"The knower and known are one. Simple people imagine they should see God, as if He stood there and they here. This is not so, God and I, we are one in knowledge.""To gauge the soul wemust gauge it with God, for the Ground of God and the Ground of the soul are one and the same."Eckhart"I and the Father are One."Jesus
Mallarme said something similar to Lawrence's comment. But Mallarme took it a step further, and possible a wrong step, in saying that it was permissible to disconnect a poem's meaning from its anchors in reality, in order to emphasize that Mystery. I think that was the start of a lot of people using Mallarme's idea as an excuse to be deliberately obscure for the sake of being obscure. (Therein losing Mallarme's original purpose, of course.) We eventually wind up with this idea taken to an extreme, as it is with much of current "post-avant-garde" poetry, where the poem's meaning has become so disconnected from what caused the poem to be written, that it's all surface brilliance and no depth, all flash and glitter and no substance, no heart. All intellectual flash and no heartfelt content or intent.As to the Burnside essay, but I agree with the quoted Britisher's assessment of Graham and Ashbery. I find them quite unreadable. And the disconnect described above is exactly why. Ditto for the majority of the so-called Language Poets.
I think Lawrence and Mallarme are simply giving voice to the fundamental principle of apophatic theology, which argues that God can be known by humans only in terms of what he is not. Known in this sense meaning grasped by the intellect. An experience of the transcendent is something else again.I don't know Graham's work well enough to comment on it. But I tend to agree with Dana Gioia on Ashbery, that he is a great minor poet. Next time you take a look at an Ashbery poem, imagine that you're standing in the middle of the room at an art opening - and the poem is the snatches of converstaion you hear all around you. I'll bet you'll find it makes more - if not a lot more - sense.
Interesting, Frank, but it suggests to me that what Lawrence means is that the First Cause is by it and our nature, ultimately alien to us. Lawrence though highly spiritual in a certain sense was also deeply suspicious of religious feeling, believing it to be a dangerous obstacle in the way of the healthy natural life. And being the man of violent feelings and thoughts that he was, I would hazard a guess that he wished to push the question of God out of the picture altogether by then claiming God was unknowable and hence irrelevant to life. Therefore he could get on with his worship pf the bllod running through one's veins and all that.
I like Gioia's idea about Ashbery, that's a good one. It still doesn't make Ashbery's poetry worth spending my time on, though. "A great minor poet" is probably a very accurate assessment of Ashbery, in the end. I might still say "good" rather than "great," though, even in the context of "minor."I think you're correct about apophatic theology, in this instance, being applicable. But that's just part of the via negativa, really, and the inability to grasp the Divine with the intellect is known to all the world's mystical traditions. The "silence of God," and the dark night of the soul, are the Western equivalents of "mu" and "the Tao is silent," in the mystic's experience.Conrad Aiken, is his reviews of Lawrence, pointed out some limitations Lawrence has in thinking about and presenting his case; largely, I often agree with Lawrence's ideas, but dislike his writing, because he's so, well, ham-fisted about it. Aiken tended to view Lawrence as the self-proclaimed thud-and-blunder primitive man, and Aiken thought Lawrence's writing suffered because it was driven as much by ideology as by inspiration. I tend to agree with that assessment. I find Lawrence to be polemical but not lyrical. (Aiken was nothing if not a musical writer, in both his poetry and his short stories.) Reading Aiken's "Collected Criticism" is revelatory.My reading of the theological comments of Lawrence, whenever he expressed them, is admittedly colored by my perception of him as a ham-fisted thinker. I think his observation about the First Cause (another oblique name for something transhuman and unnameable) might well be correct, but in practice Lawrence spent a great deal of effort trying to know the unknowable, through his writing. "The Plumed Serpent," his most overtly spiritual novel, is all about this quest. As usual, Lawrence contradicts himself, between what he avows and what he actually does. Mallarme, on the other hand, did in fact take the dictum and apply it to his art; I think the jury's still out on whether or not that was really a good idea. (Ignoring for a moment the sensual beauty of Mallarme, and the fact that I like his poems anyway.) Even if we judge Mallarme as successful in his avowed intent, what has come to pass in his wake—a whole raft of poets who believe that it's good to be obscure for the sake of being obscure, as if obscurity was a litmus test for greatness—is frightful.E,M. Forster's short story, "The Story of a Panic," comes much closer to touching the Unnamed, and packs more of a spiritual wallop, and more awareness of the via negativa, than the collected works of Lawrence combined. The cave, in Forster's "A Passage to India," is a place of dark mystery: we never find out exactly what happened in the cave, even though whatever happened drives the entire rest of the novel. It remains a Mystery. Only Mrs. Moore, the spiritual heart of the novel, who goes into the cave and encounters the Void, the Emptiness, the Silence of God—only Mrs. Moore really gives us a clue as to what lies in the cave.Eckhart is the closest Western mystic to my own sense of the Divine, which can also be named Mystery, or the Unknown, or, as in Judaic mysticicm, "Spoken-To." (The taboo against using the Names given in the Torah leads us to use this oblique strategies.) I get a great deal from Eckhart, and he has always made sense to me. But then, I admit to being a mystic who is very familiar with the via negativa, having been through the dark night myself. Eckhart talks about approaching the Godhead as "sinking and cooling," the very opposite of Lawrence's consistent tendency to heat things up, puff them up like a hot air balloon, and rise into the sky. Eckhart also said, "The eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me." I think andrew's right, Lawrence's claim of God's unknowability is more of an attempt to push God out of the sphere of relevant human action—to get God to go away, really. But as Eckhart said, about separation from God, "God never leaves. It is WE who go out for a walk."
Good piece, Art. While I agree with much of it, though I haven't read an awful lot by Lawrence, i don't think I could agree with him as a ham-fisted writer. Though it's a while since I've read him, and most of what I've read pre-1920s stuff. I do recall Huxley remarking that his output was becoming a bit bizarre- is The Plumed Serpent about a violent Mexican sense of "blood spirituality"? Sorry about that phrase but I can't think of something more appropriate. I think he could be a very fine writer but that his ideology, and disgust with Western civilization, may have led him to subvert his own talent. The true artist must allow the depths to reveal themselves of their own accord rather than forcing the issue. However the sense of life within Lawrence's work is certainly part of what I found invigorating, and missing from others like Woolf, for instance. I agree with how you compare him to Eckhart, and wouldn't it have been interesting if his health held up and got him as far as his friend's experimenting with hallucinogens in hte 50s. Though come to think of it, maybe he went that route in Mexico already. Into the Dark God!
andrew, I think you said it better than I did about Lawrence:"I think he could be a very fine writer but that his ideology, and disgust with Western civilization, may have led him to subvert his own talent. The true artist must allow the depths to reveal themselves of their own accord rather than forcing the issue."That's more or less what I was clumsily trying to get at. I stick to my guns about calling Lawrence ham-fisted, though, because that's how he became whenever he started to subvert his own talent in order to stick to his ideology. When he just wrote, not forcing the issue, as in some of his best poems, the best of him shows through, and he can be full of eros and ekstasis, in a good way. But his literary-critical writings are among the most sophomoric I have ever read, for a poet writing about poetry. His "Studies in Classic American Literature" reveals things mostly about Lawrence, and little about what he is discussing; it's useful for learning about Lawrence's attitudes about his contemporaries and predecessors, but it's otherwise not at all useful for a reader wanting to deepen his understanding of, say, Whitman.
Probably both very fine and ham-fisted. Though I've only read the novels Women in Love, and Sons and Lovers in terms of novels, and so probably missed the more flawed stuff. I should give those another look to see what I make of them, though I did read a couple of long short stories recently which I enjoyed, though of course they included that strange tint of ugliness that Lawrence seems to have been a part of his character. I think Huxley said he seemed to feel it a duty to offend at times- related no doubt to said disgust with Western civilization. I enjoyed some of his essays, Twilight in Italy, and his observational eye very fine. Though similar to your remarks on his literary-critical work, I thought his remarks on Dostoevsky curiously ignorant and fuelled by his desire for the world to conform to his ideals. And if he felt someone, in this case Dostoevsky, failed to do so, he seemed incapable of much depth of understanding. Perhaps though, he did protest a bit too much, and wasn't quite the primitive he wished to be. And perhaps he felt he needed to be abrasive and coarse so as to assert this primitive life-force in hte face of an omnipresent life-denying culture.
I have to jump to Lawrence's defense - at least a bit. Art is right that when he just writes - as in his best poems - he can be marvelous. He is a very, very good short story writer. And he is a wonderful travel writer - The Sea and Sardinia, Etruscan Places, etc.As a novelist, he is uneven. The Plumed Serpent is as bad a book as I ever read by a really good writer (though it has an absolutely magical description of peonies after rain). Lady Chatterly is risible, I think.But I like Studies in Classic American Literature. It is about Lawrence, true, but there is such a passionate, often goofy, sometimes profound engagement with the books and authors. And it is sometimes very funny. Read the Whitman essay again, starting after the caesura, where it says "Whitman, the great poet, has meant so much to me." Notice how the essay builds to a kind of fortissimo climax of affirmation - "The only riches. The great souls." The whole book is a kind of three-movement symphony.And then there is Apocalypse, which I think makes a very good point: "Start with the sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly happen."