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“The Fallacy of Understanding”: D.H. Lawrence’s Emotional Logic in Fantasia of the Unconscious and Apocalypse

Divya Saksena
p. 123-152

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“Understanding is a fallacy and a vice in most people.
All we can have is wisdom […].
And wisdom is not a theory, it is a state of soul.”
(D. H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious)

1All his life, Lawrence wrote passionately against what he called the cerebralization of feeling. In Fantasia of the Unconscious, to convey his concept of the aesthetic as a “lapsing out” of the conscious self, he describes some of the ways in which selfhood and self-awareness may be damaged by utilitarian “understanding” in childhood: “The warm, swift, sensual self is steadily and persistently denied, damped, weakened throughout all the period of childhood. And by sensual […] we mean the more impulsive reckless nature” (117). Lawrence’s attempt is to show that much of the problem of our failing to experience what Paul Morel calls the “real, real flame of feeling” with anyone, arises out of a nihilistic impulse towards either utilitarian logic or pure, abstract “knowing.” It can stem from an excessive idealization of everything while perversely rejecting that idealization. Hence he argues in Fantasia that this idealization is a result of our over-rationalizing everything on a purely mental plane, in favor of a limited or unilateral perspective that appeals to us, thereby closing out our consideration of the possibilities of ugliness and aberration in the world, and denying us the possibilities of infinite potential.

2What Lawrence advocates is the secular, non-dogmatic yet strangely religious “wisdom of the soul” which is at once the source and the consequence of the true experience of beauty - that is, an emotional logic of knowledge through feeling rather than understanding. He acknowledges in Fantasia that his position is not devoid of difficulties: “The goal is not ideal. The aim is not mental consciousness. We want effectual human beings, not conscious ones. The final aim is not to know, but to be. There never was a more risky motto than that: Know thyself” (68). And in the same book he asserts, “Do not ask me to transfer the pre-mental dynamic knowledge into thought. It cannot be done. The knowledge that I am I can never be thought: only known” (34). In other words, selfhood can only be apprehended and achieved instinctively and intuitively, not arrived at through a progression of conscious thought or through the logical application of an intellectual process. Hence Miriam in Sons and Lovers and Gudrun in Women in Love can think and “ponder” and be active intellectually, but they cannot act upon their thoughts. Such people, Lawrence suggests, only have the reductive power of false knowledge that comes through excessive “thought” and cerebral or abstract “understanding.” They can be “conscious” but not “effectual” human beings.

3As his enormous volume of work bears witness, Lawrence fought against formulas all his life. Because he spoke out so vehemently, he was misinterpreted, marginalized and reviled for the greater part of that short life. Much of what he said went unheard or was suppressed by “intellectuals” of successive decades as dangerous, anarchical or simply unacceptable and problematic. Yet, much of what he wrote did survive and was indeed defended by his admirers. In his “Introduction” to the posthumously published Apocalypse, Richard Aldington says that Lawrence’s problem as a writer was to “put into words these feelings and perceptions which he believed to be independent of the conscious intellect” (xv). Aldington confirms in his “Introduction” to Lawrence’s posthumously published Apocalypse that:

what Lawrence had to give and wanted to give was a new way of feeling, living, and loving, and not a new way of thinking. You cannot put him into formulas […] I can feel, you can feel what he meant, but they are not things which can be pinned down with neat defining sentences. These things cannot be expressed except through images and symbols and the evocative descriptions at which Lawrence excelled. (Aldington: xiv)

  • 1 The ideas contained in Lawrence’s expository writings “tend to be coeval with their imaginative for (...)

4In this paper I attempt to recover Lawrence’s own articulation of his emotional logic, specifically from two of his finest expository works, Fantasia of the Unconscious and Apocalypse. In doing so I will examine how Lawrence was continually making out a case for what he called “the real, real flame of feeling” against the cerebralizing intellectual impetus of industrialization in modern society. It must be kept in mind that Lawrence wrote both these expository texts (along with Psychoanalysis of the Unconscious) after finishing Women in Love, and while he was working on Aaron’s Rod and the so-called “leadership” novels.1 However, as Daleski cautions, “In those [expository] writings, Lawrence clearly did not use the precise instruments of a philosopher, and it was only by embodying his ideas in the ‘pure passionate experience’ of his art that he could hope to establish their validity” (Daleski 19). Certainly, for Lawrence, his fiction (like his poetry, and later his painting) remained the primary vehicle for the expression of his artistic vision. In his expository texts, and particularly in Fantasia and the Phoenix essays, he makes the conscious effort to collate his concepts and attempt to define them in a philosophical terminology. Even for him to define a life lived by emotions (or “intuition” as he termed it) and defend it as logical is no simple task.

5In comparison with his fiction, Fantasia of the Unconscious and Apocalypse are relatively little known or read outside the field of scholarly Lawrentian studies. It becomes particularly valuable to return to these texts and read them as “signposts to a road which [Lawrence] finally traveled only in art,” since they offer insights into the concepts he sought to communicate through that art.

  • 2 Beauty, like all other qualities presented to human experience, is relative; and the definition of (...)

6For Lawrence, emotion and logic must inevitably work together and complete each other. Hence, while art must have more than an aesthetic purpose (that is, it must have a moral objective) it must not perpetuate the utilitarian standards imposed by a totalitarian state. In Apocalypse, he stresses the unfathomable nature of the “true symbol” which defies all explanation, so does the true myth. “Because symbol and myth do not affect us only mentally, they move the deep emotional centres every time.” This reflects Walter Pater’s position that the critic (and, for Lawrence, the writer) must not “attempt to define a universal law that would define beauty” but should instead seek the best means of conveying each “special manifestation of it.”2 The responsibility for realizing any “primary data” of experience resides in the individual person alone, and for Lawrence the responsibility for encouraging such realization rests specifically on the artist. Schiller too puts forward the view of the responsibility of the artist to bring together contradictions through the power of the creative imagination: “Let the artist endeavour to give birth to the ideal by the union of the possible and of the necessary” (Schiller 16). Indeed, for Lawrence morality is the obligation to face one’s life with integrity, even if the consequences of that confrontation may be tragic. As he observes in Touch and Go, “The essence of tragedy, which is creative crisis, is that a man should go through with his fate, and not dodge it and go bumping into an accident”(12). Part of that “creative crisis” is the failure to recognize and accept the illogicality of life experience. Daleski makes the point that for Lawrence this response to a creative crisis is usually in sensuous terms. This reinforces Lawrence’s statement that there must be an experience of passion and fulfillment, an object or a moment of true beauty, which can illuminate an entire life. This moment of spontaneous completeness, which can never be forgotten, is nearly always fleeting, arbitrary and brief. Yet its very existence establishes a bond between those who share it, that lasts even when the feeling is spent; to deny it is to “deny everything deep” in us just as Walter Morel, like Gerald Crich and Aaron later, “had denied the God in him” (82). Clearly the true knowledge, the ineffable, elevating and exhilarating wisdom of the soul attained through feeling, through receptivity to even the repellent aspects of life, is meant for those who can see with the insight to see beyond physical shortcomings—for those who can hear “another voice.”

Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922)

7Fantasia of the Unconscious represents Lawrence’s deliberate effort to set straight the record on his observations made in Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious. These he admits to be somewhat biased, even irresponsibly and “jeeringly” made. Again, it is unfortunate that while his novels and poems receive so much critical attention, his expository writings remain marginal or relegated to an almost secondary status in terms of critical importance. For it is here that Lawrence actually states the guiding principles, and philosophy, that shaped his life and his art, defiantly situating himself as an opponent of “mental understanding.” Even though he is by this time far removed from his days as a schoolteacher, Lawrence still considers education to be a primary objective of his work, and he is prepared to discuss at length his ideas on how education can lead to a true apprehension of the aesthetic experience. “We don’t want to educate children so that they understand,” he says. “Understanding is a fallacy and a vice in most people. I don’t even want my child to know, much less to understand […].” (92)

  • 3 Indeed Lawrence makes even the act of reading this book (or any book) an individual voluntary act o (...)

8In the “Introduction” to Fantasia Lawrence presents his concept of a “subjective science” as “the science which is as yet quite closed to us […] the science which proceeds in terms of life and is established on data of living experience and of sure intuition” (Fantasia 12). The use of the oxymoron “sure intuition” reinforces the essential dualism inherent in his concept. Hence, he attempts to comprehend, rather than transcend this dualism by referring back to the ancient “science in terms of life” that the modern world recalls “only in its half-forgotten, symbolic terms. More or less forgotten, as knowledge: remembered as ritual, gesture and myth-story.” (13). Therefore, like Schiller, Lawrence identifies twin, co-existent and opposite impulses in the desire for creativity. He calls these the religious (primary) motive and the sexual (secondary) motive, between which “there is a great conflict between the interests of the two, at all times” (18). Both have to be considered together, “like man and wife, or father and son” (18), in order to trace the source of artistic and aesthetic creativity in the individual human being. According to Lawrence, moreover, this inquiry begins with the acceptance of what we do not know, rather than with the enumerating of what we know. “The first business of every faith is to declare its ignorance” (20), and this maxim holds good for the aesthetic faith of the artist as well.3

9In the second and third chapters of Fantasia, “The Holy Family” and “Plexuses, Planes and so on,” Lawrence attempts to identify and define different types of will – as the mental, spiritual, psychical/intuitive, instinctive and physical. He emphasizes that all the different types must be brought together under a broad rubric of opposite categorization as “mental” versus “instinctive” consciousness. These opposites need to work together, not against or over one another, in order to achieve a harmonious, co-operative relationship within all realms/spheres of human life and activity. And the first step toward attaining this harmony begins with the establishing and acknowledging of each individual as unique:

The quality of individuality cannot be derived. The new individual, in his singleness of self, is a perfectly new whole.
He is not a permutation and combination of old elements transferred through the parents. No, he is something underived
and utterly unprecedented, unique, a new soul.

10This is not to say that an individual human being, like an individual work of art, does not contain the elements of its creators, the “father-germ and the mother-germ,” which retain their identities or are identifiable in the individual. However, he warns that “the moment the mystery of pure individual newness ceased to be enacted and fulfilled, the blood-stream would dry up and be finished. Mankind would die out” (31-32). In other words, if all that could be achieved by mankind was endless repetition or imitation (“cloning” so to speak), based on rationale alone, the impulse to create would die out. The true emotional logic depends upon the promise of renewed individuality to exist and to create.

  • 4 In chapter 4, “Trees and Babies and Papas and Mamas” Lawrence uses the analogy of the tree to open (...)
  • 5 He continues: “All depends, first, on the unknown inward need within the very nuclear centres of th (...)

11An all-encompassing awareness is the foundation and the source of a true understanding of the beautiful.4 So Lawrence considers the emotional logic of confronting the unknown and the unknowable. For instance, trees, for Lawrence, are a symbol of the “savage”, the “preconscious” and the “sacred” elements in beauty. They also emanate a sense of “profound indifference,” particularly towards events in the human world. They are “altars” of “primeval individuality” on which “You can sacrifice the whole of your spirituality[…] But they will live you down” (46) because they possess a vastness of life that art shares in, but which eludes human categorization and definition. Lawrence reiterates the importance of “individual human integrity” which he regards as the basis of emotional logic that leads to true education and he deplores the persistent lack of balance in different aspects of identity: “We either love too much, or impose our will too much, are too spiritual or too sensual. There is not and cannot be any actual norm of human conduct. (47).5

12Those who support collective consciousness and advocate the control of vast numbers of humans via the eradication/submersion of their individual humanity into the anonymity of an amorphous “swarm,” he acknowledges, will certainly decry and oppose his plea for individuality. Such mass manipulators, he laments, are only too obviously dominant in modern society.

  • 6 Lawrence’s point is that no single individual can always know what is good for everybody else at al (...)

13A true emotional logic implies for Lawrence a responsibility to oneself and for one’s own actions, an adherence to one’s own integrity. It requires the courage to withstand indoctrination and regimentation and to resist abdication of one’s autonomy of decision. It also implies the capacity to let go, and to let others be themselves by relinquishing moral and intellectual control over other individuals. From this courage of integrity derives the wisdom that Lawrence venerates as emanating from the soul—the instinctive knowledge that an individual can rely upon for guidance in emotional or psychological crisis. Therefore, he takes a position against the desire of humanity to set up ideals and to pursue those ideals relentlessly to the extent of forcibly imposing them upon succeeding generations. This, for Lawrence, becomes the extreme limit of bullying: “ a desire to superimpose my own will upon another person” (52). He goes on to describe different kinds of bullying, of which he says the “sensual” or physical type is easy to detect. However the more dangerous and less recognizable type is “ideal bullying” which he defines as “Bullying people into what is ideally good for them. I embrace for example an ideal, and I seek to enact this ideal in the person of another” (52). Lawrence does not deny the value of personal ideals. What he opposes is the imposition of one person’s ideals upon another person who may have ideas (or ideals) of his/her own. This, he feels, leads to the enforced suppression of the natural growth and development of an individual human personality, a process that he sees as beginning with the mother-love control experienced in childhood and which he finds to be intolerable (52).6 And so at the end of chapter 4 Lawrence articulates his major definition of wisdom as he desires it for all: it is not astuteness, intelligence, awareness, understanding, or any of the synonymous terms offered by a learned thesaurus. Instead,

wisdom is not a theory, it is a state of soul. It is the state wherein we know our wholeness and the complicate, manifold nature of our being […and] the great relations which exist between us and our near ones. And it is the state which accepts full responsibility, first for our own souls, and then for the living dynamic relations wherein we have our being. It is no use expecting the other person to know. Each must know for himself. (53)

14The logic of wisdom emanates from the emotional core of the individual. Thus wisdom and correspondingly beauty rest in the “living dynamic relations” each person establishes in the world around him/her, and not in the dead or outmoded ideals of a static social group. However, Lawrence laments that this kind of wisdom is being submerged in the verbally slick, “feel-good” politically correct wisdom of modern society: “But nowadays men have even a stunt of pretending that children and idiots alone know best. This is a pretty piece of sophistry, and a criminal cowardice, trying to dodge the life-responsibility which no man or woman can dodge without disaster” (53).

  • 7 In chapter 5 of Fantasia, “The Five Senses,” Lawrence takes up the themes of the material world and (...)

15However, if wisdom for Lawrence is a logical and crucial accompaniment to an emotional response to the beautiful, it is also an experience arising from the immense depths of one’s aesthetic response to the world, resulting in a courage that comes from personal conviction. Such wisdom, like the emotions that accompany a true aesthetic experience, usually remains silent because it cannot be easily articulated or communicated: “The great emotions like love are unspoken. Speaking them is a sign of an indecent bullying will” (54). From this wisdom there comes a spontaneous sense of morality, an intuitive knowledge of what is right or wrong for oneself. As Lawrence puts it: “Morality is a delicate act of adjustment on the soul’s part, not a rule or a prescription”(54). It should not be blindly implemented as a standard of perfection, in a communal manner, regardless of the subtle differences between individuals and between different sets of circumstances and conditions.7

  • 8 Education, as inherited through the British public school system that Lawrence disliked so much, ac (...)

16Chapter 6 is entitled “First Glimmerings of Mind” and constitutes Lawrence’s detailed analysis of the meaning and “true goal” of education as “the full and harmonious development of […] consciousness, always with regard to the individual nature of the child” (68). The modern system of education is at fault because it devises and imposes a limited intellectual education, suppressing the spontaneous impulse towards wisdom and operating by a crude and relentless application of limited formulas to the great questions of life. In short, Lawrence considers the modern system of education as a forcing of growth at the cost of an individual’s natural and spontaneous development—“at the expense of life itself.” The result is stunted growth or distorted development and an incapacitation in achieving one’s full potential. It has become “the leading forth of the primary consciousness, the potential or dynamic consciousness, into mental consciousness, which is finite and static” (69-70). Intuition, wherein resides man’s capacity to respond spontaneously to beauty, intuition that is indeed the defining characteristic of being human and the basis for infinite possibilities of human imagination and achievement becomes subjugated to the limited, mundane and “static” realm of fixed communal ideas and mass regimentation.8

17For a true logic of emotion to exist and operate, education like art must resist finality and closure, because “the nearer a conception comes towards finality, the nearer does the dynamic relation, out of which this concept has arisen, draw to a close. To know is to lose” (71-72). Thus, for Lawrence, although “knowledge and death are part of our natural development,” (72), any knowledge that imposes finality is by implication a leading into death. Only as long as the dynamic interactions between the individual and the world of sensual experience remain open-ended and ongoing does life continue:

[…] When I have a finished mental concept of a beloved, or a friend, then the love and the friendship is dead. It falls to the level of an acquaintance. As soon as I have a finished mental conception, a full idea even of myself, then dynamically I am dead. To know is to die. (72)

18To be truly alive there must remain for man an area of the unknown still to be revealed. Life, and humanity and art are all valuable as long as there is something still to be learned about them of from them, as long as there is one more level of beauty, or its opposite, to be discovered, unveiled and pondered over. The truly emotional logic is self-renewing, self-perpetuating. Lawrence asserts that this never-ending experience depends on the continual establishing of newer points of sensual contact between the individual and the object, because

Wherever [such] a pure circuit is established, there occurs a pure development in the individual creation, and this is inevitably accompanied by sensation; and sensation is the first term of mental knowledge. (73)

19The mind has to depend upon sensory contact to formulate and develop its idea of an object or experience. Without this sensory information, the mind remains inert, inactive and bound by limitations because

[…] All our active desire, our genuine impulse, our love, our hope, our yearning, everything originates mysteriously at [the] four great [nerve] centres or wellheads of our existence: everything vital and dynamic. The mind can only register that which results from the emanation of the dynamic impulse and the collision or communion of this impulse with its object. (76)

  • 9 As he makes Birkin tell Ursula in Women in Love, learning not-to-be is the secret of learning to be (...)

20Therefore, a finite, definitive knowledge of anything is impossible, for “now we see that we can never know ourselves” (76) completely. Even those who have access to some indefinable knowledge beyond that of the mass of humanity—those aesthetically situated “in wisdom like Solomon, are often at the end of the matter of living, not at the beginning” (76). That is to say, those with access to a more “complete” knowledge, akin but not equal to wisdom, are actually closer to death, because their journey of discovery is nearing its end. To be alive, for Lawrence, is to be always willing to look at an object or experience again and again, each time from a fresh and unprecedented perspective. Knowledge based on mental consciousness remains limited and often static; on the other hand wisdom, as Lawrence defines it, continually finds new vistas to explore, constantly discovering what is not known, as against what is known.9

  • 10 In chapter 7 “First Steps in Education” and chapter 8 “Education and Sex in Man, Woman and Child” L (...)

21Lawrence leaves it to progressively self-responsible, “higher classes” to interpret symbols that “must be true from top to bottom” throughout all levels of society. He leaves open the possibilities for humans to ascend or descend from one level of aesthetic responsibility to another, on their own volition. Leadership becomes a matter of inclusion, not exclusion, of an ever-increasing capacity for responsibility. In closing his argument in chapter 6, Lawrence makes a strong statement against the mechanization or mentalization of education by the forcible imposing of rules and routines, which destroy (or at the very least, suppress) the “dynamic” intuitive consciousness with “extraneous” and superficial ideas. This leads to knowledge of temporary or limited value as against “wisdom of the soul” because only the mind is stimulated by having facts “pumped into it.” Hence Lawrence’s appeal is for an education based on emotional logic that will stimulate the senses as well as the mind. No single direction in the process of learning can alone achieve a true wisdom or bring about liberation from ephemeral mortal, limited concerns. To this end, Lawrence advocates a “dynamic” rather than a “static” or “automatic” way of living and responding to the world around us.10

22Therefore where Lawrence considers modern society to have failed most dismally is in its insistence on a mental, rather than an intuitive absorption of information and experience. This he calls our “parrot-compulsion” to force humanity into “a set of mental tricks” (82) from early childhood. The consequence, according to him, is that modern society consists of “so many inferior Don Quixotes, to make a mess of life. All that they have learnt in their heads has no reference at all to their dynamic souls.(82). Cerebral drilling or rote training on a purely mental level, that is, has no connection to the deeper aesthetic capability that Lawrence sees as a characteristic of the human. In time this becomes negated and deactivated in most humans, who remain engrossed either “in one mad chase of the divine” (82) to evade the inevitable boredom that accompanies frustration, or “grind out their lives for a wage” (82). Lawrence speaks here for those caught in the rat-race of industrialized society where ideals are established by the media and other vested interests that aim at creating an ideal concept or mental picture for people to strive after. Since they seek neither true emotion nor pure logic, they attain merely an ever-increasing dissatisfaction with each material state that they pass through because

[…] to continue to put into dynamic effect an already perfected idea means the nullification of all living activity, the substitution of mechanism, and all the resultant horrors of ennui, ecstasy, neurasthenia, and a collapsing psyche. (83)

  • 11 Lawrence is particularly vicious in his castigation of the modern insistence on the equality of all (...)

23Needless to say this state is also sterile, barren and eventually fatal, and destructive of life.11

24Lawrence’s concern is that aberrations and distortions of personality and psychology will be the inevitable consequences of an education that denies the logic of emotion and forces individuals into pre-determined molds or casts of ideals. Therefore he argues for a reinstatement of the instinctive way of knowing and learning rather than the intellectual mode that leads to artificiality and pretense. Not everybody is interested in, or even in need of knowing everything; most would rather learn skills and facts that would assist them in their chosen or allotted way of life. All individuals may have a philosophy of their lives, but all are not necessarily philosophers by nature. Certainly some are by instinct more aesthetically responsive than others. All should be allowed the opportunity to discover and develop their own capabilities. Thus, Lawrence reminds us that “It is not the nature of most men to know and to understand and to reason very far [...] Those whose nature it is to be rational will instinctively ask why and wherefore, and wrestle with themselves for an answer” (84). This is to say, modern education relays facts that are the discoveries of others, and in its reliance of these facts it diminishes and ultimately destroys the individual’s urge to discover anything for himself. As everything is clarified through facts and the application of intellect alone, and all knowledge is neatly packaged “in a nutshell,” an individual’s instinct towards experiencing the unknown and the mysterious becomes gradually eroded. Instead of being capable of independently arriving at a response or conclusion, s/he looks to external sources for answers, and becomes reduced to parroting the ideal concepts that rote training has imposed. Lawrence argues that this leads to a false confidence in one’s own abilities and eventually to a stasis in human development. Therefore, it is vital that one must rely on one’s own instinctive responses and test out the ideas derived from those responses in the real world of experience. Instead, modern educators instill an idea, like the idea of equality, that “has no foundation in experience, but is logically deduced from certain ethical or philosophical principles” (85). The disastrous consequence of such drilling is that

[…] Your man is no longer a man, living his own life from his own spontaneous centres. He is a theoretic imbecile trying to frustrate and dislocate all life. (85)

25Equality, as it is interpreted by modern educators, is a theoretical, not an actual condition. The dangers of this excessive imposition of theory apply especially to human feelings and emotions or, as Lawrence calls them, “passions and desires.” If people live according to taught, idealized, mental concepts of what they should desire and how they should be passionate about it, then they are living sterile and barren lives, because “ The passions or desires which are thought-born are deadly. Any particular mode of passion or desire which receives an exclusive ideal sanction at once becomes poisonous” (85).

  • 12 Lawrence thus squarely blames modern education for the frustration and distortion of the aesthetic (...)

26According to Lawrence, then, an individual human being’s life should be lived from the deep, self-responsible core of his or her being, not according to superficial ideas imposed from the outside, by an external authority. When our natural instincts and capacity for spontaneous action become sublimated into our conscious ideas and conceptual ideals, we are “bound to experiment and try one idea after another” (85). Even passion and desire become mental ideals in us. We end up by getting “our sex in our head” and the most basic, natural sensual attraction becomes a mental experiment, “to the rage and horror” (85) of both men and women.12

27At the close of chapter 7 Lawrence returns to the theme of responsible leadership that he has already touched upon in the previous chapter and that is his main preoccupation in Aaron’s Rod and The Plumed Serpent. He affirms that there is an urgent need for “genuine action” that can be “all kinds of action” instead of the present “awful, unhealthy craving for stimulus” and unilaterally controlled “mental activity” (87). Hence there is also an imperative need for leaders who can define and identify this genuine action for the common mass of humanity. Communal mass development is to be rejected because it operates on the principle of automation, on “the repulsive machine quality of machine-made things […that] smell of death” (89). It is the principle that George Orwell depicts in the mass-oriented “Newspeak” and constant surveillance of the individual in 1984. Only “the few, few people in whom the living impulse and reaction develops and sublimates into mental consciousness”(84) can become the leaders among men. Under such men, Lawrence asserts, “The mass of the people will never mentally understand. But they will soon instinctively fall into line” (87). He closes the chapter with the demand that Rawdon Lilly makes at the close of Aaron’s Rod, the demand for the general populace to free itself from “the hateful incubus of responsibility for general affairs” (88). It is a difficult and controversial position that Lawrence tries to define here, and has been often interpreted as his flirtation with the tenets of Fascism. Such criticism however ignores or overlooks Lawrence’s repeated insistence here, and in the last pages of Aaron’s Rod, on the ability of the mass of humanity to instinctively recognize and submit to a natural leader. Here, if it may be termed as such, is his political agenda, in terms reminiscent of Plato’s Republic:

[…] Let the few, the leaders, be increasingly responsible for the whole. And let the mass be free: free, save for the choice of leaders […]. But men must be prepared to obey, body and soul once they have chosen the leader. And let them choose the leader for life’s sake only. (88)

  • 13 As he concludes in chapter 15 of Fantasia, “it must be a system of culminating aristocracy, society (...)
  • 14 As he declares at the beginning of chapter 8 “Education and Sex in Man, Woman and Child” the modern (...)

28Always, Lawrence’s focus is on life and his interest is not so much in enunciating a political or social agenda as in defining the quality of life that can be available to the mass of humanity. Thus he calls for a hierarchy of leadership deriving from the increasing capacity for aesthetic appreciation of sensory experience.13 This in turn makes for progressive levels of increasing capability for assuming responsibility for the routines of social activity that Lawrence dismisses as “general affairs.” For it is the freedom of every individual in a society to independently develop whatever natural aesthetic capability s/he possesses, that is important to him.14

  • 15 Clearly situating himself against capitalists, Fascists and Communists alike, all of whom, for him, (...)
  • 16 Therefore he asks for a division of responsibility for human social affairs between the different l (...)

29Therefore, Lawrence makes an impassioned appeal for the rejection of abstract ideas in favor of real individual that is firmly rooted in the physical world. To this end he rejects the leadership of ideas and, much like Schiller, reposes his faith in the aesthetic leadership of the artist.15 Indeed he appears more in consonance with the Kantian concept of a leadership “collective,” where “every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends.” (Kant 43). It was a concept put into practice by M.K. Gandhi in India’s independence movement, and echoed in the idealism of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems of the same period, such as “Where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high.” Lawrence too, rejects pure abstractions that are, after all, excessively refined, sterile mental ideas, and extreme positions in any line of thought. The natural competence for achieving and maintaining a balance between “knowledge,” “understanding” and wisdom is found only in the artist. For him, it follows that the natural capacity for leadership also resides in the aesthetically capable individual who can operate through emotional logic.16 Clearly, in making such a commitment, Lawrence is not only situating himself against ideas and theories that, imposed upon ordinary people, turn the living individual into an automaton or abstraction. He is, indeed, situating himself on the side of the “fullness of life” itself, a fullness that comes only through the acknowledgement and acceptance of a logic based on emotion rather than intellect.

30Hence, for Lawrence, out of “all the wild storms of anxiety and frenzy” comes our realization that “It isn’t our business to live anybody’s life, or to die anybody’s death, except our own. Nor to save anybody’s soul, nor to put anybody in the right […]” (148). Our responsibility is to ourselves, and for ourselves, alone, and it is a goal difficult enough to achieve. Like his contemporaries, Lawrence too affirms the modernist imperative of combating the fragmentation of the human persona by withdrawing from, and ignoring the “false, fine frenzy of the seething world. To turn away, now, each one into the stillness and solitude of his own soul” (148). Here is his equivalent of Eliot’s poetic “still point in a turning world” with the difference that Lawrence deploys the philosopher’s method of logic and definition to arrive at this conclusion. As he affirms again and again, in his definition of the aesthetic principle,

[…] It is life we have to live by, not machines and ideals. And life means nothing else, even, but the spontaneous living soul which is our central reality. The spontaneous, living, individual soul, this is the clue, and the only clue. All the rest is derived. (152)

  • 17 Lawrence closes Fantasia with chapter 14 “Sleep and Dreams” and chapter 15 “The Lower Self” which, (...)

31It is by following this “clue” that we arrive at “the very centre” of the maze of the contradictions of personality and human life, “there to be filled with a new strange stability, polarized in unfathomable richness” (149) that is the gift and the reward of the truly emotional logic.17 Looking back to Birkin’s philosophy in Women in Love then, learning “not-to-be” is as important as learning to be or to become something. Light is to be apprehended in terms of darkness, as life can be known only through the experience of extinction. Lawrence can state his philosophy in no unequivocal terms, but not dictate a response. Yet, characteristically, his final urging to his reader is a call to leave off fence-sitting, “temporizing,” and to make a decisive effort towards what he calls “genuine action,” towards implementing our capacity for emotional logic in the real world.

Apocalypse (1931)

32In Apocalypse, the last piece of long non-fiction writing that he completed before his death, Lawrence, as Aldington says, insists upon and speaks for a life of feeling, rather than of thinking or knowing. Thus, in Apocalypse he explains this by defining what for him is the difference between allegory and symbol, and what their effect is on the reader:

[…] Allegory can always be explained: and explained away. The true symbol defies all explanation, so does the true myth. You can give meanings to either—you will never explain them away. Because symbol and myth do not affect us only mentally, they move the deep emotional centres every time. The great quality of the mind is finality. The mind “understands” and there’s an end to it.

33And as he explains, factual knowledge must inevitably be partial, limited, incomplete because all truth can never be intellectually known, only intuitively grasped:

But the emotional consciousness of man has a life and movement quite different from the mental consciousness. The mind knows in part, in part and parcel, with full stop after every sentence. But the emotional soul knows in full, like a river or a flood. For example, the symbol of the dragon […] Or take better still the Egyptian symbol called the ankh, the symbol of life etc., which the goddesses hold in their hands. Any child “knows” what it “means.” But a man who is really alive feels his soul begin to throb and expand at the mere sight of the symbol. Modern men, however, are nearly all half-dead, modern women too. So they just look at the ankh and know all about it, and that’s that. They are proud of their own emotional impotence. (115-116 )

  • 18 Lawrence also reiterates his belief that: “Thought-forms are thought-forms, they do not make life. (...)

34Lawrence goes further and perceives this “emotional impotence” as a peculiar phenomenon of modern society that emanates from an excessive intellectualization of knowledge. He considers the use of allegory in literature, and especially in poetry, as yet another manifestation of the reductive bullying mental will that reduces living human beings to mere two-dimensional representations of idealized human qualities. This he says is the reason for his personal turning away from poets like Spenser, because “[…] A man is more than mere Faithfulness and Truth, and when people are merely personifications of qualities they cease to be people for me. (6).18 The whole, and not any part(s) of it, has to be embraced for an true experience of aesthetic value which may become the medium through which we may know others and, eventually, the cosmic and moral dimensions of our own selves

35Particularly in Chapter 6 of Apocalypse Lawrence makes a case for the emotional logic of the ancient civilizations as against the linear progressive concepts of modern western societies. He sees a subterranean fear of the logic of emotion in the modern world’s insistence upon factual and intellectual categorizations in the name of clarity and scientific thought. He calls this “Urdummheit” conflicted with “Neufrechheit”

But why the scientific fear? Why should science betray its fear in a phrase Like Urdummheit? We look at the wonderful remains of Egypt, Babylon, Assyria,Persia, and old India, and we repeat to ourselves:
! Urdummheit? We look at the Etruscan tombs and ask ourselves again, Urdummheit? Primal stupidity! Why, in the oldest peoples, in the Egyptian friezes and the Assyrian, in the Etruscan paintings and the Hindu carvings we see a splendor, a beauty, and very often a joyous, sensitive intelligence which is certainly lost in our world of Neufrechheit. If it is a question of primal stupidity or new impudence, then give me primal stupidity. (Apocalypse: 43)

  • 19 Chopra, Deepak. The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence (...)
  • 20 Millan, Cesar. Be the Pack Leader. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007. Millan quotes from his own (...)

36He relates this fear to the difference in time concepts, (54) as linear versus cyclical time where paradoxically the repetitive cycles of time, life and experience prove more liberating of the individual soul than the linear idea of a time continuum from a conceptual beginning towards an unknown/ unknowable end: “One cycle finished, we can drop or rise to another level, and be in a new world at once. But by our time-continuum method, we have to trail wearily over another ridge” (54). Human intent paradoxically limits and liberates through the interplay of emotions and logic. Would Lawrence have been interested in the modern-day popularity of intent-based self-help techniques? Probably. The contemporary self-healing advocate Deepak Chopra, who employs Vedic and Ayurvedic meditation techniques, observes that “Intent orchestrates all the creativity in the universe[….] And we, as human beings, are capable of creating positive changes in our lives through intent.”19 (Chopra 114-115). Another television celebrity, the “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan confirms the power of intuition and intention in his work of rehabilitating dysfunctional humans and animals.20

37Millan states,

The key, say the experts, is to be willing to get rid of our ego—the “I” that tries to oversee and shape the process from a selfish point of view. If someone who is trying to walk over hot coals suddenly lets her rational mind say to her, “This defies the laws of physics—what if it doesn’t work and I get hurt?” in the middle of the process, she sabotages her intention and ends up burning her feet. (213)

38For Lawrence, too, logical intent, and the emotional power of independent human thought remain vital to creativity and life. In his rewriting of the Book of Revelation, Lawrence’s concentration remains as always on the ineradicable human element that he regards as vital and real, because it exists in the here and now. Rather than concern himself about a promised celestial world or eternal life that may or may not occur, his plea is to focus on the valuable time that man has on earth, and the opportunities for aesthetic wisdom that exist in temporal, bodily life. In a sense, although Apocalypse is his last full-length completed work, it is, as Aldington notes, not the work of a dying man, but almost illogically the most emotional statement of a dying man intensely alive to the end.

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1 The ideas contained in Lawrence’s expository writings “tend to be coeval with their imaginative formulation, and often to precede it.”(Daleski 19).

2 Beauty, like all other qualities presented to human experience, is relative; and the definition of it becomes unmeaning and useless in proportion to its abstractness[…].One must realize such primary data for one’s self, or not at all. (NAEL 2 1638)

3 Indeed Lawrence makes even the act of reading this book (or any book) an individual voluntary act on the part of every reader. As he asserts at the close of chapter 2 of Fantasia, “remember, dear reader, that there is not the slightest need for you to believe me, or even read me. Remember, it’s just your own affair. Don’t implicate me” (33). Believing, accepting, or rejecting a writer’s philosophy too must be on an aesthetic plane, and must come from within a reader’s own individual consciousness, and each reader must take responsibility for his/her choice. Lawrence as author here refuses to be “implicated” in these decisions. He is merely putting forward his thoughts; beyond that, it is up to the individual reader.

4 In chapter 4, “Trees and Babies and Papas and Mamas” Lawrence uses the analogy of the tree to open his discussion of the aesthetic sensibility. A tree, he says, cannot be looked at and known. One has to enter into the totality of its existence, “sit among the roots and nestle against its strong trunk, and not bother,” (43) in order to approach it. The keyword for Lawrence in this kind of comprehending is “Naturally”: This marvelous vast individual without a face, without lips/or eyes or heart. This towering creature that never had a face…/he turns two ways: he thrusts himself tremendously down to/the middle earth, where dead men sink in darkness, in the /damp, dense undersoil; and he turns himself about in high air;/whereas we have eyes on one side of our head only, and only/grow upwards. (43-44) The possession of eyes suggests the facility to categorize, calibrate and to fragment what is seen into sections and sectors. Metaphorically also, the “inner eye” suggests the way the brain can superimpose images of its own making upon what the physical eye looks at. The tree however, as Lawrence describes it, has no eyes, and therefore no sectored vision. It grows in different directions “naturally,” unconsciously and by instinct. For Lawrence, such a “blind” intuition is immensely preferable to the limited linear eyesight of ‘seeing’ creatures. The tree, then, is “vast and powerful and exultant in his two directions[…] only a huge, savage, thoughtless soul” (44). Such vastness and power is what Lawrence too desires for the human world, with knowledge coming from the depths of the soul instead of from the superficiality of sight.

5 He continues: “All depends, first, on the unknown inward need within the very nuclear centres of the individual himself, and secondly on his circumstance[…].No man can be anything more than just himself, in genuine living relation to all his surroundings. But that which I am, when I am myself, will certainly be anathema to those who hate individual integrity, and want to swarm.” (47).

6 Lawrence’s point is that no single individual can always know what is good for everybody else at all times. Later in the book, and also in Apocalypse, he talks about the difficulties of leadership and how a leader becomes limited and ineffective when his ideas are embraced unquestioningly by the public as unshakeable, permanent ideals. Accordingly, he says, a more effective leadership comes from negation rather than assertion of knowledge, from acceptance rather than denial of ignorance.

7 In chapter 5 of Fantasia, “The Five Senses,” Lawrence takes up the themes of the material world and the five senses as they relate to aesthetic experience. In particular, his concern is with the eye, and the quality of vision. He differentiates between different kinds of eyes, human and non-human. Then, in the animal category he differentiates between the eyes of the cow and the horse. Both are situated in what he terms the “sympathetic mode” of vision. However, the cow’s eye is “soft, velvety, receptive” (64); through it “She goes forth from herself in wonder” (64) relying on her “passion” in her “breast” to guide her. In contrast, Lawrence says, the horse’s eye is “bright and glancing,” “cautious,” “aggressive” (65) and more reliant on his material senses rather than his intuition. “The root of his vision is in his belly” (65). In predatory animals, vision is narrowed down to one sense only—of scent and of “the object of prey” (65). In such animals, as in primitive levels of human civilization, sight is “exclusive” of experience rather than inclusive. It blinds out objects that are extraneous to the material needs of the body, and limits the potential for growth of vision and horizons, “apprehending only that which has direct reference” (64) to immediate personal needs. Extending this idea to the modern human world, Lawrence asserts that we too tend to have a limited or unitary vision: […]” We see too much, we attend too much[…]. And we strain ourselves to see, see, see—everything, everything through the eye, in one mode of objective curiosity. (65)

8 Education, as inherited through the British public school system that Lawrence disliked so much, actually becomes a vehicle for fragmentation, first of society (into schools, classes, sections, houses), and then of individuals who not only compete against their fellows in a class but also make a study of different divisions of knowledge by subject and by levels of competence and intensity. As Lawrence himself images in his poem “Last Lesson of the Afternoon” (“When will the bell ring and end this weariness?) this fragmentation makes the learning process not an exciting journey into the unknown but a wearisome drudgery for pupils and for teachers. Moreover, a teacher controls and manipulates pupils by fragmenting the material of study into class periods, lessons, exams and so on until the acquisition of knowledge is reduced to a systematic demolition and ingestion of a curriculum of facts.

9 As he makes Birkin tell Ursula in Women in Love, learning not-to-be is the secret of learning to be something or somebody. Here in Fantasia he draws parallels between knowledge, education and the painting of the portrait of a parent or ancestor: “The portrait of the parent can never be quite completed in the mind of the son or daughter. As long as time lasts it must be left unfinished” (71). Aesthetic wisdom arises out of our learning not-to-know: […]The supreme lesson of human consciousness is to learn/how not to know. That is, how not to interfere. That is how/to live dynamically, from the great Source [of the unknown],/and not statically, like machines driven by ideas and principles/from the head, or automatically, from one fixed desire. (76)

10 In chapter 7 “First Steps in Education” and chapter 8 “Education and Sex in Man, Woman and Child” Lawrence continues his enunciation of the essential failure of modern education to achieve true aesthetic apprehending of experience. The main reason for this failure he regards as the insistence of modern society upon “emotional reciprocity” (79) and the suffocation of individual spontaneity under the weight of an externally imposed mass consciousness.

11 Lawrence is particularly vicious in his castigation of the modern insistence on the equality of all individuals in terms of aesthetic capability, which he also regards as a failure of modern society as a whole. He specially attacks the enforcing, through education, of a mass consciousness in terms of the results of that education—the concept that all individuals being equal and receiving an equal education must also produce similar or equal results in performance and patterns of behavior. It is this equality of expectation from essentially dissimilar individuals that Lawrence opposes. Perhaps he stands in danger of overstating his bias when he demands “Why should we cram the mind of a child with facts that have nothing to do with his own experiences and have no relation to his own dynamic activity?” (84). However this excess may come from his position that the very point of being an individual is to be unique and different from all other individuals: [...] There are all kinds of trees in the forest. But few of them/indeed bear the apples of knowledge. The modern world/insists, however, that every individual shall bear the apples/of knowledge. So we go through the forest of mankind, cut/back every tree, and try to graft it into an apple tree. A nice/wood of monsters we make by so doing. (84)

12 Lawrence thus squarely blames modern education for the frustration and distortion of the aesthetic capability. As he depicts again and again through his creation of characters like Miriam Leivers, Gertrude Morel, Lady Franks, the Marchesa, Hermione Roddice, Gudrun Brangwen and Diana Crich, he regards this as especially affecting modern women. Each of these women simply “can’t stop having an idea of herself” so that, like her real-life counterparts/[…] there she is, functioning away from her own head and/her own consciousness of herself and her own automatic/self-will, till the whole man and woman game has become/just a hell, and men with any backbone would rather kill/themselves than go on with it—or kill somebody else. (86) The natural, spontaneous attraction between men and women, that Lawrence sees as a manifestation of the natural aesthetic response to beauty, becomes reduced to a “functioning from the head.” Preconceived ideals about love, passion and desire are superimposed mechanically and individuals then attempt to squeeze themselves into those predetermined molds. The inevitable and unenviable consequence will be distortion and conflict and disharmony instead of creative and fulfilling love.

13 As he concludes in chapter 15 of Fantasia, “it must be a system of culminating aristocracy, society tapering like a pyramid to the supreme leader” (182).

14 As he declares at the beginning of chapter 8 “Education and Sex in Man, Woman and Child” the modern method of imposing ideals of equal understanding and equal capacity for aesthetic response, gives people “a sort of slick finesse” or superficial gloss of “understanding” that can impress others temporarily. All too often, this “ends in the great “unrest” of a nervous, hysterical proletariat” (89), in the kind of empty, mechanically repetitive patterns of social activities that Eliot describes in “The Hollow Men”and at length in The Waste Land.

15 Clearly situating himself against capitalists, Fascists and Communists alike, all of whom, for him, have betrayed the ordinary man and woman, he considers that/[…]/Our leaders have not loved men: they have loved ideas, and/have been willing to sacrifice passionate men on the altars of /the blood-drinking, ever-ash-thirsty ideal. Has President Wilson, /or Karl Marx, or Bernard Shaw ever felt one hot blood-pulse of /love for the […] half-conscious, deluded working man? Never. /Each of these leaders has wanted to abstract him away from his/own blood and being into some foul Methuselah or abstraction/of a man. (115)

16 Therefore he asks for a division of responsibility for human social affairs between the different levels of aesthetic competence found in the working man and the artist and variously in the different strata of humanity that exist between them. The artist alone should assume “the responsibility for the future […] for thought, for direction” (115). Speaking for the artist Lawrence concludes at the close of chapter 9 that/[…] I would like [the working man] to give me back books and/newspapers and theories. And I would like to give him back, in/return, his old insouciance, and rich, original spontaneity and/fullness of life. (116)

17 Lawrence closes Fantasia with chapter 14 “Sleep and Dreams” and chapter 15 “The Lower Self” which, as he puts it, bring together “the refrain of all my chants [… that] we are ourselves” (160). This individuality is for him sacred, sacrosanct and never to be violated. A realization of “the very sacredness of [an person’s] own individuality” will preclude the violation of the sacredness of the individuality of others. The aesthetic experience is similarly incommunicable and inviolable. Lawrence cautions against “pronouncing about” our own experience, as also about others’, “lest I, in attributing qualities to them, transgress against the pure individuality which is theirs, beyond me” (161). Chapter 14 contains a brief digression into psychoanalysis, and different kinds of dreams, which allows Lawrence to launch a mild attack on the Freudians as “too simple” because they tend to “accept a dream-meaning at its face value” (167). His real contention in this chapter is that “the deepest dread” of the soul “is perhaps its dread of automatism” (169). So even in our dreams we fear automation being forced upon us, because “automatism in life is a forestalling of the death process” (169). More important is Lawrence’s conclusive definition of the aesthetic experience as a “flaring into sensation, consciousness, energy and passion” (173).

18 Lawrence also reiterates his belief that: “Thought-forms are thought-forms, they do not make life. Our life is made still of elemental fire and water, earth and air: by these we move and live and have our being.” (106) His plea is again for an organic wholeness of being that receives an ineffable affirmation of its own cosmic selfhood through the experience of beauty. And for Lawrence beauty is to be found not only in the bright and “pretty” side of life and humanity, but also in the darker passions which are both seductive and challenging to the human soul.

19 Chopra, Deepak. The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence.(New York: Harmony Books, 2003).

20 Millan, Cesar. Be the Pack Leader. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007. Millan quotes from his own reading: “Dr. Wayne W. Dyer’s book The Power of Intention: Learning to Cocreate Your World Your Way. (Carlsbad: Hay House, 2004). In it, Dyer defines intention as the force in the universe that allows the act of creation to take place, not something you do, but as an energy field of which you are a part.

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Divya Saksena, « “The Fallacy of Understanding”: D.H. Lawrence’s Emotional Logic in Fantasia of the Unconscious and Apocalypse »Études Lawrenciennes, 42 | 2011, 123-152.

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Divya Saksena, « “The Fallacy of Understanding”: D.H. Lawrence’s Emotional Logic in Fantasia of the Unconscious and Apocalypse »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 42 | 2011, mis en ligne le 17 janvier 2014, consulté le 02 décembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Divya Saksena

Middle Tennessee State University, USA

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