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“Le cœur a ses raisons….”: Lawrence, Logic and the Life of Feeling

Michael Bell
p. 21-36

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1The “logic of the emotions” is one of those familiar expressions which constantly escape closer inspection. Yet its meaning to different speakers and listeners can be significantly varied. It may make a profoundly important, if problematic, claim about a positive relation between the realms of feeling and rationality. Or it may be denying any such relation in order to insist on a contrary order of authority exercised by the emotions. In other words it may be understood with varying degrees of literalism and metaphoricity. Or again it may be no more than a cultural cliché, a catch phrase which is not to be understood in any serious sense other than diagnostically as a sentimental symptom of our present phase of culture. Most likely, it is all of the above at different times, or all at once, which is why it may be worth unpacking in the light of a literary œuvre especially devoted to challenging conventional understandings of reason and feeling. And of course, all these terms are in themselves highly artificial constructs of language exercising a powerfully subliminal reification of these speculative entities. Who knows what their true equivalents may be in psychic function?

2The topic is timely, and especially subject to cliché, because we are currently undergoing in academic philosophy, but also more broadly, a recovered recognition of the importance of the emotions. Early twentieth-century literature and culture reacted strongly against the perceived sentimentality of the Victorians. This ranged from Oscar Wilde’s remark that you would need a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing to the theories of authorial impersonality propounded by James Joyce and T. S. Eliot. Indeed, a loathing of sentimentality is the one thing that unites the otherwise disparate generation of writers that we think of as modernists and Lawrence had some of the most vivid formulations of this reaction.

  • 1 Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert (Cambridge: Cambridge (...)

The most evil things in the world, today, are to be found under the chiffon folds of sentimentalism. Sentimentality is the garment of our vice. It covers viciousness as inevitably as greenness covers a bog.1

  • 2 At the time of writing Donald Wesling has published Joys and Sorrows of Imaginary Persons, (Amsterd (...)

3And this outlook had a decisive effect for several decades. As Anglo-American academic philosophy went through its analytic phase the emotional realm was deemed to fall below philosophical interest but over the latter decades of the twentieth century it has been rediscovered, indeed, repeatedly rediscovered, by academic philosophers in the analytic tradition as if for the first time.2 This has even included the discovery that narrative is a peculiarly appropriate, perhaps necessary, medium for this cultural work. For anyone who has been quietly pursuing the reading and teaching of literature, and especially narrative fiction, over the same period it has been a strange, ironic spectacle. Of course, this movement has produced, and been produced by, some notable work such as that of Alasdair MacIntyre or Martha Nussbaum although even the redoubtable Paul Ricoeur ends his magisterial, three-volume argument in Time and Narrative (1984-5-8) with undergraduate readings of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. Where there has been so much reinvention of the wheel, and collapse into cliché, it is worth returning to look in some detail at the relations of emotion and logic in Lawrence whose concern with emotional education and understanding did not allow him to throw out the baby of feeling with the bathwater of sentimentality.

4Lawrence’s perhaps most famous statement on emotion and logic occurs in his Introduction to Giovanni Verga’s Cavalleria Rusticana:

  • 3 Introductions and Reviews, ed. N. H. Reeve and John Worthen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (...)

Now the emotional mind, if we may be allowed to say so, is not logical. It is a psychological fact, that when we are thinking emotionally or passionately, thinking and feeling at the same time, we do not think rationally: and therefore, and therefore, and therefore. Instead, the mind makes curious swoops and circles. It touches the point of pain or interest, then sweeps away again in a cycle, coils round, and approaches again the point of pain or interest. There is curious spiral rhythm, and the mind approaches again and again the point of interest, repeats itself, goes back, destroys the time-sequence entirely, so that time ceases to exist, as the mind swoops to the quarry, then leaves it without striking, soars, hovers, turns, swoops, stoops again, still does not strike, yet is nearer, nearer, reels away again, wheels off into the air, even forgets, quite forgets, yet again turns, bends, circles slowly, swoops and stoops again, until at last there is the closing-in, and the clutch of a decision or a resolve.3

5Despite its familiarity, and the broad contrast it draws between the processes of feeling and of logic, it is worth revisiting some significant details of the passage as its boldness and clarity of expression are typically combined with a subtle flexibility of meaning.

6First, if the passage lends itself so readily to separable quotation as a manifesto-like statement of general principle, it is partly because of the way it already stands a little apart in its original context. Lawrence has been discussing the positive, sensitive naivety of Verga’s peasant characters but now describes, or defines, the process of emotional decision-making in any human being. Of course, we understand the connection: that the peasant characters, and Verga himself, are closer to this emotional process, or live entirely within it. But the viewpoint has shifted as we now see the process as it underlies and opposes a more sophisticated or rationalised self. Given this shift in focus, Lawrence’s interpolated clause, “if we may be allowed to say so,” may refer not just to the impending major claim of the opening sentence, that the emotions are not logical, but also retrospectively to the preceding phrase “emotional mind.” For this is one of those typically Lawrencean expressions in which there hovers a challengingly oxymoronic insinuation. Even as the passage overall contrasts the processes of reason and emotion, the opening phrase insists that the latter is no less part of mental function.

7The same doubleness is more tangibly reflected in the temporality of the emotional process. Lawrence describes it in highly organic terms like the movements of a bird of prey which might have reason to be hesitant or apprehensive. The circling and wheeling goes on and on as if the moment of decision cannot be hurried, emotional decisions must take their time. Yet within this intrinsically temporal process, Lawrence suggests that the approach to the crucial moment requires passing outside of time. The repetitive action “destroys the time sequence entirely” so that the circling creature “quite forgets.” Passing through a timeless and unconscious moment only after, or within, an extended preparatory build-up of emotional tension is a familiar structure of Lawrencean episodes such as that of the pregnant Mrs Morel outside in the moonlight after being struck by her husband. Indeed, that was perhaps the moment in Lawrence’s œuvre when this structure was first deployed, or discovered, as a central dynamic of the psyche.

8Even in this discursive context, Lawrence’s prose typically avoids complex analytic organisation in favour of short, absolute statements. And so, as an apparently summative statement, he declares the process of emotional decision “is strictly timeless and illogical.” Yet immediately after this comes a significant qualification: “Afterwards you can deduce the logical sequence and the time sequence, as historians do from the past. But in the happening, the logical and the time sequence do not exist.” Having apparently opposed the emotional to the logical Lawrence now suggests that this may be true only at the level of the experience, not of substance. There was logic in the decision itself, it seems, although it could not be arrived at by logical means and can only be seen as such in retrospect. Unless, perhaps, one is to read in a more ironic spirit his comment on the historians’ retrospective attribution of meaning: maybe this is only a rationalising illusion. But the tone does not seem to demand such an undercutting of the preceding claim: he seems to mean rather that emotional decisions, once they have been made, can, and perhaps must, also be brought to a level of rational consciousness and explanation. And indeed his own Movements in European History rather exemplifies this model. As its title already suggests, Lawrence’s history book typically ignores the conventional level of rational causality in the decisions and intentions of individual monarchs and statesmen in order to articulate a retrospective understanding of the largely unconscious and collective emotional processes underlying them. And similarly, on the micro level of the individual emotional decision, Lawrence holds what he calls logic and emotion in a mutual suspension. While the overall thrust of his argument is to keep them apart, the qualifying clauses keep them in a significant proximity.

9The doubleness of separation and connection is also evident in the relation to time. Lawrence associates logic and temporality here as if they were mutually implicating. Yet logic, though it may require sequentiality, “and therefore and therefore,” is not tied to a rhythmic temporality in the way that the process of emotional decision is shown to be. Logical recognition occurs irrespective of any specific timing and at the conclusion, or Euclidean QED, it exists rather as a spatialised, simultaneous structure in the mind. Lawrence’s asssociation of logic and time at this point arises rather from his earlier statement about Verga’s resistance to modernity: “Instinctively, he had come to hate the tyranny of a persistently logical sequence, or even a persistently chronological sequence. Time and the syllogism both seemed to represent the sophisticated falsehood and a sort of bullying, to him” (IR 172). Note that, without dissenting from the instinctive reaction, Lawrence attributes this intensely negative attitude to time and the syllogism only to Verga himself. Throughout the Introduction, Lawrence largely endorses Verga’s instinctive understanding while disparaging his more educated, self-conscious or willed cerebrations and these sentences sit ambiguously between the two judgements. They express the sudden repulsion of the mature Verga from modern social existence while Lawrence himself reserves a more labile sense of the mutuality of all these opposed categories. After all, in the definition of emotional decision as a process, temporality is of the essence although it is, of course, an internal temporality of the psyche not an imposed temporality of the clock. Hence both time and logic are ultimately essential to Lawrence’s account of emotional decision even as he holds them at a crucial distance from its enigmatic centre. Heisenbergian analogies come to mind here as the object escapes more precise observation by dissolving into a play of forces and it may be helpful at this point to pass to a specific narrative instance.

10One of the most striking moments of affective logic in Lawrence’s œuvre occurs in the story “The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter.” Mabel Pervin recovers consciousness by the fire after her rescue by Dr Fergusson from the pond in which she has just tried to drown herself. As she takes stock of her situation she is not initially pleased that her suicide attempt has been frustrated.

  • 4 England, my England, ed. Bruce Steele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres, 1990), 149.

Why did you? she asked.
Because I did not want you to do such a foolish thing,” he said.
It wasn’t foolish,” she said, still gazing at him as she lay on the floor, with a sofa cushion under her head. “It was the right thing to do. I knew best, then.”
I’ll go and shift these wet things,” he said. But still he had not the power to move out of her presence, until she sent him. It was as if she had the life of his body in her hands, and he could not extricate himself. Or perhaps he did not want to.
Suddenly she sat up. Then she became aware of her own immediate condition. She felt the blankets about her, she knew her own limbs. For a moment it seemed as if her reason were going. She looked around, with a wild eye, as if seeking something. He stood still with fear. She saw her clothing scattered.

Who undressed me?” she asked, her eyes resting full and inevitable on his face.
I did” he replied, “to bring you round.”
For some moments she sat and gazed at him awfully, her lips parted.

Do you love me then?” she asked.4

11The passage constitutes the crucial turning point in the story as Mabel turns from despair to relationship. Within the social culture in which she has lived all her life she would not expect to be seen naked by any man to whom she was not married. She has also lived in a household of rough masculinity and her immediate reaction to the vulnerability of being unclothed seems to be one of anger and panic. When she perceives that Fergusson is not a threat she makes an emotional and logical leap: “‘Do you love me then?’ she asked.” The leap is breath-taking because of its combination of arbitrariness and logical precision. If he has undressed her, he has taken the role of a husband, ergo, he loves her. The final “then” catches the double force of the emotional claim. At the personal level, it is hard to judge her tone. It could be anything from a tentatively dawning recognition to an aggressively rhetorical question. Functionally, however, it focuses an authority already embodied in her gaze and before which he feels powerless. As her eyes rest on him “full and inevitable,” the word “inevitable” has a multiple implication. Its immediate and literal meaning that he could not escape her look carries the larger implication of an emotional process in which he is caught, part fearfully and part willingly. While her use of the word “then” refers to the subjective logic of her conclusion, it draws its true authority from the emotional process that is now taking place between them. Hence, if her logic is only an illusion, it is no less forceful for being so. Her inner sense of logic focuses an intuitive emotional leap which we might not otherwise understand any more than she could. This effect is, of course, typical of characters’ speech throughout the story which constantly illuminates for us emotional states or turns even as the utterances as such notably fail to articulate them. Speech, often in a posture of common sense or rationality, typically stands in a secondary, or epi-phenomenal, relation to the emotional states which it seeks to express or understand. In the charged but ambivalent ending of the story, for example, we are told that “he answered, blindly.” The moment of commitment or recognition is always blind yet held within a self-generated structure of inevitability.

12This can also be seen, as was suggested by the Verga passage, in the subtle linkage of temporality and logic in the episode. A crucial structural feature of the story is that the moment of recovery by the fire reworks the experience of the near drowning and so just as Mabel has lost consciousness in the pond so she seems to lose her reason just before making her emotional and logical leap. And Lawrence emphasises the long pause that precedes her rhetorical question so that when she speaks we may read it as a retrospective attribution of logic to a decision made blindly. Moreover, there was already a hint at the possibility of such a shift in their earlier conversation and if the word “then” carries such a charge of emotional logic here it is suggestive that the last sentence Mabel utters before undergoing the internal process of her emotional turn also ends with this same word although used at that point in its purely temporal rather than logical sense: “I knew best, then.” Even as she challenged him, it seems, she was already placing the moment of her attempted suicide into the past and implicitly making room for a different present. But is it Lawrence or the genius of the language itself which is to be congratulated for the subtle and profound conjunction of meanings in the word “then”? Although usage distinguishes the logical and temporal senses of this word readily enough, the language brings them into the same semantic space so that we are constantly obliged to make the distinction. And sometimes, as in the following instance from Study of Thomas Hardy, it is hard to judge the relative weight of temporal or logical implication:

  • 5 Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, ed. Bruce Steele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 19 (...)

And physical love may fail utterly, may prove a sterility, a nothingness. Is a man then duped, and is his deepest desire a joke played on him?5

13The force of a generalising “therefore,” both oppressive and potentially liberating, merges with the isolation of an individual moment of emotionally charged recognition. The double reference in this least noticeable of words reflects how the emotional process embedded in temporality can take on, with a variety of implications, the weight of a logical necessity. The semantic blur in the word “then” images the relationship between these notional realms. In such ways, perhaps, language itself undermines the reified categories, such as reason and feeling, which it cannot help but impose. For anyone interested in the primordial function of narrative in human life it is notable that, whereas E. M. Forster begins his Aspects of the Novel by distinguishing the simple, primitive succession of the “story” from the complex causality of the “novel,” this word itself already hints at their underground connections.

14Both the above passages, then, the discursive account in the Verga essay and the narrative handling of the story, point to a subtle mutuality and interdependence between what we think of as the emotional and the reasoning faculties. They must be neither separated nor confounded. While neither is adequate by itself, the two cannot simply be added together. The crucial moment of emotional decision is an existential leap, beyond reason or calculation, even as it is also part of a larger process of reasoning from which it arises and into which it must be assimilated. If Pascal’s formula is revisited in a Lawrencean spirit, therefore, it would perhaps be to reinforce the latter half in a regulative, rather than a simply limiting, sense: “the heart has its reasons, which reason cannot know.” The reasons of the heart must be actively protected from rationalisation.

  • 6 Women in Love, ed. David Farmer, Lindeth Vasey and John Worthen, (Cambridge: Cambridge University P (...)

15This is also, of course, very suggestive as a way of understanding the creative process in so far as it is reflected in Lawrence’s comment on Women in Love as the “struggle for verbal consciousness.”6 The creative act is indeed a bringing into consciousness but only so far: for it is also an acknowledgement of what cannot be brought fully into consciousness. The weaker aspects of Women in Love, its moments of strained or empty emotional rhetoric, arise partly from Lawrence’s not sufficiently respecting this latter principle. And by the same token, of course, it is the important proprium of Lawrence’s work generally to educate the reader in this delicate negotiation and in that respect the widespread recent failure of the academy to appreciate his work reflects a larger cultural question about the nature of emotional education. No doubt this is a realm in which, despite previous achievement of the culture at large, every individual has to learn from scratch, yet there is also an overall loss when cultural memory fails. In respect of this question cultural amnesia goes further back and it is worth briefly taking a larger historical purview on the question of reason and feeling.

16The modern history of this question dates effectively from the eighteenth-century cult of sentiment which was an affective turn foundational to modernity. It was the first wave of an attempt to raise the value of the affective sphere to the extent of basing the moral life on feeling. In the mid-eighteenth century the word “sentiment” combined the meanings of general social or moral principle with that of individual feeling. It thereby encapsulated in its unstable semantics the analytic core of the optimistic Enlightenment myth of sentiment: that feeling had the effective value of moral principle while principle had the apodictic spontaneity of feeling. The simplistic attempt to fuse or identify these elements ran to seed in the exaggerated sensibility of the later eighteenth century, and the sentimentalist project was magisterially dismissed by Kant who declared that benevolence based on feeling could not in principle be counted as moral. Only an act done out of duty, and against personal inclination, could be known to be moral. Yet the underlying impulse of sentiment was importantly absorbed into European cultural understanding in a variety of transformations for which the novel was a major vehicle. On a more analytic plane, Friedrich Schiller’s The Aesthetic Education of Man (1795) is worth recalling for its close parallel to the Lawrence texts just examined.

17Schiller’s argument in the Aesthetic Education arose from his intensive reading of both Kant and Rousseau in whom, along with their powerful arguments, he saw the extreme expression of rival human possibilities both of which were highly ambivalent: at once necessary and dangerous. For Schiller, Rousseau’s passionate and poetical nature lacked aesthetic control so that he was rather the victim than the master of his own passions. Meanwhile Kant, with his formidable mind, was intellectually musclebound. In other words, through his reflection on their thought in relation to their personalities, Schiller enacted a double reversal of the sentimentalist project. Whereas sentimentalist ideology had sought to combine two goods, moral reason and individual feeling, Schiller saw both of these as necessary but ambivalent powers and rather than seek to combine them he saw that their mutual difference was crucial. On his model, the human is driven by two compulsions: as embodied creatures we must satisfy the appetital desires of the sensory life while as rational creatures we cannot escape the authority of reason. We may, of course, behave irrationally but we cannot avoid recognising that two and two make four, not five. Since for Schiller these two powers were necessary goods with destructive potential their mutual difference was vital in freeing us from the danger lurking in each if it ruled alone. Reason saves us from the compulsions of a purely animal existence while our sensory desires free us from the compulsion of reason. The resulting capacity for reflective freedom is what Schiller saw as the essential human property and he called it the aesthetic. It is important to note that the aesthetic for him is not a special property of artistic experience. It is a capacity that must have arisen at an early stage of human evolution as a pre-condition of a moral life while the importance of art in this conception is that it uniquely privileges and exercises this capacity. In ordinary existence we are beset with instrumental purposes and the process of free reflection on our values is constantly subsumed into specific goal-oriented decisions. But in art, as Kant put it, we experience purposiveness without purpose. With no instrumental purpose to be served, we freely reflect on the concentrated range of human possibilities in which, at the same time, we participate with emotional inwardness. In more formal, aesthetic terms Schiller worked out a relation between the formative drive to order and intelligibility on the one hand and the drive of passion and desire on the other.

18Schiller’s Aesthetic Education is, I believe, still one of the subtlest and most powerful accounts we have of the moral and emotional significance of artistic experience although he tends to be read through the distorting lens of a later aestheticism. Most significantly, his notion of the aesthetic, in not being confined to art, points us to the continuity between artistic and extra-artistic experience; as does the term “narrative.” This is the important connection with Lawrence whose formal sense was never reified in the Flaubertian/Joycean way as a value in itself. As an artist he always seeks to do as Mabel Pervin does: his gaze at the emotional object brings it to lawful intelligibility without intruding on its arbitrary and enigmatic nature. In the Verga Introduction, of course, he criticises modern writers of the Flaubertian school for their artistically willed imposition of form. Behind this conflict over the nature of form lies a deeper conflict of myths of feeling in modernity. What we might call the “Freudian” myth sees the life of feeling as a dangerous element to be sublimated and repressed. It is an essentially tragic sense of civilisation. By contrast, in the Nietzschean or Lawrencean conception, it is repression which turns the life of feeling into something dangerous. Tragedy for them is affirmative. Hence Lawrence’s constant attempt to deduce form from feeling.

19Historically speaking, the new valorisation of the affective realm that occurred in the eighteenth-century found its proper medium of development and exploration in the novel. In an intuitive, rather than in Schiller’s philosophically self-conscious way, the nineteenth-century novel became an imaginative, or aesthetic, form in Schiller’s sense, in contrast to the literalism that dominated the understanding and practice of both literary narrative and psychological process in the eighteenth-century literature of sentiment. Likewise, it was above all in his critical reading of European and American fiction that Lawrence learned the art of emotional understanding, learned, that is to say, that it is indeed partly an art of bringing, if not formal logic, then the logic of form into the right proximity with the life of feeling. And so with his own fiction, what we most value is his capacity to find, but not impose, a logic of the emotions.

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1 Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 285.

2 At the time of writing Donald Wesling has published Joys and Sorrows of Imaginary Persons, (Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 2008) with a survey of writing in this field.

3 Introductions and Reviews, ed. N. H. Reeve and John Worthen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 172. Hereafter IR.

4 England, my England, ed. Bruce Steele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres, 1990), 149.

5 Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, ed. Bruce Steele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 79. Hereafter STH.

6 Women in Love, ed. David Farmer, Lindeth Vasey and John Worthen, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 486.

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Michael Bell

University of Warwick, Coventry, UK

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