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

Monday, December 3, 2018

Compromise–A Capitulation Of Will, Character, And Integrity

D.H. Lawrence wrote about sexual dynamics - how the most satisfying fulfillment of sexual desire can only come about after a struggle of will.  Men and women will always compete for dominance in sexual relationships, he said, and competition was not only not a bad thing but a necessary one.  Without a struggle of wills to determine the right balance of dominance and submission a true equilibrium cannot be be established and a free, open, potent, and profound sexual experience can never be possible.

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Lawrence had no preconceived gender notions of dominance and submission.  Both men and women had the need for both, desires stemming as much from Freudian childhood experiences as from innate character.  Paul Morel, the main character in Lawrence’s first important book, Sons and Lovers, is deeply devoted to his mother – so much so that his unconditional love for her and her selfish demands on him make normal relationships with women impossible.  He can neither find intimacy with Miriam, a woman who embodies his mother’s notions of artistic sensibility; nor with Clara, a sensual, free-spirited woman who most challenges his mother’s control. 

Lawrence, influenced by his wife Frida, a committed early Freudian, admitted n his letters that the relationship between his mother and him  was primal and unavoidably influential; and that whether Paul – Lawrence’s alter ego in Sons and Lovers– was born a submissive, overly sensitive boy; or whether he was turned into one by his mother, begs the question.  Paul Morel had no well-formed, mature, sexual will and vacillated between desires for submission (to his mother, to the beautiful sensitivity of Miriam, or to the overtly sexual Clara) and desires of dominance – to be free from all women.

In Women in Love, the book in which Lawrence most thoroughly explores the themes of sexual will, dominance, submission, and sexual equilibrium in depth, all his characters are confused, emotionally unsure, egotistic, and obsessed.  They – both the men and the women – cannot decide whether they want to dominate or be dominated; and because of this entanglement of sexual desire and intellectual variance, they all end up badly.

In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence’s last and most accomplished book, the principal characters – Connie and Mellors – are not so conflicted and obsessed.  They are the most real of any of Lawrence’s characters.  They want each other but are forbidden from doing so.  Connie’s persistent responsibility for her impotent husband, Mellors’ sensitivity to class and family, and the corrosive, disruptive and horrific nature of World War I initially prevent any relationship between the two; but because they are both kindred Lawrentian figures, both intent upon sexual union and the liberating if not epiphanic nature of it, the find each other and sexual satisfaction.

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They too struggle with issues of will, dominance, and submission; but are never caught in the academic arguments of Ursula, Gudrun, Birkin, and Gerald. and are thus more willing to test themselves personally and emotionally.  As with all Lawrence’s female characters, Connie is very aware of her femaleness, but is the only one who finally and conclusively understands what it means to be a woman.  It is only through the competitive, although desirous, relationship between her and Mellors that this realization comes.

Lawrence was insistent on individuality and the integrity of the individual.  Even in the most well-balanced sexual relationship, neither man nor woman should give up any quarter of their character, their integrity.  They must give of themselves, but should never be subsumed within the character of the other.  Such compromised love was the stuff of fantasy and romantic idealism.

The idea of the integrity of will is not new, and philosophers from Nietzsche and Schopenhauer to Jean-Paul Sartre and beyond reflected on it in different ways.  For Nietzsche it was the recognition and expression of individual will which was the only validation of human experience in a random, valueless world.  For Schopenhauer the ‘will to life’ was the most essential feature of human nature, but went far beyond the idea of survival and explored the various expressions of will and their consequences.  Sartre sought to square this native, individualistic will with the needs of society – how could an individual express his own, personal, unique will without damaging the society which he needed for survival.

Lawrence reduced these and other academic considerations of will to their most fundamental principles – the relationship between men and women.  Sexual equilibrium for Lawrence was not only the necessary environment for the expression of individual will and desire, but a metaphor for what he saw was wrong with English society, so corrupted and degraded by the War.  Equilibrium within the context of compromise means nothing, he said.  Only when the legitimacy and primacy of individual will is recognized and respected; and when struggles of will are realized as necessary precursors to sexual and emotional balance can one even begin to hope for some settlement of higher-order social dysfunction.

Lawrence cannot be called a social or philosophical Darwinist.  There was more to the human struggle of wills than simple survival.  His philosophy was profoundly Asian, part Tantric – the dynamics of sexual complementarity – and part Chinese cosmology, the more harmonious equilibrium between male and female character.   Yet there was something indeed final and Darwinist about his thinking.  Compromise played no part.  There was no sense of survival or survival of the fittest, concepts which were too basic and animalistic for Lawrence; only willful struggle which resulted either in sexual complementarity and emotional satisfaction or incessant confusion.

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Today’s progressive age denies the validity of willful enterprise as a selfish and antisocial.  Individual will must be tamed in order for society to progress, harnessed to serve the needs and interests of the community at large.  Conflict, whether between individuals, societies, or nations can be resolved in favor of mutual satisfaction and compromise – higher orders of human expression which deny the ineluctability of a violent, territorial, and aggressive human nature.

Yet thousands of years of human history belie this notion.  Progress has come because of not despite competition, conflict, and willful dispute.  The great civilizations of Europe and Asia grew, prospered, and flourished because of power, dominance, and willful determination.  Ironically, those who deliberately deny the aggressive, self-centered, survivalist nature of human will, welcome social conflict as a way of assuring justice for those oppressed, marginalized, or forgotten.   In the end, regardless of philosophical commitment or political preference, the primacy and unavoidability of will, conflict, and resolution – not compromise – remains.

Perhaps more than anything, compromise negates being.  Being – however described and valued – is individual. Whether a God-given uniqueness or soul, an appreciation of being relative to others, or a Cartesian ‘I think therefore I am” speculation it is individual uniqueness which is the only absolute in a relativistic life.

Descartes was too limited to epistemology.  As intellectually complex as it was, it was too simplistic and far too removed from individual experience to be of any use in understanding individualism and individual will.

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Nabokov looked at the ‘I am’ question in temporal terms.  The present exists only in milliseconds.  The future is only possible and not even probable.  Only the past exists, and only if one retains, relives, and experiences the past through memory can one exist.  ‘I am’ = ‘I was’.  Yet Nabokov’s ‘memorism’ while citing the importance of the temporal environment as the matrix for human activity, ignored the nature of individual expression within it.

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John Donne wrote:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.

Yet every man is an island.  Focusing more on larger groups of which we are a part and assuming a greater value in so doing, ignores human nature, and the nature of individualization.

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D.H. Lawrence, by focusing on sexual dynamics and will and reducing the argument to its most basic elements, expressed the importance of individualism and individual will in human terms.  His characters’ defiant struggles of dominance and submission and insistent demands for individual identity and expression are – or should be – models for our behavior.

Existential issues – faced either now or at the time of our death – will not be resolved through compromise.  Our being – if there is any such thing – exists only a a function of our unexposed, secret, identity and the willful expression of it.  The final ledger will not record agreements, settlements, or resolution.

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