I almost always tire of Lawrence when I dare to read him, and this wasn’t an exception. Although I had wanted to read him for along time because of his interpretation of Moby Dick which I had read about somewhere. But what tires me about his writing is his sarcasm, I guess you could say. This is from a section on Walt Whitman
“I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.
What do you make of that? I AM He That ACHES. First generalization. First uncomfortable universalization. WITH AMOROUS LOVE.! Oh, God! Better a bellyache. A bellyache is at least specific. But the ACHE OF AMOROUS LOVE!
Think of having that under your skin. All that!
I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.
Walter, leave off. You are not HE. You are just a limited Walter. And your ache doesn’t include all Amorous Love, by any means….
CHUFF! CHUFF! CHUFF!
…. Reminds one of steam-engine. A locomotive. They’re the only things that seem to me to ache with amorous love. All that steam inside them. Forty million foot-pounds pressure.”
He comes off like one of those Amazon critics (I forgot their names — I think it’s the Vines) which make it a point of denigrating writers and insulting them as personally as possible. I have no idea why this phenomenon exists, but it has always seemed to me that writers in particular are subjected to vicious and exaggerated attacks because it is such an intellectually challenging art. People want to bring writers down a notch just because they are, generally, better thinkers than their critics. Certain writers, like Will Self, deserve to be brought low. But I’m reminded of the joke about Jackie Kennedy Onassis editing Gravity’s Rainbow and writing a note to “Tom” Pynchon, “Love the first line.” How do you edit Pynchon? And with Lawrence I find him to be protesting too much. Because he himself is guilty of idiosyncratic descriptions like “Blood-knowledge” and “upper” and “under consciousness;” “mind knowledge,” to name a few.
But he is most adamant about the fact that Americans believe themselves to be masterless, while he believes everyone serves some master or another. I really don’t know if I agree with that. I’ve heard it said many times before, but I’ve also heard it said that “everyone believes in a higher power,” and I don’t, unless you’re talking about the sun that makes every day possible.
Anyway, the main essay I wanted to read was about Moby Dick and I found that one to be enlightening. When he notes that the three main bowmen are a Pacific Islander, a large black man and a native American, he correctly points out that they (and the entire crew) are the symbolic representations of the crushed natives that Europeans suppressed. And Ahab is the white madman — making his own obsession into the obsession of everyone else on the ship. Lawrence sees Ahab’s desire as the death wish: the need to destroy his own whiteness and take everyone down with him. But I think Lawrence was or is a little too quick to judge America as a suicide and I think people in general are a little too quick to invoke Thanatos when judging other people’s behavior. I don’t think that people who cliff dive have a death wish. I think it’s possible they don’t see death in the way others do. And it’s not like most people go up Mt. Everest in order to jump off.