- Literary Modernism, Bioscience & Community
Craig n. Gordon brings a specialist's attention to the work of early twentieth-century British writers, and particularly to Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence. Those who should know, such as Bruce Clarke, President of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, are appreciative of this study: "Gordon demonstrates a wide and current knowledge of the literary-critical and cultural-studies work in his field. He sets his methodology off from other practitioners of the 'New Modernisms' with the idea of a 'double logic of incorporation,' the problematic embodiments of individuals and communities" (jacket copy). As Clarke remarks, Gordon addresses embodiments of individuals and communities in Lawrence's, Woolf's, and others' expressions, "Without flattening either into uniform bits of sociological data, he assesses reciprocal relations between literary and other cultural forms":
In a parallel and even stronger move, Gordon engages with some major voices in post-Foucauldian and other post-structuralist theory, in particular, Judith Butler, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Jean-Luc Nancy, to argue for the cogency of an analytic category he terms the impossibly material body, whose refusal of both regulatory inscription and critical interpretability makes an opening for "alternative subjective and communal forms." This is an original and insightful study.(jacket copy)
With Lawrence in particular, Gordon inventively shifts emphasis and direction from the usual, or from how, for example, Fantasia of the Unconscious offers insights into Lawrence's creative expression and towards a novel interest in how Fantasia might offer insights into bioscientific awarenesses (those at times held by Lawrence solely, at times by a broader collective) of the dark or unconscious places of mind and body themselves. Gordon's is a distinctly original—and brave—approach, [End Page 225] especially in respect of a work that Lawrence emphatically claimed to be a fantasy, rooted most squarely not in science, or "Freud," but rather, in his own "solar plexus": "I stick to the solar plexus.… I am not a scientist. I am an amateur of amateurs.… This leaves you quite free to dismiss the whole wordy mass of revolting nonsense, without a qualm" (Fantasia of the Unconscious, Foreword).
Lawrence's own admission of "nonsense" notwithstanding, Gordon assiduously studies Fantasia's morphological romp, and explores how it informs the vitalistic ethic of a later Lawrence novel such as The Plumed Serpent, or, specifically, of Ramon, who:
(as leader) is at once the exemplary embodiment of vital force and the operator of communitarian myth: his mythic words produce that space in which his followers identify with him as the apotheosis of vital force, and in so doing paradoxically realize their individual essences in the moment at which they are most thoroughly traversed and animated by the impersonal force of Life.
Gordon's perspective on corporeal concerns in Modernist literature can be genuinely illuminating at times. For instance, one doesn't usually consider sputum as, in Jean-Luc Nancy's term, an "exscription" that demonstrates the body to be "a wound of sense, the limit of thought." Yet, as Gordon adduces in Donald Stewart's The Sanatorium, the character of Vere reflects that:
This is my second bottle to-day. I filled one this morning.… Oh, I can spit quite well when I set my mind to it.… After a lifetime of drifting I've found a single aim in existence—filling these bottles. And I work harder and more disinterestedly at this than I've ever done at anything else. My whole being is devoted to the work. I eat and sleep and rest solely that I may spit.
Of this revelatory confession Gordon observes that Vere's is "a strange rearticulation of the Cartesian cogito." "Cartesian cogito" indeed: Gordon's remarkable observation is salutary. And yet one notes as well that Gordon seems completely uninterested in the revealing emotional dimension of Vere's expression: his "rearticulation" is not only "strange," it is, of course, rueful, sardonic, bitterly so, and at his own expense. Such an obvious yet essential understanding of Vere's meaning, the said...