Artefact 3: Phallic Tenderness | Article 3 of 12
Grand perverts by James Walker
In the third of twelve essays, Stephen Alexander explores the role of the phallus in Lawrence’s writing. Here he looks at the dangers of falsifying phallic consciousness.
In a letter written to Aldous Huxley, Lawrence asserts that behind all of those whom he identifies as grand perverts, lies ineffable conceit and boundless ego. Figures including St. Francis, Michelangelo, Goethe, Kant, Rousseau, Byron, Baudelaire, Wilde and Marcel Proust, are all guilty of the same thing; namely, “attempting to intellectualise and so utterly falsify the phallic consciousness”.
By this, he seems to mean they get their sex in their heads and barter away the sheer intensity of lived experience for mere representation. In other words, they fall into idealism, into narcissism and into solipsism; “the utter incapacity for any development of contact with any other human being”.
But, in as much as phallic consciousness is also “the basic consciousness, and the thing we mean, in the best sense, by common sense”, Lawrence is also attacking those individuals who dare to think differently and reject popular prejudice. It’s an unfortunate fact that Lawrence often mistakes the morality of custom for an instinctive or intuitive form of folk wisdom.
And this, when you think about it, is not only surprising, but bitterly disappointing. That Lawrence should end up defending doxa – a form of truth which goes without saying and from which we should never deviate – and condemning a host of other writers, artists, and thinkers as perverts (a term he uses idiosyncratically, but still in an essentially pejorative sense), is, if nothing else, an outrageous example of the pot calling the kettle – and every other kitchen utensil – black.
Sometimes, alas, phallic consciousness is simply a betrayal of intellectual integrity.
D. H. Lawrence, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. VI, ed. James T. Boulton and Margaret H. Boulton, with Gerald M. Lacy, (CUP, 1991).