dh lawrence

+ Destiny's Kisses and Dope-Slaps

The most life-changing events in our lives are not really down to us. I read a quote the other day from David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest, which beautifully elaborates on the seemingly serendipitous nature of life:

"Both destiny's kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person's basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life: i.e. almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can't even hear because you're in such a rush to or from something important you've tried to engineer."--David Foster Wallace

I'm of the opinion that achieving success in life is entirely down to you, in so much as that you can influence events and the course of your life more than many people think. When you crumble at the hand life might have dealt you, ask yourself, "what choices did you make that led you here?" Sometimes, people are completely blind to their role as an agent of the very thing most important to them; their own life!

I'm not suggesting that everyone in the world has the power or means to become whoever they want to be. After all, life is about give and take and it's sadly inevitable that some people's gain is only possible with the eventuality of another's loss. Take the job market. It's very tempting to assume that you DESERVE your cut of what the world has to offer, but to everyone else you're a stranger who's no more deserving than the next person. And the same applies to money, relationships, security - almost anything that means anything to people. All that matters is recognising your little place in the world, and accepting that the number of people who care about your fate might not be as big as you think!

I first read the quote below a week or two ago in one my daily emails from Writer's Almanac. It got me thinking about what's more important in shaping our lives - our own gut instinct and emotions, or logic and reason? After all, although we can do our best to influence the route of our lives, much of it is down to chance and the actions of others.

"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."--D.H. Lawrence

Are we responsible for everything that happens to us, or is it all just the luck of the draw? I can't stand anything more than people who believe their failings in life is all down to other people. Surely it's all about responsibility for your own situation in life and making sure that you do everything you can to increase your chances of luck smiling on you!

"That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves."--Garth Stein

"Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved."--William Jennings Bryan

Life doesn't come with a step-by-step guide to how to get everything you want or reach where you want to be. At the risk of sounding like a crazed self-help book addict, as long as you avoid blaming others for the low points in your life, and appreciating the role you play in your own happiness, you're on the right track. If anything, recognising your own powerlessness in your own life can be pretty empowering. You can spend less time agonising over your day-to-day choices and just be, safe in the knowledge that that true empowerment is letting go of the non-existent power you were so sure you yielded over your own life!


+ The Hedonistic Harry and Caresse Crosby

harry crosby

  • He had gifts that would have made him an explorer, a soldier of fortune, a revolutionist: they were qualities fatal to a poet.
    --Malcolm Cowley’s summary of Harry Crosby
  • Having studied the works of the likes of Ernest Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, and James Joyce at university, I was really surprised that I hadn't heard of their mutual friends, Harry and Caresse Crosby earlier. I'm currently reading Lucy Moore's Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties, a portrait of American society in the 1920s, and it introduced them as a unconservative couple who emigrated to Paris, where they launched their own publishing house, the Black Sun Press. Lucy Moore's book really drew me into their hedonistic, scandolous and unrestrained lifestyle in Paris, where they had lived from 1922 onwards. Harry Crosby's life came to a premature but self-imposed end with an apparent murder-suicide pact aged just thirty-one - his body was found alongside his mistress Josephine Bigelow on the twenty-seventh floor of the Savoy-Plaza Hotel, their temples adorned with bullet-holes.

    After reading about him I felt compelled to write a post about him, not so much for his contributions to literature but just purely because he seems to be such a fascinatingly enigmatic character. I wanted to write a post to capture his unrelenting quest for adventure and his rare approach to living. As his friend Stuart Gilbert commented, Harry 'feared the terre à terre, the normal, as most of us fear celestial heights'. He believed life was 'futile' and that 'passionate memories are the utmost gold; poetry is religion [for me]' and 'one should follow every instinct no matter where' it led.

    His suicide might be seen as the ultimate symbol of his defiant grab on his own destiny, a fearless desire to experience in the life after death he so vehemently believed in. Below are just some of the interesting details I've read about the couple... I had to share them in their entertaining glory:

    • On a whim, Harry once hired four horse-drawn carriages and raced them through the streets of Paris.
    • At one of the annual Beaux Arts costume ball, Harry, naked to the waist, wore a string of dead pigeons around his neck. Caresse went topless and sat astride a baby elephant. She led the parade down the Champs after the ball.
    •Caresse Crosby held a surrealist picnic that included Henri Cartier-Bresson snapping pictures, random gunshots, and a symbolic suicide by painter Max Ernst.
    •Interestingly, under her real name Mary Phelps Jacob, Caresse Crosby patented the first modern bra!

    I'm definitely going to read up more on the 1920s literary scene in Paris in the future. As well as that the internet is full of recommendations for Geoffrey Wolff's biography of Harry Crosby, and his published memoirs Shadows of the Sun, said to have been written in syntax inspired by James Joyce's Ulysses.


    + Philip Larkin's Letters to Monica



    Although many years have passed since I was first introduced to Philip Larkin's fantastically down-to-earth and relatable poems at high school, BBC Radio 4's readings of Letters to Monica instantly sparked my interest.

    I found this (fairly long) passage from Telegraph.co.uk, which really captures the intensity of his admiration for D.H. Lawrence:

    I get the odd feeling that I am inside him, staggering helplessly from aspect to aspect, and quite unable to see him as a whole. Or objectively. He has always meant so much more to me than any other writer. I have adopted his conclusions so uncritically, that half the time I have been living in a sort of interchanging dream, where I am him and he is me [...] His mind seems to be able to relate any given part of life to the rest of it: he shows a scene, a piece of behaviour, and in a touch relates it to the person’s whole life, and the state of their world. (You’ll think I have been swallowing an awful lot of bunk.)

    I'm looking forward to the next two instalments from BBC Radio 4, but for the time being it's a good excuse to remind myself of a few of his poems.

    Love Songs in Age
    She kept her songs, they kept so little space,
    The covers pleased her:
    One bleached from lying in a sunny place,
    One marked in circles by a vase of water,
    One mended, when a tidy fit had seized her,
    And coloured, by her daughter -
    So they had waited, till, in widowhood
    She found them, looking for something else, and stood

    Relearning how each frank submissive chord
    Had ushered in
    Word after sprawling hyphenated word,
    And the unfailing sense of being young
    Spread out like a spring-woken tree, wherein
    That hidden freshness sung,
    That certainty of time laid up in store
    As when she played them first. But, even more,

    The glare of that much-mentionned brilliance, love,
    Broke out, to show
    Its bright incipience sailing above,
    Still promising to solve, and satisfy,
    And set unchangeably in order. So
    To pile them back, to cry,
    Was hard, without lamely admitting how
    It had not done so then, and could not now.

    High Windows
    When I see a couple of kids
    And guess he's fucking her and she's
    Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
    I know this is paradise

    Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives--
    Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
    Like an outdated combine harvester,
    And everyone young going down the long slide

    To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if
    Anyone looked at me, forty years back,
    And thought, That'll be the life;
    No God any more, or sweating in the dark

    About hell and that, or having to hide
    What you think of the priest. He
    And his lot will all go down the long slide
    Like free bloody birds. And immediately

    Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
    The sun-comprehending glass,
    And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
    Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.