“Walter, leave off” | D.H. Lawrence on Walt Whitman

From D.H. Lawrence’s chapter on Whitman in Studies in Classic American Literature (more):

POST-MORTEM effects?

But what of Walt Whitman?

The ‘good grey poet’.

Was he a ghost, with all his physicality?

The good grey poet.

Post-mortem effects. Ghosts.

A certain ghoulish insistency. A certain horrible pottage of human parts. A certain stridency and portentousness. A luridness about his beatitudes.

DEMOCRACY! THESE STATES! EIDOLONS! LOVERS, ENDLESS LOVERS!

ONE IDENTITY!

ONE IDENTITY!

I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.

Do you believe me, when I say post-mortem effects ?

When the Pequod went down, she left many a rank and dirty steamboat still fussing in the seas. The Pequod sinks with all her souls, but their bodies rise again to man innumerable tramp steamers, and ocean-crossing liners. Corpses.

What we mean is that people may go on, keep on, and rush on, without souls. They have their ego and their will, that is enough to keep them going.

So that you see, the sinking of the Pequod was only a metaphysical tragedy after all. The world goes on just the same. The ship of the soul is sunk. But the machine-manipulating body works just the same: digests, chews gum, admires Botticelli and aches with amorous love.

I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.

What do you make of that? I AM HE THAT ACHES. First generalization. First uncomfortable universalization. WITH AMOROUS LOVE! Oh, God! Better a bellyache. A bellyache is at least specific. But the ACHE OF AMOROUS LOVE!

Think of having that under your skin. All that!

I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.

Walter, leave off. You are not HE. You are just a limited Walter. And your ache doesn’t include all Amorous Love, by any means. If you ache you only ache with a small bit of amorous love, and there’s so much more stays outside the cover of your ache, that you might be a bit milder about it.

I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.

CHUFF! CHUFF! CHUFF!

CHU-CHU-CHU-CHU-CHUFF!

Reminds one of a steam-engine. A locomotive. They’re the only things that seem to me to ache with amorous love. All that steam inside them. Forty million foot-pounds pressure. The ache of AMOROUS LOVE. Steam-pressure. CHUFF!

An ordinary man aches with love for Belinda, or his Native Land, or the Ocean, or the Stars, or the Oversoul: if he feels that an ache is in the fashion.

It takes a steam-engine to ache with AMOROUS LOVE. All of it.

Walt was really too superhuman. The danger of the superman is that he is mechanical.

Advertisements

American consciousness has so far been a false dawn (D.H. Lawrence)

IMG_3724.JPG

Please Unplease Me: A Review of Laura Frost’s The Problem With Pleasure

First, I want to get a bad joke out of the way: it seems cruelly apt to review a scholarly text titled The Problem With Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents (Columbia UP 2013), especially one, while passionate and provocative, that may preclude pleasure for the casual reader. To be expected from a scholarly text, hence the bad joke, but Frost’s study of the vicissitudes of modernist unpleasure performs its argument quite well — The arrays of Unpleasure found in this book do delight and prod the reader in its investigations of everything from stalwart modernist topoi to perfume and farts. Frost’s mission, in her own words, is to “present the interwar debate about pleasure and the rise of unpleasure … as a new way of defining literary modernism more capaciously” (14). Frost wants to collapse the schism between the two divergent interwar poles of “high” and “low” culture and their shared mission to re-stabilize the shocked and distended interwar subject. Frost’s contribution to her field isn’t quite revolutionary, but the methods in which she ties the affect of text and media on the body is pressing and important, and carries weight outside the academy. For it is not simply that the “high” modernists wanted its world to repudiate fast & easy entertainment to engage with the post-World War One space. Rather, they wanted their readers to engage with pleasure in a different key — unpleasure. Seeing the beginnings of literary modernism with the more inclusive Unpleasure rather than Eliotian disdain or Poundian militancy allows us to see how literary modernists not only critiqued vernacular entertainment, but how  Jean Rhys, James Joyce and Aldous Huxley were themselves subject to mass cultural motifs in their own texts.  “High” and “low” culture were not as mutually exclusive as previously thought, Frost asserts, and the interwar period set the stage for our current moment of pleasure, cultural division, and technological innovation considerably more than we think.

Continue reading “Please Unplease Me: A Review of Laura Frost’s The Problem With Pleasure”

Dirty Northern Bastard — Harland Miller

“New Year’s Eve” / “New Year’s Night” — D.H.Lawrence

Two poems by D.H. Lawrence:

“New Year’s Eve”—

There are only two things now,
The great black night scooped out
And this fire-glow.

This fire-glow, the core,
And we the two ripe pips
That are held in store.

Listen, the darkness rings
As it circulates round our fire.
Take off your things.

Your shoulders, your bruised throat!
Your breasts, your nakedness!
This fiery coat!

As the darkness flickers and dips,
As the firelight falls and leaps
From your feet to your lips!

“New Year’s Night”—

Now you are mine, to-night at last I say it;
You’re a dove I have bought for sacrifice,
And to-night I slay it.

Here in my arms my naked sacrifice!
Death, do you hear, in my arms I am bringing
My offering, bought at great price.

She’s a silvery dove worth more than all I’ve got.
Now I offer her up to the ancient, inexorable God,
Who knows me not.

Look, she’s a wonderful dove, without blemish or spot!
I sacrifice all in her, my last of the world,
Pride, strength, all the lot.

All, all on the altar! And death swooping down
Like a falcon. ’Tis God has taken the victim;
I have won my renown.

 

“Walter, Leave Off” — D.H. Lawrence on Walt Whitman

From Lawrence’s chapter on Whitman in Studies in Classic American Literature (more):

POST-MORTEM effects?

But what of Walt Whitman?

The ‘good grey poet’.

Was he a ghost, with all his physicality?

The good grey poet.

Post-mortem effects. Ghosts.

A certain ghoulish insistency. A certain horrible pottage of human parts. A certain stridency and portentousness. A luridness about his beatitudes.

DEMOCRACY! THESE STATES! EIDOLONS! LOVERS, ENDLESS LOVERS!

ONE IDENTITY!

ONE IDENTITY!

I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.

Do you believe me, when I say post-mortem effects ?

When the Pequod went down, she left many a rank and dirty steamboat still fussing in the seas. The Pequod sinks with all her souls, but their bodies rise again to man innumerable tramp steamers, and ocean-crossing liners. Corpses.

What we mean is that people may go on, keep on, and rush on, without souls. They have their ego and their will, that is enough to keep them going.

So that you see, the sinking of the Pequod was only a metaphysical tragedy after all. The world goes on just the same. The ship of the soul is sunk. But the machine-manipulating body works just the same: digests, chews gum, admires Botticelli and aches with amorous love.

I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.

What do you make of that? I AM HE THAT ACHES. First generalization. First uncomfortable universalization. WITH AMOROUS LOVE! Oh, God! Better a bellyache. A bellyache is at least specific. But the ACHE OF AMOROUS LOVE!

Think of having that under your skin. All that!

I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.

Walter, leave off. You are not HE. You are just a limited Walter. And your ache doesn’t include all Amorous Love, by any means. If you ache you only ache with a small bit of amorous love, and there’s so much more stays outside the cover of your ache, that you might be a bit milder about it.

I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.

CHUFF! CHUFF! CHUFF!

CHU-CHU-CHU-CHU-CHUFF!

Reminds one of a steam-engine. A locomotive. They’re the only things that seem to me to ache with amorous love. All that steam inside them. Forty million foot-pounds pressure. The ache of AMOROUS LOVE. Steam-pressure. CHUFF!

An ordinary man aches with love for Belinda, or his Native Land, or the Ocean, or the Stars, or the Oversoul: if he feels that an ache is in the fashion.

It takes a steam-engine to ache with AMOROUS LOVE. All of it.

Walt was really too superhuman. The danger of the superman is that he is mechanical.

Just a Picture of Aldous Huxley and D.H. Lawrence

“A Book Lives as Long as It Is Unfathomed” — D.H. Lawrence on Reading

D.H. Lawrence in his long essay Apocalypse:

Now a book lives as long as it is unfathomed. Once it is fathomed, it dies at once. It is an amazing thing, how utterly different a book will be, if I read it again after five years. Some books gain immensely, they are a new thing. They are so astonishingly different, they make a man question his own identity. Again, other books lose immensely. I read War and Peace once more, and was amazed to find how little it moved me, I was almost aghast to think of the raptures I had once felt, and now felt no more.

Book Acquired, 2.08.2012—D.H. Lawrence’s Apocalypse

20120209-145955.jpg

I need another book like I need a hole in the head, but, when I’ve had a stressful day at work, I like to browse the huge, labyrinthine used bookstore conveniently located just over a mile from my house. I don’t know how I wound up browsing D.H. Lawrence books, but Apocalypse stood out—first for its name, and second because, in a section of literally hundreds and hundreds of Lawrence volumes, it seemed to be the only one. Five minutes with the thing and I knew I was going to pick it up. It’s essentially a long essay on the Book of Revelation—and the concept of apocalypse and end-of-the-world in general.

Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature is a seminal volume for me, one I return to repeatedly—but I’ve never made it through one of his novels; I even found his short fiction tedious. Anyway, read a huge chunk of this last night. More to come.

“Love Can Be Terribly Obscene” — D.H. Lawrence on Edgar Allan Poe

D.H. Lawrence on Edgar Allan Poe. From Studies in American Literature

Poe had experienced the ecstasies of extreme spiritual love. And he wanted those ecstasies and nothing but those ecstasies. He wanted that great gratification, the sense of flowing, the sense of unison, the sense of heightening of life. He had experienced this gratification. He was told on every hand that this ecstasy of spiritual, nervous love was the greatest thing in life, was life itself. And he had tried it for himself, he knew that for him it was life itself. So he wanted it. And he would have it. He set up his will against the whole of the limitations of nature.

This is a brave man, acting on his own belief, and his own experience. But it is also an arrogant man, and a fool.

Poe was going to get the ecstasy and the heightening, cost what it might. He went on in a frenzy, as characteristic American women nowadays go on in a frenzy, after the very same thing: the heightening, the flow, the ecstasy. Poe tried alcohol, and any drug he could lay his hand on. He also tried any human being he could lay his hands on.

His grand attempt and achievement was with his wife; his cousin, a girl with a singing voice. With her he went in for the intensest flow, the heightening, the prismayic shades of ecstasy. It was the intensest nervous vibration of unison, pressed higher and higher in pitch, till the blood-vessels of the girl broke, and the blood began to flow out loose. It was love. If you call it love.

Love can be terribly obscene.

It is love that causes the neuroticism of the day. It is love that is the prime cause of tuberculosis.

The nerves that vibrate most intensely in spiritual unisons are the sympathetic ganglia of the breast, of the throat, and the hind brain. Drive this vibration over-intensely, and you weaken the sympathetic tissues of the chest – the lungs – or of the throat, or of the lower brain, and the tubercles are given a ripe held.

But Poe drove the vibrations beyond any human pitch of endurance.

Being his cousin, she was more easily keyed to him.

“An Earthly Story with a Hellish Meaning” — D.H. Lawrence on The Scarlet Letter

From D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature, Chapter VII, “Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE writes romance.

And what’s romance? Usually, a nice little tale where you have everything As You Like It, where rain never wets your jacket and gnats never bite your nose and it’s always daisy- time. As You Like It and Forest Lovers, etc. Morte D’Arthur.

Hawthorne obviously isn’t this kind of romanticist: though nobody has muddy boots in The Scarlet Letter, either.

But there is more to it. The Scarlet Letter isn’t a pleasant, pretty romance. It is a sort of parable, an earthly story with a hellish meaning.

All the time there is this split in the American art and art- consciousness. On the top it is as nice as pie, goody-goody and lovey-dovey. Like Hawthorne being such a blue-eyed darling, in life, and Longfellow and the rest such sucking- doves. Hawthorne’s wife said she ‘never saw him in time’, which doesn’t mean she saw him too late. But always in the ‘frail effulgence of eternity’.

Serpents they were. Look at the inner meaning of their art and see what demons they were.

You must look through the surface of American art, and see the inner diabolism of the symbolic meaning. Otherwise it is all mere childishness.

That blue-eyed darling Nathaniel knew disagreeable things in his inner soul. He was careful to send them out in disguise.

Always the same. The deliberate consciousness of Americans so fair and smooth-spoken, and the under-consciousness so devilish. Destroy! destroy! destroy! hums the under-consciousness. Love and produce! Love and produce! cackles the upper consciousness. And the world hears only the Love-and- produce cackle. Refuses to hear the hum of destruction under- neath. Until such time as it will have to hear.

The American has got to destroy. It is his destiny. It is his destiny to destroy the whole corpus of the white psyche, the white consciousness. And he’s got to do it secretly. As the growing of a dragon-fly inside a chrysalis or cocoon destroys the larva grub, secretly.

Though many a dragon-fly never gets out of the chrysalis case: dies inside. As America might.

So the secret chrysalis of The Scarlet Letter, diabolically destroying the old psyche inside.

Be good! Be good! warbles Nathaniel. Be good, and never sin! Be sure your sins will find you out..

So convincingly that his wife never saw him ‘as in time’.

Then listen to the diabolic undertone of The Scarlet Letter.

“Nobody can be more clownish, more clumsy and sententiously in bad taste, than Herman Melville” — D.H. Lawrence on Moby-Dick

From D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature, Chapter XI, “Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick“–

A hunt. The last great hunt.

For what ?

For Moby Dick, the huge white sperm whale: who is old, hoary, monstrous, and swims alone; who is unspeakably terrible in his wrath, having so often been attacked; and snow- white.

Of course he is a symbol.

Of what ?

I doubt if even Melville knew exactly. That’s the best of it.

He is warm-blooded, he is lovable. He is lonely Leviathan, not a Hobbes sort. Or is he ?

But he is warm-blooded and lovable. The South Sea Islanders, and Polynesians, and Malays, who worship shark, or crocodile, or weave endless frigate-bird distortions, why did they never worship the whale? So big!

Because the whale is not wicked. He doesn’t bite. And their gods had to bite.

He’s not a dragon. He is Leviathan. He never coils like the Chinese dragon of the sun. He’s not a serpent of the waters. He is warm-blooded, a mammal. And hunted, hunted down.

It is a great book.

At first you are put off by the style. It reads like journalism. It seems spurious. You feel Melville is trying to put something over you. It won’t do.

And Melville really is a bit sententious: aware of himself, self-conscious, putting something over even himself. But then it’s not easy to get into the swing of a piece of deep mysticism when you just set out with a story.

Nobody can be more clownish, more clumsy and sententiously in bad taste, than Herman Melville, even in a great book like Moby Dick. He preaches and holds forth because he’s not sure of himself And he holds forth, often, so amateurishly.

The artist was so much greater than the man. The man is rather a tiresome New Englander of the ethical mystical- transcendentalist sort: Emerson, Longfellow, Hawthorne, etc. So unrelieved, the solemn ass even in humour. So hopelessly au grand serieux, you feel like saying: Good God, what does it matter? If life is a tragedy, or a farce, or a disaster, or any- thing else, what do I care! Let life be what it likes. Give me a drink, that’s what I want just now.

For my part, life is so many things I don’t care what it is. It’s not my affair to sum it up. Just now it’s a cup of tea. This morning it was wormwood and gall. Hand me the sugar.

One wearies of the grand serieux. There’s something false about it. And that’s Melville. Oh dear, when the solemn ass brays! brays! brays!

But he was a deep, great artist, even if he was rather a sententious man. He was a real American in that he always felt his audience in front of him. But when he ceases to be American, when he forgets all audience, and gives us his sheer apprehension of the world, then he is wonderful, his book commands a stillness in the soul, an awe.

 

Books I Am Always (Re-)Reading

Trudging through a very long book the other night–never mind the title, at least now anyway–it occurred to me that I’d rather be reading from 2666; that, at that particular moment, I’d rather re-read from “The Part About the Crimes.” I don’t know if it was the effete dullness of the first volume that made me want to pick up Bolaño’s epic, perhaps trying to zap some life into my waning eyeballs; perhaps it was just the sense that I was wasting my time with the merely good, which, after all, is mediocrity when set against genius (yes, these are subjective terms).

Anyway, I didn’t have to go looking for 2666 — I have a copy (yes, I have two) right there jammed into my nightstand, along with a few other books that I realize that I’m always reading. Furthermore, I’m always reading these books in the most discontinuous, stochastic fashion, often picking them up at random and thumbing through them. I think I use these books to clear my literary palate, to get a bad (or worse, boring) taste out of my brain, to inspire me, to suggest another book. Some of these books, like 2666 are big, fat volumes, volumes that I set close at hand in the hopes of rereading in full. Sometimes I’ve met this goal; in the case of Moby-Dick, I’ve read the book through at least three times now, and yet never tire of it. I’m always picking it up again and again, sometimes to find Elijah’s rant or to dip into Ahab’s mad monologue or perhaps just to hear Stubb comment on the proper preparation of shark steaks. Of a piece with those big novels is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which I turn to repeatedly, reading over a riff or two at a time, perhaps still trying to figure out the ending, or some clue of the ending, perhaps trying to figure out why Hal can’t speak (you know, beyond like, a a metaphorical level).

There’s also Blood Meridian.

A book I always keep proximal is D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature, which, if this were a dictatorship under Biblioklept might replace the Constitution (jaykay, Tea Partiers!). Tellingly, I’ve never managed to finish one of Lawrence’s novels (I even struggle through his much-anthologized piece, “The Rocking Horse Winner”), but I consider his dissertations on Hawthorne, Poe, and Melville indispensable (and creative in their own right). I guess I just like lit crit; Harold Bloom’s too-huge volume The Western Canon is a book I return to again and again. Sometimes I find myself throwing it to the ground, quite literally (if I’ve enjoyed a drink or two, that is), in disgust. Bloom’s battle with “The School of Resentment” can be maddening, especially when he’s so up front about essentially making Shakespeare God. Still, Shakespeare doesn’t seem like a bad God to have.

I should point out that I’ve made no attempt to read The Western Canon the whole way through; in fact, I’ve never made a single attempt to read it systematically. I just sort of pick it up, thumb through it, occasionally plumb the index. There are several books that I am always rereading in this category: Books That I Am Always Reading and Yet Have Never Finished. Foremost among these is Nietzsche’s Human, All Too Human, a book that I probably, at this point, have read in full, but never fully through. Its aphorisms beg to be read discontinuously; I think Nietzsche wet-dreamed about his fragmentary works being literally fragmented and then later found, read piecemeal against some newer, more garish culture. Or perhaps that’s just my metaphorical wet dream.

Other Books That I Am Always Reading and Yet Have Never Finished — The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman stands out, as does Finnegans Wake. Sterne’s book is such an oddity: I remember picking it up in a stack of books to be shelved at my college library, thumbing through it, bewildered, thinking that it must be contemporary with John Barth. A bit of research left me even more perplexed. Like Tristram, who can’t seem to finish his story, I can’t seem to actually finish it, but I’m okay with picking it up again and again. Similarly, Finnegans Wake strikes me as an unfinished-unfinishable volume (I do not mean this literally; I know that Joyce “finished” the book as an infinite strange loop, just as I know that the book can be read). I have an audio recording of Finnegans Wake that I like to listen to occasionally (especially while driving), as well as William York Tindall’s  guide (which is fun), but I’d rather just sort of grab the thing at random and read a page or two. I know, in an intellectual sense, that is, that I could easily read the book in a calendar year by committing to three pages a day (plus a few pages of Tindall), but I don’t think that I can read books in an intellectual sense. I think, at the risk of sounding unbearably corny, that books have to call to their readers in an emotional and perhaps even spiritual sense. Otherwise, what’s the point?