thus appears to be stable, it too is subject to constant attrition, but in a slower, less conspicuous way. The implications are clear: continual change, and not absolute identity, is the intrinsic law of the self. The linguistic correlate of these constantly altering states is not a language of self-identical meanings (the mimetic or representational fallacy) but a polymorphous creation of meaning, as signs spontaneously rise up and fade out of consciousness.
Certain ethical implications follow. For Lawrence and Buddhism, narcissistic attachment to self—auto-affection—is a direct consequence of language’s power to fix meanings and concepts, creating the illusion of a permanent ego that “grasps” or appropriates the other’s desire. Entrapment in language fuels Eastern philosophy’s soteriological drive—the release from linguistic conditioning that grounds the self in its objects (attachment), and induces reified modes of perceiving the world. Lawrence develops his ethics along similar lines. In its reified, conceptual form, language obstructs perception. Entangling direct sensation in settled networks of meaning separates human beings from the world that surrounds them, creating delusions of mastery through objectification. In Psychoanalysis, he puts it succinctly: because language “intervenes between us and the circumambient universe,” it becomes “an instrument for subduing” the world (246). Employed in subtle, flexible, metaphorical ways, however, it possesses a powerful soteriological charge. In breaking down fixed thought-constructions, it shatters the rigidified self, incites jouissance states, and leads to enlightenment.
A differential theory of language is the reversed mirror image of a logocentric theory, whether of the Western variety, where words mediate indispensably between the self and the world—a kind of picture theory of language—or of the Eastern (Vedantic) variety, where, as divine emanation, language brings the self into being. Though, for Lawrence, logocentrism held out the lure of an authoritarian discourse, charged with transcendental assurance, he (for the most part) resists such a lure, embracing instead a writing of flexible traces and clues before these stabilize into meanings.
But what are these traces and clues? How do they rise and decline? To make sense of these questions, we need an organic theory of the evolution of language—its cycles of growth and decay, its slow attrition and death—exactly the kind of theory that Lawrence espoused. Like the life-force itself, languages too reach their prime, before they decline and disintegrate, and style is the chief index of each significant phase in the process. Since Eastern theories of linguistic evolution are also organic, I shall periodically juxtapose them with Lawrence’s.4
In one sense, the question of the origin of language is oxymoronic for Lawrence, since language, like the cosmos, has no locatable origin or end. As he puts it in “The Two Principles,” “(t)here never was a beginning, and there never will be an end to the universe” (Phoenix II227). Six years later, in 1925, in an essay “Him With His Tail in His Mouth,” he continues to ridicule the pretensions of Western (Platonic) philosophy to contain origins and ends within a single symbolic enclosure: “If the mouth of the serpent is the open grave, into which the tail disappears, then three cheers for the Logos, and down she goes” (Reflections 311). Projecting truth as the truth of the end, logocentrism generates a closed linguistic universe: questions of origins and ends assume an obsessive intensity, inciting the feverish need to circumscribe horizons that forever lie out of view.
“The Two Principles” already posits a differential theory that repudiates the originality of any “original source.” “The inexplicable first duality” implies a radical split in the primordial stuff of the universe (Phoenix II 227). Fuelled by differential impulsions, the cosmos oscillates between conflictual forces in a continuing dissemination of energies. A mere “presumptuous (Western) masquerading of the mind,” the quest for fixed origins and ends converts fleeting intuition into reified concept (Psychoanalysis 246, my emphasis),
Manifesting itself as originless difference rather than as plenary presence (Brahman or God), life “continually and progressively differentiate(s) itself, almost as though this differentiation were a Purpose” (Thomas Hardy 42). Here, Lawrence’s denial of an originary source undermines a strict concept of teleology, which connects origins to ends in a purposive, goal-directed linear way. Indeed to postulate a beginning is merely to fix a verbal starting-point (the Word), and to impose a concept of origin on a continual flux that no such concept can grasp. In the Buddhist sense, it is to employ language to create delusional categories, and to throw a veil of illusion over the phenomenal world.5
But how does language evolve out of this originless difference? Lawrence’s affirmation of a dynamic cosmic duality, a conflictual force-field, continually disintegrating and reintegrating, suggests that these primordial powers are non-verbal, though the potential for verbal imprinting exists through the differential friction of their effects (as in Saussure, meaning arises, not out of self-identical signs, but out of the differences between them). Like a well-tuned antenna, the human unconscious picks up these cosmic impulsions (the micro/macrocosmic conjunction), which it imprints with prehuman sound-substances (the closest Eastern analogy is with the Upanishadic primordial sound OM—the verbal symbol of Brahman—whose hypnotic repetition in meditation attunes consciousness to the ground-rhythms and sounds of the universe).6 Through its own subtle sound-centers (the chakras), the body synchronizes micro/macrocosmic vibrations, and imposes the first symbolic sense-making patterns upon them.7
For Lawrence, language is thus always pristine, freshly minted, born anew at each moment in each individual unconscious. It trespasses on consciousness, not as a fully-evolved verbal system imposed from without (like the Lacanian Symbolic that, predating the subject, imposes fixed social and sexual positions upon him/her)8 but as primordial “gleams and glances . . . altogether devoid of knowledge”(Thomas Hardy 41), or as “queer nuclear spark(s)” of incipient meaning (Phoenix 162). A kind of Derridean trace or arche-writing, it announces its presence through the shock of its differential effects: “And from Him (God) issue the first dark rays of our feeling, wordless, and utterly previous to words: the innermost rays, the first messengers . . . whose voice echoes wordless and forever wordless down the darkest avenues of the soul, but full of potent speech. Our own inner meaning” (Thomas Hardy 205). Though these psychic impulsions are “wordless,” they contain those verbal seed-substances or germs that later burgeon into fully-flowered meanings.
Language in effect has two distinct vectors: a via negativa that points to its own self-abolition (jouissance states are always non-verbal), and a via positiva that actualizes its own radical potency (it is the most positive soteriological tool people possess). Incarnated as writing, it brings forth “the new passion, the new idea.” As a subtle agent for self-transformation, the “struggle for verbal consciousness should not be left out of art” (Women in Love “Foreword” 486).
Such a theory of language locates the novelist, not as a self-conscious fabricator of well-tempered artifacts (a role Lawrence foists onto Joyce and Proust), but as an empathic “listener” (Thomas Hardy 205; Studies 85-87), a telepathic communicator who attends to, without conscious meddling, his verbal promptings before they congeal into fixed ciphers or signs. It locates Lawrence at the extreme pole of a hierarchy that opposes rational control to irrational force. His own finest fictions tread a delicate tightrope between these two poles: between an exuberant, anarchic, near-psychotic expenditure, and sophisticated rhetorical checks that rein in and control this expenditure. Terms like “check” and “control,” however, already point to the (Lawrentian) secrets of language decay.
But what instigates the decay-process? The answer lies in the failure to sustain this “listening in” to those sonorous vocalizations from out of the matrix of pre-verbal being.9 Through their sheer insistence and repetition, external voices—social, sexual, ideological—drown out these primordial communications. The prohibitive power of the Symbolic—to employ Lacanian terms—suppresses the anarchic ur-language of the Real, which appears as uncontrollable menace or threat (it carries the risk of psychosis—a risk Lawrence clearly thought well worth taking). Lawrence confronts writers especially with two antithetical options: either attend to these “gleams and glances”—prophetic annunciations of jouissance—as they cross the threshold of consciousness, or renege on this “listening,” succumb to the Symbolic, and become tamed and socialized beings.
“The Crown” is Lawrence’s hectoring diagnosis of the symptoms of this reneging, two of which he selects for special castigation: first, the verbal stereotyping of consciousness itself, whose “static data” reproduce themselves as clapped out conventional concepts and codes:10 second, the creation of rigid ego-structures (the effect of the ceaseless iterability of these codes)—the delusive sense of an autonomous cellular self, shut off in its own minuscule universe: “enclosed within the tomb-like belly of a concept, like goldfish in a bowl, which think themselves the centre of the universe” (Reflections 296). The deleterious outcome of reneging on “listening,” these are also prime symptoms of language decay and degeneration.
Is there an equivalent among Eastern philosophies of this theory of origin, growth and decay? The closest is the modern Vedanta philosopher, Sri Aurobindo, though, as always, Lawrence’s formulations have a sui generis quality, a casual eccentricity that makes sustained comparison difficult.11 For Aurobindo, like Lawrence, language does not emanate from a single unified source, but through splits and divisions in its three-stage evolution through birth, flowering and death. As the organic metaphor suggests, language replicates other natural life-cycles: “pregnant” with meaning potential, by the same token it is also subject to mortification and atrophy (Coward 100-08). (The term “pregnant” recalls Lawrence’s own gestation metaphor for the creative evolution of language. It appears, not only in “The Crown” (Reflections 278-80), but, more spectacularly, in Women in Love, where to give “utterance” is “to break a way through the walls of the prison, as the infant in labour strives through the walls of the womb” (186)).12
From its secure, self-reflexive “uterine” state, language irrupts into a dangerous dialectical world of division and difference, as it disseminates into polymorphous and multisignificant signs. In this lush and luxuriant flowering, metaphors charge words with a rich new potential for redescribing the world. For Aurobindo, they create the kind of flexible linguistic relations that are in tune with the root-sounds out of which they emerge (Coward 101); for Lawrence, such tropes are the seeds of that “supreme art,” which, however, still eludes human accomplishment (it awaits the final apocalypse) (Thomas Hardy 128).
Inevitably threats from within and without convert this imagined utopia into a wasteland of absence and loss. Semantic arrest, imposed by social decree, imposes fixed meanings on fluid word-traces. In its slide towards “fossilization,” language (for Aurobindo) reneges on its power to generate multisignificant senses: metaphorical exuberance declines into functional reference, which freezes the association between word and idea (Coward 102-03). For Lawrence too, conceptual thinking breaks down metaphoric wholes into metonymic part-objects, “disintegrat(ing), separating, setting apart” (“The Crown” 281). Aurobindo’s analysis at this point is close to Lawrence’s: “The progression is from the general to the particular, from the vague to the precise, from the physical to the mental, from the concrete to the abstract, from the expression of an abundant variety of sensations about similar things (metaphor) to the expression of precise difference between similar things, feelings and actions” (metonymy) (Coward 103, my emphases). Both Lawrence and Aurobindo interpret linguistic decay a) rhetorically, as a decline from the polymorphous relations of metaphor to the metonymic one-to-one connections of referential or analytical discourse, and b) psychologically, as the verbal fencing-off of the ego to help it master the world. For both writers, language needs constant tacking and liberating from its own reifying agendas, and fresh word-transfusions to keep it alive.13
At this point, I shall concoct a practical schema. On the basis of Lawrence’s theories, and writing practice, I shall isolate three distinct levels of linguistic performance, each with its specific rhetorical, psychological and soteriological resonances. For convenience sake, I shall label them a) language as identity, b) language as difference, and c) language as silence. As before, I shall uncover correspondences with Eastern modes at each level, as well as exploring the impact of these theories at key-points in the fiction.
Only the first of these levels is strictly logocentric. It attains its highest degree of refinement in Western precision discourse—scientific writing, analytical philosophy, and, in a looser way, the descriptive, referential language of literature. If its paradigmatic form is the logos, where essence and substance, content and expression coincide, its literary apotheosis is the well-composed sentence of the classic realist novel. There, as Roland Barthes puts it, “subjections, subordinations, internal reactions” ensure the completion of stable meaning relations (Pleasure 50). This grounding of a rational discourse in the quest for communication opposes a Lawrentian libidinal writing, based on exuberant metaphorical play. As the sum-total of its communicable meanings, the self embodies the Greek view of fulfillment—the verbal “know yourself”—to which Lawrence’s aggressive counter-response is “be yourself.”
Its closest Eastern correlative is the Buddhist conception of language as a purely functional system for mapping the world. In discriminating between objects, Buddhism suggests, words impose self-identical structures on the things that they name, turning the world into hypostasized objects. Correlatively, words also construct an empirical, functional self, open to analytical investigation and probing. Seen in this way, language imposes sharp subject/object dualities where none really exist, projecting a world and a self that are ontologically false.14 Because Lawrence shares this Buddhist view, his attitude to this first level language is highly ambiguous.
For Lawrence, like Buddhism, the first level language induces a radical split in perception—a subject/object dichotomy—that in objectifying the world, makes it “analysable, and, in the last issue, dead” (Phoenix 761-62); its blinkered vision shuts out a richer, more vibrant ontological realm. Though such language enables the individual to “deal with the material world successfully,” (Phoenix 763), it achieves this illusion of mastery at the expense of suppressing the real world of jouissance. Lawrence’s most striking metaphor for this paradoxical state of affairs is also one of his subtlest. Because the vast “parasol of our (linguistic) conception of the universe” shelters people from fear, they promptly mistake it for the real thing. Along comes the poet—the “enemy of convention”—and makes a “slit” in the umbrella to let in a “draught from (the) chaos” outside. In turn, the “commonplace man” instantly seals up the slit, “daub(ing) a simulacrum of the window that opens on to chaos, and patch(ing) the umbrella with the painted patch of the simulacrum.” A fresh language impulsion, however, shatters this delusory fabrication, and lets “the sun of livingness” penetrate once again, breathing its “way into words.” Opposed to conventional speech, poetry is language at its psychic inception—chaotic, disruptive, anxiety- making, but at the same time jouissance inciting (Phoenix 255-62).
Lawrence’s highly ambiguous attitude towards this first level language shows up best in the fiction. While the essays mercilessly jibe at its feigned powers of precision, its analytical reductiveness, and its coercion of true desire into conventional ruts, nevertheless the fiction writing frequently needs this precision, and puts its referential rigour to new powerful uses.15 He does so spectacularly in Part 1 of Sons and Lovers (9-172), whose dense, uncompromising realism locks words on to their referents, creating a claustrophobic bonding between them. Bestwood mining village is the space where a “precision” language takes hold, never slackening its grip on its objects. Harsh linguistic constraints mirror the harsh psychological constraints that entrap the main characters, and from which they try to break free. Coercive social taboos are a function of the coercions words exercise on their objects, which they master and keep in their place: no slits in this vast linguistic umbrella lets “the sun of livingness” in. Yet the overall impact is not wholly negative: a powerful cohesive device, the “umbrella,” knits together the social fabric in ways of which the characters themselves are unconscious, but which, nevertheless, consolidate and sustain them.
Later writings, however, project this culturally-coercive mimetic language (the coding of social stereotypes) in an increasingly negative light, and use it mainly for parodic effect. The all-encompassing embrace of the Symbolic—the Lacanian law of the father—stifles one’s “own inner meaning,” and paralyses jouissance at its inception. Mrs. Witt in St. Mawr is an interesting case, since she recognizes her entrapment by language in a way the Bestwood characters do not. She is, she declares, no more than the sum-total of the “newspaper remarks” she reads about herself, a mere citation of previous citations, an echochamber of exhausted verbal effects (92-93). Paradoxically she employs her own linguistic “precision”—her sharp rational wit—as a diagnostic tool to pinpoint her disease, and to break free, at least partly, from its fetters.
For Clifford and his “cronies” in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by contrast, there is no such escape. Connoisseurs of the Symbolic, they are supercreations of a first level language that endows them with sharp analytical powers, but that blinds them to the degree that it uses them. For them, any socio-cultural object—fame, money, prestige or its linguistic equivalent—serves as a substitute for the jouissance that eludes them. Theoretical chit-chat about sex is their perfect pre-text for the sex-act itself, and their clever cover-up of the lack it conceals. This indeed is the point of the parody: what to the “cronies” is the acme of social and cultural sophistication, to the narrator is an empty charade (31-84).16
If this first level language projects a symbolic world, imposed from without, the second generates a pre-verbal one, impelled from within—from the “darkest avenues of the soul” (Thomas Hardy 205). As they cross the threshold of consciousness, primordial sound-substances take on their first verbal imprinting— their first glimmers of incipient meaning. Lawrence’s theory of spontaneous language production has at least three critical consequences. First, language is not the sum-total or acme of consciousness: silent modes of awareness exist, which paradoxically need language to communicate their effects (post-structuralist theory largely rejects the attribution of a non-verbal dimension to consciousness, or the possibility of escape from the inherited networks of language). Second, these ur-lan-guage emanations transmit sensation directly, since they carry its immediate charge (the abyss of Symbolic separation has not yet come into existence). Third, great writers have a special ear for these emanations, catching their fluid imprints before conceptual adjustment to content takes place.17
But what special qualities does this second level language possess? Its most distinctive mark is its insistent thrust into difference. Spontaneous psychic impulsions carry previously unheard-of, “unspeakable” messages— the first intimations of those spacings and sequencings that shape the narrative drive: they impose a form on the formless, a story on chaos. In this dispensation, metaphor reigns supreme: alone among tropes, it catches those “glimmers” of meaning, as it plays between sameness and difference without resolving the tension between them. It attends the drama of semantic creation, as it were, at the moment of its inception.
This second level has its source in a shared Lawrentian and Buddhist perception: all things, including language, are mutable, unstable, contingent, subject to change and decay. Because stream-of-consciousness moments are separate and distinct from each other, notions of cause and effect, origins and ends, purpose and goal are delusory: they merely impose fixed metaphysical categories on a continual flux. Lawrence puts it as follows: “Each thing, living or unliving, streams in its own odd, intertwining flux, and nothing, not even man nor the God of man, nor anything that man has thought or felt or known, is fixed or abiding” (Thomas Hardy 167). Even flux itself is less a metaphysical principle than a convenient term for interactions between these ever-shifting modalities. This “instantaneous creation” idea has a striking correlative: in deconstructing its own identity, the self now appears as a succession of moments in a continuum, sustained only by differential effects.
A crucial distinction, which clarifies both positions, sets off Buddhist from Lawrentian theory. Since, for Buddhism, language does not participate significantly in psychic experience, it is not the decisive factor in psychic development.18 Playing over the “surface of the real without giving us access to it,” language constitutes an obstacle to perception, which it dualistically splits into subject and object (Coward 135). One must demystify language—dissolve its delusions—before the realization of ultimate truth can take place. For Lawrence, by contrast, language “participates in the reality that it manifests.”19 A crucial psychic activity, it affords a dynamic, though circumscribed, access to the real. Language engages with objects, not in terms of abstract classes or categories (as at the first level), but as fleeting, libidinal “gleams,” which light up perception before the mantle of meaning-relations extinguishes them. Such “gleams” manifest themselves primarily as style.
Style choreographs the Lawrentian dance of desire as it rises up and fades out of consciousness. A primal, libidinal upspringing—prodigal, wasteful, exuberant—it communicates the truth of non-verbalized desire. Through the differential play that defines them, unconscious sound-sub-stances translate into conscious sign patterns: “There must be mutation, swifter than iridescence, haste, not rest, come-and-go, not fixity, inconclusiveness, immediacy, the quality of life itself, without denouement or close” (Phoenix 220). Indeed Lawrence characterizes his own special style in much the same terms, as “a continual, slightly modified repetition:” and he goes on to add that “it is natural to the author...every natural crisis in emotion or passion or understanding comes from this pulsing, frictional to-and-fro, which works up to culmination” (Women in Love “Foreword” 286).
But, of course, Lawrence is disingenuous in his assertion that this style is “natural,” as if it emerged untutored, unmediated, unprepared for, without theoretical and rhetorical roots. It is at once “natural” and highly cultivated—the product of high art and artifice. It has its theoretical roots in a differential conception of language—the ceaseless dissemination of signs that modify meanings as they come into existence. Its rhetorical roots reach down to a second familiar difference— between metaphor and metonymy—those paradigmatic figures of Lawrentian true and false desire. While metonymy treads well-worn libidinal paths, carved out by the Symbolic, ensuring the continual return of the same,20 metaphor, by contrast, maps out fresh libidinal routes in its to-and-fro thrusts towards new transferential relationships. Attending the birth of desire, it announces its presence as “utterance”—revelatory speech—as opposed to conventional talk.
But do these metaphorical thrusts—these figurative to-ings and fro-ings—have a function? For Lawrence, the answer is simple: they are primarily soteriological devices (the equivalent of Eastern meditation techniques), invested in language, and charged with the potential to revolutionize consciousness. Since, as he puts it, we “are prisoners inside our own conception of life and being” (Phoenix 325), we need these disruptive devices to defrost our “frozen percepts” (Loy Nonduality 165), and to liberate new fluid ways of seeing the world. Great novelists (and Lawrence thought himself one) are virtuosos of these “defrosting” techniques. Deconstructing the reader’s habitual thought-processes offsets the menace of psychical stasis, unsettling the all-too-human propensity to come to rest at one pole of the dialectic. The bad novelist puts his “thumb in the scale,” and comes to rest in precisely this way.
Lawrence shares this soteriological goal with virtually all Eastern traditions (Buddhist, Yogic, Vedantic) where “enlightenment” purges the du-alistic addiction to “false” bifurcatory modes of perceiving the world. What the East achieves through its meditational disciplines, Lawrence achieves through his writing-practice. How does he do it? I shall now glance briefly at three well-known fictional scenes, which charge rhetoric with precisely the soteriological power to transform consciousness.
Will and Anna’s celebrated sheaf-gathering scene in The Rainbow in effect literalizes these frictional to-ings and fro-ings, which inaugurate the birth of desire. In this intricate dance of suspense—of meeting and parting, exposure and veiling, giving and withholding, intimacy and distance— libidinal pulsings translate into dense metaphorical matrices, as the couple act out the dialectic of the desire that invades them. What is shown is less what the couple will for themselves than what happens through the excess of desire that overwhelms them. Previously “frozen” verbal exchanges (the Symbolic Law of the father that dominates Marsh Farm) dissolve into fluid libidinal impulses, as these cross the threshold of consciousness. The soteriological aim is to purge quotidian consciousness through the shock-therapy of invasive desire. In this process, the lovers become overhearers of their “own inner meaning” without conscious interference or meddling. They tune in, however briefly, to their own primal pulsations— the “birthpain” (116) of true desire that precipitates their first “rapturous” kiss—that is, before the Symbolic usurps their desire, and their jouissance disintegrates into those fierce verbal power-games that symptomatize the subsequent ruin of their marriage (113-17).
The “Excurse” episode in Women in Love shifts the scenario—away from the birth of desire to its climactic expression in orgasm. Birkin and Ursula’s love-making at the inn of the Saracen’s Head projects the soteriological drama in a strikingly utopian way, as metaphors of cleansing and purging (“fountains” and “floods”) liquidate the lovers’ quotidian consciousness, and induce revolutionary new ways of seeing the world. No mere self-expressive heightening of mutual awareness—an intersub-jective affair—this jouissance fuels the desire to put an end to desire, and induce plenary states of maximum being (it “carr(ies) away (Ursula’s) mind . . . and leaves her an essential new being” (314)). It annihilates not only ethical taboos (they make love in a public lounge) but also their socially-constructed identities. Because their new selves are no-selves, they are free in new unpredictable ways. Shedding all public responsibility, they give up their jobs, and their concern with money and property, inhabiting (at least temporarily) the untrammeled “free” space of their “perfected relation” (311-14).
Connie’s “watery” orgasms (the third and fourth) in Lady Chatterley’s Lover push this soteriological logic to its extreme limit. Once again, liquefaction is the key-trope for the transformation of consciousness. The object of purging is language, and the method is orgasm, as sophisticated verbal exchanges give way to “unconscious inarticulate cries,” that mark the irruption of true desire. In carrying Connie “away from herself,” the vast “billowing wave-motions” expunge her socially-constructed identity to permit a new, more radical one to emerge (“She was gone, she was not, and she was born: a woman”). Here “woman” connotes less the assumption of a sexed position within the old Symbolic order (her jouissance, in effect, abolishes such an order) than a fabular new essence of femaleness to which true desire offers access. The gender bias shifts from social constructions of femininity, which the novel excoriates, to a primordial female identity, prior to language conditioning, which it celebrates (184).21
In effect, these three limit-scenarios hijack that traditionally most civilizing of literary genres (the novel) to put an end to the civilizing process itself. A delirious jouissance, outside of the law, explodes those constraining love-conventions that social decorum imposes. Though the narrator intrudes volubly to explicate their effects, all three are silent enactments. Immersing themselves in a source that renders them mute, the lovers incarnate states of “utter unknowing:” speech-less and “mindless,” —to use Lawrentian terms—they witness each other, not as human, but as pre-social creaturely beings. But what does this third-level renunciation of language imply? What are its special valencies? In what manner does silence attend these ultimate states? These are the questions I explore in the final section.
In general, poststructuralist theories envisage human consciousness as trapped in a ceaseless recirculation of signs from which there is no possible exit. Derridean deconstruction—to take one example—is rigorously language-bound. There, signs infinitely reinscribe the shocks of their disseminating adventures. (Roland Barthes is a notable exception to this noexit theory. The Pleasure of the Text—his celebratory Zen book—projects jouissance as an annihilatory non-verbal rapture: “pleasure can be expressed in words, bliss cannot . . . (it) is unspeakable, inter-dicted” (21)). Lawrence and Eastern ontologies share Barthes’s view. Both posit the possibility of unshackling words from their referents (and from their hypnotic attachment to one another), and of dissolving linguistic conditioning. Silence alone is “signless” (as Buddhist texts put it), and affords perfect access to the real. Such access is the outcome of deep meditation (Eastern) or of ecstatic jouissance (Lawrence).(Western commentators, as far back as Freud, generally view this “signless” awareness reductively—as a regress to prelapsarian myth-thinking, or as the fantasized pleasure of violating linguistic taboos). Patricia Tobin puts Lawrence’s case very well: “life triumphs when words fail, (and) the “understanding” to which language is supposedly in service is inferior to an ineffable, silent “knowing”” (92-93). Instead of speaking its significant truths, such limit-scenes in the novel undo them, and silence is its paradoxical mode of communication. Like the Buddha and Wittgenstein, Lawrence too discards his verbal ladder when “truth” is attained.
Silence is also the central enlightenment mode in Eastern ontologies. For the Upanishadic philosopher, Sankara, for example, the real discloses itself only when language negates its own propositions, and a “blissful” silence supervenes (Coward 85). Madhyamika Buddhism makes an even more radical claim: since language is a purely functional system, it offers no access to the real, which has no verbal referent, and which manifests itself only when words no longer define it. Since the real is empty of language, language must empty itself before the real may appear. Indeed even the earliest Buddhist texts frequently denote nirvana itself as the “signless.”22
Has Lawrentian silence a special valency, beyond what these definitions imply? The answer is simple: silence above all renounces the dualities of self-expressive speech in the communications of love. As such, silence breaks out at erotic high-pitch intensities: a rhetorical white-heat dissolves verbal signs, even the fluid arche-writing that attempts to communicate them. A psychological (subjective) “knowing” has no purchase on these ultimate states of “unknowing.”23 With the cessation of verbal activity, desire itself dies in fulfillment, since there is neither a lack to incite it, nor a language to re-mark it as a site of supplementary need. At these limit-states, “I am absolved from desire and made perfect” (Phoenix 68)). As such, they are subject-less, object-less, non-dual, complete with no other raison d’etre than their own perfected accomplishment.
Lawrence’s “pollyanalytics” progressively radicalize these particular insights.24 While earlier works, like “The Crown” (1915), situate human beings center-stage—“pure being” is primarily a human affair, with jouissance as its rapturous mode of access25—later writings, like “Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine” (1925), draw more on the non-human world, as Eastern ontologies do. In their silent access to the “fourth dimension,” non-human creatures outstrip human ones. Unvictimized by the Symbolic, they are free from the loss the acquisition of language induces, and that alienates mankind from being. Neither subject to cause and effect, nor to those space/time parameters that wrap jouissance up in a straitjacket, the “fourth dimension” includes all creatures within its purview (Lawrence’s “fourth dimension” is crowded with poppies, dandelions, peacocks, cobras, frogs, and a few hand-picked human females and males). Instantaneous, contingent, mutable, it is also subject to decline and decay. Because it is not a possession, creatures may slip out of “pure being” as miraculously as they slip into it (for this reason, Lawrence is reluctant to routinize and domesticate it). Though he sometimes terms it the “I AM,” this is less an ebullient ego-assertion than the paradoxical sign of the ego’s extinction. Because the “I” is neither egocentric nor self-conscious of its own unique silent attainment, the poppy’s “I AM” has the same ontological status as the human “I AM,” though the poppy is lower down on the great chain of being (Reflections 358-63). At the same time, Lawrence never relinquished his conviction that, for human beings at least, true desire is the best path to jouissance.
Because it has no verbal referent, the “fourth dimension” has, strictly speaking, no proper place in the novel: to name it is to objectify, and dissolve it. When a character passes into the “fourth dimension,” his/her “tale is told . . . there is no more tale to tell” (Thomas Hardy 20). Yet because paradoxically this silence communicates the novel’s most significant truths, Lawrence compulsively needs to appropriate it for narrative— to make silence speak, so to speak. What strategies does he employ to negotiate non-verbal states of awareness without grossly compromising their strange intimations? Out of a plethora of instances, I select three notable attempts to let “bliss” speak the unspeakable.
The depiction of Tom and Lydia’s conjugal bliss in The Rainbow is the most successful of all these verbal negotiations of silence, since language is peripheral to their erotic communication. Indeed Lydia’s “blind” language performance (“What she said, what she spoke, this was a blind gesture on her part”) is purely functional, non-self-expressive in the manner that Women in Love comprehends it (words “are but a gesture we make, a dumb-show like any other” (186)). Though Tom and Lydia do not talk much to each other, the narrator talks a lot about them, if only to flaunt the irrelevance of talk to their quotidian contact (“What does it matter? . . . (w)hen she called, he answered, when he asked, her response came at once”). The homely tropes the narrator employs about them approximate to those they themselves might employ, if compelled to verbalize their ontological bliss (“When at last they had joined hands, the house was finished, and the Lord took up His abode” (90-91)). To domesticate jouissance is thus to render it silent. With no more tale to tell, Tom and Lydia are summarily written out of the narrative which has no further room for these supreme silent attainers.
By contrast, depictions of the bliss-states of subsequent generations of lovers depart radically from the rhetoric they themselves might employ, as negotiations of silence become progressively more sophisticated, convoluted, esoteric. Reaching far beyond their verbal resources, the narrator enmeshes their silence in a dense verbal maze. In his depiction of Will and Anna’s honeymoon bliss, for example, the narrator’s high-flown metaphysical commentary rudely violates the rule of silence he imposes on them, and departs dramatically from the language they might use to describe their own bliss (“Here at the centre the great wheel was motionless, centred upon itself. Here was a poised, unflawed stillness that was beyond time ... (a) silence absorbed in praise”). “(C)omplete and beyond the touch of time or change,” the lovers remain blissfully unaware of the rapturous metaphorics which their jouissance incites. Indeed the first intrusive sounds from without—the strokes of the church-bell—reinforce the illusion of an all-encompassing silence, now about to be broken. It heightens the central paradox of their relationship: breaking the first golden rule of silence in love, Will and Anna subsequently cultivate a retrograde, self-expressive, confrontational language that translates sex into war-game, and words into weapons to annihilate one another (135-36).
Women in Love’s single major attempt to speak the unspeakable highlights the insoluble problems attending the narration of such silent plenary states. Birkin and Ursula’s obscure nightime enactments in Sherwood Forest, at the end of “Excurse,” are the climax of their daytime orgasmic enactments at the inn of the Saracen’s Head. Here the text attempts to fulfil its own impossible project of creating a non-verbal space of encounter that dissipates graspable sense at the same moment it seems to produce it. A tautological, self-referential language insistently coils back on itself, pitting word against word, trope against trope, pushing the logic of silence to its own unspeakable limits:
Quenched, inhuman, his fingers upon her unrevealed nudity were the fingers of silence upon silence, the body of mysterious night upon the body of mysterious night, the night masculine and feminine, never to be seen with the eye, or known with the mind . . . (an) unspeakable communication in touch, dark, subtle, positively silent. (320)
Here near-identical word-meanings circulate somnolently within the grooves of their own dissolution, reproducing the same silent slidings of sense as their dark convolutions evoke. The lovers in turn impose their own ban of silence on the events of the night (“(t)hey hid away the remembrance and the knowledge” (320))—a ban, one may add, which on this occasion the narrator respects, and does not further intrude on.
To sum up: for Lawrence, language is not primarily an epistemological tool, as in the Western philosophical and novelistic tradition, but a powerful soteriological force, as in Eastern ontologies. Unsettling thought and perception, it induces radical self-transformations. Because, for Lawrence, consciousness is essentially verbal, though the unconscious is not, good novels, like his own, act as purgative (cleansing) or aphrodisiac (desire inciting) drugs. As the major rhetorical figure of change, metaphor generates the kind of psychic turbulence that, in turning consciousness on, transfigures it in the process.
But language also harbours a threat. In its reified, conceptual state—as a forged link between mind and the world—it blocks true desire. Like a crude totalitarian instrument, a logocentric straitjacket crushes psychic life, and props up a one-sided system of values. The dividing line is a fine one.- one must embrace language unreservedly, Lawrence suggests, while recognizing its potentially repressive and despotic power.
As the agent of true desire, language saturates consciousness with erotic vision and wisdom. Material, not mental, concrete, not abstract, it transforms conscious perception: it raises awareness of a phenomenal world which is there, but to which conceptual discriminations block access. Its limit-function, however, is neither to generate meanings, nor project mental images, nor even to denote a real world, but to induce numinous states, free from all thought-agitation, because there are no thoughts to reflect on. Language is thus apophatic—a via negativa towards a jouissance that abolishes the medium that induced it.
Each of the three language levels I explored, in addition, has its own ethical bias, as a catalyst or obstructor of sexual bliss. Because it fortifies ego-defences, fixes concepts and attitudes and, in so doing, blocks the libidinal flow, first level language is the arch-enemy of jouissance: its “static data” encrypt and enclose. Unshackling ego-defences, unfreezing concepts, undoing discriminations, second level language possesses a powerful soteriological charge: as a mode of release, it purges dead verbal accretions, and induces new ways of seeing the world. The silent third level entails the same autotelic dynamic—the sheer obliviousness to the demands of the other—that (for Lawrence) creatures naturally possess. Dumbfounded by silence, saturated with bliss, complete in themselves, human lovers no longer need language for a jouissance that constitutes its own unique validation.
From the start of his writing career, and increasingly so in the 1920’s, Lawrence was acutely critical of Western logocentric associations of language with positive predication, wholly graspable meanings, and stable identities. For him, the basic function of language was less to fix meanings than to track pre-conscious impulsions—their swift modulations and fleeting impingements on conscious thought and perception: it was less to draw solid bounds for the self than to keep such bounds open and flexible.
In the context of identity-structures, Lawrence is closest to that most radical of Eastern theorizations of the nature of selfhood: Buddhism. For Buddhism, the self is an impermanent cluster of forces, in perpetual interaction, and subject to change and decay. Since there is no permanent substratum to being, existence is momentary, discontinuous, discrete. Notions of an abiding ego or self are defensive thought-constructions, triggered by a basic fear of impermanence. In a celebrated 1914 letter to Edward Garnett, Lawrence already propounds his own idiosyncratic version of this no-self doctrine. Rejecting the “old stable ego,” he posits an alternative self—the product of incessantly altering states (diamond/coal)
Women in Love: Narrative and Sexuality
This third chapter narrows the focus, engaging at once with a particular theme, and a particular text: it explores the impact on Women in Love of the radical difference between Eastern theories of sexual bliss and Western theories of libidinal desire. The clash between these two ontologies constitutes a major source of the novel’s eschatological power. Western modes of false desire that, through intricate identifications absorb the other into the self, confront Eastern modes that, in allowing the other the freedom to be, create two separate plena of maximum bliss.
The effect on the narrative is—to say the least—paradoxical. While Western states of desire—its pressures and frustrations, sudden irruptions and subsidences, strivings and dissatisfactions—offer rich soil for narrative growth and proliferation, inciting evermore story to account for the lacks they expose, Eastern bliss-states, by contrast, suspend the narrative drive, since plots have no purchase on their subject-less ecstasies. Renouncing verbal communications of love in favour of a language-less jouissance abolishes those spacings and sequencings upon which narrative thrives. What is good news for the great attainers (Birkin and Ursula)— they achieve their ultimate bliss—is paradoxically bad news for the narrative, which lacks a proper plot-sequence or language to track their ecstatics. In contrast, the narrative grimly latches on to those two great desirers (Gerald and Gudrun) who, yielding to the lures of false desire, enmesh themselves evermore lethally in its convulsive coils. Before turning to Women in Love, however, 1 shall adopt Michel Foucault as my guide in sharpening the critical differences between Eastern bliss-states and Western modes of desire.
In The History of Sexuality (Volume One), Foucault remarks that, historically, there have been two great procedures for producing the truth about sex. Some societies, mainly Eastern ones—Indian, Japanese, Chinese (Rome is Foucault’s sole Western candidate)—have generated an Ars Erotica, where truth is drawn from pleasure itself—from its subtleties, intensities, progressive duration, liberating potential, and its access to a non-verbal jouissance.1 Essentially esoteric, its knowledge and protocols are held in the greatest reserve. Protected by an aura of silence, they are passed on by a master who, through initiatory rituals, guides the acolyte along the path to erotic enlightenment. For the latter, the result is transfiguration—in Foucault’s eloquent, if utopian phrases—“an absolute mastery of the body, a singular bliss, obliviousness to time and limits, the exile of death and its threats” (History 57-58).2 (This description perfectly matches Birkin and Ursula’s attainment in “Excurse”).
What Foucault does not remark on, however, is that Eastern theories of pleasure, in contrast to Western theories of desire, are profoundly resistant to articulation in narrative form. In positing ecstatic pleasures beyond a language that engenders desire, Ars Erotica elides the basic structures of narratibility: it works exclusively at the third, silent level of language renunciation, as I already defined it. The great Tantric treatises, in particular, project the possibility of transforming sex into silent modes of enlightenment, and of escaping the domination of time. Traditionally, Tantric Ars Erotica finds its natural home in these treatises although, strictly speaking, they do not belong to that genre. Instead they are large-scale expository works that interpret bodily postures, iconic imagery, occult symbolism, and provide soteriological justification for the transfigurations they hold out to the acolyte.3 If, as Paul Ricoeur suggests, narrative “attains its full meaning when it becomes a condition of temporal existence” (Time 1 52), then in its destruction of temporal limits, its eradication of sequence and succession, and its expunging of verbal discriminations, Ars Erotica locates itself beyond the scope of emplotment, which feeds off the very desires that this art of love seeks to abolish. As such, it confirms D. A. Miller’s general observation that “narrative appropriately ceases where mysticism begins, for there is nothing more for a narrative to produce . . . except the same ‘rapturous consciousness’” (131).
Because it seems so inhospitable to novelistic narration, the English novel, not surprisingly, has left Ars Erotica severely alone, steering away from its pleasure intensities to focus instead on the vicissitudes of frustrated desire. Indeed Foucault contrasts the Western obsession with desire—in philosophy, psychoanalysis and, of course, in the novel—with a virtual total neglect of pleasure /bliss (Reader 347). Only one major novel in the English tradition takes the path of transgression: in co-opting Ars
Erotica as the vehicle for its states of “rapturous consciousness,” Women in Love reveals the ultimate “truth” about sex through its savage critique of Western modes of desire. Part 2 of the present chapter explores the problems for narrative produced by this, narratologically speaking, perverse co-option of an alien mode, where the novel can no longer narrate its most significant truths, and where language speaks ecstatically from the scene of its own dissolution.
By contrast, Foucault’s second “great procedure”—Scientia Sexualis (or sexology, as I shall call it for short4)—is profoundly complicit with story-telling. In embracing a theory of false desire, rooted in insatiable hunger and lack, it solicits the kind of continual interpretation that binds it indissolubly to narrative forms. It also binds narrative to the first level language, as I defined it, exploiting its power to rationalize or scientize sex, and mould desire into more socially acceptable manifestations.
Associated by Foucault with the vast nineteenth-century proliferation of Western discourses about sex—psychological, psychiatric, pedagogical—sexology turns on the art of making sex speak, of transforming trauma into story, and thus constituting the subject through those sexual discourses that make up his/her identity.5 In so doing, sexology feeds into the literary, supplying novels with plots in the shape of case-histories, situations and themes, as well as with a pathology of sexual aberrations— symptoms, deviations, perversions—against which to establish its own sexual norms. In the broadest sense, both sexology and novelistic narration are interpretative projects that submit the vicissitudes of desire to the rigors of a hermeneutic interrogation that regenerates and sustains them.
Among novelists in the English tradition, Lawrence especially is attuned to sexological pressures and influences. Situated at the historical moment when the sexological and the novelistic converge, and cannibal-istically feed off one another, he was supremely aware of “current thinking in sexology and sexual psychology and psychoanalysis” (Heath 102). Indeed works like “The Crown” (1915), Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (1921) and Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922) engage in open polemics against sexological thinking in its drive to scientize sex, and reduce the unconscious to a purely discursive phenomenon.
What Lawrence aggressively disputes at the ideological level, however, he commits himself urgently to at the narratological one. He co-opts some of sexology’s major themes and techniques precisely because they provide the motor-force of good plots and the very motive for narrative. Two sexological strategies are of special significance for Women in Love-, the pathologization of sexual desire—its dysfunctions and deviations—generates complex plots that probe their source in an absence or lack; second, the “talking cure” feeds off the very frustrations its discourses uncover. The confessional mode (for Foucault, the most significant form of Western therapy) unearths those disquieting truths about sex that generate evermore stories to accomplish the cure.
To take the latter strategy first: Foucault identifies confession as the Western procedure for eliciting the truth about sex, exposing not only what the subject wishes to hide, but also what is hidden from him/her. Indeed Western literature is essentially a confessional genre, “ordered according to the infinite task of extracting from the depths of oneself. . . a truth which the very form of the confession holds out like a shimmering mirage” (History 59).6 It projects discursive introspection (talking about oneself to oneself) as the form of constructed experience, and interrogation as the strategy for establishing sex as the hidden clue to identity. In so doing, it casts the novelistic narrator in the role of silent interlocutor who overhears his characters’ life-histories as confessions made to him or to themselves or to one another. Such strategies generate a wide spectrum of narratorial postures towards the extraction of intimate secrets, ranging from the tactful/benign (George Eliot), through the tentative/empathic (Forster and Woolf) and the self-consciously detached (Joyce) to the frequently ruthless, aggressive and intimidating narrator of Women in Love. There, Lawrence exploits sexological techniques of interrogation to expose those states of desire he deplores.
But what of the pathologization of sex (second strategy)? Through recoding confession as therapeutic (as opposed to sacramental in its traditional form), sexology brings sexuality under the prohibitive rule of the pathological (Foucault History 67). It generates a nosography of desire, establishing permanent norms against which aberrations may be classified and appraised.7 Complex narrative structures (i.e. case histories) decipher symptoms, diagnose perversions, and link causes to consequences in a systematic and coherent way (Roy Schafer, for example, explores the typical narrative structures that subtend psychoanalysis (25-49)). The feedback into the novelistic is complicated and subtle. Like sexology, the novel privileges verbal analysis, introspection, and confessional revelation. From sexology it borrows a taxonomy of pathological states that locates the roots of character dysfunction in a sexual dis-ease that demands fresh narrative interventions to establish a cure. Like the sexological interlocutor, the narrator exposes symptoms of malaise through diagnostic forays that uncover their causes. He tells of morbid states of desire that issue in pathological forms of behaviour for which he proposes a cure.
An erotic narrative par excellence, Women in Love draws richly on the sexological, exploiting verbal confession as its primary mode of uncovering sexual secrets. It cultivates pathologies of false desire—sickness-narratives that posit sexual dysfunction as the ultimate truth of identity. In Gerald and Gudrun, Hermione and Loerke, it puts on show a compendium of nineteenth-century sexual pathologies—sadism, masochism, fetishism, inversion—projecting desire as a chronic psychic disorientation that requires partial or fetish objects to compensate for the lack they conceal.8 Complicit with the ethos it loathes, Women in Love generates potent narratives of erotic “degeneration,” stories of a terminal decadence that voraciously feed off the very illnesses they most abhor.
Yet sexological narratives have a soteriological thrust, though this is rarely strongly pronounced. They tell stories of relief from distressing neurotic disorders through a readjustment of outlook and attitude. In redirecting the libido to more congenial objects and aims, they produce modified accounts of the desires that engendered the illness. The cure is thus a function of the ideology of the verbal that originally provoked the disease, foregrounding linguistic introspection and reconstruction as its means to that end. In precisely this sense, the cure is moderate, mild, securing “a certain amount of protection against suffering,” as Freud guardedly puts it (Civilization 267).
Women in Love’s cure, by contrast, is “extreme,” in Freud’s sense of that term (he attributes the quest for “extreme” solutions to “the worldly wisdom of the East,” and to the practice of Yoga9). It departs radically from the sexological ethos from whose perspectives it diagnoses the disease. In purporting to abolish sexological thinking—to render it void— Women in Love renounces Western verbal procedures for eliciting the truth about sex. Focused entirely on Birkin and Ursula, and confined to one pivotal episode, aptly named “Excurse,” this new art of love transports both lovers on to a new plane of existence whose distinguishing mark is a rapt silent awareness. States of non-verbal ecstasy supervene on verbalized desire, annihilating it in the process. Women in Love, in effect, juxtaposes an Eastern art of erotic initiation, inaccessible to story or plot, to Western self-expressive communications of love that take verbal articulation as the sign of their truth, and that mesh desire inextricably with narrative form. The consequences for Women in Love are momentous. While one single episode exhausts Ars Erotica’s potential for narrative growth, Western sexological plots expand and proliferate to usurp the greater part of the novel. It is to the agencies that collude in this takeover that we now turn our attention.
What Foucault sees as the Western attempt to “annex sex to a field of rationality,” and to subordinate the body to a “logic of concupiscence and desire” (History 78) has its analog in Lawrence’s sustained critique of what he calls “mentalized” sex. Both Lawrence and Foucault expose the coercion involved in the compulsive Western drive to scientize and narrativize sex—to assimilate eras to the Symbolic in order to make sex speak the truth of identity. “The Crown,” for example, links the post-Cartesian addiction to “conscious knowledge”—“scientific and introspective”—with the urge to eradicate jouissance (Reflections 282-83). Likewise, Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (mistakenly) attacks Freud for identifying the unconscious with the repressed contents of consciousness. Lifting repressions, exposing complexes to “full mental consciousness,” as Lawrence puts it, is the Western technique for verbalizing the unconscious—for translating sex into case-history, subject to the same prohibitive taboos as all verbal narratives are (204, 200).10 Lawrence endorses Foucault’s characterization of Freud as the confessional master par excellence who, in “transform(ing) sex into discourse” (History 159), reimposes the same drastic repressions he sets out to eradicate.11
For Lawrence, by contrast, the unconscious escapes all determinations—linguistic, cultural, symbolic. “Unanalysable, undefinable, inconceivable,” it “bubbles up in us, prior to any mentality” (Psychoanalysis 208-12),12 preceding even the thrust into temporality. Bound to bodies and pleasures, it mediates the “masterful art” of love, transfiguring the one “fortunate enough to receive its privileges” (Foucault History 58). In contrast to those exoteric (psychoanalytical) secrets, which emerge when repressions are lifted, it roots itself in esoteric bodily secrets, which have no proper words to describe them. It resists precisely the subordination of eros to the Western epistemological enterprise—to forms of “knowledge-power (that are) strictly opposed to the art of (erotic) initiations” (Foucault History 58, my emphasis).
In its cultivation of sexological narratives, Women in Love exploits both the discursive secrets of sex, and the knowledge-power techniques used to extract them. In relation to Gerald/Gudrun and Hermione/Loerke (those prime sexological pairs), the narrator transforms his knowledge of them into a masterful knowing through ruthless inquisitions that pluck out hidden motives of which they themselves remain unaware. Through acute diagnoses, anatomizations of cause and effect, evermore penetrating forays that link desire to unconscious dis-ease, he transmutes their erotic malaise into stories of personal decadence that ramify and divaricate with each successive recounting. Their dislocations of desire incite his compulsive need to unearth etiologies to decode and explain them. The first major exercise in such grim narratorial tactics, employed against Hermione at the start of the novel, is exemplary: it crystallizes those relentless techniques of exposure that subsequent interventions merely refine and mature.
As Hermione walks to the church in the opening episode (“Sisters”) to attend the wedding of Thomas Crich’s daughter, the narrator, as silent voyeur, uncovers the secrets of her sexual psyche through progressive exposures, positing evermore recessive symptoms to dramatize their disclosure. The description opens innocuously with the ascription to Hermione of a full conscious knowledge—the adequation of her social aplomb to the censorious gaze of the others (she knew “her appearance was complete and perfect, according the first standards”)—before it divulges a deeper, subconscious secret, poised precariously between the narrator’s and Hermione’s knowledge (“She always felt vulnerable . . . there was always a secret chink in her armour”). As if to resolve the ambiguity through an authoritative causal detection, the narrator unearths the buried truth as the truth about sexuality of which Hermione is completely unconscious (“She did not know herself what it was . . . (there was) a deficiency of being in her . . . (s)he craved for Rupert Birkin”). Diagnosed as a lack, a chronic libidinal hunger, sex constitutes the ultimate secret of selfhood, a challenge to truth-telling that the narrator’s harsh interventions alone can resolve (16-17). Subsequent recountings of Hermione’s repressions climax in a violent event—the confirmation that his earlier diagnosis was right. In a sadistic near-lethal discharge, she attempts to murder her torturer (she hits Birkin over the head with a lapis lazuli ball (105)). In a classic sexological move, etiology (the science of the cause of disease—in this case, Hermione’s “craving” for Birkin13) gives way to symptomatology, as the narrator vindictively transcribes some of the standard traditional manifestations of female hysteria. Converting Hermione’s internal paroxysms into external effects, he records with a rabid sexological eye the uncontrollable “delirium”—the “convulsion(s)” that gave her the look of a “demoniacal ecstatic” (17-22).14 Projecting Hermione as at once erotically over-charged but basically frigid, he taints the language of traditional mysticism (“rapt,” “ecstatic”) with pathological suggestion in a manner that sexological discourse was accustomed to do.15 A neurotic (false) type of Western mystical rapture, rooted in erotic dysfunction, is thus a prelude to the (true) Eastern kind, which Birkin and Ursula incarnate in “Excurse.”
If the narrator unmasks Hermione’s psychopathology through a symptomatics of female hysteria, he unearths Gerald and Gudrun’s mainly through the perversions. Diverted away from its proper source on to “improper” objects, their sexual drive manifests itself primarily through sadism and masochism (the “most common and most significant of all the perversions” (Freud Three Essays 70)). Displaying precisely the same knowledge-power compulsion he unearths in his characters, the narrator sadistically projects Gerald and Gudrun as doomed objects of inquiry and inquest. Tightening the screws of the sexological, his analyses reproduce the same drive to verbalize sex he uncovers in them.
In their first erotic encounter, Gudrun’s protracted kissing of Gerald (under the same railway bridge where the miners habitually kiss their girl friends) constellates sexuality in the classic Foucauldian way, as “organized by power in its grip on bodies” (History 155). Projected less as a negotiation of pleasure than as an assertion of dominance, it continually converts erotic sensation into verbalized chronicle—the truth of pleasure spontaneously translated into the pleasure of knowing the truth: “She wanted to touch him . . . till she had strained him into her knowledge. Ah, if she could have the precious knowledge of him, she would be filled” (332). In the same manner that Gudrun “scientizes” Gerald’s sexuality, transforming a libidinal lack into knowledge-power practice, so too the narrator “strains” Gudrun into his conscious knowledge, anatomizing her motives, categorizing her desire, and exposing her sex-drive as a compensatory ploy in her will-to-power.
As diagnostician of the morbid, the perverse and the aberrant, the narrator cultivates techniques of total exposure, unveiling derangements of the sexual drive, diagnosing the orgasm itself as organic dysfunction. In place of the quasi-scientific clinical discourse (detached and objective), endemic to sexology, however, a metaphorics of the perverse identifies the erotic exchange with the transmission of a deadly disease through mutual contagion and contact. To adapt a Lacanian notion: in the depictions of Gerald and Gudrun’s love-making, metaphor behaves diagnosti-cally to fix “in a symptom the signification inaccessible to the conscious subject” (Ecrits 166)—exposing precisely the “perverse” connections the protagonists conceal from themselves.16
In their climactic encounter in “Death and Love”—to take one example— metaphor tells the story of the victim of a lethal disease (Gerald) who, in the process of contaminating the other (Gudrun) cures and restores himself (since, however, the cure is a sexological one, it is pseudo and temporary). Troped as a noxious expenditure, a poisonous dose he injects into
Gudrun, his spermatic effusion causes her unbearable pain and discomfort. Reciprocally, her orgasm is a convulsive abreaction to his contagious discharge: “Into her he poured all his pent-up darkness and corrosive death, and he was whole again . . . (a)nd she, subject, received him as a vessel filled with his bitter potion of death ... in throes of acute, violent sensation” (344). Based on pseudo-clinical jargon, the cure-metaphorics tracks the slow stages of Gerald’s recuperation: “the very tissue of his brain was damaged by the corrosive flood of death. Now . . . the healing lymph of her effluence flowed through him” (344-45). Essentially fraudulent, this sexological cure merely defers the outbreak of more serious symptoms (Gerald’s attempted strangulation of Gudrun) to a later occasion, whose sadistic violence lays bare the death-wish their orgasmic exchanges concealed.
Such metaphoric narration is particularly well-adapted to uncovering the secret machinations of incest—the “indispensable pivot” around which sexological narratives circulate, and from which they draw sustenance (Foucault History 109). Because metaphor, by definition, draws into dangerous proximity two terms which, from the perspective of literal sense-making, should be kept strictly apart, it typically tells stories of transgression and trespass—a transport across forbidden bounds.17 The Gerald/ Gudrun love-making enacts precisely such a trespass, assimilating an infantile son/mother bonding to an adult male/female one. The obsessive identification of Gudrun with an all-encompassing mother posits incest at the core of Gerald’s sexual drive. The ferocity of her son’s (Gerald’s) oral demands exhausts Gudrun as nurturing mother: “(l)ike a child at the breast, he cleaved intensely to her, and she could not put him away.” Reciprocally, Gerald’s regress to a pre-oedipal paradise—undifferentiated, whole and complete—climaxes this uterine symbiosis between mother and child: her warmth engulfs him “like a sleep of fecundity within the womb” (344-45). In the Lacanian manner, a metaphorics of the perverse exposes the truth of unconscious desire by substituting a son/mother bonding for a male/female one.
Verbal confession—sexology claims—is the most effective mode of mastering such dangerous aberrations. Gudrun’s protracted self-analysis, as Gerald lies asleep by her side, conforms to this pattern. Situated strategically after their love-making, it subtly pathologizes confession, exposing her darkest secrets to the full glare of consciousness. Superimposing a past personal narrative on her present inchoate encounter with Gerald, she subjects “her childhood, her girlhood, all the forgotten incidents, all the unrealised influences” to a harsh, unrelenting intellectual scrutiny, integrating their fragments into one coherent and continuous story: “It was as if she drew a glittering rope of knowledge out of the sea of darkness...pull(ed) it out phosphorescent from the endless depths of the unconsciousness” (346). Her subjection of erotic desire to the logistics of narrative is complicit with the narrator’s desire to diagnose her as bound by that need. From this perspective, Gudrun’s self-psychologizing is a parodic rehearsal both of the interminability of the psychoanalytical process once it gets under way (“she was weary, aching, exhausted, and fit to break, and yet she had not done”), and of the exacerbation of the very symptoms (the “violent active superconsciousness”) it sets out to cure (346).
In Western pathologizations of confession, sadomasochism is perhaps the most distinctive component: confession and torture, as Foucault puts it, are the “dark twins” that historically shadow and beget one another (History 59). An obsessive preoccupation of Western sexological discourse, from Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis and Havelock Ellis’s Studies in the Psychology of Sex (Volume III), through Freud, down to Gilles Deleuze’s Masochism, sadism finds its way into the novel in the guise of sophisticated theaters of cruelty—the disciplined harshness exercised by the narrator towards his characters, or by the latter towards one another or towards surrogate objects (often animals) that, in mediating the characters’ destructive desires, reinforce their “instinct for mastery.”18 If, as Laura Mulvey puts it, “sadism demands a story” (22), it is precisely because it precipitates confrontations and crises—those active/passive positionings that initiate strange bondings and contracts. In addition (though Mulvey does not mention this), it induces painful verbal self-revelations, exhaustive and exhausting confessions that mimic the cruel acts they narrate. In Women in Love, sadism is the narrative mainspring of Gerald and Gudrun’s sexual bonding—the logical outcome (in the narrator’s diagnosis) of the subjection of eros to linguistic manipulation and mastery.
Sadism emerges, however, less in the guise of confessional acts (though Gerald and Gudrun confess to themselves, they never confess to each other) than through violent theatrical scenes—a pornography of torment and torture—that mediate their lethal desires. Of the three major scenarios, however, only the third—Gerald’s ecstatic strangulation of Gudrun— conforms to Freud’s definition of sadism as “the desire to inflict pain on the sexual object” (Three Essays 70). Triangulating the pattern, the first two, by contrast, deploy surrogate victims—an Arab mare and a rabbit— to mediate the violence the couple wish to inflict on each other. Because each scenario builds on the groundwork laid down by its predecessor, a law of narrative progress emerges: the more intense the chastisement, the more overt the erotic self-recognition. While Gerald’s calculated cruelty towards the Arab mare (he spurs her to bleeding point) establishes, at most, an oblique link between torture and sexual stimulation (it incites a brief erotic frisson in Gudrun (112-13)), and his aggressive mistreatment of the rabbit (he fractures its neck) induces a “white-cruel (mutual) recognition” whose specific content is left undisclosed (241-42), the third— Gerald’s strangulation—makes quite explicit the connection between pain and erotic arousal. Ventriloquizing Gerald and Gudrun’s responses, the narrator’s verbal ejaculations mimic their sexual ones in a dissimulated participation mystique, exposing their pathological symptoms while fastidiously distancing himself from their effects: “What a fulfillment, what a satisfaction! How good this was .. . what a god-given gratification, at last! . . . the more violent it became, the greater the frenzy of delight, till the zenith was reached, the crisis, the struggle was overborne, her movement became softer, appeased” (471-72). Juxtaposing latent and manifest motives, the narrator parodies the jouissance he pretends to enjoy, contaminating the sexological language of orgasm (“satisfaction,” “gratification,” “crisis”) with a lethal intention that undermines its overt suggestion of blissful transcendence.
Broadly speaking, the sexological narratives I have just explored posit the verbalization of unconscious desire as the root cause of pathological aberrations. They theatricalize a psychical blocking—the violent coercion of desire through the defiles of the symbolic, which renders it “false.” At the same time, Women in Love engages an alternative mode of desire, radically opposed to the sexological one. Flowing spontaneously out towards its object, true desire eludes repression, displacement, dislocation. It points to an energy not yet tied to a function, nor to predetermined satisfactions and goals. Seized by a force over which they have no control, the lovers ecstatically submit to that force which, as yet, has no language to mark it. But what are the problems for narrative posed by a force which, by definition, has no verbal referent in the real world of the novel?
Because its mystical eroticism places it outside the bounds of Western sexual narratives, “Excurse” is Women in Loves major critical crux. Its marginalization reproduces that marginalization of the mystical, characteristic of sexological and scientific discourse in general19—though with a difference. Women in Love marginalizes the mystical, paradoxically, by bringing it center-stage, making the pivotal episode in the novel the least accessible to sense or signification. Challenging the psychologization of the erotic, “Excurse” also challenges the constructions of sexuality proposed by sexology. Its mysticism takes on the force of a radical dissent from Western sexological orthodoxies. Liberating narrative from its introspective and confessional roots, it risks an experiment in erotic narration which has no real precedent in the English tradition. Critics have thus largely shied away from “Excurse,” confining their analysis to the Gerald/ Gudrun affair or the Birkin/Ursula one before the “Excurse” enactments, displaying the same negative fascination with sexological “decadence” as the main narrative does, reproducing the same strictures and condemnations. While “Excurse’s” depiction of erotic jouissance stretches Western credulity to its absolute limits, its stylistic excess is frequently read as an infraction of style, which provokes censure and ridicule.20
Critical unease and disapprobation may have profounder roots, however, since in embracing an Eastern Ars Erotica, “Excurse” effectively undermines the grounds of its own narratibility. In gesturing towards a reality beyond language and time, it insistently pushes narration to the point of its own dissolution. Working, often extravagantly, against the narrative grain fissures the writing-performance itself. Progressively distancing true desire from its representations creates radical splittings and gaps—between description and action, event and interpretation, words and their referents. In an impossible bind, the narrator (in cahoots with the putative reader) repudiates the very medium (language) that offers access to the truths “Excurse” holds out in the first place.
“Excurse” starts, however, at the first level language, with all the staples of traditional narrative securely in place: flashes of landscape description, brief snatches of dialog, plus the exchange of lovers’ gifts punctuate Birkin and Ursula’s car-ride deep into the countryside. The violent altercation that ensues signals at once a crisis and a denouement. It represents the novel’s last full-blown orchestration of sexological motifs in relation to Birkin and Ursula—a fierce verbal confrontation involving interrogation, confession and the extraction of intimate secrets. Ursula’s ruthless inquisition, her third-degree, on-the-rack tactics expose Birkin’s latent pathologies: both his “obscene and perverse” sublimations and his messianic pretensions to spirituality have their roots in a coprophilic obsession—the unholy trinity of “dirt,” “death,” and “sex” that empowers him. Her aggressive denunciations in turn trigger his abject confession: “No doubt she was right. It was true, really, what she said” (306-09). In exorcising sexological motifs through a terminal show-down, the quarrel inaugurates a new kind of narrative. In place of the traditional bonding between event and response (the very staple of narrative), a new exuberant metaphorics throws both into doubt, as the link between action and rhetoric becomes increasingly fractured and fuzzy.
A theatrical switch in narratorial posture and poise sets the scene— from a harshly judgmental to a deeply empathic narrator, from one who interrogates and unmasks to one who stands frankly in awe—an astonished witness to the quantum leaps he records, but can neither explain nor interpret. A language of biblical witness (“And now, behold”) combines with mystical code-words (“strange,” “magical,” “mystery”)—these occur a dozen times in the space of three pages—to create a hermeneutic fuzziness around the represented events (sexological discourse, by contrast, aims at hermeneutic precision and rigour). Defying rational exegesis, flaunting its own obfuscations, this jouissance, in effect, rudely challenges the reader to reduce it to sense, or to impose coherent sense-making patterns upon it.
Unmotivated ruptures in character representation exacerbate these effects—abrupt leaps from the mundane to the mystical, the personal to the archetypal, the pragmatic to the transcendental. From being a Western sexological subject, conditioned by time, place and circumstance, Birkin, for example, becomes an avatar of the unconditioned, escaping all limited character determinations. In succession, he is a numinous “Son of God” (transfigured before Ursula’s rapturous gaze), and an “Egyptian Pharaoh” (as he drives recklessly towards Sherwood Forest in the late afternoon) (312-13, 318). While such iconographic transfigurations are the stock-in-trade of Eastern Ars Erotica, where every “initiation presupposes passing from one mode of being to another,” and where “the human couple become a divine couple” (Eliade 211, 269), they are profoundly alien to Western novelistic convention. Even modernist texts, like Women in Love (or Ulysses), still construct character around paradigmatic traits, which possess a relative stability, coherence and integrative power. Such leaps, by contrast, strike at the core of sexological narrative, which privileges causal accounting in its transformations, and intimate verbal confession as its prime mode of verification.
An esoteric sexo-mystical physiology further exacerbates these effects— a cartography of erogenous zones that bears at most a tangential relation to those featured in Western sexual narratives.21 An extravagant metaphorics tracks Ursula’s quest for the (anal) source of these perplexing transfigurations. Exploring the base of Birkin’s loins, she releases dark mystical fires, white-hot electric currents, irruptive fountains and floods, which sever the normative (i.e. genital) link between erogenous zones and Western sexual climax. An audacious rewriting of Ars Erotica practice (Yoga, for example, locates the deepest self-transformatory source at the base of the spine) involves a daring revision of sexological themes. What appears from the latter perspective as pathologically anal, exhibiting precisely those traits of exclusiveness and fixation that Freud marks down as perversion (Three Essays 75),22 from the Ars Erotica one becomes the source of a mind-shattering jouissance, as the physiological and the mystical mesh in unprecedented new ways. The paradoxical effect is to paralyse the narrative drive. Gyrating ecstatically round its own numinous center, it becomes mesmerized by the force of its own mystifications (314).
In its need to replace self-expressive verbal communication with “unspeakable communication in touch” (320), “Excurse” pushes Eastern Ars Erotica practice to its logical limit. The state of absolute plenitude to which both lovers accede (“She had her desire fulfilled, he had his desire fulfilled” (320)) drains narrative of its prime motor-force in desire, establishing a silent, subject-less plenum as its most exalted attainment. The narrative impasse such transcendence engenders is nowhere more transparent than in the narrator’s subsequent verbal analysis of this non-verbal state: “How can I say ‘I love you,’ when I have ceased to be, and you have ceased to be, we are both caught up and transcended into a new oneness where everything is silent. .. (the) perfect silence of bliss” (369). In effect, this classic definition of mystical love—the ideal conjunction of opposites— abolishes the basic precondition of narrative: the fusion of two communicating selves into one silent one precludes all narrative negotiation between them.
The subsequent story, of course, does not conform to its own narrative logic, and reduce Birkin and Ursula to silence. Though the “Excurse” enactments are never repeated (this would acknowledge the need for a supplement that the plenitude of “Excurse” repudiates), nevertheless the title itself implicitly concedes the need for a good sexological story or character to get the plot back on track. In the final third of the novel, Loerke fulfills such a function. As a congeries of sexological traits and “perversions,” he is the focus of the final part of the chapter.
In the Barthesian sense, Loerke is less a character than a “proper name” (S/Z 95), a mere nominal unit that magnetically attracts sexological traits. Constituted primarily through the accumulation of others’ malicious ver-diets upon him, he is an overwhelmingly pathological figure. A catalyst for fiercely judgmental assaults (mainly Birkin and Gerald’s) that mix together then-fashionable Western theories of cultural, racial and aesthetic decadence, Loerke is a case-history of all the perversions. His homosexuality (432), his sadism (433), his fetishistic obsession with young girls (432), his regressive anality (“mud-child” (427)), his abject masochism (“subjected being” (427)) offer ceaseless incitements to narratives that diagnose his condition, and to provocative confrontations and conflicts between Gerald and Gudrun, Ursula and Loerke. A metaphorics of the perverse once again unearths fantastic pathologies, and transforms latent desires into manifest symptoms. Birkin, for example, invents a progress down the alimentary canal to diagnose Loerke’s anal fixation: like a real shit, Loerke lives where “the river of corruption . . . falls over into the bottomless pit” (428). For Gerald, Loerke is a monster of oral perversion, who cannibalistically devours women, as a “little dry snake” ingests a bird, “gaping ready to fall down its throat” (454).
Once again, confession exposes the source of these symptoms in a radical absence or lack. Loerke’s abject confession to Gudrun, made against his own better judgment—“(a)ll his nature held him back from confessing. And yet her large, grave eyes upon him seemed to open some valve in his veins, and involuntarily he was telling” (425)—unveils an autobiographical history, rooted in youthful destitution and vagrancy (he begged and stole to find food), which links his aesthetic and sexual decadence to a constitutional dearth or deficiency. Loerke is the proper name for desires that have no fitting objects, and for words that have no settled sense. His elusive mode of communication—“double- meanings . . . evasions . . . suggestive vagueness” (453)—dramatize this perpetual shiftiness: his is a never-ending “foreplay” of meaning that precludes the end-satisfaction of completed sense-making (the analogy is with Freud: perversion is “a lingering over the preparatory acts in the sexual process” (Three Essays 132)).23
Given its intensifying sexological emphasis, it seems entirely appropriate that Women in Love should end in a morgue—the pathologist’s dream-chamber, which translates human lives into case-histories, and living bodies into petrified corpses. As meta-physician and hermeneut, Birkin recomposes Gerald’s life-history retrospectively, unearthing the ultimate cause of his death in a dramatic analogy: his “mute, material body” is an eloquent figure for the fossilized “soul” it contained. Birkin’s terse meditation-introspective, diagnostic, confessional—highlights the same narrative contradiction that dominates the rest of the novel. While his (sexological) analysis of Gerald’s desire, as rooted in inhibition, frustration, repression, usurps by far the greater part of the meditation, his moment of silent transcendence evokes only the briefest of stories—his recall of a mystical instant, never properly realised, when Gerald clutched his hand “with a warm, momentaneous grip of final love,” and then “let it go forever” (477-80).
St Mawr: Theater and Jouissance
While the last chapter explored Lawrence’s deployment of an Eastern Ars Erotica to impugn Western modes of desire, this fourth chapter shifts the venue of the critique: it takes East/West antithetical conceptions of theater as its special concern. It examines how St. Mawr (the unique Lawrence text that dramatizes this clash) exploits Eastern ontologies, incarnated in a natural theatrical space, to mount a satiric attack on (what he saw as) a decadent Western theater, which engages only with social surface and style. For Lou Witt, St. Mawr’s protagonist, Western society is a type of mimetic or self-expressive theater, where characters act out social roles, and mime each others’ behaviour as on a “false” theatrical set. In radical reaction, Lou embraces the vast natural theater of the New Mexican desert—a vibrant “amphitheatrical” space—that unmasks Western cultural pretence, and projects nature itself in its primordial jouissance. An overformalized, acculturated, highly verbalized stage is exchanged for a silent, unscripted force-field that autotelically acts out its own potencies (it performs for itself, not for others), and whose ontological roots lie in Eastern (Indian) conceptions of theatrical action and space. The clash between a tamed social and an untamed natural theater has its source in two violently antagonistic conceptions of what the theater should be.
But what precisely was Lawrence’s stake in the Western theater? How long did his interest last? What caused his volte-face—his sudden repudiation of its conventional norms, and his equally sudden embrace of the East? What precipitated the sea-change? Before approaching St. Mawr, we must search for some answers.
For twelve years (until 1924), Lawrence took the Western theater as normative, and he mounted no serious critique of its codes or conventions. His eight plays all conform to traditional modes, as do his two minor essays on the theater. “The Theatre” (1913), which he wrote in Italy, situates the plays of Ibsen, D’Annuncio, and Shakespeare within a
typical network of Lawrentian polarities—mental/physical, spirit/flesh, north/south—but offer no major revaluations of theatrical norms (Twilight 133-53). His preface to his play Touch and Go (1919) also preserves the status quo: it merely advocates a more expressive theater where “passional” problems replace the artifice of social role-playing (Phoenix 288-93). Apart from these essays, Lawrence makes only occasional comments on the drama, and none at all (until 1924) on the theater as a problematic site of negotiation between literary script and dramatic production. References to Greek tragedy— Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides—in the Study of Thomas Hardy (1914) and in the early letters (Ross 1-19) become sparser, and virtually disappear in the later essays and letters.
Though Keith Sagar has upgraded Lawrence’s plays (154-82), none— with the exception of David (1926), based on a Torah story—breaks with conventional Western theatrical format. Instead, they improvise on well-established and popular genres: The Daughter-in-Law, The Collier’s Friday Night and The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd are naturalistic working class plays, while The Merry-Go-Round, The Married Man and The Fight for Barbara are comedies of manners or plain farce. None of these plays revalues the Western theater in terms of new methods, styles or ontologies. All preserve intact the traditional relationship between spectator and spectacle, script and dramatic performance.
In 1924—the year he wrote St. Mawr— Lawrence mounts for the first time a radical critique of the Western theater as the site of social and cultural meaning. The context is the new cosmic dimension of drama he encountered in the Indian ceremonial dances and songs in New Mexico. In the light of this revelation, the Western theater now appears as a mere place of diversion—an escape from the “sordid trammels of actual existence”—where the trivial inevitably triumphs (Mornings 52-54). Lawrence theorizes this Western theatrical space in terms of a Cartesian split: the spectators—“ideal minds”—look down on their material extensions below, where their “mechanical or earth-bound sel(ves) stutter or rave.” The type of drama performed is irrelevant: this space of pure self-reflexivity where Westerners become “spectators at (their) own show” reduces all drama, whether it be King Lear or The Potters, to one single aim: to be entertained. The thrust of Lawrence’s critique is ontological: the distance between the “Universal Mind” (his use of the term is parodic) and the human minds it controls mirrors the gap between the spectators and their own miniature replicas performing on-stage below (Mornings 52-54).1
To theatricalize Lawrence’s conversion, I shall draw on its double—a celebrated parallel shock-conversion (from West to East) which occurred at much the same time and for much the same reason. When Antonin Artaud encountered the Balinese theater in Paris (1931), he violently repudiated (what he saw as) the cerebral, word-infatuated drama of Racine and Corneille, and embraced a counter-conception of theatrical action out of which his celebrated Theater of Cruelty evolved. Like Lawrence, he too went to Mexico (1936), where the Indian dances and songs as well as the rites of initiation he underwent there revolutionized his theatrical thinking. They enabled him, as Bettina Knapp puts it, “to re-learn, re-seize the relations and foundations” of a new Eastern kind of theater whose principles he formulated in Paris, but whose living forms he saw “blossoming around him” in Mexico (61-62). Lawrence and Artaud’s theorizings show extraordinary affinities. Both reject absolutely the “false” ideology which dominated the European theater for the previous three centuries: both drastically revalue the role of cognitive experience in the dramatic encounter: and both proclaim a revolutionary new theater, which abolishes the prescripted authorized text in favour of preverbal, precultural, prehuman enactments.
Like Lawrence, Artaud defines through negation the basic assumptions that govern the Western theater. It is at best a diversion, where the actors, like “puppets,” ape life. A purely descriptive theater, it merely narrates psychological states—conflicts of a “human, emotional order”— that exclude the darker, non-human dimension of consciousness (4:58,28). The same Cartesian split lies at the root of the problem: since the spectators see only “a mirror of themselves” performing on stage, they, like “Peeping Toms,” spy on the actors to whom they are fetishistically drawn (4:64). Indeed the Lawrentian “Universal Mind” that all art reflects has its Artaudian homolog in the literary script that predates each production, and that determines in advance its form and its telos. Like Lawrence’s, Artaud’s fiercest polemic engages the tyranny of fixed (prescripted) mandates and injunctions—the theater’s “superstition concerning the script and the author’s autocracy” (2:95).
In the Eastern theatrical context, both Lawrence and Artaud encountered performances that deconstructed those dualisms that cleft the Western theater. Just as, for Lawrence, the Indian ceremonial dances provoked a retrospective recognition of the Western theater’s inveterate logocentricity, so too Artaud’s Balinese dancers revealed a prescripted, preauthorized drama where a physical choreography of sounds, gestures and colours evokes a “state prior to language” that symbolic sign-systems repress (4:45).
In the Greeks’ offering of their drama to a god who is at once witness and judge, Lawrence locates the source of those dualisms—author/actor, audience/players, mind/matter—that rive the Western theater (Mornings 56-69). Indian theatrical action, by contrast, shatters Western theatrical norms. Here is a drama without script—“no words”—without the Western dichotomy between spectator and spectacle, without “judgement” (those “enslaved interpreters,” as Jacques Derrida calls them in his essay on Artaud, who convert act into reaction (Writing 235)), and without a god who, like the author/director, supervises the performance that represents him. A polyvalent action/performance explodes both the fine space/ time calculus that binds Western drama to narrative sequence, and the mimetic illusion, endemic to Western theater, that reproduces copies of what others accept as the real. Instead of “presenting something,” this drama is “a soft, subtle being something,” which resists appropriation for social or cultural ends (Mornings 60).
In place of language, these Indian ceremonial dances produce a vast range of non-phonetic sounds—whoopings, gurglings, crowings, howlings— whose semantics remain always ungraspable. Like the “unseizable, subtle rhythm” of the drum, they manifest the “shimmer of creation, and never the finality of the created.” The process of creation may be “beautiful,” but it may also be “deadly” and cruel. Here the “unspeakably lovely friend” and the “unspeakably terrifying enemy” encounter each other, less as symmetrical opposites, as on the Western stage, than as elusive figures of difference within a larger conflictual field. If this cosmic theater has a matrix, it is the “mystic sun” that is “its terrific, terrible crude Source.” As such, it is a macrocosmic theater of chance and necessity, entrancement and cruelty, fascination and danger in which sun, rain and thunder are the gods of a cosmos in which microcosmic man plays his minuscule part. Abolishing the distinction between nature and art merges human beings with those cosmic powers that at once potentiate and destroy them (Mornings 56-62).
Since Artaud, unlike Lawrence, was a professional actor/director, he put these revolutionary ideas into practice in Paris. Though Artaud always speaks of theatrical space, he insistently projects it as a natural space, which erases the stage, highlights action (not character), and liberates those disruptive cosmic energies that mankind contains but represses. Its forms, lights, shapes, sounds and colours rediscover “the powers of nature . . . the instant something fundamental is about to be accomplished” (4:17). No longer detached, voyeuristic, the spectators enmesh themselves in a spectacle that recreates “the essential links between sky, rock, land, sea, gods and men” (Marowitz 184). Speech too dissolves into “action words” (Deleuze 291)—primordial signifiers that trigger semantic shock-effects before these congeal into meaning.
Like Lawrence’s Indian theater, Artaud’s too is a cosmic theater of violence and change, determined by, and subject to, chance.2 Through its revelation of the “inescapably necessary pain without which life could not continue” (4:78), it releases powers which, like life itself, may be dangerous, dark and malevolent. In place of the Western benevolent author-creator, who prescribes and directs his own play of creation, this theater stages an unpredictable “hidden god,” who obeys only the “cruel need for creation imposed on him” (4:78). Indeed Artaud’s dream of a non-hu-man, non-derived, non-verbal energy has a close analog in those primordial upspringings, the “first dark rays” or “messengers” that (as we saw) attend the birth of Lawrentian language. Eluding the menace of mimesis, they also elude the kind of mechanical repetition that, for both Lawrence and Artaud, denatures the Western theater, where spectators see only their own doubles on stage, and each production involves only the return of the same. In the Indian theater’s relentless becoming, by contrast, difference is the privileged mode. Since it never repeats actions or sounds in quite the same way (4:56), it stages each particular show for the first time, and thus pre-empts fixed responses. Here lies its soteriological power: shattering pre-established conventions, this theater deconstructs the spectator’s own attitudes, uproots settled assumptions, and unleashes new dynamic ways of being-in-the-world.3
At this stage, the reader may well ask: what precisely is the point of this circuitous approach to St.Mawr? In effect, its purpose is twofold. It sets the scene for a demonstration that the celebrated landscape that draws Lou like a magnet at the end of St. Mawr has a powerful analog in those Indian “natural” spectaculars, as Lawrence and Artaud define them. The New Mexican desert projects a theatrical space in which natural formations—mountains, mists, thunder and lightning—usurp the role of the actors. Because it never repeats its own actions, it manifests the original beauty and “cruelty . . . coiled in the very beginnings of all things” (Mornings 89). Since its force and its form are identical, it abolishes the dichotomy between nature and art, and thus erases the names both of Western man, and of the logos-god who authorizes his texts.
At the same time, the worlds of London and Shropshire (from which Lou makes her break) are also structured as theatrical sites but ones defined by their lack of all that this “total theater” possesses. As a paradigm of the “false (social) theater,” vilified by Lawrence and Artaud, it trades only in surface pastiche, in verbal cliches and stereotypes, social manners and mannerisms. Its characters are case-histories of repression and sublimation. It represents the emasculation—or “perversion” (Artaud’s term)— of the Eastern theater, which, however, like a palimpsest, glimmers faintly beneath its counterfeit forms. My reading turns on a radical shift in theatrical paradigms: from a soft, Western theater of pretence, prestige, selfabsorption—those scenes set in London and Shropshire—to a hard, primordial stage where the energies repressed in the first are restored and transvalued in all their cruel and implacable power.
Discussions of St. Mawr seldom associate the novella with the theater, or read it as a type of theatrical metaphor. As a cultural institution, the theater plays no role in the text. There are no scenes set in the theater, nor do the characters visit it which, given their fashionable London milieu and art-interests, they might be expected to do. Indeed the sole explicit reference to the theater occurs in a context that disavows it as a model of how things should be. At the end of the description celebrating the hypnotic beauty of the New Mexican landscape (145-46), the narrator quickly cuts in to assure us that there is nothing “grandiose or theatrical” about the great desert scenario. The sheer pretence (“grandiose”) of the Western theater is a mere spectral image of its more positive and glamorous counterpart whose “beauty absolute” he will shortly describe.
Yet, as Margot Norris perceptively notes, Lawrence generally projects the social realm as mimetic theater—“a tableau vivant, a charade, with houses and meubles as theatrical props” (18)—an insight that is especially true of St. Mawr. As a privileged metaphor, the theater determines the shape of the London and Shropshire scenarios—their design, the characters’ life- styles, as well as their social masquerades of desire. Indeed the characters behave just like Western actors conventionally do, dressing flamboyantly, fetishistically obsessed with each other’s appearance, modulating their behavior to reflect the gaze of the others who in turn imitate them. Each central episode is staged as a public spectacle, enacted by self-conscious actors under the merciless eye of an ironic narrator/director, who goads, admonishes, and frequently terrorizes his actors. Lawrence’s comments in “Democracy” pinpoint the source of this narratorial contempt and disdain: “(c)reated from (their) own Logos,” such amateur actors are mere self-inventions, “born out of (their) own head(s)” (Phoenix 711). Existing wholly at the first level of language, as I defined it, locked into performative roles, victimized by a social chit-chat that betrays what they lack, their potential for self-transformation (the crucial Lawrentian criterion) is zero. They exemplify performativity, as the inscription of cultural codes from without on the body, as opposed to the Lawrentian notion of pre-codified energies springing up from within.
For Mrs. Witt, all their behavior, including her own, is already prescripted, encoded in obedience to cultural laws that determine its content and expression. Her perception of her own life as a sequence of “newspaper remarks” projects life itself as a mimetic theater, which repeats the sayings of others, and which is regulated by fixed linguistic precepts and codes (93). This “debased” social charade has its analog in the “false” theater, where “displays of closed, conceited, personal art” (Artaud 4:60) subjugate preverbal energies to trivial texts, and the body to already codified gestures and forms.
A showy performative prose (it apes its characters’ style) stages a sequence of tableaux vivants set in London and Shropshire, visual in composition, verbal in mediation, and insistently personal and petty in their assessments and judgments. From the start, a first-level language of surface pastiche—of “posing,” “playing at,” and “performing charades”— dominates each performance (21-24). Like the classic realist plot it resembles, each staged set-piece has its beginning, its middle and its dramatic denouement among which the first is the paradigm. Here, Mrs. Witt, led on-stage on her horse by the narrator/director (“behold Mrs. Witt in splendidly tailored habit and perfect boots” (25))—materializes before her doubles in the Hyde Park parade, who themselves are frozen in roles that subjugate life to social play-acting (the “tight mamas,” for example, “who looked as if they were going to pour tea between the ears of their horses” (26)). Reconstructed next morning as text—in the “society columns” of the newspapers—the scene is the pretext for further verbal narratives that mimic the source that produced them. In this “frozen world, with players frozen in gestures that (are) no longer any use to them” (Artaud’s view of the contemporary Western theater (4:61))—such public theatrical rituals reach their evolutionary dead-ends. In the culminating “little display,” Rico loses control of St. Mawr, and, as a grand finale, is rescued by a policeman. Indeed, the final words—“(w)here ended the first fiasco of St. Mawr”— most resembles a brusque stage-direction—a curtain drawn across a farcical self-exhibition, now best forgotten (39-40).
Rico’s portrait painting unmasks a parallel complicity between artist and actor, representation and repetition, art object and dead-end. His conventional images are already a response to a mimetic view of the world, and to how others think he should paint. Just as for Lawrence and Artaud, the “false (Western) theater” is a mere projection of “actual doubles arising from writing” (4:55), so too, for Lou, Rico merely paints “life-like apples on the trees” in an orchard where real apples abound (114). Indeed Lou writes off Rico’s paintings as exhausted charades that mime the fixed visual forms that predate them—where “every possible daub that can be daubed has already been done” (117). Through a kind of unconscious contagion, she parodies Rico’s painterly style in the literary style of the letters she writes to her mother: their gossipy content, their stagey prose-style detail Rico’s theatrical “props” —his elaborate costume changes, and modulations of voice and expression: they ape precisely the theater of artifice she elsewhere excoriates (113-19).
Shropshire village life—“staged complete” for Mrs. Witt (43)—represents a debased kind of pastoral drama—an ostentatious bucolic charade with the locals behaving like actors on set. Only Lewis and Phoenix—the two “fourth dimensional” types—repudiate theatrical roles (except under duress, when Mrs. Witt, like an exhibitionist actor, who mesmerizes her muted spectators, costumes herself to cut Lewis’s hair, and then divests herself of her regalia when the performance is done (56-58)). In the dialogic exchanges between Lou, Mrs. Witt and the Vyners, language ventriloquizes itself, the speakers echoing one another’s exhausted cliches as on a theatrical set. The analog the text draws is with those “clever men . . . knitting and crocheting words together” (61) until they become the scripts that represent them. Lou’s frightening awareness of her “irreducible secondarity”—Derrida’s phrase (Writing 178)—makes her appear to herself as the last of an enervated generation whose ancestors have used “all the life up” (74). If, in this society, as Mrs. Witt puts it, “hardly anybody really dies” (92), it is because it views dying itself as a theatrical act, the final spectacular exit that rounds the life-drama off. The sheer artifice of dying neutralizes death as a dangerous and disruptive event. Indeed for Lawrence and Artaud, contemporary society is already post-mortem: just as in Artaud’s theater of psychological sadism, people carve up each other’s corpses in a travesty of “essential” theatrical cruelty (4:60), so too, for Lou, life itself is a vast “vivisection” theater—a world-laboratory where human beings gleefully dissect and dismember each other (44).
Derrida once remarked that the “menace of repetition” is nowhere more highly organized than in the Western theater (Writing 247), where each performance reproduces the same framed fragment of drama as long as the spectators demand it. The apocalyptic “vision of evil” that overwhelms Lou (as she rides off to fetch brandy after Rico has been thrown from St. Mawr) theatricalizes this menace, exploiting metaphors of an unbridled doubling—the uncontrolled and uncontrollable proliferation of identical forms. Multiplying shapes without difference—“production heaped upon production”—accumulate until “existence is swollen with horror.” Troped as a gigantic theatrical set, the human world ceaselessly reproduces the same tawdry performance with progressively large casts of actors. Lawrence’s resolution is as grandly theatrical as the disease it denounces: only the “living thing, which destroys as it goes”—the Nietzschean “joy in destruction”—can rupture the chain, explode the production, and restore the “joy of becoming” (Twilight 110). An eschatological theater of violent destruction alone can halt the propagation of theatrical clones (80).
If this “false” theatrical world consumes language voraciously to reproduce its own image, its language in turn is consumed by the narrator’s irony that viciously corrodes and dissolves it. The London/Shropshire scenarios are, in effect, desiccated semantic spaces, which destroy meaning at the same moment they seem to produce it. Insistently linguistic, narratorial irony strikes both at the anthropomorphic foundations of meaning, and at a prescripted theatrical speech that self-destructs in its own act of enunciation. In the Barthesian manner, irony functions through the quotation of other codes as quotations (S/Z 44-45), less (as in classical irony) to distance the narrator from the objects of his distaste than to annihilate the “degenerate” first level language that confers being and distinction on Rico, the Vyners and the Manbys. Through a parodic “skaz” (Fleishman 169-72), the narrator annexes the characters’ language—the modish slang, the cosmopolitan reference, the theatrical jargon—perversely to put it on show as a target it attacks and disfigures.4 Such linguistic disfigurement is complicit with the novella’s pervasive theme of castration—the cut that severs signifier from signified, being from becoming, body from life-force, and that (in this case) reduces the communication between the characters to a form of theatrical noise.
The “fourth dimension” St. Mawr inhabits is the sole site that escapes the ravages of ironic reduction. Its intercalation between these self-destructing parodies heightens the figurative glamour that attends these “horsey” descriptions. Instead of representing something, they aim at being something—the unmediated “truth” of a silent primordial epoch of vast image-formations before human sign-systems took over. There the horses “moved in a prehistoric twilight where all things loomed phantasmagoric, all on one plane, sudden presences suddenly jutting out of the matrix. It was another world, an older, heavily potent world” (35). Precisely because the horse predates the symbolic social castration of which Rico is exemplar and victim, it reigns “supreme . . . unsurpassed” (35).
Thus far my discussion has marked—without naming—the points at which a number of Western theatrical modes intersect. Like the theater of psychological cruelty—of personal spite and vindictiveness—which I have named, they are all defined by the absence of traits the Eastern (Indian) theater possesses. The London/Shropshire scenarios are thus theaters of the absurd where social effigies act out, without self-recognition, the drama of their own emasculation. They are also theaters of alienation: through successive disidentifications, Lou penetrates through appearances, sheds her social accoutrements, makes radical choices, seeing through the illusions that support the whole showy facade. In sum, a Western theater of “false” desire, rooted in repression and sublimation, in public decorum and private neurosis, has its source in the ontological lack these scenes cruelly expose—the “mean cruelty of Mrs. Vyner’s humanitarianism, the barren cruelty of Flora Manby, the eunuch cruelty of Rico” (96). By contrast, the New Mexican landscape towards which Lou gravitates represents an authentic Eastern theater—a vast natural spectacular, unmediated by language, resistant to human appropriation, whose vital source is the upspringing life-force itself.
In a retrospective essay (1928) on the “greatness” of the New Mexican landscape, Lawrence recalls “the vast amphitheatre of lofty, indomitable desert” where the light arches “with a royalty almost cruel over the hollow, uptilted world” (Phoenix 143). My emphases underscore the degree to which he conceived of this scene as theatrical space—though the narrator of St. Mawr disavowed it—not, however, as a realistic Western stage-set, but as a cosmic arena, which performs unobserved its own silent rituals before the concept of a theater took hold of the Western imagination. Because it is not conjured up in the brain of an author, this theater exists in “nature itself, in real space.”5
St. Mawr’s celebrated description of this cosmic arena breaks radically with anthropocentric conceptions that institutionalize nature as a kind of aesthetic spectacle that keeps unspoiled beauty intact, and that installs the human spectator as the self-conscious mediator between external scene and internal response—the privileged interpreter of the whole sublime scene that confronts him/her. The untamed New Mexican wilderness frustrates its appropriation as a mirror of human emotional states. Because the description “(paints) out . . . humanness,”6 it deconstructs the self-reflexive Western genre of nature description that confronts the spectator with an image of his own idealized aspirations. In so doing, it undoes one of the classic binaries, endemic to the genre, that associates surface with movement, and depth with stillness: this “deep” natural spectacular, by contrast, is ceaselessly mobile, while its surfacy London/Shropshire counterpart is rigidly fixed. As such, it connects up with Lawrence’s “total (Eastern) theater” at three significant points, which I shall now summarize.
First, the New Mexican landscape is an index of an absolute determinism, a stark submission to fate that precludes evasion or shirking (the Western theater, by contrast, trades in fantasies of escape to alternative worlds): its menacing energies are rooted in cruelty, danger and death. Second, this vast “circling landscape” lives out its own autotelic existence, indifferent to human response—“unsullied and unconcerned . . . sumptuous and uncaring,” as if “(m)an did not exist for it” (146). The third point makes explicit the onto-theological implications, implicit in the first two: a fierce atavistic god—the divine who exists prior to (and after) human attempts to conceptualize him have failed—energizes this feral amphitheater, usurping the role of the Western benevolent deity whose tamed, symbolic “book of nature” the represented world is. To take the first point first.
Artaud once compared his “total theatre” to the plague, not only as an overwhelming image of inescapable doom, but also because it externalizes “a latent current of cruelty” (4:19) that returns the mind to its darkest, primordial powers. It is exactly in this sense of a “laceration” where “everything in creation rises up and attacks our condition as created being” (Artaud 4:71) that, for the New England wife, the landscape harbours a “sickness . . . some mysterious malevolence fighting against the will of man.” Like the plague itself, it first intensifies her energy to the point of “delirium,” before it robs her of her perception, her concentration, and finally her speech: “And she sat blank, stuttering, staring in the empty cupboard of her mind, like Mother Hubbard, and seeing the cupboard bare” (143-47): no one can view this landscape without being caught up, permeated and then hypnotized by the frenzied force it unleashes (one may read this aphasia as the subversion of language this “total theatre” produces—the dissolution (especially) of the spectator/spectacle split that, for Lawrence, rives the Western theater). Immersed in this harrowing pageant, the New England wife feels an “invisible attack was being made upon her” (147). “Encircled and furrowed” by “absolute danger” (Artaud’s terms: 4:73-74), she submits to her fate once the barriers of civilization are down.
In this “seething conflict,” plants, insects, birds, animals—the great chain of being—exist autotelically, “like warrior(s) in war-paint,” each species feeding cannibalistically off the lives of the others (148-50). Amid this “curious tussle of wild life,” human beings are mere duplicitous language producers, using words to mask the real “horror” of the reality they desire to exclude. Just as, for example, the name “columbine” camouflages the “fierce” assertiveness of that small scarlet flower, so too the New England wife’s declaration—“I have tamed the water of the mountains to my service”—imposes a superficial domestic decorum on an organized anarchy that soon infiltrates and destroys it (147-48).
Roland Barthes remarks (second point) that the sealed-in, institutionalized social theater cannot have the same image-repertoire as the open-air one, where unpredictable gradations of light, sound and movement—the “complex polyphony of the open air”—makes each performance unique: while one escapes from the real in the first, one participates in the real in the second (Responsibility 79). The New Mexican landscape orchestrates the “polyphonic” in exactly this way. Abolishing the constricting frames of Western theatrical space, its voluminous forms expand on all possible levels—distance, height, depth, intensity—and natural desert formations usurp the roles of the actors: as such, it radically deconstructs the space/ time parameters of the Western theater. Just as the space of the desert unfolds out of its own cyclical movements, so too the time of the desert unfolds as the effect of this natural momentum instead of as an abstract chronology (scenes, acts, intermissions) imposed from without. Indeed the return of each day deconstructs repetition itself, since what is repeated is not something that exists prior to the return (like the Western theatrical script), but the unpredictable difference that divides one day’s performance from the next—“the vast, eagle-like wheeling of the daylight, that turned as the eagles which lived in the near rocks turned overhead in the blue” (145). As in the “total (Eastern) theater,” this incessant repetition paradoxically never repeats itself.
Because these celebrated landscape descriptions create the illusion of an unscripted, natural performance, critics generally repeat the value-assessments—“great,” “splendid,” “sumptuous” (146)—that the narrator himself imposes.7 No comprehensive model or metaphor has emerged to integrate the description into the wider contexts and concerns of the text. It remains in sublime isolation as etude d’execution transcendante in the genre of nature description. The “total theater,” however, proffers just such a model, one that incorporates the shift from a soft psychological theater (London/Shropshire) to a harsh ontological stage, from an art with works (Rico’s paintings) to one without works (the desert produces nothing), from static vignettes that narrate to a mobile milieu that enacts, and from a language of surface communication to atavistic visual images that need no pre-text to validate them. Instead of representing something, this “great circling landscape” is a “subtle being something”—enacting the same “shimmer of creation” that Lawrence found in the Indian ceremonial dances and rituals.
Like a primeval amphitheater, the desert is enclosed by mountain chains that define its parameters, stretching from the “near corner,” to the “middle distance,” on to the “blue crests” that mark its outermost bounds. The first paragraph (“Ah, that was beauty!—perhaps the most beautiful thing in the world”) evokes a theater of kaleidoscopic lighting effects. This forever “revolving show” extends its visual “outbursts” on all sides: everything moves in gigantic cycles—wheeling, gyrating, whirling, like the Indian dancers—in pulsating explosions of light. Each scene alters with the altering light, from the “vast turn upon the desert” that inaugurates each day’s spectacular to the “shallow cauldron of simmering darkness” that rounds each day off. The dawn radiance in turn—“floating in shallow light below, like a vision”—recreates each diurnal light-cycle. Like the Eastern theater, these scenes hover uncertainly between dream and event—between oneiric tremors of light, and violent outbursts and conflagrations (145-46).
The second paragraph (“Ah: it was beauty, beauty absolute, at any hour of the day”) celebrates a theater of protean forms where, instead of actors, great blocks of action burst forth, as if “hewn out of space before our eyes” (Artaud 4:44). In discontinuous sequence, strange hallucinatory shapes cross the stage: first, “tall leaning pillars of dust,” like “pillars of cloud by day” shuffle with “ghostly haste” across the great desert proscenium: next, a “whole sea ... of solid mist,” rolling below, like a vast theatrical backcloth, blots out the visible world. The denouement is appropriately apocalyptic: black rain, lightning, and a “blinding white” world send the solitary spectator scurrying for shelter under the pine-trees, in terror of “the vast, white, back-beating light” (146).
If, as Derrida remarks, the “total theater” expulses God from the stage (third point), it is less to proclaim the death of God than to create a non-theological space that eradicates both the author-creator and his “enslaved” entourage of critics. Since the conception of an ever-loving God— the paternal figure of Western theology—corrupts the divine (both Lawrence and Artaud agree on this), a fresh epiphany of the divine within danger and cruelty must occur. As such, the Eastern theater dismantles precisely those narratives of care and concern, centered on a benign father-logos (Derrida Writing 179, 235).
It is exactly such consoling narratives, based on love and solicitude that the New England wife “with cynical certainty” comes to reject. Her eschatological epiphany turns on an event and a sign, as the “rivers of fluid fire that suddenly fell out of the sky” produce an ominous mark—the “perfect scar” on the elegant pine-tree that the lightning sears. In this monstrous wound, she reads the subversion of all universal stories of love and commitment as well as the particular historical one centered on Jesus: “What nonsense about Jesus and a God of Love, in a place like this!” From the domesticated, highly verbalized logos of the Western tradition, she converts to a cruel, feral God whose manifestation this untamed wilderness is: “There is no Almighty loving God. The God there is shaggy as the pine-trees, and horrible as the lightning” (146-48). As Lou’s prototype, she thus revalues the concept of sacrality just as radically as Lou does when she chooses the savage desert as her “temple” in place of a refined and sophisticated urban milieu.
Artaud draws a distinction between (Western) church and (Eastern) temple that throws light on Lou’s spectacular choice. Like the metaphysical and narrative drama whose form it reflects, the church is classically verbal in orientation, repetitive in its rituals, and with a fixed core of immutable dogma: it proclaims the hegemony of the word, both as its source and its means of communication. By contrast, the temple’s arcane and mysterious drama resists subsumption into stories of a benign and benevolent deity (Konrad 328-30). Its drama is “cruel” in its revelation of the necessary pain without which life could not proceed, whose repression generates those ameliorative Western narratives of goodness and mercy, which mask the truth of things as they really are.
Lou’s withdrawal from socially prescripted Western roles—as lover, mistress, wife—enacts her rite of initiation into the silent, unscripted space of the New Mexican desert: “I want my temple and my lonliness and my Apollo mystery of the inner fire” (139). In an exotic strip-tease, she strips away her “outer layers” to expose the “successive inner sanctuaries of herself” (139-40). This strange convergence of theatrical and sexual senses enacts a strategic reversal: in contrast to the Western theater whose curtain veils a secret it will later uncover, this Eastern temple intensifies the mystery as each successive layer is peeled off. It establishes Lou in a new kind of theatrical role, as prescripted performance gives way to aleatory play, and the spectatorial gaze from without translates into the numinous vision within.8
Like Women in Love, St. Mawr mounts a swingeing critique of Western modes of desire, though the latter’s resolution is much more extreme
St. Mawr: Theater and Jouissance
than the former’s (Birkin and Ursula, after all, get married, remain in England, and live in a house). Because both the novel and novella resuscitate a primordial “wisdom” the West has renounced, both encounter a parallel impasse: the depiction of pristine, non-verbal states through verbal devices. Yet St. Mawr's descriptions of the New Mexican desert seem more successful than the comparable jouissance scenes in “Excurse.” Why? Because the latter records specifically human self-transformations, its rhetoric is far in excess of the events it describes: because it is so alien to the human context in which it occurs, its jouissance is “pretentious,” overdone. In St. Mawr, by contrast, a jouissance rooted in nonhuman nature (the New Mexican desert) requires no inflated rhetoric to justify it. In a near-perfect synthesis, language and landscape, figure and force subtlety mesh with each other, generating the illusion of an absolute fit. Neither element needs a rhetorical boost or enhancement: each validates the other by simply being there.
In Section Two, I explore three major erotic scenarios— Women in Love (Chapter Six), The Plumed Serpent (Chapter Seven) and Lady Chatterley’s Lover(Chapter Eight)—which daringly reinvent Eastern sexual theory and practice. Potent Yogic subtexts indicate how profane desire fuels sacred liberation, and how desire itself is the source of enlightenment. As a necessary preamble (Chapter Five), I track the stages of Lawrence’s deepening involvement with Yoga—its radical difference from Western conceptions of self-transformation, its challenge to Western interpretation, as well as the contradictory (Lawrentian) narrative needs it fulfils.
The trajectory of Lawrence’s encounter with Yoga differs radically from that with Buddhism, whose complex dynamics 1 explored in Chapter One. While the latter resembles a compulsive quest—with its erratic chronologies, its heatings and coolings, its tentative commitments and abrupt standoffs, all climaxing in a moment of truth (Ceylon)—the former is a once-for-all engagement, a love-at-first-sight affair that never waned, despite certain fractious and petulant interludes. The fascination with Yogic ontologies that seized Lawrence between 1916 and 1919 remained a staple of his “pollyanalytics” until his death in 1930. He adapted the Yogic conception of the seven somatic centers of energy (the chakras) as the basis for his interpretation of psychic dynamics, both in the individual evolution to maturity, and in the general attunement of terrestrial and cosmic spheres of existence. His fusion of micro- and macrocosmic imaginaires allowed him to interpret one in terms of the other.
Though Theosophists like Helena Blavatsky, James M. Pryse and Annie Besant are the sole certain sources of Lawrence’s knowledge of Yoga, it seems he read widely, if eclectically, in a subject that made a strong impact on post-war English society.1 His fascination centered on the somatic basis for psychical transformation—for transmuting false into true desire. In Tantric Yoga, in particular, sexual pleasure may be a sign-post, not a blinder, on the path to transcendence. He subsequently deployed Yogic typologies to rebuff “scientific” or mechanical theories of libidinal growth and development (Freud was his special bete noire). His fascination, however, was not just theoretical: he was also intrigued by certain (Tantric) Yoga techniques which, instead of rejecting desire, used it as a catalyst for self-liberation (Chapters Six and Seven explore his novelistic reinventions of these techniques). Instead of leaving the body behind, transcendence frees it from the “fetters” of false desire.
As with Buddhism, Lawrence had profound reservations about Yoga’s mode of engaging the world. First, its sharply ascetic orientation—its insistent downgrading of physical existence as well as its association of orgasm with a loss of vitality—ran counter to his intensifying sense of embodiment as a unique human privilege. Second, its prolonged meditative disciplines induced (what he saw as) a mental passivity, a narcissistic self-absorption that blocks spontaneous impulse, and anaesthetizes perception. Instead of awakening the body, meditation puts it to sleep. Third, Yoga associated enlightenment with a strong movement upward—from the base of the spine to the top of the head, where a luminous transcendence takes place—a movement that Lawrence habitually deconstructed, reversed. For him, transcendence has its real source below, not above.
But what exactly are these psychic centers of energy that wove a spell of enchantment over Lawrence from his first encounter (1916), through Studies in Classic American Literature (1918) (where they form the basis for a new kind of psychological and structural critique of the American novel), Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and Fantasia of the Unconscious (1921-22) on to his last book, Apocalypse (1929)? Yogic theory, whose original source is the Vedantic texts (the Upanishads), was first systematized in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and expounded subsequently in innumerable less systematic treatises.2 In England, Blavatsky, Besant and Pryse adapted this theory to theosophical doctrine, and John Woodroffe (an English professor at Calcutta University) produced the first detailed scholarly exposition of chakra-dynamics in the Tantra of the Great Liberation (London: 1913) and The Serpent Power (London: 1919).3 Characteristically, Lawrence never studied the theory systematically, and his grasp of detail remained always impressionistic.
What he did know, however, was that the seven principal chakras, as these writers expound them, lie along a vertical axis, stretching from the base of the spine between the anus and genitals (the root or earth chakra, crucial to Lawrence’s erotic reinventions of Yoga), upwards through the genitals, navel and heart (the four primary chakras) to the throat and head (the three “higher” chakras). Through ritual initiation, the acolyte draws the root-force (kundalini), dormant in the earth chakra, upwards along the vertebral column, each chakra emitting a high-voltage charge (Lawrence shares this “electric” tropology with contemporary Yogic expositors, especially Woodroffe, to designate the explosive charge each awakened chakra emits).4 As Pryse puts it, this upward dynamic arouses the “creative and regenerative forces” that transmute human into “divine being”—the new “spiritual body . . . sustained by cosmic . . . forces” (8-9,215). While
Lawrence, for the most part, rejects such terms as “divine” and “spiritual” as already tainted with the transcendental idealism with which he identifies Plato, Jesus and the Buddha, he enthusiastically embraced notions of individual self-transformation, especially through micro/macrocosmic homologies—cosmological conceptions that identify human and heavenly bodies (stars, suns, planets), and that offer ultimate, rather than pragmatic, explanations of how life should be lived. In this view, the body is a receptive, constantly altering organism, transmuting itself in response to vaster cosmic transmissions to which it attunes its antennae (the chakras). Lawrence, in effect, chooses an Eastern rather than a Western conception of how the body regulates and disseminates its libidinal energies.
But what was the appeal of such a radically non-Western ontology? First, Yoga mythologizes the body, positing it, not as a mechanical or psychological force-field, but as a switch-point for larger non-human powers that traverse and transform it. Yoga thus dismantles (what Lawrence saw as) those oppressive “anthropomorphisms” with which the Greeks burdened all cosmic conceptions (Apocalypse 115). Differential intersections of energy in ceaseless transition and change, the chakras are never static, except when dormant or dead. Since no one chakra is absolute, each one is a product of the play of the others, and of the vaster powers that potentiate them. Situating the body “breast to breast” with the cosmos (Apocalypse 130) generates a “marvellous release . . . the whole man is set free, once the imagination crosses the border” into celestial space, and the “prisoned self” comes forth “to live in this world” (Phoenix 293).5'The effects are at once therapeutic and soteriological: it makes one “feel stronger and happier,” expanding the range of the self, generating “an extension of . . . being” that opens out into the universe: “I become big and glittering and vast with a sumptuous vastness. I am the Macrocosm, and it is wonderful” (Phoenix 293). While, therapeutically speaking, this may be merely a technique for cheering oneself up through a less than subtle form of self-aggrandization, it offers Lawrence an alternative to (what he saw as) a blinkered empirical vision, which shuts down on the universe, and on man’s particular place in it. (Its nearest Eastern equivalent may be the fifth and sixth Buddhist levels of meditation: the spheres of “infinite space” and of “infinite consciousness”).
Second, Yoga offered a sophisticated ontology through which to subvert the formal orthodoxies of Western psychology. The notion of the body as an indispensable organ of cosmic contact, incessantly transforming itself in response to more expansive, all-encompassing forces offers a radical alternative to psychoanalysis for which the body is a self-enclosed, self-regulating machine with its own internal checks and controls. Lawrence deployed Yoga as a weapon to attack the notion (which he wrongly attributes to Freud) that the unconscious is completely open to linguistic appropriation, and can thus be mastered by transforming its effects into the most significant of all its end-products—language. Indeed Yoga’s insistence on process—dynamic interaction and change—is a foil to Western obsessions with destinations, closures and endings. Chakra-dynamics shatter (what Lawrence calls) the “flesh-and-blood-and-iron substantiation of (the) uttered world” (Phoenix 705), and project a more open and variable, more unknown and uncanny universe than the one empirical perception constructs.
Finally, Yoga shares the Lawrentian notion that language first emerges as non-verbalized sound-substance, which takes on clearer articulation on its upward path through the chakras. Words, which first crystallize as “particular rhythm(s) or vibration(s) in the psychosomatic structure of consciousness” (Coward 64), generate a corresponding psychic awareness in the shape of direct sense-perception.6 Through the differential play of sound-substances, discriminating sign-systems emerge, subject to sequence and succession, spacing and temporalization, before they settle into fixed patterns of meaning. For Lawrence, this pre-jelling phase projects the “breath of poetry” itself—“the moment of (its) inception in the soul, before the germs of the known and the unknown have fused to begin a new body of concepts” (Phoenix 259). Poetic language is thus less an established system of signifieds than a mobile concatenation of signifiers on their way to signification.
But is it possible to chart the specific stages of Lawrence’s assimilation of Yogic ideas? There seem to be three well-defined phases, each extending the range of its predecessors, taking new understandings on board. We can take each phase in turn.
In the first (1916-19), the Theosophists (Blavatsky, Besant, Pryse, along with a host of unrecorded others) teach him the basic chakra system—with its soteriological promise of self-transformation, and of unconditioned existence in this life outside space and time. He chaffs, however, at the Theosophists’ coy refusal to come clean—to make the physiological (i.e. sexual) basis of the system explicit: “The devils won’t tell one anything, fully,” but they prudishly censor the “physical—physiological—interpretations of the esoteric doctrine—the chakras and dualism in experience” (Letters III 150). While Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, for example, discusses the soteriological powers of the chakras, it draws back from revealing either their somatic sites or the specific techniques used to activate them. Pryse is slightly more forthcoming, specifying the “sacral ganglion” (anal zone) as the site of the root chakra, and the prostatic ganglion as the genital site of the second. Thereafter, he tracks the path of the remaining five chakras, up to the “highest” one—the pineal body, site of the “third eye” (37-38). Like Blavatsky, Pryse too draws a sharp, wholly conventional, distinction between the lowest and highest centers. Concentrating the “lower forces of (man’s) animal nature,” the former are always “cruelly destructive and never regenerative:” there, sexual passion produces the illusion of a permanent self, and those dangerous attachments to self that are its corollary. As the site of pure vision—the “lofty consciousness of the seer”—the latter, by contrast, transmute “base” desire into enlightened states of awareness. In Pryse’s ascetic typology, the “violent shock” of the passage from one to the other eradicates desire, and puts the “third eye” in its place (21-24). Rejecting such hard-line ascesis, Lawrence affirms true desire as both the substance and fuel of awakening.
After railing at the Theosophists for their obscurity, however, Lawrence mysteriously adds: “yet one can gather enough” (Letters III 150)—enough, that is, to write in 1917 the Yogic sex-scenes in “Excurse,” which transform Pryse’s “sacral ganglion”—the source of false “visions” and a debased sort of “eroticism” (51)—into “the darkest, deepest, strangest life-source of the human body, at the back and base of the loins” (Women 314) (I shall discuss these sex-scenes in depth in Chapter Six). The anal zone, Lawrence asserts, is the source of self-transfiguring desire, and not the phallus, as Western sexology claimed.
In effect, Lawrence had discovered the central “secrets,” not of ascetic Yoga, but of the type known as Tantrism, which asserts “the identity of passions and awakening at the level of ultimate truth . . . the blue lotus (of enlightenment) grows in the mud and manure” (Faure Red 47-48). Tantrism sanctifies precisely those despised physical and sexual elements that conventional morality repudiates. But there is a more prosaic mystery here. Why was Lawrence in 1917 so anxious to discover the physiological (sexual) basis of Yoga when such knowledge was already freely available in a widely-read book—John Woodroffe’s translation of the Tantra of the Great Liberation, published in 1913 in London by Luzac and Company? In this book, and in The Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga, also published by Luzac in London (in 1919), Woodroffe expounds, in often mind-numbing detail, precisely those physiological “secrets” that the Theosophists withheld, and that Lawrence ardently desired to discover. To demonstrate Yoga’s conformity with Western scientific and philosophical thought, Woodroffe explains the similarities (and differences) between the Tantric “nervous system,” and the “Western anatomy and physiology” of the central and sympathetic nervous systems—what he calls the “Physiological side” of the chakras. Even at the physical level, the chakras correlate closely with the “principal nerve plexuses and organs” (Serpent 103, 115). Already in 1913, Woodroffe’s Tantra of the Great Liberation is quite explicit about anatomical locations. While the root (muladara) chakra lies between “the sexual organ and the anus,” and is thus the “earth” source of “supreme bliss,” the second (svadhisthana) lies at “the base of the sexual organ.” Thereafter Woodroffe offers a detailed exposition of the location, symbolism, iconography and soteriological powers of the remaining five chakras (Tantra LVII-LXV). When, however, he comes to describing the celebrated Tantric ritual intercourse (maithuna), Woodroffe becomes coyly euphemistic though his meaning is clear: maithuna represents “the bliss of liberation . . . achieved by making every human function, without exception, a religious act of sacrifice and worship.” It thus substantiates the Tantric claim to give “enjoyment in this and the next world,” and to endow the desires of the body with “cosmic significance” (Serpent 290-93). Instead of repudiating desire, Tantrism “sanctifies” it (removes its “defilements”) in exactly the manner that Lawrence thought that sexual passion should do. “Gathering enough” plainly implies that he had picked up such knowledge, if not from Woodroffe’s bulky and ponderous books, then from friends who shared his Yogic and Buddhist concerns.
Fantasia of the Unconscious and Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (1921-22) represent the second stage of Lawrence’s reinvention of Yoga which, as we noted in the Introduction, now takes pride of place among “influences” on his thought (6). Psychologizing the chakras, these obsessively anti-Freudian texts chart alternatives both to Freud’s mappings of the unconscious, and to orthodox Yogic typologies, whose ascetic impulsions (their “war” on desire) ran counter to Lawrence’s designs. In place of the vertical line of seven chakras, extending from the base of the spine to the top of the head, Lawrence posits six dual centers, polarized along the front and back of the body, and then the “final one”—the celebrated root (muladara) center at which “the dark forces of manhood and womanhood sparkle” (Psychoanalysis 249: Fantasia 182)—the crucial center in Lawrence’s personal mythology. Sensitive to macrocosmic impulsions, these six dual centers interact with each other, creating force-fields that regulate the evolution and growth of the psyche. Differential checks and controls ensure that no one center assumes absolute dominance, each one being a product of the force of the others. Indeed Lawrence exploits this fine-tuning to critique Western civilization itself: through a radical loss of control, the upper, ideational centers subjugate the lower “sensual” ones, creating that Western sexological dis-ease that Lawrence loves diagnosing (Chapter Eight explores Lady Chatterley’s Lover’s theatrical-ization of this particular conflict).7
Lawrence’s challenge to psychoanalysis involves two vital areas of confrontation to which Yoga acts as foil and alternative: the first of these is the unconscious. In effect, Lawrence demonizes the Freudian unconscious, caricaturing it as the infernal “cellar” or pit where the repressed contents of consciousness—“the huge slimy serpent of sex, and heaps of excrement”—plummet and settle.8 Through a complex metadiscourse designed to bring the unconscious under control, a pseudo-scientific language of symptoms and complexes mires feeling in mental activity. Indeed psychoanalysis merely exacerbates the condition it sets out to cure, since in verbalizing repressions, it returns them to ego control and coercion. As a “vicious circle” of forces that mechanically feed off each other, the Freudian unconscious is the complete antithesis to the “true, pristine (Yogic) unconscious;” as “the fountain of real motivity,” it “bubbles up” spontaneously, uncontaminated by socio-cultural taboos or constraints (Psychoanalysis 197-204).
Fantasia and Psychoanalysis are, among other things, upbeat meditations on this alternative mode of the unconscious. In touch with vaster constellations, open to cosmic infiltration, the unconscious responds to the “great laws of the universe,” and not to neurotic need and demand. As such, it is less a closed-off libidinal circuit than a potential flash-point for jouissance at the junction where micro- and macrocosmic forces crisscross one another (Fantasia 145-56). In contrast to the Freudian unconscious, which is personal, oedipal and social in structure,9 the Yogic unconscious is an impersonal, non-verbal force that works expansively through image-formations. Those nebulous cosmic sound-signals that stimulate and incite it, it later translates into visual configurations. This process— Lawrence calls it “releasing the imagination” (Phoenix 293)—generates the “immeasurable mind” of which Yogic meditation makes much.
The second area of confrontation is more dramatic and challenging: Lawrence invents his own theory of bodily zones—the key-centers that regulate psychic development—in counter-response to Freud’s fashionable theory, developed in the Three Essays on Sexuality (1905), of the three phases of child-consciousness growth, and the three bodily zones that sustain it. Lawrence’s Eastern theory remaps that most celebrated of all Western sexual teleologies—the child’s advance through oral and anal phases to “full genital primacy” (Freud Three Essays 88-154). In effect, he deploys chakra-psychology to diagnose Freud’s “scientific” psychology as a symptom of Western decadence: its technologization of sex resuscitates past traumas merely to reinterpret present unhappiness.
For Freud, sexuality is less a unified instinct than an unruly composite, soldered together in the course of infant development: external stimulation, contingent, haphazard—sucking (oral), washing (anal), rubbing (genital)—incites the erogenous zones. Because Freud’s oral phase is the outcome of the child’s desire to devour the mother’s breast, sexual excitement is inseparable from the ingestion of food (Three Essays 166-67). Lawrence’s counter-theory opposes the mechanical cause-and-effect factor, basic to Freud’s theory: his oral phase emerges, not from mammary excitation, but from a cosmic infusion of forces that target the navel chakra. From the “great solar plexus”—the first “powerful, active psychic centre in a new child”—the “whole individual arises, and upon this centre the whole universe, by implication, impinges” (Psychoanalysis 216-17). Lawrence raises the stakes, as it were, by making such extravagant claims that Freud’s (or anyone else’s) theories must sound dull and pedestrian.
Geared to the thrills of infantile defecation, purging and cleansing, Freud’s anal phase evolves out of the oral one, and is its complementary double. It initiates the active/passive, sadomasochistic dialectic that, for Freud, marks all subsequent sexual acts. Like the oral phase, it too is autoerotic, with no settled aim beyond the maximum excitation of the mucous membrane involved (Three Essays 116-19) The Lawrentian anal phase represents a startling contrast. Awakening in the lumbar ganglion, now polarized with the solar plexus, it emits “thrill(s) from the stomach and bowels, and promote(s) the excremental function of digestion.” It promotes less an essential unity with the cosmos, as the solar plexus does, than an essential difference from it (Fantasia 30-32). Unlike Freud’s exoteric infant, self-engrossed in mammary and excretory pleasures, Lawrence’s esoteric infant is already enmeshed in cosmic circuits of energy, as yet non-sexual in mode. Indeed Lawrence denies categorically the existence of infantile sexuality (though of course he adduces no proof), other than as a “shadowy” presentiment of dynamic changes to come. Though all the evidence points to the contrary, Freud is simply wrong to attribute a “sexual motive” to children (Fantasia 99,108).
The outcome of masturbatory friction, infantile genital arousal completes the Freudian picture, with future dispositions towards the “normal” or “perverse” already in place, depending on fixations or regressions of the libidinal flow. Though the primacy of the genital is still incomplete, it is, from then on, put “in the service of reproduction” (Three Essays 118). Lawrence’s genital sexuality, as one might anticipate, diverges maximally from Freud’s. The conclusion of Psychoanalysis hints darkly that there are “further heights and depths” of somatic consciousness that he cannot broach “in public” (he has just completed his analysis of the “six dual centres of spontaneous polarity” (249)). Within months, however, a provocative rewriting of Freud’s anal and genital drives violates this taboo. At the age of twelve, as he puts it, the two great lower-body chakras—the genital (svadhisthana) and the anal (muladara)—“rumble awake with a deep reverberant force that changes the whole constitution of the life of the individual” (Fantasia 101). Like Freud, Lawrence genders these zones in a radically unsymmetrical way that privileges male initiative and action. Unlike Freud, however, he gives the anal a powerful precedence over the genital, reversing Freud’s obsession with genital primacy, and forefronting his own with the anal. Precisely because it is polarized with “the earth’s terrestrial magnetism,” the anal is “the centre of centres,”—the source of “unfathomable riches,” and of a darkly insurgent jouissance. Up from both of these centers spring “new impulses, new vision, new being” (Fantasia 146,104). (Woodroffe celebrates the muladara chakra for exactly the same earth-rootedness as Lawrence does: it portends “supreme bliss” and illumination (Tantra LVII-LVIII)).
Gendering these centers, Lawrence keeps the sacral (anal) zone as the exclusive preserve of the male, and as the site of maximum attraction for females. As such, it suffers violent suppression through the mother’s claustrophobic devotion and love (Freud’s loving mothers, by contrast, virtually bring this pleasure zone into existence: their dedicated washing and cleansing stimulate the child’s anus, thus providing “an unending source of sexual excitation and satisfaction” (Three Essays 145)). But Lawrence goes one stage further, pushing his sexual fantasmatic to its extreme limit. In the lead-in to orgasm, the hypogastric (genital) center in females emits powerful vibrations, which, like “intense wireless message(s),” infiltrate the male sacral ganglion, establishing a dynamic circuit between them (Fantasia 183). Though Lawrence’s gender bias here has not the status of an absolute law—alternatives are possible—the thrust of the argument is clear: the genitals are the prime source of excitation in females (soliciting, inviting, seducing), while the more reactive, stand-offish anus is the answering source in males. Female supplicatory desire, in effect, relegates decision and act to the male. Such speculative fantasies, I may add, have at best a tenuous connection with Yoga, which Lawrence deploys mainly to mythologize anal sex, and to purge it of the Freudian taint of perversion.
The consequences for love-making of Freud and Lawrence’s starkly divergent views are striking. Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality supports extended ritual foreplay, a replay across those pleasure zones—lips, tongue, nipples, anus—that dedicated mothers create, though, precisely for this reason, Freud warns that too sustained a dallying at any one of these zones may be a mark of perversion: a fetishistic fixation on a pregenital zone may yield up more pleasure than anything the genital itself has to offer. One should not “linger over the intermediate relations to the sexual object which should normally be traversed rapidly on the path to the final aim” (Three Essays 62). Yet the concept of foreplay is powerfully built into Freud’s teleological theory: adult love-making recapitulates with repetitious regularity, and in a comparatively brief compass of time the slow stages of infantile sexual growth and development.
Lawrence’s insistence on the pre-eminence of the two “deep sensual centres” (genital and sacral), and on the unchecked, spontaneous irruption of orgasm virtually eliminates foreplay: it critically diminishes the role of the other centers, which are not primarily sexual anyway. Foreplay is thus no play for Lawrence (his fictional love-scenes, which are notoriously short on foreplay, and long on the orgasm, reflect this particular bias.)10 Unlike Freud’s modest erotic aim, which is to maximize pleasure, Lawrence’s more ambitious aim is to revolutionize consciousness, though, in the end, Freud’s three-phase theory complicates the lead-in to orgasm in a manner that Lawrence’s theory does not. Because sexual expenditure has no added significance beyond climactic satisfaction, Freud is largely uninterested in the after-effects of love-making. For him, sex lacks the potential for radical self-transformation that is its chief justification for Lawrence: since pleasure is a goal in itself, sex needs no soteriological augmentation to justify it. For Lawrence, the Yogic chakras proffer exactly such augmentation, translating pleasure intensities into transcendental bliss-states.
In the third stage of Lawrence’s engagement with Yoga, the psychologizing of the chakra system gives way to its mythologization: here, his last book, Apocalypse (1929) is the chief source and vehicle. Since his purpose is no longer to undermine Freud, he dispenses with the elaborate network of polarized centers he deployed in Fantasia and Psychoanalysis. He reverts to the classic Yogic topography—the vertical line of the chakras, stretching from the base of the spine to the top of the head—to distinguish between quotidian and transfigured consciousness: “(T)he seven seals are the seven centres or gates of (man’s) dynamic consciousness . . . (for) man has seven levels of awareness, deeper and higher: or seven spheres of consciousness. And one by one these must be conquered, transformed, transfigured” (Apocalypse 101). Such “conquest” in effect replaces a closed-in, empirical mind-set with an expansive cosmic consciousness, recasting the self in “new, gigantic dimensions” with a “macanthropic” range and extension (Eliade 98). In Lawrence’s graphic phrases, it projects the biological psyche “into the stars,” and “the spinal chord into the Galactic Way” (Letters IV 469).
Since, however, this upward projection along the spinal column is classically logocentric in aspiration—from darkness to light, separation to synthesis, division to wholeness—Lawrence radically deconstructs its idealizing momentum. Reversing its drive, polarizing it downward undercuts the thrust towards transcendence, returning it back to the material body where, he thought, it rightly belonged: this “great down direction, away from mind, to power” signals the “end of the Little Creation of the Logos” (Letters IV 461). Here, of course, “power” connotes less a political or ideological concept than the empowerment of the self by a return to the deepest source of its potency.
It also abolishes linear or sequential thinking. Releasing a new visual language—the kind of germinative, myth-laden metaphorical prose which the “big scenes” in The Rainbow and Women in Love cultivate—this reverse drive unshackles inflexible formulae—the whole “modern process of progressive thought” (Apocalypse 95). In place of Western teleological thinking, geared to specific outcomes and goals, this new “rotary image-thought” (which “oriental(s)” practised and “loved” (Apocalypse 96)) generates little “cycles of meaning” that alter with each turn of the image, capturing the visual sensation before it congeals into concept. Because such a differential (as opposed to a logocentric) conception ensures that “every image will be understood differently by every reader,” it induces “a complete change of state of mind” in those who engage it, since each new image is at once similar and different to the ones that precede it (Apocalypse 95-97).
Lawrence’s reversal of classic Yogic hierarchies turns on two quintessential deconstructionist moves. In the first, an overturning of metaphysical oppositions that privilege the first term of a binary—light over darkness, form over matter, culture over nature, mind over body—dislodges stratified concepts, and brings “low what was high” (Derrida Positions 42). Such an overturning substitutes darkness for light, body for mind, image for word, intuition for concept, initiating the downward declension from the chakra of luminous transcendence (at the top of the head) to the dark, earth-rooted chakra at the base of the spine. Lawrence’s ambitious, if utopian, aim is to reverse the thrust of Western intellectual history (the Greeks and the Latins) through a resurgence of pre-Greek and Oriental modes of engaging the world.
In liberating those exuberant sound-traces and substances that conventional sign-systems liquidate or repress, the second deconstructive maneuver inscribes the new differential writing this overturning unleashes. Opposed to the kind of “undifferentiated completeness . . . the primordial Unity” (Eliade 98) that marks Yogic transcendence, it celebrates flux and fluidity, transition and transfer, exchange and conversion, replacing the logic of self-identity with the non-logic of contradiction, reversal: its mark is sameness and difference, either and or (Derrida Positions 43). In Lawrence’s own terms, this is a writing of the “come-and-go, not fixity, inconclusiveness, immediacy, the quality of life itself, without denouement or close” (Phoenix 220).
In its ceaseless engagement with ruptures, traces, transgressions, this “rotary image-thought,” as Lawrence defines it in Apocalypse, enacts its own idiosyncratic version of Derridean reinscription. Opposed to conventional narrative sequence, where “we have to trail wearily over another ridge . . . from a start to a finish,” this new image-thought inscribes only glimmers and gleams, swerves and deflections (“upwards and downwards”)—loose associations of figures that ceaselessly supplant and erase one another. In this “pagan (i.e. Oriental) manner of thought,” the mind moves in cycles, or “flit(s) here and there over a cluster of images” (Apocalypse 96-97). Like the Derridean trace, it “erases itself in presenting itself, muffles itself in (its) resonating” (Derrida Margins 23).
Though it does not have a direction, this image-thought does have a goal, which it shares with Eastern ontologies: its prime aim is soteriological. Replacing the empirical with the cosmogonic, the immediate with the ultimate, the literal with the figurative, the linear with the rotary, it opens the mind to those fresh forgings of sense that transform it. Taking the sun as his object, Lawrence contrasts these two opposing modes of perception. A purely cognitive, empirical approach asks of this “shining thing . . . (h)ow does it work?”: cosmogonic perception, by contrast, sees it as “a bridegroom coming forth from his chamber: or (as) the gold lion from his lair” (Apocalypse 190-91) (a singularly unfortunate choice, as it happens, since the sun as “bridegroom” or “lion” is scarcely less hackneyed a trope than as “shining thing”). The point, however, is clear: the truth of spontaneous image-sensation is always more powerful than that of scientific or analytical interpretation.
But Lawrence’s commitment to difference is never absolute, and may swiftly mutate into its opposite: forms of logocentric completion and closure. In Apocalypse, for example, he associates “rotary image-thinking” entirely with poetry, which, as exemplar of difference, does its “magical linking-up without any specific goal or end.” Religion, by contrast, is logocentric: it “bind(s) back” and connects these poetic associations “into a whole,” fusing them into a synthesis (this, of course, is no more than the traditional romantic understanding of the symbol’s function).11 As always with Lawrence, the real contrast is with scientific thinking, which is metonymic in type. In “break(ing) up” wholes into parts, in knowing its objects, which it then fixes, analyses and compares with each other, it makes a purely instrumental claim on the world (Apocalypse 190-91). In its metaphoric disseminations of meaning, poetic thinking, by contrast, creates new, always provisional wholes, and is thus always more than the sum of its parts.
Such then are the three major phases of Lawrence’s involvement with Yoga, each phase fuelling the next one, and extending its range. But how does this “mystic physiology” find its way into the fiction? Have its initiatory rituals a proper place there? How does its soteriological drive—its concern with ultimates—transform the practice of sex, and give fresh meanings to jouissance? The final three chapters take up these questions, exploring the role of Yoga as subtext and limit-text in Women in Love, The Plumed Serpent and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Women in Love: New Styles of Orgasm
Yoga takes on a specifically sexual dimension in Tantrism—one of the rare belief systems that integrate erotic love into its ceremonials. Though, as we saw, there is no direct evidence that Lawrence studied the great Tantric treatises, which John Woodroffe translated between 1913-23, the indirect evidence, especially from the fiction, points to Lawrence’s astute grasp of the stuff of these treatises, which explain the “mystical physiology” of the chakras in a manner that Blavatsky, Pryse and Besant do not. Indeed it seems inconceivable that he should remain ignorant of the specific sexual dimension of Yoga, of which enthusiasts were well aware (Woodroffe’s were very popular books), and which at that period was the main focus of his fascination with Yoga. In effect, Tantrism combined in one single practice his two most urgent concerns-, sex and soteriology.
But what exactly is Tantric Yoga, and what made it so special for Lawrence? Why should he latch on to its sexual practices, and reinvent them in fictional form? Tantrism differs from other forms of Yoga by incorporating sex into its rituals as a basis for transcendental experience. While both Eastern and Western interpretations of Yoga take a low view of sex, and denigrate bodily pleasure, Tantrism takes the high view, projecting erotic enjoyment as the path to its goal. By inducing the shift from terrestrial to cosmic planes of existence, sex transmutes ordinary into extraordinary desire. Because sensual pleasure “produces the maximum tension that abolishes normal (conditioned) consciousness,” it offers access to non-conditioned or nirvanic existence (Eliade 268). Transcendence is achieved precisely by violating the taboo on desire that governs “conventional” religious experience. In so doing, Tantrism takes on board those desires that other Yogic forms repress or repudiate.
In Blavatsky, Pryse and Besant, Lawrence encountered only negative evaluations of the sexual drive, which they assume must be eliminated.
Pryse, for example, calls for “the eradication of the procreative centres,” which at best generate a “subtle sort of eroticism,” and a “psychic impurity” to match it (51,55). Indeed in England, up to the publication of Woodroffe’s Tantra of the Great Liberation (1913), Tantrism had a notoriously bad press, and was the source of an exclusively negative fascination. Notable chiefly for its “abominable rites,” its “disgusting orgies,” and its violation of the “commonest laws of decency and modesty,” it attracted aggressive, near-hysterical condemnations from colonial pros-elytizers and missionaries.1
Into this atmosphere of fierce disapprobation, Woodroffe’s more scholarly and rational interpretations intruded. They demonstrate, for the first time in England, how eros may function as a vehicle for religious transcendence, and how the sex organs may be “true abodes of awakening and nirvana” (Faure Red 47): instead of repudiating desire, one transmutes it. Though Woodroffe was no apostle of sexual liberation, his treatises valorize the sexual body in a manner unprecedented in England. They detail the ritual techniques for rousing the “sleeping serpent”—the symbolic force of desire—coiled in the base of the spine, “the darkest, deepest, strangest life-source of the human body,” as the narrator describes it in Women in Love (314). The discovery of this center for the radical transfiguration of consciousness was to fascinate Lawrence for the rest of his life, and constitutes the basis for the idiosyncratic approaches to love-making in “Excurse.”2 Tantrism has its theoretical foundation in the same chakra “mystical physiology” I outlined in the previous chapter. Its root-center (muladara chakra) corresponds to the sacral plexus, located between the anus and genitals, and thus “deeper, further in mystery than the phallic source,” as Ursula discovers for herself as she strokes Birkin’s loins in “Excurse” (314). Through elaborate liturgies and ceremonials, this reservoir of transforming sexual energy “conquers” the other chakras on its path to erotic bliss at the crown of the head. There micro- and macrocosmic visions converge in the upward thrust of its force. The iconographical model is the union of female energies (the goddess Shakti at the root-center) with the god Shiva, the primordial coupling (maithuna) the human initiates re-enact in their ritual sexual intercourse. The (kundalini) “nectar which flows from such union,” as Woodroffe puts it, “floods the human body,” and immerses the couple in “ineffable bliss” (Tantra CXXXV-CXXXVI). After which, kundalini “sets out on her return journey,” inundating each of the chakras down to the root-center with the same “bliss” experienced at the crown of the head (Tantra CXXXV-CXXXVI).
There is a further important dimension. In its bold assimilation of sexual enjoyment to mystical rapture, Tantrism is unique among Yoga forms in the complex range of its techniques for unleashing this “serpent power.” It seems that Lawrence selectively followed these sequences, adapting and transposing their forms to suit the demands of the fiction. Beneath the realistic surface text of “Excurse” lies an enigmatic Yogic subtext, which takes the form of an allegorical fiction. At this second discursive level, those perplexing and mystifying allusions for which “Excurse” is notorious constantly snag the narration, as a powerful subtext intrudes to unsettle its flow. I shall, however, first outline the main points of conjunction between a clear surface text where two lovers quarrel, make up, and make love, and a disruptive subtext that radically defamiliarizes such a familiar love-sequence.
Tantric rituals often commence with an exchange of gifts: the male partner, for example, offers jewels or flowers to his female consort, prefiguring further exchanges to come (Birkin offers three jewelled rings to Ursula). This is followed by the encounter with the forces of dissolution and death (the substance of the lovers’ violent altercation), by the birth of a new body of awareness (Birkin is reborn as if “out of the cramp of a womb”), by ritual palpations and touchings (Ursula strokes Birkin’s loins with her fingertips), and by the taking of food and drink (the lovers eat a large meal at the inn). These are preliminaries to the transfiguration, through iconographical identification, of the partners into Tantric god and goddess (Birkin becomes a “Son of God” and Ursula “a daughter of men”), the sudden irruption of kundalini from the root-center (the “fire of electricity” that bursts forth from Birkin’s “dark pole”), the access to a rapturous jouissance (the “intolerable accession into being” that both lovers experience)—all culminating in ceremonial sexual intercourse (the lovers’ ritual “dark sex” in Sherwood Forest).3 Indeed Birkin and Ursula share the same soteriological goals as Tantric lovers: a certain detachment and impersonality, a freedom from ego-constraints, the abolition of conventional space/time parameters, and the access to non-verbal modes of communication. They recover, however briefly, what Eliade calls “the paradisal state of primordial man” (272). The allegorical reading that follows probes the correspondences between these strangest of love-scenes and the powerful subtext that insistently renders them strange.
The title “Excurse” underwrites the episode’s status as an experimental digression, a trip into uncharted territory, away from the sexological themes that dominate the rest of the novel. Birkin and Ursula’s unprecedented car-drive deep into the countryside (their first and last together) already distances them from the familiar social reality they engaged with before it. Almost immediately Birkin presents Ursula with a tiny paper package, containing three jewelled rings—a blue sapphire, a yellow topaz and a red opal. Trying on the rings, she finds that only the “fiery red opal” with its circle of rubies fits her marriage finger (302-03). A bitter quarrel develops, as a climax to which she pulls the rings off her fingers, flings them at Birkin, and they end up scattered in the country-road mud. The text has already prepared us for this conjunction of glittering jewels (“warm creation”) and mud (“cold dissolution”) in Birkin’s earlier unfathoming, in Hermione’s house, of the Eastern lotus mystery (“fire of the cold-burning mud”). The perfect conjunction of opposites, symbolized in the Chinese drawing of the geese “in the flux of cold water and mud” reveals the secret of the deep somatic “centres” (the chakras) from which the Chinese live (89). Birkin, as it were, picks up his knowledge of Yoga, not from a scholarly reading of Pryse, Woodroffe or Blavatsky, but intuitively from copying Chinese artwork.
What the text does not prepare us for is an insistence on detail far in excess of the realistic demands of the narrative. Why the obsessive concern with the rings’ colours, and on Ursula’s choice of the red opal? Lawrence, it seems, is already shadowing his text with esoteric suggestion, soliciting an allegorical reading to demystify these enigmatic symbols and signs. For not only are red, blue and yellow the symbolic colours associated with the root chakra (muladara): in addition, the “fiery red” circle, as Woodroffe suggests, is the potent symbol of this particular chakra (Serpent 354-55).4 Put bluntly, the “fiery red opal” prefigures the “fiery red circle” of Birkin’s anus from which (as Ursula soon learns to her surprise) “dark fire(s) of electricity” will shortly irrupt. If this seems to push allegorical interpretation to its critical limit, it is salutary to recall that in 1917 Lawrence endorsed such veiled systems of reference—secret symbols and codes that remain opaque when read “vulgarly” (exoterically), but when read esoterically reveal “the mystery of the initiation into pure being . . . (that) needs be purely private, preserved inviolate” (Letters III 143). Lawrence in effect pushes this veiled allegorical writing to the extreme edge of comprehension, as he leads his two lovers along the secret path of initiation into “pure being.” As strange correspondences and con-gruities accumulate, the “red opal” ring evokes Birkin’s spontaneous meditation on the erotics of the fiery “root center” itself: “He had taken her (Ursula) at the roots of her darkness and shame—like a demon, laughing over the fountain of mystic corruption which was one of the sources of her being, laughing, shrugging, accepting, accepting finally.—As for her, when would she . . . accept him at the quick of death?” (304). Through hidden conjunctions, one complex set of associations slides imperceptibly into the other beneath the text’s enigmatic surface narration.
The fierce quarrel that ensues—the “crisis of war” between the two lovers—lifts repressions, purges anger, and confronts those destructive desires that up to this point had found no proper voice. Burning out old modes of desire, it presages the sudden “relaxation” and “peace” that immediately follow. Its location at this pivotal point between Western modes of (false) desire and Eastern modes of jouissance is no accident, as it mediates between one and the other. As the catalyst for the transformation of consciousness—its indispensably lead-in— language plays its last significant role in the lovers’ relationship, as a major soteriological force.
The substance of the quarrel is Ursula’s perception of an intolerable duality in Birkin—the exalted “spiritual purity” of a messianic pretender in flagrant contradiction to the “dirt and death” (read anal) proclivities of his sexual life. The thrust of her attack is on this disjunction, and on Birkin’s hypocritical refusal to face it. In confronting him with his “perversities,” she presents him as an obsessive feeder on “offal,” an “eater of corpses,” “death-eating,” a “whited sepulchre”—one who secretly connives with the death-process while publicly proclaiming a transcendental gospel of love. The violence of Ursula’s recriminations sparks off the first gleams of selfrecognition in Birkin: “He knew she was in the main right. He knew he was perverse, so spiritual on the one hand, and in some strange way, degraded, on the other” (307-08).
Read exoterically, this great fictional quarrel conforms readily to realistic conventions, except for one discordant dimension: its obsession with graveyards, ghouls, corpse-eating and necrophagous practices in general. Its outrageous excess points, once again, to further occulted levels of reference which tease and challenge interpretation. The hermeneutic puzzle is: why all the graveyards, corpses, and corpse-eating, which seem grossly out of place in a novelistic, Western-style quarrel?
The answer seems to lie in the esoteric protocols of the Tantric subtext we are tracking. As a prerequisite for transfiguration, the Tantric neophyte is compelled to encounter his/her own death drive—the forces of decay and disintegration at work in his/her own body. The context is notoriously concrete: meditations in charnel houses and graveyards, eating slivers of corpse-meat—receiving the sacrament of death through a special communion in the expectation that death itself may be conquered.5 Alluding to such practices, Ursula’s charges against Birkin point the way to a sexual catharsis that transforms the death-drive itself. Put simply, the Western site of “perversion” (the “quick of death”) transmutes into an Eastern abode of life and enlightenment. The quarrel itself is exceptional, both in its abrupt incandescence and its equally abrupt subsidence, without recrimination or explanation, its antagonisms suddenly dissolving into “simple peace” and “stillness.” It bears all the marks of a rite of passage, a necessary ordeal—the destruction of old modes of desire so that new ones may be born. At this point, novelistic and Tantric protocols display striking resemblances, as the text takes on the one-to-one quality of an allegorical fiction.
Tantric transmutations are rooted in the notion of changing things into their contrary—of inverting a negative sign or event (desire, death) into its opposite: instead of rejecting phenomena, one accepts and transmutes them (Faure Red 53). Purged of its coprophagic obsessions, Birkin’s “death-body” transmutes in precisely this way: it becomes a “new body,” infused with tranquillity, vigour and power. As the climactic stress of the quarrel subsides, Birkin breathes “lightly and regularly,” and Ursula—her face lit with “luminous wonder”—offers a bell-heather flower of reconciliation. “Smiling and transcendent,” they retire from the “memorable battlefield,” filled with intimations of a strange new integration and wholeness. For Ursula, a fresh “element . . . still and frail” springs up within her: for Birkin, this involves no less than a total reconstitution of the body-sub-stance itself: “he seemed to be conscious all over, all his body awake with a simple, glimmering awareness, as if he had just come awake . . . into a new universe” (310-12). A new “center” of vitality, as yet unspecified, springs into wakefulness, whose immediate effect is an upsurge of visionary power in the lovers.
On their twilight arrival at the inn of the Saracen’s Head, (as the bells of the Minster cathedral “like dim, bygone centuries sounding” ring out an obsolete era of love), an archetypal awakening overwhelms both lovers, their bodies infused with an expansive, iconographical power. To Ursula’s “new eyes,” Birkin appears as one of “the Sons of God . . . not a man, something other, something more”—an avatar of her adolescent dream of a divinized being in The Rainbow. In a complementary transfiguration, Ursula’s upturned face turns translucent: it glows like a “fresh luminous flower, glinting faintly golden with the dew of the first light” (312-13).6 And the text assures us that the lovers rejoice in the revelation of a “pure presence” beyond conventional desire and the verbal communications of love.
What precisely is going on here? What latent senses are stirring beneath the text’s manifest declarations? What esoteric subtext do these flagrant violations of narrative good-sense activate? The sheer obstacles to interpretation point to a Tantric dimension the text at once evokes and suppresses.
The opening of “new eyes” is a commonplace Yogic trope for access to transcendental awareness.7 As a consequence of the conquest of death, and as a prelude to ritual touchings and strokings, the Tantric lovers are endowed with “new eyes,” new mythical modes of perceiving each other. Identifying with the gods that transform them, they project them on to an “inner screen through an act of creative imagination” (Eliade 207). Through concentrated identifications, they become the image of the fantasized other—in this case, the Tantric god and goddess they espouse. To identify with the god, as Lawrence notes in Apocalypse, is to assume the god’s powers (107).
This is at once the paradigm of the Lawrentian vignette, and its allegorical subtext: the irradiation of the body with light, the usurpation of daylight perception by the image of a numinous other, the access to cosmological vision and power. To Ursula’s “new eyes,” Birkin becomes a mystical cosmocrat, an avatar of archaic divinities, the embodiment of a timeless fulfillment. To his eyes, she appears, not as an actual goddess, but as one of its Tantric surrogates—the primal flower of creation (when the “root-center” awakens, as Woodroffe notes, the symbolic lotus “opens out, and lifts its flower upwards” (Tantra CXXXIII.))
What happens next marks a radical deviation from Western novelistic depictions of love-making, and a deliberate contravention of their conventional norms. Birkin’s eyes, we are told, have a “faintly ironical contraction”—an indication surely that though he is fully aware of the occulted source of these strange transformations, Ursula, as yet, is not. At this point, hermeneutic suspense centers on the tentative, stage-by-stage progress of Ursula’s quest (will she find it or not?). Drawn to Birkin, “as in a spell,” kneeling before him on the hearth-rug, she initiates her search for the somatic source of these radiant divinizations: “Unconsciously, with her sensitive finger-tips, she was tracing the back of his thighs, following some mysterious life-flow there. She had discovered something . . . more wonderful than life itself. It was the strange mystery of his life-motion, there, at the back of his thighs, down the flanks.” For Ursula, it was “release at last,” the disclosure of the root-center of erotic jouissance— one wholly at odds with what her Western experience had led her to anticipate: “She had had lovers, she had known passion. But this was neither love nor passion” (313). The Tantric notion of changing things into their opposites, of transmuting desire through desire—of recognizing that the lotus flower of enlightenment grows in the mud—alone seems to make sense of these baffling scenes.
As a prelude to arousing the “serpent fire,” Tantrism invents an elaborate sequence of touchings, which concentrate these newly acquired visionary powers at distinct bodily sites. The neophyte, as Eliade puts it, projects “the divinities, at the same time touching various areas of his body; in other words, he homologizes his body with the tantric pantheon, in order to awaken the sacred forces asleep in the flesh itself” (211). Such hieratic gestures have at once a somatic and symbolic significance: they communicate the good news of awakening, concealed in the deepest bodily roots—precisely the news that Ursula’s psychic antennae (the chakras) pick up.
Birkin, however, still registers something “tight and unfree” in himself, an indication that though the ultimate liberation is close, it is not yet achieved. Clearly the text anticipates a more ecstatic arousal, a jouissance that will cosmicize consciousness, and thus give Birkin’s long longed-for, figurative “star-equilibrium” a kind of concrete, literal force. At this stage, Ursula’s esoteric massage has its dramatic effect: flaring into life, the “serpent fire” leaps from Birkin’s “dark pole” to her own, outflooding their bodies with “rich peace, satisfaction.” The connotations of this “electric” tropology are rich in suggestion: “It was a dark flood of electric passion she released from him . . . (s)he had established a rich new circuit, a new current of passional electric energy, between the two of them, released from the darkest poles of the body and established in perfect circuit” (313-14).
At this point, fresh hermeneutic conundrums confront the reader. Do these bizarre circuits and currents, poles and polarities possess special senses? Have they an allegorical resonance, or was Lawrence simply exploiting the contemporary fascination with thermodynamic conversions of energy, which he frequently deployed (misogynistically) as metaphors for the sexual exchange?8 It seems that here two powerful subtexts— thermodynamic and Tantric—interact, and jostle for prominence. We know that Tantric (and Theosophic) exegetes were enthusiastically drawing on thermodynamic models to explicate chakra psychology. For Pryse, chakra energy is a “living, conscious electricity, of incredible voltage,” polarized by “positive and negative current(s)” as it ascends up the vertebral column (11, 23). As befits a professional scholar, Woodroffe is distinctly more “scientific”: the static (potential) energy, coiled in the root (muladara) chakra converts into dynamic (kinetic) energy that ascends through the chakras, producing the fire of illumination in the crown of the head (Serpent 302-05). To describe the full after-effects of this high-voltage shock, Tantrism, like Lawrence, switches metaphorical vehicles—from “fire” to “flood.”
Tantrism has been doubly characterized as “the path of enjoyment” and the “cult of ecstasy”—the coincidence of extreme sexual pleasure with mystical rapture and trance (Rawson 9). Purging the taints of ordinary desire, the “great desire” induces pure bliss in the lovers. As the fluid agent of purging, the “red nectar” of kundalini descends back down the vertebral column along the same path as it ascends it (Woodroffe Serpent 474-75), and a shattered ego-self gives way to the no-self of jouissance.
At this point, Lawrence’s allegorical rehearsals of Tantrism are uncannily accurate. Switching vehicles (from fire to flood), traversing the same somatic paths of fulfillment, novelistic and Tantric frames of reference achieve a near-perfect coincidence. In the novel, the “red nectar” ascends from the root-chakra—“outflooding from the Source of the deepest life-force ... at the back and the base of the loins”—to the top of the head, before it starts its return journey back to its source. Though the text maps these “outfloodings” exclusively in relation to Ursula, we must assume that Birkin’s follow an identical course: “after the rivers of strange dark fluid richness had passed over her, flooding, carrying away her mind and flooding down her spine . . . leaving her an essential new being, she was left quite free” (314). With a kind of literal precision, Ursula embodies the kinetic circuits of the Tantric system itself. In this new dispensation, the lovers recognize one another only through the jouissance that transfigures them —the sole witnesses of their own spectacular bliss.
As an antinomian cult, Tantrism makes much of the flouting of conventional moral codes, which bind those who have not achieved liberation.9 The novel too produces its own antinomian touch. Making orgasmic love in the public lounge of the Saracen’s Head intensifies the aura of social transgression that surrounds these enactments (is the narrator the only voyeur?). In addition, it naturalizes the consumption of food and drink, deferring full sexual intercourse (maithuna) to the end of the episode. In a state of “perfect forgetfulness,” the lovers eat a large supper— the sacramental communion, essential to Tantric ceremonial progress— thus strengthening their identification with the god and goddess of enjoyment through “indulgence in wine, meat and sexual union” (Eliade 205) (the novelistic initiates share “a large broad-faced cut ham,” but renounce wine in favour of tea).
While ordinary “indulgence” (the theory goes) produces attachment to self, Tantric enjoyment, by contrast, induces detachment since there is no ego-self to appropriate it (Faure Red 54). The lovers celebrate their liberation by renouncing all social and cultural responsibility: to work (they resign their jobs), to money and prestige, to a settled existence, determined to inhabit no more than the “free place” of their “perfected relation” (315-16). This “liberation while yet living,” as the Tantric texts term it (Woodroffe Serpent 285-90) entails precisely the same detachment from possessions, status and territory that Birkin and Ursula espouse. In such a utopian state of dis-passion, the lovers depart from the inn, and drive in darkness deep into the countryside.
Up to this point, the minute mappings of the dynamics of Ursula’s transfiguration have left Birkin’s rather obscure. Now Birkin, driving recklessly, is himself divinized through his access to new cosmic powers. Though the divinity—the Egyptian Pharaoh—is not, strictly speaking, a god of the Tantric pantheon, Lawrence locates him there since (the legend has it) he possesses Yogic powers: Pharaohs, Lawrence tells us (Apocalypse 107), were accomplished Yogins: the serpent-Uraeus, stamped on their foreheads, was at once a symbol of kundalini, and a sign of their secret initiation.10 The kinetics of Birkin’s transfiguration match those of Ursula’s in the Saracen’s Head, with one significant difference: Lawrence’s gender bias posits the root-chakra as an exclusively male preserve (the female is always the receptor of its mystical circuits and flows): a “strange and magical current of force” flows from his head, down to his “back and loins . . . (h)e knew what it was to be awake and potent in that other basic mind, the deepest physical mind” (318). This is the last in a sequence of powerful identifications with archaic divinities, begun at the inn, as a soteriological technique for assuming their powers. True to female type, Ursula, as receptor, falls under the spell of the archetype. Sitting “mindless and immobile” like Birkin in a coalescence of vision, she anticipates only the subjectless ecstasy—“the knowledge which is death of knowledge”—in “unrevealed touch” (318-19).
The scene is now set for the climax of the “great initiatory rite,” the Tantric sacred sexual act, the “supervention” of a “new mystery” in the novel. Appropriately the scenario is littered with portents and signs: dark night and low cloud transfigure the tree trunks into “old priests,” attendant hierophants: fern plants are tinged with magic and mystery: the dominant colour is green (Lawrentian sign of a new creation): the car comes to rest in a mandala-like “circle of grass” (the arcane maithuna circle)11: the whole world falls “under a ban,” and the profane universe holds its breath as the celebrants strip for the final enactment (319-20).
Two dimensions of the Sherwood Forest love-making are Tantric in essence. First, in place of a Western-style, linear, endstopped, orgasmic performance—foreplay, build-up and climax— here a controlled erotic play, it seems, “never comes to an end” (Eliade 267): continual recirculations of energy damp down peak- points or climaxes.12 The second is ontological. Just as in Lawrence’s theory of the “two great cosmic principles,” Tantrism’s erotic mystique also configures the phenomenal world as the primordial differentiation between male and female principles.13 The “great desire” induces at once a return to that state, and a realization of the essential unity between the two principles (Faure Red 54). In more concrete terms, the Tantric lovers incarnate the superhuman powers of the cosmos, who make love in, and through their ecstatics. In the “pulsing beat of the(ir) heart(s),” they recognize the “rhythms which throb through . . . the universal life” (Woodroffe Serpent 291-92). Rapturous sexual pleasure (on this side of the orgasm) induces a rupture of plane, and human and cosmic love-making are one. The “truth of the body,” as Eliade puts it, becomes the “truth of the universe” (265), and passionate lovers become prime-movers of eros.
In Lawrence’s version, a slowly-pulsating, repetitive, non-climactic, somniferous prose incarnates this erotic mystique:
Quenched, inhuman, his fingers upon her unrevealed nudity were the fingers of silence upon silence, the body of mysterious night upon the body of mysterious night, the night masculine and feminine, never to be seen with the eye, or known with the mind, only known as a palpable revelation of living otherness . . . (the) living body of darkness and silence and subtlety, the mystic body of reality. (320)
Here Birkin’s “star-equilibrium”—the equipoise of lustrous nonhuman energies shading into the night—replaces the agitated human rhythms of intercourse, as the lovers incarnate cosmic powers engaged in erotic play. Because a timeless equilibrium supervenes on Western syncopations of love-making, there is neither arousal nor foreplay nor climax, as the apocalyptic sign of the end.
The insistent downgrading of sight, and the concomitant upgrading of touch (the lovers perform, eyes closed in the dark) has of course a purpose: it forefronts a cosmic dimension beyond human vision or fantasy.14 An odd paradox results: though in Tantric (and Lawrentian) terms, the body is the vital source of all transformations, this description reduces it to abstract figure or type. As the vehicle for those vaster powers that usurp it, the body acts out, not its own, but the “greater” desires the cosmos prescribes. Written off as material object, it is a mere cosmic surrogate (“the body of mysterious night,” “the living body of darkness and silence . . . the mystic body of reality”), a metaphorical stand-in that etherealizes precisely those physico-mystical sensations the description sets out to affirm. The physical, as it were, becomes metaphysical in exactly the manner that Lawrence, at least in theory, excoriates.
Like true esoteric initiates, the lovers make no subsequent reference to their secret initiation: “filled with darkness and secrecy,” they hide away, even from each other, “the remembrance and the knowledge” (320). The text, however, alludes to it on two separate occasions, the first to downgrade Gudrun and Loerke’s sexy solicitings, the second to upgrade Birkin and Ursula’s (Tantric) attainment.
In the first, Gudrun and Loerke enact a low version of this attainment, an entree into the exclusive mysteries of the death-process itself: they get stuck, as it were, at the “foul” and “death-eating” stage of the process from which Ursula’s traumatic verbal assaults purged Birkin. Through a game of “subtle inter-suggestivity,” they make their erotic advances “as if they had some esoteric understanding of life, that they alone were initiated into the fearful central secrets, that the world dared not know” (448). This “as if” underscores its purely hypothetical and mimetic status —its dissimulation of real initiation. In place of the “great desire” that seized Birkin and Ursula, they incarnate the “defilements” of ordinary desire. No catalyst to awakening, their desire blinds them to the great “central secrets” that their counterparts know.
A perpetual question-mark hangs over Loerke and Gudrun’s performance which parodies, by subtly mimicing, Birkin and Ursula’s: “But he, Loerke, could he not penetrate into the inner darkness, find the spirit of the woman in its inner recess, and wrestle with it there, the central serpent that is coiled at the core of life” (451). However, Birkin’s rabid denunciations of Loerke—he is a “wizard rat” in a “sewer stream” (428)— highlight the problem of drawing too sharp a distinction. For Birkin too was “sewer” rat before the sexual catharsis of his quarrel with Ursula. Loerke’s “wrestling” with the (Tantric) serpent represents his equivocal efforts to rouse it to life. Like Birkin, he too knows all the “perverse” pleasures of anal eroticism, except the great central secret: how to transmute desire through desire, and eliminate the taint of the perverse: he knows all the secrets of sexual pleasure, except the one crucial one: how to use them as modes of awakening. While Loerke and Gudrun play the Western game of desire as an end in itself, Birkin and Ursula play the Eastern one of transforming ordinary desire into the “great bliss” of enlightenment.
The second allusion—on the eve of Birkin and Ursula’s marriage— throws fresh light on the transfigurations that took place in the Saracen’s Head. Repudiating those self-expressive communications of love through which ordinary lovers talk themselves into (and out of) the sexual act, Birkin proclaims an impersonal jouissance, a non-verbal witness addressed solely to the other’s ecstatic stillness and silence. For Birkin, the declaration “I love you” merely reinstates those sharp linguistic dualisms the sex-act sets out to abolish: “Even when he said, whispering the truth, “I love you, I love you,” it was not the real truth. It was something beyond love, such a gladness of having surpassed oneself, of having transcended the old existence. How could he say T, when he was something new and unknown, not himself at all? This I, this old formula of the ego, was a dead letter” (369).
As the novel amply demonstrates, it would be wrong to regard this definition as final or definitive: that would be to extrapolate it from the realm of process where it rightly belongs, as the temporary, non-verbal attainment of maximum being before the inevitable lapse back into the verbal that narrative needs. It is also remote from those Western ideologies that treat sex-pleasure and talk as mutually reinforcing phenomena. Its Eastern ambience becomes all the clearer by setting it side-by-side with a Tantric devotee’s meditation on the nature of his union with his lover (Shakti): “all egoism will be destroyed, and 1 shall lose myself in that state beyond all speech and thought, in which ‘neither you nor I exist.’ On that day where am I or who is mine? Your existence depends on mine, so that if I cease to exist where, then, are you? And even if ‘you’ do exist there will be no T to discover ‘you’” (Woodroffe Principles 280).
The Plumed Serpent: Transcending the Orgasm
This chapter explores a further dimension of Tantric sexuality—the connection (if any) between its conception of jouissance, and those notorious scenes in The Plumed Serpent in which a Mexican army-general (Cipriano) denies the Irish protagonist (Kate) her orgasms, keeping her in a state of suspended animation in a way that seems brutally sadistic and cruel. Especially hostile to clitoral orgasm, Cipriano associates it with self-expressive verbal communication—“the curious irritant quality of talk”— though Kate had good sex with her now-deceased husband that way (421). The text opposes clitoral orgasm to non-orgasmic sex—water metaphors defining the distinction between them: while the former is all “foam effervescence”—bright bubbles reducing back to the element (water) out of which they arose—the latter, like a “hot spring” gushes out of the depths of the earth in a continual circulation without culmination or end (422). The distinction poses the question of the nature, duration and quality of sexual satisfaction. In the end, of course, Kate comes round to Cipriano’s perspective, embracing a masculine ideology to which she finally submits. As with all potent myths, she accedes to its numinous power (“She had to yield before it”) rather than to its rational justification (she enjoyed satisfying clitoral orgasms with her husband before Cipriano came along (421-23)).
The difference seems to center on conscious knowledge-control. In clitoral sex, Kate regulated her own desires, responding, as she liked, to her husband’s pleasure-techniques for making her come. With Cipriano, by contrast, she submits to some vague, vaster conception, which requires secret ritual techniques into which he, as (Indian) adept, initiates her. The basic shift is as follows: from a personal, self-expressive,
spontaneous Western-style sex that works up to orgasm to an impersonal, silent Eastern-style sex that, by deferring the orgasm, keeps climax at bay.
The hermeneutic fuzziness permeating these ambiguous scenes still generates conflicting interpretations. Forty years of exegetical labour, however, have produced two top-contenders for the interpreter’s prize: feminist and Tantric. For the former, a rampant misogyny, which repudiates female desire unless it has male validation, suffuses these scenes. The latter ameliorates the force of this charge by adducing an erotico-mystical context: esoteric sexual techniques prolong male and female pleasure indefinitely by suspending the orgasm. Before exploring the Tantric dimension in depth, however, I shall sketch the evolution of these alternative readings.
H.M. Daleski made the first sustained attempt to confront these equivocal scenes, his domination/submission paradigm influencing a subsequent generation of critics. Kate makes the kind of “craven submission” to Cipriano’s “vaunted masculinity” which is “astonishing:” “She consents to a marriage entirely on his terms, and eased of the last challenge to which a woman can resort, Cipriano is the male rampant” (249-50). Kate Millett radicalizes this paradigm: “in a calculated and sadistic denial of her pleasure,” Cipriano deliberately withdraws as Kate nears orgasm. Enforcing a traditional female passivity, he assumes orgasmic activity as his natural prerogative (240).
Millett’s active/passive paradigm in turn generates a further sexual dualism: between vaginal and clitoral orgasm (the once-fashionable “two orgasms” theory). Hilary Simpson pinpoints its salient features: Lawrence establishes a “categoric distinction” between “clitoral and vaginal orgasm, steering his female characters away from the former towards the latter.” Kate’s life-long attraction to clitoral orgasm is “supplanted by passive vaginal orgasm described in terms which have shaped a whole modem mythology of female sexuality” (138). (Freud himself was one of these “shapers:” women must repress this vestige of “masculine sexuality” in order to stimulate “the libido in men, and cause an increase in its activity.” Because the clitoris confronts men with the open threat of castration, its excitation must be abandoned (Three Essays 143)). In the novel, however, clitoral “incandescence”—autonomous, autotelic, unpredictable—over which the male has no control, remains the real threat. Subsequent critical assaults on these scenes’ misogyny play variations on one or more of these themes.
What these readings do not fully account for is the kind of mystical eroticism into which Cipriano initiates Kate—one which transcends clito-ral/vaginal distinctions, and which offers exotic pleasures beyond active/ passive polarities (both partners appear to be passive). Here a pervasive Tantric subtext underwrites these erotic enactments, the history of whose emergence we can now briefly track.
William York Tindall was the first to detail the ubiquitous presence of a Yogic subtext in The Plumed Serpent, which assimilates the symbolic “snake of the earth” (kundalini) to the snake-like god, Quetzalcoatl (156). Tindall, however, backs off from exploring the impact of these mythologies on Cipriano and Kate’s love-making (first published in 1939, his book insistently suppresses sexual matters). Suggestions of alternatives to “misogynist” readings, though not specifically Yogic ones, were already in the air in the early ‘70’s with a distinct move away from the harshly judgmental postures the domination/submission paradigm induced. Frank Kermode, for example, recognizes that what Lawrence intended is “not altogether clear:” a gratification “deeper than orgasm” may be involved, “a rejection of the trivial in favour of higher satisfactions.” But what these satisfactions entail or how they may be attained Kermode does not elaborate on except to suggest that they may necessitate the repudiation of clitoral orgasm after male ejaculation (“Lawrence” 108-09).1 Robert Langbaum in turn takes up the question of the quality of orgasmic satisfaction. Like Connie Chatterley, Kate has been in the habit of withholding her orgasms until the man has had his: like Mellors with Connie, Cipriano aims at “simultaneous orgasms” with Kate, and thus omits the foreplay that fosters mistiming, and leads only to separate ones (282-83).
T.E. Apter adds a new significant dimension to the debate, shifting the focus on to the cosmological level in a way that anticipates Tantrism. Kate submits, not to a “specific male will,” but to the “mystery of the universe.” Her initiation into the Quetzalcoatl pantheon (the Aztec subtext) shows “the meeting of man and woman, as both submit to something beyond their individuality, to be a complementary rather than a hierarchical conjunction.” Like other exegetes, Apter senses the presence of a second subtext whose complex underwritings, however, she does not unravel: some more “profound” fufillment may be at issue, involving those “more elemental and untamable aspects of sex” that a Western scientific and verbal culture represses (161-69). Carol Dix comes closest to unearthing the “secrets” of the Tantric subtext: Cipriano educates Kate towards “traditionally eastern values to be slower, to accept the flow of natural sex” away from “the masturbatory orgasm” which Lawrence “knew was the drive of modern western woman” (80). How Lawrence came to this knowledge, and what these “eastern values” entail, Dix does not elaborate on.
I shall now take up the question of these values and the slow practice of sex they entail. Here, Eastern as opposed to Western conceptions of erotic pleasure are at stake.1 Whereas “ordinary desire” is a function of ego, and leads merely to “passion,” the “great desire” leads to the “pure bliss” of ego-transcendence. Cipriano, it seems, initiates Kate into the “great (Tantric) desire” that induces slowness, detachment, and the transfiguration of consciousness. From the Tantric perspective, the Western orgasm (male and female) is an inferior sexual mode—one which dissipates those desires that can otherwise be harnessed for jouissance. Cipriano’s aim, in this reading, may be less to dominate Kate than to preempt the “wasteful” expenditure of the orgasm by means of a more controlled and restrained erotic economy.
Two aspects of Tantric sexual theory are specially relevant to these Plumed Serpent scenarios: first, the cosmicization of consciousness (the same process we explored in “Excurse”)—those numinous visualizations through which the partners become the god and goddess they espouse; second, the sex-act itself (maithuna)—the motionless embrace that exchanges the agitated rhythms of orgasm for more tranquil pulsations that unite inner and outer cosmological worlds. Kate and Cipriano’s ritual progress (after their ceremonial marriage) reflects these two stages: their divinization as god and goddess (Huitzilopochtli, Malinzi), followed by their “dark and untellable” sex (422)—a mystifying metaphor for the erotico-mystical state they attain.
But is there a theoretical basis for this non-orgasmic practice of sex? Tantrism maintains that the “serpent energy” is indeed aroused in conventional Western sex, but is simply frittered away in the orgasm (Watt 146-49). Tantric practice, by contrast, recycles this energy into states of transcendent awareness beyond the limits of “profane” desire. An immobile embrace which keeps orgasm at bay transmutes desire into contemplative vision—the imaginary conjunction with the god and goddess concretized in the sexual one between the man and the woman. Adopting a traditional cross-legged Yogic posture, the woman clasps the man’s waist with her thighs, and folds her arms round his neck (an ecstatic position which Indian sculpture frequently depicts). In practice, however, the woman plays a purely functional role, as one pole of attraction in a gendered male conception of sex. Thus, of the three central Tantric disciplines, as Eliade presents them—immobility of breath, thought and semen—the last espe-dally has an in-built masculine bias (248). The first entails a radical deceleration of physiological functions—the slowing down of normal organic and respiratory processes (the “terrible katabolism and metabolism” that Kate feels in her blood). The second eliminates mental formations—the continual flow of the verbal that constitutes ego-existence (Kate renounces talk, and achieves a new way of seeing). The third involves coitus reser-vatus: a sustained high-tensional sex devoids consciousness of its contents, and induces sustained bliss-awareness. In place of the genital friction that rapidly builds up to orgasm, desire pulsates up the vertebral column, explodes as androgenous bliss in the head, before it makes its return journey. The trick is to stir the seminal essence “without losing it through ejaculation” so that it ascends to “the seat of Great Bliss located in the brain” (Faure Red 50). But what role has the woman if the retention of semen is the major objective? Tantric practice, Faure suggests, frequently involves a kind of “sexual battle in which the woman, just like the man, can reach the ultimate stage if she is able to draw up, “through a skillful contraction,”” the male semen, and to keep it intact, thus increasing her power (Red 53). The female role is thus not as purely emblematic as at first sight may appear, but possesses the same potential for radical transformation as the male. The sexual struggle, however, still revolves round the fetishistic aura surrounding the retention of semen.
Certain soteriological effects follow. If language conditions desire, then abolishing language communication frees desire for transcendence—for transmutation into its opposite. Stripped of the fantasized need to possess them, things appear as they really are without symbolic overload or encumbrance.2 An Eastern contemplative mode replaces a Western libidi-nal one, as detachment, impersonality and silence supercede attachment, commitment and the self-expressive ejaculations of love. Kate and Cipriano’s “greater sex” exemplifies all of these qualities.
third thing that was both of them (Cipriano/Kate) and neither of them” (389). Constituted entirely through difference, it is, strictly speaking, non-thematizable, and can only be articulated through the oblique indirection of metaphor (this, at least partly, accounts for the impenetrable fuzziness that pervades the erotic descriptions).
Before these heterosexual encounters, however, Ramon initiates Cipriano into the esoteric secrets of Yoga through a kind of homo-social bonding. Their master/disciple session together follows the main stages of Tantric initiation (it lacks only the culminating ritual intercourse): icono-graphical visualizations, touchings and strokings, kundalini arousal, the abolition of quotidian consciousness, followed by access to new modes of awareness.
In this introductory lesson in meditation techniques, Ramon first teaches Cipriano how to identify with the god—to assume “the Living Huitzilopochtli” as a prelude to further transfigurations. In the same Lawrentian inversion we explored in Chapter Five, kundalini now reverses its traditional path, thrusting downward to the base of the spine, instead of upward to the top of the head. Ramon’s technique is thoroughly Tantric: his ritual strokings, and light finger-tip touchings track the line of the chakras—from eyes, breast and navel, down to Cipriano’s dark “secret places” (genitals/anus). Pressing each of these centers, he binds them with fur,6 signalling the shift from verbal to non-verbal awareness. To Ramon’s initial question (“Who lives?”), Cipriano first responds with a hesitant “I:” then, as absolute silence takes over (“But Cipriano could not answer”), he slips into deep trance (“perfect unconsciousness” (367-69)). The sweeping renunciations Ramon imposes on Cipriano (binding his head and eyes symbolically occlude thinking and seeing) prefigure the subsequent erotic renunciations Cipriano imposes on Kate.
Before such renunciations can take full effect, however, Tantric ritual, as we noted, requires iconographical identifications with the pantheon gods: mythologizing the self (the assumption is) creates the necessary impersonality—that distance and detachment from quotidian consciousness and from the importunate demands of the orgasm. In the marriage ceremony that Ramon performs in the church, Kate and Cipriano become gods of the Aztec pantheon (the theophany is a specifically Mexican one),7 the ordinary man and woman of “passions” becoming the “extraordinary” pair who act out a mythical love-drama (Eliade 265). As Kate transmutes into the goddess Malintzi, Cipriano too becomes a numinous god: “More than Cipriano, more than a male man, he was the Living Huitzilopochtli. And she was the goddess bride, Malintzi of the green dress” (393). Such transfigurations of consciousness are prerequisites for the practice of the Tantric “great sex.”
In Tantric initiations, ceremonial gestures and postures boost and stabilize these projections. In the novel, Kate and Cipriano light a lamp (the symbolic “third thing” they bring into existence), arrange flowers, hold hands, put on liturgical garments, and assume hieratic postures on thrones. Such cosmicizations of consciousness trigger the first of these major renunciations: Cipriano exchanges an aggressively macho, militaristic, prestige-ridden ego for a new decentred, receptive and mutable self. Witnessing the “bliss” of the other, he is no longer “a will,” but a “young vulnerable flame” (394). Clearly something other than a male sexual power-game may be at stake in Cipriano’s demand that Kate renounce clitoral orgasm.
Eliade uses the term “regressive” to describe those mythical sheddings of cultural, linguistic and sexual mediations that inhibit the reappropriation of primordial being (270). This accurately designates Kate’s renunciations—her shedding of socially conditioned Western desire in a swift regress to a “virginal” state: “the years reeled away from her in fleeing circles, and she sat . . . for him, a virgin.” As with all potent myths, readerly scepticism about the infantile ease of these transformations is quickly brushed aside (“Ay yes, it was childish”): they must be accepted solely on faith (“But it was actually so”). Relinquishing the old sexual ego (Kate), and the pursuit of “one’s own ends” (Cipriano) are the indispensable disciplines for the practice of the Tantric sex that will shortly transform them (393-94).
Allegorical correspondences are once again close, though Lawrence typically gives the love-making a misogynist twist by centering it unilaterally on female renunciation. It thus circumvents the Tantric “retention of semen” discipline, or, more properly, it transfers the rigors of a male sexual discipline on to the female, who must perform further renunciations, and revolutionize her sexual praxis in a manner we must suppose the male (Cipriano) has already accomplished. The enactments proceed at two distinct levels: first, Kate’s radical psychophysiological transformations that closely resemble the ones Tantric initiation induces; second, the emergence of a new sexual practice whose prime mark is its radical difference from Kate’s earlier one.
The scenario unfolds with a description of the violent transubstantia-tions of Kate’s body-substance, which bear all the hallmarks of Tantric metamorphoses: “For it was not her spirit alone which was changing, it was her body, and the constitution of her very blood . . . the terrible katabolism and metabolism in her blood . . . changing her . . . to another creature” (421). In the Tantric context, Eliade speaks of the complete “inversion” of psychophysiological processes—an “arresting manifestation," a “process of disintegration,” the “going against the current” that establishes that physical immobility which is the prerequisite for the practice of maithuna (270). The immobility of the embrace configures the mental immobility that signals the transcendence of quotidian consciousness, and of the verbal constructions that undergird it. Here again, the allegorical reference is close and precise.
As Kate becomes “vague and quiet,” sinking “away from the surface” of life, she experiences a “strange, heavy, positive passivity . . . (a)nd talk, and thought, had become trivial, superficial to her: as the ripples on the surface of the lake are as nothing to the creatures that live away below in the unwavering deeps” (421). Clearly “positive" is the key epithet here, distinguishing the mute passivity that traditionally marks female subjection, from a mutually shared psychic passivity that prefigures further radical transmutations to come. Indeed the Lawrentian distinction between surface and depth is a commonplace Tantric one: verbal communication is a mere “fleeting, unreal rippling of waves over the immobile radiance of the consciousness without content” (Tucci 52).8 Transcending ego-con-sciousness, the partners become those vaster forces their cosmic visualizations configure. The text puts it graphically: Kate sinks “to a final rest, within a great, opened-out cosmos” (421).
At this point, a dramatic shift in narratorial strategy signals a major mutation—from a low-key, literal, pseudo-clinical detailing of physiological symptoms (which I have just analysed) to an exuberant, free-ranging metaphorics that discriminates the old modes of sex from the new. Two disjunctive relays establish the difference: sea-waves that noisily break into foam, as opposed to fountains that circulate steadily without interruption or end. While the first dissipates desire through an uncontrolled, reckless expenditure that wastes all at once, the second conserves and transforms desire, and puts it to new special uses. For what programmed and polemical ends does Lawrence exploit these two figures?
Incremental repetition (Lawrence repeats each configuration three times) constructs a progressively lurid picture of the wasteful excess of the clito-ral orgasm. The third is the most melodramatic: “And she (Kate), as she lay, would realise the worthlessness of this foam-effervescence, its strange externality to her. It seemed to come upon her from without, not from within . . . the friction which flares out in circles of phosphorescent ecstasy, to the last wild spasm which utters the involuntary cry, like a death-cry, the final love-cry. This she had known, and known to the end, with Joachim” (422). With its suggestion of external conditioning (imposed by cultural and linguistic constraints), its centrifugal movement, its diffuse instability, its dissipation of desire (masturbatory waste), and its sudden extinction, the description assimilates the clitoral orgasm to the death-rattle that brings life itself to an end. Two powerful models dominate the description, the first of which is apocalyptic. The microcosmic “catastrophe” of clitoral orgasm is the prototype of a greater macrocosmic “catastrophe:” the wrong kind of sex, as it were, brings the world itself to an end. The second is psychoanalytical, and altogether more subtle. If, as Luce Irigaray claims, the goal of psychoanalysis is “to appropriate the dangerously fluid properties associated with women by converting them into more safely containable masculine attributes of “flow,””9 then this is precisely the kind of conversion that Cipriano sets out to achieve. If fluid turbulence is typically feminine, and thus excessive and threatening, the steady flow is essentially masculine: male conservation reins in and controls anarchic female desire. Lawrence’s gendered metaphorics repudiates the first, and embraces the second in a manner that is at best tangential to Tantrism.
Tantrism, however, does add a further complicating dimension. Since its goal is to transmute desire through desire, by conserving its force, it regards all orgasmic activity—male or female—as misdirected and wasteful. The orgasm is blind to the soteriological potential of sex since, instead of transmuting desire, it expends it. As one Tantric exegete, rather dismissively, puts it, ordinary lovers are led in a “vicious circle” in pursuit of a “total satisfaction” that forever eludes them. Propelling themselves on to their climaxes, their “knowledge breaks in (their) hands, and (they) have to start all over again. The climax, expected to come from the outside, cannot fulfill expectations ... it becomes man’s (sic) very failure” (Guenther 68-69). Because the orgasm trades only in desires that can never be satisfied, it misses the real (Tantric) meaning of sex. But what is this meaning?
In place of orgasmic sex, this new practice substitutes a coitus reser-vatus—a non-orgasmic, steady-state, non-verbalized sex that transmutes ordinary desire into its opposite: states of blissful repose and awareness: “Her (Kate’s) strange, seething feminine will and desire subsided in her and swept away, leaving her soft and powerfully potent . . . And there was no such thing as conscious “satisfaction.” What happened was dark and untellable. . . What she had with Cipriano was curiously beyond her knowing: so deep and hot and flowing, as if it were subterranean. She had to yield before it. She could not grip it into one final spasm of white ecstasy which was like sheer knowing” (422). As in Tantric sexuality, this relay assimilates micro- to macrocosm, body-image to earth (“subterranean”) image, and, by implication, the vertebral column to the earth’s axis. Likewise the “fountain” that gushes up from the deeps has its Tantric analog in those (kundalini) currents that circulate through the body, abolishing conventional consciousness. And, of course, the renunciation of orgasm is encoded in Kate’s refusal to get a grip on her satisfaction—the “one final spasm of white ecstasy.”10 The ultimate distinction the text draws is between a sexual “knowing” and a blissful non-knowing: between a self-reflexive personal pleasure of which one can speak to the other and an impersonal jouissance to which one can only bear witness: between an ascent into knowledge, and a descent into wisdom, as a form of non-verbal enlightenment. This leads to our final consideration—the striking coincidence between Tantric and Lawrentian soteriological goals.
The goal of Tantric soteriology is to eliminate “grasping” as a mode of encountering others. In purging perception, it reveals a universe stripped of symbolic accretions. “Bare attention”—without self-interest or self-aggrandization—is the classic Buddhist term for this disposition.11 The resulting attitude, as one exegete puts it, is “open and untainted . . . appreciative, not forceful, demanding” (Guenther 82). Lawrence’s concept of the “will”—in its negative manifestations—is virtually identical with the Tantric concept of “grasping.” Aligned to conceptual domination, the “will” seeks to master its objects by imposing “fixed scheme(s),” which facilitate their appropriation (Psychoanalysis 248). Lawrence’s repudiation of “will”—both Kate and Cipriano renounce it—coincides with the Tantric repudiation of “grasping” (after his marriage, we recall, Cipriano is no longer a “will,” but a “vulnerable flame”). What precisely are the consequences of Kate and Cipriano’s renunciation of “will” in their lovemaking, and how does Lawrence communicate them?
He does so by miming at the rhetorical level those transformations he projects at the soteriological one. Stripping natural objects—snakes, bulls and horses especially—of the symbolic burden of meaning they accrete in the course of the novel permits a kind of stark, uncompromising literal residue to emerge. Put differently, these creatures appear in their own untrammelled right, free from cultural and psychological entanglements. No longer mere extensions of human needs and desires, they shine out in their “is-ness”—their freedom to be. In a sequence of startling vignettes, and through subtle rhetorical sleights, Kate sees “real” creatures for the first time in the novel.
Robert Langbaum considers the appearance of a real snake, “after all the snake imagery,” a stroke of “artistic genius” on Lawrence’s part (285). But, of course, it is also a carefully calculated effect—the symptomatic sign of Kate’s new way of perceiving the world without attempting to arrogate it. Walking by the lakeshore, she sees “a snake, with a subtle pattern along its soft dark back, lying there over a big stone, with its head sunk down to earth” (424). After the portentous, grandiose serpent symbolism of the Quetzalcoatl hymns, this literal, down-to-earth image suggests that something more is at stake than a reinforcement of realistic effect. No longer entangled in thought constructions, Kate for the first time sees the world as a bare thing-in-itself, shorn of symbolic encrustment.
This real-life snake has exactly the same significance as those monolithic silhouettes of the bull that Kate contemplates by the lakeside at Sayula. Unlike the doomed bulls in the Mexican arena—projections of the human desire for prestige and mastery— this huge black and white bull exists in its own right. “(L)ooming massive” against the horizon, it dwarfs its diminutive human masters who vainly try to push it on to a boat (431— 32). Unlike (also) the victimized hackneys in the Mexican bullring, the white roan horse on the shore “pran(ces) along,” his mane “flow(ing) in the wind,” following his own desires, as if looking for something he had lost (434). Indeed, Kate’s access to a real world, unmediated by symbols, has its analog in her access to true desire, which no longer grasps or appropriates the other’s desire.
Chapter Three posed an intriguing question: why do (Tantric) sexuality and narrative make uncongenial bed-fellows, and even lead to narrational impotence? Why have Eastern sex-modes and practices no future in the Western novel? Transcending desire, it seems, has nothing like the same diegetic potential as living it out. To write a novel about the vicissitudes of erotic desire—its advances and regressions, repressions and sublimations— requires a return to the finely-tuned variations on Western-style orgasm. Lady Chatterle\;’s Lover makes exactly such a return.
There, once again, the orgasm comes into its own, as arousal, foreplay and climax mesh inextricably with narrative beginnings, middles and ends. Each of the seven major love-encounters heightens the drama, fuels the “flames” of desire, and enriches the role of the orgasm. But if forefronting the orgasm is typically Western, their seven-stage unfolding is not. A powerful Eastern subtext shadows their structures, and gives them their distinctive teleological thrust. An idiosyncratic chakra psychology underwrites both Connie’s transfigurations, and the seven-stage progress required to achieve them. The final chapter engages with this particular subtext.
Lady Chatterley's Lover: The Return of the Orgasm
Frank Kermode was the first to detect a remarkable correspondence between Lawrence’s apocalyptic typology, as he outlines it in Apocalypse, and Connie Chatterley’s seven-stage sexual liberation in Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Spenser 128-29). Her initiation, awakening and rebirth follow the original plot of Apocalypse—six preparatory stages followed by a climactic seventh. While Kermode notes this intriguing subtext, he does not further probe these correspondences, or explore their deep structural impact on the novel’s organization. For Lawrence not only alludes to an apocalyptic typology: he also deploys an Eastern (Yogic) ontology to depict a Western-style socially-transgressive affair between a lady and her gamekeeper. In so doing, he exploits a symbolic chakra psychology of the seven centers of consciousness to map Connie’s seven-stage rebirth and transfiguration. Unlike Women in Love and The Plumed Serpent, however, which confine their Tantric erotics to one single episode (as limit-scenes, these violate the norms the other episodes affirm), Lady Chatterley’s Lover draws on a Yogic dynamics to structure the stages of the revolution itself, underwriting their initial setbacks, their sudden releases, their climactic illuminations. To a skeletal subtext, it adds rapturous flesh, as the vicissitudes of Western orgasmic attainment—inhibitions, bad-timing, non-simultaneity, radical deflation and let-down—are brought into narrative play, and transcended. A complex Eastern self-liberation psychology underwrites the progressive intensities of Connie’s Western-style orgasms.
One crucial passage in Apocalypse sets the scene: there, an explicit allegory identifies the opening of the seven seals in The Revelation of St. John with the conquest of the seven somatic centers of consciousness:
The famous book of seven seals in this place is the body of man: of a man: of Adam: of any man: and the seven seals are the seven centres or gates of his dynamic consciousness. We are witnessing the opening, and conquest of the great psychic centres of the human body. The old Adam is going to be conquered, die, and be re-born as the new Adam: but in stages: in seven-fold stages: or in six stages, and then a climax, seven. For man has seven levels of awareness, deeper and higher: or seven spheres of consciousness. And one by one these must be conquered, transformed, transfigured. (101)
The broad figurative correspondence between this typology and the sequence of Connie’s seven erotic encounters with Mellors is quite exact: the first six prepare the way for the climactic seventh, which retrospectively reviews and revalues their total achievement. As Lawrence proceeds to work through this archaic seven-seal symbolism, however, it soon becomes clear that any more precise correspondence breaks down. The conquest of the first four centers which Lawrence assimilates to the theatrical riding forth of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse has few analogies with the ups and downs of Connie’s first four erotic encounters. Neither does the allegory of the opening of the fifth and sixth seals as the divesting of “soul and spirit” from the living “I” throw much light on the significance of Connie’s new glamorous orgasms. And the characterization of the seventh stage as “a death and birth at once” is a mere pointer to the real significance of the seventh encounter, which, notoriously, assimilates anal penetration to climactic enlightenment. His sole apposite identification is the opening of the last three seals with the harrowing of Hades—the descent into the dark underworld of being as a prelude to liberation (Apocalypse 103-05).
While Apocalypse is thus a key skeletal subtext to the broad typology of the seven encounters, it shades in few of the details. Yogic chakra psychology, however—its symbols, colours, emblems, dominant traits, and soteriological force—does exactly that, especially in relation to the three deep “sensual” centers. The seven Yogic “spheres of consciousness” constitute a potent subtext for the seven erotic encounters, a symbolic undergirding for the narrative of Connie’s progressive awakening. A sophisticated liturgy of initiation coincides with a heterodox conception of the self’s radical transformations.
Fantasia of the Unconscious and Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious represent—among other things—Lawrence’s complex adaptations of chakra psychology to a highly intuitive theory of psychic growth and development. While the previous three chapters explored the transformatory potential of this psychology—how kundalini circuits induce states of jouissa nee—they did not, however, probe the psychology of each of the chakras. Because Lady Chatterley’s Lover allegorizes the conquest of each particular chakra, I shall now detail their more complex dispositions and traits.
Lawrence is roughly in line with orthodox Yogic topographies in locating seven “divine subtle centres” (Woodroffe Serpent 163) or seven distinct planes of consciousness in the body. Starting from the root center (muladara), these, as we saw, extend upwards, distributed along the path of the vertebral column, at the genitals (svadhisthana), the navel (manipura), the heart (anahata), the throat (visuddha), the forehead (ajna), and finally the crown of the head (sahasrara). He is markedly less orthodox in his obsessive concern with polarities—those dynamic checks and constraints that ensure that no one center assumes absolute dominance: the “sympathetic” or assimilative centers along the front of the body counter-balance the “voluntary” or self- assertive centers along the vertebral column (lower back and shoulders) (Fantasia 64-73). While a Yogic concept of polarity certainly exists, its tensional nodes are quite distinct from the Lawrentian ones: there, a massive storehouse of static energy, concentrated in the sacral plexus—the symbolic sleeping serpent—polarizes the six other centers, equilibrating and stabilizing their force (Woodroffe Serpent 257-315).
Lawrence is totally heterodox in designating the three lowest chakras (navel, genital, sacral) as the three great “sensual” centers (Fantasia 181). Yogic psychology, by contrast, attributes the greatest soteriological power— for liberation, illumination—to the sahasrara chakra, at the crown of the head. Thereafter, the descent down the vertebral column marks a gradual declension from “subtle” to “gross”—to the “grossest” center of all at the base of the spine. In the Tantric manner of transmuting desires into their opposites, Lawrence translates the negative (“gross”) into the positive (“sensual”). A Western “spiritual” ideational culture, which radically denaturizes these “sensual” centers, enthrones the logos as the sign of its conquest. In its devaluation of sense-perception and of the phenomenal world, Western spirituality is thus a soul-sister of Eastern transcendence, both sharing the same aspirations and goals. For Lawrence, a hyperactive upper-chakra activity vitiates psychic vitality and withers the flesh. A downward redirection alone can resuscitate the great “sensual” centers, and release their dammed-up sexual powers. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the orgasm is the agent of this revolution—the acceleration of its soteriological force in direct proportion to the deceleration of upper-chakra activity.
From the perspective of chakra psychology, the novel falls into three convenient phases. Its opening (Chapters One to Nine) centers on Wragby
Hall, a microcosm of English provincial intellectual life, dominated by upper-chakra activity (Clifford and his cronies do nothing but talk). Slowly reversing direction, the central section (Chapters Ten to Thirteen) awakens the deep “sensual” centers through the soteriological power of the orgasm. The final chapters (Fourteen to Sixteen) celebrate the great affirmation—the triumph of the “sensual” centers, manifesting burgeoning new modes of desire, and “unspeakable” new modes of jouissance.
A single word echoes repeatedly in the opening chapters—talk: Lawrence foregrounds it, italicizes it, even blows up the format on specific occasions. Clifford and his cronies are obsessive talkers, their words reverberating throughout the vacuum of Wragby Hall (in their company, Connie is noticeably silent). A “sensual” atrophy—the implication is—converts the self into language, as thought-perception subjugates “natural”-perception, and fictions of the mind come to dominate the real world.
The Wragby Hall chapters show this process of linguistic conversion in action, with sex as its special domain. For the cronies, talk is the ideal grammar of sexual intimacy, where words assume the status of movement and touch.1 Since, for them, sex is a conversation whose basic codes are linguistic, it is no more than “another form of talk, where you act the words instead of saying them ... (it is) a sort of communication like speech” (34-35). Conversation initiates sex, which in turn reproduces more conversation to assess the performance. A mere supplement to language, sex plays the role of a fetish—a highly-charged substitute that compensates for a lack it conceals (Lawrence crudely underscores this by making three out of four cronies impotent). Translating sex into discourse paralyses the “sensual” centers by repressing their potency.
It also insinuates a veil of illusion between the self and the world. Though both Clifford and Connie (before her “awakening”) are victims of this illusion, Connie alone is aware of her disease, and thus predisposed to a cure. To take one exemplary scene: when, one spring morning, Connie presents Clifford with wood-anemones, he intones Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” in response. Connie’s diagnosis of this maneuver is penetrating and sharp: converting the world into language kills off the world, which merely mirrors a script that predates it. Because, as she puts it, words come “between her and life,” they suck “all the life-sap out of living things” (93). Perceptual deficiency is a symptom of ontological death. Like Clifford, Connie too lives a life that is already pre-scribed, dictated by anterior texts. A Lady-of-Shalott type of specter, she invents a purely fictional self—“a figure somebody had read about, picking primroses that were only shadows, or memories, or words” (18).
To diagnose this linguistic usurpation of consciousness, Lawrence draws idiosyncratically on chakra psychology. Here is a society, living exclusively from the upper centers with one particular center—the thoracic—ruthlessly dominating all the others. It generates those purely social emotions—envy, spite, hunger for prestige—that are its negative manifestations (Clifford and his cronies are representative figures) (Fantasia 76-78). All this, of course, is entirely Lawrentian, and has no basis in Yogic psychology. Lawrence, however, approximates to a Yogic conception of the dual functioning of the chakras. Acting harmoniously—fired by kundalini— they are microcosmic antennae for macrocosmic communications, and for self-integration and wholeness. Improperly aligned—exacerbating each other—they manifest those disabling symptoms that Yogic exegetes love documenting.2 As Lawrence expounds it, the thoracic, properly polarized, is a delicate, exploratory instrument, the source of “real eager curiosity,” and of an unmediated response to the encompassing world. Its dynamic equipoise lost, it generates a “cold objectivity”—those fine linguistic discriminations that split off the self from the world. The “great force of our day,” it ensures that the word reigns supreme (Fantasia 43-44,59-60). It also generates the fanatical logocentricity of Wragby Hall that, from this point on, the text sets out to undo. In the midst of it all, Connie feels herself “going to pieces in some way” (20)—a near-psychotic dissociation in which verbal fictions of selfhood usurp the authority that the “real” self seems to lack.
Michaelis, her Wragby Hall lover, in effect, embodies this lack. As a true upper-chakra performer, his courtship is at once acculturated and language-determined—a Petrarcan-style literary affair, punctuated by hand-kissing, flower-bearing, adoration and weeping, as in the courtly-love mode that predates it. Re-enacting the clapped-out conventions of love, Michaelis, as it were, confuses the grammars of language and of desire. Even his orgasms are purely verbal manipulations, worked, not from below, but from above: he “just went off from the top of (his) head, like (a) squib” (52). Indeed his best climaxes are linguistic, not sexual: hearing his plays praised produces “the last thin thrills of passion, beyond any sexual orgasm.” Confronted with what she most fears, Connie’s “whole sexual feeling” collapses (54). The scene is set for the entree of Mellors— impressario of the deep “sensual” centers, virtuoso of jouissance states.
From the start, Lawrence distinguishes Mellors from the Chatterley clique on the basis of chakra psychology. Their polar opposite, he is a man of the lower centers, a silent non-conceptualizer—’’mindless,” to use the Lawrentian term. Refusing to confound verbal with sexual intercourse, he uses even love-language in a purely functional and indicative way to issue brief commands or directives. Yet even he betrays a peculiar chakra-dysfunction—a loss of that dynamic equipoise that is the mark of their power. While both his physical vitality and “impersonality” are positive lower-chakra (Lawrentian) traits, yet the total balance is skewed, out of joint. Behind the mask, we are told, lurks a suggestion of suffering, the “pallor of isolation,” a diffuse alienation, symptomatic of his alienation from the deep “sensual” centers (his kundalini lies comatose). Mellors’s own diagnosis—”l’ve got to be broken open again” (118)—connotes the need for an engagement with forces, long since quiescent, and in need of resuscitation.
One electrifying moment of lower-chakra awakening marks the opening section—the celebrated vignette in which Connie encounters Mellors, stripped to the waist, washing himself in the backyard. A profoundly physical shock—a vibration of the deep chakra centers—she feels it first “in the middle of her body,” and then “in her womb” (66). Lawrence twice calls it “visionary:” why? Because it creates the illusion of immediate seeing without linguistic mediation, the “vision” itself seems to need no further interpretation: what appears coincides with what is really there. Its scrupulous literality (it repudiates metaphorical enhancement) serves to reinforce this effect: it reproduces the direct sensation of the thing-in-itself before thought-constructions take over. Indeed the onset of such interference is dramatized in a highly theatrical way. In a sharp re-assertion of upper chakra activity—social snubbing and ridicule—Connie objectifies her sensation, converting its initial force into language. Linguistic overkill enmeshes Mellors in a network of crude class-distinctions: “A man washing himself in a back yard! No doubt with evil-smelling soap! . . . Why should she be made to stumble on these vulgar privacies!” (66). An inherited societal reaction converts subjective sensation into objective response, reinforcing the split between seer and seen.
Indeed Connie reads her own body precisely in terms of this split-through linguistic and aesthetic recodings that at once objectify and devalue it. Stripping in her bedroom in Wragby Hall, she examines herself in the mirror: “Her body was going meaningless, going dull and opaque, so much insignificant substance. It made her feel immensely depressed, and hopeless” (70). At the same time, phrases like “the slumberous round stillness of the buttocks” evoke an alternative sense—a silent sensual promise beyond linguistic entanglements, predicated on lower chakra resurgence (71). Connie’s sudden aversion to the “mental life” that entraps desire in the verbal occurs at exactly this point: burning with “cold indignation against Clifford and his writings and his talk,” she rejects it “with a rushing fury, the swindle!” (71). Two implicit assumptions underwrite Connie’s aversion: the verbal does not coincide with the real, but may work to occlude it: changed attitudes to language may induce ontological changes as well.
The second section (Chapters Ten to Thirteen) subjects these theoretical insights to intense practical pressure: they must now justify their existence as subjective truths of experience, as opposed to detached objective observations. The implied questions are: does the cessation of thought-constructions permit a new world to appear, and does the renunciation of language in love revolutionize erotic awareness?
Apocalypse proclaims three to be the sacred number—magical calculus of the genesis of the cosmos from fire, water and earth. Four, by contrast, is man-created, a purely human statistic of the separation of the heavens into four quarters (136). The body, as microcosmos, has an identical pattern. Created and conditioned by socio-cultural pressures, the four upper chakras project those linguistic articulations that subjugate and repress desire. As magical triad, the lower chakras shatter the verbal through the extreme force of their own special agent: the orgasm.
In keeping with the pervasive dual mode of the novel, Connie’s first sex-act with Mellors is preceded by a spectacular negative instance— Clifford’s regression to precisely the kind of verbalized “worship” of Connie—“I’m absolutely nothing. I live for your sake”—that her love-making with Mellors is about to make obsolete. Clifford deploys his virtuoso verbal techniques to seduce Connie to stay at his side (111-12). In contrast, Connie’s first encounter with Mellors is mediated by gesture, indication and silence. Touching the new-born chick, she is in turn touched by Mellors in a libidinal dance where, instead of expressing, they act out their desires. A purely performative, impersonal language that enacts what it names (“Shall you come to th’ hut?” “You lie there!”) replaces the expressive, self-reflexive language of personal love. As index of the resuscitation of lower-chakra activity, the erotic momentum is downward: the “flame” in Mellors’s loins that leaps “downward” to his knees anticipates the path of his hand: it too traverses the downward path of the chakras—from Connie’s face, to her navel, down to her genitals (166). Because Lawrence’s unassuaged gender bias habitually assigns the initiatory role to the male, orgasmic activity is exclusively Mellors’s, though Connie’s passivity may also be read as the deep anaesthesia of the “sensual” centers. Her post-coital arousal, however, is automatically “thoracic”—a linguistic flurry of personal questions, subjecting immediate sensation to the demands of a meaning-relation: “Why was this necessary? . . . Was it real? . . . What was he feeling? What he thinking?” Yet a “mysterious stillness” is the first index of seismic upheavals shortly to follow: true desire—the suggestion is—irrupts only if not subjected to verbal manipulation. Because the “enemy within” is the logos itself, the lesson of the first encounter is silence in love (116-17).
And its hallmark is frailty. As Mellors walks home, he pinpoints the “enemy without”—the lurid macrocosmic reflection of microcosmic upper chakra supremacy: the coal-mines impose their own deathly sign-language on the subjugated body of nature: “The fault lay there, out there, in those evil electric lights and diabolical rattlings of engines . . . there lay the vast evil thing, ready to destroy whatever did not conform” (119). Connie’s first shock of awareness—the antithesis of Mellors’s—involves precisely the silence the machine rattle suppresses. As she walks in the wood, she “hears” an entirely non-verbal activity—a vibrating force- field, as the “body of nature” performs its own soundless routines: making “a silent effort to open their buds,” the trees heave the sap “upwards, up, up, to the bud-tips” (121). As the effect of the first lesson in love, Connie tunes in to the “sounds” of a natural silence.
The second encounter theatricalizes the clash between upper and lower chakra activity—the psychic collision of forces that each fresh orgasm initially aggravates. While Mellors’s erotic momentum is once again downward (he rubs his cheek on Connie’s “thighs and belly and buttocks”), hers is insistently upward. Insinuating her own verbal responses between sensation and consciousness creates splits and divisions. In linguistically detaching herself, she becomes a self-conscious voyeur of the sex-act she participates in: “surely that thrusting of the man’s buttocks was supremely ridiculous. Surely the man was intensely ridiculous in this posture and this act!” (126).
Soteriological agendas, however, all have a positive purpose (preliminary back-slidings are part of the act), and this one conforms to that law. Like Kate in The Plumed Serpent, Connie, we hear, no longer rouses herself “to get a grip on her own satisfaction” (126)—no longer, as it were, “sentences” her own sensations by imposing verbal prescriptions upon them. In abolishing such “sentences,” the celebrated third and fourth “watery” orgasms drown out and liquidate upper-chakra activity.
In this process, new styles of metaphor, drawn entirely from natural effects, replace the old social modes of communication: “tides” flowing, “bells rippling,” “whirlpools . . . swirling” project new direct worlds of sensation before conceptual discriminations intervene to destroy them. Though Connie’s climax is wordless, however, it is not soundless: “And she lay there crying in unconscious, inarticulate cries, the voice out of the uttermost night, the life-exclamation” (133-34). Irrupting out of the deep “sensual” centers, devoid of predicative power, this orgasmic ur-language has one special function: it signifies a prereflective at-one-ness with the primordial sound-source that produced it. Because (in Lawrentian theory) it carries, uncontaminated, the full libidinal charge of desire before language usurps it, Mellors imposes a ban on all verbal probings that would diminish its force (“He did not want her to talk” (134)).
The fourth encounter sharpens a remarkable paradox: silent jouissance states attract precisely the kind of virtuoso linguistic performance that must conceal its own rhetorical sleights. Though Mellors’s ban on speaking is absolute (Connie’s nagging “questions” drive him away (176)), she silently verbalizes her jouissance. A rapturous interior monolog that, at least in theory, should annihilate “bliss” bolsters precisely those verbal discriminations Mellors seeks to abolish: “How beautiful he felt, how pure in tissue! How lovely, how lovely, strong, and yet pure and delicate, such stillness of the sensitive body!”—and so on for ten sentences more (174-75). At exactly the moment Connie’s ejaculations reach a white-heat intensity, the narrator cuts in to assure us that “no consciousness” (i.e. language) could seize them. Thus Mellors’s continuing “bliss” is a function of his blithe unawareness of Connie’s unchecked infractions of the ban he imposes. By remaining apparently silent, she blocks off Mellors’s critique of the kind of verbal profligacy he loves to excoriate.
In Fantasia, Lawrence characterizes the “supreme lesson of human consciousness” in via negativa terms: “to learn how not to know . . . not to interfere” (72). Living “dynamically, from the great Source” (the three lower chakras) is the antithesis of living “from the head,” like “machines driven by ideas and principles” (72). As loosely organized allegories of the defeat of upper-chakra activity, the first four encounters dramatize this non-knowing. Because the last three draw more specifically on a Yogic dynamics, a precise chakra subtext underwrites each encounter. Since the microcosmic lovers incarnate those vaster cosmological powers that work through them, elaborate love-rites and liturgies take precedence over the physical detailing of the love-making itself.
In an October 1922 letter, Lawrence remarks that the “great gods pulse in the dark, and enter you as darkness through the lower gates” (Letters
Moore II 726). A parallel passage in Fantasia characterizes the retreat away from the prodigal word-waste of the upper chakras as a sinking back into the voiceless “darkness” of the underworld of being. This mythological descent into Hades is punctuated by the stage-by-stage arousal of the “deep and massive” sensual centers—the primordial trinity that recharge and transfigure the sexual life. After staying “its hour at the first great sensual stations” (solar plexus), “the tide ebbs on, down to the immense, almost inhuman passionate darkness of sex . . . the hypogastric plexus (genital) and the sacral ganglion (anal) . . . down to the earth’s centre” (180-81).
This psychic ebbing, in effect, maps the trajectory of the last three encounters. Evoking the body’s archaic constituents—fire, water, earth— they draw on a traditional chakra symbolics—colours, emblems, dispositions and soteriological force. Thus the fifth act is solar, symbol of sun-radiation and power: the sixth celebrates water—the rite of flood and sexual frenzy: the seventh assimilates the root chakra to the earth’s center—site of deathly decay, but also of effervescent renewal. A realistic love-drama integrates these Yogic symbolics without a too-crude schematization effect.
The dawn celebration of love—fifth encounter—is preceded by a night of angry unease and incipient quarrelling, triggered by Mellors’s misogy-nistic rehearsal of his sexual history (199-205).3 Indeed his compulsive confessing violates both the law of silence he sets for himself, and those the novel elsewhere espouses (Connie, for example, considers the intimate need to “reveal everything concerning yourself to the other person” a “bore” (253)). As Mellors’s recital makes clear (and this may well be its point), the more his male libido converts into discourse, the more mired in fantasies of power and dominance it becomes—a fact that Connie shrewdly records as she patiently endures his monotonous rant (““Your own self-importance is everything to you”” (207)). Because the lovers assume embattled linguistic positions, their sex-relationship becomes merely a struggle for power.4 Each subsequent confession marks a subtle deterioration in the lovers’ rapport, until an invigorating orgasmic jouissance restores it.
But what of the allegorical subtext? Here Mellors’s misogynistic rage against women is right to the point, for Yogic psychology posits “anger” as the dominant (negative) trait of the chakra (conquest by kundalini transmutes it into radiant joy). Upon this “region of fire . . . shining like the rising sun” (Woodroffe Serpent 285,366), the Yogic initiate meditates at its symbolic seat at the navel to assimilate the sun’s soteriological power. The fifth “fiery” love-act allegorizes this kind of solar conversion of energy.
Exhausted by their bitter recriminations, the lovers sleep until the dawn-sun rises “over the wood and the day (is) beginning.” Evoking a Yogic symbolics, Lawrence proclaims in Apocalypse that the sun “loves the bright red blood of life, and can give it an infinite enrichment if we know how to receive it” (77). The fifth is the love-rite of such receptivity, the irradiation of the body by solar presence and power. Already Connie’s body shines “faintly golden” in the rays of the sun which, she feels, wants “to come in.” As the prototypical Lawrentian “true man”—“navel polarized to the sun” (Apocalypse 92)—Mellors registers his own “aroused nakedness.” At this point, the assimilation of micro- to macrocosm is portentously exact: the risen phallus mirrors the risen sun, even to the “little cloud of vivid gold-red hair” that surrounds it. The resonances are part biblical, part Miltonic and paradisal, as, with autonomous vigour, the penis “in slow soft undulations” surges up in the same “towering fashion” as the serpent that seduced Eve in the original garden.5 Like Eve, Connie too “tremble(s) a little,” and her “mind melt(s) out.” Because Mellors burns “in the invisible flame of another consciousness”—the fiery sex-furnace from which this chakra-energy flows—the love-act is deliquescent and “molten” (208-13).
At this point, a new-style libidinal language—Mellors’s flamboyantly cocky address to his penis—first makes its appearance. Unlike his earlier confessional talk, which identified the phallus with power over women, here the penis subversively asserts its power over Mellors, precisely because it is not bound by language. As the alien other, it possesses auto-telic traits of its own: “Theer on thy own, eh? an’ ta’es no count o’ nob’dy! Tha ma’es nowt o’ me, John Thomas. Art boss? of me? Eh well, tha’rt more cocky than me, an’ tha says less.” The non-verbal, impersonal source of desire (the implication is) lies, not in Mellors’s ego, but in “John Thomas,” not in Connie, but in “cunt” (210-11).
In Yogic symbology, the sixth (genital) chakra is a “shining, watery region” in the shape of a half-moon: its dominant colour is white, its primary element water, and its soteriological promise is the freedom from enemies (Woodroffe Serpent 358-65). Its seat is the hypogastric plexus that controls the excretory functions.6 As such, it enacts the rituals of “our moist flesh”—the mythological female moon-attraction to water (Apocalypse 77). Floods and an all-encompassing wetness dominate this sixth love-act, the rain assimilated to Connie’s naked flesh as the sun was to Mellors’s in the previous encounter.
Mellors’s second confession—his dark apocalyptic musings predicting the end of the world—preludes this particular love-rite. His eschatological attack on his “enemies”—the “bosses” of the industrial machine—induces precisely the same absorbed self-aggrandization as did his earlier attack against women: Connie feels he is “really talking to himself, not to her” (221). The same immersion in discourse induces the same alienation effect from which only the soteriological power of the orgasm can release the two lovers (216-20).
Since this is her special chakra, Connie for the first and last time assumes the active sexual role. Dramatizing the chakra’s inner flowering, she threads forget-me-nots in Mellors’s red pubic hair (220). Rushing naked into the downpour outside, she performs her eurythmic dance movements, “holding up her breasts to the heavy rain and spreading her arms, and running blurred in the rain.” Though Mellors, we hear, dislikes the rain (he is a solar man), Connie revels in it, its “clinging” wetness shrouding and penetrating her body. In keeping with the dominant trait of the chakra (lust), and repudiating face-to-face intimacy, Mellors takes Connie a tergo—“short and sharp and finished, like an animal” (221-22). Shedding the burden of civilizing constraints, they metamorphose into the untamed feral creatures they aspire to become.
Mellors’s libidinal love-talk now celebrates the excretory functions over which the chakra presides (““an’ if tha shits an’ if tha pisses, I’m glad””). Indeed Mellors’s arse-talk attributes something of the same subversive alterity to Connie’s rear-end as his earlier phallus-talk did to his penis, undermining those decorous inscriptions of culture that aestheticize and cosmeticize bottoms (Connie’s “snirt of astonished laughter” is an index of her social discomfiture, and she quickly shuts off such rude talk with a kiss). The polite flower protocols, associated with society weddings, are the objects of a further subversion. In the novelistic version of the “supreme flowering” of the chakras, the now-mythologized lovers (John Thomas, Lady Jane) celebrate their wedding by decorating the symbolic nodes of the chakras—breast, navel and genitals—with forget-me-nots, newly picked and wet from the forest (222-24).7
In Yogic terms, Connie and Mellors have now consummated the cosmogonic marriage of fire and water—the “two great living elements and opposites,” as Lawrence calls them, over which the fifth and sixth chakras preside. The opening of the seventh seal is thus climactic and final—the initiate dying the last death out of which s(he) emerges “(d)azzled, reborn” (Apocalypse 106-07). It celebrates at once the ultimate human identity with “the earth’s dark centre, the centre of our abiding and eternal and substantial death” (Fantasia 156), and its simultaneous transcendence. The site of the seventh chakra (between anus and genitals) gives it a soteriological charge the other seals lack since, in Lawrentian typology, it subtends both the death and rebirth of the psyche.
As a prelude to this final conquest, Mellors’s verbal tangling with Hilda (Connie’s sister) on the eve of their departure for Venice foregrounds precisely those (negative) traits this conquest extirpates. The antithesis to free-wheeling libidinal love-talk, this abrasive confrontation projects a fierce verbal struggle for power. For Mellors, Hilda possesses exactly the same psychological traits—recalcitrance, obstinacy—as he himself unwittingly displays in the encounter (“A stubborn woman an’ ‘er own self-will” (245)). Two highly verbalized selves confront one another across a sharp social divide, as self-assertive and unyielding adversaries. Indeed, chameleonlike, Mellors assumes Hilda’s own traits, matching her aggressive expertise at the personal put-down with his own (243-45).
But what of the Yogic subtext? Unawakened, the chakra is “the source of a massive pleasurable aesthesia; voluminous organic sensations of repose” (Woodroffe Serpent 154). Like the earth’s substance at the center, its matter is heavy, torpid, unrefined. Pierced, it charges all the other centers with transformatory power. One Yogic commentator describes this “piercing” as follows:
The force of kundalini in our bodies comes from the laboratory of the Holy Ghost deep down in the earth. It belongs to the terrific glowing fire of the underworld ... (it is) like the fire of red-hot iron, of glowing metal. There is a rather terrible side to this tremendous force; it gives the impression of descending deeper and deeper into matter, of moving slowly but irresistibly onwards, with relentless certainty.
With its suggestion of mining the earth—of a painful but necessary penetration—this Yogic interpretation sheds a spectacular light on the Lawrentian one. Like a compulsive coal-miner, Mellors too penetrates Connie’s “deepest recess,” and “smelt(s) out the heaviest ore of (her) body into purity” (247).
Unpierced, for Lawrence, this chakra is a dammed-up site of “(s)hame, which is fear” (Lady 247)—those inhibiting, personal verbalized complexes that the force of the chakra eradicates. Pierced, it puts the omnipotent body, freed from neurotic trauma, on show: as index of this release, Connie becomes what she secretly most wishes to be—“her sensual self, naked and unashamed” (247).8 Here the gender bias is at its crudest. Through the most traditional of misogynistic stereotyping, a male metaphysical force imposes its meaning on mute female flesh. By becoming a “passive consenting thing, like a slave,” Connie merely becomes the woman Mellors desires her to be (246-47).
In contrast to the two previous encounters, here an extradiegetic narrator (one superior to the story he tells) blocks access to the lovers’ responses: there is no interior monolog, no libidinal love-talk, no celebratory naming of parts. Instead, the narrator himself eulogizes the soteriological power of an act which social decorum abjures. Thus he proclaims its revelatory force (it unmasks social pretence, turning shame into sensual pleasure), its other-culture acceptance (Heloise and Abelard were adepts, and so were the Greeks), and its exposure of verbal fictions—those sentimental romances, propagated by “poets”—as lies (247). Taking control of interpretation, imposing his own ban on talk, the narrator effectively silences the lovers, since his range of cultural reference in defence of the act goes far beyond anything he might realistically attribute to them.
This seventh love-encounter, however, is not really the last, though the logic of my Yogic subtext makes it appear to be so. Subsuming all the previous encounters, it seems to draw down the final curtain on sex. But an eighth encounter takes place in an urban setting—Mellors’s London attic-room—after Connie’s return from Venice. Precisely because it lacks the potent Yogic subtext all the others possess (there is, of course, no eighth chakra), it is highly instructive for our analysis. Put simply, this eighth encounter foregrounds those socio-cultural dimensions that Yoga sets out to transcend. With the East now in abeyance, prototypical Western obsessions—economic, social, personal—intrude into the love-making. A highly verbalized love-act—troubled, time-ridden and anxious—usurps the place of a silent impersonal jouissance.
The encounter starts with a shock—the news of Connie’s pregnancy induces Mellors’s panic-stricken response. His dread of the future (work, money, status) opens up an abyss of misapprehension between the two lovers (“(a) big gulf was between them”). Feeding verbally off each others’ fears at once diminishes their capacity for sexual pleasure and intensifies the force of these fears. From this perspective, two aspects of the love-making are crucial. First, Mellors’s agitated interior monolog about “money, and the machine” occurs between his entry into Connie and his subsequent orgasm, thus domesticating and taming its force (it has none of the self-shattering charge of the earlier orgasms). He is verbally active in love in exactly the manner he previously renounced. Second, in contrast to his libidinal love-talk, which celebrated subversive now-moments of being, this sober monolog envisions a future “battle” with the world that may defeat and undo the two lovers (279).9
Indeed the new theme of “tenderness” may well seem a panic-reaction against their overwhelming dread of encroachment and harassment (“I could wish the Cliffords and Berthas all dead,” Mellors exclaims (280)). The fact that the lovers better be nice to each other since no one else will gives their sex-act its peculiarly low-toned, non-rhapsodic, near-pedestrian cast. In the absence of a Yogic subtext, sex leads to personal intimacy—to a soft, self-expressive, suborgasmic exchange the text labels “tenderness.”10 The absence also impacts on the rhetoric. In place of those fierce solar conflagrations which symbolically lit up the lovers— those “molten thrilling(s)” of the fifth love-encounter (211)—a rather hackneyed Western metaphorics takes over: a “little pentecost flame” (301) now binds the two lovers—the muted sign of their fragile hopes for the future, now the great Yogic transfigurations are past.
The most pervasive symbol of relationships in The Plumed Serpent is
For many years, 1 did traditional research (my field was Renaissance literature), until, in an effort to extend the range of my interests, 1 read Eastern philosophy. Coincidentally, I encountered Buddhist theories of language, especially Madhyamika Buddhist ones, which, as scholars such as Robert Magliola, Harold Coward, David Loy and Jeff Humphries have demonstrated, bear a striking resemblance to Derridean deconstruction (in the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, my acquaintance with literary theory was solely through the well-known guidebooks of the period by Jonathan Culler, Catherine Belsey and Christopher Norris). Indeed, as Loy notes, the history of the Buddhist tradition is a continual struggle “between deconstructive delimitation and metaphysical reappropriation” (Derrida 227)—between a radical undermining of ultimate truth and its powerful reaffirmation. Such a struggle is strikingly characteristic of Lawrence as well: he too had a foot in each camp, playing off one side against the other. A dogmatic logocentrist, as his strident affirmations of truth attest, he was also an ardent deconstructor of metaphysical claims, especially those relating to settled meanings, permanent selves, and fixed teleologies. With the East as one pole of this opposition, he shuttled compulsively back and forth between East and West, deconstructing the latter by means of the former—without reaching any final accommodation between them.
Was Lawrence’s attraction to the East a good thing for the writing? Did it offer the best of alternative systems through which to critique the West? The answer must be yes—and no. On the positive side: just as his experience of Europe (with Frieda) hugely expanded the range of his understandings without which he might well have remained a provincial pastoral novelist, locked into social and oedipal themes, so too Eastern thought systems opened up horizons that might otherwise have remained closed. New ontological vistas, new apprehensions of language and silence, new desiring potentials, and new soteriological goals—all fuelled his critique of a Western culture that seemed to lack these dimensions. As this book insistently demonstrates, the East appears at those crisis points in the fiction, where the Western novel itself seems too constrained, and fresh urgencies of desire demand representation. A jouissance language irrupts as quotidian consciousness dies, and a super-consciousness comes alive in the human.
In the end, these novelistic projections of jouissance prove largely unsuccessful because they expose those limits beyond which language falters and fails. A powerful paradox supervenes: the same Eastern systems that hold out the prospect of jouissance undermine language’s power to articulate it. Since language is a mere pointer to states whose ultimate validation is silence, the Lawrentian novel is unable to cope with its own most significant truths. The doublebind is an absolute one: what the novel most urgently aspires to lies beyond its resources.
Coincident with Lawrence’s intense engagement with Eastern thought systems (from 1916 onward), though not necessarily by way of cause and effect, the quality of his writing declined. The switchpoint lies somewhere between Women in Love (1916-17) and Aaron’s Rod and Kangaroo (1921-23). The causes are multiple, intriguingly obscure, and remain largely unknown. But his growing involvement with Eastern thought, especially Yoga and Buddhism, may be a significant factor. Their stringent analyses of those conceptual frameworks that confine consciousness within closed systems (national, cultural, religious) pre-empt all intense forms of attachment, even attachment to jouissance itself. Because they rupture the intimate bonding between language and psyche, they may be inimical to a rich writing practice. What is enriching and liberating at the personal level may be subtly constraining at the writing one. They may inhibit especially those spontaneous “passionate” effusions Lawrence’s writing theories demand. One notable effect, in Lawrence’s case, is a conspicuous thinning of texture—from the myth-laden, metaphoric luxuriance of The Rainbow and Women in Love to the more literal, functional, neardocumentary style of Aaron’s Rod and Kangaroo. The outcome is a less highly wrought, more perfunctory writing that lacks the dynamic rhetorical charge the great fictions possess.
But this is surely to attribute too great an impact to what were, after all, Lawrence’s highly eclectic appropriations of Eastern thought-systems, which always hover ambivalently, distant yet close to his major concerns. Because it is the frisson between East and West that attracts him, he refuses the ultimate choice—between one or the other. One fact, however, remains: while his belief in the potency of true desire never wavered, finding fictional correlates became increasingly problematic, as the cumbersome symbolic encrustations of The Plumed Serpent, and the attenuated rhetoric of sexual ecstasy in Lady Chatterley’s Lover amply attest.
1 This brief historical sketch is indebted to J.J. Clarke’s excellent Oriental Enlightenment, which tracks the vicissitudes of East/West cultural, philosophical and religious encounters over a period of three centuries. Unaccountably the book fails to take notice of Lawrence.
2 Said’s book limits itself to the Near East (Egypt, Syria and Arabia). For Lawrence, the East comprises mainly India, Ceylon and China.
3 For a sharp deconstruction of the dichotomy between linear and cyclical time (West versus East), see Stephen Collins Niruana (234-40).
4 For a detailed account of Lawrence’s break with Congregationalism, see Margaret J. Masson (53-68).
5 It possesses something of the “agogic power” Jacques Derrida attributes to those “priest mystagogues,” who, leaping from concepts to “the unthinkable or the irrepresentable,” initiate others into the “mysterious secret” to which they alone have access (“Apocalyptic Tone" 36).
6 Because Judaic and Christian dramas of time and salvation are collective in orientation, the West frequently assumes that all such dramas are similar in type. As Collins notes, however, “Buddhist thought, like much Indian world-renunciatory religion, is individualistic” (Niruana 250). Throughout this book, soteriologv connotes the drama of self-transformation, of the quest for final solutions to ultimate problems.
7 J.J. Clarke contrasts Western philosophy’s belief that “the fundamental constituents of the material world are enduring substances . . . which persist through time” with Buddhist process philosophy, which views reality as event—as an “ever-flowing river, dynamic and mobile” (118). For a scholarly account of the function of river imagery in (Theravada) Buddhism, see Collins Selfless (247— 61).
Of course the Indian concept of samsara—the endless cycle of birth and rebirth— from which the believer hopes ultimately to escape entails a correlative devaluation of the phenomenal world.
In “Why the Novel Matters,” for example, Lawrence denies that he is a “soul, or spirit, or body, or mind, or consciousness:” he is simply “man alive” (Thomas Hardy 195).
Chris Gudmunsen offers an incisive analysis of this process in Mahayana Buddhist philosophy and in Wittgenstein (33-80).
Throughout this book jouissance connotes those ecstatic, or mind-shattering states, induced not only by sexual pleasure, but also by extremes of fear, anger or grief. It has exactly the same valency as Lawrence’s “true desire.” For convenience sake, I shall drop the diacritical marks surrounding “true" and “false” desire. True and false refer exclusively to Lawrentian conceptions, as I defined them above.
In Aaron’s Rod, for example, Aaron and Lilly contrast the condition of false desire—when “any devil that likes possesses you and does what it likes with you”—with the nirvanic state when false desire dies: then one “possesses one’s soul in patience and in peace” (104).
See Zizek’s analysis of the “enigma of the impenetrable desire of the Other” (Abyss 82).
Lawrence frequently extends these jouissance qualities to all self-transfiguring relationships at the moment of their inception. In his essay on Fenimore Cooper in Studies in Classic American Literature, for example, he portrays the “nucleus” of the “new human relationship" between Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook as follows: “A stark, stripped human relationship of two men, deeper than the deeps of sex, deeper than property, deeper than fatherhood, deeper than marriage, deeper than love. So deep it is loveless. The stark, loveless, wordless unison of two men . . . each is stark and dumb in the other’s presence, starkly himself, without illusion created.” A Yogic tropology underwrites these radical self-trans-formations: the “immortal serpent” (kundalini) sloughs off its old skin in order to take on a new one (58-60).
Of course Yoga and Buddhism were only two strands in a complex web of alternatives Lawrence toyed with in his critique of Western rationalism. But Yoga heads the list of influences he records in his foreword to Fantasia of the Unconscious: others include Plato, St. John the Evangel, the early Greek philosophers, James Frazer (The Golden Bough), and “even Freud and Frobenius” (6).
See especially Michael Wutz’s fine essay (83-108).
Paradoxically, as J.J. Clarke notes, many nineteenth century thinkers welcomed Buddhism as an ally in the struggle of science against Western metaphysics. They perceived Buddhism less as an irrational other than as a rational religion, compatible with the basic assumptions of science (165).
18 Here Lawrence refers to “the old pagan process of rotary image-thought” (Apocalypse 95), which would include Yogic processes too.
19 One might of course argue that this a merely a sacralized version of Freudian (secular) identification, given an extra cosmological boost.
20 As Stephen Collins notes, such cosmological correspondences are an integral part, not only of Buddhist mental culture (including Yoga), but of “Indian specialist (religious) thinking” in general (Selfless 218).
Chapter One Between East and West: Reinventing Buddhism
1 Margaret Masson, however, also notes the positive influences on Lawrence of his contact with the Eastwood Congregational Minister, Robert Reed: a “sense of embattlement” in an indifferent world, and Reed’s insistence that “experiential and practical religion is more important than creed and theoretical doctrine” (57).
2 For Roland Barthes’s tripartite division of narrative, see S/Z 75-76, 209-10. For convenience sake, I shall speak of “Ceylon” rather than “Sri Lanka," since it is the name that Lawrence employed.
3 For a detailed account of Lawrence’s engagement with anthropological writings— James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Edward B.Tylor’s Primitive Culture and Jane Harrison’s Ancient Art and Ritual, see Christopher Pollnitz (1-26).
4 See especially the Essays of Schopenhauer (139-40). The long Western association of Buddhism with pessimism goes back to Schopenhauer.
5 Nietzsche’s most extensive references to Buddhism occur in Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ (127-33). For a general discussion of Nietzsche’s own ambivalent attitudes towards Buddhism, see J.J. Clarke 78-79.
6 William James discusses Buddhism in Varieties of Religious Experience 50-52.
7 See especially Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled (291-92). J.J. Clarke accurately characterizes Blavatsky’s massive volumes as “an amalgam of Hindu Vedanta, Buddhism, and Western esoteric philosophy, combined with contemporary evolutionary ideas” (89).
8 For example, in Isis Unveiled, Blavatsky contends that the “all-pervading, universal soul, the Anima Mundi, is Nirvana" (291). In his book, Cosmic Consciousness, R.M. Bucke—another Theosophist—identifies nirvana with universal consciousness (86). The nature of nirvana is still the greatest problem for Buddhist philosophy precisely because, as David Loy remarks, the Buddha himself “refused to speculate on it:” one must instead attain it (Nonduality 192). Two of the best books, written in recent decades about nirvana, come to opposite conclusions about it: Rune Johansson’s The Psychology of Nirvana (1969) and Stephen Collins’s Nirvana and other Buddhist felicities (1998).
9 For theosophical discussions of esoteric doctrine, see Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine 1 (XX-XXI), and James Pryse’s The Apocalypse Unsealed (1-6).
10 For typical nineteenth century colonial views of Buddhism, see R. Spence Hardy’s A Manual of Buddhism (506-07), and Joseph Edkins’s Chinese Buddhism: A Volume of Sketches (8,88). J.J. Clarke notes a nice irony: Hardy’s book, written to help Christian missionaries understand Buddhism, “served to propagate the very religion they were trying to displace” (74). For the impact of Buddhism on American Transcendentalists, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, see Rick Field’s How the Swans Came to the Lake: a Narratiue History of Buddhism in America (1986).
11 This “yawning gap” hypothesis—the extreme distance that separates the higher manifestations of Indian religion from its superstitious and magical beliefs—is still a popular one (see, for example, R.C. Zaehner’s Hindu Scriptures (1966)). Stephen Collins’s Selfless persons is a detailed refutation of this hypothesis.
12 I confine the discussion that follows to those contexts where references to Buddhism are explicit, and where Lawrence uses terms like nirvana, meditation, greed and grasping, which he almost invariably associates with Buddhism.
13 “Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine” contains Lawrence’s most extended discussion of this “fourth dimension” (Reflections 358-63).
14 In Studies in Classic American Literature, Lawrence discusses Herman Melville’s obsessive pursuit of the “paradisal ideal" (148).
15 The message here is not to seek well-being in external pursuits, but to be master of one’s internal destiny. Lawrence’s repeated assertion of the existence of “an innermost, integral unique self” appears at first sight to run counter to the Buddhist doctrine of “no self.” Yet the contradiction is more apparent than real, since this “unique self” (or “soul”) is no more than a succession of transitional states without an enduring foundation—the “multiplicity of gods within us” who come and go without taking up permanent residence (Studies 22, 79, 87, 117).
16 Lawrence of course has a point here. Since, in Buddhist terms, desire causes suffering, the eradication of desire puts an end to suffering.
17 Lawrence recognizes that the first Truth is not a pessimistic proclamation, but the first step in a life-long soteriological project—to attain nirvana by eradicating desire.
18 “Seeing things as they really are” is a classic Buddhist formulation of the insight that all things are empty of enduring substance or selfhood. It is an important moment in the attainment of “Right View”—the first stage in the Eightfold path. See Collins Selfless (91, 115).
19 See The Sacred Books of the Buddhists III (179).
20 Lawrence would have picked up this reference from Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine 1 (XX).
21 Interestingly, “cold intellectual qualities” are precisely those that Max Weber and Albert Schweitzer condemned in Buddhism, associating its denial of a self with a “cold nihilistic aloofness.” See Collins Selfless (195).
22 In Isis Unveiled, for example, Blavatsky speaks of the Buddha as the first in world history to be “moved by that generous feeling which locks the whole of humanity within one embrace” (319).
23 The assertive “I am” quality of the definition may be read as a further step in the aggressive repudiation of Buddhism, which habitually identifies the “conceit” of “I am” as the symptom of the unenlightened state.
24 “Things” is included in the short story collection The Princess and Other Stories (208-20).
25 “The Man Who Died” is included in the short story collection Love among the Haystacks and Other Stories (125-73).
26 See Brewster’s Reminiscences and Correspondences (49).
Chapter Two Between East and West: Language and Silence
1 See, for example, “Introduction to These Paintings,” “Art and Morality,” and “Morality and the Novel.”
2 In Women in Love, the narrator attributes a radical scepticism about language’s potential to Birkin and Ursula: “She listened, making out what he said. She knew, as well as he knew, that words themselves do not convey meanings, that they are but a gesture we make, a dumb show like any other” (186). I shall return to this statement on a number of occasions in the course of the book.
3 For Lacan, taboos, prohibitions induce sexual desire. As Judith Butler puts it, Lacanian “desire is marked off from jouissance precisely through the mark of the law. Desire travels along metonymic routes, through a logic of displacement, impelled and thwarted by the impossible fantasy of recovering full pleasure before the advent of the law. This return to that site of full pleasure cannot take place without risking psychosis” (Bodies 98). What Lacan calls psychosis, however, Lawrence calls “the fourth dimension, the heaven of existence” (Reflections 358)— a concept I shall discuss in more detail at the end of this chapter.
4 Like Eastern theories, Lawrence’s organicist theory plays on the tension between dynamic change and development and the disposition to stasis and fixity, inherent in the theory itself. I analyse this tension in the course of the chapter.
5 For an excellent philosophical account of how this obstruction operates, see David Loy’s Nonduality 38-41, 63-64.
6 Loy Nonduality 208-09.
7 In Chapter 5, I shall explore the wider significance of these Yogic centers for Lawrence.
8 This is a working definition of the Lacanian Symbolic of which Ellie Ragland-Sullivan offers a full interpretation (162-87). Throughout this book, I shall capitalize Symbolic (thus) to indicate the Lacanian version.
9 Julia Kristeva’s theory of semiotic activity—sound rhythms, primitive vocalizations, intonations, image-imprints—that precedes fully developed sign-systems is a conceptual equivalent of these “internal vocalizations.” Kristeva distinguishes it sharply from the symbolic function of discourse (Desire 132-35). For discussions of Lawrence’s writing practice in terms of Kristeva’s semiotics, see Siegal (121— 22), Richard-Allerdyce (204-05), and Fernihough (54-59).
10 Such “static data” also include established scientific concepts “like conservation of energy, indestructibility of matter, gravitation, the will-to-live, survival of the fittest... they are all prison-walls, unless we realise that we don’t know what they mean” (Reflections 287). The idea of the concept that Lawrence habitually attacks is the classic metaphysical one: the deployment of language to fix some aspect of extralinguistic reality, and to make it known to the mind. By “we don’t know what they mean,” Lawrence implies that this linking of signs to fixed essences outside of language is an impossible (even dangerous) project, since it creates the illusion of mastery of the phenomenal world.
11 My account of Sri Aurobindo’s conception of language is indebted to Harold Coward’s excellent discussion (99-124).
12 This womb-trope, of course, is not gender-neutral: breaking free from the literal base in the mother is the necessary condition for the (male) figurative exploitation of language that the term “utterance” comports.
13 The brain, as Lawrence puts it, is “the terminal instrument of the dynamic consciousness” (the genitals, we must presume, are the originating one). Concepts are “thrown off from life, as leaves are shed from a tree, or as feathers fall from a bird” (Psychoanalysis 246). As the organicist metaphor suggests, reified concepts—linguistic dead-ends—initiate the process of language decay.
14 See Loy Nonduality 53-57.
15 Lawrence links “having a style” to this first level language, as I define it: style, in this sense, is the mechanical repetition of the rhythms, figures and images already established by others. He defines Poe’s style in exactly this way: it “has this mechanical quality, as his poetry has a mechanical rhythm. He never sees anything in terms of life, almost always in terms of matter, jewels, marble, etc.,—or in terms of force, scientific . . . This is what is called ‘having a style’” (Studies 74-75).
16 Candace Vogler suggests that many contemporary philosophers treat “sex as talk or as very like talk on the self-expressive model of verbal intimacy” that Lawrence rejects. For one philosopher whom Vogler quotes, sex has its “own grammar, delineated by the body: ” it employs a “phonetics of touch and movement: ” its unit of meaning, equivalent to the sentence, is the gesture: and it communicates “interpersonal attitudes and feeling” (332). Clifford’s cronies in Lady Chatterley’s Lover are virtuosos of this particular sexual grammar.
17 Given Lawrence’s hostility to Freud, it is interesting to note that both share the concept of “listening in” as a precondition for artistic creation. There is, however, a significant difference in their use of the concept. While for Lawrence, this “listening in” occurs before rational adjustment takes place, for Freud it occurs after this process, as a technique for relaxing conscious control: “He (the author) directs his attention to the unconscious of his own mind, he listens to its possible developments and lends them artistic expression instead of suppressing them by conscious criticism. Thus he experiences from himself what we learn from others—the laws which the activities of this unconscious must obey” (Freud Gradiva 115).
18 Recently David Loy challenged the traditional view that Buddhist attitudes towards language are exclusively negative, depreciatory. He shows how the great Zen master Dogen concocts metaphors “that leap out of the bifurcations we get stuck in.” Dogen deconstructs reified formulae, unsettles fixed views and, in so doing, redescribes the world in exactly the manner that Lawrence’s second-level language sets out to achieve (Healing 37-43). Jeff Humphries generalizes Loy’s particular claim: “Buddhist thought does not proscribe textuality ... in fact reading, writing, and even literary theory in the West can be consistent with the principles of Buddhist practice” (31-32).
19 This is Harold Coward’s phrase to describe Derrida’s conception of language: the dynamic difference that characterizes reality “also compos(es) the nature of language itself” (135).
20 The classic “Burgundy” metonymy, for example, traverses the well-worn path from place-name to wine.
21 Judith Butler neatly pinpoints the gender bias inherent in the nature/culture dichotomy: “reason and mind are associated with masculinity and agency, while the body and nature are considered to be the mute facticity of the feminine, awaiting significance from the opposing masculine subject” (Gender 37).
22 Virtually all Eastern ontologies assume that ultimate reality lies beyond the reach of verbal formulations, which play a purely indicative or analogical role on the path to enlightenment. The Upanishads, for example, reiterate the same well-known formula: “The Self is not known through discourse:" it is “beyond words” (31, 56, 60). Likewise, Patanjali’s Aphorisms of Yoga declares: “Delusion is an idea conveyed by words, without any reality” (26). Buddhism, of course, is equally insistent: one of the most significant texts in Mahayana Buddhism— The Lankauatara Sutra—puts it as follows: “Words are not the highest reality, nor what is expressed in words the highest reality. Why? Because the highest reality is an exalted state of bliss, and as it cannot be entered into by mere statement regarding it, words are not the highest reality” (77).
23 For Slavoj Zizek, as Judith Butler reads him, the fantasized pleasure that results from “the breaking of the prohibition that founds both language and the subject ... is the site of unthematized trauma.” (Bodies 199). For Zizek’s counter-critique of Butler, see The Ticklish Subject (253-79). Like Derrida and Lacan, Zizek is yet another Western no-exit-from-the-inherited-network-of-language theorist (or only at the cost of psychosis). For Eastern ontologies, as for Lawrence, the subject in language is a mere thought-construction, which deep meditation or the access to jouissance dissolves.
24 In her splendid essay on St. Mauir, Margot Norris extends this sense of the obliteration of language to include the complete text: “The ontological status of St. Mawr, the work of fiction, is that of a text crossed out, a text we are meant to forget, a text that is inscribed, then cancelled, in our conscious mind, so that it may return to haunt us like a dream” (176).
25 Another early work, the Study of Thomas Hardy (1914) tends to use non-human nature—the poppy, the sow-thistle, the nosegay—more as metaphors for the human attainment of maximum being than as agents of this attainment themselves: “Not the fruit, however, but the flower is the culmination and climax, the degree to be striven for. Not the work I shall produce, but the real Me I shall achieve, that is the consideration; of the complete Me will come the complete fruit of me, the work, the children” (10-13).
Chapter Three Women in Love: Narrative and Sexuality
1 Foucault later revised this particular listing, commenting that neither the Greeks nor the Romans had “any ars erotica to be compared with the Chinese ars erotica” (Reader 347-48).
2 Though Foucault seldom makes explicit reference to Eastern systems of thought in his writings, his surface text, as Uta Schaub shows, “allows us to trace elements of Oriental philosophy, religion, and kindred forms of Western mysticism and to assume that they constitute a generative code beneath much of his discourse” (307).
3 Mircea Eliade gives a lucid account of these treatises, analysing the iconographies (the mental images of the deities the acolytes espouse), the physical postures, the body-touchings and strokings, and the ritual sexual intercourse employed to attain the “supreme truth” (200-73).
4 Stephen Heath, for example, defines sexology as the study of conceptions and systematizations, both specific and historical, of sexuality—the representation of sex as a discursive entity. Such a discourse, he remarks, “goes back little more than a hundred years" (111). For Lawrence, sexology trades exclusively in false desire, as I defined it in the Introduction.
5 The list of critical works exploring the connection between narrative and psychoanalysis—perhaps the most significant branch of sexology—is a long one. It includes two essay collections—Psychoanalysis and the Question of the Text, ed. Geoffrey Hartman, and Discourse in Psychoanalysis and Literature, ed. Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan—as well as large-scale works by Meredith Skura (The Literary Use of the Psychoanalytic Process), Daniel Gunn (Psychoanalysis and Fiction), and Donald Spence (Narrative Truth and Historical Truth: Meaning and Interpretation in Psychoanalysis). In Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (especially Chapter 4), and in Psychoanalysis and Storytelling, Peter Brooks explores the intimate correspondences between psychic and narrative functioning.
6 Foucault opposes a confessional literature in which one discloses “one’s crimes, one’s sins, one’s thoughts and desires” to an oral literature “centering on the heroic or marvellous narration of “trials” of bravery or sainthood” (History 59).
7 While Krafft-Ebing’s functional theory of the sexual drive, for example, generates a sharp distinction between normal and pathological states (34-36), Freud’s theory, worked out in the Three Essays (45-87) tends to blur the distinction. Nevertheless, as Arnold Davidson shows, Freud participates in the very system he undermines, taking great pains to establish criteria that separate the perversions from normal sexual behaviour (252-77).
8 This is Krafft-Ebing’s fourfold classification of the perversions (34-36). The argument of the present chapter is not, of course, that Women in Love approximates to sexological discourse in its pretension to scientificity or in its clinical style, but that it co-opts some of its major motifs and strategies, which it adapts to its own narrative purposes.
9 Like the great majority of Western critics and commentators (including Lawrentian ones), Freud distances himself from Yoga, putting on kid gloves to discuss it. Thus it is a “friend” (not Freud himself) whose “insatiable craving for knowledge has led him to make the most unusual experiments.” The friend assures Freud that “through the practices of Yoga, by withdrawing from the world, by fixing attention on bodily functions and by peculiar methods of breathing, one can in fact evoke new sensations and coenaesthesias in oneself, which he regards as regressions to primordial states of mind which have long ago been overlaid.” Freud, however, recognizes that psychoanalysis “follow(s) the same path” as Yoga, though its “aims are less extreme:” it merely “attempt(s) to control (the) instinctual life,” while Yoga attempts to kill it off (Civilization 260, 266). Anna Freud identifies Freud’s friend as Friedrich Eckstein, who was a Sanskritist and a vegetarian, and who wrote essays on psychoanalysis (Masson 241-42).
10 Lawrence notoriously describes the Freudian unconscious as “the cellar in which the mind keeps its own bastard spawn" (Psychoanalysis 204)—the kind of crude popular misconception Freud corrects in the opening paragraph of his essay “The Unconscious:” “The repressed does not cover everything that is unconscious. The unconscious has the wider compass: the repressed is a part of the unconscious.” The essay goes on to explore the complexities of the unconscious system, positing the existence of inherited mental formations in its constitution (Metapsychology 167-210).
11 The Freud/Foucault/Lawrence triangulation is a tangled one, since Foucault associates Lawrence with Freud, both of whom he sees as caught up in the “complex deployment for compelling sex to speak” (History 158) (Lawrence’s “compulsion,” as this book demonstrates, is much more ambiguous than Foucault admits). Foucault identifies Lawrence with the same drive to verbalize sex of which Lawrence accuses Freud. Elizabeth Wright (49-55) and Anne Fernihough (61— 82) have excellent discussions of Lawrence’s responses to Freud.
12 While Lawrence’s philosophical conception of the unconscious as the source of authentic creative activity has its roots in romantic theory going back to Schlegel and Schelling (Tzvetan Todorov has written the standard account of this theory (146-221)), his conception of the unconscious as the erotically-charged source of self-transformation has its roots in Indian (Tantric) philosophy. I discuss this in depth in Section Two of this book.
13 Interestingly the narrator employs the classic Buddhist term “craving” (tanha)— the source of “suffering”—to characterize Hermione’s insatiable and unsatisfied (false) desire for Birkin.
14 The narrator’s diagnosis of the cause of Hermione's behaviour in her repressed “craving” for Birkin bears an uncanny resemblance to Freud’s diagnosis of female hysteria—“exaggerated sexual craving and excessive aversion to sexuality” (Three Essays 79).
15 Michel de Certeau shows how nineteenth-century sexology in general, and J.M. Charcot in particular, identified mysticism as a form of hysteria, diagnosing both as pathological phenomena (15-16).
16 For Lacan, the substitutive process of metaphor, based on resemblance, articulates the true speech of the unconscious, disclosed in the symptom (Merits 164-71).
17 As Patricia Parker puts it, metaphor is a figure “of transport and exile, evasion and transformation, deviation and copulation, identity and transgression, without necessary direction, or sens” (155).
18 Freud’s phrase (Three Essays 110-11). Locating sadism in the pregenital organization of sexuality, Freud defines it as an essential blindness to the pain of the other.
19 de Certeau shows how, from the seventeenth century onwards, the scientific worldview increasingly isolates the mystical, defining it by its degree of divergence from “normal” perception (14-16).
20 F.R. Leavis rejects these scenes as “jargon-ridden,” H.M. Daleski as “difficult” and puzzling, Emile Delavenay as “pretentious” and esoteric, Frank Kermode as inducing “strain” even in “sympathetic readers” (177, 176, 409-10, 74). Maria DiBattista is one of the few critics who commend these scenes: ““Excurse” is “one of Lawrence’s most successful fictional representations of a “generic” selfovercoming” (83)—a comment that, however, points more to achieved thematic resolutions to erotic conflicts than to narrative ones.
21 I shall explore in depth the Tantric source of this sexo-mystical physiology in Chapter Six.
22 Since this source, as the text informs us, is “further in mystery than the phallic source” (314), it “ousts completely” the “normal sexual aim,” thus defining itself, in Freud’s terms, as a pathological symptom (Three Essays 75).
23 Paradoxically, “double-meanings . . . evasions . . . suggestive vagueness” are precisely the devices the narrator employs to communicate the “mysterious” erotic enactments of “Excurse.” Loerke’s shifty techniques resemble most closely those of the narrator though, of course, the latter strategically refuses to recognize it.
Chapter Four St. Mawr. Theater and Jouissance
1 A 1925 letter—the date is significant—extends this critique of spectator detachment (“the actor and audience business”) to a demand for a dynamic reader-response to his novels: “After all, the world is not a stage—not to me: nor a theatre: nor a show-house of any sort. And art, especially novels, are not little theatres where the reader sits aloft and watches—like a god with a twenty-Lira ticket—and sighs, commiserates, condones and smiles.—That’s what you want a book to be . . . And that’s what my books are not and never will be” (Letters V 201).
2 This subjection to chance, however, in no way implies a theater of caprice or actor-improvization. Though chance is its basic law, its “chance” manifestations must be worked out in advance. Throughout the rest of this chapter, 1 shall use the term “Eastern” theater as shorthand for Lawrence’s Indian, and Artaud’s Balinese dance and rituals.
3 Leo Bersani has subtly explored the ontological basis for the “terror of repetition” that afflicted Artaud (Future 259-72).
4 Examples of “skaz” abound. In the first two pages alone, we read that Lou and Rico are a “charming married couple,” that she has “got” him, that “everybody stared their eyes out at them,” that Lou was “popped into a convent nursing-home,” but that “she was panting for Europe,” and that Rico wanted “to paint his head off, terribly inspired by Cezanne and old Renoir” (21-22, my emphases).
5 This is one of Derrida’s specifications of Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty (Writing 193).
6 This is how Lawrence characterizes Cezanne’s major achievement as a painter (Phoenix 579).
7 One notable exception is Margot Norris, who reads the Las Chivas scenarios as subverting the “traditional rhetorical function of description, which is allied to that of the museum (to erect monuments, to fix grandeur for posterity, to submit Nature to the conditions of the Institution”) (193). They also subvert traditional romantic descriptions of landscape.
8 Lou renounces the kind of “bad” repetition, which is “guided by the function of resemblance... under the law of the same” (Derrida Margins 270). Here Derrida’s characterization of conventional metaphor applies with equal force to conventional theater. The “total theater” that Lou espouses, by contrast, involves “good” repetition, where each return of the same marks the difference that makes each performance unique.
Chapter Five Reinventing Yoga
1 In his book on Kundalini Yoga, Shakti and Shakta, first published in 1918, John Woodroffe comments that “(a)ll the world ... is beginning to speak . . . about the chakras and the Serpent Power but (there is) a lack of understanding as to what they mean" (679). This seems an apt description of Lawrence’s state of partial ignorance in 1917.
2 Yoga: Immortality and Freedom is Mircea Eliade’s exhaustive account of these treatises—in Brahmanism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Tantrism.
3 In D.H. Lawrence and Susan His Cow, William York Tindall reports that Frieda Lawrence told him that Lawrence did not read The Serpent Power. Frieda, however, must have read the book, since she also told Tindall that Lawrence “would have loved it” (151).
4 The Serpent Power compares the “coiled power” of Kundalini, concentrated in the root-chakra to “a spark given from an over-saturated electro-magnetic machine” (303). J.J. Clarke remarks that this “widely read book” argues that there is “an underlying affinity between Tantra, with its experimental methods, and modern science" (166). In Lawrence criticism, expositions of the basic Yogic system (the chakras) abound, though most critics seem prepared to leave it at that. For lucid commentaries, see David Ellis (89-109), Robert E. Montgomery (179-91), Mara Kalnins (4-7), and Mark Kinkead-Weekes (157-65).
5 Frederick Carter’s manuscript, The Dragon of the Apocalypse, which Lawrence received in Mexico in 1923, reinforced his cosmicization theories, which he had already developed through his engagement with Yoga and Buddhism.
6 Here Coward alludes to mantras, which are conjunctions of “powerful seed syllables” or sound-substances. They are most evocative before they “become too locked into particular forms of articulation” (Coward 64-65). Woodroffe describes how subtle sound-substances, first generated in the root chakra (muladara), become “more gross” (articulated) as they ascend to the heart chakra, where they take on their “external manifestation” as speech in “sound, letters or words” (Tantra LXXXIV-LXXXV). Such a theory of language production is virtually identical to Lawrence’s, as I outlined it in Chapter Two. In place of the upward passage of these sound-substances from chakra to chakra, however, Lawrence refers, more poetically, to those “first messengers,” whose voice echoes along “the darkest avenues of the soul, but full of potent speech” (Thomas Hardy 205).
7 In Studies in Classic American Literature, Lawrence fashions his chakra-dy-namics into a formidable critical instrument to revalue writers like Poe, Hawthorne, Melville and Whitman: their fictions dramatize the subordination of the “deep sensual body”—the two lower chakras—to the “mentalized” power of the upper ones.
8 This is, of course, a travesty of Freud’s conception of the unconscious. As if in answer to Lawrence, Freud declares that though “(e)verything that is repressed must remain unconscious,” the repressed does not cover everything that is unconscious. “The unconscious has a wider compass: the repressed is part of the unconscious” (Metapsychology 167). In Fantasia, which Lawrence wrote after Psychoanalysis, he offers a “little apology” to Freud for so grossly misrepresenting him (11).
9 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari graphically sum up Lawrence’s view: Lawrence “had the impression ... that psychoanalysis was shutting sexuality up in a bizarre sort of box painted with bourgeois motifs, in a kind of rather repugnant artificial triangle, thereby stifling the whole of sexuality as production of desire . . .” (49).
10 Lawrence’s apparent lack of interest in foreplay (he came too quickly), which biographers frequently note, may thus have ideological roots. A further problem, as Brenda Maddox notes, was Frieda’s “insistence on multiple and protracted orgasms” (367). Lawrence’s theories would have led him to advocate the single, grand, transformational climax—a situation that the limit sex-scenes in the fiction amply confirm.
11 For a fine discussion of Lawrence’s ambiguous relation to the traditional romantic concept of the symbol, see Anne Femihough (34-40).
Chapter Six Women in Love: New Styles of Orgasm
1 These descriptions, typical of the period, are taken from J.A.Dubois’s authoritative account of Eastern religious practices—Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies (286).
2 Tantrism, I should emphasize, does not locate this root center (muladara) specifically at the anal zone, but between the anus and the genitals (perineum)—at the sacral ganglion. Thus Tantrism offered Lawrence an ontological pre-text for endowing this zone with soteriological vigour and force. At the biographical level, Brenda Maddox notes that Lawrence and Frieda discovered anal sex as early as 1912: “Their mutual pleasure in the forbidden zone was part of their strange bond” (148).
3 Mircea Eliade offers one of the best non-technical accounts of the Tantric sexual sequence (maithuna) (259-73).
4 See especially Woodroffe’s The Serpent Power (Plate 2, facing p. 355), which shows a brilliant red circle of lotus petals, enclosing yellow and blue Tantric symbols.
Though Lawrence professed to despise such one-to-one allegorical readings (“Fix the meaning of a symbol, and you have fallen into the commonplace of allegory”), he himself used them as an exegetical tool when it suited his needs, as in his allegorical working through of the meanings of the four horsemen and the four natures of man in Apocalypse (101-05).
Graveyard meditations on the “foulness” of the body in general and on festering, charnel-house corpses in particular were an integral part of Eastern initiatory rites. Edward Conze offers a vivid account of such traditional Buddhist meditations on corporeal “foulness” (101-09).
Phrases like “Sons of God,” and “daughters of men” point to an active biblical subtext at work in “Excurse.” It seems, however, subordinate to the Tantric subtext, which alone glosses the eroticized mystique of the ritual sequence.
In Apocalypse, the opening of the mystic or “third eye” occurs after the opening of the seventh seal: the initiate is “sealed in his forehead, like a Buddhist monk” (107). Pryse describes the “third eye" as a “window into space” (23).
Michael Wutz shows convincingly that Lawrence’s habitual use of the “image clusters of fire and ice and the recurrent idea of equilibrium—of hot balancing cold—hints at the presence of thermodynamic models in many of his major works . . . the sustained linkage of gender assumptions with thermodynamic models suggests Lawrence’s use ... of a principally gender-neutral or ungendered scientific theory in the service of a misogynist ideology” (104). In “Excurse,” Birkin’s “dark fire of electricity” rushes from him to Ursula (314), presumably inflaming her in the process. Tantrism reinforces a further aspect of a traditional misogynis-tic ideology that Lawrence espoused: its eroticism attributes “an active role to the male principle, and a passive one to the female principle” (Faure Red 54).
Faure speaks of Tantrism’s “naturalistic” or “spontaneous” tendency, which, as part of the saint’s hubris, places him/her “above ordinary moral rules” (Red 98). The attainment of supreme “bliss” entails the violation of conventional ethical limits and norms.
In Apocalypse, Lawrence speaks of "the power of the Kosmo-dynamos coiling throughout space, coiling along the spine of a man, leaning forth between his brows like the Uraeus between the brows of a Pharaoh” (126). The Theosophic and occult literatures Lawrence read routinely identify the Pharaohs as Yogic adepts.
Tantric ritual is performed within a mandala, which comprises “a circular border and one or more concentric circles enclosing a square divided into four triangles” (Eliade 219).
Chapter Seven discusses this style of coitus reservatus in depth.
In his essay “The Two Principles,” Lawrence puts it as follows: “Every new thing is born from the consummation of the two halves of the universe ... In procreation, the two germs of the male and female epitomize the two cosmic principles, as these are held within the life-spell” (Phoenix II 230).
14 In Sex in the Head, Linda Ruth Williams exposes the radical contradiction between Lawrence’s celebration of darkness and touch, and “his practice of setting up pleasurable scenes of looking, within which the female gaze facilitates the staging of a series of images of male beauty” (10).
Chapter Seven The Plumed Serpent Transcending the Orgasm
1 This repudiation of clitoral orgasm may well have a psychobiographical basis. As Brenda Maddox’s spirited biography indicates, Lawrence was fazed by Frieda’s multiple orgasms, and by his own incapacity to achieve simultaneous orgasms. As Maddox remarks, the full list of Frieda Lawrence's lovers would fill a small telephone book (276).
2 In Mornings in Mexico, Lawrence’s juxtaposition of Eastern and Western paradigms bears strongly on conceptions of sexual performance and pleasure. While the latter has a linear and a destructive thrust—“a straight course . . . hacked out in wounds, against the will of the world”—the former, by contrast, works through circular, unpredictable oscillations in space—“the swoop of a bend impinging centripetal towards the centre” (45). These of course are cultural stereotypes.
3 David Loy discusses the possibility of unlearning language conditioning through meditation techniques. Eroding symbolic incrustations permits the “thing in itself” to appear (Nonduality 46-48).
4 Lawrence’s essay “Life” is an extended meditation on this subjectless “third thing” that results from the loss of the two separate ego-existences that brought it into existence (Reflections 15-18).
5 Lawrence rarely relinquishes his gendered active and passive polarities: here an unenlightened female—the dark principle—awaits the male dawn of enlightenment to animate and inspire her.
6 To my knowledge, such binding with fur is not part of Tantric ritual. Perhaps it is meant to charge the centers with animal magnetism.
7 For a detailed exploration of the Aztec and Gnostic subtexts of these particular scenes, see Virginia Hyde (249-74).
8 In The Serpent Power, Woodroffe compares pure consciousness (i.e. without content) to the “illumination and stillness ... of some great ocean:” the mind reposes “like the still waters of the deep” (184).
9 Joseph Allen Boone’s summary of Irigaray’s argument (67) sums up my argument too. The juxtaposition of uncontrolled frictional agitation (read waste) and controlled steady pulsation first makes its appearance in Kate’s Indian dance in the Plaza. The seething “rustling of foam” bears the same negative relation to the silent “sliding of conjunction" as the “lesser" sex does to the “greater” sex (ISO-32). For the identification by Western scientific discourse of fluid properties— instability, turbulence, uncontrollability—with the feminine, see Luce Irigaray’s “The ‘Mechanics’ of Fluids” (106-16).
10 Among the many analogs of this steady-state circulation in the novel, the most striking centers on Ramon, though its context is not overtly sexual. Alone in his room, he strips off his clothes, assumes a hieratic posture, before “reach(ing) down in the invisible dark,” where “no Time and no World” exists. What follows, in effect, celebrates the destruction of quotidian consciousness, followed by an access to the nirvanic state. After the “gush of a soundless fountain” washes “over his consciousness, over his mind," it flows down the vertebral column, stopping at each chakra station—“over his heart, over his belly, (until) his mind dissolved away in the greater, dark mind, which is undisturbed by thoughts” (192-193).
11 For one of the many accounts of “bare attention” in Buddhist meditation, see Nyanaponika Thera (30-45).
Chapter Eight Lady Chatterley's Lover. The Return of the Orgasm
1 See, for example, Candace Vogler’s fine essay on the sex/talk analogy. Vogler describes “companionate marriage” as follows: “Endless conversation about the relationship; sex as a collective-action problem calling for creative solutions; a habit of probing for knowledge of each other—this is the stuff of bad case-study marriage. It’s not that case-study spouses have fallen out of touch. Rather, they are mired in something like epistemic overkill.” Vogler draws on Leo Bersani and Adrienne Rich to tell a different story about sex, not unlike the Yogic one I am exploring: “both associate positive shift away from lethal self-consciousness with violent abolition or anxious disavowal of a self” (329, 364-65).
2 Woodroffe, for example, associates a lack of control of the “three lower centres” with the irruption of cupidity, lust and anger, which, as he graphically puts it, are “the main doors to Hell” (Serpent 285-86).
3 Mellors’s main source of panic is clitoral orgasm—the woman’s “blind beakishness,” as he puts it (202). For arguments about Lawrence’s attitude towards the clitoris, see Robert Scholes (127-39) and Mark Spilka (171-90).
4 Leo Bersani puts it as follows: “For it is perhaps primarily the degeneration of the sexual into a relationship that condemns sexuality to becoming a struggle for power. As soon as persons are posited, the war begins” (“Rectum” 218). For a fine essay that explores Lawrence’s use of language in the sex-scenes in Lady Chatterley’s Lover to induce heightened states of awareness in the reader, see Charles M. Burack (102-26).
5 Milton’s serpent also stands “erect,” before “surging” and “towering” over Eve. See Paradise Lost Book IX 494-503.
6 For a detailed discussion of the physiological functions, including the excretory ones, associated with the hypogastric plexus, see Lama Anagarika Govinda (140— 43).
7 For an account of the symbolic “flowering” of the chakras—the unfolding of their lotus petals in the upward surge of kundalini—see Woodroffe Tantra CXXXIII-XV.
8 Though the association of anal stimulation with revolutionary transformations of consciousness may read like Lawrentian idiosyncracy, it has a certain basis in Yogic practice. What Connie and Mellors do together, the prospective Yogin does on his/her own, as this Hatha-Yoga directive makes clear: “Contract and dilate the opening of the anus again and again: this causes the awakening of the shakti (Kundalini)” (Wood 171).
9 After the violent self-shattering of the Yogic encounters, it seems no accident that a stereotypical masculine self reasserts itself in the eighth Western one: Mellors must cultivate “tender touch, without losing his pride or his dignity or his integrity as a man” (279). Instead of shedding his social self, Mellors now wants to restore it for the moment the real “battle” begins.
10 Rosemary Reeves Davies makes a much stronger case for the quality of this “tenderness” than my rather reductive analysis does: Mellors’s access to a new “tender” acceptance purges his excessive fear of the future (167-76).
Apter, T.E. “Let’s Hear What the Male Chauvinist is Saying.” Lawrence and Women. Ed. Anne Smith. London: Vision Press, 1978: 156-77.
Arnold, Edwin. The Light of Asia. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964.
Artaud, Antonin. Collected Works: Volumes 1-4. Trans. Victor Corti and Alaistair Hamilton. London: Calder, 1968-74.
Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. Trans. Richard Miller. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990.
-. The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art,
and Representation. Trans. Richard Howard. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986.
. S/Z. Trans. Richard Miller. London: Cape, 1975.
Bersani, Leo. “Is the Rectum a Grave?” AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism. Ed. Douglas Crimp. Cambridge, Mass., 1988:197-222.
-. A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature.
New York: Columbia UP, 1984.
Blavatsky, H.P. Isis Unveiled. California: The Theosophical Publishing Co., 1910.
. The Secret Doctrine. London: The Theosophy Company, 1947.
Boone, Joseph Allen. Libidinal Currents: Sexuality and the Shaping of Modernism. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998.
Brewster, Achsah and Earl. D.H. Lawrence: Reminiscences and Correspondence. London: Martin Seeker, 1934.
Brooks, Peter. Psychoanalysis and Storytelling. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.
-. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1984.
Bucke, R.M. Cosmic Consciousness. London: The American Book Supply Co., 1926.
Burack, Charles M. “Revitalizing the Reader: Literary Technique and the Language of Sacred Experience in D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” Style 32 (1998): 102-26.
Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.” New York: Routledge, 1993.
-. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.
New York: Routledge, 1990.
Clarke, J.J. Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter Between Asian and Western Thought. London: Routledge, 1997.
Collins, Steven. Nirvana and other Buddhist felicities: Utopias of the Pali imaginaire. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998.
-. Selfless persons: Imagery and thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982.
Conze, Edward. Buddhist Meditation. London: Unwin Books, 1972.
Coward, Harold. Derrida and Indian Philosophy. Albany: State U of New York P, 1990.
Daleski, H.M. The Forked Flame: A Study of D.H. Lawrence. London-. Faber and Faber, 1968.
Davidson, Arnold. “How to Do the History of Psychoanalysis: A Reading of Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.” Critical Inquiry 13 (1987): 252-77.
Davies, Rosemary R. “The Eighth Love Scene: The Real Climax of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” The D.H. Lawrence Review 15 (1982): 167-76.
de Certeau, Michel. “Mysticism.” Diacritics 22 (1992): 11-25.
Deleuze, Gilles. “The Schizophrenic and Language: Surface and Depth in Lewis Carroll and Antonin Artaud.” Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism. Ed. Joseph Harari. London : Methuen, 1980: 277-95.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. London: The Athlone P, 1984.
Delavenay, Emile. D.H. Lawrence: The Man and his Work. London.-Heinemann, 1972.
Derrida, Jacques. “Of an Apocalyptic Tone Newly Adopted in Philosophy.” Derrida and Negative Theology. Ed. Harold Coward and Toby Foshay. Albany: State U of New York P, 1992: 25-71.
-. “How to Avoid Speaking: Denials.” Derrida and Negative Philosophy. Ed. Harold Coward and Toby Foshay. Albany: State U of New York P, 1992: 73-142.
-. Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Brighton, Sussex:
Harvester P, 1982.
. Positions. Trans. Alan Bass. London: The Athlone P, 1981.
-. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. London: Routledge,
DiBattista, Maria. “Women in Love: D.H. Lawrence’s Judgment Book.” D.H. Lawrence: A Centenary Consideration. Ed. Peter Balbert and Philip Marcus. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985: 67-90.
Dix, Carol. D.H. Lawrence and Women. London: Macmillan, 1980.
Dubois, J.A. Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1906.
Edkins, Joseph. Chinese Buddhism: A Volume of Sketches. London: Trubner and Co., 1880.
Eliade, Mircea. Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Trans. Willard Trask. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969.
Ellis, David. “Lawrence and the Biological Psyche.” D.H. Lawrence: Centenary Essays. Ed. Mara Kalnins. Bristol Classical P, 1986: 89-109.
Faure, Bernard. The Red Thread: Buddhist Approaches to Sexuality. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1998.
-. The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen
Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991.
Fernihough, Anne. D.H. Lawrence: Aesthetics and Ideology. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1993.
Fleishman, Avrom. “He Do the Polis in Different Voices: Lawrence’s Later Style.” D.H. Lawrence: A Centenary Consideration. Ed. Peter Balbert and Phillip Marcus. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985: 162-79.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: Volume One. Trans. Robert Hurley. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1981.
-. The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon
Freud, Sigmund. “Civilization and its Discontents.” Civilization, Society and Religion. Volume 12 of The Pelican Freud Library. Trans. James Strachey. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991: 251-340. 15 vols. 1973-86.
-. “Delusions and Dreams in Jensen’s Gradiva.” Art and Literature. Volume 14 of The Pelican Freud Library. Trans. James Strachey. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990: 33-118.15 vols. 1973-86.
-. “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.” On Sexuality. Volume 7 of The Pelican Freud Library. Trans. James Strachey. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977: 45-169. 15 vols. 1973-86.
-. “The Unconscious.” On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis. Volume 11 of The Pelican Freud Library. Trans. James Strachey. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984: 159-222. 15 vols. 1973-86.
Govinda, Lama Anagarika. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. London: Rider and Co, 1975.
Gudmunsen, Chris. Wittgenstein and Buddhism. London: Macmillan, 1977.
Guenther, Herbert. The Tantric View of Life. Boulder, Colorado: Shambala, 1976.
Hardy, R. Spence. A Manual of Buddhism. Varanasi, India: The Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies, Vol. LVI, 1967.
Heath, Stephen. The Sexual Fix. London: Macmillan, 1982.
Humphries, Jeff. Reading Emptiness: Buddhism and Literature. Albany: State of New York P, 1999.
Hyde, Virginia. “Kate and the Goddess: Subtexts in The Plumed Serpent.” The D.H. Lawrence Review 26 (1995 and 1996): 249-74.
Irigaray, Luce. “The ‘Mechanics’ of Fluids.” The Sex Which Is Not One. Trans. Catherine Porter. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985.
Jackson, Dennis. “Indian Scholarship on D.H. Lawrence: A Western View.” D.H. Lawrence Studies in India. Ed. L.S. Ramaiah and Sachidananda Mohanty. Calcutta: Writers Workshop Books, 1990: 13-21.
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. London: Fontana, 1975.
Johansson, Rune E.A. The Psychology of Nirvana. London: Allen and Unwin, 1969.
Kalnins, Mara. “Introduction.” D.H. Lawrence: Apocalypse and the Writings on Revelation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1980: 3-38.
Kermode, Frank. Lawrence. London: Fontana, 1973.
-. “Spenser and the Allegorists.” Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne.
London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971: 12-32.
Kinkead-Weekes, Mark. “The Genesis of Lawrence’s Psychology Books.” The D.H. Lawrence Review 27 (1997/1998): 153-70.
Knapp, Bettina L. “Mexico: The Myth of Renovation." Substance 15 (1986): 61-68.
Konrad, Linn. “Modern Hieratic Ideas about Theatre: Maurice Maeterlinck and Antonin Artaud.” Modern Drama 22 (1979): 327-37.
Krafft-Ebing, Richard von. Psychopathia Sexualis, with Especial Reference to the Antipathic Sexual Instinct. Trans. Franklin Klaf. New York: Bell, 1965.
Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon Roudiez. New York: Columbia UP, 1980.
Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Routledge, 1977.
Langbaum, Robert. The Mysteries of Identity: A Theme in Modern Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.
The Lankavatara Sutra: A Mahayana Text. Trans. Deisetz Suzuki. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973.
Lawrence, D.H. Aaron’s Rod. Ed. Mara Kalnins. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.
-. Apocalypse and the Writings on Revelation. Ed. Mara Kalnins.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1980.
-. The Collected Letters of D.H. Lawrence. Volume Two. Ed.
Harry T. Moore. London: Heinemann, 1977.
-. Fantasia of the Unconscious and Psychoanalysis of the Unconscious. London: Heinemann, 1971.
-. Kangaroo. Ed.Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.
-. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Ed. Michael Squires. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993.
-. The Letters of D.H. Lawrence. Volume I, 1901-13. Ed. James
T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1979.
. The Letters of D.H. Lawrence. Volume II, 1913-16. Ed. George
J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981.
. The Letters of D.H. Lawrence. Volume III, 1916-21. Ed. James
T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP,
-. The Letters of D.H. Lawrence. Volume IV, 1921-24. Ed. James
T. Boulton, Warren Roberts and Elizabeth Mansfield. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.
-. The Letters of D.H. Lawrence. Volume V, 1924—27. Ed. James
T. Boulton and Lindeth Vasey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.
. The Letters of D.H. Lawrence. Volume VI, 1927-28. Ed. James
T. Boulton and Margaret H. Boulton with Gerald M. Lacy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.
—. “The Man Who Died.” Love Among the Haystacks and Other Stories. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.
—. Mornings in Mexico and Etruscan Places. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.
—. Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence. Ed. Edward D. McDonald. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
—. Phoenix II: Uncollected, Unpublished, and Other Prose Works. Ed. Warren Roberts and Harry T. Moore. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
—. The Plumed Serpent. Ed. L.D. Clark. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.
—. “A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Ed. Michael Squires. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993.
—. Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious in Fantasia of the Unconscious and Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious. London: Heinemann, 1971.
—. The Rainbow. Ed. Mark Kinkead-Weekes. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989.
—. Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays. Ed. Michael Herbert. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.
—. Sons and Lovers. Ed. Helen Baron and Carl Baron. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.
—. St. Mawr and Other Stories. Ed. Brian Finney. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983.
—. Studies in Classic American Literature. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.
—. Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays. Ed. Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985.
—. “Things.” The Princess and Other Stories. Ed. Keith Sagar. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
—. Twilight in Italy. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.
-. Women in Love. Ed. David Farmer, Lindeth Vasey, and John
Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.
Leadbeater, C.V. The Chakras. Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1961.
Leavis, F.R. D.H. Lawrence: Novelist. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
Loy, David. “Dead Words, Living Words, and Healing Words: The Disseminations of Dogen and Eckhart.” Healing Deconstruction: Postmodern Thought in Buddhism and Christianity. Georgia: Sholars Press Atlanta, 1996.
-. “The Deconstruction of Buddhism.” Derrida and Negative Theology. Ed. Harold Coward and Toby Foshay. Albany: State U of New York P, 1992: 227-53.
-. Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy. New Jersey: Humanities P, 1997.
Maddox, Brenda. D.H. Lawrence: The Story of a Marriage. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Marowitz, Charles. “Notes on the Theatre of Cruelty.” Theatre at Work: Playwrights and Productions in the Modern British Theatre. Ed. Charles Marowitz and Simon Trussler. London: Methuen, 1967: 164-85.
Masson, J.M. The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985.
Masson, Margaret J. “D.H. Lawrence’s Congregational Inheritance.” The D.H. Lawrence Review 22 (1990): 53-68.
Miller, D.A. Narrative and its Discontents: Problems of Closure in the Traditional Novel. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989.
Millett, Kate. Sexual Politics. London: Rupert Hart-Davies, 1969.
Milton, John. The Poetical Works of John Milton. Volume I, Paradise Lost. Ed. Helen Darbishire. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1967.
Montgomery, Robert E. The Visionary D.H. Lawrence: Beyond Philosophy and Art. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.
Mulvey, Laura. Visual and Other Pleasures. London: Macmillan, 1993.
Nahal, Chaman. D.H. Lawrence: An Eastern View. New York: Barnes, 1970.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ. Trans. R.J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971.
Norris, Margot. Beasts of the Modern Imagination: Darwin, Nietzsche, Kafka, Ernst, & Lawrence. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP,
Parker, Patricia. “The Metaphorical Plot.” Metaphor: Problems and Perspectives. Ed. David S.Miall. Sussex: Harvester P, 1982: 133-57.
Patanjali, Bhagwan Shree. Aphorisms of Yoga. Trans. Shree Purohit Swami. London: Faber, 1973.
Pollnitz, Christopher. ““I Didn’t Know His God”: The Epistemology of “Fish.”” The D.H. Lawrence Review 15 (1982): 1-50.
Pryse, James M. The Apocalypse Unsealed. London: John M. Watkins, 1910.
Ragland-Sullivan, Ellie. Jacques Lacan and The Philosophy of Psychoanalysis. London: Croom Helm, 1986.
Rawson, Philip. The Art of Tantra. Delhi: Vikas, 1973.
Richard-Allerdyce, Diane. “L’ecriture Feminine and its Discontents: Anais Nin’s Response to D.H. Lawrence.” The D.H. Lawrence Review 26 (1995 and 1996): 197-226.
Ricoeur, Paul. Time and Narrative. Volume 1. Trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984.
Ross, Charles L. “D.H. Lawrence’s Use of Greek Tragedy: Euripides and Ritual.” The D.H. Lawrence Review 10 (1977): 1-19.
Sacred Books of the Buddhists. Ed. T.W. Rhys Davids. Volume III. London: Pali Text Society, 1977.
Sagar, Keith. “D.H. Lawrence: Dramatist.” The D.H. Lawrence Review 4 (1971): 154-82.
Said, Edward W. Orientalism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978.
Schafer, Roy. “Narration in the Psychoanalytic Dialogue.” On Narrative. Ed. W.J.T. Mitchell. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1981: 25-49.
Schaub, Uta Liebmann. “Foucault’s Oriental Subtext.” PMLA 104 (1989): 306-16.
Scholes, Robert. Semiotics and Interpretation. New Haven: Yale UP, 1982.
Schopenhauer, A. Essays of Schopenhauer. Trans. Mrs. Rudolf Dircks. London: Walter Scott Ltd., 1903.
Siegel, Carol. Lawrence Among the Women: Wavering Boundaries in Women’s Literary Traditions. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1991.
Simpson, Hilary. D.H. Lawrence and Feminism. London: Croom Helm, 1982.
Spilka, Mark. “Lawrence and the Clitoris.” The Challenge of D.H. Lawrence. Ed. Michael Squires and Keith Cushman. Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1990: 176-86.
Thera, Nyanaponika. The Heart of Buddhist Meditation. London: Rider & Co., 1975.
Tindall, William York. D.H. Lawrence & Susan His Cow. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1972.
Tobin, Patricia Dreshel. Time and the Hovel: The Genealogical Imperative. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1978.
Todorov, Tzvetan. The Poetics of Prose. Trans. Richard Howard. Oxford: Blackwell, 1977.
Tucci, Giuseppe. The Religions of Tibet. Trans. Geoffrey Samuel. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.
Upanishads, The Ten Principal. Trans. Shree Purohit Swami and W.B. Yeats. London: Faber, 1970.
Vogler, Candace “Sex and Talk.” Critical Inquiry 24 (1998): 328-65.
Watts, Alan. Nature, Man and Woman. London: Abacus, 1976.
Williams, Linda Ruth. Sex in the Head: Visions of Femininity and Film in D.H. Lawrence. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993.
Wood, Ernest. Yoga. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.
Woodroffe, John. Principles of Tantra. Madras: Ganesh, 1952.
-. The Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga.
New York: Dover Publications, 1974.
-. Shakti and Shakta. Madras: Ganesh, 1951.
-. Tantra of the Great Liberation. New York: Dover Publications,
Wright, Elizabeth. Psychoanalytic Criticism: Theory in Practice. London: Methuen, 1984.
Wutz, Michael. “The Thermodynamics of Gender: Lawrence, Science and Sexism.” Mosaic 28 (1995): 83-108.
Zizek, Slavoj. The Abyss of Freedom and Ages of the World. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1997.
-. The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology. London: Verso, 1999.
Apter, T. E„ 113 Arnold, Edwin, 19
Artaud, Antonin, 66-72, 75-77, 153 Aurobindo, Sri, 35-36
Barthes, Roland, 16, 18, 37, 43, 62, 73, 76, 145 Belsey, Catherine, 139 Bersani, Leo, 153, 158 Besant, Annie, 16-17, 83, 86, 97 Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna, 16-18, 83, 86-87, 97, 100, 145, 146 Boone, Joseph, Allen, 157 Brewster, Earl, 19, 21-22, 26, 28, 147 Brooks, Peter, 151 Bucke, R. M., 17, 145 Buddha, The, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 23-24, 25, 28, 43, 85 Burack, Charles M., 158 Butler, Judith, 147, 149, 150
Carter, Frederick, 154 Clarke, J. J., 143, 144, 145, 146, 154 Collins, Stephen, 143, 145, 146, 147 Conze, Edward, 156 Coward, Harold, 35-36, 40, 43, 86, 139, 148, 149, 154 Culler, Jonathan, 140
Daleski, H. M„ 112, 152 Davidson, Arnold, 151 Davies, Rosemary Reeves, 159 de Certeau, Michel, 152
Delavenay, Emile, 152 Deleuze, Gilles, 58, 68 Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari, 155 Derrida, Jacques, 5, 9, 25, 43, 68, 72, 77, 94, 143, 149, 150, 153,
DiBattista, Maria, 152 Dix, Carol, 113 Dubois, J. A., 155
Edkins, Joseph, 18, 146 Eliade, Mircea, 2, 61, 93, 94, 97, 99, 103, 104, 105, 107, 114, 116, 117-18, 150, 154,
155, 156 Eliot, George, 52 Eliot, T. S., 2 Ellis, David, 154 Ellis, Havelock, 58
Faure, Bernard, 87, 98, 102, 106,
107, 115, 156 Fernihough, Anne, 148, 152, 155 Field, Nick, 146 Fleishman, Avrom, 73 Foster, E. M., 52
Foucault, Michel, 8, 49-54, 56-58, 150, 151, 152 Frazer, James, 16, 144, 145 Freud, Anna, 151
Freud, Sigmund, 6, 9-10, 53-54, 56-58, 62-63, 83, 88-93, 112, 144, 149, 151, 152, 153,
Garnett, Edward, 19 Govinda, Lama Anagarika, 158 Gudmunsen, Chris, 144 Guenther, Herbert, 119, 120 Gunn, Daniel, 151
Hardy, R. Spence, 18, 146 Harrison, Jane, 145 Hartman, Geoffrey H., 151 Heath, Stephen, 51, 150 Heidegger, Martin, 16 Humphries, Jeff, 139, 149 Hyde, Virginia, 157
Irigaray, Luce, 119,.157-58
Jackson, Dennis, 15 James, William, 17, 145 Jaspers, Karl, 16 Jesus, 27, 28, 85 Johansson, Rune, 145 Joyce, James, 34, 52
Kalnins, Mara, 154 Kermode, Frank, 113, 123 Kinkead-Weekes, Mark, 154 Knapp, Bettina L., 67 Konrad, Linn, 78
Krafft-Ebing, Richard von, 58, 151 Kristeva, Julia, 148
Lacan, Jacques, 8, 31, 34, 35, 38, 56-57, 147, 150, 152 Langbaum, Robert, 113, 121 Lankavatara Sutra, The, 149 Lawrence, D. H.,
Aaron’s Rod, 20, 140, 144 Apocalypse and the Writings on Revelation, 3, 4, 7, 9, 84-85, 92-95,103, 106, 123, 129, 133,134, 145, 156 The Collected Letters of
D. H. Lawrence, 131-32 “The Crown,” 8, 35-36, 44, 51, 54 Fantasia of the Unconscious, 10, 51, 84, 88-91, 93, 124-25, 127, 131, 132, 144, 155
Kangaroo, 23-26, 140 Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 8, 11,
12, 26, 42, 79, 89, 95, 121-22, 123-37, 141 The Letters of D. H. Lawrence,
18, 19, 21-23, 26, 28, 32, 38-39, 93, 100, 153 “The Man Who Died,” 11, 27-28, 147
Mornings in Mexico and Etruscan Places, 66-69, 157 Phoenix, 6, 27, 34, 37, 38, 40,
41, 70, 85, 86, 89, 94, 153 Phoenix 11, 33, 156 The Plumed Serpent, 6, 12, 25,
79, 95, 111-21, 123, 130, 141, 158 Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, 10, 32, 33, 51, 54, 84, 88-91, 93, 120, 124,
The Rainbow, 41-42, 45-46, 93, 102, 140 Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine, 8, 33, 35-36,
44, 54, 146, 147, 157 Sons and Lovers, 38 St. Mawr, 11, 38, 65-79, 153 Studies in Classic American Literature, 34, 84, 144,
146, 148 Study of Thomas Hardy and
Other Essays, 33, 34, 39, 40, 45, 66, 144, 150, 154 “Things,” 11, 25-26, 147 Twilight in Italy, 66 Women in Love, 6, 7, 11, 12, 18, 20, 34, 36, 40, 42, 45-46, 49-64, 78-79, 93, 95, 98-109, 123, 140, 147, 152, 153
Leadbeater, C. V., 115
Leavis, F. R., 152
Loy, David, 41, 140, 145, 147, 148,
Maddox, Brenda, 155, 157
Magliola, Robert, 139 Manucci, Niccolao, 20 Marowitz, Charles, 68 Masson, J. M., 151 Masson, Margaret J., 15, 143, 145 Miller, D. A., 50 Millett, Kate, 112 Milton, John, 133, 158 Montgomery, Robert E., 154 Morrell, Ottoline, 20 Mulvey, Laura, 58 Musil, Robert, 2, 4
Nahal, Chaman, 15 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 2, 16-17, 23, 73, 145
Norris, Christopher, 139 Norris, Margot, 70, 150, 153
Parker, Patricia, 152 Patanjali, Bhagwan Shree, 149 Plato, 4, 17, 27, 28, 85, 144 Pollnitz, Christopher, 145 Pound, Ezra, 2
Pryse, James M., 16-18, 83-84, 86-87, 97-98, 100, 104, 146, 156
Ragland-Sullivan, Ellie, 148 Rawson, Philip, 105 Richard-Allerdyce, Diane, 148 Ricoeur, Paul, 50 Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith, 151 Ross, Charles L., 66
Sacred Books of the Buddhists, 146 Sagar, Keith, 66 Said, Edward W., 2 Saussure, Ferdinand de, 30, 34 Schafer, Roy, 52
Schaub, Uta Liebmann, 150 Scholes, Robert, 158 Schopenhauer, Arthur, 16-17, 145 Schweitzer, Albert, 147 Siegal, Carol, 148 Simpson, Hilary, 112 Skura, Meredith, 151 Spence, Donald, 151 Spilka, Mark, 158
Thera, Nyanaponika, 158 Tindall, William York, 113, 154 Tobin, Patricia Dreshel, 43 Todorov, Tzvetan, 152 Tucci, Giuseppe, 118 Tylor, Edward B., 16, 145
Upanishads, The Ten Principal, 149
Valery, Paul, 9
Vogler, Candace, 148-49, 158
Watts, Alan, 114 Weber, Max, 147 Williams, Linda Ruth, 157 Wood, Ernest, 159 Woodroffe, John, 84, 87-88, 91, 97-98, 100, 103, 104-05, 106, 107, 109, 125, 132-33, 135, 154, 155, 157, 158, 159
Woolf, Virginia, 52 Wright, Elizabeth, 152 Wutz, Michael, 144, 156
Yeats, W. B„ 2
Zaehner, R. C., 146 Zizek, Slavoj, 7, 8, 144, 150
Studies in Twentieth-Century British Literature
This series invites manuscripts on all genres and authors of twentieth-century British literature. The series seeks to provide fresh critical approaches to the established canon as well as new theoretical constructs that serve to expand the canon, including discourse analysis, narratology, film adaptation of a literary work, and imaging (discovering connections between literary and visual representation of reality). Scholars with cross-disciplinary interests are especially encouraged to submit their work.
For additional information about this series or for the submission of manuscripts, please contact:
Peter Lang Publishing Acquisitions Department 275 7th Avenue, 28th floor New York, New York 10001
To order other books in this series, please contact our Customer Service Department:
(800) 770-LANG (within the U.S.) (212) 647-7706 (outside the U.S.) (212) 647-7707 FAX
Or browse online by series at:
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.