D. H. Lawrence, Jean Borella

Recently I read with great relish Lawrence’s Studies In Classic American Literature. Here is another critic who, along with Henry James, and Milan Kundera, writes criticism as an exploration or digression that illuminates their own as well as other’s art. Unlike those who took (the tragically still Miss) Sue’s American Civilization classes, I had never realized just how good (by which I mean pedantic) Lawrence is, having only read a few novels and failed to be impressed.

One of the many attractive things about Lawrence the critic is his explorative style of writing. There is something about the repetitiveness in his writing that calls to mind one of the five good faces of the earth, Charles Peguy. Both repeats a few epigrammatic lines, over an over, with slight variations. Lawrence is expressly not dogmatic; he lives by that most undogmatic of Gods, the Holy Ghost.

Some thoughts on Benjamin Franklin:
“The wholeness of a man is his soul. Not merely that nice little comfortable bit which Benjamin marks out. Why, the soul of man is a vast forest, and all Benjamin intended was a neat back garden. The soul of man is a dark forest. The Hercynian Wood that scared the Romans so, and out of which came the white-skinned hordes if the next civilization. Who knows what will come out of the soul of man? The soul of man is a dark vast forest, with wild life in it. Think of Benjamin fencing it off! This is Benjamin’s barbed wire fence. He made himself a list of virtues, which he trotted inside like a grey nag in a paddock.”
“Here’s my creed, against Benjamin’s. This is what I believe: ‘That I am I.’ ‘That my soul is a dark forest.’ ‘That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest.’ ‘That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back.’ ‘That I must have the courage to let them come and go.’ ‘That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women.’
“1. Temperance: Eat and carouse with Bacchus, or munch dry bread with Jesus, but don’t sit down without one of the gods. 3. Order: Know that you are responsible to the gods inside you and to the men in whom the gods are manifest. 9. Moderation: Beware of absolutes. There are many gods. 13. Humility: See all men and women according to the Holy Ghost that is within them.”
“He tries to take away my wholeness and my dark forest, my freedom. For how can any man be free, without an illimitable background? And Benjamin tries to shove me into a barbed wire paddock and make me grow potatoes or Chicagoes. And how can I be free, without gods that come and go?”

On Nathaniel Hawthorne:
“Man ate of the tree of knowledge, and became ashamed of himself. [Sex] didn’t become a “sin” till the knowledge-poison entered.”
“The sin was the self-watching, self-consciousness.”
“Nowadays, men do hate the idea of dualism. It’s no good, dual we are.* The cross.** If we accept the symbol, then, virtually, we accept the fact. We are divided against ourselves.”
“For instance, the blood hates being KNOWN by the mind. It feels itself destroyed when it is KNOWN. Hence the profound instinct of privacy.”
“Blood-consciousness overwhelms, obliterates, and annuls mind-consciousness.”
“Mind-consciousness extinguishes blood-consciousness, and consumes the blood.”
“We are all of us conscious in both ways. And the two ways are antagonistic in us.”
“They will always remain so. That is our cross.”
“There is a basic hostility in all of us between the physical and the mental, the blood and the spirit. “The mind is “ashamed” of the blood. And the blood is destroyed by the mind, actually. Hence pale-faces.”
“Every time you “conquer” the body with the mind (you can say “heal” it if you like) you cause a deeper, more dangerous complex or tension somewhere else.”
“For a long time men believed that they could be perfected through the mind, through the spirit. They believed, passionately. They had their ecstasy in pure consciousness.”
“America soon plucked the bird of the spirit.”
The Scarlet Letter gives the show away.”

I’ve been reading Lawrence and Jean Borella at the same time, and, a bit surprisingly, they have something to say to each other.

*Lawrence: the mind-body or soul-body distinction destroys something in man.
Borella: “When Scripture calls upon man to gather together all elements of his being in order to venture toward God, it generally articulates a tripartition of elements [Borella refers to the Old and New testament “law” of love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart (“blood-consciousness,” Lawrence would call it), with all your soul (“mind-consciousness”), and with all your strength (“body”)”]. Conversely, when it calls upon man to divide himself, to renounce what–within himself–is not truly himself, it generally articulates a bipartition, and simply opposes the soul to the body. The first point of view has a more doctrinal value, while the second has, rather, a methodical or ascetic value. Man is, in fact, more truly himself when standing lovingly recollected before God, in the perfection of his nature, than when struggling sorrowfully in the world to conquer the imperfections of his sinful condition.”

**Lawrence: The Cross is the ultimate symbol of the destructive conflict between the soul (vertical plane) and body (horizontal plane).
Borella: The “Cross-Circle” is the ultimate symbol of the unity and restoration of Divine Nature in man. [Here’s where I get in over my head, but I’ll try anyway.] The broken circle is kind of like the Cross: it is the “symbolon” or the “vestigial,” concrete form of the pact of unity between God and man. The symbolon, however, is only completed and made to live through the “traditional significance” given to the symbol (through the authority of the Church, the body of Christ) and the “ritual activity” involving the symbol (the daily life of the members of the Church; that is, members of Christ’s body).

Perhaps, D. H. Lawrence is justified in seeing the Cross (if it is considered just as a symbolon) as the symbol of an incomplete relationship between God and man. Lawrence sees that there is something greater than that: his allegiance to the Holy Ghost (which Christ sent to look after his Church and its activities on earth). I think Borella’s consideration of the “tripartition of man” and its symbol of the “Cross-Circle” lends Lawrence’s precedence of “blood-knowledge” over Franklin moral “mind-knowledge” its true significance.

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