Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros60Pluralists and Pantheists: Spinoz...

Pluralists and Pantheists: Spinoza, Deleuze and the non-fiction of D.H. Lawrence

Pluralistes et panthéistes : Spinoza, Deleuze et les écrits non fictionnels de D.H. Lawrence
Tim Gupwell


D.H. Lawrence n’était pas uniquement un romancier ou un poète, il était profondément intéressé par la philosophie, et il avait même écrit un livre de philosophie, qui fut malheureusement perdu. Cet article s’efforce d’expliquer ce que voulait dire D.H. Lawrence lorsqu’il a écrit que ‘Les Grecs, qui étaient sains d’esprit, étaient des pluralistes et des panthéistes. Et c’est pareil pour moi’. Je propose de l’expliquer en examinant les similitudes étonnantes que l’on trouve entre Lawrence, Spinoza et Deleuze. Je souhaite démontrer également qu’il existe une sorte de progression dynamique dans la théorie de connaissance de Spinoza, qui nous permet de comprendre quel est le rapport entre le pluralisme et le panthéisme dans Lawrence. Ce qui est particulièrement intéressant, à cet égard, est que Deleuze, lors de ses Cours à Vincennes sur Spinoza, utilise des exemples tirés de la non-fiction de Lawrence afin d’illustrer et élucider les trois genres de connaissance que l‘on trouve dans l’Ethique de Spinoza. Le pluralisme de Lawrence l’a amené à critiquer la pensée de ses contemporains, qu’il trouvait inadéquate, ainsi qu’à ’une analyse profonde des rapports qui structurent notre expérience. Elle explique, d’ailleurs, la raison pour laquelle il se revendiquait panthéiste et, au-delà, pourquoi il tenait tant à une théorie de la transcendance et de l’éternel.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

1In the essay ‘Him with his Tail in his Mouth’, D.H. Lawrence wrote the following: ‘The Greeks, being sane, were pluralists and pantheists. And so am I’ (Lawrence 1988, 313). I propose to explain what he meant by looking at the striking similarities between Lawrence, Spinoza and Deleuze and by showing that there is a dynamic in Spinoza’s theory of knowledge which helps to clarify the relationship between pluralism and pantheism. Particularly interesting for my purposes is the fact that Deleuze commented on Lawrence in some detail and explicitly used Lawrence’s non-fictional writings to illustrate and elucidate Spinoza’s three types of knowledge in his Lectures on Spinoza at Vincennes.

  • 1 For the story and a transcription of the readers’ notes, see Nash, ‘At the Gates’: New Commentaries (...)
  • 2 Tindall, 199-200, ‘His sufferings and responses were those of the sentimental artist in our times’
  • 3 Deleuze was familiar with Lawrence since his wife translated Lawrence’s Apocalypse, to which Deleuz (...)

2Lawrence was not just a novelist, poet or travel writer. He was deeply interested in philosophy, and even went so far as to write a serious book of philosophy called At the Gates, which was unfortunately lost.1 In Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine (Lawrence 1988) or the posthumous collections Phoenix (1961) and Phoenix II (1968), there are a number of philosophical essays, but there is also a considerable amount of philosophy in his literary criticism, notably in A Study of Thomas Hardy (Lawrence 2002b) or Studies in Classic American Literature (Lawrence 1971), as well as in his travel writings (here I refer to Twilight in Italy and Mornings in Mexico). Amongst critics that have dealt with Lawrence’s non-fiction, many have been inclined to dismiss his thinking as contradictory or confused since, as Michael Black writes in his book D.H. Lawrence: The Early Philosophical Work, ‘An important characteristic is that they are hard to make sense of—so hard that the many readers abandon them as nonsense . . . all this means that the characteristic approach to these works is not that they are difficult but that they are flawed’ (Black 1992). William York Tindall, an early critic, despite useful insights, set the tone for many by erroneously misrepresenting him as a primitivist, even as a sentimental romantic, yearning for past civilizations, and hating science and all that is modern.2 According to him, ‘Lawrence’s ideas were confused; they were never really completely objectified: and they interfere continually with his art’ (Tindall, 204). On the contrary, Deleuze, who was very familiar with Lawrence, took him very seriously: ‘The things Lawrence says are not simple, it would be wrong to think one had understood him straight away’ (Deleuze 1993). As will become clear, I assume with Deleuze that Lawrence was a serious thinker, albeit an unconventional one.3

  • 4 Deleuze himself can be seen as a kind of latter day pluralist who, like Lawrence (whether directly (...)
  • 5 For Michael Bell, Lawrence like Heidegger, contested the dualism world/consciousness, ‘the mistake (...)
  • 6 Lawrence was certainly familiar with Bergson’s Creative Evolution (Tindall, Sagar).
  • 7 To my knowledge, no critics have discussed, in detail, Spinoza or James in relation to Lawrence.

3Both Deleuze and Lawrence belong to a similar intellectual lineage and shared similar influences. Both, whether voluntarily or otherwise, were indebted to Spinoza.4 Spinoza’s three kinds of knowledge are as follows: the first type (cognitio primi generis) is inadequate knowledge: the kind of knowledge that the common man possesses; in other words, it consists primarily of shared notions and a passive concentration on the manner in which we are affected, rather than on genuine causes. On the contrary, the second type (cognitio secundi generis) implies an adequate understanding of the properties of things and is described by Deleuze as knowledge of the relationships between things, and hence of causes. The third type, (scientia intuitiva), as the name suggests, is of a somewhat different nature; intuitive knowledge or knowledge of essences (Spinoza, V, 20 & Deleuze). This will be explained in more detail later, since it relates to Lawrence’s pantheism. According to Deleuze, these types of knowledge also correspond to particular modes of being or ways of life,5 so that, in other words, knowledge also implies knowing how to live. Thus, it is ethical as well as epistemological and even ontological. Lawrence, as we will see, would clearly have concurred with Deleuze in this, as well as with Bergson’s assertion in Creative Evolution that a theory of knowledge and a theory of life are inseparable from each other (Bergson 2019, ix).6 Without wishing to suggest that these three kinds of knowledge can be perfectly applied to Lawrence’s thought, it is my contention that they do indeed coincide with the framework of Lawrence’s thought, and that it is precisely for this reason that Deleuze chose him to illustrate his remarks.7 Lawrence’s pluralism led him to a radical criticism of what he considered to be the inadequacy of his contemporaries’ thought, and a subsequent emphasis on the relationships and correspondences that constitute our daily experience. It also goes a long way to explaining his pantheism as well as his related theories of transcendence and the eternal.

  • 8 James openly admitted this: the fourth and fifth chapters of A Pluralistic Universe underline the i (...)

4As a starting point, it is important to understand what Lawrence means when he describes himself as a pluralist. The best-known proponents of pluralism in Lawrence’s time were Henri Bergson and William James, the latter of whom set out his pluralistic philosophy (in no small measure inspired by Henri Bergson)8 in A Pluralistic Universe and Essays in Radical Empiricism. For James, previous philosophers had laid the emphasis on the universal rather than on the particular things themselves. And even the empiricists, whilst concentrating more on the particular, had accentuated the importance of the separation between things, their discontinuity, whereas in reality everything is interconnected and interrelated. It is for this reason that James also called his pluralism radical empiricism, which he explained as follows:

I give the name of ‘radical empiricism’ to my weltanschauung. Empiricism is known as the opposite of rationalism. Rationalism tends to emphasize universals and to make wholes prior to parts in the order of logic as well as in that of being. Empiricism, on the contrary, lays the explanatory stress upon the part, the element, the individual, and treats the whole as a collection and the universal as an abstraction . . . Now, ordinary empiricism . . . has always shown a tendency to do away with the connections of things, and to insist most on the disjunctions . . . Radical Empiricism as I understand it, does full justice to conjunctive relations, without however treating them as rationalism always tends to treat them, as being true in some supernal way . . . (James 2003, 2223)

  • 9 Montgomery discusses this letter, but, to my mind, he misinterprets it. According to him, ‘This imp (...)

5Lawrence was certainly familiar with the writings of James. He refers to him on a number of occasions and Jessie Chambers confirms in her memoirs that Lawrence was very much interested in the philosophy of James. Moreover, in an important letter to a former teacher, Lawrence wrote: ‘I owe you a debt. You were my first live teacher of philosophy: you showed me a way out of a torturing crude Monism, past pragmatism, into a sort of crude but appeasing Pluralism’ (Lawrence 1979, 147].9 From a pluralistic point of view, the world we experience is constituted of relations with everything impinging on everything else. It is a world of flux and interrelation. We see a fine example of this in Lawrence’s introduction to Poetry of the Present:

In the immediate present there is no perfection, no consummation, nothing finished. The strands are all flying, quivering, intermingling into the web, the waters are shaking the moon. There is no round, consummate moon on the face of running water, nor on the face of the unfinished tide. There are no gems of the living plasm. The living plasm vibrates unspeakably, it inhales the future, it exhales the past, it is the quick of both, and yet it is neither. There is no plasmic finality, nothing crystal, permanent. (Lawrence 1993,182)

  • 10 Plato’s Theaetetus is a dialogue about whether we can have knowledge in the material world; the the (...)

6This is a description of a world in which everything is co-penetration, interrelationships, flux, where nothing is fixed or static, a world in which as Bergson says: ‘The point is that, ordinarily, we look at change but do not really perceive it. We speak of change, but do not think about it. We say that change exists, that everything changes, that change is the very law of things; yes, we say it and we repeat it; but these are mere words, and we reason and philosophize as though change did not exist’ (Bergson 2014, 178). The idea that the universe is nothing more than motion dates back to the early Greeks, with which Lawrence was familiar. For example, in Plato’s Theaetetus Socrates outlines a theory he has heard that he attributes to the ‘initiated’ (who advocate a Heracleitean doctrine of flux) viz. that nothing IS, things are always in the process of becoming; that it is an abuse of language to say ‘somebody’, ‘something’, ‘mine’, ‘this/that’ since we can never know things definitively.10 But pluralism in Lawrence’s epoch could be said to have gone further even than Heraclitus since it conceives a world in which not only can one not step into the same river twice as Heraclitus had stated, but (as Cratylus protested against Heraclitus [Aristotle 2004, 1010a]), it is going too far to say we step into it even once. Yet, if the world we experience is essentially constituted of relationships and interconnections, humans have for their own practical purposes tended to separate, classify, categorise, and idealise—or to put it more broadly, to abstract. As James puts it:

The essence of life is its continuously changing character; but our concepts are all discontinuous and fixed, and the only mode of making them coincide with life is by arbitrarily supposing positions of arrest therein… When we conceptualize, we cut out and fix, and exclude everything but what we have fixed. A concept means a that-and-no-other . . . whereas in the real concrete sensible flux of life experiences compenetrate each other so that it is not easy to know just what is excluded and what not. (James 1987, 746)

7If the world is really flux, and interrelation, then this pluralism can be applied to any number of our categories of thought. We say that there is a cause and an effect, but where does the cause end and the effect begin? And, how can a person be separated from the world in which he is immerged? This is what Lawrence describes as ‘cutting things apart’:

But what is the soul of man, except that in him which is in himself alone, suspended in immediate relation to the sum of things. Not isolated or cut off. The Greeks began the cutting apart business. (Lawrence 1988, 316)

8Indeed, this statement contains many of the key elements that lie behind Lawrence’s thought: how is the world constituted? How do we relate to the universe? What could a self even be in a world of flux? How has human reason denatured the world since the time of Plato and Aristotle? As we will see, Lawrence’s answer to the latter question is that our conception of the world is inadequate.

Inadequate Knowledge

‘Living as we do entirely in the light of the mental consciousness, we think everything is as we see it and as we think it. Which is a vast illusion.’ (Lawrence 1988, 135).

  • 11 Plato, Republic, Bk5
  • 12 Spinoza, in the appendix to part 1 of Ethics, demonstrates how human prejudices, their notion of th (...)

9For Lawrence, as for Spinoza, it follows from what precedes that the first, most common, type of what we consider to be knowledge is actually illusory, consisting of confused notions, mere imagination or simple opinions. This kind of knowledge is inadequate and would perhaps be more accurately characterized as doxa, mere opinion,11 because we are failing to perceive all the interrelations between things, objects and the universe as a whole. Indeed, human beings, more than any other creatures, are as Lawrence states, ‘susceptible to falsification’ (Lawrence 1988, 104). Deleuze characterizes Spinoza’s first type of knowledge as merely registering the effect of what happens to us; in other words, being passively reduced to a mere awareness of the event, condemned to suffer from effects whose law escapes us. Rather than seeing the world as it is—a set of relations—we see the world as being cut up or divided into different entities; in other words, we have falsified the nature of the world in a manner that does not allow us to live authentically as a part of the whole. We see things merely from our point of view. Hence it is that Lawrence can say that we are ‘born and swaddled in fixed beliefs’, that we are ‘creatures of ‘beliefs and foregone conclusions’ (Lawrence 1988, 114). Whether we like it or not, we inherit the conceptions and ideals of those around us, which take us away from what we really are: ‘To conceive of change and to see it’, as Bergson states, ‘we must rid ourselves of a whole veil of prejudices, some of them artificial, created by philosophical speculation, and others natural, created by common sense’ (Bergson 2019, 178). Hence, the problem is not having beliefs and conceptions as such, but whether these beliefs and conceptions are adequate ones. For Lawrence, as for Spinoza,12 our conceptions were clearly leading us astray.

  • 13 Deleuze points out in his lectures that Spinoza also considers abstract ideas to be confused and in (...)

10If there is any one aspect that stands out in Lawrence’s non-fiction, it is his criticism of each and any kind of abstraction,13 whether it be of an idea, a universal, or a concept. His dislike of abstractions is everywhere, and is fundamental to his thought. One of his clearest statements to this effect is to be found in the essay Democracy:

It is all very well to talk about a Supreme Being, an Anima Mundi, an Oversoul, an Infinite: but it is all just human invention. Come down to actuality. Where do you see Being?—in individual men and women. Where do you find an Anima?—in living individual creatures. Where would you look for a soul? In a man, in an animal, in a tree or flower. And all the rest, about Supreme Beings and Anima Mundis and Oversouls is just abstraction. Show me the very animal!—You can’t. It is merely a trick of the human will, trying to get power over everything, and therefore making the wish father of the thought. (Lawrence 1988, 72)

11This insistence on paying attention to the individual thing, and refusing to abstract, is a fundamental part of Lawrence’s pluralism, for when we abstract, we are no longer interacting with real individual things. An individual rabbit can affect us in a way that the universal concept of a rabbit cannot, since in a way that might seem rather paradoxical, Lawrence claims that the universal is not greater, but lesser than the individual or, as he puts it, ‘the One is more than many’ (Lawrence 1988, 138, 1). For example, when we describe flowers in general, as opposed to an individual flower, we describe merely what they have in common and a being-in-common is always inferior to the single aloneness of one creature (Lawrence 1988, 138). It is no good saying there is a being-in-common of a rabbit since ‘having met a rabbit or two, we have seen quite clearly, that each separate rabbit was a separate, distinct rabbit-individual, with a specific nature of his own’ (Lawrence 1988, 120). In A Study of Thomas Hardy, Lawrence describes the way in which Clym, a passionate being, must ‘of necessity go into business, and subdue his whole being, body and soul as well as mind, to the business and to the greater system it represented. . . . Impotent to be, he must transform himself, and live in an abstraction, in a generalisation, he must identify himself with the system. He must live as Man, or Humanity, or as the Community, or as Society, or as Civilisation.’ (Lawrence 2002b, 26) For Lawrence, then, any abstraction or universal is a subtraction, a diminishing, rather than an addition. An abstraction is a falsification, a human category that we, as creatures of action, impose upon the world. In Creative Evolution, Bergson summarises the problem as follows:

  • 14 Bergson, 2019, vi.

In reality, we clearly perceive that none of our thought categories, unity, multiplicity, mechanical causality, intelligent design, etc. can be exactly applied to the things of life. Who can say where individuality starts and where it ends, if a living being is one or many? . . . In vain we shove life into one or other of these frameworks. The frameworks crack. They are too narrow, too rigid for what we are trying to fit into them. (Bergson 2019)14

12For Lawrence, humanity had cut itself off from ‘the not-me’, from the otherness of the cosmos and humanity. The failure to maintain these relations had led to ‘pettifogging apartness’ and ‘mean separateness’ (Lawrence 1968, 512). Worse, seeing things from our unique point of view has led to a parasitic attitude towards the Earth, since we have become ‘a myriad, myriad little egos, five billion feeding like one’ (Lawrence 1988, 306). It is for this reason, he says, that when he hears someone complaining about being lonely, he knows what has happened: ‘They have lost the cosmos’ (Lawrence 2002a, 30):

Man’s life consists in a connection with all things in the universe. Whoever can establish, or initiate a new connection between mankind and the circumambient universe, is, in his own degree, a saviour. Because mankind is always exhausting its human possibilities, always degenerating into repetition, torpor, ennui, lifelessness. When ennui sets in, it is a sign that human vitality is waning, and the human connection with the universe is gone stale. (Lawrence 1988, 370)

13Modern humanity is wretched since ‘we are unnaturally resisting our connection with the cosmos, with the world, with mankind, with the nation, with the family. . . We cannot bear connection. That is our malady. We must break away, and be isolate. We call that being free, being individual. Beyond a certain point, which we have reached, it is suicide’ (Lawrence 2002a, 148, original emphasis).

14Hence, for Deleuze, the first type of knowledge—inadequate knowledge—is when we perceive something in opposition to ourselves, rather than seeing it in relation to ourselves. By contrast, Spinoza’s second type of knowledge is genuine knowledge of relationships. With the first kind, we merely experience the effects of the wave, like a child who complains that the wave has hurt him; we simply feel the effect of the sun’s warmth on us. There is dissociation. With the second type, we now know how to compose with the wave, to get into relation with it. This kind of knowledge is superior since we now understand the world as a totality of relations, and no longer as a series of abstractions. As a result, it is a more adequate kind of knowledge, since this is what the world is really like: ‘Everything in the world is relative to everything else. And every living thing is related to every other living thing’ (Lawrence 1988, 367). Rather than concentrating on the constituent parts, the focus should be on the links between them since all living things have vital relations with all other things. Hence, we find what Deleuze calls (in his Spinoza lectures) an idea of communion. Vivid perceptions serve ‘not only to mark the peak of a character’s self-realization but also relate him to his surroundings in a fleeting equilibrium’ (Freeman, 57).

Knowledge as Relationships

‘But living and having being means the relatedness between me and all things. In so far as I am I, a being who is proud and in place, I have a connection with the circumambient universe and I know my place. When the white cock crows, I do not hear myself, or some anthropomorphic conceit, crowing. I hear the not-me, the voice of the Holy Ghost’ (Lawrence 1988, 373, original emphasis)

  • 15 Zyaturk does, however, recognise that for Lawrence the achievement of individuality is ‘dependent u (...)
  • 16 Some critics have maintained that there is an irreconcilable contradiction between Lawrence’s empha (...)

15The above citations make it clear that Lawrence is not merely preaching a ‘doctrine of individuality’ (to employ the term words of Zyaturk),15 since this would involve denying the connection with all that is not-self: ‘The so-called individualism is no more than a cheap egotism’, says Lawrence, ‘we mean in the first place the recognition of the exquisite arresting manifoldness of being, multiplicity, plurality, as the stars are plural in their starry singularity’ (Lawrence 1988, 138). His ideas of self are complex, and I will deal with them more fully elsewhere,16 but to fully get to grips with what Lawrence means by relations, it is necessary to sketch out Lawrence’s idea of what constitutes a self (or, to be more precise, of the human body).

  • 17 See Fantasia of the Unconscious, Psychology of the Unconscious (Lawrence 1977), Education of the Pe (...)
  • 18 Lawrence takes Freud’s conception of the unconscious as his starting point, but it is not really Fr (...)
  • 19 Every living organism has a innate sense of its existence and of what is appropriate to it, a sense (...)

16That his theory of the body was important to Lawrence is clear from the fact that he set it out a number of times.17 Conceiving what the real self could be is indeed the entire project of Psychology of the Unconscious.18 Lawrence’s conception of the unconscious or the pre-conscious, as he also calls it, is that it equates to our desire.19 Our desire is nothing less than our essence in interaction with the world, since ‘all spontaneous life, desire, impulse and first-hand individual consciousness arises, and is affective on the great nerve centre of the body, and not in the brain’. Lawrence is very clear that the affective self is absolutely a concrete reality, and in no way an abstraction (Lawrence 1988, 128). In other words, Lawrence builds up an idea of self that is constituted of relations between itself and the world, whilst remaining in itself individual. How this could even be possible is what Lawrence attempts to postulate in his theorizing of the nature of the body.

17Lawrence aims to downgrade the status of the brain to a secondary status, secondary to those of the affective centres of the body’s nervous system. Thus, he explains in Education of the People that the brain is, or at least should be, merely an epiphenomenal centre which registers the script telegraphed to it by the body’s affective centre so as to represent it in our mental consciousness. In this, as he points out, he goes against thousands of years of tradition (Christianity, Platonism, Cartesianism and so on) which has tried to subjugate the bodily passions to the mind. The problem with these prior attempts is that they have now led to an over-emphasis on the mental consciousness, and to certain, fixed ideas. These mental ideas have come to usurp their natural functions, and the mental consciousness is now dictating its will to the real self, the affective centre. What we consider to be our self is actually a secondary self, whereas the real self is pre-conscious and difficult to know. Our conception of self is inadequate because we confuse our mental consciousness, our ego and our personality, with what is really individual. It is for this reason that Lawrence carefully distinguishes personality from individuality in the essay Democracy. Personality, he says, derived from the Latin word persona denoting the player’s mask that people assume, the roles they play. Personality is thus the way in which people appear to others, and he describes it as ‘the conscious entity with which every individual is saddled. He receives it almost en bloc from the preceding generation, and spends the rest of his life trying to drag his spontaneous self from the horrible incubus . . . so that every individual is born with a mill-stone of ideals around his neck’ (Lawrence 1988, 75).

18Characteristically, then, the brain does not feature explicitly as part of the system. Instead, it is the nervous system that drives our interactions with the world. The solar plexus is the part of the nervous system which enables us to experience that I am I, something which can never be thought, only known. Each man knows this profoundly and satisfactorily without question. It is the Lumbar Ganglion on the other hand which constitutes knowledge that I am I, in distinction from the whole universe, that I am other than the universe. Two other centres are to be found in the upper body, the Cardiac Plexus which establishes a movement towards that which is beyond me, primarily the other (mother, lover, etc.) whereas the thoracic ganglion is responsible, once again, for establishing my separation from that which is around me. What is clear from this theory is that there is a duality of movement, which extends to all living things. In one movement, the self streams outwards towards a sort of communion, whereas in another movement it establishes its separateness, its distinction, its cleavage. Hence, a true knowledge of relationships involves holding both movements together in one act. Moreover, this centripetal and centrifugal polarity applies not only to the individual but to the whole of the cosmos. Thus, whilst a tree seeks communion with the sun, with the earth’s centre, with the four winds, and ‘a knitting together of the cosmos into oneness’, it must, at the same time, ‘maintain its own integrity against the rest of things’ (Lawrence 1988, 331). Everything that exists, even a stone, has two sides to its nature. It fiercely maintains its own individuality, its own solidity. And it reaches forth from itself in the subtlest flow of desire’ (Lawrence 1988, 343). Hence, living well involves striking a balance, finding an equilibrium between the two. This explains why Lawrence’s description of the tiger in Twilights in Italy should be seen as an attempt to work out an idea of what a self could be in the absence of any awareness of what is not-self:

The eyes of the tiger cannot see, except with the light from within itself, by the light of its own desire. Its own white, cold light is so fierce that the other warm light of day is outshone, it is not, it does not exist . . . It can only see of me that which it knows I am, a scent, a resistance, a voluptuous solid, a struggling warm violence that it holds overcome, a running of the hot blood between its jaws, a delicious pang of lie flesh in the mouth. That it sees. The rest is not. (Lawrence 1960, 44)

  • 20 Lawrence does not agree with Hegel, but sometimes employs his method, particularly in Twilight in I (...)

19In other words, the tiger’s vision is pure sense of self. It sees nothing outside of itself. In Twilight in Italy, the argument proceeds according to a Hegelian dialectic:20 the tiger is the thesis, in itself inadequate; its antithesis, the lamb, represents the not-self, and is also in itself inadequate. Whereas it is the combination of both, the synthesis, that leads to ‘the consummation of man . . . in the self and in selflessness’ (Lawrence 1960, 53). For Lawrence, then, a mere sense of self alone is incomplete; it would be to deny all the others and all the rest of the universe (the not-self). ‘Between an individual and any external object with which he has an affective connection, there exists a definite vital flow . . . . Whether this object be human, or animal, or plant, or quite inanimate, there is still a circuit . . . so there is a definite vibratory rapport between a man and his surroundings, once he definitely gets into contact with these surroundings’ (Lawrence 1977, 132).

  • 21 Lawrence 1986, 75.

20Not being in tune with the cosmos causes ennui,21 despair and loneliness. However, for Lawrence, getting into an authentic relationship with another object or living creature is difficult to achieve and he is careful to point out that it is by no means the same thing as either merging, or identifying oneself with something else, or imagining oneself as part of a great whole, all of which amount to mental abstractions. Instead, getting into relationship with something else involves respecting the individuality, the otherness, of that particular thing. This is the point Elise Brault-Dreux makes when she compares Lawrence’ poetry with Katherine Mansfield’s. She makes it clear that Lawrence deliberately restrains his consciousness in his reaction to the other: ‘The perception of the others should be unspoilt by mental knowledge and transgressive mental analysis’ (Brault-Dreux 2012, n.p.). For Lawrence, living well in a pluralistic world requires the concept of equilibrium, a Greek term by which he means, he states, relationship, though the Greeks were too anthropomorphic to genuinely equilibrate with their surroundings. Similarly, Lawrence criticizes Wordsworth in Love was once a little Boy for attempting to merge the primrose into himself. The primrose has, he says, become nothing more than the mirror-image of Wordsworth himself, whereas what is needed is to respect the distinct, separate nature of that particular primrose, to ‘leave it with a soul of its own’ (Lawrence 1988, 336). What is needed is humility. In the fourth dimension, ‘in the creative, not in the spatial universe’, the white cock is a god because ‘he is something that nothing else is. Certainly, he is something that I am not’ (Lawrence 1988, 314–315). In other words, he is essence, and hence part of the timeless fourth dimension, a glimpse of the divine. Here the similarities with Spinoza are striking, going a long way towards explaining why Deleuze uses Lawrence to exemplify this third type of knowledge, for the final part of Spinoza’s Ethics is dedicated to attaining beatitude through exactly this kind of intuitive knowledge. Spinoza’s third type of knowledge is the knowledge of eternal essences and he famously turned to the idea of eternity with the phrase, ‘And thus I have done with all that regards this present life’ (Spinoza V, 20, Scolie). It is in this sense that we come to the pantheism of Lawrence.

‘We sense and experience that we are eternal’ (Spinoza, V, 22, note)22

  • 22 All the references are to specific propositions in Ethics.

21Once again, it is James who gives us a glimpse into a possible link in Varieties of Religious Experience since:

  • 23 James 1987, 460 emphasis added or in the original? and ‘It was clear to James that when humans iden (...)

We have in the fact that the conscious person is continuum with a wider self through which saving experience comes, a positive content of religious experience which, it seems to me, is literally and objectively true as far as it goes.23

22Lawrence does not believe in any kind of personal God, nor does he think that there is such a thing as spirit. In a letter to his sister, suffering from a loss of faith, he wrote the following:

There still remains a God, but not a personal God: a vast, shimmering impulse which wavers onwards towards some end, I don’t know what—taking no regard of the little individual, but taking regard of humanity. When we die, like rain-drops falling back again into the sea, we fall back into the big, shimmering sea of unorganised life which we call God. We are lost as individuals, yet we count in the whole. (Lawrence 1981, 256)

  • 24 Black 114–115. Clearly Black is right to a certain extent; for Lawrence, we cannot know the Beyond (...)
  • 25 Spinoza famously wrote, in the preface of Part 4 of the Ethics, the words Deus sive Natura, which c (...)

23As Black correctly notes, the use of the word shimmering shows Lawrence’s acknowledgement of the impossibility of finally explicating this kind of phenomenon.24 Indeed, Lawrence is clear that if there is any form of God, it would not be characterised by the kind of humanised will that would smack of anthropomorphism, but rather by a God (or indeed by many Gods), that would be ‘nameless and unknowable’ (Lawrence 1971, 73). It seems likely Lawrence would have concurred with Spinoza, that God is Nature,25 or perhaps, as he puts it in the letter to his sister, ‘a shimmering sea of unorganized life’. Time after time in his non-fictional writing, Lawrence uses the phrase, ‘this is the clue’, the clue in other words to the nature of the universe, to the life that is in everything. Thus, as he says in Psychology of the Unconscious, ‘the unconscious is just another word for life’. To glimpse the essence of any individual is possible in as much as we all partake of something timeless, of one great source, from everything emerges separate, all individuals being ‘manifestations of living activity’ (Lawrence 1986, 72). Hence, as Deleuze points out in Spinoza: Philosophie pratique, the two types of knowledge are closely related: the third type of knowledge finds in the second a causa fiendi, there is only a difference in nature. It is the idea of God that takes us from one to the other (Deleuze 2003, 78). It is in this respect that a revelation of God can occur in the material world. Indeed, it is this third type of knowledge that helps to explain Lawrence’s famous rejection of ‘the old stable ego’ (of characters in the novel) in a letter to Edward Garnett, since Lawrence asserts that what particularly interests him in a female character is ‘what she is as a phenomenon (or as representing some greater, inhuman will), instead of what she feels according to the human conception’ (Lawrence 1981, 183, emphasis added). In other words, her essence as it relates to the cosmos offers a glimpse of something that is higher, beyond the merely human.

  • 26 See Young 1980.

24The key thing to note is that Lawrence’s idea of eternity is, like Spinoza’s, articulated around an ancient distinction between existentia (existence) and essentia (essence, or being) a distinction which he specifically draws in the essay Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine: ‘We still find ourselves in the tangle of existence and being, a tangle which man has never been able to get out of, except by sacrificing the one to the other’ (Lawrence 1988, 359). In other words, existence and being are two distinct things. As for Spinoza, things are conceived by us in two ways, firstly in time and space (existence), and secondly in as much as they are part of the necessity of the divine nature, and thus conceivable as an aspect of eternity, being or essence (Spinoza V, 29). Lawrence, for his part, explains that although particular things actually exist in space and time, there is also another aspect to them which stands outside of the three dimensions of space and time, in a fourth dimension.26 In this fourth dimension, of essence (or being, as Lawrence most frequently calls it), the dandelion may also stand entirely outside of time and space:

The dandelion in full flower, a little sun bristling with sun rays on the green earth is a non-pareil, a non-such. Foolish, foolish to compare it to anything else on earth. It is itself incomparable and unique . . . the ultimate source of all vitality is in that other dimension or region, where the dandelion blooms, and which men have called heaven, and which now they call the fourth dimension: which is only a way of saying that it is not to be reckoned in terms of space and time. (Lawrence 1988, 358)

25Lawrence agreed with Spinoza that ‘the more we understand particular things, the more we understand God’ (Spinoza V, 24). There exists a sort of eternity which we sense and experience, but which is absolutely distinct from any kind of conventional notion of immortality since it is derived not from time and space, but from an intuitive knowledge of the essence of particular things. Eternity cannot be defined by time nor indeed have any sort of relation to time. Spinoza had taken care to point out that men commonly confuse eternity with immortality (duration), (Spinoza V, 34, Scolie) and explained that the third type of knowledge gives rise to ‘a love of what is immutable and eternal’ (Spinoza V, 15). For Lawrence, as for Spinoza, the essence or being of a particular thing is transcendental, outside of space and time: ‘The revelation of God is God, timeless’, as he writes in The Crown. Hence, the third type of knowledge involves knowledge of the essence of things (Spinoza V, 25, proof). This is why Spinoza famously wrote that, ‘we sense and experience that we are eternal’ (emphasis added) and states that ‘the greatest endeavour of the mind and its greatest virtue is to understand things by the third kind of knowledge’ (V, 25).

26Discussing what Spinoza could mean when he states that we sense and experience that we are eternal, Deleuze writes as follows:

It’s much later in 19th-Century English literature that you find a sort of Spinozism of this type—eternity, a kind of active experiencing of eternity. And bizarrely, also linked to the idea of intensity; as if I could only experience eternity as a form of intensity. It’s a frequent theme for authors who, as a matter of fact, don’t seem to be all that far from Spinoza, even if they didn’t know it, like Lawrence. (Deleuze Deleuze-Spinoza, n.p.)

27The examples Lawrence himself gives lend credence to this interpretation. In A Study of Thomas Hardy he cites the intensity of the poppy in flower, the song of a bird in spring, ‘the magical spurt of being which is a hare all explosive with fulness of self’, the passage of a man ‘whose eyes shine blue with his own reality’ (Lawrence, 2002b, 12). In the relations that we forge with things in the world of space and time, we perceive something of eternity, which is indeed intensive, since impossible to measure: ‘in the living world, appreciation is intensive, not extensive. A small fowl like a lark or a kestrel is more to us than a flock of rooks or an ostrich or a condor’ (Lawrence 1988, 137). Moreover, Lawrence is very clear that knowledge of essences is not knowledge of anything spiritual, but knowledge of something entirely concrete: ‘Being is not ideal, as Plato would have it; nor spiritual. It is a transcendent form of existence, and as much material as existence is’ (Lawrence 1988, 359). The authentic relationship, the living relationship ‘stands for the strange spark that flies between two creatures’; in equilibrium lies a third thing, ‘the exquisite frail moment of pure communion, which is the fourth dimension, is timeless’, the Holy Ghost (Lawrence 1988, 317). As Freeman puts it: ‘“Each creature, by some mystery,” Lawrence felt, can achieve “a consummation in itself of all the wandering sky and sinking earth”’ (Freeman 58). It is therefore no accident that Lawrence’s language takes on a particularly biblical tone when he describes these kinds of revelations.

Conclusion: Spinoza, Deleuze and Lawrence

28Having briefly traced the three types of knowledge through the non-fiction of Lawrence, we are now in a position not only to consolidate the argument with some final examples from Lawrence, but also to flesh out with some concrete illustrations the pertinence of Deleuze’s concluding words regarding Lawrence. All Deleuze’s examples relate to Lawrence’s description of the sun, but they could easily apply to any object or person and the examples seem to come spontaneously to his mind in response to a question, suggesting that they are drawn from texts he knows well. It is therefore no surprise that they appear to be predominantly extracted from Apocalypse. In his example of the first kind of knowledge Deleuze uses the figure of people on a beach, whose understanding is limited to simply liking the feeling of the sun upon their skin. In Apocalypse, we find Lawrence writing: ‘we can’t get the sun by lying naked like pigs on a beach. The very sun that is bronzing us is inwardly disintegrating us—as we know later . . . . We can only get the sun by a sort of worship’ (Lawrence 2002a, 30). With the second type of knowledge, according to Deleuze, one has already acquired a sort of knowledge of the sun, a practical understanding of its relationship to the body, like a painter (Van Gogh, Cézanne) changing the position of their easels as the angle of the sun changes. Here, there is a relationship with the sun, one, he says, which would have seemed crazy with the first type of relationship, the idea that one has a certain affinity with the sun, that one is almost part of it, there is a kind of communion with the sun. This is the idea of communion we find in Lawrence when he writes: ‘Who says the sun cannot speak to me! The sun has a great blazing consciousness, and I have a little blazing consciousness. When I can strip myself of the trash of personal feelings and ideas, and get down to my naked sun-self, then the sun and I can commune by the hour, the blazing interchange and he gives me life, sun-life, and I send him a little new brightness from the world of the bright blood’ (Lawrence 2002a, 28). For Deleuze, the third type of knowledge is something more like a mystical union with the sun. Van Gogh, he says, had the impression that there was a beyond, which he was unable to convey. And this is indeed what Lawrence says in Art and Morality when he writes: “Van Gogh’s painting is as it were, the offspring of himself and the flower itself. It is a third thing: the human soul, or spirit, or consciousness . . . fused and consummated with some object that is not himself. A painting of sunflowers—by Van Gogh at least—is . . . a reality in the fourth dimension, the creative dimension which is neither up nor down nor across, but in between. It is a revelation of a perfected relationship between man and the circumambient universe’ (Lawrence 2002b, 241). Deleuze concludes: ‘With this kind of knowledge we can literally say that God is the sun, and that I am God. Lawrence’s texts revolve around this kind of identification between my individual essence, the essence of the sun and the essence of the world. It is in this sense that Lawrence is able to say: ‘I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me’. In other words, what unites one with the other is God, or to be more precise, life itself. In the final analysis, it is the affinity between Spinoza’s views and Lawrence’s that renders Deleuze’s examples particularly illuminating.

Haut de page


Aristotle, The Metaphysics, London: Penguin, 2004.

Bell, Michael, D.H. Lawrence: Language and Being, Cambridge: CUP, 1991.

Bergson, Henri, La Pensée et le Mouvant, Paris: Flammarion, 2014.

Bergson, Henri, L’Evolution créatrice, ed. Frédéric Worms, Paris: PUF, 2019.

Black, Michael, D.H. Lawrence: The Early Philosophical Works, Cambridge: CUP, 1992.

Brault-Dreux, Elise, ‘Responding to Non-human Otherness: Poems by D.H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield’, D.H. Lawrence Review 37.2 (2012): 22–43.

Chambers, Jessie, D.H. Lawrence: A Personal Record by E.T, London: Cape, 1935.

Cornford, Francis M., Plato’s Theory of Knowledge: The Theaetetus and the Sophist, New York: Dover, 2013.

Deleuze, Gilles, Préface to Apocalypse: Traduction nouvelle de l’anglais par Fanny Deleuze, Paris: Minuit, 1993.

Deleuze, Gilles, Deleuze-Spinoza, Vincennes 1978–1981, transcription, last accessed at on 30 January 2021.

Deleuze, Gilles, Spinoza: Philosophie pratique, Paris: Minuit, 2003.

Ellis, David, and Howard Mills, D.H. Lawrence’s Non-Fiction: Art, Thought and Genre. Cambridge: CUP, 1998.

Freeman, Mary, D.H. Lawrence: A Basic Study of his Ideas, Gainesville: U of Florida P, 1955.

James, William, Writings: 1902–1910, New York: The Library of America, 1987.

James, William, Essays in Radical Empiricism, New York: Dover, 2003.

Lawrence, D.H., Apocalypse and the Writings on Revelation, ed. Mara Kalnins, Cambridge: CUP, 2002a.

Lawrence, D.H., A Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, ed. Bruce Steele, Cambridge: CUP, 2002b.

Lawrence, D.H., Fantasia of the Unconscious & Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.

Lawrence, D.H., ‘Introduction to “Poetry of the Present’”, D.H. Lawrence: The Complete Poems, eds. V. de Sola Pinto and F. Warren Roberts, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993.

Lawrence, D.H., Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.

Lawrence, D.H., Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, London: Heinemann, 1961.

Lawrence, D.H., Phoenix II, eds. Warren Roberts and Harry T. Moore, London: Heinemann, 1968.

Lawrence, D.H., Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert, Cambridge: CUP, 1988.

Lawrence, D.H., Studies in Classic American Literature, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971.

Lawrence, D.H., The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. 1, ed. James T. Boulton, New York: Cambridge, 1979.

Lawrence, D.H., The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. 2, eds. George J. Zyaturk and James T. Boulton, New York: Cambridge, 1981.

Lawrence, D.H., Twilight in Italy, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960.

Madelrieux, Stéphane, Pluralism without Pragmatism: Deleuze and the Ambiguities of the French Inheritance of James in Deleuze and Pragmatism, eds. Sean Bowden, Simone Bignall and Paul Patton, London and New York: Routledge, 2014.

Maddox, Brenda, The Married Man: A Life of D.H. Lawrence, London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994.

Montgomery, Robert, The Visionary D.H. Lawrence: Beyond Philosophy and Art, Cambridge: CUP, 2009.

Nash, Andrew, ‘“At the Gates”: New Commentaries on a Lost Lawrence Text.’ The D.H. Lawrence Review 31.3 (2003): 13–23.

Sagar, Keith, A D.H. Lawrence Handbook, Manchester: Manchester UP, 1982.

Spinoza, Baruch, Ethics, London: Everyman’s Library, 1993.

Tindall, William York, D.H. Lawrence and Susan his Cow, New York: Columbia UP, 1939.

Young, Richard O., ‘Where even the Trees Come and Go: D.H. Lawrence and the Fourth Dimension’, The D.H. Lawrence Review 13.1 (Spring 1980): 30–44.

Zytaruk, George J., ‘The Doctrine of Individuality: D.H. Lawrence’s “Metaphysic’”, D.H. Lawrence: A Centenary Consideration, eds. Peter Balbert and Phillip L. Marcus, Cornell: Cornell UP, 1985, 237–252.

Haut de page


1 For the story and a transcription of the readers’ notes, see Nash, ‘At the Gates’: New Commentaries on a Lost Text by D.H. Lawrence’.

2 Tindall, 199-200, ‘His sufferings and responses were those of the sentimental artist in our times’

3 Deleuze was familiar with Lawrence since his wife translated Lawrence’s Apocalypse, to which Deleuze wrote the introduction. The best-known monographs on Lawrence are those by Black, Montgomery, Tindall, and Ellis and Mills. Even the best ones have a tendency to view his philosophical work as secondary to his fiction.

4 Deleuze himself can be seen as a kind of latter day pluralist who, like Lawrence (whether directly or indirectly), owed a lot to William James, Henri Bergson and Spinoza (Madelrieux 2014).

5 For Michael Bell, Lawrence like Heidegger, contested the dualism world/consciousness, ‘the mistake lies in conceiving of Being as separable from consciousness’ (Bell 7).

6 Lawrence was certainly familiar with Bergson’s Creative Evolution (Tindall, Sagar).

7 To my knowledge, no critics have discussed, in detail, Spinoza or James in relation to Lawrence.

8 James openly admitted this: the fourth and fifth chapters of A Pluralistic Universe underline the importance of Bergson’s philosophy for James’ thought (James 1987).

9 Montgomery discusses this letter, but, to my mind, he misinterprets it. According to him, ‘This implies that by the time he left college in 1908 he was no longer a Pragmatist and within another year had moved past Pluralism. Pragmatism could not long satisfy Lawrence’s philosophical appetite’ (Montgomery 32). It does not follow from what Lawrence writes in this letter, that he had moved beyond pluralism, and as the title of this article makes clear, Lawrence still considered himself to be a pluralist many years later. It seems possible that Montgomery draws this erroneous conclusion since he does not draw a clear distinction between pragmatism and pluralism.

10 Plato’s Theaetetus is a dialogue about whether we can have knowledge in the material world; the theory of the initiated is never refuted in the dialogue (Theatetus 155d–157c, see Cornford 2013)

11 Plato, Republic, Bk5

12 Spinoza, in the appendix to part 1 of Ethics, demonstrates how human prejudices, their notion of the world and of God, for example, come from their own concerns. Man assumes that all natural things are like him; seeking things useful to him he comes to believe that things have been put there for him. The final causes we live by are merely the fabrications of mankind.

13 Deleuze points out in his lectures that Spinoza also considers abstract ideas to be confused and inadequate.

14 Bergson, 2019, vi.

15 Zyaturk does, however, recognise that for Lawrence the achievement of individuality is ‘dependent upon the establishment of a multiplicity of relationships’ (Zyaturk 241).

16 Some critics have maintained that there is an irreconcilable contradiction between Lawrence’s emphasis on individuality and his emphasis on relationships. (Tyndall 60). Others assume that Lawrence is maintaining that: ‘The establishment of this multiplicity of relations with the circumambient universe results in the extension of an individual’s consciousness’ (Zyaturk 243; see also Young, 30). This is denied by Lawrence on a number of occasions; see, for example, Education of the People: ‘Towards this, then are we to educate our children and ourselves. Not towards any infinitely extended consciousness’ (Lawrence 138).

17 See Fantasia of the Unconscious, Psychology of the Unconscious (Lawrence 1977), Education of the People (Lawrence 1988).

18 Lawrence takes Freud’s conception of the unconscious as his starting point, but it is not really Freud’s concept that interests him (Lawrence 1977).

19 Every living organism has a innate sense of its existence and of what is appropriate to it, a sense that the stoics called oikeiosis, which clearly operates at a pre-conscious level. See Hierocles, who sets out numerous examples to prove his point that from birth, all living organisms possess this sense (Ramelli 1973).

20 Lawrence does not agree with Hegel, but sometimes employs his method, particularly in Twilight in Italy; which Mary Freeman (1955) described as tedious.

21 Lawrence 1986, 75.

22 All the references are to specific propositions in Ethics.

23 James 1987, 460 emphasis added or in the original? and ‘It was clear to James that when humans identify their “real being” with “the germinal higher part” of themselves, they become “conscious that this higher part is conterminous and continuous with a more of the same quality, which is operative in the universe” outside of themselves’ (Leary 1990).

24 Black 114–115. Clearly Black is right to a certain extent; for Lawrence, we cannot know the Beyond that is God. But does it follow as Black suggests that from Lawrence’s acknowledgement of the mysterious nature of the universe all Lawrence’s writing must be treated as figurative?

25 Spinoza famously wrote, in the preface of Part 4 of the Ethics, the words Deus sive Natura, which can be rendered as God, or in other words, Nature.

26 See Young 1980.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Tim Gupwell, « Pluralists and Pantheists: Spinoza, Deleuze and the non-fiction of D.H. Lawrence »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 60 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2021, consulté le 16 mai 2021. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Tim Gupwell

Tim Gupwell is an agrégé in English, and a third-year PhD student at Paul Valery University, Montpellier 3, under the supervision of Professor Christine Reynier. He is also a member of EA741-EMMA (Etudes Montpelliéraines du Monde Anglophone). His research involves clarifying the philosophy of the writer D.H. Lawrence, with a particular focus on his non-fiction, and he is specifically concerned with the influence of popular intellectuals of the time such as William James and Henri Bergson upon Lawrence’s thought.

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée
  • Logo ERIH +
  • Logo DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • OpenEdition Journals
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search