Wednesday, 31 October 2012
MARXISM AND FEMINISM, PAST AND PRESENT: ON HELEN MacFARLANE, ROSA LUXEMBURG AND RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA
London Public Meeting
Thursday 8 November 2012
7.30 pm at The Lucas Arms,
245a Grays Inn Road, King's Cross, London, WC1X 8QZ (5 mins. Kings Cross Tube)
Heather Brown, author of Marx on Gender and the Family: A Critical Study
Sandra Rein, author of Reading Dunayevskaya: Engaging the Emergence of Marxist Humanism, 1930-1955
David Black, author of Helen Macfarlane: A Feminist, Revolutionary Journalist and Philosopher in Mid-19th Century England; and co-author (with Chris Ford) of 1839: The Chartist Insurrection
Meeting sponsored by the International Marxist-Humanist Organization.
Friday, 19 October 2012
'Consciousness and Revolt: an exploration toward reconciliation, Book 1' by Robert C. Smith, Heathwood Press: Holt, Norfolk, 2011, £14.99 ISBN: 9780957096103
Further details on Consciousness and Revolt: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/bookshop-candr/
Heathwood Press: http://www.heathwoodpress.com
Building on our recent connection with Robert Smith and Heathwood Press (see my newsletter, No. 51, item 1 - http://ruthrikowskiupdates.blogspot.co.uk/), I decided to read Smith's recently published book, 'Consciousness and Revolt' (2011).
As I read, I found it a very interesting, albeit unusual book. However, also as I read, I was not sure where the book was going and it seemed to be rather repeating itself. But towards the end of the book, I realised what the aim of the author was - and the repeating (such as there was) was being done for good effect. It was done in order to try to convince the reader of Smith’s overwhelming powerful argument - which I am now sure is right. This is about transformative ways of being and operating, living transformatively and where experiential life is all important. And within this, transformative art is key. This is where it is at.
Robert Smith's basic position is that we need to abandon searches for the absolute and for objectivity, and not follow any particular ideology or idol. People's desire for the absolute arises from their need for security, argues Smith, but he says that this is a false sense of security. Also, that it is a form of self-deception, evasion and distortion. Instead, we need to focus on experiential life - and that this is what is meaningful and the way in which we should make sense of the world.
Smith says that what his critique:
"...pertains to is the question of distorted experience, of absolutizing and objectifying, which, in turn, amounts to the distortion of life...For if, when the means of my life, when the very way in which I both approach and experience the phenomenal world, becomes subservient to ideology - to the kind of 'objectifying' and absolutizing processes that deform my very intersubjective relation with the phenomenal world; it is from this point that, as a collective illness, needless social suffering and 'increasing unfreedom' originates." (p. 17)
In regard to security, Smith argues that:
"...the absolute...breathes security into the most uncertain realities of our everyday lives." (p. 47)
"Evasion...represents the human desire to make absolute the inherently diverse and multidimensional stuff of experience." (p. 49)
Instead, Smith says that Philosophy needs to be grounded in experience:
"Philosophy is relevant today so long as it invests itself on the concrete grounds of experience." (p.37) But that much Philosophy today is "disengaged with everyday living" and "lacks concrete normativity". (p. 40)
Smith also talks about the deifying of the market economy and the absolutism and rationalism that pervades global capitalism. He talks about the:
"...deifying of the market economy and the very functionalizing, legitimatizing, and instrumentalizing of abstract reason, scientism and technicism..." (p. 65)
"Global capitalism, which is the head of today's warped Trinity is not only conceptually, but also experientially dependent on abstract reasoning, scientism and technicism." (p. 66)
Smith is against such abstract reasoning, which he argues is subservient to the global capitalist ideology.
Returning to evasion, self-deception and distortion, Smith says that
"Every ideology, every absolute principle, every totalized 'method of life', is built on the spirit of evasion." (p. 92)
"Experiential evasion discloses how we consciously choose to self-deceivingly evade our experiences." (p. 139)
" 'Objectivity' is consequential to experiential distortion, to the wrenching apart of multidimensional experience." (p. 219)
Whilst for him:
"Once I have adapted to being in the service of some absolute thing I cease to critically or coherently dialogue with the world..." (p. 225)
All this is a very unusual perspective, I think, and not one that I have thought about much before. Neither was I sure that I quite agreed with it at first. Some years ago, I would not have agreed with it, arguing that relativism led to stale-mate, where the development of real truth and knowledge became virtually impossible. But times changes and life moves on and in some ways my thoughts have come full circle, but now with another whole layer of complexity, knowledge, understanding and experience.
Anyway, ‘Consciousness and Revolt’ was interesting, and quite persuasive, although, as said before, as I was reading I thought the basic argument was repeated rather too many times. Also, that the author might have be better off actually 'going for the life' (as D.H. Lawrence did - see my previous blog) and recording the experiential experiences, rather than just talking about them.
And as I say, historically, I have been quite cynical about relativism, thinking that it leads one to not being able to say anything much; and not being possible to develop theories, truth and knowledge in any meaningful way. But reading some D.H. Lawrence essays this summer I questionned this a little, as he was also very much against the absolute and 'for' relativism. Lawrence expresses his view about the Absolute in his essay 'Why the Novel Matters', which he wrote in 1925, saying:
“We should ask for no absolutes, or absolute. Once and for all and forever, let us have done with the ugly imperialism of any absolute. There is no absolute good, there is nothing absolutely right. All things flow and change, and even change is not absolute. The whole is a strange assembly of apparently incongruous parts, slipping past one another.” (‘Why the Novel Matters’ in 'Study of Thomas Hardy and other essays’, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 196)
I now think that it is probably more related to one’s depth of thought on these matters and is not a simple either/or between the 'Absolute' and the 'Relative'. Also, interestingly, when D. H. Lawrence was younger, he held a different view about the absolute. That, in itself, can be the power of the writer of fiction – one does not feel obliged to have a fixed position.
So, anyway, this made me more sympathetic to Smith's position. But at the same time, as I say, whilst I was reading it seemed to me that Smith was spending his time talking about this, rather than actually living the life. So, then I thought that he had probably been very deeply effected by some overpowering ideology in his past, that he was still trying to shake off and overcome, in one way or another. That was the only thing that was making sense to me.
However, all became crystal clear to me in the final pages - I had got it wrong; I had been unfair on Smith. His project is very grand and very worthy. It is about convincing people about the need for transformative work. Within this, and in order to be effective, he needed to have powerful arguments, and to develop the arguments slowly and carefully. It is about the power and value of transformative art in particular, and about inserting experiential life into works of transformative art. That in actual fact the whole of life should be looked at in this transformative way, he says. Wow - how incredible. I was very moved.
All of this is only revealed in the very final pages of the book. But this is only ‘Book 1’ of a series of books, so this is clearly something that Smith will be developing further in future works.
Smith talks, in particular, about the value of the novel and its transformative potential - I was transfixed. He says:
"When it comes to an experientially coherent philosophy; it is applied only through the basic form of the novel, which has long been a historical declaration of life and experience. In a practical sense, human beings do not learn by being told what they should learn. Knowledge is born from out of self-realization, through our experiencing and reflecting on a subject. This is the ultimate goal of the transformative work: to therefore assist or even guide the reader toward meanings and realizations that are self-actualized and not coercive. One is not told what to think; for to propagate or coerce the reader is to defeat the very potential of humanity as a researcher. To put it in another light, an experientially coherent work wants to be as sensitively aware and intersubjective as possible....The basic form and expression of a novel is therefore the closest that we have come to realizing transformative work in the name of academic thought: because the transformative work, which has long been subject to the form of the novel, is necessarily created to be an experience for the reader. The author, in other words, creates an experience just as much as he or she expresses a perspective on life." (p. 389)
Agreeing with Camus, Smith says that the novel is philosophy 'expressed in images'. He says:
"...just as philosophy disappears into the images of a transformative novel, which are themselves expressions of some aspect of our experience, and ultimately, our 'concrete existences'; in a coherent philosophy the images of the novel disappear into the concepts. That is to say that, if philosophy is to be coherent, it must only be born from out of experiential experience - much like a work of art; it expresses concrete experience and does not abstract from, distort or evade that experience....The transformative work, in this way, wants to do away with things like rational objectivity, and overly systematic and technical language." (p. 390)
In addition, he says that philosophy needs to be genuine, and that:
"...in a genuine philosophy, the novel becomes the format for its being and disappears into the concepts." (p. 390)
"...if transformative literature is, as I claim, a philosophical tool at its best; it requires that the writer as an artist be conscious of his or her own limitations and in exercise of an art in which the concrete signifies nothing more than a mediation of lived experience and reflection. But never can a transformative work be the end, the meaning, and the consolation of life." (pp. 391-2)
Smith then broadens this out to transformative art in general. This includes music of course, and he says of music that:
"The phenomenon of music makes itself known to us as discernable; knowable; sensorially pleasing and cognitively provoking. When we are totally in tune with a piece of music, the phenomenon of the music calls to us and reveals to us an overwhelming intersubjective richness. The same can be said toward all transformative art. Art, in this case, a piece of music, has the ability to simultaneously free us from the objectifications we have absorbed and simultaneously re-establish a connection with our immediate existences." (p. 396)
Smith concludes his book, saying:
"Social transformation, I should like to point out in closing, does not lie in some theoretical concept of social change; nor does it lie in some grand Ideal of a historical revolution of almighty proportions. If what history teaches us is true, then upon the collapse of one Idol a new Idol tends to be born of its ashes - that is, as humanity tears down one Idol it simultaneously erects another. But as we have seen, absolutes as functioning Fascism or as radical alternatives are nevertheless both just as corrupt. Lest we forget history's lessons, genuine transformation must begin with an alternative approach to how we experience not only the world of things, but also ourselves and each other. It is in a coherent approach to experience, rather than in any greater concept of social change, which lies the only hope of a better future. (pp. 405-6)
Now, all this was quite astonishing to me and very exciting, because my own thoughts have been going down this path more and more of late. And reading more about D. H. Lawrence the person this summer, as well as his essays on the novel just confirmed this even more for me.
Basically, D.H. Lawrence saw the novel as being the best and most powerful of all types of books. In his essay ‘Why the Novel Matters’, Lawrence said:
"The novel is the one bright book of life. Books are not life. They are only tremulations on the ether. But the novel as a tremulation can make the whole man-alive tremble. Which is more than poetry, philosophy, science or any other book-tremulation can do." (Lawrence in 'Study of Thomas Hardy and other essays', Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 195)
He continues the theme in his essay 'Why the Novel Matters' (also written in 1925), saying:
“Let us learn from the novel. In the novel, the characters can do nothing but live. If they keep on being good, according to pattern, or bad, according to pattern, or even volatile, according to pattern, they cease to live, and the novel falls dead. A character in a novel has got to live, or it is nothing. We, likewise, in life have to live, or we are nothing.” (Lawrence in ‘Why the Novel Matters’ in ‘Study of Thomas Hardy and other essays’, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 197)
In addition, in his essay ‘The Novel’ (also written in 1925), he said:
“Everything is relative…And this is the beauty of the novel; everything is true in its own relationship, and no further. For the relatedness and interrelatedness of all things flows and changes and trembles like a stream, and like a fish in the stream the characters in the novel swim and drift and float and turn belly-up when they’re dead.” (Lawrence in ‘The Novel’ in ‘Study of Thomas Hardy and other essays’, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 185)
Lawrence also thought (like Smith) that all good novels had philosophy in them:
“…since every novelist who amounts to anything has a philosophy – even Balzac – any novel of importance has a purpose.” (Lawrence in ‘The Novel’, in ‘Study of Thomas Hardy and other essays’, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 179)
And interestingly, Richard Aldington in the Introduction to Lawrence's ‘Acopalypse’ said that:
“From the point of view of the intellectuals (and this is the reason why they treated him either with coldness or hostility) Lawrence’s fundamental heresy was simply that he placed quality of feelings, intensity of sensations and passion before intellect.” (Aldington in Introduction to ‘Apocalypse’, Penguin, 1974, p. xv - first pub 1931)
So, Lawrence focused on feelings, sensations, emotions, passions - i.e. on experiential living! Thus, all this also ties up very much with Smith's ideas. I was surprised, though, that Smith did not reference Lawrence at all in his book. Rather, he has been very influenced by Camus, Adorno and Sartre. But for me, Lawrence is where it is really at. But anyway, we all travel down different paths, but if like-minded people can arrive at the same meeting point in the end, no matter where they come from, then that is probably the most important thing, and that is great! And those of us that want to live real, genuine and meaningful lives should try to come together in one way or another, I think, and appreciate the value of each other.
Thus, to sum up here, people should put their experiences into transformative work and art and the whole of life can then be recrafted in this way. This is the basic message.
So, we move on; we think; we rethink; we craft life; we recraft life; we live; we experience; we experience the wonders of life; we search for the truth; we search for the meaning of life; we live; we breathe; we be; we exist; we embrace.
Life is a journey, a process of discovery - let us use it as powerfully, joyfully and productively as we can. Let us learn to rejoice and celebrate life; to liberate ourselves and others; to help to bring fulfilment to ourselves and others; and not to control and dominate each other. So, within this framework, I am starting to be more and more of the opinion that ‘transformative work’ and 'transformative art' is, indeed, where it is at. Folks should be really brave; they should make their real experiences really work for them and take the necessary risks - but not in a fake way (such as was presented to me whilst studying for my teaching certificate).
In conclusion, I think that Smith is saying something that is incredibly important - indeed transformative! This brings us back full circle to the power and beauty of the novel - my first love! I very much agree with Smith that “The basic form and expression of the novel…is the closest that we have come to realizing transformative work…” (p.389) Yes, the worthy novel is, in many ways, where it is at. Although, of course, we must clearly differentiate here between the worthy novel and the trash novel (easier said than done, but I can’t go into that one right now) – but yes, the worthy novel is very much where it is at. People can abstractedly theorise and it can be and indeed, is very useful, but on its own it is not going to get to the core, to something basic and of fundamental importance in ourselves as humans. So much will be missed out.
Take Andrea Micocci and dialectics, for example. Does dialectical thinking help to get us beyond capitalism? This is the big question that he poses in his book ‘The Metaphysics of Capitalism’, (Lexington Books, Maryland: USA, 2009) – a book that we have both been reading recently. Micocci argues that dialectical Marxism, rather then helping to end capitalism, helps to sustain it and is actually functionalist in this regard. So, then what do we do? Abandon all dialectical thinking, to arrive at some higher level of purity of thought? Well, that won't be possible anyway, because we live in this capitalist world and have to experience it. Unless, of course, one decides to live differently, such as a Monk’s or a Buddhist way of life, but then one would not be writing this type of stuff anyway, so the argument is redundant. Thus, we are tied up with this way of life. Rather, what we need is 'transformative thinking'. With such thinking we can embrace dialectics (and not offend the many Marxists out there), see it as a vehicle for helping us to get beyond capitalism, whilst also recognising and appreciating that it also enables us to understand and function in capitalism at the same time. So, it is not an either/or. Thus, we have 2 not either/ors in this piece! Well, we need a little light relief, now and then!
Anyway, I am very excited about all this, and now feel very sure that I am on the right path. My future works will become more and more transformative, particularly through the vehicle of the novel, the transformative novel, building on and refining experiential life. In this way, I aim to move things forward, and hopefully bring about a little social transformation on the way.
A Message from Anthony Arnove:
"My new book with Colin Firth, THE PEOPLE SPEAK: VOICES THAT CHANGED BRITAIN, is just out from Canongate Books.
The book, inspired by the work of people's historian Howard Zinn, is a documentary collection of dramatic voices of protest and dissent from the twelfth century to the present.
You can read about the book here: http://www.canongate.tv/the-people-speak.html
There are some very moving readings and musical performances -- including by Vanessa Redgrave, a last-minute surprise guest -- from our launch event here:
Great photos from the event can be viewed here:
An excerpt of Colin Firth's introduction and some selections from the book can be found here:
And you can check out our BBC Culture Show profile here:
I hope the book might be of interest.
The People Speak tells the story of Britain through the voices of the visionaries, dissenters, rebels and everyday folk who took on the Establishment and stood up for what they believed in. Here are their stories, letters, speeches and songs, from John Ball to Daniel Defoe; from Thomas Paine to Oscar Wilde; from the peasants' revolts to the suffragists to the anti-war demonstrators of today. Spanning almost one thousand years and over 150 individual voices, these are some of the most powerful words in our history.
Colin Firth (CBE) is a Bafta- and Academy Award-winning actor. His films include The English Patient, Fever Pitch, Bridget Jones's Diary, Girl with a Pearl Earring, A Single Man and The King's Speech. Alongside Anthony Arnove, he was instrumental in bringing a televised stage performance of The People Speak to the UK in 2010.
Anthony Arnove is the author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, editor of Iraq Under Siege, Howard Zinn Speaks and The Essential Chomsky, and co-author, with Howard Zinn, of Voices of a People's History of the United States and Terrorism and War. He is the co-director of The People Speak with Chris Moore and Howard Zinn.
David Horspool is a historian and editor at the Times Literary Supplement. He is the author of two previous books: Why Alfred Burned the Cakes and The English Rebel: One Thousand Years of Trouble-making from the Normans to the Nineties. He writes for The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the New York Times.
‘The People Speak’ at Canongate Books: http://www.canongate.tv/authors/colinfirthandanthonyarnove
Note: This looks like a very interesting and informative book, looking at these 'People' from the 'right' (i.e. 'left'!) angle - well, from our point of view. And as Colin Firth is involved with it (see my 'Pride and Prejudice' blog), how could I not blog it. Next step is to buy the book!
Saturday, 13 October 2012
We were shocked to discover that Ian Parker, a Professor of Psychology at Mancester Metropolitan University, has been suspended from work. This followed on from Ian Parker raising concerns within the university about the problem of secrecy and control in the department where he works.
Now, why this is so particularly shocking to us is because Ian Parker wrote a book that we thought was really inspiring and genuine - basically, a critique of psychology.
The book is: 'Revolution in Psychology: alienation to emancipation, Pluto Press: London, 2007.
Parker introduces the book, saying:
"Psychology is important not because it is true but because it is so useful to those in power...Psychology is an increasingly powerful component of ideology, ruling ideas that endorse exploitation and sabotage struggles against oppression." (pp. 1-2)
"Psychology is indeed a fake science that abuses the public, but it calls upon forces that have come to operate deep within us as human beings who have come to be who we are so we can work and survive in capitalist society." (p. 7)
Indeed - psychology helps people to function in capitalist society, and we should not fool ourselves into thinking that it is basically anything much other than that.
We do hope that Ian Parker will soon be back doing his all-important and highly valuable work.
We purchased this novel when we visited Holkham Hall in Norfolk this summer. The author, Robert Greenfield was there, selling signed copies. We thought the book looked intriguing, as this was someone that had had a difficult background, now lived in Norfolk and had made a real success of his life.
The book is 'Samphire Coast' by Robert Greenfield, Vanguard paperback, 2011,
ISBN 978 1 84386 917 7
Now, I have just finished reading this book and it was, indeed, a great read. It describes how this gay couple, Robert and Mike decided to set up and run a very successful Bed & Breakfast place in Thursford, Norfolk. Greenfied explains the risks they took, leaving their home and their way of life in London, and the big success they made of their B&B place. So much so, that they won various awards, and in particular, won the award for the best B&B in Britain in 2005! They worked very, very hard and always went the extra mile. They were incredibly hard-working and enthusiastic. They were real perfectionists. Greenfield also tells many stories about their different and interesting experiences and some of the people they meet, whilst running their B&B.
However, their success came at a price. Having won this major award, they felt that their personal life and space was being invaded - as the B&B place was also their home. They would also have had to kept up their incredibly high standards of course, in order to 'stay on top'. They decided that for the sake of their relationship and to protect their way of life within this, they had to sell up their B&B, whilst they were at their peak. I could understand their reasons, but still, it brought tears to my eyes...
I thought many things were amazing and wonderful about the book - e.g.
1. The style of the writing - it was very gripping and really made you want to read more.
2. It showed how one can really succeed at something if one is really determined, yet how such success can also come at a real price - there are no really safe places in capitalism.
3. It showed how much one can achieve if one has a really good relationship, but how important it is to keep that relationship strong, and not let society and people tear it apart.
4. The author's love of Norfolk came across very powerfully in the book - and it is a very special place for us too.
5. The ending was a surprise to me - right up to the end, I thought that it might have been partly a marketing exercise for the promotion of Robert and Mike's B&B - but clearly it was not.
6. How one can overcome a difficult childhood and how sometimes those that have more difficult lives end up achieving more. As Robert Greenfield says:
"Paradoxically, I have found, it often seems the people who have suffered the most adversity in their formative years, are the ones that go on to have the most outstanding, and productive lives...(p.69)
This is certainly a book I would recommend - a really fun , interesting and enjoyable read.
Friday, 12 October 2012
I was delighted to discover that there is a 4-page colour spread about Janet Daniels garden in the Saga Magazine (Sep 2012 issue, pp. 68-7. The article is written by Martyn Cox.
Janet is our neighbour and opens her beautiful garden to the public 3 times a year, and gives the proceedings to charity. I wrote a blog about her wonderful garden (including some pictures of it) in May 2010 - see http://ruthrikowskiim.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/janet-daniels-open-garden.html
Describing the garden, Cox says in the article:
"There's a patio, an arbour cloaked by climbers...two ponds, many beds crammed with plants, a tiny greenhouse, a raised seating terrace and a shed crammed full of Dinky toys, antique tools and other knock-knacks. The dense planting and layout make it impossible to see from one end of the rectangular-shaped plot to the other. 'When people first set foot in the garden they think it's only about 15ft long', says Janet, who has lived here since 1968. 'They are surprised when they discover it goes much further back, and are completely blown away when they reach the end and discover my secret garden." (p. 70)
Long may Janet's beautiful garden continue to thrive.
I ♥ Transcontinental is a protest against corporate banality, mass-produced goods, human exploitation, and vulgarity.
It supports originality, beauty, and harmony.
Products are all individually mixed media hand-printed. No two are alike. They do not make more than three of any design (if that) because they want it to be 'yours, true, unique, and obscure'. The clothes and accessories crafted are fair trade, organic cotton, using water based dyes and other such environmentally friendly materials.
This is a peaceful protest, with the hope that beauty and art will tame the beast greed made our world into.
See I ♥ Transcontinental at: http://ihearttranscontinental.blogspot.co.uk/
This is a new, radical and dynamic development in art, design, music and protest - by the designer of the 'Flow of Ideas' website - www.flowideas.co.uk.
Thursday, 4 October 2012
Following on from my last but two blog, about 'Women in Love' by D. H. Lawrence, I suddenly felt driven to explore all this in much more detail.
How did that happen, one might ask? What is all this about?
Well, years ago, when I was still working in the public library service, in the London Borough of Newham, we were instructed by management to clear out/chuck out a really large collection of old and specialist books. Some of them were really wonderful and were by and about interesting, worthwhile and important people. Some even had leather bindings and beautiful covers etc. I decided to 'rescue' some of these books, and we brought them home in our car. Our front room, for a while, began to look like a library itself!
Now, part of this collection was 2 volumes of D. H. Lawrence's letters edited by Harry T. Moore ('The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence'), William Heinemann, 1962. Glenn read them soon after we acquired them, and thought they were absolutely brilliant. He tried to persuade me to read them but I did not 'bite' the cherry at the time. I did not see how letters could be all that interesting (and I also thought, at the time, that it could be disruptive). Then, suddenly, having re-read 'Women in Love' I wanted to give them ' a go'; I wanted to read them; I wanted to find out lots more about Lawrence the person, and in particular, to make sense of this so-called 'Nietzscean influence'.
And what did I find? I was amazed. I was intoxicated; I was overcome; I was in love. It was as though, through his letters, I was talking to Lawrence himself directly. His personality comes across just so powerfully in the letters. And what a wonderful person! As Brenda Maddox says in ‘D. H. Lawrence: the story of a marriage’ (Simon & Schuster, 1994):
“No one could read Lawrence’s letters and not like him.” (Maddox, p. 12)
How could I ever have doubted him at all? - see my ‘Women in Love’ blog. I had my reasons, over the years, but still - I felt disloyal. So, a thousand apologies D. H. Lawrence! I discovered that the letters form one of the best and most comprehensive collection of letters and correspondence ever. Harry T. Moore said in the Introduction to the letters (in Vol 1) that:
“Lawrence’s letters are virtually without parallel in literature; in recent times, only those of Keats, Flaubert, Hopkins and Rilke are anywhere near as rich.” (Moore, p. xiv)
Also, as Keith Sagar said in ‘D. H. Lawrence: Life into Art’ (Viking, 1985):
“His [Lawrence’s] imagination flowed into whatever he wrote, even casual letters.” (Sagar, p. x)
So really, given my love of Lawrence, no wonder I was so moved by them! Incidentally, these are only a selection of his letters - there are actually 7 volumes of his letters published with Cambridge University Press, 2002, edited by Keith Sagar and James T. Boulton.
I guess that is one of the advantages of becoming a major success at quite a young age and certainly in one's lifetime. Lawrence was recognised as being a genius in his early 20’s, and no-one ever really doubted it after that (although that did not stop him from getting a lot of criticism of course). So, even if people had disagreements with Lawrence, they knew he was really something, so decided to keep his letters, I guess.
Elaine Feinstein in ‘Lawrence’s Women: the intimate life of D. H. Lawrence’ (Flamingo, 1994) said that Ford Madox Hueffer, the editor of the English Review (the journal that Jessie Chambers first sent Lawrence’s work to – some poems and short stories) recognised Lawrence’s genius as soon as he read a little of his work. He saw:
“…the first paragraphs of the story ‘Odour of the Chrysanthemums’ as so clearly talented that he put the manuscript into his tray of accepted work without reading further. As was his habit, he began mentioning Lawrence as a genius he had discovered, and so it was that Lawrence’s name became known to writers like G. K. Chesterton and H. G. Wells before he himself knew that Jessie’s attempt to secure publication for him had been successful. Lawrence owed a great deal to Hueffer. To appear in a journal like the English Review, which also published such writers as Joseph Conrad, Henry James, Thomas Hardy and John Galsworthy, ensured that his work would receive attention.” (Feinstein, pp. 57-58)
Wow! Also, in connecting up with such an editor he was a lot more fortunate than I was when I started out on my writing and publication path!
Lawrence - you transformed my life! Basically, if it had not been for you I would probably never have gone to university at all. You gave me the inspiration; you gave me the confidence; you gave me the determination to make it all happen. There were other forces and influences, but when I think about it and reflect, I realise that you were the main force; the underlying and most powerful force.
Yes, there were a number of influences, but really Lawrence was the key to it all. I was fascinated to read what Frieda Lawrence (his wife) herself said about Lawrence after he died, about how much he influenced so many young people. She wrote to Professor Fay, saying:
“Many young people have come and told me how reading Lawrence has completely changed their lives. They would not say that when reading Somerset Maugham…Lawrence was trying to find a new way of life.” (Frieda Lawrence in Maddox, 1994, p. 505)
It was not Lawrence's fault that university life did not live up to my teenage romantic expectations. That is just life; the hard facts of life; and in particular, the hard facts about capitalist life, of course. Lawrence put forward/advocated a certain type of life; a certain way of living, but to actually try and live and be that way is something else. It is extremely difficult; but that still does not mean that it is not something that it is worthwhile to aim at – indeed, far from it.
But through this summer journey (and reading some 20 books on the topic in all, would you believe!), I also discovered that Lawrence had various personal problems of his own and could not always live up to his own expectations anyway. So, in one sense he was not living this 'ideal' life himself - but in reality I don't think he tried to make out that he was anyway.
That was just my misunderstanding, as well as me getting too 'hooked' into 'Women in Love' itself. 'Women in Love' was written in the early days of his relationship with Frieda. But times changed and life moved on, of course and his writing and his own thoughts also changed, developed and moved on. But I remained rather hooked on the type of life that was portrayed in ‘Women in Love’. But F. R. Leavis in ‘D. H. Lawrence: novelist’ (Chatto & Windus, 1964) thought that ‘The Rainbow’ and ‘Women in Love’ were his greatest works, so perhaps in a way, I was right. Leavis says that:
“It is The Rainbow and Women in Love that most demand attention. The need is to get recognition for the kind of major achievement they are. Together they constitute his greatest work, or perhaps it is better to say that, in their curious close relation and the separateness, they are his two greatest works.” (Leavis, p. 18)
Maddox, in addition, thought that Women in Love was his most ambitious work. And Lawrence made it clear in his letters that he also thought it was his best book. He wrote to B. W. Huebsch on 10th February 1920, saying:
“I am more keen on Women in Love than on any of my books.” (p. 621, in Vol 1 in ‘The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence’ edited by Harry Moore)
Then, again, he wrote to Thomas Seltzer on 7th November 1920, saying:
“Secker intends Women in Love for February. I still think it is the best of my books.” (p. 635 in Vol. 1 of the Letters)
Although, it is possible that he might have changed his mind after having written some of his other novels; I don’t know, although I suspect not.
So, why did he not continue writing in this Women in Love way, one might ask? Was it the influence of Frieda? Would a ‘softer’ woman that helped him more practically have been better? Or was it the fault of the English and the way they treated him after writing The Rainbow and Women in Love? Or was it something else, or a combination? Who know? It is all pure speculation. And does it necessarily really matter? Lawrence produced great work – that was and is the most important thing.
And F. R. Leavis concludes his book ‘D. H. Lawrence: novelist’, saying:
“I live in hopes that Lawrence’s recognition is at last to come…I mean, his recognition for what I am convinced he is: the great creative genius of our age, and one of the greatest figures in English literature.” (Leavis, p. 317)
What I think is also very important to realise is that Lawrence was very much about ‘going for life’, and that he put this above any particular way of living – and that this was the main, the most powerful Nietzschean influence and effect, I think. Lawrence said:
“I only want to know people that have the courage to live.” (Boulton, Letters, Vol 2, p. 225, in Feinstein, p. 121)
And in regard to his wife Frieda, Feinstein also said that:
“Frieda had no intellectual ambitions. She simply wanted to live life more fully.”
(Feinstein, 1994, p. 75)
Although Maddox was of the opinion that:
“Frieda was undisciplined but not unintellectual.” (Maddox, p. 97)
Frieda certainly read a lot and proof-read and edited some of Lawrence’s work. In particular, Frieda was very keen on Nietzsche – and in fact, this was the main way in which Lawrence was influenced by Nietzsche. I concluded through my reading that Lawrence was influenced by Nietzsche more indirectly through Frieda than through any direct reading of his own of Nietzsche’s writings. Lawrence, on the whole, preferred reading and writing literature.
In regard to Frieda Lawrence and Nietzsche, Maddox said that:
“Frieda became…devoted to Nietzsche. In later life she referred to him as ‘my old friend’ and from a Lawrence poem she took as the title of her own autobiography a Nietzschean phrase, ‘not I, but the wind’, implying that her own powerful personality was nothing but the life force that blew through her. The sisters [Frieda and Else] liked Nietzsche for the same reason that writers such as Shaw, Yeats and Wells were attracted to him: he was aphoristic, full of memorable, scientific-sounding nuggets of wisdom.” (Maddox, p. 100)
In addition, taking Nietzsche’s ideas forward, Frieda very much wanted to nurture a male genius, and so, she left her husband and 3 young children for Lawrence, in order to nurture and help this genius; as well as to live life more fully herself of course.
Anyway, Lawrence went with Frieda and produced all this genius work. These are the facts of the matter. So, let us just celebrate this and have done with the rest. That is what I have concluded. And Nietzsche played some part here (re encouraging geniuses, especially male ones and ‘going for life’), so we must celebrate Nietzsche as well. Hallelajah! The Saints be praised and all that!
There is so much more that could, should and needs to be said on this amazing topic. This is, perhaps, just the openings of my ‘D. H. Lawrence Journey’. But enough said for now; the rest can wait for another time and another day.
Feinstein, Elaine (1994) Lawrence's Women: the intimate life of D. H. Lawrence, Flamingo
Leavis, F. R. (1964) D. H. Lawrence: novelist, Chatto and Windus
Maddox, Brenda (1994), D. H. Lawrence: the story of a marriage, Simon & Schuster,
Moore, Harry T. (ed.) (1962) The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence (2 Vols), William Heinemann
Sagar, Keith (1985) D. H. Lawrence: life into art, Viking