"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Coming Together–Mutual Orgasm, Tantrism, The Tao, And The Unique Sexual Vision Of D.H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned from publication, and only after a series of lawsuits and court cases did it finally see the light of day.  Viewed from a modern perspective, the censorship seems prudish and unnecessary.  Constance Chatterley and her gamekeeper become lovers, explore sex and sexuality, and are both freed if only temporarily from the confines of Victorian society and the burdensome guilt and responsibility of the past.  She is loosened from slavish responsibility to her impotent but insufferable husband, and he finds that life and love can be once more bearable if not hopeful.

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The tale of Connie and Mellors is no conventional love story, nor is there ever in any of Lawrence’s writing.   Men and women meet, engage in a combat of wills, struggle with issues of dominance, submission; use sexual feints – faux capitulation, testing stratagems, and duplicity in the name of ultimate discovery and honesty – and strive for the Lawrentian seemingly impossible ideal of individual integrity and sexual equilibrium.  A complete, transformative, and spiritual sexual encounter is possible, he writes, but only if the two partners are secure in and confident of their individuality.  Sexual equilibrium is central to the argument.  Both men and women have submissive and dominant natures.  Neither has inherent virtue and neither is gender-specific.  True sexual, personal, and existential harmony can only come about if the the partners are complementary.

Although he never admitted as much, Lawrence was influenced both by Tantrism and Taoism, Eastern philosophies which focused on sexual complementarity – yin and yang, lingam and yoni, male and female forces which are innately human, undeniable, and central to life itself.  For both Buddhists and Hindus sex was never simply a matter of procreation, release, or love.  Sexual union reflected the universal harmony inherent in the universe but most often ignored, neglected, or distorted.  The sexual union of male and female is not just practical but representative.  It is a playing out of the dance of Siva, creation and destruction, and the final settlement of predictable and expected sexual wars. 

Lawrence told how this perfect union might be possible – not without defiance, hatred, brutality, and selfishness; nor without openness and a willingness to forget attribution.  Women, he wrote, were no more or less submissive than men.  The man might initiate sex and the phallus might be the symbol and instrument of sexual union; but the woman is always sexually co-equal.  There are no stories of misogyny, abuse, or sexual patriarchy in Lawrence – only sexual wars between men and women.  Paul Morel’s mother in Sons and Lovers fights the insufferable and ignorant patriarchy of her husband and uses her children to dominate him.  Anna Brangwen defies the inherited male chauvinism of her husband and finds a bit of political if not sexual satisfaction in his defeat.  Ursula and Gudrun, her daughters never come to any compromise or settlement in their sexual affairs and are doomed to a life of shared misanthropy, sexual confusion, and desperate desire.  Lady Chatterley, the most evolved and compelling woman Lawrence has created, has fought none of the sexual battles of Mrs. Morel, Anna, or Ursula and Gudrun, but has struggled against her own limitations to find sexual satisfaction and more importantly personal integrity.

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Lawrence in Lady Chatterley’s Lover has for the most part abandoned his intellectual debates and has finally integrated his personal philosophy within the characters of Constance, Clifford, and Mellors.  Yet at the same time, when talking about sexual epiphany, he becomes romantic, rhapsodic, and idealistic.  For all his compelling arguments about the philosophical centrality of sexual intercourse and its place in the Western canon alongside its Eastern counterparts, Lawrence cannot help himself.

He took her in his arms again and drew her to him, and suddenly she became small in his arms, small and nestling. It was gone, the resistance was gone, and she began to melt in a marvelous peace. And as she melted small and wonderful in his arms, she became infinitely desirable to him; all his blood-vessels seemed to scald with intense yet tender desire, for her, for her softness, for the penetrating beauty of her in his arms, passing into his blood. And softly, with that marvelous swoon-like caress of his hand in pure soft desire, softly he stroked the silky slope of her loins, down, down between her soft warm buttocks, coming nearer and nearer to the very quick of her.

And she felt him like a flame of desire, yet tender, and she felt herself melting in the flame. She let herself go. She felt his penis risen against her with silent amazing force and assertion and she let herself go to him. She yielded with a quiver that was like death, she went all open to him. And oh, if he were not tender to her now, how cruel, for she was all open to him and helpless!

She quivered again at the potent inexorable entry inside her, so strange and terrible. It might come with the thrust of a sword in her softly-opened body, and that would be death. She clung in a sudden anguish of terror. But it came with a strange slow thrust of peace, the dark thrust of peace and a ponderous, primordial tenderness, such as made the world in the beginning. And her terror subsided in her breast, her breast dared to be gone in peace, she held nothing. She dared to let go everything, all herself and be gone in the flood.

And it seemed she was like the sea, nothing but dark waves rising and heaving, heaving with a great swell, so that slowly her whole darkness was in motion, and she was Ocean rolling its dark, dumb mass. Oh, and far down inside her the deeps parted and rolled asunder, in long, fair-travelling billows, and ever, at the quick of her, the depths parted and rolled asunder, from the center of soft plunging, as the plunger went deeper and deeper, touching lower, and she was deeper and deeper and deeper disclosed, the heavier the billows of her rolled away to some shore, uncovering her, and closer and closer plunged the palpable unknown, and further and further rolled the waves of herself

away from herself leaving her, till suddenly, in a soft, shuddering convulsion, the quick of all her plasm was touched, she knew herself touched, the consummation was upon her, and she was gone. She was gone, she was not, and she was born: a woman.

Yet these moments of excess can be excused; for when the passage is deconstructed for meaning, it is central, just, and appropriate.  “She was gone, she was not, and she was born; a woman”.  Feminist critics have jumped upon these words as the worst of Lawrentian male idealism – only through the phallus can a woman find fulfilment and satisfaction.  Yet when looked within a broad philosophical context, the criticisms are misplaced.  Neither Lawrence nor Taoist and Tantric philosophers see male sexual initiative as subjugating but as a part of an established natural order.  Men are not sexual predators but originators.  Women are not passive recipients but complementary partners.  Connie waits for Mellors and his ‘inexorable entry inside her’ but is no means secondary to him.  She is no vessel, no complaisant concubine, no seductive female.  She is woman – distinct, complementary, different in the shape of her desires and needs but equal.

Lawrence is not the first writer to deal with issues of sexual dynamics.  Shakespeare’s women – the most compelling characters in his Histories, Tragedies, and Comedies –best men at every opportunity.  Lady Macbeth ‘unmans’ her husband, Dionyza ridicules hers for his complaisant attitudes of fatherhood, Margaret takes the military reins from her incompetent husband, Henry Vi; Tamora engineers the rape and mutilation of Titus Andronicus’s daughter for revenge and bitter, unmitigated hatred; Portia and Rosamond run rings around their suitors; and Goneril and Regan emasculate their husbands, Cornwall and Albany in their pursuit of power.

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Ibsen and Strindberg’s Laura, Miss Julie, Hedda Gabler, Rebekka West, and Hilde Wangel are Nietzschean women of unstoppable will, sexual determination, and amorality. Martha is a worthy opponent of George in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  yet only Lawrence writes of sexual dynamics– the powerful, inescapable,  existential, and philosophical centrality of sexual will.

We live in an age of sexual transition – traditional sexual polarities are things of the past, say progressive advocates.  Male-female categorizations are archaic, irrelevant, and nonsensical; and only gender flux, temporary positioning on a fluid gender spectrum, has relevance.  Yet because the sexual dramas of Lawrence, Ibsen, Strindberg, and Shakespeare are universal and irrevocable, they will never disappear nor be consigned to a literary dustbin. Tantrism, the Tao, and Shivaite sexuality cannot be so easily dismissed.

Lady Chatterley, despite feminist criticism, is in the company of Hedda Gabler,but far more nuanced and complex.  Whereas Hedda is Ibsen’s expression of pure Nietzschean will, Constance is less interested in sexual dominance and vendetta than personal completion and fulfillment.  She is as concerned with the exercise of women’s rights as any other woman; but her intent is not dominance but complementarity. Only through a struggle of wills can sexual and personal harmony result.

Lawrence, for all his censorious press and modern-day feminist dismissal, remains a writer of importance.  Regardless of the popular sentiments of social equality, justice, and mobility which tend to devalue and dismiss Lawrence, he remains relevant and significant.  There is nothing traditional, conservative, or archaic about his views of the centrality of sex.  To do so would be to disregard not only the important, established philosophical/religious principles; but to ignore the continued, persistent presence of dynamic, irrefutable heterosexual sex.

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