“Titanic forces war within us. A war waged by the blood against the intellect, between the influences of the industrial fallen world in which we live, and the primeval, fecund, blood drenched swamps that we remember in our dreams and in the shadows of the woods at night.”
From Ramon Elani
“Life is never a thing of continuous bliss. There is no paradise. Fight and laugh and feel bitter and feel bliss: and fight again. Fight, fight. That is life.”
The birth of the modern world brought with it the death of the old gods and their ways. As D.H. Lawrence wrote “it was in 1915 the old world ended.” When the factories came, when the machines arose, when history became the demon that had once haunted our groves and forests. The ethos of the modern age placed humanity at the center of the cosmos. They promised a world of endless human perfection, a world without suffering, a world were engineering could so arrange society that the demons would be driven out. But, as we know, the demons will always find other homes. Now we see what these promises have come to. A world of ash, a world of endless ruination. Inseparable from the acts of enclosure, from the mechanization of human life, came the prohibition against violence. Modernity and the techno-industrial society that it created, teaches us that violence is a thing to be abhorred, resisted, renounced, abandoned The Christ-worshippers and their other desert dwelling brethren of the crescent moon and the temple and the lamp teach us this. The servants of capital and industry persuade us to repudiate violence so that we might not be tempted to turn it against them. The ghosts and bones speak: we would rather die than live mechanically. There is truth in blood. Not in the blood of this tribe or that nation. But the pumping, wild, vital blood of the animal that still lives within us. There was a time when we listened to the lessons of the blood, before the spirit of the modern age told us to fear that voice. The spirits still dwell among the blood, in the world of instinct, of wildness. The spirits that modernity sought to quell. For my blood is of the ocean, and the ocean is of my blood. It is in blood and vitality that humanity discovers its true being. Modernity has taken the cosmos from us and replaced it with a lie. A grotesque lie, made of factory chimneys and machines. We would rather die than live mechanically! The techno-industrial world denies the blood and denies its expression in violence. As we shall see, there are few voices that argue more compellingly in defense of the truth of the blood and against the tragedy of the modern age than D.H. Lawrence.
Though Lawrence had no direct contact with Sigmund Freud, the ideas of the unconscious and the subconscious run deeply through Lawrence’s oeuvre. The key point to make in this regard, however, is that Lawrence instinctively rejected Freud’s conclusion that pre-modern or pre-civilized humanity was nothing more than a horrific riot of bloodshed. Clearly there was blood and suffering but there was also a deeper connection to the mystical essence of humanity and to the cosmos as well. And the eradication of the primal violence of the pre-modern era also brought with it the derangement of the cosmos, the annihilation of the natural world, and the alienation of humanity. While Freud is terrified of primal humanity and sees it as a force that must be imprisoned, to protect humanity from itself, Lawrence finds the darkness to be fertile and ripe with meaning and beauty. In the words of Ursula Brangwen, heroine of both The Rainbow and Women in Love, “You are a lurking, blood-sniffing creature with eyes peering out of the jungle darkness, snuffing for your desires.” For all our veneer of civilization and rationality, we are still bloody beasts haunting the dark forests. And this is why modern humanity fears the forest. We know that among the shadowy trees and the uncanny light of the moon, we will find our true selves. Not only is there a truth in acknowledging the essential, primal, bloody nature of humanity but further, there is a greater beauty in it than the fictions of modernity and the humanists.
For Lawrence, like Carl Jung, the unconscious is not merely the basement prison where our complexes and repressed memories ferment and mutate, as it is for Freud. Lawrence saw in the unconscious a burial mound, a haunted relic from pre-modern times where a world invigorated by blood still lived and breathed. The forces of industrialism and modernity sought to keep these ancient memories suppressed and thus deprive life of its true meaning: violent, bloody, life-affirming struggle. Lawrence was disgusted by Freud’s fear of primal humanity: “The psychoanalysts show the greatest fear of all, of the innermost primeval place in man, where God is, if he is anywhere.” For Lawrence, who had strong inhumanist tendencies, it was not clear that divinity still resided within humanity at all but if it did, if even a spark of the world soul still flickered in our hearts, it could only be in the depths, where we still lived as dark primordial beings, monstrous and bloody and alive.
The soul of the pre-modern world is unapologetically violent. Blood ran freely and the people were possessed by blood. But the lived and they lived in the lap of the gods. They saw them, felt them in the roar of ritual and the darkness of oak groves. As we see everyday around us, humanity is dying. Its vitality denied. Its blood denied. Like a tree uprooted, humanity is torn from its intuitive life. Modern consciousness displaces instinct. We are taught to fear the body, for it is the source of wickedness. How telling that as modernity seeks to dispel the old gods, the same repressive impulse is given free reign by the stories of the Christ-worshippers. Thus modernity and Christianity go hand in hand. They work together to deny the body and its blood. To eradicate the world of nature, which cannot be conquered so easily by technics. Both fill our heads with stories of a world to come, in which all struggle will disappear. Humanity will live in peace, in harmony, as one. Whether this is told via the worship of Christ the Redeemer or Technology the Redeemer, the message is the same. The demons in our heart enter the world through the body and the blood. To keep them at bay, to suffocate them, we must deny our nature. Forget the body, it is the source of pain and misery. Deny the body until someday, the priests of technology promise, we may be able to do without them altogether.
The only path for humanity that leads away from the waking nightmare of industrialism is to successively dive deeper and deeper within our psyches to rediscover the true self, the self forged in bloodshed, and animated by passion. As modernity evolved and expanded, this true self was buried beneath the lies of a benign, passive cosmos and a docile human nature. Industrialism taught us that the world could be controlled and that what was best for humanity should be our only concern. Thus the truth of blood became hidden from us. For Lawrence, our only hope is to swim through the oceans of the unconscious and to arrive again on the mysterious shores, thick with fierce life, where we abandoned ourselves. The intellect, the tool of industrialism, the demon of modernity, denies this true essence and pushes it down. In fact, the intellect seeks to persuade us that it never existed at all. The intellect, which speaks in the language of control teaches us to fear and disregard the things that overwhelm us, the forces that resist control. Thus violence is, above all, abhorred by the intellect. Violence appears as an irrational power. It seizes us in the language that only blood can understand. Everything that we have not chosen, everything that is above and beyond us is anathema to the intellect. And therefore, the intellect cannot help us understand the most profound experiences of life for truly, who can say that when they were consumed by the living heart of the world that the rational, conscious mind gave them words to express the wisdom that was bestowed upon them.
Lawrence dedicated his life to discovering the power that lead to greater wisdom than the bland, tasteless fruits of the intellect and the conscious mind. The power that could shatter the bitterness of the industrial world and its crimes against the earth. In a letter dated 1913, Lawrence writes:
My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle. What do I care about knowledge. All I want is to answer to my blood, direct, without fribbling intervention of mind, or moral, or what-not.
The inhumanist, who boldly asserts the limits of the human view of the world and the weakness and fragility of our species before the might of the cosmos, knows too that morality is nothing more than a trick of the mind. The blood pays no attention to these inventions that are not reflected in the universe beyond ourselves. Throughout his career, Lawrence sought to refine this view. He maintained that there was a seat of higher wisdom and greater self-knowledge than the mind. The blood contains its own consciousness, for Lawrence, separate from the rational faculties of the mind. In 1919, Lawrence writes:
the blood has a perfect but untranslatable consciousness of its own, a consciousness of weight, of rich, down-pouring motion, of powerful self-positivity. In the blood we have our strongest self-knowledge, our most powerful dark conscience. The ancients said the heart was the seat of understanding. And so it is: it is the seat of the primal sensual understanding, the seat of the passional self-consciousness.
In other words, our consciousness is not monolithic. Our innermost soul is Vigrid, the plains of battle where Ragnarok will be fought. Titanic forces war within us. A war waged by the blood against the intellect, between the influences of the industrial fallen world in which we live, and the primeval, fecund, blood drenched swamps that we remember in our dreams and in the shadows of the woods at night. Industrialism has deified the intellect, since it is by such powers that humanity has gained its cursed dominion over the earth. The heart and the blood will not assist in such an unholy crusade. The law of the blood is to tear down, to expend itself in a glorious detonation of fire. The intellect is a bridle, a yoke forced upon the wild human spirit. For truly, how else could those that hope to reduce humanity to a state of endless servitude accomplish their designs? The wild within us will not serve! It cries out with foaming jaws! The wild will must be broken in order to build the world of artifice and degradation that the Mammon worshipers desire. The call of the blood must be silenced. The vigor of humanity must be denied and renounced.
The destiny of blood is war and struggle. Bliss and self destruction. As violence is denied, so to is the joy of an unfettered life. For Lawrence, predating Jung, the blood consciousness was seen as the subterranean force, which the domination of the intellect was built upon.
Destroy! destroy! destroy! hums the under-consciousness. Love and produce! Love and produce! cackles the upper consciousness. And the world hears only the Love-and- produce cackle. Refuses to hear the hum of destruction under- neath. Until such time as it will have to hear.
These two complimentary forces, destruction and creation, were both given their due in the world before industrialism crashed down upon us like a wind from the abyss. The imbalance in these forces is what now drives us to the precipice. Lawrence saw, like Jung, that the blood could only be denied for so long. Slumbering powers would not consent to dream forever. There will be a time when the blood rises again and it will take its revenge upon the bland, tasteless, ashen prisons that we have built around it. What will that time look like? Apocalypse. Revelation. The veil built by centuries of denial and repression will be shredded. And blood will return with a fury that we have never seen. It has grown rancorous in its years of imprisonment. Oh, that we had shown reverence to the blood and cast aside the chains of the machines and the intellect when we had the chance. And Lawrence saw all this: “There’s a bad time coming. There’s a bad time coming, boys, there’s a bad time coming! If things go on as they are, there’s nothing lies in the future but death and destruction, for these industrial masses.” A bad time, indeed.
The spirit of blood and violence screams in the words of Lawrence, “I’d wipe the machines off the face of the earth again, and end the industrial epoch absolutely, like a black mistake!” The gods fled in the face of these monstrosities that we gave birth to. And in our denial of them, they retreated further and further. And so humanity began to rot. Only in the vigorous struggle does life exist and only in the throes of a wild battle the likes of which have not been seen in hundreds of years, will the gods open their bleary eyes and gaze upon us with curiosity and something approaching tenderness. The intellect and modern consciousness lead us, again and again, away from the path. The intellect of consciousness knows nothing but anguish and dullness. It winds around and around in mazes of its own creation. But it is too blind and bedizened by its own design to ever find its way out. Look what I have created! It proclaims like a madman. But it is nothing more than its own tomb. The intellect knows nothing of value. It knows how to imprison, it knows how to divert the natural course of the water until it pools in fetid, subterranean filth. The blood, the blood only knows the language of freedom, the language of the gods. Truly there is nothing to fear from anger and the letting of blood. It is when blood is denied that it becomes stagnant and sick and infects the body of humanity. Born from the cosmos, humanities only hope is to return to the rhythm of the cosmos themselves. A rhythm of destruction and creation, death and rebirth. There can be no rebirth without death.
As Jung and others have articulated, the self is not the self. The unconscious and its hidden depths are not clear to us. They are murky as a forest tarn, thick and black with the compost of millennia of dead leaves. The unconscious, the deepest self, the blood self, the awareness of the bodily, returns to us only in brief glimpses and hauntings: “The self that lives in my body I can never fully know. . . My body is like a jungle in which dwells an unseen me, like a black panther in the night, whose two eyes glare green through my dreams, and, if a shadow falls, through my waking day.” To shun and renounce the intellect and the techno-industrial world is to dive into the world of dreams, to seek what we have forgotten in ourselves. At the bottom of the murky pool, we will find a beast. There is terror in the depths. But that is not all, for we can only be free and experience joy when we find and do homage to the monster that lives in our deepest places. For Lawrence, this path, the diving path meant abandoning the scientific view of the cosmos, which had grown out of modernity, the bloody sire of industrialism. Science represented to him the principles of death and the machine. The unconscious may be unknowable to the rational mind, to the intellect. But like Jung, Lawrence believed that we could rediscover our essential nature by returning to a religious conception of the universe. We must realize that the techno-industrial world and its rational, scientific view is precisely what puts us out of balance and separates us from the world of blood and wild nature. The ancient spiritual teachings of the pre-modern world sought not to explain the mysteries of the gods and cosmos, but to acknowledge them, to honor them.
Lawrence dedicated his life and creative efforts to articulating the meaning of the blood and rediscovering the true self that techno-industrial society has displaced. It ultimately led him to write this creed:
That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women.
We must submit to the gods, and the blood through which they speak. Forces beyond our understand and control rule us, utterly. At best, we may hope to discern their presence in the nighttime places, the dreamtime places. Beyond this, the beauty and truth of Lawrence’s creed speaks for itself.
Unfortunately, Lawrence’s religion of blood and dark self-knowing was misunderstood by many. Bertrand Russell, who maintained a correspondence with Lawrence even identifies this philosophy as an antecedent of the horrors of the Nazis. Russell writes “He had a mystical philosophy of “blood” which I disliked…This seemed to me frankly rubbish, and I rejected it vehemently, though I did not then know that it led straight to Auschwitz.” Perhaps it is unsurprising that a philosophy of the world that conforms so much to Jung’s view also becomes conflated with abhorrent ideas and actions. It is also unsurprising that someone with such a radically rational perspective as Russell misunderstood Lawrence so outrageously. When Lawrence writes of the blood, I believe it is quite clear that he refers, like Jung’s collective unconscious, not to the blood of this particular race or nation but to the blood of humanity as a whole. To an impulse which is universal in humanity and a force that is vitally present in the non-human world as well. This is a cosmic force, not one that suffers the pettiness and vileness of nationalism or the intolerant, narrow minded hatred of the demagogue. Author Rex Warner likewise situates Lawrence in this milieu, writing in 1946: “There must be nothing at all gentle about the ‘dark’ force to which the dark independent outlaws of his dreams would owe a sort of reverence… Fascism finally succeeded, at least temporarily, in making the synthesis that eluded Lawrence.” Again, this misreading of Lawrence fails to acknowledge that the power of the blood brings with it joy and bliss, as well as violence and struggle. Lawrence is significant precisely because, like Jung, he understood that humanity must accept that it has a dark dimension to its nature. And that this element within us puts us in touch with the vast sublimity of the cosmos.
What both Warner and Russell mistake in Lawrence is the same problem that we can see so clearly in Freud: the hysterical fear of the realm of instinct, blood, and wildness. There is an assumption among over-rational minds that if there is something we cannot control within ourselves then that thing must be feared, abhorred, shunned, denied, or denigrated. There is something to be feared within the wild, bloody heart of humanity. But it is not this force that left unchecked that will turn the world into a graveyard. It is the other. The intellect, running rampant, will annihilate humanity and the world far quicker than the savage violence of those who sleep in tombs beneath the earth. No, let us be quite clear: the gas chambers and the unspeakable horror of the holocaust were born from the ruthless, rational, mechanistic mind of industrialism not from the pre-modern darkness that dwells in of the blood and its mysterious power. And likewise, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the rule of the intellect and the techno-industrial order is solely responsible for the destruction of the earth. A holocaust against the earth which has lasted every single moment of every single day for hundreds of years.
Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He is a teacher, a poet, a husband, and a father, as well as a muay thai fighter. He wanders in oak groves. He casts the runes and sings to trolls. He lives among mountains and rivers in Western New England