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BOOK REVIEWS Vitalism and/or Nihilism: Two Lawrenceans Mark Spilka. Renewing the Normative D. H Lawrence: A Personal Progress. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1992. 303 pp. $37.50 Kingsley Widmer. Defiant Desire: Some Dialectical Legacies of D. H Lawrence. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992. 256 pp. $29.95 IN APRIL 1966, Kingsley Widmer's "Notes on the Literary Institutionalization of D. H. Lawrence: An Anti-Review of the Current State of Lawrence Studies" appeared in Arthur Efron's journal Paunch. Widmer complained at length about the academic muffling of Lawrence's radical extrenxities, some of his targete being the productions of Mark Spilka, his 1963 edition of critical essays, as well as his "relatively harmless collection of benign misreadings, The Love-Ethic of D. H. Lawrence." With Efron as referee, the October 1966 number of Paunch published a rather heated exchange of letters between Spilka and Widmer, shedding some light not so much on D. H. Lawrence as on the proprieties and politics of academic institutions. In historical context, their disagreements reflected the sociopolitical unrest at large in the anti-Vietnam War movement and the student rebellions that would crest in 1968. Now twenty-five years later, Spilka's Personal Progress and Widmer's Defiant Desire sum up the divergent careers of these two contemporaneous American Lawrenceans. Both volumes collect and integrate a wide range of previously published essays. Spilka adds two new articles and reprints the rest more or less intact while providing a running commentary to update issues and defend motives. Widmer synthesizes and reformulates his pieces to produce a continuous discussion. Spilka moves roughly chronologically from the "moral formalism" of his Love Ethic (1955) to the psychobiographical and sociological modes of his more recent work. Widmer builds on his thesis in The Art of Perversity: D. H. Lawrence's Shorter Fictions (1962) by enlarging on Lawrence's novels and doctrinal tracts, while developing a series of cultural-contextual frames. The concurrent appearance of these volumes provides another opportunity to compare the problems inherent in Spilka's mainstream liberal humanism to the persistent appeal of Widmer's marginalized left-libertarianism. "As an aging Lawrencean and eclectic humanist of a fast-fading school, I am more than a little troubled . . ." (178) might be considered Spilka's leitmotif. Spilka displays such self-deprecating charm through269 ELT 37:2 1994 out the volume, and many readers will continue to find his personable tone, non-theoreticalism, and stylistic grace quite appealing. But the important point is to understand why his school is fading, thus forcing him into a mode of ironical nostalgia. The problem is bound up with the ideology of the "normative," as in "the normative D. H. Lawrence" of Spilka's title. In a humanist dialect, the "normative" denotes some dominant form of ethical or moral consensus. Spilka is acutely aware that his humanist norms, especially as they issue in a gender discourse of genital heterosexualism, have been under fierce attack. Compounding his beleaguered stance is his abiding attempt to marshall the text of Lawrence to their defense. The all-pervading defensiveness of his Lawrence project derives in part from the attempt to bend Lawrence's antihumanisms into a humanism in the first place. While there is much to admire in Spilka's ethical stances, less admirable is the way that his normatizings presume to be non-ideological, an attitude connected to a therapeutic orientation. "Health" is the (ideological) norm of norms in Spilka's critical regime. "Self-correction" (253) in a "just society" (211): Spilka's therapeutic normativeness follows from his liberal-democratic ideals. But therapeutic rationales do not necessarily comport with critical objectivity, nor is it clear that the critic's relation to the text is properly modelled on the psychological counselor's relation to her client. Yet that is exactly how Spilka operates in his treatment of Hemingway and Lawrence as wifebeaters : "If we see them at their worst, that is to say, as ordinary male batterers belatedly brought to book, can we also see them at their best as gifted probation candidates?" (256). Spilka's reasonable points in this discussion, deriving from his exemplary extra-literary endeavor as the leader of an abusive-husband...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 269-274
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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