Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4213
In an essay entitled “The State of Funk,” Lawrence discusses his moral vision as an artist:My field is to know the feelings inside a man, and to make new feelings conscious. What really torments civilised people is that they are full of feelings they know nothing about; they can’t realise them, they can’t fulfil them, they can’t live them. And so they are tortured. It is like having energy you can’t use—it destroys you. And feelings are a form of vital energy.
In Lawrence’s worldview, people either possess or lack vital energy—that is to say, anima, or spirit. Those whose vital spark fires into passionate energy are truly alive; the rest—those whose natural feelings are dulled by the mechanical routine of “civilization,” so that their responses are cerebral, not instinctive—might as well be dead, no matter how successful they may appear to be, no matter how attractive or wealthy or powerful they may seem.
Lawrence’s novels, short stories, poems, and miscellaneous writings advance the same moral vision: that men and women (indeed, whole cultures) must discover their true selves, a quality epitomized in Studies in Classic American Literature (1923) as the “IT.” The IT, or essential self, was once, among primitive cultures, celebrated as a life force of vital energy. When Lawrence visited sites of Etruscan culture, in Etruscan Places (1932), he half described, half invented an archaic world during a period when its people took passionate pride in the human body, when they exulted the sacredness of the whole living universe. According to Lawrence, Etruscans and other old civilizations regarded the universe as an organism, a living whole, to which all living things, and even seemingly inanimate things, belong. Now, Lawrence believes, human beings have lost sight of their interconnectedness with the organic universe; they have lost their connection with anima, the vital spirit. Through constant mechanical repetition, their feelings, even their sexual feelings, have grown dull, repetitious, lacking spontaneity or natural warmth.
Rejecting the scientific positivism dominant in twentieth century philosophy, Lawrence urges instead a “religion of the blood,” a primitivistic belief in the power of instinct rather than mind. For him, the “dark gods” of the blood, of the subconscious intuitive self, not the light of cerebral rationality, must rule human conduct.
Yet how can modern men and women, forced to work in a mechanized, technologically complex world, tap their deepest feelings? For Lawrence, reared in a mining town that symbolized for him the mechanical horrors of a rigid, artificial, inhuman universe, the answer was both simple and complicated. On a simple level, they must learn to reeducate their native instincts, almost stultified by the repetitions of work, almost blighted by meaningless social intercourse.
To renew these instincts, Lawrence as an artist would educate the sensibility of people, so that they might confront their secret hearts. Typically, his stories concern confrontations or encounters in which characters discover their true sensual identity and either achieve fulfillment or fail. Because the sexual urge, in Lawrence’s view, is the last powerful human feeling that resists the mechanization of intellect, he usually shows how characters can reeducate their passionate selves in order to become authentic human beings. Thus, sex—usually identified in the public mind as the writer’s central theme—is actually the means, not the end, of vital education. Lawrence once complained bitterly about the vulgar image of him as a “lurid” propagandist for sexuality. His theme, indeed, is not sex, but love. In a sense, Lawrence is the most “romantic” of major twentieth century writers, for he...
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