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Monday, May 15, 2017

The Chimera Of Relevance–D.H.Lawrence, Sexuality, And The Vacancy Of Everything Else

But the very irrelevancy of the man overcame her. He kissed her with half discernible, dim kisses, and touched her throat. And the meaninglessness of him fascinated her and left her powerless. She could ascribe no meaning to him, none whatever. And yet his mouth, so strange in kissing, and his hairy forearms, and his slender, beautiful breast with black hair — it was all like a mystery to her… And she was heavy and spellbound, and she loved the spell that bound her…(D.H.Lawrence, ‘The Captain’s Doll)
Hannele, like many of the women in Lawrence’s novels, is under the powerful, indefinable, but ineluctable spell of a man.  Maleness is not an expression of aggressiveness or physical strength; nor an attribute of courage, intellectual conviction, peerage, or adventure.  Male potency is innate, a function of will, and beyond the scope of social expectations.  It is an inchoate but essential and fundamental.  It defies characterization, metaphor, and description.  A woman’s susceptibility to it has nothing to do what a man has become, but what he is.

Image result for images lawrence the captain's doll

In The Fox Lawrence describes the boy’s male desire and sexuality – inexpressible and irresistible.
And he! He did not want her to watch any more, to see any more, to understand any more.  He wanted to veil her woman’s spirit…He wanted her to commit herself to him, and to put her independent spirit to sleep.  He wanted to take away from her all effort, all that seemed  her very raison d’etre. He wanted to make her submit, yield, blindly pass away out of all her strenuous consciousness.  He wanted to take away her consciousness, and maker just his woman. Just his woman.
A woman may struggle for her independence as March does, but she cannot succeed. Her desire for passive completeness is irresistible.  It is not so much a matter of subjugation to the boy’s maleness, but peace within it.
She still felt she ought to DO something, to strain herself in some direction. And there was nothing to do, and no direction in which to strain herself. And she could not quite accept the submergence which his new love put upon her. If she was in love, she ought to EXERT herself, in some way, loving. She felt the weary need of our day to EXERT herself in love. But she knew that in fact she must no more exert herself in love.
He would not have the love which exerted itself towards him. It made his brow go black. No, he wouldn’t let her exert her love towards him. No, she had to be passive, to acquiesce, and to be submerged under the surface of love. She had to be like the seaweeds she saw as she peered down from the boat, swaying forever delicately under water, with all their delicate fibrils put tenderly out upon the flood, sensitive, utterly sensitive and receptive within the shadowy sea, and never, never rising and looking forth above water while they lived.
Never. Never looking forth from the water until they died, only then washing, corpses, upon the surface. But while they lived, always submerged, always beneath the wave. Beneath the wave they might have powerful roots, stronger than iron; they might be tenacious and dangerous in their soft waving within the flood. Beneath the water they might be stronger, more indestructible than resistant oak trees are on land. But it was always under-water, always under-water. And she, being a woman, must be like that…
And she was so tired, so tired, like a child that wants to go to sl4eep, but which fights against sleep  as if sleep were death. She seemed to stretch her eyes wider in the obstinate effort and tension of keeping awake.  She would know. She would consider and judge and decide. She would have the reins of her own life in her own hands.  She would be an independent woman to the last.  But she was so tired, so tired of everything. And sleep seemed near. And there was such rest in the boy.
Image result for images d.h.lawrence the fox

The boy’s allure and seductiveness have nothing to do with who he is or what he has become.  In Lawrence’s extended metaphor, he is the fox – a natural predator, a sly invader, a smart and savvy animal with only his prey in sight.  He has no human identity or being; no familiar image.   He comes into the household of March and Jill only as an interloper.  The women don’t know who he is, where he has come from, or where he is going.  They succumb to his maleness and his sexuality without concern.

As March becomes more attracted to and seduced by the boy, Jill becomes defiant.  She senses that her friend is only the boy’s prey and once caught will be consumed and discarded.  She is Lawrence’s sexual outlier – a woman who can resist male advances, whose obstinate objectivity and practicality can defend against predation; but she cannot control March as the boy can.

The Captain’s Doll reprises the same theme of The Fox.  Hannele is attracted to a man who is as willful, determined, and sexual dominant as the boy.  Hannele’s submission to the Captain is unremarkable given Lawrence’s convictions about sexual roles and innate behavior; but remarkable in his characterization of him.  The boy in The Fox is nothing but a predatory animal in the barest trappings of a man; but the Captain is even less distinct as a human being. “But the very irrelevancy of the man overcame her... And the meaninglessness of him fascinated her and left her powerless”.
He is nothing, he stands for nothing, he means nothing, and he is irrelevant. Here he explains:
The future! The future! The future is used up every day. The future to me is like a big tangle of black thread. Every morning you begin to untangle one loose end — and that’s your day. And every evening you break off and throw away what you’ve untangled, and the heap is so much less: just one thread less, one day less. That’s all the future matters to me.’
Yet she cannot resist:
Hannele sat feeling helpless. She couldn’t help being in love with the man: with his hands, with his strange, fascinating physique, with his incalculable presence. She loved the way he put his feet down, she loved the way he moved his legs as he walked, she loved the mould of his loins, she loved the way he dropped his head a little, and the strange, dark vacancy of his brow, his not-thinking.
Her attraction is pure and unmediated.  She is taken by his physicality, his male presence, and – surprisingly – his vacancy.

There is no clearer expression of Lawrence’s belief in the essentially qualifying nature of sexuality.   The Captain’s potently seductive sexuality exists in its pure state.  The man is nothing.  He has lost whatever identity he had before the War, has discarded any sense of maturity, evolution, or understanding, and comes to Hannele as an emotional cipher.   None of this matters to Hannele who not only accepts him regardless of his emotional disassociation but because of it.

Image result for images d.h.lawrence the fox

Relevance – the need to be remembered because of having done something or meant something – is as pertinent and essential a human aspiration as any.   While men approaching death may have concerns about those they leave behind; or like Ivan Ilyich in Tolstoy’s short story of the same name, spend their final hours trying to sort out meaning; many more worry about what significance their life has had.  How will they be remembered? What achievements will be recorded and relived? What monuments, works of art, business enterprises created? To die insignificant is to die without meaning.  We need to have mattered.

Image result for images death of ivan ilyich

Philosophers like Nietzsche have dismissed this fantasy.  The only validation of the individual is the expression of will.  We are all ‘beyond good and evil’, wrote Nietzsche, and to measure our worth based on practical events or moral stance is the height of irrelevant folly.

Nietzsche and Lawrence represent two sides of the existential coin.  Both dismiss social context – achievement, morality, success, and failure – as insignificant and count only the most essential aspects of human nature in the final tally.  For Lawrence it is the consummation of male desire and female submission.  For Nietzsche it is the expression of primal will.


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