D. H. Lawrence between Heidegger and Levinas: individuality and otherness.
Critics have already uncovered and convincingly demonstrated the intellectual conjunctions that exist between Lawrence and Heidegger on the one hand and Lawrence and Levinas on the other. Two books from the early nineties, Anne Fernihough's D. H. Lawrence: Aeshetics and Ideology, and Michael Bell's D. H. Lawrence: Language and Being, demonstrate how thoroughly Lawrence's views align with the basic philosophical positions of Martin Heidegger. (3) Fernihough focuses on the "volkisch ethos" within both Lawrence and Heidegger and on the strength of the organic metaphor in both writers' aesthetic theories. Bell focuses more upon language and metaphysics. He argues that Lawrence, like Heidegger, questions the importance philosophy typically places on truth as static correspondence between thing and idea--or as Bell calls it "the mistake" of "conceiving Being as separable from consciousness" (7). Though Fernihough and Bell reveal many key points of contact between Lawrence and Heidegger, neither explain how one of Heidegger's key terms, authenticity, matches with Lawrence's individualist ethos--which is a point this essay will examine in some depth.
The only critical work on the conjunction between Lawrence and Levinas is the above-mentioned article by Sargent and Watson. (4) But the comparison with Levinas is broad, rather brief, and is mostly concerned with how Lawrence's view of otherness is not as severe or dogmatic as Levinas's characterization of a non-reciprocal, assymetrical ethical relation. Though Sargent and Watson demonstrate how Lawrence and Levinas share a concern for an ethics of alterity that seeks to respect rather than synthesize or assimilate differences, they do not speak to one of the central features of Levinas's thought that Lawrence's novels, in my view, dramatize so well: how individual subjectivity is founded on and determined by otherness. This essay, then, will extend our understanding of Lawrence's relationships to these two thinkers in order to articulate more clearly his rather ambiguous notions of ontology, and to demonstrate how Lawrence's fiction is animated by some of the same notions that motivate Levinas's critique of Heideggerian ontology. In short, I will argue that though Lawrence often--especially in his essays--takes a Heideggerian posture that advocates an individualistic authenticity, his fiction pushes him towards an acknowledgement of otherness as the fundamental moment of ontology, and that his construction of subjectivity in his two greatest novels illustrates Levinas's notions of identity and responsibility.
In Being and Time, Heidegger explores authentic and inauthentic modes of "being in the world." Even though Heidegger explicitly says that he is simply detailing both modes of being and not suggesting that one should strive to live always in an authentic mode, there is no doubt that Heidegger implicitly privileges authentic being by his use of language. (5) "Dasein" (literally "there-being," Heidegger's impersonal way to refer to an individual subject) exists inauthentically in its averageness, in the daily activities for which its own being is not the primary issue, where the activity itself is primary, such as in trying to accomplish some task for a given, practical purpose--doing one's job well in order to earn a paycheck, for instance, or going to the post office in order to mail a letter. But, when Daseiris "ownmost" interest is at stake, when Dasein recognizes its own finitude and begins to care about being itself, rather than completing particular tasks for smaller purposes involved in being, then the authentic mode of Dasein emerges. Heidegger writes, "Being towards this possibility [that is, death] discloses to Dasein its ownmost potentiality-for-Being, in which its very Being is the issue. Here it can become manifest to Dasein that in this distinctive possibility of its own self, it has been wrenched away from the 'they'" (Being and Time 307).
One can see why Heidegger was often taken as a starting point for the "existentialists" that came after him. With his focus on the individual's "ownmost" existence and his unflattering picture of the "the theyself," an inauthentic mode which sheepishly hides behind custom and commands from others or from daily necessity, Heidegger seems to call for a flowering of an individualist ethos. Later on, Heidegger, somewhat dissatisfied with the binary language of authenticity and inauthenticity, and also having realized that language is more fundamental to being than his earlier analysis allowed it to be, wrote more about art and poetry in order to demonstrate how the truth of being is fundamentally revealed in "the clearing" established by artwork. In "The Origin of the Work of Art," Heidegger shows how artwork contains a play between concealment and unconcealment. Often what art reveals is the fact of something's being concealed: "Poetry is the saying of the unconcealedness of what is" (71). Another way of putting this is that art often reveals something in its mystery, rather than trying to strip away layers of meaning in order to arrive at a kind of rational truth. Artwork creates the space in which being can shine forth, where being can stand in its fullness, not to be prodded into revealing correspondence-level truths like a medical patient who is stripped naked and probed shamelessly. It allows being to stand upright, unashamedly, in a posture of strength and virility. And, importantly, the artwork fosters the sense of being's aloneness: "The more solitary the work, fixed in the figure, stands on its own and the more cleanly it seems to cut all ties to human beings, the more simply does the thrust come into the Open that such a work is ..." (64).
The truth of artwork, as with truth in general, for Heidegger, involves a revelation of the strength of individual beings. Lawrence expresses very similar notions in many of his essays. As Bell notes, neither Heidegger nor Lawrence believed in truth as an eternal, static form that could be lifted out of time, or the flux of existence. Instead, they both understood truth to be tied to the moment-by-moment experience of the world--something that is revealed in the becoming of experience (6-7, 10). Lawrence praises the novel as providing access to this version of truth, since the novel, better than the tomes of philosophy or science or the dogmas of religion, establishes mankind in relationship with "the circumambient universe" ("Morality and the Novel" 171). However, unlike Romantics, such as Whitman or Wordsworth, who tended to speak of the individual being absorbed into the universe (or vice versa) through the experience of beauty, Lawrence wrote of how the individual, in aesthetic reflection, maintains the strength of individual being. In "Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine," Lawrence writes, "each soul that achieves a perfect relationship with the cosmos, from its own centre [that is, the soul's own center], is perfect, and incomparable. It has no superior. It is a conqueror, and incomparable" (363). This conquering, through reflection on, in this case, the beauty of the natural world, is parallel to Heidegger's notions of authenticity that are derived from the work of art. The presence of the work of art establishes a clearing in which being shines forth and stands supreme in its aloneness --a conqueror, of sorts. Lawrence's emphasis on aloneness is even more apparent when he expresses a similar idea about perfect relationship with the cosmos in an essay entitled "Aristocracy": "Every creature at its zenith surpasses creation and is alone in the face of the sun, and the night." He goes on to say that in this individual consummation with the cosmos, "even love is left behind" (375).
Lawrence, early in his career, once famously described himself as "the priest of love," and that designation may, after all, be a fair one. (6) But it is only fair if "love" is transvaluated, or interpreted much differently than is typical in modernity. (7) In his essay ".... Love was Once a Little Boy,"
Lawrence writes, "Hate is not the opposite of love. The real opposite of love is individuality" (331). Lawrence's critique of love is motivated by his respect for individuality. In his essay on Edgar Allen Poe, Lawrence explains life via two principles, individuality and love:
The central law of all organic life is that each organism is intrinsically isolate and single in itself.
The moment its isolation breaks down, and there comes an actual mixing and confusion, death sets in.
This is true of every individual organism, from man to amoeba.
But the secondary law of all organic life is that each organism only lives through contact with other matter, assimilation, and contact with other life, which means assimilation of new vibrations, non-material. Each individual organism is vivified by intimate contact with fellow organisms: up to a certain point. (Studies 67)
This secondary law of life, in humanity, is often understood as love, Lawrence says. He writes that in either sensual or spiritual love, no matter how intense the relationship or the merging of the lovers, there must be a barrier that maintains the individuality of each member, or else disease or death sets in. He writes, "Men live by love, but die, or cause death, if they love too much" (Studies 67). The barriers against loving too much, Lawrence suggests, are natural, but people have the problem of willing themselves to love, even when it is unnatural: "he insists on oneness. For instance, having discovered the ecstasy of spiritual love, he insists that he shall have this all the time, and nothing but this, for this is life" (Studies 67). Poe's tales, his essay goes on to argue, are masterful depictions of willful love--love pushed beyond natural boundaries--and so they are stories of horror and death.
Lawrence's essay on Walt Whitman takes the critique of love even further. In it, he argues that the Christian conception of love, which has dominated Western culture since Jesus and St. Paul, is at its breaking point. It can no longer provide sustenance for the life of a culture. He argues that Whitman saw beyond the Christian conception--especially in his emphasis on the physical body; Lawrence says, Whitman takes "the soul by the scruff of her neck" and tells it to stay put in the body (Studies 156). But the problem with Whitman is that he fell back on love as a kind of de facto spiritual position, even though what he was really aiming for, Lawrence says, was sympathy, something entirely different. Love, says Lawrence, causes Whitman to fall into all his faults of generalization, exaggeration, and universalization. Today, we might use the word totalization. Whitman's love is a totalizing force over otherness. "As soon as Walt knew a thing, he assumed a One Identity with it.... His poems, Democracy, En Masse, One Identity, they are long sums in addition and multiplication, of which the answer is invariably MYSELF" (Studies 151). After imagining Whitman creating this kind of merged identity with an Eskimo, Lawrence writes, "when Walt blandly assumed Allness, including Eskimoness, unto himself, he was just sucking the wind out of a blown egg-shell, no more. Eskimos are not minor little Walts. They are something that I am not, I know that" (Studies 151). Lawrence, here, respects the diversity of otherness against the Romantic inclination to bring all under the poetic gaze, and transmute it into a part of one's consciousness--a key move in American transcendentalism. This, Lawrence surmises, is an outgrowth of the love doctrine, "carrying the idea of love to its logical physical conclusion" (Studies 158).
Lawrence argues that Whitman's truer vision was sympathy, not love. Sympathy, Lawrence says, "means feeling with, not feeling for" (Studies 158). It avoids merging the self with otherness; it leaves otherness distinct in itself, while offering help when one judges the other worthy of it. Love, at its logical endpoint, in this late stage of Christian civilization, is forced self-sacrifice which devours the soul of the other as it vitiates the self's own soul. Lawrence explains sympathy with an illustration from American slavery. If Whitman loves the slave, then he will go so far as to take on the chains of slavery himself in order to free the slave. In fact, he'll do it whether the slave wants to be free or not, because he, Whitman, knows freedom is better than slavery. But if Whitman has sympathy, he'll see if the slave wants to be free, then he'll "help him fight the power that enslaves him when he wants to be free, if he wants my help" (Studies 159). Lawrence is explaining here the heart of his ethical vision: sympathy. He goes on, "Soul sympathizes with soul. And that which tries to kill my soul, my soul hates. My soul and body are one. Soul and body wish to keep clean and whole" (Studies 160). Here we see the Heideggerian sense of the self in light of artwork--shining forth in strength.
The closest Heidegger comes to any traditional discussion of ethics is in his explanation of what he calls "being-with," which corresponds closely to Lawrence's sympathy. It is an ethics of "letting be" and of maintaining the freedom of beings to the utmost extent. At one point, Heidegger discusses the two poles of "solicitude," or concern for others, which is a characteristic feature of "mit-Dasein" (or being-with). One pole of solicitude "takes over for the Other that with which he is to concern himself. The Other is thus thrown out of his own position; he steps back so that afterwards, when the matter has been attended to, he can either take it over as something finished and at his disposal, or disburden himself of it completely" (158). This in some ways exemplifies Lawrence's critique of "love" as it has come to be expressed in Christian civilization--a taking over for the Other, in which, Heidegger says, "the Other can become one who is dominated and dependent" (158). But the other pole of solicitude is close to Lawrence's notion of sympathy, where the self helps the Other "fight the power that enslaves him" (Studies 159). Such a form of concern, says Heidegger, does not take away the Other's "care," but gives it back to him "authentically," allowing "the Other to become transparent to himself in his care and to become free for it" (Being and Time 159).
Heidegger's entire analysis of mit-Dasein rests on how Dasein exists with others through freeing them: other Dasein entities "are neither present-at-hand nor ready-to-hand; on the contrary, they are like the very Dasein which frees them" (Being and Time 154). One can see the strong connection between Heidegger's mit-Dasein, as a kind of ethics of freedom or letting-be, and Lawrence's ethics of sympathy. But Lawrence also has affinities with one of Heidegger's most stringent critics, Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas studied Heidegger, then deftly used Heidegger's own phenomenological methodology against him to produce a robust critique of Heidegger's ontology. Levinas continues Heidegger's radical critique of the Western tradition's emphasis on truth and epistemology, as fundamental for philosophy. But instead of placing Being, or the meaning of being, in first place, Levinas makes ethics "first philosophy" (Totality and Infinity 304). But ethics, in Levinas's formulation, is not a set of dos and don'ts, not a moralizing of experience--otherwise it would necessarily become secondary to metaphysics or a set of truths. Instead, Levinas argues that ethics is primarily the experience of the encounter with otherness--an experience which is more fundamental than one's experience of one's own being in itself. Heidegger had made the question of what is meaningful to being the primary moment of philosophy. But Levinas posits the face of the Other as the most primordial experience, the experience out of which all other questions of philosophy arise.
In Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence, Levinas explains how subjectivity is held hostage by the Other who calls one to recognize its existence and to respect it, not democratically as if all were equal, but asymmetrically as an almost imperial force. I, as the ethical subject, am called out by otherness--this is the most primordial experience. I come into a world where another being is calling me. I am late to its call; the face of this other being, as Levinas explains in Totality and Infinity, is non-reducible to explanation, unable to be contained by calculation or rationality: "The strangeness of the Other, his irreducibility to the I, to my thoughts and my possessions, is precisely accomplished as a calling into question my spontaneity as ethics" (43). In Totality and Infinity, the face of the Other calls me to question my own freedom, but in Otherwise than Being it does much more. The face of the Other becomes the foundation on which my ownmost being is built. Levinas writes that "the identity of the subject comes from the impossibility of escaping responsibility" (Otherwise Than Being 14). The call of the Other is what founds all ontology-- I am I only in terms of my relationship with this Other. The Other gives me my calling, the responsibility that defines my existence. Alphonso Lingis, Levinas's translator, says, "it is as responsible that one is incarnated" (xix) and Levinas writes that proximity with alterity "provokes this responsibility against my will, that is, by substituting me for the other as hostage" (Otherwise Than Being 11). Responsibility is not a choice, but a given which is brought to bear on me by an Other that cannot be fully rationalized.
Levinas's critique of Heidegger begins in the value Heidegger places on the flourishing of the individual, its freedom to be, against the face of the Other which not only puts into question that freedom, but essentially negates any sense of pure freedom in being. Being is always already conditioned by the infinity of the otherness which calls it into responsibility for itself. Lawrence, especially from the evidence of his essays, places a high value on the flourishing of individual being and of authenticity and aloneness--Heideggerian staples. But there is evidence that Lawrence's full understanding falls somewhere between Heidegger and Levinas, for he sometimes explains how otherness, as it does in Levinas, conditions all being. He also seeks to resist any form of totalization of otherness--what Levinas calls the "reduction of the other to the same" (Totality and Infinity 43). Otherness is always an infinite strangeness, which should be kept that way, and it seems to be the foundation of the individual as well.
A segment from Lawrence's long essay "Democracy" can serve as a guide to where Lawrence stands between individuality and otherness. At one point he says, "The living self has one purpose only: to come into its own fullness of being, as a tree comes into full blossom" (78-79). This sounds very much as if he approves of Heideggerian shining forth in freedom of being. But how does a self "come into its own fullness?" He writes,
Our life, our being depends upon the incalculable issue from the central Mystery into indefinable presence.... The central Mystery is no generalized abstraction. It is each man's primal original soul or self, within him. And presence is nothing mystic or ghostly. On the contrary. It is the actual man present before us. The fact that an actual man present before us is an inscrutable and incarnate Mystery, untranslatable, this is the fact upon which any great scheme of social life must be based. It is the fact of otherness. (78)
One couldn't, perhaps, better express the basic tenets of Levinas's philosophy. It all begins with "the fact of otherness"--an otherness that is "untranslatable," infinitely mysterious, unable to be boiled down to rational schema. This otherness is what sparks the self into creativity (which is generally where Lawrence places his focus), but it also is the ground of "social life," or as Levinas terms it, justice. Justice isn't a matter of top-down rulebook keeping of moral norms, founded therefore on abstract or metaphysical truths. Justice is born, first and foremost, out of the inscrutable mystery of the Other who calls the self to be responsible.
One might wish Lawrence would have more often, and more obviously, explained this aspect of his thinking. Instead, he tended, as he did in his essays on Poe and Whitman, to exclude otherness in a defense of the need for individual wholeness. But his defense of individuality, it should be remembered, was largely an effort to curb what he saw as a dangerous tendency towards totalization in the love ideal which he believed dominated the social consciousness of the nineteenth century, and was hanging on vigorously in his own time. Lawrence's aesthetic, as evidenced especially in The Rainbow and Women in Love, challenges him to take up a more solidly Levinasian position than he often does in his essays. In these novels Lawrence more clearly demonstrates that otherness is central to the self, as he also displays the destructive tendencies of those most interested in self-flourishing and unbounded freedom of being.
Lawrence's construction of subjectivity in The Rainbow and Women in Love demonstrates how autheniticity is derived, not primarily from an encounter with one's own mortality, as Heidegger would have it, but from the encounter with the radical alterity of an Other. At the beginning of The Rainbow, Tom is sinking into a life of "average everydayness" (to use one of Heidegger's terms). Through drinking heavily, he was "obliterating his own individuality" (28). One gets the sense that Tom is facing his own death, of a sort, on a daily basis. His authenticity has, in fact, died, even as his life sinks further into oblivion. But Lydia, a Polish immigrant, begins to kindle in Tom a sense of himself, giving him a sense of purpose. He is attracted to her alterity and feels the painful separation from the comfort of the life he had known before: "She was strange, from far off, yet so intimate. ... She belonged to somewhere else. He felt it poignantly, as something real and natural. But a pang of fear for his own concrete life, that was only Cothesay, hurt him, and gave him misgiving" (32). Lydia also experiences a kind of rebirth as she takes responsibility for this "stranger ... who insisted on coming into her life." She feels how "the pain of a new birth in herself strung all her veins to a new form. She would have to begin again, to find a new being, a new form, to respond to that blind, insistent figure standing over against her" (39). In each instance, Lawrence is describing how the Other calls, non-verbally in these cases, to the subject, pulling him or her out of complacency. But more than complacency is at stake--it is the individuality of the subject that is determined, especially in Tom's case, by the call of the Other. As he helps her off of a carriage, Lawrence narrates Tom's feeling that "he must care for her" because "[s]he was too living to be neglected" (39). And elsewhere after Lydia and Tom share a passionate kiss, "He drew away, white, unbreathing. Only, in his blue eyes, was something of himself concentrated" (47). Lydia brings Tom to the core of himself, hastens him to a kind of concentration of purpose, just as his presence demands a new form of being within herself.
But the key to their relationship is how they remain mysterious to each other, not enamored with the absorption of the other, which is Lawrence's problem with Whitman, and with the basic notion of love in modern times. Lawrence shows how their relationship ebbs and flows from intimacy to cold indifference, back and forth, many times. But even in their moments of intimacy, Lawrence shows how the individuality of each is kept intact by the willingness of each partner to be open to mystery; even when Tom feels he knows "her essence," he is still able to live "in contact with her, in contact with the unknown, the unaccountable and incalculable" (57-58). And it is this aspect of alterity that in their relationship commands Tom, holds him hostage, to use Levinas's terminology, to Lydia. Even as Tom is feeling "that she belonged to him, and he to her," he realizes "that he lived by her," and immediately he feels uncomfortable, ill at ease, because their relationship, strong as it is, maintains her mysterious otherness and freedom. He wonders,
She might go away. He did not feel like a master, husband, father of her children. She belonged elsewhere. Any moment she might be gone. And he was drawn to her, drawn after her, with ever-raging, ever-unsatisfied desire. He must always turn home, wherever his steps were taking him, always to her, and he could never quite reach her, he could never quite be satisfied, never be at peace, because she might go away. (58)
Lydia fixes Tom to a purpose, to care for her, and preserves, in doing so, Tom's individual being as well as her own. The radical alterity of the other holds fast between them. Thus, in the midst of their most powerful scene of sexual intimacy, Lawrence writes, "What did it matter who they were, whether they knew each other or not?" (60). Mental knowledge of the other, in Lawrence's view, tends toward totalization: "Man does so horribly want to master the secret of life and of individuality with his mind. It is like the analysis of protoplasm. You can only analyse dead protoplasm.... Keep KNOWLEDGE for the world of matter, force, and function. It has got nothing to do with being" (Studies 71). The relationship between Tom and Lydia shows how two can be one in terms of intimate contact, but yet keep distinctly their otherness.
In Women in Love, the same kind of individuality-out-of-otherness is defined through Birkin and Ursula's relationship. Birkin's ideal love relationship, which he calls "star-equilibrium," forsakes any merging of one into another--identities stay themselves, but are balanced and held in place by the other, "like two poles of one force" (199). In some ways, Birkin's notion of love has Heideggerian overtones. He believes that human beings are to attain "the singling away into purity and clear being" through sex, which, instead of merging people together into an indistinct oneness, ought to distill a man and a woman into their pure forms as man and woman: "passion is the further separating of this mixture, that which is manly being taken into the being of the man, that which is womanly passing to the woman, till the two are clear and whole as angels, the admixture of sex in the highest sense surpassed, leaving two single beings constellated like two stars" (201). Here, Lawrence promotes purity, freedom of individuality, standing upright in the clearing of full presence, or being, which is all very Heideggerian. But one key difference from Heidegger is mentioned in Birkin's meditation on love, and that is how the self is "constituted" by the Other. Levinas does not promote the freedom of pure being or presence, but neither does he promote the merging of self into other that Birkin abhors. Rather, the beginning of his philosophy is how the Other calls the self into its own unique purpose, constituting its selfhood, or individuality. Birkin, in his meditation, thinks how "he wanted a further conjunction, where man had being and woman had being, two pure beings, each constituting the freedom of the other" (199).
Birkin's meditation on "star equilibrium" occurs about midway through the novel, before he and Ursula develop an intimate relationship. And Birkin moves toward a more Levinasian understanding of the self and other as he learns to love Ursula. The chapter entitled "Excurse" is perhaps the best example of how both Birkin and Ursula move toward each other, forsaking pure freedom on the one hand (which Birkin wants) and merging on the other hand (which Ursula wants). Deborah Raschke criticizes Women in Love by arguing that Ursula's character is eventually subsumed into Birkin's by novel's end. Her argument is based largely on the evidence that Ursula repeats some of Birkin's "star equilibrium" rhetoric to Gudrun later in the novel (141-42). There is no doubt that Ursula moves toward Birkin's intellectual position as the novel progresses. But Raschke fails to take into account how Birkin also changes his position. In a novel dominated by Birkin's sermons, it is highly significant that in the "Excurse" chapter, after listening to Ursula's scorching invective, Birkin "gave up his old position" (309). It is perhaps even more telling that Lawrence ends the novel in the middle of an unresolved disagreement between Ursula and Birkin. If Ursula is to be subsumed, she has quite a bit further to go by novel's end. (8)
Here, as with Tom and Lydia, Lawrence demonstrates how the ethical response to alterity determines one's authentic individuality. After a passionate experience with Birkin, Ursula, who had demanded of Birkin a more personal attachment before, comes to recognize the viability of the dark mysteries of otherness, of total strangeness, that Birkin had upheld: "This dark, subtle reality of him, never to be translated, liberated her into perfection, her own perfected being. She too was dark and fulfilled in silence" (319). And, as Levinas teaches, the otherness of the Other, the infinity of the unrevealed "face" of the Other, gives Ursula "her own perfected being." As the couple encounters each other sexually at the end of the chapter, Lawrence's narration demonstrates the primary significance of otherness for individual being. It is the proximity of the Other, known not through mental categories, but through proximity, that calls the self into response, calls it to the service of the Other, and thereby invests the self with purpose: "[S]he received the maximum of unspeakable communication in touch, dark, subtle, positively silent, a magnificent gift and give again, a perfect acceptance and yielding, a mystery, the reality of that which can never be transmuted into mind content.... For she was to him what he was to her, the immemorial magnificence of mystic, palpable, real otherness" (320). The word "immemorial" is important here, because Levinas stresses how the call from the Other is "an-archic," before our beginning, before the experience of time, a signal of the infinite that breaks into time as our ethical obligation: "In proximity is heard a command come as though from an immemorial past, which was never present, began in no freedom" (Otherwise Than Being 88). When otherness is submitted to the rationalized time by which we set our clocks, it can become "the plastic form of an image," and can be synchronized with rational justifications for our responses to it. But the encounter with the face of the Other "is a disturbance" which "does not enter into the common time of clocks," whereby "[m]y reaction misses a present which is already the past of itself' (Otherwise Than Being 88-89).
The happier relationships Lawrence narrates in these novels are counterpointed with failed ones: Will and Anna Brangwen in The Rainbow, and Gerald and Gudrun in Women in Love. Michael Bell is only partly right to suggest that Lawrence's "underlying perception" is "that love relations are always also power relations" ("Lawrence and Modernism" 191). While Lawrence's fiction does offer an unprecedented exposure of the deep psychology of love relationships, influenced, of course, by his reading of Freud, the toxicity of the battle of wills in Lawrence's failed relationships in these novels stems from one or both parties' inability to be responsive to the radical difference of the Other. The primary "underlying perception" has less to do with wielding power and more to do with one's vulnerability to otherness. Such is the case with Will and Anna Brangwen in The Rainbow and Gerald and Gudrun in Women in Love.
In The Rainbow, the problem, for Will, is that he cannot find his purpose in Anna. Anna is described as needing to have knowledge ("She ... clung to the worship of the human knowledge" (161)) and is very keen on protecting herself from anything unknown. Lawrence writes that "She clung fiercely to her known self' (155), and that "[s]he was only afraid of all that was not herself. It pressed around her, it came to her and took part in her, in the form of her man, this vast, alien world which was not herself' (154). Though, at the beginning of the relationship, Will has his passions, for church architecture and iconography, Anna sets out to destroy all his efforts to find purpose: "[Will] felt, somewhere, that she did not respect him. She only respected him as far as he was related to herself. For what he was, beyond her, she had no care. She did not care for what he represented in himself. It is true, he did not know himself what he represented. But whatever it was she did not really honour it" (158-59). In this passage, the reader can see how Anna stifles Will's sense of individuality. She wants only an extension of herself. In her refusal of his alterity, Will is destined to live in a kind of tortured limbo, with no clear path opened before him through the Other who calls him to responsibility. Will, I believe, lives up to Levinas's ethics as the figure of the tormented hostage. There is no recipe for reciprocity in Levinas. The Other's claim on the subject is absolutely asymmetrical. If the Other tortures the ethical subject by its withholding self-fulfillment, then so be it. That is not of concern to the ethical subject who is only called to attend to the infinitude of alterity. (9) Anna, on the other hand, fails as an ethical subject. For, each time she is stirred by the strangeness of Will's passions, his dark, unknown selfhood, she consciously resists, puts on a mocking tone, and refuses to attend him. She cowers from the unknown, hiding behind her talk, wanting him to explain himself to her, wanting to understand his views only so that she can have power over him, totalize him with her mind.
In many ways, Gerald and Gudrun are more modern, more intellectual versions of Will and Anna in The Rainbow. Gerald has been successful running the coal mines he inherited from his father, and he's been successful as a kind of Don Juan, but he lacks fulfillment. Yet, he believes that in Gudrun he may have found that to which he can give himself completely. Gudrun, though, like Anna, fears giving herself to the Other. Both Gerald and Gudrun desire love, yet they want it without giving themselves up for it. Gerald, though, like Will, is willing, at times, to give himself up to Gudrun's otherness, to be subject to her alterity:
A strange rent had been torn in him; like a victim that is torn open and given to the heavens, so he had been torn apart and given to Gudrun. How should he close again? This wound, this strange, infinitely sensitive opening of his soul, where he was exposed, like an open flower, to all the universe, and in which he was given to his complement, the other, the unknown, this wound, this disclosure, this unfolding of his own covering, leaving him incomplete, limited, unfinished, like an open flower under the sky, this was his crudest joy. (445-46)
Lawrence's language parallels Levinas's in Otherwise Than Being, in the discussion of "disclosure" as a kind of wounding in the self, a vulnerability to the Other who takes the self hostage in its call. Levinas writes that the disclosure of self to the Other "uncovers the one that speaks, not as an object disclosed by theory, but in the sense that one discloses oneself by neglecting one's own defenses, leaving a shelter, exposing oneself to outrage, insults, and wounding" (49). So Gerald seems to be, in this instance, like Will, able to give himself over to the ethical call of alterity. Gudrun, however, cannot. Many instances could be pointed to wherein Gudrun consciously refuses to give herself fully to her lover. The key for Lawrence seems to be her inability to leave her conscious mind aside; she is a prisoner to her consciousness, her own self-knowledge. Thus, Gerald becomes merely something known to her, a tool. While he lies beside her, "To her mind, he was a pure, inhuman, almost superhuman instrument. His instrumentality appealed so strongly to her, she wished she were God, to use him as a tool" (418). Gudrun's desire is to use Gerald as a tool for the project of her own perfected being, to be a god, or goddess. To do this, though, she must unveil all Gerald's god-like mysteries, and kill those mysteries with her knowledge.
This "reduction of the other to the same" (Totality and Infinity 43) is best seen in Gudrun's response to Gerald's face during one of their sexual encounters. At the start of the encounter, Gudrun is enraptured by Gerald, his mystery: "Gerald--who was he? He was the exquisite adventure, the desirable unknown to her" (331). But Gudrun is unable to maintain the mystery. She becomes "greedy for knowledge" (332). It is interesting that, as Levinas does, Lawrence uses the encounter with the face as the sine qua non of the ethical/sexual encounter. But instead of, as in Levinas, allowing the face to call her to its service in its mysterious alterity, Gudrun hungrily seeks to devour it with her mental consciousness:
She reached up, like Eve reaching to the apples on the tree of knowledge, and she kissed him, though her passion was a transcendent fear of the thing he was, touching his face with her infinitely delicate, encroaching, wondering fingers. Her fingers went over the mould of his face, over his features. How perfect and foreign he was--ah, how dangerous! Her soul thrilled with complete knowledge. This was the glistening, forbidden apple, this face of a man. She kissed him, putting her fingers over his face, his eyes, his nostrils, over his brows and his ears, to his neck, to know him, to gather him in by touch.... She wanted to touch him and touch him and touch him, till she had him all in her hands, till she had strained him into her knowledge. Ah, if she could have the precious knowledge of him, she would be filled, and nothing could deprive her of this. (331-32)
Lawrence uses the biblical story of Eden to describe Gudrun's desire for Gerald as a kind of trespass. She fears the unknown; thus, she seeks to bring it under the dominion of her knowledge. This is the reduction of the face of the Other, the reduction of that through which a trace of the infinite can be registered, which Gudrun denies through her "greedy" need for knowledge. Gudrun forces Gerald to undergo the totalization that is inimical to Levinasian ethics.
Thus does the love affair degenerate into a battle of wills. Gerald cannot maintain his vulnerable, ethical stance. He tires of his being hostage to Gudrun, vulnerably open to her, without receiving her in return, and begins "to exert his own will blindly, without submitting to hers" (441). Gerald, unlike Will, refuses to be cowed by his woman, and their relationship becomes "this eternal see-saw, one destroyed that the other might exist, one ratified because the other was nulled" (445). Levinas's critique of Heidegger's ontology seems to suggest this same motion between beings: "Being's interest takes dramatic form in egoisms struggling with one another, each against all, in the multiplicity of allergic egoisms which are at war with one another and are thus together" (Otherwise Than Being 4). Heidegger's ontology does not allow sufficiently for the place of the other human being; the flourishing into presence of the self is the endgame. So, Lawrence's language suggests the supremacy of glorified individual being, but as these passages have shown, such being is buoyed by the otherness of the Other. The self is given identity, purpose, and a way to thrive by its open, vulnerable contact with alterity.
Vulnerable contact with alterity is not only thematized through Lawrence's depiction of love relationships. In the final chapters of Women in Love, Lawrence shows how openness to radical otherness is foundational for art as well. Art and life are not separate spheres, which is why he insists, in Studies in Classic American Literature, that "[t]he essential function of art is moral" (155). Thus, in Women in Love, Lawrence has Gudrun, herself an accomplished artist, be seduced by the artist Loerke. Loerke believes in the supremacy of art, and of the pure sphere of art, cut off from life, even from the life of the artist. Gudrun mocks Ursula's insistence that Loerke's sculpture doesn't do justice to the delicacy and sensitivity of actual horses. Building on Loerke's rejoinder that the sculpture "has no [representational] relation to anything outside that work of art" (430), Gudrun says, "you must not confuse the relative world of action with the absolute world of art" (431).
Loerke's "art for art's sake" ideology is established within an aesthetic dualism. An absolute break is opened between the temporal world of human experience and the "timeless" world of artwork--similar to how, in Plato, the mutable world of experience is separated from the absolute world of ideas. Levinas critiques ideas of art that are similar to Loerke's in an early essay, "Reality and Its Shadow." Here the notion of "art for art's sake" is shown to be devoid of ethical possibility since the artist positions himself away from the temporal experience of alterity and engages merely with a world of his own imagination, sealed off from the Other.'0 Lawrence implicitly criticizes this notion of artistic irresponsibility and narcissism when he has Ursula say to Gudrun that the horse is really Loerke's "picture of himself' (430). After Loerke's explanation of the separation between art and reality, she says, "It isn't a word of it true, all this harangue you have made me.... The horse is a picture of your own stock and stupid brutality." And she continues, "As for your world of art and your world of reality ... you have to separate the two, because you can't bear to know what you are.... The world of art is only the truth about the real world, that's all--but you are too far gone to see it" (431). Lawrence uses Ursula's ad hominem rather than a more careful rhetorical mode, but here one can nevertheless see that his problem with art after realism is its sense of irresponsibility to the otherness of reality." This lack of responsibility is figured in Loerke's use of a young model whom, Ursula says, "you loved and tortured and then ignored" (431). His art world is essentially narcissistic in that, ignoring the otherness of temporal reality, the artist can only reproduce what he has assimilated into his own being, his own mind. The art is striking, as all the people who look at the sculpture admit, but, in the end, Lawrence finds this "pure" world of art wanting because of its inability sensitively to respond to otherness. The artist, as in his use of the young model, can, in his art-world, dominate otherness through an imperial, technological vision, which turns everything into use-value.
Lawrence, in his own writing on art and literature, consistently upholds the vitality of the living relationship between artist and subject. In the visual arts, he mocks modernists and their worship of "Significant Form," which he says is just as bad and unreal as Platonic ideals or religious maxims: "Lift up your eyes to Significant Form, and be saved" ("Introduction to these Paintings" 200). In "Morality and the Novel," Lawrence writes that "morality is that delicate, for ever trembling and changing balance between me and my circumambient universe, which precedes and accompanies a true relatedness" (172). The alterity of the universe must be respected as that which, in Levinas's terms, is the Other that precedes the self, calls it to a responsible relationship. Lawrence also mocks Wordsworth, much as he does Whitman, for his desire to merge everything into himself, not respecting the alterity of the "circumambient universe." He writes that Wordsworth "ousts the primrose from its own individuality. He doesn't allow it to call its soul its own. It must be identical with his soul" ("......Love was Once A Little Boy" 335). The novelist, or any artist, Lawrence says, has a responsibility not to anthropomorphize, to recognize that the primrose of Wordsworth's poem "has its own individuality, which it opens with lovely naivete to the sky and wind and William and yokel, bee and beetle alike. It is itself' (335). Otherwise, art is nothing more than "alluring lies, when we let our feelings, or our ego, run away with us" (336). And, of course, the same is as true for the human subject in art as it would be for the primrose, only it is more difficult to be responsive to the complexity of the human subject. As Lawrence says, any "two individuals are as different as chalk and cheese" (336).
Lawrence is not discounting modernist art and upholding realism necessarily. He writes approvingly of Cezanne, for instance, and Van Gogh, against the so called "objective" vision offered by the photographic picture. The key to any art's morality lies in how the artist relates to the living world around him, and the problem with Loerke is the problem Lawrence identifies in the artists after Cezanne. They analyze his work and distill it, until it becomes merely an idea, an ideal of "Significant Lorm" ("Introduction to these Paintings" 203). And this ideal is held above the rooftops of the living world so that a split between art and reality occurs--the relationship is cut off. As I hope I have shown in this essay, Lawrence's fiction displays the primacy of "otherness," that must not only inform and inspire, but hold hostage the self, for the individual to flourish. Artwork comes into being through a similar openness to alterity which keeps art from being merely a transmuted reflection of one's ego.
JOHN Worthen's recent one-volume biography of Lawrence is subtitled "The Life of an Outsider," and "outsider" seems an apt designation. Worthen shows, throughout his book, how Lawrence is "a permanent stranger" (129)--a miner's son who never felt at home in the working class, and a literary talent who could never feel at ease in London's literary circles or in the middle-class milieus that could have provided his main audience. This strangeness, this life as an outsider, seems to have created in Lawrence a powerful belief in individuality. But Lawrence seemed to recognize that his strong individualist tendencies were in many ways damaging. He says, in "Myself Revealed," that while some may consider him a successful man, he feels he is "not much of a human success" because "there is so little contact between myself and the people whom I know" (179-80). Regardless of the way Lawrence lived, or how he viewed his own life, his fiction places him in an interesting spot--between Heidegger and Levinas--between a respect for the flourishing of individuality and the recognition that such flourishing only matters in terms of its dedicated, delicate, relation to otherness. Lawrence shares much in common with Heidegger, especially in his notion of flourishing in the ecstatic, aesthetic moment, supreme in its individual being. But back of this coming into fruition of individuality is the absolute alterity of the Other. The individual cannot come into itself without the call to be responsible to alterity, which comes from the infinitude of the face of the Other. In Lawrence's novels The Rainbow and Women in Love, this an-archic, assymetrical relationship to alterity can be seen, which defines the individuality of the various characters. The resolution of whether they assert their own egos in the face of the infinite Other or instead submit themselves to the Other defines the quality of the love relationship. The best relationships in Lawrence's fiction are those that maintain the haunting otherness of the Other, such as is depicted in Tom and Lydia's marriage, or in those sometimes tumultuous relationships, such as Ursula and Birkin's, that allow for devotion to the other's absolute individuality, even if, or especially when, the other's individuality impedes the plans or projects of the self.
(1) John Worthen nicely summarizes the various condemnations of Lawrence's political incorrectness in the introduction of his D. H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider; see especially xxiv-xxv.
(2) Of course, many critics have written on Lawrence's attention to otherness, but I am focusing here on the critics who are interested in the ethics of otherness. Booth's re-evaluation of Lawrence in The Company We Keep (445-46) actually draws on Avrom Fleishman's article linking Lawrence and Bakhtin. David Lodge had also made the connection before Booth's book was published. Since then, numerous articles have been written employing Bakhtin to interpret Lawrence's fiction and poetry. See Avrom Fleishman, "Fie Do the Polis in Different Voices," and David Lodge "Lawrence Dostoevsky and Bakhtin." For examples of recent studies of Lawrence's ethical recognition of non-human otherness see Elise Brault-Dreux's "Responding to Non-human Otherness: Poems by Katherine Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence," and Anna Grmelova's "Encounters with Otherness in D. H. Lawrence's St. Mawr."
(3) A less thorough, but still important contribution to our understanding of Lawrence's relationship to Heidegger is Trevor Norris's article, "Martin Heidegger, D. H. Lawrence and Poetic Attention to Being." Norris's work begins to fulfill Anne Fernihough's prescient suggestion that Lawrence could be fruitfully linked to eco-critical theory, and even feminist eco-critical theory, when she discusses what she calls Lawrence's "Anti-Imperialist Aesthetics" (see especially Femihough 171-73, 187).
(4) Noelle Cuny's very recent essay on Lawrence's unfinished novella Mr. Noon uses Levinas as a contrast to Lawrence's efforts. While both Lawrence and Levinas strive to maintain "the otherness of the other," Lawrence's emphasis on "pure egoism" is at odds with Levinas's hope for "universal, Utopian charity" (95) Cuny ends her essay by stating that, while both writers "were all about love,... what they meant by love was diametrically opposed" (95). Cuny locates Lawrence precisely where I see him--between individuality ("pure egoism") and otherness; but my effort here is to show that Lawrence's fiction can be reconciled with Levinas.
(5) Heidegger states his analysis of Dasein is "purely ontological in its aims, and is far removed from any moralizing critique" (Being and Time 210-11), and following this statement, in his section on "idle talk," he explains that idle talk is not "used here in a 'disparaging' signification" (211). But, I have to agree with David J. Gauthier's reading of Being and Time when he states that even though Heidegger does not explicitly castigate "everydayness" and inauthenticity on moral grounds, his use of "pejorative" terminology to describe these modes of Dasein amount to "a critique of day-to-day life as it is lived in the modern world" (29, 31).
(6) The phrase "priest of love" comes from Lawrence's letter to Sallie Hopkin on Christmas Day, 1912 (493).
(7) I borrow the idea of Lawrence's transvaluating the common conception of love from Mark Spilka's final chapter where he speaks of Lawrence's "transvaluation of current Christianity" (213).
(8) Raschke recognizes that the novel's final conflict challenges her idea of Ursula's absorption, but she goes on to argue that Lawrence paints Ursula's concerns here as more shallow and less expansive and visionary than Birkin's. Ursula at the end of the novel is merely, to use Hegel's words, "everlasting irony" and "retarded consciousness" that fruitlessly stands against Birkin's broader, more universal perception (143). Rashke believes Lawrence falls, perhaps unwittingly, into Hegelian dialectical idealism by forcing Ursula to fit into Birkin's program. Obviously, I take a different view. Hegel's universal idealism, in my view, stands in sharp contrast to nearly everything Lawrence stood for philosophically and aesthetically. And I believe he was careful to avoid falling into it.
(9) This unconcern for the status of the self, or for reciprocal justice, can be seen throughout Levinas's works, but it is perhaps most bluntly depicted when Levinas responds to interviewer Philippe Nemo's question, "But is not the Other also responsible in my regard?" He answers, in part, "...lam responsible for the Other without waiting for reciprocity, were I to die for it. Reciprocity is his affair" (Ethics and Infinity 98).
(10) Levinas writes, in "Reality and its Shadow," that art for art's sake "is false inasmuch as it situates art above reality and recognizes no master for it, and it is immoral inasmuch as it liberates the artist from his duties as a man and assures him of a pretentious and facile nobility" (2).
(11) Donald R. Wehrs has written on realist aesthetics (Jane Austen is his model) as a mode of Levinasian ethical sensibility (see especially 209-14).
Bell, Michael. D. H. Lawrence: Language and Being. New York: Cambridge UP, 1991.
--. "Lawrence and Modernism." The Cambridge Companion to D. H. Lawrence. Ed. Anne Fernihough. New York: Cambridge UP, 1991. 179-96.
Booth, Wayne C. The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction. Berkeley: U of California P, 1988.
Brault-Dreux, Elise. "Responding to Non-Human Otherness: Poems by Katherine Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence." D. H. Lawrence Review 37.2 (2012): 22-43.
Cuny, Noelle. "D. H. Lawrence's Mr. Noon, its Significant Other, and the Physioethics of Reading." Ethics of Alterity, Confrontation, and Responsibility in 19th- to 21st-century British Literature. Ed. Christine Reynier and Jean-Michael Ganteau. Paris: Presses Universitaires de la Mediterranee. 2013. 83-95.
Fernihough. Anne. D. H. Lawrence: Aesthetics and Ideology. Oxford: Oxford UP, 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 L. Marcus. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985. 162-79.
Gauthier, David J. Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, and the Politics of Dwelling. Lanham. MD: Lexington Books, 2011.
Grmelova, Anna. "Encounters with Otherness in D. H. Lawrence's St. Mawr." Litteraria Pragensia: Studies in Literature and Culture 16.1 (2006): 78-82.
Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.
--. "The Origin of the Work of Art." Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper and Row, 1971. 17-79.
Lawrence, D. H. "Aristocracy." Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays. Ed. Michael Herbert. New York: Cambridge UP, 1988. 365-76.
--. "Democracy." Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays. 61-83.
--. "Introduction to These Paintings." Late Essays and Articles. Ed. James T. Boulton. New York: Cambridge UP, 2004. 182-217.
--. "......Love Was Once a Little Boy." Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays. 329-46.
--. "Morality and the Novel." Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays. Ed. Bruce Steele. New York: Cambridge UP, 1985. 169-76.
--. "Myself Revealed." Late Essays and Articles. 175-81.
--. "Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine." Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays. 347-63.
--. Studies in Classic American Literature. Ed. Ezra Greenspan, Lindeth Vasey, and John Worthen. New York: Cambridge UP, 2003. 8-161.
--. The Rainbow. Ed. Mark Kinkead-Weekes. New York: Cambridge UP, 1989.
--. "To Sallie Hopkin. "The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Vol. 1. Ed. James T. Boulton. New York: Cambridge UP, 1979. 492-93.
--. Women in Love. Ed. David Farmer, Lindeth Vasey. and John Worthen. New York: Cambridge UP, 1987.
Levinas, Emmanuel. Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo. Trans. Richard A. Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1985.
--. Otherwise Than Being Or Beyond Essence. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Dusquesne UP, 1981.
--. "Reality and Its Shadow." Collected Philosophical Papers. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1987.
--. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1969.
Lingis, Alphonso. "Translator's Introduction." Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence. xvii-xlv.
Lodge, David. "Lawrence, Dostoevsky, and Bakhtin: D. H. Lawrence and Dialogic Fiction." Renaissance and Modern Studies 29 (1985): 16-32.
Milne, Drew. "Lawrence and the Politics of Sexual Politics." The Cambridge Companion to D. H. Lawrence. 197-215.
Norris, Trevor. "Martin Heidegger, D. H. Lawrence, and Poetic Attention to Being." Ecocritical Theory: New European Approaches. Ed. Axel Goodbody and Kate Rigby. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2011. 113-25.
Raschke, Deborah. Modernism, Metaphysics, and Sexuality. Selingrove: Susquehanna UP, 2006.
Sargent, M. Elizabeth and Garry Watson. "D. H. Lawrence and the Dialogical Principle: 'The Strange Reality of Otherness.'" College English 63.4 (2001): 409-36.
Spilka, Mark. The Love Ethic of D. H. Lawrence. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1955.
Wehrs, Donald R. "Levinasian Ethics and the Rehabilitation of Indirect Free Style, or, Jane Austen and the Masturbating Critic." Levinas and Nineteenth-Century Literature: Ethics and Otherness from Romanticism through Realism. Ed. Donald R. Wehrs and David P. Haney. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2009. 209-35.
Worthen, John. D. H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider. New York: Counterpoint, 2005.
Zytaruk, George J. "The Doctrine of Individuality: D. H. Lawrence's Metaphysics." D. H. Lawrence: A Centenary Consideration. 237-53.
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|Publication:||Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2016|
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