Linguistic incantation and parody in Women in Love.
Lawrence, Women in Love
Words belong to nobody, and in themselves they evaluate nothing. But they can serve any speaker and be used for the most varied and directly contradictory evaluations.
Bakhtin, Speech Genres
The spoken word is a gesture, and its meaning, a world.
Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception
Through the polyphonic use of language, D. H. Lawrence shapes dialogues, actions, and movements of consciousness that constitute character in Women in Love. Language is the medium in which being, with its conative and intuitive impulses, is most intimately disclosed. Through a self-testing, dialogic style, Lawrence attempts to overcome the inertia of the written word. Critics who look closely at the novel's discourse from a Bakhtinian or Heideggerian perspective find in it a complexity of cross-references, contextualization, and semantic shading. Rather than simply looking through the text at sensational or visual scenes, such critics open the intricacy of Lawrence's verbal operations to view. Lawrence himself speaks of a "trembling instability of the balance" in the novel ("Morality" 528), and Bakhtin's work affords a clearer sense of how Lawrence's experimental Prufungsroman or Entwicklungsroman(1) generates meaning from a multiplicity of interacting "voices" while subjecting knowing and being to constant testing.
Pioneering studies of Lawrence's language and discourse - Michael Ragussis's "The New Vocabulary of Women in Love: Speech and Art-Speech," Avrom Fleishman's "He Do the Polis in Different Voices: Lawrence's Later Style," David Lodge's "Lawrence, Dostoevsky, Bakhtin," Michael Bell's D. H. Lawrence: Language and Being, and Michael Squires's "D. H. Lawrence's Narrators, Sources of Knowledge, and the Problem of Coherence" - demonstrate that "an utterance can only be understood in context, a context that is partly non-verbal and involves the status of and relations between speaker, addressee, and the object of reference" (Lodge 58). Lawrence's novels also reveal a "comic, ironic or parodic" stylization that Bakhtin describes as double-voiced discourse, in which the narrator's discourse is "refracted" through the character's, "internally dialogiz[ing]" it (Dialogic 324).
In Women in Love, Lawrence foregrounds language in the characters' speech, exposing the distance between speech and action, word and world and giving the reader a sense of the autonomous momentum of language and ideas. "In every successful work," writes Merleau-Ponty, "the significance carried into the reader's mind exceeds language and thought as already constituted and is magically thrown into relief during the linguistic incantation" (401; my emphasis). Language achieves a kind of "presence" through repetition, incantation, and refraction, evoking for the reader more meaning than is actually conveyed in the text. While acknowledging that "fault is often found with the continual, slightly modified repetition" in his style (Foreword 486), Lawrence says that he uses such repetition to show how biorhythmic impulses are sublimated in thought or language. What I am interested in here, however, are subtler forms of repetition involving single words (go/do/use/will) or chanted phrases, often in a variety of languages, mimicry (skaz), caricatural echoes of a character's words or concepts in the speech of another, and the double- (or treble-) voiced discourse of parody, in which language is doubly refracted in the written text of one character and the mocking incantation of another. In various ways, Lawrence puts words to work to point beyond words, for example, by juggling with a few monosyllabic key words that are voiced, repeated, pondered, traded, and played on in dialogic contexts (such as those in the chapters "Diver," "Carpeting," and "Rabbit"). Although the novel in which they exist is made of words, Birkin and Ursula are keenly aware of the limits of language.
The first case of linguistic incantation, or puzzling repetition,(2) comes in an antiphonal dialogue between the sisters:
"- He's got go, anyhow" [says Ursula of Gerald].
"Certainly he's got go," [says] Gudrun. "In fact I've never seen a man that showed signs of so much. The unfortunate thing is where does his go go to, what becomes of it?"
"Oh I know," [says] Ursula. "It goes in applying the latest appliances." (48)
Incantation has been defined as "[a] formulaic use of language, usually spoken or chanted, either to create intense emotional effects or to produce magical results" (Holman 228). Here comic or startling repetition is caused by a kind of verbal fission that doubles the grammatical functions of the word go. It is substantivized, as if invisible potentiality could be metamorphosed into a thing or commodity: the caricatural reductiveness of the noun arrests the verb's connotation of centrifugal motion and reduces the vitality of being to mere mechanical energy. Gerald's one-dimensional will-driven quality(3) is emphasized by redundancy: "where does his go go to?" "It goes in applying ... appliances" (48). The pleonastic phrasing suggests Gerald's needless expenditure of energy in doing what machines could do better. Socially, the effect of his "applying the latest appliances" is to produce redundancy in the workforce by replacing worn-out workers with "great iron men, as the cutting machines were called" (230). Both the redundancy in the dialogue and the metaphoric substitution of iron for flesh and blood show how tropically alert Lawrence's language is to nuances of being in the characters.
If Gerald seems capable, through the agency of the machine, of doing whatever he applies his will to, Ursula, for whom "[no] flowers grow upon busy machinery" (193), is his opposite. She finds doing "so plebeian" and prefers "to do nothing but just be [her]self, like a walking flower" (125). In "Carpeting" she attacks Gerald for imposing his will on the marc's sensitive being. Although this chapter may appear to be nothing more than a relatively superficial sketch of shifting relations in the Birkin-Ursula-Hermione triad with Gerald as sardonic interlocutor, certain terms - do, use, will (plus volitional verbs or modals forced, made, can't, ought) - are manipulated to form a design: the reductiveness of vocabulary opens a conscious gap between language and being, calling into question the very possibility of knowing or "saying." To follow the pattern of ideas, one needs to note how key words interrelate in context. According to Bakhtin, "[a]ctual contextual meaning inheres not in one (single) meaning, but only in two meanings that meet and accompany one another" (Speech Genres 146). Elsewhere he applies this principle to the word:
[A] dialogic approach is possible toward any signifying part of an utterance, even toward an individual word, if that word is perceived not as the impersonal word of language but as a sign of someone else's semantic position, as the representative of another person's utterance.... Thus dialogic relationships can penetrate inside the utterance, even inside the individual word, as long as two voices collide within it dialogically. (Problems of Dostoevsky'sPoetics 184)
In "Carpeting," words and voices dominate, although the chapter also contains allusions to contrary subconscious processes. Do, italicized three times at the outset, occurs 28 times in four pages (136-39), use 13 times in three pages (138-40), and will - the focal term - 23 times in three pages (139-41) including 13 in a single page (140). The word being is used only twice, once by Ursula (139) and once by Birkin (141).
The mode of "Carpeting" is dialogue and debate. There are no "allotropic states" here; the style, with its ironic interplay of viewpoints, is rather that of a Jane Austen than a Lawrence novel. Thematic chords and discords, already sounded and still to be amplified, are deftly touched on: the dialogue is provocative of thought rather than productive of ideas. The subject is the incident in which Gerald forced his mare to stand at a crossing while a train clanked by. This violent yet symbolic ritual, sensationally described three chapters earlier, is now brought into the discursive field. Birkin, who was not present, eagerly theorizes the "dual will" of women and horses while Ursula, who witnessed the scene with Gudrun, expresses shock at Gerald's cruelty. This assertion of female sensitivity against the male "dominant principle" (cf. "Mino") isolates Ursula from the others, just as she is later isolated for exposing the life-distorting will-to-power of Loerke'ssculpture of a girl whom he had abused sitting sideways on a horse.
In "Carpeting," key words are bandied about in a colloquial discussion that airs some of the main issues raised by other linguistic means in visual and symbolic scenes. These key words are associated with major characters, who use them repeatedly: do with Hermione, who manipulates Birkin and chants the auxiliary as if she could turn people into her social auxiliaries (grammar and intonation reflecting volition); use with Gerald, who insists on his right to subjugate "lower" beings and instrumentalize being itself; will with both Hermione, who uses a neurasthenic will to control unconscious tendencies, and Gerald, who uses a bullying will to dominate himself and others. The three terms expose interacting modes of the will-to-power - manipulation, forcing, and control. Birkin stands apart as a detached critic of will who wants to go beyond the ego: "You've got to ... give up your volition," he tells Hermione in "Class-room" (44). Ursula is a "rare antagonist" of will power whose spontaneous being is directly opposed to Gudrun'sconcentrated knowing(4) or Hermione's doing.
What do these verbal repetitions, incantations, and cross-references add up to? Lawrence uses repetition plus variation to alter the meaning of basic concepts that he has compressed into and unfolded from the code words go, do, use, and will. The words retain static denotations for their users, yet the reified linguistic surface of "Carpeting" (a title that indicates decorative arrangement) is only tangential to the linguistic incantation of Lawrence's themes - signalling his awareness that no fixed meanings or exact equivalences exist between words and ideas. Indeed, "the distinguishing characteristic of the sign ... is that in some way it always eludes the individual or social will" (Saussure 17). Knowledge is not an entity but a process. When Sir Joshua Malleson (based on Bertrand Russell) asserts exact equivalence - "Knowledge is, of course, liberty" - Birkin mocks his propositional logic with the rejoinder, "In compressed tabloids" (86). In such algebraic linkings of verbal counters (a=b), the meaning of neither word can be known through equation with the other. Gudrun, who (like Loerke) substitutes fixities for flux in the language of her art, immediately reifies Birkin's metaphor by "[seeing] the famous sociologist as a flat bottle ... labelled and placed forever in her mind" (86). The vital process of understanding "materializes" into a commodity in this aptly formulaic image. Gudrun pins concept to person in a dehumanized, one-dimensional "reading," graphically illustrating Malleson's own sclerotic use of language. The brittle "Breadalby" dialogue, in which Birkin asserts that living knowledge, as distinct from "knowledge of the past," can never be grasped,(5) demonstrates that "words ... are but a gesture we make." Just as Lawrence's language in "Excurse" points to an experience "that can never be transmuted into mind content" (320), so the language in dialogues becomes self-conscious, a series of moves in an ironic game in which words flourish but the text seems aware of their merely gestural function.
Language for Malleson, like industry for Gerald, is "a great and perfect system that subject[s] life to pure mathematical principles" (231): he correlates the controlling linguistic system with the social system. Birkin, who has vociferously objected to the abstract principle of equality in society, tells Gerald: "We've got to bust [this life] completely, or shrivel inside it, as in a tight skin. For it won't expand any more" (54). The tight social skin and the compressed verbal tabloids are correlative: because of social conventions, false associations cling to language. Yet it is impossible to "purify the language of the tribe," as Lawrence has tried to do (by using four-letter words in Lady Chatterley's Lover and by attacking the use of cliche in "Introduction to These Paintings") without calling for a radical new awareness of the being that lies beyond words. How can the writer's parole restructure the cognitive assumptions of a conventionalized langue? If being is to be renewed through imaginative responses, the writer must first wrestle with the inert grip of dead language and petrified knowledge. Through "necromantic foreknowledge" (270), "art-speech" penetrates the medium in which it is immersed, exposing dead spots and mechanical habits. Thus "[d]ialogue moves into the deepest molecular and, ultimately, subatomic levels" (Bakhtin, Dialogic 300).
In Women in Love, common words, internally dialogized, are refined, defined, and redefined,(6) and even so there is always a risk that key concepts will calcify into doctrines, like Hermione's "barren conclusions of knowledge" (292). It is no coincidence that Hermione's "slow voice ... [is] like an incantation" (293); she has to cultivate doing to fill up an insufficiency of being. The italicized verb in "she was going to do something with him" (136) suggests her anxiety to bind Birkin to her by common activity while her insinuating tone in "[s]hall we do it now, Rupert?" makes do a double entendre expressing an intimate, proprietary attitude, soliciting as much as solicitous, that excludes and embarrasses others. Her cooing use of"do ...," as invitation or request, has the reverse effect of a command, illustrating Jakobson's concept of how living speech functions in social contexts where tonal changes can imply a gamut of significations in the same set of words.(7)
Do as a plea can also mask a will-to-power, as in "Do - I want to give it you." In Hermione's coaxing tone it can be sheer incantation as she wraps her will around an unwilling victim: "Do you think it would do?" (137). Her ingratiating insistence is felt in the sound of the word as she sings, "What did he do?" (138). Her willful emphasis on doing distracts her from the real business of being. Her effort in thinking out loud, clutching desperately at straws of meaning, is voiced in rhapsodic repetitions of the auxiliary:
"I do think - I do really think we must have the courage to use the lower animal life for our needs. I do think there is something wrong when we look on every living creature as if it were ourself. I do feel, that it is false to project our own feelings on every animate creature." (139)
At this point, the do sequence overlaps with use and will. It is not surprising that Hermione writhes in the falsity of her position as she attacks solipsism and projection. Her words are a hollow echo of Birkin's: he had tried to rid himself of mental falsity through thoughts and words, but behind his preaching and hectoring Ursula had sensed "another voice" (44), the language of his physical being. If prophecy mixed with parody is the stuff of Birkin's "Class-room" monologue, parody mixed with irony is the stuff of "Carpeting," where ideas are reduced to words and trotted forth to display the speaker's cleverness.
The power-seeking yet masochistic Hermione can understand only relations of domination or submission - "Either we are going to use the animals, or they will use us," she says (139) - and she is perfectly willing "to prostrate herself' as a "slave" before Birkin if only he will worship the ideal in her (295). Gerald, expressing the will-to-power as mechanical organization, claims of his mare, "I have to use her," and extends that exploitative principle to women like Minette (whom he enslaves) and Gudrun (in whom he meets his match). He argues for a hierarchical-patriarchal system: "It is more natural for a man to take a horse and use it as he likes, than for him to go down on his knees to it, begging it to ... fulfil its own marvellous nature" (139). Again we see an element of deliberate tautology in Gerald's determination to bend nature to his not-so-natural will. His contemptuous dismissal of the living creature's needs leads to Hermione's sycophantic rationalization of cruelty (quoted above). The discussion then turns to the inevitable clash of wills with the "lower" yet equally sensitive order of animal creation. Gerald, "[a] masterful young jockey" (113) if ever there was one, believes in master-slave relations: "A horse has got a will like a man, though it has no mind, strictly. And if your will isn't master, then the horse is master of you" (139). Relations between man and animal, like those between man and woman, employer and workers, become a struggle for power that destroys equilibrium.
Whereas Gerald violates the mare's instincts by forcing it to stand at the crossing, Hermione claims to have overcome compulsive habits by repressing her impulses and behaving in ways that do not come naturally to her. She believes in harnessing the energy of the will and applying it mechanically: "If only we could learn how to use our will ... we could do anything. The will can cure anything ... if only we use the will properly, intelligently" (139). A "great doctor" has told her "that to cure oneself of a bad habit, one should force oneself to do it, - make oneself do it - and then the habit would disappear" (139). But this internalized master-slave relationship, symbolized by the centaur figure of horse and rider, increases the alienation between will and senses. While Hermione insists that she has conquered nervous habits - "I have made myself well.... And by learning to use my will, simply by using my will, I made myself right" (140) - Birkin, who (in the words of the "Prologue") has "forced himself towards her" (497) without being able to overcome homoerotic impulses, finds such a use of the will "fatal," "disgusting," and obscene. Clearly Hermione has not succeeded in making herself right; when she first appears at the Crich wedding, her schizophrenic body language gives her away:
she drifted along with a peculiar fixity of the hips, a strange unwilling motion. She was impressive ... yet macabre, something repulsive.... Her long, pale face that she carried lifted up ... seemed almost drugged, as if a strange mass of thoughts coiled in the darkness within her, and she was never allowed to escape. (15; my emphasis)
Hermione is a pythoness, caught in the coils of her own conscious and unconscious processes.
The most explicit case of linguistic incantation(8) in Women in Love is the dialogue, with its fairytale overtones, at the beginning of "Rabbit." Repetition and transposition of key words and phrases in various languages here set in motion a demonic ritual that leads to magical bonding of the protagonists. As Hermione advocates in "Carpeting," "the lower animal life" is put to use in a perverse ritual of "knowing." Through the lines of a sketch that recalls Birkin's quick sketch of a face on the blackboard and Gudrun's sketch of the water-plants, Gudrun and Winifred set out to do (that is, penetrate, know the essence of) two pets. Their first victim is the Pekinese:
"Let us draw Looloo," said Gudrun, "and see if we can get his Looliness, shall we? ..."
[Winifred] drew slowly, with a wicked concentration in her eyes, her head on one side, an intense stillness over her. She was as if working the spell of some enchantment. (235-36)
The result is "a grotesque little diagram of a grotesque little animal, so wicked and so comical, a slow smile came over Gudrun's face, unconsciously" (236).
Winifred is an apt pupil of Gudrun's reductive technique that murders by dissecting. Along with obsessive use of code words such as do, the two betray hints of totemism and ritual sacrifice. Dressed in "black-and-white" stripes, the acolyte priestess prepares to sacrifice her black-and-white rabbit's instinctual nature to the higher consciousness of art. It is a mini-rite that can be seen as a mocking paradigm of the literary work's assault on being.
"We're going to do Bismarck, aren't we?" she said, linking her hand through Gudrun's arm.
"Yes, we're going to do Bismarck. Do you want to?"
"Oh yes - Oh I do! I want most awfully to do Bismarck." (237)
When, at this point, the governess suddenly appears, the conversation switches to a mechanical exercise in French:
"Oui, c'est un grand lapin blanc et noir...."
"Oui, c'est un mystere, vraiment un mystere! Miss Brangwen, say that Bismarck is a mystery," cried Winifred.
"Bismarck is a mystery, Bismarck, c'est un mystere, der Bismarck, er ist ein Wunder," said Gudrun, in mocking incantation.(237)
The effect of translation is to foreground the arbitrary function of language.(9) The doubling of the key word, mystery/mystere, along with the flatness and repetition of phrasing increases the effect of incantation; the word is spoken six times in four lines before the language switches to German and the word to Wunder. This technical practice of incantation involves antiphonal responses, variations, and echoes, all progressively aimed at invoking the animal's instinctual being. The turning of "mystery" into a lexical merry-go-round, with words tripping off the tongue in one language after another, is a mocking violation of the otherness that lies beyond words and, at the same time, an ironic exposure of their inadequacy. Quibbling in French and English over social ranks and roles (king, chancellor, judge) has no reference to the cowering rabbit but simply displays the auto-referentiality of language. Insertion of German, French, and Italian words, songs, catchphrases, pet names, and allusions throughout the English-language text increases its polyphony, implicating all of European culture.
Gerald intrudes on the female trio, saying "You'll have made a song of Bismarck soon" (238). At a purely textual or totemic level, his response to the invocation of Bismarck's name links the motifs of "Iron Chancellor" and "Industrial Magnate." Once he has stumbled onto the theme of ritual sacrifice, it is quickly picked up in a punning play on words:
"What are you going to do to him, Miss Brangwen? [he asked]. I want him sent to the kitchen and cooked."
"Oh no," cried Winifred.
"We're going to draw him," said Gudrun.
"Draw him and quarter him and dish him up," he said, being purposely fatuous.
"Oh no!" cried Winifred with emphasis, chuckling.
Gudrun detected the tang of mockery in him, and she looked up and smiled into his face. He felt his nerves caressed. Their eyes met in knowledge. (238)
After torturing the rabbit and being ripped by its claws, the pair are bonded in blood. Verbal incantation and physical rite have led to a "mutual hellish recognition" of sadomasochistic and "interdestructive" impulses.
Where, then, does Gerald's go go to? It is centrifugally applied to material production and to winning power over others, but it provides for no counterbalancing centripetal drive towards fulfilment of being. For all his outgoing strength, Gerald'slack of equilibrium causes him to feel hollow and ready to topple inward at any moment. There is no circuitry to his go; it never returns to replenish its source. When he "[does] not want to go out," he is "suspended motionless, in an agony of inertia, like a machine that is without power" (266; my emphasis). In "[substituting] the mechanical principle for the organic," the "God of the Machine" destroys his own "organic purpose" (231).
Loerke, who also worships the mechanical principle, is a hybrid, polyglot creature, a scavenger of cultures whose utterance is a bricolage from the rubbish-heaps of Europe. He swims ahead like an avant-garde sewer-rat or chatters like a thieving magpie; he and Gudrun playfully manipulate past cultures as a kaleidoscope of fixed images, specializing in the European Enlightenment. They spin "polyglot fancies" out of disintegrated words and images, shoring these bright fragments against their ruins.
They talked in a mixture of languages [French, English, German].... She took a peculiar delight in this conversation. It was full of odd, fantastic expression, of double meanings, of evasions, of suggestive vagueness. It was a real physical pleasure, to her to make this thread of conversation out of the different-coloured strands of three languages. (453-54)
When first encountered, Loerke is mimicking a quarrel in the Cologne dialect, apparently splitting his "monologue" between two voices. It is pure skaz, a static, mimetic art of discord calling for sudden swoops of intonation between high and low registers (the old woman and the guard). Under the almost infinite variety of "social heteroglossia ... the Tower-of-Babel mixing of languages that goes on around any object" (Bakhtin, Dialogic 278), Loerke finds static sameness and disillusionment: "L'amour, l'amore, die Liebe - I detest it in every language. Women and love, there is no greater tedium" (458). His scathing outburst, injecting a note of self-reflexive parody into a novel entitled Women in Love, echoes Birkin's denunciation of "love" in "An Island":
"It's a lie to say that love is the greatest.... What people want is hate - hate and nothing but hate. And in the name of righteousness and love, they get it. They distil themselves into nitro-glycerine, all the lot of them, out of very love. - It's the lie that kills." (127)
Birkin, in whom "the bitterness of the war may be taken for granted" (485), has detected the principle of opposites in language whereby what is said in ideological propaganda is the exact opposite of what is done. In "Politics and the English Language," written just after World War II, George Orwell exposed the principle of subterfuge in language that hides such brutal facts as saturation bombing and colonial genocide behind harmless words like "pacification." Birkin's "nitro-glycerine," used in both explosives and the treatment of heart disease, neatly encapsulates the contradiction.
Linguistic ties between Birkin and Loerke show the sculptor to be, in part, a caricature or ironic double of the ideologue. In "An Island," Birkin treats love as a relativistic phenomenon of no special account that one may or may not feel "according to circumstance" (129). Loerke maintains that love is the same old instinct masquerading under a multiplicity of guises and that sexual choice is a matter of convenience as arbitrary as the difference between words for love in different languages. Birkin talks of love as an emotion too often idealized and absolutized, Loerke as an appetite that can be indiscriminately satisfied; but their irritation and boredom with the subject link them as critics of the prevailing ideology.
They even use the same metaphor - a hat - to symbolize identity (as in Freud), albeit with different associations. For Birkin and his interlocutors in "Shortlands," the hat stands for property and one's liberty and independence, rightly or wrongly based on it (29-30); for Loerke the hat represents sexual possession. As property or sexuality the hat, a disposable part of one's apparel, is something that alienated intellectual and artist alike despise. But there the resemblance ends: Loerke's reductive cynicism is a caricature of Birkin's serious criticism of love. Birkin does love Ursula, but he wants to liberate himself from the inertia and falsity that linguistic and social codes attach to the word and its interpretation. "The point about love," he insists, "is that we hate the word because we have vulgarised it. It ought to be proscribed, tabooed from utterance, for many years, till we get a new, better idea" (130). The issue for Birkin is whether being can flow through the hardened arteries of a socialized language. In "An Island," he arrests the automatic flow of consciousness so that Ursula "could not know. She could only watch the brilliant little discs of the daisies veering slowly in travel on the dark, lustrous water" (130). But the return to language, with its witty anthropomorphic conceits metaphorizing daisies as social orders, is parodic, demonstrating the tendency of language to turn natural facts into artificial concepts, a logocentric imperialism that substitutes culture for nature.(10)
Birkin and Loerke are set apart by their quickness and vitality, critical sense, and awareness of corruption to the point of seeming antihuman. They live unto themselves and are contemptuous of the social contract. Birkin tells Ursula: "I don't believe in the humanity I pretend to be a part of, I don't care a straw for the social ideals I live by, I hate the dying organic form of mankind" (132). His attitude toward corruption is ambivalent, but he shows personal integrity in his search for understanding and fulfilment. Loerke, however, is cynically corrupt: he conspires with the mechanical principle, and his art, subserving industry, undermines life. Basing his identity on a compulsive work ethic,(11) he cross-examines Gudrun in a tri-linguistic diatribe:
"Travaille - lavorato?" he cried. "E che lavoro - che lavoro? Quel travail est-ce que vous avez fait?"
He broke into a mixture of Italian and French, instinctively using a foreign language when he spoke to her.
"You have never worked as the world works," he said to her with sarcasm. (425)
Whereas Loerke's energies have been honed by hunger and the machine (he can earn up to [pounds]2,000 a year), Birkin (who has inherited an annual [pounds]400) can propose to Ursula that they "drop [their] jobs, like a shot" (315). Yet Birkin is "damned and doomed to the old effort at serious living" (302) (meaning relationship with a woman), whereas the homosexual Loerke, "single" and "absolute in himself' (452), merely plays games of "subtle inter-suggestivity" (448) with Gudrun.
Both Birkin and Loerke have apocalyptic fantasies about the destruction of the world. Birkin's megalomaniacal utopia of "a clean, lovely, humanless world" (127) relates to Loerke's or Gudrun's "mocking dream of the destruction of the world" in which "the two halves set off in different directions through space" (453). And Birkin's prophecy of "snow-abstract annihilation" for the Nordic races (254) foreshadows Loerke's "dream of fear, [in which] the world went cold, and snow fell everywhere, and only white creatures, and men like awful white snow-birds, persisted in ice-cruelty" (453). Loerke, variously described as an elf, troll, bat, rat, and mud-child, is a caricature of a human being who embodies tendencies that Birkin either rejects outright or gives play to as part of a larger process. Loerke affirms the inorganic principle, instead of struggling with it, becoming "the perfectly subjected being" (427) and a small vortex of "destructive creation." For Birkin, he represents the corruption of the entire culture and particularly of the avant garde.
The ontological question of where human go - energy, work, labor, creativity - goes to is articulated in personal terms by Gudrun and Ursula, in social and political terms by Gerald, and in aesthetic and metaphysical terms by Loerke. Gerald treats the miners as "instruments" and himself as "a supreme instrument of control" (231), but his will turns out to be entropic; Loerke, a much subtler exponent of the machine, more thoroughly "conceive[s] the pure instrumentality of mankind" (223). If Gerald is god-victim of the machine, Loerke is its fanatical prophet; if Gerald's instrument is the force of his will, Loerke's is the "insinuating blade" of his intelligence. The factory worker on the carousel, he claims, "enjoys the mechanical motion in his own body" (424). But where has this worker's go gone to? Like Gerald's, it has gone outward "in applying the latest appliances," and, once expended, it is replaced by an automated motion that fills up the gaping void of being. External replaces internal energy as alienated man becomes an appendage of "the machine [that] works him, instead of he the machine" (424).
"But is there nothing but work - mechanical work?" said Gudrun.
"Nothing but work!" he repeated leaning forward, his eyes two darknesses with needle-points of light. "No, it is nothing but this, serving a machine, or enjoying the motion of a machine - motion that is all." (424-25)
In Loerke's nightmare vision, mechanical motion supplants the spontaneous go of being on the merry-go-round of robotic doing. Mechanical rotation(12) - the rabbit "flying like a spring coiled and released" (240) - is the ironic concomitant of verbal incantation that seeks to activate and arrest being by compressing it into an image that can be known and manipulated.
Meaning, Lawrence knows, is not in language, and yet, as words shift weight in different contexts, the novel's "trembling instability of the balance" is a means by which the mind can shed illusions, transcend mechanisms, and orient itself toward being. As characters toss key words about, Lawrence reveals these words' dialectical possibilities while avoiding "superimposition of a theory" (Foreword 486). Language, with its play of meanings, is turned on without a moderator to arrest the play and authorize a single meaning. Birkin is notably disarmed in these exchanges; deprived of narratorial support, he fades into the surrounding group and becomes just one voice among many. His social handicap has been assigned in "Sisters," where "[his] nature was clever and separate, he did not fit at all in the conventional occasion. Yet he subordinated himself to the common idea, travestied himself" (20). Linguistically speaking, he cannot sustain his individual lexis amid the predominantly denotative discourse that surrounds him.
Yet, despite inherent confusion and travesty (a literary mode related to parody, burlesque, and caricature), language is the necessary way to being. Heidegger writes:
The ability to speak is what marks man as man. This mark contains the design of his being.... Language, in granting all this to man, is the foundation of human being. We are, then, within language and with language before all else.... [The] formula is to urge our reflection to attempt, not to remove the web, of course, but to loosen it.... The point is to experience the unbinding bond within the web of language. (On the Way to Language 112-13)
Lawrence, while recognizing the epistemological fallout in all language use, nevertheless believes in the struggle to express, or deliver, new ideas. His authorial reflections coincide, at points, with Birkin's thoughts:(13)
There was always confusion in speech. Yet it must be spoken. Whichever way one moved, if one were to move forwards, one must break a way through. And to know, to give utterance, was to break a way through the walls of the prison, as the infant in labour strives through the walls of the womb. There is no new movement now, without the breaking through of the old body, deliberately, in knowledge. (186) (14)
Similarly, Lawrence affirms thinking and writing as creative acts that break through the walls of the unconscious into "verbal consciousness" (Foreword 486).
Linguistic incantation operates diversely in dialogic and ritualistic contexts: the normative or conditioning effects of language are exposed and loosened in the one, its magical and hypnotic effects exposed or exploited in the other. Like parody, linguistic incantation "can be both conservative and transformative, both 'mystificatory' ... and critical" (Hutcheon 101). The reader can enjoy the incantation of Birkin's letter to the Pompadour, for example, which hardly exaggerates Lawrence's rhetoric in "Water-Party" or "Excurse," without immediately endorsing or rejecting the ideas it expresses. Parody foregrounds style in a carnivalesque way, affording ironic recognition to the encoding of a self in language. The echoing of verbal effects in the target style(15) involves appreciation of its uniqueness combined with exasperation at its excesses - or, in Lawrence's case, at the limits of "verbal consciousness." The recitation, although mockingly motivated, involves no recantation; rather, Birkin's prophetic ideas stand forth, embodied in excessive rhetoric but validated by the integrity of his struggle to understand. They are "a record of the profoundest experiences in the self" and, if they sound ridiculously pompous and preachy when intoned by Halliday, "another voice" is heard in them, that of "[the] creative, spontaneous soul [that] sends forth its promptings of desire and aspiration in us" (Foreword 485).
Internalized dialogism, introducing a contest between mocking and inflated speech acts, reduces the facetious reciter himself to absurdity. It has four phases: (1) "original" encoding of serious ideas in dithyrambic rhetoric; (2) parodic replay emphasizing pretentious phrasing; (3) ambivalent response of implied reader to (i) ridiculous surface of vocalized language and (ii) serious thrust of underlying ideas; (4) reader's recognition of possible validity of those ideas when salvaged from scripted and spoken speech acts. By contrasting Birkin's fervor and the narrator's flexibility with the feeble-minded one-dimensionality of the speaker, parody paradoxically wins acceptance for its object. Laughter at the code clears the message of negative overtones. The act of ritual mockery is deflected back onto the mocker, calling into question his motives rather than the language targeted. The outcome of this dual speech act is a direct confrontation between Birkin's lived ideas and Halliday's sterile mimicry.(16) The reader will probably conclude that Birkin's rhetoric is not nearly so hollow as the speaker's self (which has previously been exposed to ridicule in "Creme de Menthe" and "Fetish"); even parodic stylization can have a prophetic resonance that works ad hominem against its detractor.
Hesitating to make Birkin an authorized spokesman for his most extreme ideas (already embedded in various contexts), Lawrence presents them in ostensibly parodic form, foregrounding the linguistic incantation and relying on the reader to decode the parody and salvage the convictions. As Tristram Shandy puts it, "writing, when properly managed, is but another name for conversation," and here the initiated reader's response is coopted in defending Birkin's views. Lawrence's rhetorical strategy is the inverse of superimposing a theory. In the dialectics of contextualized speech, if Halliday, who is impotent and foolish, ridicules Birkin's ideas, then those ideas may have to be taken seriously. The relative life values of the two characters provide a series of checks and balances against which to weigh their utterances. At the expense of a nominal hatchet-man, the text reincorporates what it seems to extrude: the heightened verbal texture of Birkin's letter is a mere gesture of authorial self-criticism. Inflated rhetoric seems to invite rejection, but "[the] words themselves do not convey meaning" so much as they function in a dramatized context. Misappropriated and mockingly uttered, they bring into play a dialectical "ethos"(17) that is the product of interactive voices. Halliday's second-hand speech act forces the reader to choose between affirmation and rejection of Birkin's ideas, and clear discursive signals make the reader more likely to choose the position of authority over that of transgression.
Parodic catharsis has the power to purge the style of blindness to itself and objectify it as an artefact by exposing its historically and personally conditioned biases. Style is the man, and the self-recognition the writer shares with the reader creates confidence that goes a long way toward winning acceptance for his ideas, even though their encoding is tropologically extreme. At a single stroke, the writer divests himself of formal excesses as mere reflexes of outward being. Through contextualization of the speech act in rival characters of writer-thinker and reciter-mocker the hegemonic discourse of the novel is reconfirmed.
Halliday's parasitic distortion of the letter's import in asides and interjections - a speech act with no content of its own - is a form of linguistic incantation:
"Wait - oh do wait! No-o, I won't give it you, I'll read it aloud. I'll read you the choice bits - ...."
"Oh, isn't it beautiful! I love reading it! I believe it has cured my hiccup!" squealed Halliday....
"Do let me go on! Oh, this is a perfectly wonderful piece! But do listen to this...."
"I think it's awful cheek to write like that," said the Pussum.
"Yes - yes, so do I," said the Russian. "He is a megalomaniac, of course - it is a form of religious mania. He thinks he is the saviour of man - go on reading."
"Surely," Halliday intoned, "Surely goodness and mercy hath followed me all the days of my life -" he broke off, and giggled. Then he began again, intoning like a clergyman. (382-84)
These interpolations expose Halliday's infantilism, his anxiety to show off his cleverness, his irreverence and hollowness, and his effete mannerisms, all of which make him an unworthy sounding board for creative ideas. The dramatized framework programs reception of the reading and of the speaker's facetious attitudes towards the letter's content. Lawrence fills his parodic attack on that self-mirroring, if slightly distorted, exemplum of his own style(18) with consequences; Halliday is hoisted with his own petard. Two-way mockery, with linguistic marking of the speaker's delivery subverting his speech act, forewarns of the text's implied judgment on an unwary or insensitive reader.
Lawrence defuses charges that the reader might have brought against Birkin (such as "religious mania") and that Hermione and Ursula actually have brought ("megalomania," setting himself up as a "salvator mundi") when he has them uttered by the decadent Russian, Libidnikov, whose authority is presumptuous and whose name is parodic. Gudrun's rescue of the letter helps to place the mockery of the bohemian crowd and to recuperate the stolen fire of Birkin's - and Lawrence's - ideas. Because the rite of self-parody is "double-voiced," it is also a celebration of difference: Lawrence's acknowledgment of esotericism in the linguistic incantation goes along with the fullest indulgence and reification of his style in Birkin's letter. Exaggerating the cadenced, convoluted flow of his own prophetic rhetoric, Lawrence points beyond the limitations or distracting allurements of style to the underlying power of ideas and his urgency to communicate them, despite prejudice, interference, or incomprehension.
1 Kinds of novel that test the hero or focus on a character's development. See Bakhtin, Dialogic 388-93.
2 Ragussis refers to a "linguistic version of repetition compulsion," in which "people seem, even in the words they speak, compelled to react and repeat rather than to act and originate" (178).
3 Ragussis observes: "The lack of true otherness in people is expressed linguistically.... People can transcend neither their own limited lives nor the words that are the signs of their limitations" (178).
4 See the dialectically paired opening paragraphs of "Sketch-Book" (ch. 10) and my "Dialectics of Knowing" (65-66).
5 Lawrence's critique of knowledge is strikingly close to Bakhtin's: "Even past meanings, that is, those born in the dialogue of past centuries, can never be stable (finalized, ended once and for all) - they will always change (be renewed) in the process of subsequent, future development of the dialogue" (Speech Genres 170).
6 Ragussis, who has many interesting things to say on contextuality, shows how "[c]ommon words ... remain in the new vocabulary but are redefined through periphrasis" (190).
7 See Jakobson (36) on Stanislavsky's training of actors and the reading of "emotive cues" in 50 tonal variations on the same Russian phrase.
8 Linguistic incantation is not the only kind in the novel; in "Water-Party," song and dance are used to activate psychic energies, as when Gudrun hypnotizes the highland cattle: "her feet all the time beating and running to the measure of the song, as if it were some strange incantation" (166).
9 See Saussure (67-70) on the arbitrary nature of the sign.
10 Bakhtin writes: "Instead of the virginal fullness and inexhaustibility of the object itself, the prose writer confronts a multitude of routes, roads and paths that have been laid down in the object [e.g., 'love'] by social consciousness" (Dialogic 278).
11 See Ragussis (193-96) on the semantic permutations of "labour" and "work" in the novel's changing contexts.
12 The mindlessness of "violent mechanical rotation" that Lawrence denounces in Mark Gertler's painting (Letters 2: 660) is the counterpart of the mindlessness of "ultimate physical consciousness" in the fetish (79). These matching forms of mindlessness are dialectically opposed by the affirmation of creative mind in "the struggle into conscious being."
13 Fleishman speaks of Lawrence's ability, in St. Mawr, "[to join] his authorial voice with the voices of his narrator and character, [while] yet remaining distinct from them" (172).
14 Ragussis comments on this passage: "Because both knowing and uttering take on new meanings ... the definition is two-sided, not with an original, problematic word and its more easily understood definition, but with two words and two definitions: knowing is defined as uttering, and vice versa" (195). Is it, then, that Malleson was not altogether wrong in relating knowledge and liberty, but that his method of logical encapsulation (a=b) was impotent as compared with periphrastic (fictional) expansion, which can bring out similarities and differences?
15 Hutcheon registers "a useful distinction between ... the parodied text as a target and ... as a weapon." The decoding of ironic parody is antiphrastic - the reader is expected to perform a "semantic inversion" of the text's stated meaning (52-53).
16 Parodic skaz is a two-edged sword. Bakhtin writes: "Skaz in contemporary literature for the most part has parodic coloring.... [O]ne speaker very often repeats literally an assertion made by another speaker, investing it with a new intention and enunciating it in his own way.... Besides its referential meaning, the author's discourse brings a polemical attack to bear against another speech act." (Qtd. in Fleishman 168, from "Discourse Typology in Prose," later incorporated in Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics).
17 "An ethos ... is an inferred intended reaction motivated by the text" (Hutcheon 55).
18 Bakhtin "felt that the novel was unique as a genre in its ability to internalize or constitute a self-criticism of its own form" (Hutcheon 72). Following Bakhtin, Hutcheon points to "[a] paradox of legalized though unofficial subversion [as] characteristic of all parodic discourse" (74).
Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981.
-----. Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. Ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984.
-----. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Trans. Vern W. McGee. Ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1986.
Bell, Michael. D. H. Lawrence: Language and Being. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.
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.
Heidegger, Martin. On the Way to Language. Trans. Peter D. Hertz. San Francisco: Harper, 1982.
Holman, C. Hugh. A Handbook to Literature. 4th ed. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1980.
Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth Century Forms. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Jakobson, Roman. "Linguistics and Poetics." Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. Ed. David Lodge. London: Longman, 1988. 32-57.
Lawrence, D. H. "Foreword to Women in Love." Women in Love. Appendix 1. 485-86.
-----. "Introduction to These Paintings." Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence. 1936. Ed. Edward D. McDonald. New York: Viking, 1972. 551-84.
-----. Lady Chatterley's Lover. Ed. Michael Squires. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993.
-----. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence: Vol. II: June 1913 - October 1916. Ed. George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981. 7 vols. 1979-93.
-----. "Morality and the Novel." Phoenix. 527-32.
-----. Women in Love. 1920. Ed. David Farmer, Lindeth Vasey, and John Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.
Lodge, David. "Lawrence, Dostoevsky, Bakhtin." After Bakhtin: Essays on Fiction and Criticism. London: Routledge, 1990. 57-74.
Merleau-Ponty. M. Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. London: Routledge, 1962.
Ragussis, Michael. "The New Vocabulary of Women in Love: Speech and Art-Speech." The Subterfuge of Art: Language and the Romantic Tradition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978. 172-97.
Saussure, Ferdinand de. Course in General Linguistics. Ed. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, with Albert Reidlinger. Trans. Wade Baskin. New York: Philosophical Library, 1959.
Squires, Michael. "D. H. Lawrence's Narrators, Sources of Knowledge, and the Problem of Coherence." Criticism 37 (1995): 469-91.
Sterne, Laurence. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. 1759-67. Ed. James Aiken Work. New York: Odyssey, 1940.
Stewart, Jack F. "Dialectics of Knowing in Women in Love." Twentieth Century Literature 37 (1991): 59-75.
Jack Stewart, University of British Columbia, is the author of numerous articles on D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf and of a book entitled The Incandescent Word: The Poetic Vision of Michael Bullock. He has also written on Iris Murdoch, William Faulkner, and Laurence Sterne. He is interested in interrelations of literature and painting, language and landscape, and he recently completed a book-length manuscript entitled "Vision and Expression: The Vital Art of D. H. Lawrence."
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|Title Annotation:||novel by D.H. Lawrence|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1996|
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