The "something else": ethical Ecriture in D. H. Lawrence's St Mawr.
Supplementing in a minor way this scholarship, my essay suggests that a productive connection can be established between the perspectives of the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas on language and alterity and the ethical project subtending the narrative of D.H. Lawrence's St Mawr, a short novel or novella written in New Mexico in 1924 and published the next year. Arguably, Lawrence's organicist poetics coincide more seamlessly with Heidegger's existential philosophy with its central tenet of existents' authentic relation to a totality, than with Levinas' acutely humanized ontology. (3) Deeply influenced by early twentieth-century phenomenology and existentialism, Levinas in his later writings departs from Heidegger's view of authenticity (Eigentlichkeit) as the first principle of Being, as the justification of Dasein in confronting the threat of nothingness and death, claiming instead the priority of ethics as a primordial relation with alterity; in Levinas' understanding, as explained by Alphonso Lingis, authenticity "is not formed simply in the relationship with the clearing of the world; this state of being capable of answering for what it is and does [...] arises in a relationship not with nothingness which attracts and threatens, but with alterity which appeals and contests" (Emmanuel Levinas xv). Eclipsing intentionality, the appropriation of the field of potentialities for the human self--Levinas' "difficult freedom"--the sense of absolute responsibility for the other contracted in the face-to-face relation seems initially remote from Lawrence's persistent exploration of post-human regeneration and the cultivation in his art of integral co-being, "the relation between man and his circumambient universe, at the living moment" (STH 171). (3)
Despite such seemingly fundamental reservations, my essay aims to show how the discursive awareness of alterity in St Mawr is enhanced within a context of Levinasian ethics. The view of language as "the incorporeal exposition" of Being (Nancy 85), as the humanizing signifier through which all creation passes, is shared by philosopher and artist, although it is only the former who theorizes his insight, especially in his late seminal work Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence (1991; 1998). As we will see, Lawrence's novella is infused with an understanding of language as an amphibiology, as a state of tension between articulated closure, the mimetic doxa, and an intimated other utterance that breaks up identity. As in Levinas' conception of the said and the saying, "the struggle to get out [.] to give utterance" (WL 186) in St Mawr is ethically charged, a matter of authentic response to the other, of responsibility as a foundational human gesture. Thus, the following analysis will concentrate on the novella's shift in sensibility, the way different stylistic modes characterize the opposed settings of the old and the new world, a dark comedy of manners on the one hand, and poetic prose on the other, called by Richard Aldington, a "superb finale, like the heartrendingly lovely last movement of a symphony" (8). (4) First, I will trace this movement from the immanent said to the disruptive saying; suggesting in particular that in St Mawr alterity is significantly conceived of in terms of chronotopicity, ethical thinking about time. In the concluding scenes of the narrative, a new type of chronotope is created, a form of what Bakhtin calls the intervalic chronotope. Finally, I will attempt to unravel the ethicopolitical dimension of this figuration.
Within a post-war setting, St Mawr follows Lou Witt's search for a more authentic way of life than the exhausted value systems of Europe can offer. The novella's catalyst is the eponymous St Mawr, a magnificent bay stallion, who in an epiphanic encounter with Lou disturbs the young woman's sense of reality, impelling her to distance herself from superfluous social interactions. The little run-down ranch Lou discovers at the edge of the New Mexico desert has a similar rapturous effect on her as St Mawr had in England. The ending of the novella, however, is ambiguous, introducing through Lou's mother a note of weary cynicism.
For my purposes, it is productive to approach the structure of St Mawr as a series of gestalts, or cognitive frames, set up to relativize mimetic representation. Thus, the comedy of manners at the beginning is followed by a darker satire as the family goes on vacation in Shropshire, encountering rural Englishness, these modes of ridicule, in turn, moving into the mother's and daughter's travelogues in Mexico and Texas, culminating in the symphonic finale of the New Mexico ranch. It is important to note that the activity of framing these modes is in each instance foregrounded and is, in fact, a major concern in the narrative; narration in St Mawr experiments with gestalts, constructing them, tearing them down, staging their interactions, reflecting upon them and searching a new form, which emerges in the poetic prose of the final scenes.
In the early parts of the novella, the dominant mode of perception, imitated and made ironic, is a form of imperialistic vision, where a hierarchical gap exists between subject and object, viewer and viewed, and the purpose of framing seems to be to appropriate, possess, subdue. It is no coincidence that St Mawr's prime antagonist, Rico Carrington, Lou's Australian husband, is an artist of sorts, a portrait painter who perceives the human face only as a commercial asset, as a way into his "little tableau vivant [...] this pretty-pretty picture of a charming young wife and a delightful little home and a fascinating success as a painter of fashionable, and at the same time 'great' portraits" (27). In fact, Rico's "pretty-pretty picture" is symptomatic of post-war Western social life, which often is described as a kind of simulacrum, as a dream-like state (27), a phantasm or mirage, expressly described by the narrator in the Texas episode as "cheap," its only object being to "reflect images" (132-3). Consequently, individuals and social groups are often presented as if on display, participating in phantasmic spectacles: in the early pages of the novella, in the London setting Mrs Witt discovers the urban beau monde in Hyde Park, where she rides her horse among "well-groomed papas, and tight mamas who looked as if they were going to pour tea between the ears of their horses" (26); later, in the Shropshire countryside, a confrontation between St Mawr and Rico, who by then is the horse's owner, is staged among a small group of young socialites, who, according to Lou's reflections, communicate within a kind of nihilistic war logic, "believ[ing] in nothing, car[ing] about nothing: [bent on] undermin[ing] one another" beneath a jolly surface (79); also, in the American episode, in Santa Fe, the tourists move in herds, gazing with a totalizing grasp upon the Indians and Mexicans, knowing Lou herself "down to their shoe-soles" (133). Within this simulated reality, individuals are like "flat shapes" (131), claiming absolute knowledge of entities in the world.
Within and against these reifying gestalts, the novella creates the possibility of "the third eye" (65), a kind of blind seeing, a mode of perception aware of the principle of alterity and of the weight of responsibility it places on the viewer. In the second chapter of Otherwise than Being, Levinas imagines a kind of primeval landscape where consciousness is understood as emerging within the subject's encounter with otherness: the apparently solitary mind surveys what is external to it, and instead of perceiving it as an essence, asks questions of it, hesitatingly using the interrogatives, "who?" "what?" "how? Here, according to Levinas, it is not the questioner's curiosity or search for truth that is of primary interest, but rather the structure of the first reaction, the fact that it is discursive and assumes the form of pleading; Levinas remarks: "How is it that the 'what?', already steeped in being so as to open it up to more, becomes a demand and a prayer, a special language inserting into the 'communication' of the given an appeal for help, for aid addressed to another?" (24).
Keeping in mind that Levinas is mythologizing the birth of consciousness, this question foregrounds the ethical nature of subjectivity. Because an "appeal [...] addressed to another" is embedded in the very first encounter with being, a response to otherness is an indisputable given, or as Alphonso Lingis puts it in the introduction to Otherwise than Being: "Responsibility is a fact. It is a fact prior to the facts assembled by coherent, that is, responsible discourse. The theoretical attitude, the ontological logos which articulates Being, owes its energy to this given--or this imposed" (xix). The awakening to responsibility ruptures coherent self-identity and lingers as a fluid, transgressive discourse within conscious perception. Thus, as experienced in its originary state, otherness is not a concrete other, but a dark signification within subjectivity: Levinas says, as "determinative of subjectivity, [the other] is [...] restlessness," an evasion of logocentric consciousness (25; my italics).
In St Mawr, Lou's startling encounter with a potentially other gestalt than the mimetic displays of Western culture resembles Levinas' mythic account of the subject as discursive fissure. Facing St Mawr, the strange and marvelous creature she wants to buy, the young woman experiences what may be called a hierophany, not so much in the sense of a religious revelation, but as a glimpse into the primeval space of ethical relations. In the scene depicting their silent communication, the animal's head towers over Lou, "wild" and "brilliant," seeming "to look at her out of another world" (30). Questions, paradoxical expressions, repetitions of words such as "brilliant," "terrible," "gleaming," "questioning," "dark" and "uncanny" convey the affective intensity and, at the same time, the almost unsayable truth of the event. But even if it is difficult to apprehend the insight consciously, Lou's fixed framing of self is shattered and she is left in "great darkness [.] as if the walls of her own world had suddenly melted away" (30). An overwhelming sense of vulnerability seems to replace Lou's former stability, her "ordinary, commonplace self" (31). In fact, it is emphasized that this loss of self is an ethical obligation: after the encounter, Lou is "haunted" by the vision of the horse; it wields "some uncanny authority over her," and she feels as if "it [has] put a ban on her heart" (31).
Many features of this powerful experience parallel those of Levinas' mythical perceiver who recovers responsibility as a fact of existence. What is important to single out here is that the epiphany of otherness involves a reorganization of the temporal sense, an infusion of what Andrew Gibson, basing his categories on both Levinas and Lyotard, refers to as on one hand, chronos, empirical causality, expressed by the term mussen, or what must be, and on the other, kairos, free causality, designated by sollen, the unforeseeable what will be (72-3). Thus, with regard to St Mawr, the former temporal sense can be said to characterize the world of display of the first part of the novella, with its nihilistic temperament and totalizing grasp of phenomena; as a result of Lou's hierophany, however, a sense of kairos, of free, inhuman causality, infiltrates the narrative discourse, existing throughout it as a destabilizing undercurrent, to emerge finally in the New Mexico episode as the dominant temporal mode. However, it is important to note that this other sense of time does not completely shatter chronos, but engages with it in a productive way.
Important processes exist to create a figuration for this new sense of time. After Lou's first shattering encounter with St Mawr, throughout the first part of the novella and especially in the Shropshire episode, there are intimations of kairos, ruptures in the mimetic, charade-like surface of the narrative world. Particularly revealing scenes are set in the English countryside close to the Welsh border, in a craggy landscape with ties both to the pagan past and to wartime, an ambivalent space both industrialized and primitive. Sightseeing on horseback, the family, together with an entourage of fashionable neighbors, is guided by Lewis, the groom, along paths where "the spirit of aboriginal England still lingers" and where whitish rocks "[jut] against the blue August sky, heavy with age-moulded roundednesses" (73). In contrast to the vapid joie de vivre of Rico and the Manbys, Lou is overwhelmed by fearfulness among the uncanny rock shapes, especially the Devil's Chair with its "Needle's Eye [...] a hole in the ancient grey rock, like a window, looking to England" (75). The window image is apt here, as having witnessed her husband's mismanagement of St Mawr--the reciprocal cruelty of man and beast, both sprawled on the ground in unnatural positions--Lou has, what the narrative refers to as, "a vision of evil" (my italics; 78), a rapturous, almost hysterical, insight into universal malevolence, "a soft, subtle thing, soft as water," moving amidst "all the nations," carrying inhabitants along with it, "in the strange tide [...] that was subtly, irresistibly rising" (78).
The incantatory language of Lou's reverie, saturated with Biblical diction and apocalyptic fervor, erupts into narrative chronos, into the apparent syntactic inevitability of the Shropshire world, disturbing everyday temporal sense and evoking diachrony, the rise and fall of the lapse of time itself through the ages. (5) In the Shropshire vision, Lou's intimation of alterity, the subjective dissolution, triggered by the first encounter with St Mawr, expands to an awareness of temporality as the force of otherness within the same. Foreshadowing the New Mexico episode in the last part of the novella, the concern with evil here underscores the recognition that even though the perverse rationality of the masquerade is ridiculed, the potentially brutal freedom of kairos is not to be extolled for its own sake. Like the malevolent influences of the desert landscapes described in the last episode as wearing down human effort, St Mawr's inhumanity is oppressively frightening; thus Lou watches the stallion on the top of the prostrate Rico: "the hoofs working wildly, the wicked curved hams of the horse, and then the evil straining of that arched, fish-like neck, with the dilated eyes of the head. Thrown backwards, and working its hoofs in the air. Reversed, and purely evil" (78).
What is particularly noteworthy in this part of the narrative is the emergence of a new chronotope--the intervalic chronotope--which is a work in progress in St Mawr, completed and made palpable in the New Mexico setting. In order for the creative energy to be released to empower that construction, the narrative consciousness itself becomes first of all contaminated by Lou's dissolution, her reverse self-development, the deepening insight into diachrony. Secondly it is motivated to articulate that insight in a discourse that harmonizes chronos and kairos, which, in the words of Levinas, performs "ethical saying." It is important to point out that even though they are identifiable as, for instance, social satire or travelogue, the narrative gestalts in St Mawr are impure entities, their borders flexible and shifting along with successive transformations of the narration. In fact, after the Shropshire incident, the narrative voice becomes increasingly heteroglossic, incorporating a variety of styles: Mrs Witts' deadly sarcasm as well as her existential musings; Lewis' folkloric exposition (prompting Mrs Witt to wonder if he was "after all no more than a sort of imbecile?" ); Lou's letter-writing with its curious mimicking of her conversations with the invalid Rico; and travel narrative as mother and daughter cross the Atlantic, visit Cuba, Texas and then finally New Mexico, Santa Fe and Las Chivas, the ranch, lodged within the Rocky Mountain landscape on the edge of the desert.
In tune with the protagonist's inner dissolution, with the "melt[ing] away" of "the walls of her own world" (30), discourse in St Mawr moves away from realistic representation, away from the distanced, rather ironic narrator of the Western literary tradition, carried away by what Bakhtin would call centrifugal forces of language, saying against the grain within the Entbildung--the counter-development--of the creative apparatus. This search for the mot juste comes to a head in the last part of the novella, assuming palpable form as the chronotope of the threshold, in Bakhtin's understanding of it as an instance of "crisis and break in life" (Dialogic Imagination 248; Bakhtin's italics). Having heard that a ranch is for sale in the New Mexico mountains, Lou and Phoenix, one of the grooms who followed St Mawr to America, drive "to a wire gate, where nothing was to be expected" (140; my italics). Seemingly inauspicious, this opening unto new space nevertheless erupts into epiphany, similar to Lou's earlier insight into the primeval landscape of alterity, but now belonging to the narrative consciousness itself, which performs a transvalued gestalt, cognition as an ethical speech act.
The primary mark of transvaluation in St Mawr is the change of narrators, the near discarding of the ironic voice of the first part, whose favorite is the perceptive, yet patronizing Mrs Witt, and in the New Mexico section, the assumption of the role of a local historian, who reviews the struggle of the generations in a hostile environment, and tells their stories with empathetic engagement. (6) Penetrating into a kind of no-man's-land, a primeval, pre-human landscape, Lawrence's novella here experiments with historiography, dismantling traditional categories of time, genealogy, progress and the evolution of human proprietorship. The Western sense of the inevitability of the seasons and of social calendars collapses within the alien time of the New Mexico desert, its inchoate annual rhythms, the slippage of winter "into the hot lap of summer" (134), the predominance of autumn, when "the desert blooms" (134), and lackluster springtime, bereft of loveliness with only its "grey ash all the time" (134). Into this disorienting time-space, generations of settlers have projected their needs and desires, attempting civilized habitation and domestic routines despite what the narrator refers to as "some mysterious malevolence fighting against the will of man" (143). Sixty years before Lou Carrington's arrival, a schoolmaster from the east coast, initially looking for gold but transfixed by the strange beauty of the place, stakes out the first homestead, builds a cabin, fences it in, and clears the ground for alfalfa. Defeated by hardship and rising costs, this first settler sells the ranch to a trader from New England who, along with his wife, resumes the tasks of civilization, building another log cabin, a corral, pipelines for water, and installing modern amenities in his houses--taps, wash-hand basins and an enameled bathtub. Again, despite the energetic initiative of the New England couple, the resistant savagery of the desert, the "curious disintegration working all the time" (143), overwhelms human endeavor, leaving the trader no choice but to put the ranch up for sale and move back to city life.
In St Mawr, this brief account of New World settlement does not, of course, suffice as an example of historiographic experimentation. However, as the culmination of the Entbildung of a narrative consciousness, which moves from the known categories of doxa to the destabilizing work of Levinasian saying, the ethically saturated utterance, what is significant in the desert episode is less the confrontation between culture and nature than the experience itself of displacement, the conditioning of human habitation in no-man's-land, the staking-out, the framing, of disfranchisement as the source of dwelling. Thus, the narrator as historian does not only examine the conflicts and negotiations between individual and territory, but also strives to reconfigure historical progress as a genealogy of displacement, to record the birth and evolution of chronotopicity as against traditional conceptions of chronos, of the transmission of self-identity through the time of nations. As suggested above, in the New Mexico section of the novella an intervalic chronotope emerges that productively harmonizes the brutal temporality of no-man's-land with ideas of order and social continuity.
Before exploring more fully that chronotopic formation, it is helpful to dwell first on the narrator's intuition of the event and secondly on Lou's role as a kind of holy fool, an inheritor within the new genealogy, who breaks not only with the Old World but with her own mother as well. As opposed to the production of the reifying gestalts of the earlier parts of the novella, an exploratory, intuitive apprehension characterizes the evocation of the land and its inhabitants in the New Mexico finale. It is noteworthy that instead of expanding upon the struggle of the male settlers, the narrator in the most significant passages focuses on the confrontation of the trader's wife, "the New England woman," with the natural spectacle, communicating through her the dark discourse of rupture intimated earlier in the novella during Lou's startling encounter with St Mawr. In fact, it is possible to understand the meditation upon the desert landscape as constituting a phenomenology of beauty, poetic discourse that labors to articulate what Andrew Gibson building upon Lyotard refers to as "the fragile passage from the aesthetics [.] of the sublime to ethics" (71; Lyotard 199-201). The New England woman "with her uncanny sensitiveness to underlying influences" (149) exposes herself to sublime feeling, to its violence, self-division, "fascination, horror and elevation" (Lyotard 259); building on that intensity, the narrator intuits the conflation of ethics with the unknown, (7) with what exceeds the human, inventing, in a Levinasian manner, the language of host (hote), welcoming, hospitable, but at the same time, uttering a state of displacement, the poetry of the fissured subject. (8)
In a thought-provoking essay on the political dimension of Levinas' concern with ethics and language, Michael F. Bernard-Donals draws attention to the double meaning of the French hote as both "host" and "guest" and to the implication in Totality and Infinity "that when an individual engages another in discourse--at the ethical moment--he acts at once as host and guest" (66). Self-divided identity marks even the inhabitant of a domicile, region or nation, because there exists no natural, essential origin of expression: "in political terms, the subject is noncoincident both with herself and with the location of her utterance" (67). Meditating further on the twenty-first century as the time of both "cosmopolitanism and exile" (72), Bernard-Donals asserts the need for another authentic language that breaks with "outmoded sociological categories" (72) and beckons towards realities of displacement. (9) A model for such language, Bernard-Donals suggests, is poetry as the Levinasian "saying," the mobile force within the certainties of the said, the compulsion itself to speak and to communicate the unknown. Thus, the poetic vision can act as "politics' guide to action": it transcends Being as a finality, encompassing Becoming, staking out "a space for the exile without displacing the homeborn" (74).
The depiction of the (post) modern poet as vulnerable host reflects the labors of Lawrence's narrator in the New Mexico section of St Mawr, his orchestration of the terror and beauty of Being in an ethical drama that transcends the outmoded value systems of the Western world. Although the desert evocations have, as Gerard Doherty points out (16), earned innumerable critical accolades, no interpretive model seems convincingly to incorporate them into the general concerns of the novella. Doherty himself proposes analogues between Antonin Artaud's Theater of Cruelty and Lawrence's cosmic stage in St Mawr, revealingly telescoping these artists' shared critique of the "false theater" of Western traditions, with its "author-creator," narcissistic relation between spectators and spectacle, "tableaux that narrate" and languages of "surface communication" (16). Instead, both Lawrence and Artaud conceive of the "life-force" itself as a source of theater, implicating audiences in existential rituals. The theater of cruelty shares with Levinas' ethical model a concern with "the otherwise than Being," but does not sufficiently underpin the sublimity of the New Mexico passages: the theatrical analogy fails, for instance, to assimilate the compassionate engagement of the narrator, the subsequent return of the "Western eye" (in the figure of Mrs Witt) and Lou's assumption of the role of a spokesman, even of (political) leadership at the end of the novella. As we will see, it is the poetics of displacement that most integrally link the peregrinations in the desert to the human spectacle and the concomitant issues the novella probes--war, violence, sexuality, marriage and the ideal community.
In the New Mexico passages, as the novella's consciousness (and conscience), the narrator prepares the ground for Lou Carrington's settlement, for the forging of her ties to the desert landscape as a kind of refuge, and poetically performs her sense of obligation to an "uncanny authority" (31), to what she will repeatedly refer to in a last long speech as "something else" (155). Thus, the narrator's priority here is to undermine the absolutist gestalts of previous sections by communicating the hiatus between certainties and the compulsion to shape the uncreated, unsaying the said in voluptuous patterns of mobility. (10) In fact, waves of dislocation or disorientation can be detected surging through the nature descriptions, assuming at least three major, yet delicate, contours: of becoming counteracting being; of synaesthesia counteracting the "imperial eye"; of inhuman time counteracting chronos. What will emerge from this orchestration is a palpable time-space figuration, an ethical chronotope that harmonizes homelessness and social temporality.
In the desert description, the wave of becoming can be apprehended as Nietzschean jouissance, as joy in the inextricability of creation and destruction within the phenomenal world. (11) Upsetting to the New England woman's refined sensibility, the "absolute beauty" (e.g. 146) of the scenery contains terrifying shapes, the parasitical "tussle of wild life" (148; Lawrence's emphasis), the "cruel electricity of the mountains" (150) and the "vast and unrelenting will of the swarming lower life" (150), which with utter indifference works against all human civilizing effort. Feebly holding on to her Christian belief in a benevolent deity--in "the God of Love" (149)--the New England woman is overwhelmed by the savage beauty of the place, by the "tall elegant pine-tree" above her cabin which at the same time appears as a "bristling, almost demonish" presence, "from the far-off crude ages of the world" (144); by the "fascinating," yet lurid, wild flowers such as the columbines, "scarlet outside and yellow inside [...] farther from the dove nothing could be" (148); by the incongruity of the existential loneliness one felt picking wild raspberries "while the thunder gathered thick and blue-purple at the mountain tops" (149) ("how lonely, how harsh-lonely and menacing it was" ); by the sensuous intoxication discovered to be "full of violence," "a strange blind frenzy" (144). The "joy of becoming" runs ambivalently through these passages: the repressed vicissitudes of creation erupt in waves of terrible beauty.
Also, a sensual merger, a synaesthetic apprehension undercuts the hegemony of the Western eye, which as the first part of the novella makes plain, reifies phenomena, producing hierarchical, sterile gaps between knower and known. In contrast, New Mexican nature features a dynamic sensory mix, almost a trompe d'oeil scenario where the eye is lured into the familiar only to be dislodged by multiple details. By no means a static landscape, the desert seems "another world altogether" (145), constantly shifting shape and color, surprising the viewer with strange visual shows. From one perspective, the mountains are solid "hummocks" but suddenly appear as "blue fragility" with "floating bases" (145). As spectator, the New England woman encounters innumerable formations of the land--"the far off rocks," the canyon that is "like an open gateway," the "puckered folds of the mesa-sides," the "blackish crack" belonging to "the otherwise invisible canyon of the Rio Grande," mountainous vistas like "icebergs showing up from an outer sea" (146). Paradoxically, aquatic imagery connotes the fluidity of the desert landscape: deceptively, the desert sweeps "like a beach" towards the distance and "sometimes [its] vast strand [...] would float with curious undulations and exhalations amid the blue fragility of the mountains" (145).
Throughout these evocations, voluptuous geometry fuses with a temporal rhythm, which echoes the very duration of alterity, the gestalt of otherness. In the nature description in St Mawr, time and space enfold one another, coordinating a pure chronotope, exclusive of chronos and human elaborations.
Significantly, within the play of cosmic elements an archetypal space-time unit emerges, aligning Lawrence's desert landscape with cubist experiments in painting, with in particular Picasso and Duchamp's attempts to concretize time, to deprive it of its independence and render it as the spatial fourth dimension. In a recent essay tracing Lawrence's connections to both Einstein's relativity theories and to the modernist avant-garde painters, Kumiko Hoshi notes how Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 shares a technique of "distortion" and kinetic vision with the narrative of Aaron's Rod, which, contrary to critical opinion of it as formless, strives to configure temporality as motion. The desert evocations in St Mawr similarly distort absolutist notions of time by intimating the integral link between matter and temporal states, so that human conceptions of historical progress vanish in the encounter with the variegated brutal rhythms of the natural world.
Although the descriptive passages here do not fit any concise classifications, without doubt kinetic imagery dominates them, language that in the cubist manner articulates "vision in motion" (Hoshi 109). Thus, the geographical shapes, the vegetation, the birds and the beasts as well as the diurnal turns embody their own singular rhythms, experienced ambivalently by the New England woman as beautiful, fascinating, fearful and sometimes savagely sordid ("There was life, intense, bristling life, full of energy, but also, with an undertone of savage sordidness" ). The strange vitality of this phenomenal world is captured in these statements about the impact of the mountains on the female observer who both loves and fears them: "Out of the mountains came two breaths of influence: the breath of the curious, frenzied energy, that took away one's intelligence as alcohol or any other stimulus does: and then the most strange invidiousness that ate away the soul" (144). The pine trees also, rising to "ragged heights" on the down slope facing the ranch, emanate a vicious life-force, appearing "soft and still" in the morning sunlight, but "flar[ing] up orange red" in the evening, with "alert tufts like a wolf's tail touching the air" (144-5). Searching for an apt term to convey the diverse durations of the wilderness, the narrator asserts that this is a "tussle": "That was it. The wild life, even the life of the trees and flowers, seemed one bristling, hair-raising tussle" (148). Detailed and nuanced depictions of the regional flowers and plants follow, pointing to the singularity of even the most humble of creatures, a single flower: but "behold, this invisible long stalk was balancing a white, ghostly, three-petalled flower, naked out of nothingness. A mariposa lily!" (149). Enhancing the multiple life-forms of this fabulous land, the light of day moves in tune with the eagles "which lived in the near rocks overhead in the blue, turning their luminous, dark-edged-patterned bellies and underwings upon the pure air, like winged orbs" (145). In such a way, together with the unique durations of the flora and fauna, the diurnal itself is materialized, turned into voluptuous light and subtle movements through space.
Tenaciously holding onto a belief in an "Almighty loving God" (147), in the end the New England woman is overwhelmed by the inhumanity of the surroundings, cowed now by a sense of universal malevolence harking back to Lou Carrington's apocalyptic vision in the earlier Shropshire episode. Unlike Lou, who in the last pages of the novella articulates an awareness of a state beyond nihilism, her female predecessor succumbs to utter dejection, a sense of the futility of all enterprise, even of communication: "and she sat blank, stuttering, staring in the empty cupboard of her mind, like Mother Hubbard, and seeing the cupboard bare" (147). As Michael Levenson notes, both in Lawrence's non-fictional prose such as the Study of Thomas Hardy and especially in Women in Love, the spectacle of the "inhuman creative mystery" prompts anthropological musings, revealing in the Lawrencian spokesman, Rupert Birkin, inclinations toward nihilism, where utter finality, the potential annihilation of the human species, animates an irreducible moral foundation (Levenson 157). However, within the context of hybridization of gestalts in St Mawr, the New Mexico passage contains radical historical thought, ethical chronotopicity, staging a kind of interval between mimesis and the unknown: the phenomenal interaction of alterities here is, as Gerald Doherty has also observed, no less performative or theatrical than the showy spectacles of the London scenes of the novella; what is significantly at stake is the hiatus of the theatricality between the human doxa and that which exceeds it, in other words a staging of language itself as it probes the creative mystery in order to communicate the "otherwise than Being."
As indicated earlier in this essay, in Lawrence's novella the figuration which most revealingly captures the narrator's ethically saturated activity is what Mikhail Bakhtin refers to as the intervalic chronotope, a time-space unit in literature that, despite its emergence with the rise of the novel proper in the eighteenth century, configures theatricality and links authors, narrators and protagonists to public forums and the spectacles of the marketplace. (12) In chapter VI of the essay "Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel," Bakhtin depicts the intervalic chronotope as both a specific "between-theacts" ("entr'acte" ) setting that casts a light on, and even subverts, the dominant temporality of a work (Thackeray's Vanity Fair is a favorite example) and a hidden playfulness that ruptures and distorts the conventional surfaces and hegemonic ideologies of narrative worlds (166). (13) In fact, this chronotopic interlude operates like a mask in the sense that playfulness or performativity is its essence: in the words of Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, "the intervalic chronotope tends to be [...] a kind of play separated from but related to the life in which it is an interval" (404). Consequently, the masked figures who inhabit the interval--"the rouge, clown and fool" as well as transformations of these figures--carry a certain eccentric authority that exempts them from immersing themselves in conventionality and in the "hypocrisy and falsehood saturat[ing] all human relationship" in inauthentic worlds (Bakhtin 162). What is crucial here is the authority granted marginalities, which actually in Bakhtin's account of the history of the novel metamorphose into the devices of authors, narrators, and protagonists to "struggle against conventions and against the inadequacy of all available life-slots to fit an authentic human being" (163). In the novel, the theatrical as a mode that exceeds mimetic representation exposes the "feudal" structures of both public and private lives and liberates the other side of ossified phenomena.
Like Rupert Birkin in Women in Love, Lou Carrington in the concluding scenes of St Mawr can be understood as assuming the stance of authorial (Lawrencian) spokesman, a stance illuminated by her ethical fracturing in the desert interval and her subsequent transformation into a mask. Contrary to the New England woman's dejection and tendency toward nihilism, Lou experiences the destructive beauty of the New Mexico landscape as a transformative event, a deepening of her hierophanic encounter with St Mawr in the early part of the novella, and a confirmation of the vulnerable boundaries of the self and of the human condition as a field of uncanny responsibilities. As she decides to buy the ranch and take her place in a genealogy of displacement, Lou forges an allegiance with a proximity--the "something else" she tells her mother "loves me and wants me" (155); it is an ethical obligation she intimated before her American journey and which has in her new condition as an exiled settler turned into a mission, into a vision of leadership and community, an ethico-political promise.
If the shape-shifting Birkin in Women in Love, the "comrade-in-arms, a Glucksritter," as Gudrun Brangwen calls him (374), suggests the kaleidoscopic mentality the novel itself both poetically and politically endorses, then a single protagonist's role manages only in a limited way to convey the entire authorial apparatus, or what is more accurately referred to as the aesthetic/ novelistic consciousness. (14) Bearing in mind the fragility of individual viewpoints in Lawrence's fiction, Lou's eccentric dominance in the last scenes of St Mawr nonetheless indicates her affinity with the political poets discussed in Bernard-Donals' essay and with their shared mission of guidance to social justice. As discussed above, it is the poetics of displacement that connects the desert meditation to the social spectacle and its concomitant issues of gender, sexuality, marriage and community, re-introduced with the entry of Mrs Witt at the end of the novella. What is noteworthy in the exchange between mother and daughter is the latter's picaresque perspective, or a stance she refers to herself as akin to that of "an imbecile." (15) What Lou focalizes as the author's mask, as the novella's exploratory device, is the interrogation of masculinity and eros and the promotion of a compassionate social ethos, a bond that in Jean-Luc Nancy's beautiful phrase "is the disturbance of violent relatedness" (xiii).
As the situatedness of Levinas' ethico-political thought--which Bernard-Donals describes as "tak[ing] place one individual and one situation at a time, [...] like the doctor's encounter with the sick patient" (66)--the interrogations of community in St Mawr telescope a microscopic unit, the male-female couple, in order to foreground the hiatus between the known world and invisible possibilities of justice and the common good. Although--especially in the light of Mrs Witt's cynical wisdom--appearing "imbecilic" in her renunciation of "the embrace of incompetent men" and in her association of eros with sanctity ("either my taking a man shall have a meaning and a mystery that penetrates my very soul, or I will keep to myself" ), Lou's saying throughout the novella's last episode inflects mundane social realities with their other, hidden sides, so that the love she searches for assumes the dimension of "something else"--"something big, something bigger than men, bigger than people, bigger than religion" (155). By probing the sexual relation within the context of the mother's "outmoded social category" (Levinas, Difficult Freedom 132) of (bourgeois) marriage, the novella releases the hidden force of love of that relation, its potential to activate compassionate social bonds and promote a politics of inclusion.
If the topic of conversation between mother and daughter concerns modalities of love, then their altercations are logical extensions of the intervalic chronotope, which functions primarily as the harmonizing of utopian kairos with social temporalities. In Levinas' understanding, the ethical actor performs and speaks in a state of tension between the beyond of history and the field of acute responsibilities: the chosen leader is excessively sensitive to the third, "the one far off," who is both other and a neighbor (Bernard-Donals ). Bernard-Donals makes the important observation that an awareness of a strange third party--strange, even if involving kinship--stimulates conscience, so that political actions emerge within contexts of witnessing: "anything I might do or say will be seen, even if only potentially, by the third, and forces me to compare my individual, unique acts with other acts, other utterances, that might be carried out by someone I do not know" (67). Such cosmopolitan apprehension conditions the possibility of justice, but at the same time justice itself "potentially corrupts ethics" (67) by obliging the ethico-political actor to situate herself within the context of "the calculations, knowledge, science, and consciousness that [...] condition [her performances]" (Derrida 116; qtd. by Bernard-Donals 67).
The designation of neighbors as witnesses casts a revealing light on the conflict staged between Lou and her mother in the last pages of Lawrence's novella. Even though it is made clear that the bond of kinship is severed ("there was a definite pause between the mother and daughter, a silence that was a pure breach" ), the use of Mrs Witt's cynical, patronizing perspective as the touchstone here for Lou's utopianism helps historicize the latter's vision, modulate it within the play between kairos and chronos. There can be no doubt that the older woman's withering viewpoint, the way she "watched the desert [...] saw the fallen apples on the ground [...] looked down into the deep arroyo [...] eyed the two log cabins [...] saw it all with a sort of stony indifference" (152), challenges the rapturous poetics of displacement, obliging the ethical saying to measure itself up against the crude, calculating doxa, non-speculative, satirical and spiteful. In fact, the very last utterance of St Mawr is Mrs Witt's, who mockingly subverts her daughter's high mindedness by reminding her of the absurdity of the name of the ranch--Las Chivas (female goats)--and of the calculating bargain she made, buying it for "twelve hundred dollars" ("then I call it cheap, considering all there is to it: even the name" ). The startling positioning of the anticlimactic ending against Lou's elevated utopianism underlines the state of tension of these scenes, that, in Bernard-Donals'words, "it is [the] comparison of incomparables that allows the ethical actor to think the radical individuality of his act as something other than solitary or unique, despite (oddly) its uniqueness" (67). The ending of St Mawr presents a political challenge, as so many open, ambiguous endings of Lawrence's fiction, left in tense oscillation between the utopian future and the impossibility of utopia. It is a just conclusion, exploratory and adventurous, aware of itself as ruptured by alterity.
Aldington, Richard. Introduction. St Mawr and The Virgin and the Gipsy. Penguin, 1950. 7-10.
Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialogic Imagination. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981.
Becket, Fiona. D.H. Lawrence: The Thinker as Poet. London: Macmillan, 1997.
Bell, Michael. D.H. Lawrence: Language and Being. Cambridge: CUP, 1991.
Bernard-Donals, Michael F. "'Difficult Freedom': Levinas, Language, and Politics." Diacritics 35 (1995): 62-77.
Derrida, Jacques. Adieu: To Emmanuel Levinas. Trans. Pascale Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999.
Doherty, Gerald. "The Greatest Show on Earth: D.H. Lawrence's St Mawr and Antonin Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty." D.H. Lawrence Review 22 (1990): 5-21.
Eaglestone, Robert. Ethical Criticism: Reading After Levinas. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1997
Fernihough, Anne. D.H. Lawrence: Aesthetics and Ideology. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.
Gibson, Andrew. Postmodernity, Ethics and the Novel: From Leavis to Levinas. London: Routledge, 1999.
Hoshi, Kumiko. "Modernism's Fourth Dimension in Aaron's Rod: Einstein, Picasso and Lawrence." In Windows to the Sun: D.H. Lawrence's Thought-Adventures. Ed. Earl Ingersoll and Virginia Hyde. Madison, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson UP, 2009. 99-117.
Kermode, Frank. Lawrence. Waukegan, IL: Fontana, 1973.
Lawrence, D.H. St Mawr and Other Stories. Ed. Brian Finney. Cambridge: CUP, 1983.
--. Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays. Ed. Bruce Steele. Cambridge: CUP, 1985.
--. Women in Love. Ed. David Farmer, Lindeth Vasey, and John Worthen. Cambridge: CUP, 1987.
Levenson, Michael. Modernism and the Fate of Individuality: Character and Novelistic From Conrad to Woolf. Cambridge: CUP, 1991.
Levinas, Emmanuel. Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism. Trans. Sean Hand. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1990.
--. Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1998.
Lingis, Alphonso. Translator's Introduction. Emmanuel Levinas: Collected Philosophical Papers. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987. vii-xxxi.
--. Translator's Introduction. Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Pittsburg: Duquesne UP, 1998. xvii-xlv.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois Lyotard. Lecons sur l'analytique du sublime. Paris: Galilee, 1993.
Morson, Gary Saul and Caryl Emerson. Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaic. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1990.
Nancy, Jean Luc. Being Singular Plural. Trans. Robert D. Richardson and Anne E. O'Byrne. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000.
Poplawski, Paul. Language, Art and Reality in D.H. Lawrence's St Mawr: A Stylistic Study. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1996.
--. "St Mawr and the Ironic Art of Realization." In Writing the Body in D.H. Lawrence: Essays on Language, Representation, and Sexuality. Ed. Paul Poplawski. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001. 93-104.
Stevens, Hugh. "D. H. Lawrence: Organicism and the Modernist Novel." In The Cambridge Companion to the Modernist Novel. Ed. Morag Shiach. Cambridge: CUP, 2007. 137-150.
(1) Eaglestone and Gibson provide quite a comprehensive view of the state of ethics within modern and contemporary fiction. The reluctance to engage with the ethical dimension of Lawrencian discourse may be due to the early pervasive influences of the morally inflected criticism of F.R. Leavis.
(2) Stevens discusses Lawrence's affinity with both the English Romantic tradition and with Heidegger's German Romanticism.
(3) Lingis and Eaglestone trace the influences of Heidegger upon Levinas and the latter's different views, especially in his innovative work Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Eaglestone convincingly argues that this work emerges as a response to Derrida's critique of elisions of discourse in the exposition of the face-to-face relation in Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority
(4) Several critics are concerned with the novella's stylistic diversity, among them Kermode, Doherty and Poplawski. Poplawski makes the pertinent comment that Lawrence's text struggles "to grasp a numinous sense of reality in the abstractions of language" (94). In my view, in St Mawr this struggle is ethically inflected.
(5) Diachrony indicates time liberated from spatial constrictions; it is "the temporalization of time, in the way it signifies being and nothingness, life and death [and] must also signify beyond being and not being" (Levinas, Otherwise 9; Levinas' emphasis).
(6) Irony is not absolutely discarded as at the very end Mrs Witt's scathing perspective re-emerges.
(7) I want to emphasize that Lawrence's intuition carries rigorous intellectual work.
(8) Michael F. Bernard-Donals comments on Levinas' awareness of the double meanings of the French hote as both "host" and "guest": "Levinas'implication is that when an individual engages in discourse--at the ethical moment--he acts at once as host and as guest" (66).
(9) The citation is from Levinas (Difficult Freedom 130).
(10) Bernard-Donals considers "the idea of a rupture or aporia between that which can be known and that which compels us to know it [to] lie at the heart of Levinas' political thought" (66).
(11) I'm indebted here to Doherty's citation from Lawrence's Twilight in Italy revealing a Nietzchean perspective upon the "joy of becoming" (qtd. in Doherty 12).
(12) The discussion of the intervalic chronotope is from The Dialogic Imagination, in the essay, "Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel" (158-167).
(13) Bakhtin's term for ossified world-views is "feudal ideologies" (e.g. 162).
(14) A trait of some of Lawrence's fiction is that major protagonists seem to speak exclusively for Lawrence himself, whereas in fact they only sporadically focalize urgent concerns of the elusive narrator. The latter inhabits a superior empirical realm, a realm of becoming suffused with dialogic imagination.
(15) Discussing men, sexuality and her sense of mission, Lou says to her mother: "I'm not conventy, mother, whatever else I am--even a bit of imbecile" (154).
Margret Gunnarsdottir Champion, University of Gothenburg, has published on twentieth-century fiction and recently finished a book, Dwelling in Language: Character, Psychoanalysis and Literary Consolations.
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|Publication:||D.H. Lawrence Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2011|
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