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Lawrence and the Antinomian Thrust in Modernism

Cornelius Crowley
p. 63-84

Texte intégral

  • 1 T.S. Eliot, “Ulysses, Order and Myth” (1923), Selected Prose (London: Faber, 1975), 177-178.

No one else has built a novel upon such a foundation before: it has never before been necessary. I am not begging the question in calling Ulysses a “novel”; and if you call it an epic it will not matter. If it is not a novel, that is simply because the novel is a form which will no longer serve; it is because the novel, instead of being a form, was simply the expression of an age which had not sufficiently lost all form to feel the need of something stricter.1

1If Joyce’s Ulysses presents itself to its pioneer 1922 readers in the surprising and demanding form which marks it off from earlier novels, and if the question whether the work is actually a novel can receive no conclusive answer, the difficulty (for writer and for reader) is to be regarded as a question of necessity. Such at least is the judgement arrived at by T.S. Eliot in his 1923 essay entitled “Ulysses, Order and Myth.”

2The necessity invoked is not the wilfulness of artistic genius, compulsion of self-expression and prerogative of poetic licence. It is a question of the objective necessity with which the conditions of the age impinge and bear upon the artist, demanding to be addressed. So that while for earlier novelists (Flaubert or James) it had been enough to address the experience of the age by way of a “narrative method,” what Eliot qualifies as the “mythical method,” where the writer labours to impress upon the phenomena of the age the template of classical epic, is testimony to the artist’s conscientious dedication to his mission. His mission, for this is the archetypal portrait, the narcissistic fantasy perhaps, of the artist as virile superman. And if, in earlier generations, there have not been writers comparable to Joyce in his recourse to the “mythical method,” this is only because the need for such a method had not yet been felt, insofar as the age in question “had not sufficiently lost all form to feel the need of something stricter.” For Eliot, the exemplary artist cannot be the merely passive reflector of the age he lives in, and if 1922 epitomises the moment of artistic heroism which we have come to call “high modernism,” it is precisely because the prevailing circumstances are so generally foul. The culture is out of joint, blest is he who is called upon in art to set things right. An art of reparation for the pervasive dismembering of bodies, of psyches, of cities, of devastated lands. For if the age they lived in had achieved its proper balance and formal unity, as any self-assuming classical age might do and should do, the role of the artist would not go beyond the purveyance of a pleasing appearance or incidental embellishment: a role comparable to that of a virtuoso stage actor or a concert pianist whose task is the presentation of a meaning already achieved, consummate.

3In his essay on Ulysses Eliot puts forward what is therefore a hyperbolically romantic conception of classical accomplishment, whose exemplary instance, in the objectively disorderly and unclassical circumstances of 1922, can only be found in the antithetical achievement of James Joyce, or in his Eliot’s own poem, “The Waste Land.” Of the “mythical method,” Eliot says that “it is […] a step toward making the modern world possible for art.” Which would imply that all ages aspire to the achievement of a classical age and to the status of artefact, and that a classical age is the objective concomitant of the modernist artist’s heroic and recompositional achievement: the well-wrought urn as terminal and as telos, paradigm of artistic form and of an epoch’s final destiny, receptacle for the ashes of the living. For either the objective order of the self-assuming classical age is so consummate as to ignore the “necessity” of the artist’s donation of any supplementary form –and in this case the formal accomplishment is intrinsic and self-sufficient, communal and impersonal– or else the objectively disordered and unclassical age is, left to its own devices, so devoid of order as to require the saving impression of a form that is both necessary and extraneous: a form proper to some other age, to be imported and brought to bear upon the waste, through the wilful imposition of this virile superman.

4In other words, just as the central bank is a lender of last resort in an economy vulnerable to the collapse of the ordinary operations of exchange, the solitary artist must be celebrated as the heroic lender of meaning of last resort, through whom the modern world is made “possible for art,” possible through art. The end of art, apparently, is thus the accomplishment of the classical, and the classical is to be understood as the paradigm of supreme and breathless form, in lieu of the devastated clutter of broken images and fragments not even to be shored against our ruins. As if the end of art were the antithetical overcoming of life, a state of final accomplishment aspired to in vain, in the unsettled and unclassical world of the demotic. Fiat ars, pereat mundus.

5Eliot’s high modernism deliberately showcases itself as heir to the European middle ages, to the age of Dante. In this gesture he is however more immediately heir to the counter-Enlightenment, to the neo-gothic reverie of a lost medieval integrity; heir, also, to the Romantic inflation of the poetic function (the poet as “legislator of mankind”) and to a symbolist anti-naturalism for which living is a mere prelude to the deathlike perfection of art. Style will always be a question of metaphysics and of politics. As poet and as critic, Eliot would play a crucial role in the establishment of the ideal type of high modernism. In answering the question “what is modernism?” and its corollary, “is a particular work modernist or not?” we tend to work within the terms of the argument which he so decisively established, by way of his 1922 poem “The Waste Land” as, with the help of Pound, it was hollowed out of a mass of words and made into “ruins,” “fragments.” By way, also, of his 1923 essay on Joyce’s Ulysses, a work initially made readable in terms of Eliot’s interpretational prism.

  • 2 T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land” (1922), The Complete Poems and Plays ( London: Faber, 1969), 75.

6High modernism thus presents itself as an art of inventory and accumulation: an archaeology of inherited cultural forms, a genealogy and, perhaps, therapy, of a present-day formlessness. Within such a framework, the qualification of the contemporary condition of formlessness can only be by way of the antithetical charting of earlier forms, classical and Christian. The current condition is measurable by way of the collision between a present formlessness, its jumble of tones, the graceless gestures of its emblematic types, and the afterlife of a civilisation’s supposed glory. This, after all, is how we have learnt to read the works of high modernism, because thus did Eliot forge the ideal type of high modernism: as the antithetical art of a thoroughly modern world of capitalist exchange, a commodified culture of “record on the gramophone” and “Shakespehearien rag,” seduction carried out in an ambiance of boredom and acquiescence. “London bridge is falling down falling down falling down,” “Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie,” “Fragments shored against my ruins.”2

7The conjunction between Eliot’s essay and poem would establish the general context for the production and reception of high modernist literature: a literature allusive and intertextually saturated, elegiac in tone; a literature written out of the ruins and aspiring to a recomposition by bricolage; a formal fashioning from the debris of a nobler past, to be offered as a symbolic talisman for the journey through the “unreal city” of the present. Such an art is inevitably Burkean and backward-looking, in danger of infatuation with the image of an ideally imagined past. For Edmund Burke, the authority of institutions rested on the accumulated force of “prescription”: not on the self-evident truth of Enlightenment Reason, but on the extrinsic, time-conferred force of habit and time. For Eliot, the prism through which present institutions and idioms are to be addressed is that of ironic depreciation, with the further irony that the predicament obliges the high modernist writer to accumulate within his work the exemplary instances of the epoch’s desolation. For if the “modern world” is to be “made possible” for art, such a consecration requires that the unholy devastation of the present be scrupulously attended to: through the scrupulous meanness of Joyce’s Dubliners and the confrontation of the kitsch ars amatoria of Blazes Boylan in Ulysses, or through the authentic note of inauthentic bathos captured in the dialogues of “The Waste Land.” Neither Joyce nor the 1922 Eliot can lay claim to any single pure style, since their task, prescribed them by the high modernist poetics of fragments and ruins, is to sift through the proliferation of ambient inauthenticities. The result is an art dedicated to the exploration of all that is unseemly and culturally out of joint, all that is disharmonious, as prelude to the sacramental impression of an order deemed to be both “possible” and “necessary.” Such an art would not have been “necessary” had the prevailing conditions not been those of the Eliotesque waste land.

8There follows from this a very practical and specific question of literary history. If our definition of high modernism is formulated according to the poetic and cultural criticism of Eliot, is D.H. Lawrence to be numbered in the ranks of the modernists? To which the answer is “no,” since Lawrence in no sense fits such a definition of the task of the modernist writer. Neither in terms of the sense of the past which it supposes, nor the actual working and reworking of language which it authorises. And if we decide to question Eliot’s overarching definition of high modernism, what more adequate and more inclusive definition can we venture, which might encompass D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot and James Joyce, without our having to present D.H. Lawrence as an imperfect approximation to the modernist ideal type? If Lawrence is to be counted among the modernists, the definition of modernism cannot simply be a refinement or duplication or simple repudiation of Eliot’s 1923 diagnosis.

  • 3 For an example of this line of interpretation, Declan Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland: The Literature of (...)
  • 4 Like many categories and distinctions of literary history, this one is self-fulfilling. It serves t (...)

9It has become a commonplace in the literary history of Irish modernism3 to argue that Joyce wrote a literature of expansion and accumulation and that such an accomplishment had its source in a Catholic heritage where the corpus of tradition cannot be short-circuited or set aside. Beckett, by contrast, is typed as author of an opus of involution and elimination, with the suggestion that such an accomplishment can be traced back to a Protestant vein, where the believer is either sustained or disturbed by the unmediated reading of scripture and the unmediated exposure to the truth of revelation. In other words, a Catholic modernism of more is contrasted with a Protestant modernism of less.4 For the purposes of this article we shall adopt the hypothesis of a Protestant, antinomian vein in modernism, whose preoccupation is neither the restoration of a classical integrity in speech or in cultural forms nor a concomitant anxiety about the dynamic of a present-day formlessness. An antinomian modernism need harbour neither the anxiety of a lost integrity nor the anxiety of a present-day formlessness, for the simple reason that circumstances and contingencies are not of the essence. These twinned anxieties are beside the point, being an evasion of the real issue, which from an antinomian and puritan perspective had been in no doubt for almost three hundred years, when D.H Lawrence took up his pen to write.

  • 5 Pansies (1929), D.H Lawrence, Complete Poems, edited Vivian De Sola Pinto and Warren Roberts (Harmo (...)

I like relativity and quantum theories
because I don’t understand them
and they make me feel as if space shifted
about like a swan that can’t settle,
refusing to sit still and be measured;
and as if the atom were an impulsive thing
always changing its mind.

10The speaker in Lawrence’s poem admits a liking for “relativity and quantum theories/ because I don’t understand them.” In the poem entitled “Space,” it is the unsettled, quaking aliveness of space which causes it to “send pulses even through me” and connects the speaker of the poem to this eternally dynamic source of all things.

  • 6 Pansies (1929), op. cit., 525.

Space, of course, is alive
that’s why it moves about;
and that’s what makes it eternally spacious and unstuffy.
And somewhere it has a wild heart
that sends pulses even through me;
and I call it the sun;
and I feel aristocratic, noble, when I feel a pulse go
through me
from the wild heart of space, that I call the sun
              of suns.

11The true source of nobility is thus the speaker’s submissiveness to the non-human pulse of space. It is a nobility independent of all contingent and merely human ceremony, all positive law and authority. Positive law is a corpus of rules whose enforcement is held to be protective of the interests of the members of a civil society. The territorial extension of this enforceability defines the writ of any particular civil society, whose domain coincides precisely with the temporal and spatial limits within which its positive law is law. Positive law in France stipulates that one drives on the right-hand side of the road. Positive law in England stipulates the opposite. The entire body of positive law in France is ultimately underwritten by the signature of the elected president of the French Republic acting in conformity to a written constitution, while the entire body of positive law in Great Britain is ultimately underwritten by the hybrid sovereignty of the king or queen in parliament. This, I grant, is a mildly Hobbesian presentation of the law’s conditionality upon the power of the sovereign. It implies that the self-evident rightness of any law’s claim to the validity of natural law is dependent, for its effectiveness, on the institutional arrangement which has the power to enforce it. The relation between power and law is here inseparable from questions of civilised social contingencies. The socially rational and useful body of rules and regulations is both binding and mutable, just as the language through which we communicate and pursue our designs is both pragmatically effective and contingent. If the legal rate of VAT is 18.6%, it might legitimately be 25%. Neither French nor English nor classical Greek can claim to be the Pythagorean language of the spheres. For Lawrence, there may have been little difference between the status of the positive norms of civil society and the more fundamental laws of nature which are habitually considered to be non-negotiable and unconditionally binding. For the postulate of the latter’s absolute priority to all locally instituted civil societies requires that we infer a state of nature that is already social but not yet a civil compact, subject to law. Such an absolutisation of an established nature of things may be a preference sustained by mere habit.

12After killing his rival, Clare Quilty, at the end of Lolita, Humbert Humbert takes stock of his new-found transgressive irresponsibility, which a vicarious, armchair knowledge of crime had enabled him to anticipate. Camus’s L’Etranger or Dostoevsy’s Karamazov, both of them the butt of ironic put-downs by Nabokov in his pronouncements on literature, are the literary emblems of such a conundrum: what it is like when you’ve stepped outside or been pushed outside the boundaries of law-abiding citizenship. Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov provided the exemplary syllogism of transgression sanctioned by unbelief. If God does not exist, everything is permitted. For Humbert Humbert, crime unleashes a curiosity to experience the full amplitude of transgressive licence, since there is nothing to hold him back now. But what he discovers is that, apart from driving on the wrong side of the road, the human imagination of licence is not very fertile.

  • 7 Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955), Chapter 36 (New York: Berkley Medallion Books, 1977), 278-279.

The road now stretched across open country, and it occurred to me –not by way of protest, not as a symbol, or anything like that, but merely as a novel experience– that since I had disregarded all laws of humanity, I might as well disregard the rules of traffic. So I crossed to the left side of the highway and checked the feeling, and the feeling was good. It was a pleasant diaphragmal melting, with elements of diffused tactility, all this enhanced by the thought that nothing could be nearer to the elimination of basic physical laws than deliberately driving on the wrong side of the road. In a way, it was a very spiritual itch. Gently, dreamily, not exceeding twenty miles an hour, I drove on that queer mirror side. Traffic was light. Cars that now and then passed me on the side I had abandoned to them, honked at me brutally. Cars coming towards me wobbled, swerved, and cried out in fear. Presently I found myself approaching populated places. Passing through a red light was like a sip of forbidden Burgundy when I was a child.7

13Lawrence, not a writer one frequently associates with Nabokov, also addressed this question of the disappointingly limited resources of licence:

  • 8 Pansies (1929), op. cit., 531.

What Matters”8
Quite thrilling, I should say, at least to contemplate.
For the rest- no! I should say life held very few
further thrilling possibilities.
So one of the brightest young intellectuals put it to me.
And I had to give him credit for his rather
                   exhibitionist honesty.
And in the interval of their thrills, I suppose
they must go on
they must go on scratching the eczema of their
                   mental itch
with finger-nails of septic criticising.

  • 9 John Barth, The Literature of Exhaustion and the Literature of Replenishment, (Northridge Californi (...)

14The law of licence is a static and compositional law. Each positive prohibition stakes out the territory of its transgressive doppelganger possibility, its “queer mirror side.” On the right side of the law, there is the routine of conventionally decent interaction. The concomitant acts of indecent licence are the specific and finite derivatives of this set of established norms. Lawrence’s poem about the exhaustibility of thrills looks backwards to the inventorial prose of Flaubert in Bouvard et Pécuchet, where the predicament is that of the acutely-aware homme civilisé who is in a position to test and to exhaust the catalogue of positive finite possibilities, whether for self-accomplishment or for transgression, or for the exploration of the encyclopaedia of knowledge. And it looks forward to the post-mortem coldness of postmodern prose, inaugurated as early as 1967 by John Barth in his formulation of the following law: the literature of exhaustion derives from the exhaustion of literature.9

15Lawrence’s poem “What Matter” is however a merely tactical statement, a clearing of the decks involving no more than a discounting of the strictures of positive law, with the latter’s sensible provisos and concomitant transgressive licence, its shopping-list of don’ts which are the simple inversion of its so many dos. In no sense does the poem locate Lawrence within a tradition which might include Sade, Flaubert, Huysmans, Joyce, Nabokov. This is because the Lawrentian relation to law and to power undercuts the distinction between the positive law, taken as the actual organisation of a specific society, and natural law, of which all positive law is ideally the duplication.

16If then there is a positive repertory of law and licence, of morality and vice, and if, prior to this, there is the more foundational, but scarcely less shallow, foundation of a natural law whose scope is the scope of all human possibilities, in a universe one imagines to be fashioned after the Vitruvian measure of man, neither of these—the positive law and the all-too-human natural law—is ultimately of the essence, in terms of the Lawrentian scheme of things, with its indifference to the exhaustible, limited economy of law and licence and its indifference, in terms of the Lawrentian mode of writing, to an accumulative effet du réel. Deleuze’s idea of a ligne de fuite, flight line or wayward riff, centrifugal and feral, is here appropriate, as a qualification of the Lawrentian attempt to delve to those hidden intensities which do not sum up or capitalise. For within this Lawrentian scheme of things, all semblance of a possession which might be capitalised and secured is no more than a chronological illusion and solace, insofar as the permanence of institutional and social forms need not be taken for more than it is: a piety to facilitate our incorporation within an inhabitable atmosphere here on earth, tuning us in to the slowed down and gradual tempo of mutation and amortisation. All of which is an indispensable stage-prop, if collectively we subscribe to the belief that the show must go on.

17Lawrence has this to say of the Etruscans:

The Etruscans, at least before the Romans smashed them, do not seem to have been tangled up with tragedy, as the Greeks were from the first. There seems to have been a peculiar large carelessness about them, very human and non-moral. As far as one can judge, they never said: certain acts are immoral, just because we say so! They seem to have had a strong feeling for taking life sincerely as a pleasant thing. Even death was a gay and lively affair.

  • 10 D.H Lawrence “Making Love to Music,” Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, edited by Edw (...)

Moralists will say: Divine law wiped them out. The answer to that is, divine law wipes everything out in time, even itself. And if the smashing of the all-trampling Roman is to be identified with divine law, then all I can do is to look up another divinity.10

  • 11 In a letter to J.H. Reynolds, 3 February 1818, Keats writes: “Poetry should be great and unobtrusiv (...)
  • 12 J.M Keynes, A Tract on Monetary Reform (London: Macmillan, 1924), chapter 3.

18Lawrence here refuses to tally accomplishments by way of a balance-sheet of history in which the business of culture and history might be weighed up. There are the Greeks, with their celebrated “entanglement” with tragedy, of seminal importance in the west’s construction of its ideal image of self. There is the Roman accomplishment, registered in the soil of Europe and of north Africa, visible in pillars, columns, roads, in the corpus of law, in the exempla of civic and stoic virtue. As for the Etruscans, there is the unverifiable and retrospective supposition of “their peculiar large carelessness,” verifiable only in absentia, by way of the presumption that if they had been less careless, if they had cared more about the primitive logic of accumulation, they would have fretted about the traces to be left in what we call history.11 They would or they should have cared more for the fetish of history’s monumentality, its obstructive pre-emption and preoccupation of all present and future possibilities, through the coercive imposition of the classical template: what Eliot celebrates as the “mythical method.” In the long run, we are all dead, wrote Keynes,12 who sought to adjust the rationality of economic management to a limited, medium-term horizon: neither the horizon of immediate deprivation or of immediate ecstasy, nor the horizon of an ultimate consummation that is beyond our comprehension. But the horizon of literature is not the Keynesian horizon of the modestly optimal management of demand within the economic cycle. Nor, for Lawrence, is it the monumental horizon of ruins and fragments to be “shored up.” Nor is its horizon the actual, “real time” moment of law, transgression and licence. Literature’s horizon, as understood by Lawrence, envisages both the Etruscan carelessness about accomplishments and the stellar consummation of all things circumstantially human: the ultimate and sublime relief to be gleaned from the intimation that all things must pass. The capacity of humans to intimate such cosmic consummation may be the source of the only “thrill” in time that is affirmatively insouciant and beyond ressentiment.

The final aim of every living thing, creature, or being is the full achievement of itself. This accomplished, it will produce what it will produce, it will bear the fruit of its nature. Not the fruit, however, but the flower is the culmination and climax, the degree to be striven for. Not the work I shall produce, but the real Me I shall achieve, that is the consideration; of the complete Me will come the complete fruit of me, the work, the children.

  • 13 “Study of Thomas Hardy,” Phoenix, The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, 403.

And I know that the common wild poppy has achieved so far its complete poppy-self, unquestionable. It has uncovered its red. Its light, its self, has risen and shone out, has run on the winds for a moment. It is splendid. The world is a world because of the poppy’s red. Otherwise it would be a lump of clay. And I am I as well, since the disclosure. What it is, I breathe it and snuff it up, it is about me and upon me and of me. And I can tell that I do not know it all yet.13

19The conception of law that is put forward here is not that of a positive law: law as translation of the will of the republican sovereign or of the sovereign monarch. Neither is it the paradigm of a humanly-attuned natural law. Nor is it the law of a teleological, finalist fruitfulness, whether ontogenetic or phylogenetic. The conception of law is here neither Hegelian nor “capitalist,” insofar as it refuses to make of the present condition a prelude to something to come. No continuity is postulated between flower and fruit, no subordination of the one to the other in terms of the linear irreversibility of time’s arrow; no accreditation of the cumulative dignity of that which is still to come by way of the final appropriation of all that has gone before. Chapter 1 of “Study of Thomas Hardy” concludes:

Yet we must always hold that life is the great struggle for self-preservation; that this struggle for the means of life is the essence and whole of life. As if it would be anything so futile, so ingestive. Yet we ding-dong at it, always hammering out the same phrase, about the struggle for existence, the right to work, the right to the vote, the right to this and the right to that, all in the struggle for existence, as if any external power could give us the right to ourselves. That we have within ourselves. And if we have it not, then the remainder that we do possess will be taken away from us. “To them that have shall be given, and from them that have not shall be taken away even that which they have.” (404)

20Lawrence strives to think through to a law of being that is not simply the finalist law of self-preservation. There can be no endeavour of thinking or writing more utopian and unthinking than this. Thinking, writing, figuring, all of them work by way of the imagination of a lasting place or a lasting city, whether lost, here, or still to come. In the passage quoted, Lawrence enumerates the various manifestations of our civil and economic liberties: “the right to vote, to work, the right to this and the right to that.” Then he offers a minimalist and tautological qualification of this law of being: “the right to be ourselves.” Which, if understood in terms of an Etruscan “carelessness,” must involve an utter indifference as to what we will become. But such a gay Etruscan carelessness sits uneasily with the quote from the gospel, insofar as the promise that “to them that have shall be given, and from them that have not shall be taken away even that which they have,” is a violation of the posture of carelessness and a return to the scales of dialectical calculation: back to the law of losing and winning, qui perd gagne, back to the “grain of wheat which must die.” Back to Persephone, who must go down into the dark underground. Whereas the Etruscans are to be history’s absolute and careless losers.

  • 14 Jacques Derrida, “De l’économie restreinte à l’économie générale. Un hégélianisme sans réserve.” L’ (...)
  • 15 John Milton, The Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelaty (1642): “But let them chant whil (...)
  • 16 William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” Plate 8, Complete Poems, edited Geoffrey Keynes, ( (...)

21Which suggests that Lawrence’s attempt to fly free of the nets of finalist capitalisation, nowhere more evident than in the essay on Thomas Hardy, can always be re-read as an entry in the accounts book of hoarding and souciance, just as Derrida could read through George Bataille’s endeavour to distinguish between the calculable économie restreinte and the larger, more sublime économie générale, demonstrating that the rules of accumulation and rational calculation still regulate the dynamics of the économie générale.14 But this is not the point I wish to emphasise here. What I wish to indicate are the poetic and syntactic implications of the Lawrentian endeavour to think and to write beyond the matrix of finalist self-preservation. The implications are the following: (1) an indifference to the artfulness of a literature that espouses the rhetoric of the prosaic accumulation of experience, the result being a regime of discontinuity in which, textually, the marks (typoi) of character fail to comply with the laws of narrative continuity, a regime in which the writing fails to endorse the compact of moral consistency conducive to the accumulation of settled values; (2) a regime of propositional simplicity, insofar as what is to be figured is neither a semblance of novelty nor a confirmation of the code of positive rules designed to facilitate the episodes and exchanges of our social scene; (3) Lawrence’s assignment, insofar as this is of any importance, to the minor vein of high modernism, rather than to the retrospective and accumulative vein of Eliot’s “mythical method; (4) Lawrence’s reactivation, in the context of high modernism, of the English antinomianism so strongly voiced by Milton15 and by William Blake, in the latter’s transvaluation of positive law and the confining matrix of a humanly-adjusted natural law.16 An affirmative antinomian modernism of self, careless of “self-preservation” and of cultural accumulation, might be called a Blakean modernism. Which obliges us to rethink the post-Eliot orthodoxy where modernism is qualified by way of its antithetical and therapeutic relation to romanticism. In the case of an English antinomian modernism, if there is no clear rupture with an English romanticism, this is due to the enduring vitality within the common culture of England of a 17th century strain of puritan liberty, which rendered both implausible and unnecessary Eliot’s neo-medievalist delving for the deposits of a dogmatic truth and cast-off cultural forms. For if the self is sufficient, if it does not need to “shore up fragments.” It only needs to reclaim its right to self. There is no rediscovered prop to be leant upon, no need either for stilts or for crutches.

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Barth, John Barth. The Literature of Exhaustion and the Literature of Replenishment, Northridge California: Lord John Press, 1982.

Beckett, Samuel. Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment, edited Ruby Cohn. London: John Calder, 1986.

Blake, William. Complete Poems. Edited Geoffrey Keynes. Oxford: OUP, 1966.

Derrida, Jacques. “De l’économie restreinte à l’économie générale. Un hégélianisme sans réserve.” L’écriture et la différence. Paris : Editions du Seuil, 1967.

Eliot, T.S. Selected Prose. London: Faber, 1975.

Eliot, T.S. The Complete Poems and Plays. London: Faber, 2004.

Keats, John. Letters of John Keat. Edited by Robert Gittings (1970). Oxford: OUP, 1979 edition, 61.

Keynes, J.M Keynes. A Tract on Monetary Reform. London: Macmillan, 1924.

Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern World. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.

Lawrence, D.H Lawrence. Complete Poems. Edited Vivian De Sola Pinto and Warren Roberts. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993 edition.

Lawrence D.H Lawrence. Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence. Edited by Edward D. Mc Donald. London: Heinemann (1936), 1970.

Nabokov, Vladimir Nabokov. Lolita (1955). New York: Berkley Medallion Books, 1977.

Milton, John Milton. The Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelaty, =com_staticxt&staticfile=advanced_search.php, 9 January 2010.

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1 T.S. Eliot, “Ulysses, Order and Myth” (1923), Selected Prose (London: Faber, 1975), 177-178.

2 T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land” (1922), The Complete Poems and Plays ( London: Faber, 1969), 75.

3 For an example of this line of interpretation, Declan Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern World (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995), in particular the section “Protestant Revivals,” 413-467.

4 Like many categories and distinctions of literary history, this one is self-fulfilling. It serves to provide the framework within which a specific achievement can be apprehended and justified. The distinction between a literature of amplification and a literature of reduction is fashioned by the young Beckett, out of the latter’s observation of Joyce and in anticipation of his own sui generis trajectory. Probably all artistic trajectories are singular and sui generis, though this does not mean that they are ineffable and beyond the compass of the ex post cartography which is the business of the academy. For Beckett’s response to Joyce, read his contribution to the collective volume that was intended to facilitate the reception of Finnegans Wake: Our Exagmination Round His Factification For Incamination of Work in Progress (1929, “Dante...Bruno.Vico..Joyce” in Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment, edited Ruby Cohn (London: John Calder, 1986).

5 Pansies (1929), D.H Lawrence, Complete Poems, edited Vivian De Sola Pinto and Warren Roberts (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993 edition), 524.

6 Pansies (1929), op. cit., 525.

7 Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955), Chapter 36 (New York: Berkley Medallion Books, 1977), 278-279.

8 Pansies (1929), op. cit., 531.

9 John Barth, The Literature of Exhaustion and the Literature of Replenishment, (Northridge California: Lord John Press, 1982).

10 D.H Lawrence “Making Love to Music,” Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, edited by Edward D. Mc Donald (London: Heinemann (1936), 1970 edition), 164-165.

11 In a letter to J.H. Reynolds, 3 February 1818, Keats writes: “Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself but with its subject.—How beautiful are the retired flowers! how would they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out, “admire me I am a violet! Dote upon me I am a primrose! Modern poets differ from the Elizabethans in this. Each of the moderns like an Elector of Hanover governs his petty state, and knows how many straws are swept daily from the Causeways in all his dominions and has a continual itching that all the Housewives should have their coppers well scoured: the antients were Emperors of vast Provinces, they had only heard of the remote ones and scarcely cared to visit them.—I will cut all this—I will have no more of Wordsworth or Hunt in particular;” Letters of John Keats, edited by Robert Gittings (1970) (Oxford: OUP, 1979 edition), 61.

12 J.M Keynes, A Tract on Monetary Reform (London: Macmillan, 1924), chapter 3.

13 “Study of Thomas Hardy,” Phoenix, The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, 403.

14 Jacques Derrida, “De l’économie restreinte à l’économie générale. Un hégélianisme sans réserve.” L’écriture et la différence (Paris : Editions du Seuil, 1967), 369-408.

15 John Milton, The Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelaty (1642): “But let them chant while they will of prerogatives, we shall tell them of Scripture; of custom, we of Scripture; of acts and statutes, still of Scripture; till the quick and piercing word enter to the dividing of their souls, and the mighty weakness of the gospel throw down the weak mightiness of man’s reasoning. Now for their demeanour within the church, how have they disfigured and defaced that more than angelic brightness, the unclouded serenity of Christian religion, with the dark overcasting of superstitious copes and flaminical vestures, wearing on their backs, and I abhor to think, perhaps in some worse place, the inexpressible image of God the Father? Tell me, ye priests, wherefore this gold, wherefore these robes and surplices over the gospel? Is our religion guilty of the first trespass, and hath need of clothing to cover her nakedness? [...] Ye think by these gaudy glisterings to stir up the devotion of the rude multitude; ye think so, because ye forsake the heavenly teaching of St. Paul for the hellish sophistry of papism. If the multitude be rude, the lips of the preacher must give knowledge, and not ceremonies. And although some Christians be new-born babes comparatively to some that are stronger, yet in respect of ceremony, which is but a rudiment of the law, the weakest Christian hath thrown off the robes of his minority, and is a perfect man, as to legal rites. What children’s food there is in the gospel, we know to be no other than the “sincerity of the word, that they may grow thereby.”, 9 January 2010.

16 William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” Plate 8, Complete Poems, edited Geoffrey Keynes, (Oxford: OUP, 1966), 151:
“Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.
The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.
The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.
The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God [...]”
Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.
Everything possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.
The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow.”

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Cornelius Crowley, « Lawrence and the Antinomian Thrust in Modernism »Études Lawrenciennes, 41 | 2010,  63-84.

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Cornelius Crowley, « Lawrence and the Antinomian Thrust in Modernism »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 41 | 2010, mis en ligne le 24 janvier 2014, consulté le 26 février 2020. URL :; DOI:

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Cornelius Crowley

Cornelius Crowley, professor and Vice-President of the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre, has published numerous essays on various authors including David Hume, Henry James, Joyce, Yeats, Nietzsche, Zola and Lawrence.

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