22 July 2008

Lawrence, and literary industrialism

For those of you who missed class last week, we spent quite a bit of time talking about the relationship between technology, organic life, industrialization, and Lawrence’s own peculiar views about the relationship between sexuality, alienation, and life under industrialized, urban society. One of the complications and contradictions in Lawrence is that the fierce attention he gives to the individual (really a product of certain kinds of aggressive bourgeois liberal ideologies) cuts against his pre-lapsarian anti-capitalism.

We spent some time thinking about what this contradiction means in places like Chapter 17 (The Industrial Magnate), where the problems of technology (mechanization, mindless repetition, inhuman organization) become closely related to Lawrence’s own project of writing and describing unalienated human life, in fact are only possible because Lawrence can feel (but perhaps not resolve) the tension between writing against modernity in the very terms of modernity, for audiences shaped by modernity, in a necessarily modern medium. The following passage was useful for thinking about some of those issues:

“Immediately he SAW the firm, he realised what he could do. He had a fight to fight with Matter, with the earth and the coal it enclosed. This was the sole idea, to turn upon the inanimate matter of the underground, and reduce it to his will. And for this fight with matter, one must have perfect instruments in perfect organisation, a mechanism so subtle and harmonious in its workings that it represents the single mind of man, and by its relentless repetition of given movement, will accomplish a purpose irresistibly, inhumanly. It was this inhuman principle in the mechanism he wanted to construct that inspired Gerald with an almost religious exaltation. He, the man, could interpose a perfect, changeless, godlike medium between himself and the Matter he had to subjugate. There were two opposites, his will and the resistant Matter of the earth. And between these he could establish the very expression of his will, the incarnation of his power, a great and perfect machine, a system, an activity of pure order, pure mechanical repetition, repetition ad infinitum, hence eternal and infinite. He found his eternal and his infinite in the pure machine-principle of perfect co-ordination into one pure, complex, infinitely repeated motion, like the spinning of a wheel; but a productive spinning, as the revolving of the universe may be called a productive spinning, a productive repetition through eternity, to infinity. And this is the Godmotion, this productive repetition ad infinitum. And Gerald was the God of the machine, Deus ex Machina. And the whole productive will of man was the Godhead.

“He had his life-work now, to extend over the earth a great and perfect system in which the will of man ran smooth and unthwarted, timeless, a Godhead in process. He had to begin with the mines. The terms were given: first the resistant Matter of the underground; then the instruments of its subjugation, instruments human and metallic; and finally his own pure will, his own mind. It would need a marvelous adjustment of myriad instruments, human, animal, metallic, kinetic, dynamic, a marvellous casting of myriad tiny wholes into one great perfect entirety. And then, in this case there was perfection attained, the will of the highest was perfectly fulfilled, the will of mankind was perfectly enacted; for was not mankind mystically contra-distinguished against inanimate Matter, was not the history of mankind just the history of the conquest of the one by the other?”

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