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Redemptions of the Social Body. Kangaroo and The Plumed Serpent

Juliette Feyel
p. 107-124

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  • 1 A number of critics have already commented on Lawrence’s approach to Freud and psychoanalysis. See (...)

1In his essay Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, published in 1923, Lawrence shows both an irritation toward his contemporaries’ fad for psychoanalysis and a strong desire to compete with Freud.1 His attacks against the father of psychoanalysis are primarily targeted at the fact that, in his view, Freud remains compliant with the laws of a mechanical rationality: “One thing, however, psychoanalysis all along the line fails to determine, and that is the nature of the pristine unconscious in man. […] The incest motive is in its origin not a pristine impulse, but a logical extension of the existent idea of sex and love” (PU 12). Conversely, Lawrence wishes to promote another way through which to explore the depths of the unconscious. In his view, poetry and fiction are better equipped than science to pursue the quest for the unknown that is beyond the limits of mental consciousness. Freud went a step further with Civilization and its Discontents (written in 1929). In this essay he applied his theory of the unconscious and libidinal drives to the political body, thus offering an insight into social mechanisms: “At this point we cannot fail to be struck by the similarity between the process of civilization and the libidinal development of the individual” (Freud 97). Lawrence was not reluctant to follow the same method when he stated in Kangaroo: “But the only way to make any study of collective psychology is to study the isolated individual. Upon your conception of the single individual, all your descriptions will be based, all your science established” (K 294). Kangaroo (1923) and The Plumed Serpent (1924) are the most explicitly political novels written by Lawrence since they both dramatise the attempt of a charismatic leader to build up a radically new society. They reveal how Lawrence tries to cure the disease of civilization. Comparing them to Freud’s essay will help us identify both the points of agreement and of disagreement between the two authors.

  • 2 Lawrence’s dualistic psychology is in line with a general dualistic view of the cosmos. See for ex (...)

2In order to draw a comparison between such heterogeneous works, we need to isolate a few common denominators. First, it is important to note that Freud and Lawrence share a dualistic view of the unconscious. As early as 1920, Freud had formulated the hypothesis that the human psyche was dominated by two antagonistic drives. He came back to this point in Civilization and its Discontents, contrasting the instincts aimed at the preservation of the individual (“ego-instincts”) and those favouring the preservation of the species, which he calls “object-instincts,” libidinal instincts, that is, love “in its widest sense” (Freud 117). Interestingly, Lawrence identified two impulses in Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious.2 There is, to begin with, an impulse coming from the solar plexus, located beneath the navel, which urges the ego to open up, to turn towards a “harmonious relation to those nearest him and to all the universe” (PU 25). And there is its negative counterpart, located in the lumbar ganglion of the body and which compels the subject to separate itself from its exposure to otherness and to retreat into the realm of its independence: “Hence a duality, now, in primal consciousness in the infant. The warm rosy abdomen, tender with chuckling unison, and the little back strengthening itself. The child […] stiffens its spine in the strength of its own private and separate, inviolable existence” (PU 24). Both authors thus picture the ego as being torn between an outward and an inward drive, between an altruistic tendency and an egoistic one.

3Secondly, they both apply such observations to the realm of political analysis. The paradox of society, Freud contends, rests upon the fact that it aims to protect the ego by imposing on him restrictions which, in the last instance, tend towards the suppression of the ego. Civilization demands that aggressive egoistic drives be repressed in order to preserve peace and security. Freud assumes that, man being to man a wolf, “civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration” (Freud 112). In order to avoid atomization and chaos, civilization acts upon the instincts at the collective level in the same manner as the super-ego at the individual level:

The super-ego is an agency which has been inferred by us, and conscience is a function which we ascribe, among other functions, to that agency. This function consists in keeping a watch over the actions and intentions of the ego and judging them, in exercising a censorship.
(Freud 136)

4Lawrence also tends to picture the tyrannical faculty as acting from above on the primary source of the unconscious, when he states that it operates from the mind, the superior part of the body: “So we see the brain, like a great dynamo and accumulator, accumulating mechanical force and presuming to apply this mechanical force-control to the living unconscious, subjecting everything spontaneous to certain machine-principles called ideals or ideas” (PU 42). Similarly, conventional morals and norms repress the individual and entail self-sacrifice, sometimes madness, a phenomenon which Lawrence illustrated in many fictions (See “The Prussian Officer,” “Daughters of the Vicar”). Both authors thus believe that civilization is a source of repression and that it produces, along with frustration, a series of affective disorders and certain types of destructive conduct: “even in what are known as normal people the id cannot be controlled beyond certain limits. If more is demanded of a man, a revolt will be produced in him or a neurosis, or he will be made unhappy” (Freud 143).

5If they follow similar lines when they state that consciousness plays a role in political neurosis, they diverge however in their proposals for dealing with the problem. Freud is keen on his compliance with the demands of scientific rigour. He is thus committed to the clinical observation of individual cases. He therefore harbours clear reservations about the relevance of curing the neurosis of civilization through psychoanalytical methods:

I would not say that an attempt of this kind to carry psycho-analysis over to the cultural community was absurd or doomed to be fruitless. But we should have to be very cautious and not forget that, after all, we are only dealing with analogies and that it is dangerous, not only with men but also with concepts, to tear them from the sphere in which they have originated and been evolved.
(Freud 144)

6As a consequence he refuses to prescribe any remedy: “I have not the courage to rise up before my fellow-men as a prophet, and I bow to their reproach that I can offer them no consolation” (Freud 145). He doubts that anyone could play the role of a therapist for society as a whole, in the way he does with his patients: “no one possesses authority to impose such a therapy upon the group” (Freud 144). Lawrence however can claim far greater latitude insofar as he is a writer of novels. Fiction enables him to explore worlds of possibility, situations which have not yet existed. He can establish the conditions which he chooses and can create any character he likes. In his hands, the novel becomes a way to experiment with alternative models of society and to see what may happen: “We insist that a novel is, or should be, also a thought-adventure, if it is to be anything at all complete” (279). The novelist can decide to imagine what would occur if the censorship of the super-ego were to be suspended, if a man had the power to be obeyed by the masses and to turn theory into reality. The rhetoric of Kangaroo takes up many of the points thematized in Lawrence’s own political essays. Through an ironical mise en abyme, Lawrence attributes his theoretical writings to his hero, Richard Somers, and imagines a situation where his speculations and fantasies are put directly into practice by a charismatic leader in a new-born country, Australia.

7At the beginning of his essay, Freud equates libidinal drives with love. Further on however, he distinguishes between sexual love (libido) and inhibited love, that is, ethical love, which is prescribed by the cultural super-ego. The first type of love must be repressed by civilization for it induces anti-social behaviour. The basic commandment of the super-ego, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” turns out to be a censor, an inhibiting process imposed upon spontaneous aggressive impulses:

[…] it is impossible to ignore the extent to which civilization is built up on the renunciation of instinctual gratifications, the degree to which the existence of civilization presupposes the non-gratification (suppression, repression, or something else?) of powerful instinctual urgencies.
(Freud 97)

8The only solutions put forward by Freud would appear to consist in a lowering of the demands of the super-ego: “The instinct of destruction, moderated and tamed, and, as it were, inhibited in its aim, must, when it is directed towards objects, provide the ego with the satisfaction of its vital needs and with control over nature” (Freud 121).

9The eponymous character of Kangaroo opts for another approach. The leader of the Diggers movement wants to unleash impulses that will cure the social body of its neurosis. Rejecting the accusation that he is a tyrant, Kangaroo claims that his new sort of power would not disrespect “the wise, subtle spirit of life,” which goes along with “the profound reverence for life, for life’s deepest urges, as the motive power” (K 112). This life-principle is to be equated with a trust in one’s spontaneous desires. Distancing himself from traditional ethics and the Church, he puts aside dogmas, laws engraved in stone, and wishes to exert a “more flexible,” “less formal and dogmatic; more generous” power (ibid.). The new leader has decided to encourage each single man to be truly himself and to listen to the voice of love within him. All sense of guilt must be erased: “Life is cruel—and above all things man needs to be reassured and suggested into his new issues. And he needs to be relieved from this terrible responsibility of governing himself when he doesn’t know what he wants, and has no aim towards which to govern himself” (K 113). In other words, each individual should give up the sovereignty of his own super-ego and transfer it to the leader: “Man again needs a father—not a friend or a brother sufferer, a suffering Saviour” (ibid.).

10At this point of the novel, Kangaroo exerts an overwhelming and ambiguous charm upon Somers. The leader’s voice is compared to the sound of a flute, an allusion to the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The efficiency of his words stems from his talent for responding to each man’s secret desire to ignore the injunctions of the super-ego. Just as Freud begins his essay by expressing his scepticism about the existence of a human nostalgia for an “oceanic” feeling (Freud 64), a state that would have been experienced before castration, i. e., before the appearance of the separated ego, Lawrence pictures the appeal emanating from Kangaroo as an attraction to his enormous, warm and welcoming belly. Harriet compares it to “Abraham’s bosom” (K 119). The narrator notes that Somers “had deliberately to refrain from laying his hand on the near, generous stomach of the Kangaroo, because automatically his hand would have lifted and sought that rest” (K 136). In his presence, “You felt you were cuddled cosily, like a child, on his breast, in the soft glow of his heart, and that your feet were nestling on his ample, beautiful ‘tummy’” (K 118). Numerous instances in the text connect Kangaroo with a strand of feminine imagery, as if his charisma originated in the unconscious craving for a type of perverse regression to the motherly element. The champion of love describes himself as a “strange warm cavern” (K 113).

11In spite of the echoes which such statements have with his own aspirations, Somers eventually rebuffs Kangaroo. In a dramatic scene, Richard says frankly why he disagrees with the leader’s exaltation of love:

“Why, against your ponderousness. And against your insistence. And against the whole sticky stream of love, and the hateful will-to-love. It’s the will-to-love that I hate, Kangaroo.”
“In me?”
“In us all. I just hate it. It’s a sort of syrup we have to stew in, and it’s loathsome. Don’t love me. Don’t want to save mankind. You’re so awfully general, and your love is so awfully general: as if one were only a cherry in the syrup.”
(K 209)

12Kangaroo regards this as a treachery that is so unbearable as to bring Richard to the point where he fears for his safety; he has to flee from the man’s imposing and menacing presence. Yet the episode gives way to two important metaphors. The syrup image engenders that of the fly trapped in the ointment: “It fell into the ointment, crying: ‘Ah, here is a pure and balmy element in which all is unalloyed goodness. Here is otto of roses without a thorn.’—Hence the fly in the ointment: embalmed in balm” (279). Freud opposes Eros to the death drive. In his view Eros is a factor of integration and composition and is therefore to be identified with a life-drive. On the contrary, Lawrence denounces the deadly nature of love lurking behind its veil of bliss. In the scene, Kangaroo clasps Somers against himself as if to force him to be part of his own body. Subsequently Somers will repeatedly associate the love-drive with the metaphor of the suffocating octopus: “with a ghastly eye in the centre, and white arms enwreathing the world” (K 265), “he proceeded, as ever, to try to disentangle himself from the white octopus of love” (K 328). When the hero finds an octopus on the beach, the text refers once again to its rapacious and capturing power:

Crouching, he saw a horror—a dark-grey, brown-striped octopus thing with two smallish, white beaks or eyes living in a cranny of a rock in a pool. It stirred the denser viscous pool of itself and unfurled a long dark arm through the water, an arm studded with bright, orange-red studs or suckers. Then it curled the arm in again, cuddling close. […] He dropped a snail-shell near it. It huddled closer and one of the beak-like white things disappeared; or were they eyes? Heaven knows.
(K 332–333)

13Love is presented as a viscid element which attracts to itself and fuses all beings that comes in contact with it. Its indefinite nature makes it repellent insofar as it merges all identities into its own immanence.

14The social consequences of Kangaroo’s wish to free the love-drive from its barriers is dramatized in the chapter entitled “A row in town.” As the narrator puts it, “The thing that Kangaroo had to reckon with, and would not reckon with, was the mass-spirit” (K 294). In releasing instincts, the leader has freed the desire to give up individuality; all men are transported into a frenzy of destruction: “It is a great disruptive outburst. It is a great eruption against the classes in authority. And it is, finally, a passionate, mindless vengeance taken by the collective, vertebral psyche upon the authority of orthodox mind” (K 301). While the riot is depicted through the use of metonymies suggesting the abolishment of identities, Somers feels that he is transported beyond himself under the influence of this general contagion: “There was a crash, and the hall was like a bomb that has exploded. Somers tried to spring forward. In the blind moment he wanted to kill—to kill the soldiers. […] Richard, small as he was, felt a great frenzy on him, a great longing to let go” (K 314). After the riot, one of Kangaroo’s supporters, Jack, describes, in unsettlingly erotic terms, how he killed three men with an iron bar: “I stirred the brains of a couple of them with it” (K 319). He gives shocking expression to the excitement and to the sadistic pleasure which he experiences along with his intention to satisfy with his wife the desires which violence have aroused:

“Cripes, there’s nothing bucks you up sometimes like killing a man—nothing. You feel a perfect angel after it.” […] Cripes, it’s there right enough. Having a woman’s something, isn’t it? But it’s a flea-bite, nothing, compared to killing your man when your blood comes up.” […]
And his eyes glowed with exultant satisfaction. […] “I can go to Victoria, now, and be as gentle”—He jerked his head in the direction of Victoria’s room.—“And you bet she’ll like me.”
(K 319)

15At the end, the instinctual flood which Kangaroo has irresponsibly unleashed turns against him. The wound he has suffered assumes an ominously symbolic connotation, since he is “shot in the belly,” Jaz says, “In his blowin’ kangaroo guts,” Jack insists (K 317), bringing back to memory the image of the all-welcoming pouch of the perverse leader. By making an offering of himself to all, Kangaroo has exposed himself to the avidity of all: “Kangaroo wanted to be a queen-bee of another hive, with all the other bees clustering on him like some huge mulberry. Sickening!” (282—283)

16Thus, whereas Freud believes that sadism derives from the subordination of sexual libido to the satisfaction of the ego,

[…] even where it emerges without any sexual purpose, in the blindest fury of destructiveness, we cannot fail to recognize that the satisfaction of the instinct is accompanied by an extraordinarily high degree of narcissistic enjoyment, owing to its presenting the ego with a fulfilment of the latter’s old wishes for omnipotence,
(Freud 121)

17Lawrence contends that such outbreaks of destructive energy are brought about by the absence of the ego instinct, which should counterbalance the love-drive. Somers dreams indeed of another way of creating communal interaction which would not require the questioning of individuality. His reverie over animal societies leads him to assert that unanimity can avoid deadly fusion through another kind of connexion, a sub-mental “vertebral telepathy”:

The highest form of vertebral telepathy seems to exist in the great sperm whales. Communication between these herds of roving monsters is of marvellous rapidity and perfection. They are lounging, feeding lazily, individually, in mid-ocean, with no cohesion. Suddenly, a quick thought-wave from the leader-bull, and as quick as answering thoughts the cows and young bulls are ranged, the herd is taking its direction with a precision little short of miraculous.
(K 299)

18The perfect leader is someone who would be able to convey this magnetic vibration from his own spine and communicate it to the people, thus imposing a feeling of awe and reverence, maintaining distance with them while also being able to inspire them to become a community. Leaving Australia with a mixture of contradictory feelings, Somers hits the road again, this time turning his eyes to America in the hope of finding a better future. The Plumed Serpent can be read as the next experiment which Lawrence was to attempt, this time trying to imagine a revolution which would arouse ego-instincts.

19In the Mexico depicted in The Plumed Serpent the problems of civilization have reached a peak. The influence of the white cultural super-ego, be it from North America or Europe, was enforced upon an instinctive Aztec substratum. As a result of this artificial transplant, a silent hostility has set the different races against each other in the same manner as different “bloods,” different impulses, are in strife within most Mexican individuals. As one of them says: “the half-breed is a calamity. For why? He is neither one thing nor another, he is divided against himself. His blood of one race tells him one thing, his blood of another race tells him another. He is an unfortunate, a calamity to himself. And it is hopeless” (PS 57). Such antagonistic drives have led to the failure of the white mechanical civilization to make the Mexicans adapt, just as it has failed to pull them out of alcoholism and of a despondent attitude toward existence. Reciprocally, Kate, the white heroine, feels that there is something in the spirit of the place which presses upon her like a weight, making her feel irritable and repelled, sometimes even scared: “The curious influence of the country, pulling one down, pulling one down. She had heard an old American, who had been forty years in the Republic, saying to Owen: ‘No man who hasn’t a strong moral backbone should try to settle in Mexico. If he does, he’ll go to pieces, morally and physically, as I’ve seen hundreds of young Americans do’” (PS 65). She can detect a mute resentment in the eyes of the Mexicans, she mistrusts their calm and resigned day-time attitude, for she knows that at night they can give way to sudden outbursts of voluptuous murdering frenzy: “And came the thud! thud! thud! of a machete striking with lust in a human body” (PS 92). Aztec deities and sacrifices reflect the violence and devotion to death which is at the core of the Mexican unconscious, symbolised by the great subterranean serpent, the “all-enwreathing dragon of the horror of Mexico” (PS 72).

20The anthropological revolution orchestrated by Ramón takes the opposite direction to that of Kangaroo. Instead of releasing the impulses of love, he exhorts the Mexicans to turn back to themselves, to listen to their inner voice and stop letting themselves go: “Oh, dogs and fools, Mexicans and peons! Watery-hearted, with wishy-washy knees. Sulky in spirit, and inert. What are you good for, but to be slaves, and rot away?” (PS 242). All the rituals he imagines, the hymns he orders to be spread throughout the country, the dances taught to countrymen, intend to build a new self. Cleanness, ritual washings and ointments are strongly emphasised in order to establish demarcations through which to distinguish individuals from one another; men and women are separated for the same reason. When a man of Quetzalcoatl sings, he does so in a distinctive way: “with intensity and restraint, singing inwardly, singing to his own soul, not outward to the world, […] with a sort of suppressed, tranced intensity, singing to the inner mystery, singing not into space, but into the other dimension of man’s existence” (PS 116). Ramón and his acolyte Cipriano dream of inculcating in people a new discipline that will harden their backbone: “Discipline is what Mexico needs, and what the whole world needs. But it is the discipline from the inside that matters. The machine discipline, from the outside, breaks down” (PS 342). The relationship between the peons and their leader is in this regard very different from that established by Kangaroo. Ramón does not seek to merge men within himself, he wants to inspire them and to awake in each individual the power of their own selves. For example, when Ramón is posing for a portrait with a sculptor:

The artist gazed with wonder, and with an appreciation touched with fear. The other man, large and intense, with big dark eyes staring with intense pride, yet prayerful, beyond the natural horizons, sent a thrill of dread and of joy through the artist. He bowed his head as he looked. Don Ramón turned to him.
“Now you!” he said.
The artist was afraid. He seemed to quail. But he met Ramón’s eyes. And instantly, that stillness of concentration came over him, like a trance.
(PS 161–162)

21Ramón and Cipriano seem to exert on their men all the powers of which Richard Somers dreamt. This power is not the power of love but a telepathic vibration which does not compromise awe and respect, that is to say, does not erase the distance between individuals.

22Paradoxically, Ramón believes that the cultivation of inward drives is the best way of creating a community. The development of hard, brittle egos incapable of any connexion is not what he’s looking for. In teaching men how to dance inwardly, not only does the leader urge them to turn to their inner self, he compels them to turn to their own blood, to the genius of their own “race.” They are thus to learn that the source of the Mexican soul lies beneath the earth, symbolised by the great cosmic serpent. The Quetzalcoatl man “[treads] the earth with his bare soles, as if treading himself deep into the earth” (PS 118). In doing so, he invokes the subterranean spirit, pulsing at the same rhythm as the tom-tom drum. The individual unconscious and collective unconscious become indistinguishable when the snake of the earth inhabits the believers like a dark God from beneath: “I am Quetzalcoatl, […] I am the wind that whirls from the heart of the earth, the little winds that whirl like snakes round your feet and your legs and your thighs, lifting up the head of the snake of your body, in whom is your power” (PS 113). In hardening their backbone, the men of Quetzalcoatl make themselves receptive to the cosmic vibration streaming from their soil; the path leading to individuality is thus concomitantly the path to community. Ramón believes that a revolution of the self will naturally lead to a political one:

“It may be you need to be drawn down, down, till you send roots into the deep places again. Then you can send up the sap and the leaves back to the sky, later.”
“And to me, the men in Mexico are like trees, forests that the white men felled in their coming. But the roots of the trees are deep and alive and forever sending up new shoots.”
“And each new shoot that comes up overthrows a Spanish church or an American factory.”
(PS 72)

23The leader hopes that if the Mexicans plunge back into the source of their indigenous culture and spirit, they will thus be able to develop harmoniously. The movement toward the earth will parallel an aspiration toward the sky. Hence the Mexican symbol of the serpent coupled with an eagle and the other name given to Quetzalcoatl: “I am lord of the two ways” (PS 167).

24While Kate admires Ramón and his noble intentions, she remains mistrustful of the Mexicans. In her view, he is playing a dangerous game in raising their deep instincts:

Joachim said that evil was the lapsing back to old life-modes that have been surpassed in us. This brings murder and lust. But the drums of Saturday night are the old rhythm, and that dancing round the drum is the old savage form of expression. Consciously reverting to the savage. So perhaps it is evil.
(PS 127)

25She constantly notices the absence of a centre in their dark eyes, as if deep down they had nothing else in their soul than this irrepressible passion for death. Although she perceives Ramón as a single individual, remote, absorbed, “He was handsome, almost horribly handsome […]. A pure sensuality, with a powerful purity of its own, hostile to her sort of purity […], with his terrible, aloof beauty, inaccessible yet so potent.” (PS 172–173), she is repelled by the peons’ obstinate indifference to everything and their stubborn negation of all individuality:

The strange, reptilian insistence of her very servants. Blood is one blood. We are all of one blood-stream. Something aboriginal and tribal, and almost worse than death to the white individual. Out of the dark eyes and the powerful spines of these people, all the time the unknown assertion: The blood is one blood. It was a strange, overbearing insistence, a claim of blood-unison.
(PS 392)

26Kate cannot repress her ingrained aristocratic recoil from the claims of any blood-unison. She cannot bear their attraction to the mass-spirit, to the great fusion. The first attack on Jamiltepec heralds Ramón’s future downfall, when the prophet of individualism will eventually be broken by the mass-spirit. His days are constantly threatened, he is betrayed by the very ones who worshipped him the minute before: “They seem to want to betray everything,” (PS 32) Kate says, and Ramon admits this to himself as a fatality: “His people would betray him, he knew that. Cipriano would betray him. Given one little vulnerable chink they would pierce him” (PS 181). At the end of the novel, it seems that Kate’s decision to stay in Mexico, in spite of her rejection of the Mexican reptilian spirit, partly stems from her desire to stay with Ramón. Lawrence will develop the theme of the aristocratic individual sacrificed by the mass-spirit in an essay, Apocalypse, and in The Escaped Cock he will imagine the aftermath of his resurrection. At the end of his life, Lawrence is a writer who seems convinced of the necessity of cultivating individualism in order to bring about change, even as he comes to doubt the capacity of the majority of men to achieve it.

27Even if Lawrence ends up by abandoning his utopian inspiration, he maintains his conviction concerning the necessary development of the inward drives and about the building of a self that is strongly assured. Moreover, while Freud presents sexual libido as a force that contravenes the imperative of civilization:

Since a man does not have unlimited quantities of psychical energy at his disposal, he has to accomplish his tasks by making an expedient distribution of his libido. What he employs for cultural aims he to a great extent withdraws from women and sexual life. His constant association with men, and his dependence on his relations with them, even estrange him from his duties as a husband and father.
(Freud 104)

28Lawrence appears to suggest that another kind of relationship is possible, a relationship between individuals who acknowledge their differences. The “star-equilibrium” which Birkin called for seems to bear its first fruits with Cipriano and Kate:

Now she found herself accepting him finally and forever as the stranger in whose presence she lived. It was his impersonal presence which enveloped her. She lived in his aura, and he, she knew, lived in hers, with nothing said, and no personal or spiritual intimacy whatever. A mindless communion of the blood.
(PS 398)

29This train of thought will be given its fullest development in the three successive versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In the two political novels, there is a female character, Harriet or Kate, who offers a counterpoint and a critical point of view on male business, on the male obsession with saving humanity.

30Freud and Lawrence are in agreement when they correlate individual neurosis with civilization. Their ideological and even ethical differences become evident when we compare Civilization and its Discontents with Kangaroo and The Plumed Serpent. Although he admits their imperfection, Freud restricts the possible responses to such ills to a series of remedies and palliatives which include sublimation and the management and moderation of super-ego censorship. In other terms, the most that can be achieved, in his view, is to ease, insofar as this is possible, the irremediable suffering imposed on the ego by civilization. Conversely, Lawrence does not speak as a scientist but as a thought-explorer and a utopian. The prerogatives of fiction enable him to scrutinise certain “perverse” responses to repression. By freeing itself from the summons of the super-ego, the ego releases its deepest impulses. Whereas Freud speaks of having to bear the demands of the super-ego, Lawrence imagines two different revolutions that are in search of alternatives to the mechanical model of industrial democracies. While Freud identifies the life-principle with Eros, with the drive compelling the ego to turn outward, Lawrence equates a “disinterested” or generalised love, which has been disconnected from any specific incarnate object, with the death-drive. Freud’s speculations take place in a period of rising anti-Semitism and his essay is an attempt to understand its causes. He refuses to advance any overall condemnation of civilization, whose “discontents” he acknowledges, or to take up an explicitly political stance. The novelist wants to go further and to seek remedies. The explorations undertaken by Lawrence in Kangaroo and The Plumed Serpentwould appear to have convinced him that the masses were to be mistrusted and to have finally led him to give up his messianic approaches. Nevertheless, his revolt still contrasts with the fatalism of Freud. Abandoning the dream of the providential Saviour, he remains attached to the idea that love has prevented men and women from being full individuals. He redirects his utopian hopes to a smaller community, that of the couple, in which unconscious drives, instead of being repressed, can express themselves as long as they counterbalance each other harmoniously.

Works cited

31Becket, Fiona. D.H. Lawrence, The Thinker as Poet. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997.

32Booth, Howard; Fox, Elizabeth; Becket, Fiona, eds. “Lawrence and the Psychoanalytic,” special issue of the D.H. Lawrence Review. 27, 2–3 (1997–1998).

33Cowan, James C. D.H. Lawrence, Self and Sexuality. Colombus: Ohio State University Press, 2002.

34Fernihough, Anne. “Analysing the Analyst: Lawrence’s Clash with Freud.” Aesthetics and Ideology. Oxford: Clarendon Press/New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 61–82.

35Freud, Sigmund. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works. Translated by James Strachey et al. Vol. XXI, The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents and Other Works, 1927-1931. London: Hogarth Press, 1991.

36Lawrence, D.H. “The Two Principles.” Phoenix II. Warren Roberts and Harry T. Moore, eds. London: Heinemann, 1968, 227–237.

37Lawrence, D.H. The Plumed Serpent. L.D. Clarke, ed. Introduction by Melvyn Bragg. London: Grafton Books, 1989.

38Lawrence, D.H. Kangaroo. Bruce Steel, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

39Lawrence, D.H. Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, Fantasia of the Unconscious. Bruce Steel, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

40Weiss, Daniel A. Oedipus in Nottingham: D.H. Lawrence. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1962.

41Wuchina, Douglas. “Literature—and Freud,” in Destinies of Splendour, Sexual Attraction in D.H. Lawrence. New York: Peter Lang, 2009, 21–44.

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1 A number of critics have already commented on Lawrence’s approach to Freud and psychoanalysis. See the bibliography for a selection of references.

2 Lawrence’s dualistic psychology is in line with a general dualistic view of the cosmos. See for example “The Two Principles” (1918).

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Juliette Feyel, « Redemptions of the Social Body. Kangaroo and The Plumed Serpent »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 45 | 2014, mis en ligne le 28 février 2015, consulté le 26 janvier 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Juliette Feyel

Juliette Feyel is Bye-fellow at Cambridge University.She taught French and Comparative Literature in France before joining Fitzwilliam College and the MML Faculty in 2012. She is particularly interested in the way British and French modernists sought new forms of sacredness out of official, institutionalized religions, hoping to find in the life of the body a new self as well as a new kind of communal bond. She has written extensively on D.H. Lawrence and Georges Bataille and has published a monograph on the latter (Georges Bataille. Une quête érotique du sacré. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2013)

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