Language, selfhood and otherness in the works of D. H. Lawrence
Angelov, Dimitar (2008) Language, selfhood and otherness in the works of D. H. Lawrence. PhD thesis, University of Warwick.Full text not available from this repository.
Official URL: http://webcat.warwick.ac.uk/record=b2257930~S15
The aim of this dissertation is to trace the development of Lawrence’s thought about the interdependence between language, selfhood and otherness in the period between the composition of Women in Love and the closing years of his literary career. Around the time of Women in Love’s inception, Lawrence saw the relationship between self and language in terms of the gap separating the speaker’s experience from his utterance. This gap, Lawrence believed, could be bridged through a type of verbal expression that was qualitatively different from the static language of representation on which Western rationalism was predicated. In “Foreword to Women in Love” this authentic mode of expression is referred to as “the new idea” arising out of the individual’s “struggle for verbal consciousness” (276). However, the complexity of linguistic signification, revealed on the dramatic plane of the novel itself, proves the one-to-one correspondence between expression and experience impossible to achieve.
Lawrence’s exploration of the interdependence between selfhood and language continued with his essays on psychology, which followed chronologically Women in
Love. In both Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and Fantasia of the Unconscious, Lawrence describes the ego as a rational construct analogous to the static language of representation. This structural homology allows the full verbal representability of the ego whilst rendering un-signifyable all those facets of subjectivity which transcend reason. The argument of Lawrence’s psychology essays can therefore be said to introduce an important twist in his earlier views on the interrelation between self and language. If the “Foreword to Women in Love” envisaged at least the possibility for an absolute coincidence between experience and verbal expression, the psychology essays reveal this at-oneness as virtually unattainable. With the hindsight of the late twentieth century developments in psychoanalytic thought, the argument put forth in Psychoanalysis and Fantasia can be said to foreshadow certain aspects of Jacques Lacan’s and Julia Kristeva’s views on subjectivity.
The completion of the psychology essays left Lawrence undeterred in his quest for a new mode of signification able to reveal the entirety of the human self. Since all his attempts to elicit a solution from within Western ontology proved futile, he turned his attention to a variety of non-European civilisations, which the science of the time believed to share a mode of being different from the one engendered by rationalism. This essentially primitivist image of the non-European other had a profound impact on Lawrence who was fascinated to discover that societies so radically different from his own were predicated on the same state of at-oneness between experience and language which he himself hoped to achieve in the present. It was with these thoughts that Lawrence departed to the United States to familiarise himself with the traditional, non-European culture of the Native Americans and find inspiration therein.
In other words, Lawrence’s impulse to travel to the New World was rooted in preconceived ideas which tend to transform the other into a projection issuing from the self. These ideas influenced in varying degrees Lawrence’s account of the indigenous people throughout his stay in North America, yet, in time, he began to develop a more authentic sense of their otherness which was reflected in his narrative technique.
The Native American essays included in the collection Mornings in Mexico demonstrate how Lawrence began to, literally, write himself out of his own projections by creating what can be referred to as a self-conscious discourse on alterity. The specificity of this discourse lies in its capacity to foreground its very own cultural bias and thus bracket off, as it were, the truth that it ostensibly affirms. In this sense it prefigures the methodological adjustments that Jacques Derrida prescribed to late twentieth-century science of ethnology.
The signifying logic of Lawrence’s discourse on alterity is applied further in some of his later works which examine cultural otherness in terms of a particular mode of expression epitomised by the symbol. The symbol, conceived of as a particular type of language, functions in accordance with the same logic of transcendence that we found in the discourse of the Native American essays in Mornings in Mexico, in the sense that it simultaneously affirms and subverts a particular meaning. However, if the essays’ narrative leaves an unbridgeable gap between the European observer and the indigenous people, the symbol creates a signifying space where self and other can genuinely interact. Thus the collection of Places elaborates a social model allowing culturally diverse communities to co-exist without infringing upon each other’s difference.
Using Julia Kristeva’s theory of inter-subjective relations across a cultural divide, put forth in her work Strangers to Ourselves, I will try to demonstrate that the social model Lawrence develops in Sketches of Etruscan Places is based on a fundamental re-conceptualisation of the correspondence between selfhood and language, conceived as symbolic discourse.
Since the symbol contains its own undoing in the dynamic flux of experience, its meaning is characterised with a semantic surplus, an otherness, that can never be
fully explicated. Symbolic discourse can therefore signify the ever changing and ultimately unknowable dimension of the self, which Lawrence calls variously dynamic consciousness or the unconscious, and which the static language of representation is unable to express. In other words, the symbol can accommodate both the self-sameness of the ego and the otherness of the non-cerebral self.
By positing in language the decentred human subject, never at one with itself, the symbol renders hollow the idea of a homogenous society based on individual selfsameness. Since the subject is always at variance with itself, social cohesion begins to appear possible only if predicated on difference, a difference that all the members of society share. This sameness in difference creates an open and inclusive social framework able to integrate people irrespective of their cultural background.
In this sense, the essays included in Sketches of Etruscan Places create a new balance between the notions of language, selfhood and otherness that is both similar and different from the one we described in Part I of this thesis. The correspondence between self and language, i.e. the speaker and his utterance has been regenerated at the cost of a radical redefinition of the notion of language. This redefinition, in turn, has been made possible by Lawrence’s recourse to cultural otherness and has led to the development of a model of self-other interrelation whereby self and other can coexist in difference.
|Item Type:||Thesis or Dissertation (PhD)|
|Subjects:||P Language and Literature > PR English literature|
|Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH):||Lawrence, D. H. (David Herbert), 1885-1930. Women in love, Lawrence, D. H. (David Herbert), 1885-1930 -- Criticism and interpretation, Lawrence, D. H. (David Herbert), 1885-1930 -- Language, Self in literature, Other (Philosophy) in literature, English literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism|
|Official Date:||September 2008|
|Institution:||University of Warwick|
|Theses Department:||Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies|
Actions (login required)