November 1, 2009
[The American Conservative, Fall Books Issue ,2009]
Few books I know begin as winningly as D. H. Lawrence's Fantasia of the Unconscious, a sequel to his not very well-received Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious:
I warn the generality of readers that the present book will seem to them only a rather more revolting mass of wordy nonsense than the last. I would warn the generality of critics to throw it in the wastepaper basket without more ado.
By and large, this is what the generality of critics have done since 1921, tossing also the rest of Lawrence's nonfiction, except the travel books and the essays on sex, pornography, and censorship. It is an understandable reaction: one is often hard put to believe that Lawrence means what he seems to be saying; it is more comfortable to mutter about the madness of genius, the striking intellectual eccentricity of so many great imaginative artists, etc. For the frail miner's son arraigned the whole proud edifice of modern thought.
Lawrence's Unconscious is not Freud's. Freud's unconscious is a swamp, which psychoanalytic reason must drain and reclaim. Lawrence's Unconscious is a vital power: the ineffable source of life, a monarch ruling and subsuming the whole field of bodily planes, plexuses, and ganglions, completely individual but connected by quick, subtle threads to the entire cosmos. Fantasia is a pagan metaphysical psycho-physiology, at once primitive and post-modern, archaic and disillusioned, sardonic and incantatory. And though we scoff, Lawrence taunts us back: "Thin-minded [rationalists] cannot bear any appeal to their bowels of comprehension." To understand with our bowels and blood may be dangerous, but it is also, Lawrence argued more persuasively than anyone else, indispensable.
GEORGE SCIALABBA is the author of Divided Mind and What Are Intellectuals Good For?