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Phallic Power

Artefact 3: Phallic Tenderness | Article 7 of 12

Michel Foucault
Foucault by James Walker. 

In the seventh of twelve essays, Stephen Alexander explores the role of the phallus in Lawrence’s writing and how this relates to power.

Stephen Alexander

Stephen Alexander

Although many Lawrence devotees like to think of their hero-poet as a priest of love, he was actually more concerned with developing an anti-humanist philosophy of power that enabled people to meet at a level “deeper than love”. In order to do this, Lawrence attempts to free power from its traditionally negative portrayal as conceived within moral-idealism and affirm an active cratology that is tied to phallic tenderness, rather than bullying authority.

In a sense, Lawrence is anticipating Michel Foucault who also attempts to show that power is not merely a force that says No, but a great productive network running through the social body, inducing pleasures and inventing forms of knowledge. It is ultimately power – not love – that keeps us alive and in touch with one another, which is why Lawrence argues that:

“Even the phallic erection is a first blind movement of power. Love is said to call the power into motion: but it is probably the reverse; that the slumbering power calls love into being.”

The question is: what kind of politics do we establish upon this line of thought? Although Lawrence experiments with a problematic politics of evil, he ultimately rejects fascism and theocracy in favour of an idiosyncratic politics of desire. However, the immanent utopia that he calls a democracy of touch is still very much a phallocracy; which is to say, a particularly virile form of patriarchy in which woman is forever subordinate, renouncing her “hard, bright female power” – and even the right to grind her own coffee.

Suggested Reading:

D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo, ed. Bruce Steele, (CUP, 1994).

D. H. Lawrence, ‘Blessed Are the Powerful’, essay in Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert, (CUP, 1988).

Michel Foucault, ‘Truth and Power’, in Power, Vol. 3 of the Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, ed. James D. Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley et al, (Penguin Books, 2002).

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