Our world is on fire, with the last remaining natural beauties being rent asunder in the ever-expanding quest for profit and domination over what once was viewed as the sacred realms of the Gods. The tools of the masters will not and can not save us; only the poets, philosophers—of a certain weltanschauung—and mystics can lead us forward out of our current morass. D. H. Lawrence, though primarily known as a novelist, was also a poet, philosopher, and religious teacher. In the current cult of the new, Lawrence tends to be left by the wayside, and those who have the skills and means to approach him tend to shy away due to the current narrative in academia, which was formed through the critical writings of Kate Millet. Suffice it to say, that Millet’s writings shine much more of a light on her personal projects than they do on Lawrence, and it is high time to come back to Lawrence both as a great writer and a great thinker. Tony Hoagland stated the following in relation to the current academic view of Lawrence: “You should be so lucky in your brainy, bloodless life / as to deserve to lift / just one of D. H. Lawrence’s urine samples / to your arid psychobiographic / theory-tainted lips.”
D.H. Lawrence, Lake Chapala, Mexico, 1923. Witter Bynner; Courtesy University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections
Lawrence’s collected works amount to 48 volumes, including the letters, which is a remarkable achievement for a man who died at the age of forty-four, and who suffered ill health his entire life. Despite his short life and his dying in 1930, prior to many of the worst technological travesties of the past hundred years, Lawrence was gifted with a supreme insight into the nature of the world, the human mind, and the forces of the Machine, which are currently ravaging this planet. The works of Lawrence are so singular in focus, that one could even state that everything he wrote was part of one large masterwork. Henry Miller in The World of Lawrence writes the following:
He shames one, Lawrence. His unquenchable, burning spirit, his totality, his ubiquitousness, his aliveness. Lawrence on his deathbed had more life than most men have in their moments of highest ecstasy, if ecstasy there be in the world any more. “We ought to dance with rapture,” he said. “That we should be alive in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos. I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me.”
At the core of him was this God-flame, this wheel of light flashing over the four quarters of the earth, over the heavens, and the waters beneath the earth, this flaming wheel that rolled over Cézanne and Dostoevski and Whitman, and that touched the Chaldeans and the Aztecs and the Etruscans, that threw an incandescent light on Plotinus and Nietzsche both, on Lorenzo the Magnificent and on Quetzalcoatl; a flame, scorching and devouring, that reaches to the mystery in all things…
There was Christ, the one splendid, shining figure who has dominated our whole history. There was also another man—St. Francis of Assisi. He was second to Christ in every sense. He made a tremendous impression upon our world, perhaps because, like those Bodhisattvas who renounced Nirvana in order to aid humanity, he too elected to remain close to us. There were these two resplendent figures, then. Will there be a third? Can there be?
If there was any man in the course of modern times who most nearly attained this summit it was D. H. Lawrence.
All of Lawrence’s works contain his philosophy, including the novels; it is just that we moderns have lost the ability to see symbols and to relate them to their archetypes, so we read the stories and view them as simple fiction, rather than the masterful and deep gospels of the religion of Life that they are. The Plumed Serpent, a novel of particular power and force puts forth more directly Lawrence’s philosophy than his other novels. See the following:
Gods should be iridescent, like the rainbow in the storm. Man creates a god in his own image, and the god grows old along with the men that made him. But storms sway in heaven, and the god-stuff sweeps high and angry over our heads. Gods die with men who have conceived them. But the god-stuff roars eternally, like the sea, with too vast a sound to be heard. Like the sea in storm, that beats against the rocks of living, stiffened men, slowly to destroy them. Or like the sea of the glimmering, ethereal plasm of the world, that bathes the feet and the knees of men as earth-sap bathes the roots of trees.—Ye must be born again. Even the gods must be born again. We must be born again.
For the reader who wishes to directly engage with Lawrence the philosopher, there is no one magnum opus that contains the summation of his thought, because Lawrence believed in the vital quick of life, and as such, was no system maker, but there are works that directly convey the core of his philosophy, namely Apocalypse, Fantasia of the Unconscious, The essays in Studies in Classic American Literature, and the essays in Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine, particularly The Crown. There is little of importance that Lawrence did not deal with in his short life. Medical ethics, psychoanalysis, educational theory, metaphysics, etc. His work not only anticipates the work of thinkers as diverse as Jacques Ellul, Lewis Mumford, Ivan Illich, and Martin Heidegger, but goes beyond their works, giving a final and definitive answer to the vexing problems of our day, from the problem of technology to questions of God and the soul. Ultimately, everything Lawrence wrote was against materialism, against the modern world, against the amalgam of technology, propaganda, and control that he termed the Machine. Read anything by Lawrence and his hatred for the Machine comes to the fore, but he hates out of love, out of love for the earth, the sun and moon, the animals, and humans as they could potentially be. See the following from the first draft of Studies in Classic American Literature:
Machines depend upon the conquest of the external forces, so that by the intervention of machinery, we not only destroy the purest joy, but we rob ourselves of very life, we become as it were deaf and numb in the elemental physical body. Every time we turn on a tap to have water, every time we turn a handle to have fire, we frustrate and annul our own life. The more appliances we have, the more applied we are, we become merely a master-appliance in ourself.
The machine is the perfect Neuter of all life. It exists by virtue of the pivotal vacuum, the centrality of the perfect neutralisation, the potent void. Whilst we use the potent neuter machine to serve the impulses of life and creation, all is well. But when life and being are subjected to the service of the machine, productive or destructive, then all is ill, life is all running into the central vacuum of the machine’s pivot.
When we balance the sticks and kindle a fire, we perform the Promethean mysteries, we poise the elements. But when we turn on an electric tap, there is as it were a wad between our sensitive, sensible body and the vivid elements. Under this wad we grow numb and atrophied. Our appliances at last exterminate us.
Lawrence was against the Machine because he was for Life. He desperately wanted us to live again. He wanted us to strip the veil from in front of ourselves and to see Reality, clearly and directly. Here, in a passage from Apocalypse he answers our burning questions:
God, what is God? The cosmos is alive, but it is not God. Nevertheless, when we are in touch with it, it gives us life. It is forever the grand voluted reality, Life itself, the great Ruler. We are part of it, when we partake in it. But when we want to dominate it with Mind, then we are enemies of the great Cosmos, and woe betide us. Then indeed the wheeling of the stars becomes the turning of the millstones of God, which grind us exceeding small, before they grant us extinction. We live by the cosmos, as well as in the cosmos. And whoever can come into the closest touch with the cosmos is a bringer of life and a veritable Ruler; but whoever denies the Cosmos and tries to dominate it, by Mind or Spirit or Mechanism, is a death-bringer and a true enemy of man.
Or here he is in a passage from The Crown:
All absolutes are prison-walls. These “laws” which science has invented, like conservation of energy, indestructability of matter, gravitation, the will-to-live, survival of the fittest: and even these absolute facts, like—the earth goes round the sun—or the doubtful atoms, electrons, or ether—they are all prison-walls, unless we realise that we don’t know what they mean. We don’t know what we mean, ultimately, by conservation, or indestructability. Our atoms, electrons, ether, are caps that fit exceedingly badly. And our will-to-live contains a germ of degeneracy. As for the earth going round the sun: it goes round like the blood goes round my body, absolutely mysteriously, with the rapidity and hesitation of life.
But the human ego, in its pettifogging arrogance, sets up these things for you as absolutes, and unless you kick hard and kick in time, they are your prison-walls for ever. Your spirit will be like a dead bee in a cell.
Once you are in prison, you have no experience left, save the experience of reduction, destruction going on inwardly. Your sentimentalism is only the smell of your own rottenness.
We need to escape the prisons that society makes for us, as well as the prisons that we make for ourselves. Money is a prison, the Machine is a prison, systems of all sorts are prisons, standardized education is a prison. We must free ourselves from these chains that bind us so that we may once again lead simple lives, plant roots, and only then begin to flower once again, flowering in a glory of artistry, the artistically lived life. Almost all of Lawrence’s philosophy is contained within his poetry, particularly his late poetry which is modeled loosely on Pascal’s Pensées. Here is a sample, from the poem Anaxagoras:
When Anaxagoras says: Even the snow is black! he is taken by the scientists very seriously because he is enunciating a “principle,” a “law” that all things are mixed, and therefore the purest white snow has in it an element of blackness.
That they call science, and reality. I call it mental conceit and mystification and nonsense, for pure snow is white to us white and white and only white with a lovely bloom of whiteness upon white in which the soul delights and the senses have an experience of bliss.
And life is for delight, and for bliss and dread, and the dark, rolling ominousness of doom then the bright dawning of delight again from off the sheer white snow, or the poised moon.
And in the shadow of the sun the snow is blue, so blue-aloof with a hint of the frozen bells of the scylla flower but never the ghost of a glimpse of Anaxagoras’ funeral black.
Come, come to Lawrence; heed his siren call: “What we want is to destroy our false, inorganic connections, especially those related to money, and re-establish the living organic connections, with the cosmos, the sun and earth, with mankind and nation and family. Start with the sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly happen.”