- D. H. Lawrence & Bakhtin
This slim volume published in 2010 is based very closely on the author's 1992 doctoral thesis at McGill University. Since most of the research for the thesis would have been done about twenty years ago, one might have expected an updated and revised or expanded version of the study for the book. But Cambridge Scholars Publishing apparently believed that reproducing the thesis—with a very few updated references—was just fine, and the author was presumably happy to go along.
As Leone admits, his study is not the first to utilize Bakhtinian concepts in considering D. H. Lawrence's work. He also rightly points out that some earlier Lawrence scholars dealt with many of the same issues in a Bakhtinian way avant la lettre. The book is justified, nevertheless, he argues, by the "extraordinary affinities" shared by the two writers and by the need to test whether Lawrence helps us to understand Bakhtin as well as the other way around. By the end of the book, however, there is little in the way of an exploration of Bakhtin through Lawrence. Make no mistake: this is a book about Lawrence and not really about Bakhtin, and to that extent, the subtitle is somewhat misleading. As for that other way around, "[w]ithout Bakhtin, the tendency may be to view Lawrence's struggles against himself in dialectical as opposed to dialogical terms, as contradiction without synthesis, or in Freudian terms as pathology." We would otherwise view, as "the older critical school" apparently tended to do, Lawrence's lack of resolution as a failure rather than as a great achievement in the dialogic novel. This may be fair enough since Lawrence is still often viewed as a "monological" writer given the hortatory nature of so much of even his fiction and poetry, but it remains to be established that the former is a less persuasive (as opposed to less attractive) view of Lawrence than the latter, especially given Leone's narrow focus on Women in Love, "the epitome" of Lawrence's "dialogic novels."
Shapes of Openness begins badly but improves decidedly as it moves along. The first chapter, "Glossary of Indistinctions," makes no pretense of developing an arc of logical argument. Instead, it sets up the terms of engagement for what is to follow; however, despite the occasional genuine insight, it is so chopped up and cryptic as to have little value. The organization is oppressive: the larger sections are numbered and the subsections lettered so that at one juncture we have points a, b, [End Page 557] c, and d under rubric B, which in turn belongs to major point 3. In this chapter, Leone quotes liberally from different stages in Lawrence's career as if there were no development in his thinking, a problem otherwise mostly avoided by the heavy emphasis on Women in Love. The writing in chapter one is at times so aphoristic and unconnected that it reads like a series of shouted slogans or the sayings in Mao's Little Red Book: "Positive knowledge ... is actively incomplete. Fixed 'truth' is monologic, absolutist, totalitarian." Straw men are sometimes set up to be torched: for both Bakhtin and Lawrence "[c]reative expression is not first formulated, encoded, and then telegraphed to a passive receiver of an encapsulated (finalized) message." But whoever said it was? Possibly Bakhtin is fighting such a conception of language, but is Lawrence really engaged in the same campaign? There are, moreover, instances where Bakhtinian concepts lead to such complex formulations with regard to Lawrence that the result is self-cancelling: "while there is reciprocity and deliberate erasing of conventional self-other distinctions, there is an equally great emphasis on the essentiality of otherness and boundaries per se." Openness may be a virtue in both Lawrence and Bakhtin as the title Shapes of Openness implies, but, at least where Lawrence is concerned in this book, it is difficult to perceive any shape to it. Finally, in this chapter (possibly as a result of the outdated nature of the argument...