Two forces should be conceived which counteract each other by their essential nature; … these forces should be assumed to be both alike infinite, both alike indestructible. The counteraction then of the two assumed forces does not depend on their meeting from opposite directions; the power which acts in them is indestructible; it is therefore inexhaustibly re-ebullient.1
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria
It is between these two poles, irreconcilable but indissociable, that decision and responsibilities are to be taken.2
– Jacques Derrida, ‘On Forgiveness’
Chapters 6 and 7 showed how, in his writing about the novel and in Kangaroo, Lawrence rejected from the depths of his own literary method both positivism and romanticism. Lawrence rejected the old beliefs, including in a mechanistic or procedural approach to judgment, which had come to dominate legal models during the nineteenth century. The global codification movement, the Langdellian revolution in legal education, and the common law’s increasingly formalised approach to precedent present just three instances of this trend.
At the same time and under that same literary pressure, Lawrence rejected the ‘reactionary modernism’ that turned its back on the modern world and sought refuge in the language of unity, instinct and insight that aspired to reverse our disenchantment and return us to a world of rule-less judgment and transcendent justice. Romanticism is alchemy – a grammar of ‘and’ that by rhetorical force seeks to meld different perspectives or contradictory goals in the crucible of some utopian unity. ‘And is God’:3 the point de capiton or quilting-point4 that binds together wildly disparate elements into an ethical unity, and makes the lamb and the lion lie down together. We see this in Berkowitz, who consistently refers to the ‘grounds and reasons’ of law, arguing that positivism can no longer find either once it abandons religion or nature.5 The failure of science as a ground is therefore necessarily the failure of reason-giving. But in fact the two are different and our responses may be likewise. A similar trope can be seen in relation to Berkowitz’s references to authority. The steady references to authority, justice or insight as ‘natural and traditional,’ ‘traditional and religious’ and so on, mix together social practice, history, politics and ethics as sources of justification.6 Each word shores up and expands the implications of the argument so that, for example, a historical observation as to ‘traditional’ nature of claims to kingly authority is taken to imply a normative judgment that such a claim is also ‘natural’. In the process, the deep and immemorial contradictions between the claims of nature and tradition and religion disappear. To believe in one is necessarily to become committed to all.
Lawrence faced a very modern predicament. He found himself crippled by the sterility of modern life and institutional mechanisms on the one hand and unsatisfied by the appeal of the New Romantics to an unfettered and fantastic unity on the other. Against the facile complacency of the present and likewise against the obfuscatory romantic promise of ‘and’, Lawrence says ‘but’. It is his anti-philosophy.
Of course it was all necessary, the conscription, the medical examinations. Of course, of course. We all know it … Yes, you are quite right, quite right in all your contentions. But! And the but just explodes everything like a bomb.7
This repudiation is certainly apparent in Kangaroo, although admittedly the situation is less clear in his next novel, The Plumed Serpent, from which all traces of irony and humour have been ruthlessly expunged. But – we must also ask how Lawrence attempts to move beyond a simple negativity, a pox on both your houses. In what way does he attempt to find ‘something new and true to live by’ to recompense his ‘deep discomfiture, his lack of true satisfaction’?8 Within Lawrence’s anti-politics, behind his buts and his nays, it is possible to glimpse a theory of justice in law which represents neither a return to a past nor a mere acceptance of the present.
How might his insights help us with the problem of justice and the rule of law? The key lies in his adoption of the idea of ‘polarity’, through which he defended a vision of human experience maintained and nurtured by contradiction. Lawrence rejected the synthetic urge of the romantics, the dialectic dream of progress and inclusion. He believed that contradictions and oppositions – both within ourselves and in our societies – were the wellspring of understanding and creativity; and he believed, as opposed to the model of the dialectic, that those conflicts could not be combined in a new and greater harmony. Conflict for Lawrence was productive but interminable. In the sections that follow, I first elaborate on the concept of polarity in Lawrence and show the importance of sustained tension and contradiction in his work. I then show how Lawrence was far from alone in these thoughts. In many of his contemporaries, we see broadly similar attempts to turn the reality of conflict and disunity, fragmentation and subjectivity – in other words the very critique of modernity itself – into a productive rather than a destructive feature of human and political life. In the last section, I turn from the past to the (almost) present and from literature to (almost) law. Deconstruction is polarity’s child. Both demonstrate that ineradicable contradictions lie at the heart of our thinking, including our thinking about law and justice. It is this contradiction, this paradox and tension, that makes legal judgment so hard.
With polarity in mind, we can begin to see more clearly what sets it apart from positivism on the one hand and from transcendental or romantic philosophies of justice on the other (and these are surely the two poles of the current debate in legal theory). Polarity helps us perceive and deconstruction helps us explain the outlines of a third approach, in which the contradictions and tensions inherent in the moment of judging are neither a problem to be solved nor an obstacle to be overcome. They are instead a necessary and valuable feature of legal discourse. That is Lawrence’s modernist legacy.
The yearning for wholeness that first drew Richard Lovatt Somers to Australia receives in Kangaroo not just a rebuttal but an alternative. Recall that, for M.H. Abrams, romanticism expresses ‘a metaphysics of integration, of which the key principle is that of the “reconciliation” or synthesis of whatever is divided, opposed, and conflicting’.9 This was what led, in Georg Hegel’s dialectic – for Abrams the summa of romantic idealistic philosophy – and in Hölderlin, Blake, Wordsworth and Goethe, to a spiral image of development in which opposites are finally reconciled in ‘the unity of its origin, but a unity which is higher’.10 The spiral is an image, and the dialectic is an idea, of the natural but also of progress and of harmony. In each case the notion of an opposition or a conflict is subsumed within the greater arc of a synthesis that resolves that tension. Lawrence’s identification with the mythical Phoenix fits well with this tradition – the idea of a rebirth out of ashes combines millenarian and eschatological elements, not to mention the memory of the war, in a vision of a genuine fusion and a final unity.11 But as Lawrence’s oeuvre develops, the central framing principle begins to shift towards a different tradition going back to Coleridge and Schelling (and right back to Heraclitus):12 that of polarity.
Polarity is the tertium quid13 in that it refuses either to choose between opposites or to harmonise or unify them. Instead, it preserves intact the constitutive and ineradicable fact of their contradiction. ‘Contradiction’, wrote Friedrich Schelling, ‘is life’s mainspring and core … If there were only unity, and if everything were at peace, then truly nothing would want to stir’.14 Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes, ‘if all knowledge has, as it were, two poles, which reciprocally presume and demand each other, then these poles must seek each other’.15 Now throughout the romantic period, ideas of duality and separation were made subservient to an ultimate fusion. Coleridge advocates the distinction and contradiction of opposites, ‘both alike infinite, and both alike indestructible’, but what makes his most assuredly a ‘transcendental philosophy’ is his insistence that these poles will ultimately combine in a new entity that perfectly ‘interpenetrates’ and ‘partakes’ of both.16 Polarity is important only as the first step in the process of reconciling ‘two forces of one power’.17 This seems to be the case in much of Lawrence’s early work. ‘The Crown’, first published in 1915, with its crude dualisms and its efforts at a triumphant ‘consummation’, is a particularly weird example.18 There, while Lawrence articulates the power of opposites in heavy-handed symbolism about the lion and the unicorn, the Crown, together symbolises the eternal godhead that the ebb and flow of struggle reaches for.19
But Lawrence was protean, provisional and constantly responsive to the problems thrown up by his own arguments. Even ‘The Crown’ dwells, at least at some points, less on the final consummation than on the energy released through eternal struggle. ‘And there is no rest, no cessation from the conflict. For we are two opposites which exist by virtue of our inter-opposition. Remove the opposition and there is collapse, a sudden crumbling into universal nothingness.’20 That is a very different approach to polarity than that of Coleridge. In The Rainbow, published the same year, Ursula says: ‘If the lamb might lie down with the lion, it would be a great honour to the lamb, but the lion’s powerful heart would suffer no diminishing.’21 Yet by the time Twilight in Italy was published, only 12 months later, Lawrence has introduced a more uncompromising formulation: ‘They are two Infinites, twofold approach to God. And man must know both. But he must never confuse them. They are eternally separate. The lion shall never lie down with the lamb’.22 So Lawrence begins to sound less like the romantics than like earlier writers whose attention to antinomy and paradox had been articulated by the Roman anomalists and in Renaissance theories of concordia discors.23 Lawrence draws on the pre-Socratics such as Heraclitus and Empedocles,24 and may surely have been influenced by Carl Jung’s notions of an eternal struggle between mythic opposites of dark and light.
Polarity for Lawrence is not a spiral or a fusion, but an oscillation or alternating current. He conceives of a back-and-forth movement between opposed principles which would be vital and eternal. Polarity does not see forces as either hierarchically ordered (the positivist response), or capable of unification or overcoming (the romantic response), or collapsed into disorder (the nihilist response). Polarity is distinct from all these postures. Take the magnet as a model. Here we have two opposite poles, but what appears at first glance to be an irreconcilable dualism is in fact the energy of two charges whose opposition is mutually constitutive. Like the magnet, the two opposite poles that wage war within a man or an idea or a society remain necessary to one another. Its forces flow within us and between us in order to form the very electrical current that drives us on. Lawrence wrote, ‘I know I am compounded of two waves. I am framed in the struggle and embrace of the two opposite waves of darkness and of light’.25 Polarised light does not mix or meld. It has been separated into its distinct component parts. The energy it releases is fission not fusion.
These arguments are developed in particular in Lawrence’s responses to Freud which, you will recall, he was working on at the same time as Kangaroo. I would be foolish to claim for Lawrence’s speculations about the body and the unconscious any scientific plausibility. They are strange books. Nonetheless they articulate a very clear current of thinking which clarifies Lawrence’s ideas about the essential role of conflict and opposition in our moral and psychological development. In Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, he writes of ‘the polarity of the dynamic consciousness … the sharp clash of opposition … and no possibility of creative development without this polarity’ from the beginning of life.26 In Fantasia of the Unconscious, he even attempts to map these polarities onto the body: the contrast between upper and lower bodies, front and back, man and woman – even sun and water – become corporeal sites of inherent oppositions within us that ignite their own distinct ‘circuits of passion’.27 The first movements of the child, says Lawrence, are both to draw towards and to pull away. ‘There is a great polarity’, concluded Lawrence, ‘in life itself. Life itself is dual. And the duality is life and death’.28
Lawrence’s notion of polarity – like his rejection of unity – derives from his experience of literature itself as a genre that aims not to resolve or overcome tensions but, on the contrary, to dramatise them. The Introduction to Studies in Classic American Literature, again published the same year as Kangaroo, contains one of the most influential passages on the nature of literature written in the twentieth century.
But if it be really a work of art, it must contain the essential criticism of the morality to which it adheres. And hence the antinomy, hence the conflict necessary to every tragic conception.29
Unsurprisingly, the theories of being and writing set out in his work on the unconscious and on the novel find no less expression in Lawrence’s fiction. The language used is very different from his non-fiction writing. Yet clearly, in Women in Love, for example, Ursula and Birkin’s idealised relationship is founded on conflict and resistance; that of Gerald and Gudrun is based on a terrifying sameness, ‘a mutual hellish recognition’ that is a death wish.30 Nonetheless, opposition and difference is here figured as an endless crisis, a crisis of endlessness. In Kangaroo, Lawrence’s approach is more optimistic. Contradiction is presented not as a crisis or as a step towards resolution, but as a human comedy and as valuable in and of itself. Indeed, as we have seen in the previous chapter, the central feature of the discursive structure of the novel is the internal tension within the narrator and within the character Somers, their constant struggles and dialogues over their own identity and their own beliefs. The unsettled disputation in which Somers and Lawrence oscillate between defensive posturing and exasperated confession, under the forceful challenge of Harriett and under the weight of their own self-doubt, forms the emotional spine of the book.
The ‘laws of polarity’ are declared only once in Kangaroo. Lawrence there diagnoses power as the movement between two flows, one sympathetic and loving, the other mighty and authoritarian. ‘There is a dual polarity and a dual direction’, he writes. ‘The whole movement is but a polarized circuit. Insist on one direction overmuch, derange the circuit, and you have a terrible debacle … In the absolute triumph of either flow lies the immediate surety of collapse.’31
But while the language of polarity was perhaps too abstract a term to be made much of explicitly in Kangaroo, the Whitmanseque theme of ‘call and answer’, describing both the backwards-and-forwards form and the discursive themes of the novel, becomes Lawrence’s way of articulating the idea of polarity which nourishes us by contradiction and resistance.
A man’s soul is a perpetual call and answer. He can never be the call and the answer in one: between the dark God and the incarnate man: between the dark soul of woman, and the opposite dark soul of man: and finally, between the souls of man and man, strangers to one another, but answerers. So it is for ever, the eternal weaving of calls and answers, and the fabric of life woven and perishing again. But the calls never cease, and the answers never fail for long.32
The invocation of ‘call and answer’ should not be taken to imply some sort of dialectic. We have seen that Lawrence rejects the lure of synthesis or resolution. But neither, I think, is he merely Manichean. A ‘polarised circuit’, around a magnet for example, although produced by two opposite poles, creates energy flows that extend in all directions. That is clearly the upshot of the multiple polarities mapped and overlapped in Fantasia. So too, we are the subject of multiple calls from many persons and our responses in turn stimulate new calls, creating around us not merely an antiphonal exchange, but a polyphonic web. Lawrence’s emphasis on ‘the eternal weaving of calls and answers’, and his multiplication of sites and directions of response, create a sense of a shifting three-dimensional space of echoes.
Indeed, the language of call and answer captures both the intense internal dialogue and disputation that marks the text, including not least Somers’ fractious relationship with Harriett, and the tensions of the novel’s broader structure. Throughout Kangaroo, the ideals of ‘listeners’ and ‘answerers’ are no sooner invoked than scorned, no sooner scorned than summoned again, no sooner summoned than distanced with irony or resignation. The narrator and the protagonist are forever ‘sounding the muezzin’, muting the trumpet, and climbing the parapet once again.33 The book itself seems to embody an earnest if perverse commitment: not to resolve its contradictions and tensions but to see in them its main character’s essential aesthetic activity and his life force. The polarity between opposed forces is further figured as a tension between the substantive and the formal elements of the novel, creating ‘an unstable locale between the move to multiply and disseminate meanings, and an alternative move to retrieve and reclaim them’.34 Bakhtin crucially emphasises how the formal instability generated by the novel’s ‘heteroglossia’ and structural incompleteness function as a comprehensive critique of authority as such. Bakhtin insists that literature is not to be understood merely as a forum for the depiction of ideas, but as a relation between multiple formal and substantive levels. One who does not understand these different levels of analysis nor the power of their interplay – and it has been a ready failing within the field of law and literature – ‘transposes a symphonic theme on to the piano keyboard’.35
Richard Lovatt Somers, like the New Romantics, believes that ‘we have gone very far in the first direction … What Richard wanted was some sort of a new show … It meant a new recognition of difference, of highness and of lowness, of one man meet for service and another man clean with glory’.36 That is the moral to which the author keeps trying to point. But the tale – the art and reality of the story – keeps pushing him in quite another direction. It pushes Somers to see that this moral of authority is itself only one partial voice of his polarised self, which slips like a fly in ointment37 between the yearning for solidarity and the desire for solitude. Indeed, as we have seen, Lawrence undercuts his own authority explicitly and continually, describing his alter ego as a fool, an idiot, a blatherer, and even a ‘beastly’ and ‘detestable little brat’.38
At the same time, the ‘tale’ also pushes him to confront another crisis. For the pole of mastery, or authority, or glory, or call-it-what-you-will, cannot abide its existence except as a totality. While the desire for unity is one element of a polarity or double movement within us, it is paradoxically incapable of comprehending that fact. In other words, the part of us that desires mastery or unity cannot tolerate being only a part of us, since that would contradict the desire for mastery or unity itself. To believe in unity or authority is to believe in these things all the way down. Schmitt had early on identified this movement and saw how the total state might become the predominant form of modern political organisation.39 That was the theme elaborated on by Agamben in State of Exception; and given its political imprimatur by Vice-President Cheney’s remark, shortly after 9/11, that we faced not an emergency but a ‘new normalcy’ that will become ‘permanent in American life’.40
So when the Diggers incite a murderous riot in the midst of a communist trade union meeting in town, Somers feels nothing but nausea; a ‘kind of grief, a bitter, agonized grief for his fellow-men’.41 In politics and law, a pure, unchallenged authority is a kind of black hole, an all-consuming thing; it is the anti-matter of polarity. This loss of otherness, and with it this loss of selfhood, always sends Lawrence’s heroes recoiling aghast from the political consequences that seemed to tumble out of their desires. W.H. Auden was surely right in identifying the key problem in Lawrence’s political thought as inhering in his attempt, in the tract Democracy (1919) for example, to recast the collective in terms of a unitary personal image that obscured the plural realities of community. But Kangaroo works through and in the process critiques this ideology and conclusively demonstrates how the collectivist cult of personality is in fact a betrayal of the comradeship between distinct individuals.42 Kangaroo pursues Democracy’s treatise and exposes it as a problem, not a solution. No doubt Lawrence was a weak political thinker because he was incapable of thinking of human interactions in anything other than personal terms. But the personalising effect of literature, while it was a weakness for his politics was a strength for his understanding of justice. His weakness saved him ‘from the most ghastly collectivist errors and the tyrannies embraced by too many of his contemporaries and juniors’ – Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, Percy Lewis, Diana Mitford, Lawrence of Arabia, Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt and Paul de Man, to name a few.
In Kangaroo, Somers is entirely at sea – in his politics, in his marriage, on the beach at Thirroul where he briefly lived. And here too the waves serve as a defining metaphor for this oscillation and polarity.
Then, when [the waves] fell, the fore-flush in a great soft swing with incredible speed up the shore, on the darkness soft-lighted with moon, like a rush of white serpents, then slipping back with a hiss that fell into silence for a second, leaving the sand of granulated silver … A huge but a cold passion swinging back and forth. Great waves of radium swooping with a down-curve and rushing up the shore. Then calling themselves back again, retreating to the mass. Then rushing with venomous radium-burning speed into the body of the land. Then recoiling with a low swish, leaving the flushed sand naked.43
The movement of the waves powerfully evokes Somers’ own polarity, forward and back, again and again, towards and away from the romance of ecstatic belonging. This movement is presented not as a conflict or a problem, but as part of him. The movement and the feeling seems to come directly from the waves
themselves, just as such movements and pulls are as bodily as our breath in us. Although they ‘seem to sunder life into an irreconcilable dualism [they] are in fact polar opposites … We can distinguish them but we cannot divide them’.45 In direct contrast to a romantic metaphysics, Lawrence articulates ‘antitheses, contraries, contradictions’46 – a metaphysics of energy and not of peace.
The novel ends with another anxious voyage into the unknown and across a cold, dark sea. Such voyages are our destiny, though we may shirk them or embrace them. The image of the waves on Thirroul beach reminds us of the polarity, the pulls away and back that mark all our experiences and our values. The sound and movement of the waves echoes the ‘call and answer’ whose discourse of resistance, backwards and forwards amongst differing reasons and arguments, never ceasing, never yielding, offers understanding, vitality and development.47 Polarity is not synthesis, not balance, not transcendence: it is opposition. Its forces cannot be compromised since we are committed too much to both. But the unceasing and incurable struggle to which polarity condemns us is our true predicament.48 Polarity in Lawrence provides a vision of disagreement as endemic, irreducible and productive energy.
Contradiction, polyphony, ambivalence
Lawrence was far from alone in these ideas. What is so striking about post-war modernism is the way in which similar ideas kept springing up. In the work of the philosopher R.G. Collingwood, for example, we find striking echoes of Lawrence’s position, similarly intended not to eliminate or overcome these antitheses, but to turn their unavoidable and painful reality from a destructive to a productive aspect of the post-war predicament. As one would say nowadays: not a bug but a feature. Collingwood follows closely on John Ruskin who had insisted that the holding of ‘two contradictory opinions’ is ‘a mark not of weakness but of strength – not of confusion but of a wide and comprehensive view’.49 From Truth and Contradiction (1917) onwards, Collingwood made the pursuit of the political and philosophical implications of this central to his writing.50 Truth was to be understood by the ability to encompass, without reduction or dissolution, conflicting points of view. Collingwood’s dialectic undoubtedly owes much to Hegel and one could argue that in Hegel too there are resources to support the fluidity of Collingwood’s approach. But it seems to me perfectly fair to claim for Collingwood a departure from the transcendence and synthesis that we find in Hegel, the quintessential romantic idealist. Like Lawrence, Collingwood invokes the ‘logic of question and answer’51 so as to insist above all on the contextual and irresolute nature of all truth. Collingwood explicitly, as Lawrence implicitly, positions this ‘supple’ and ‘responsive’ dialogue against both logical positivism on the one hand and the forces of romantic irrationality on the other.52 Weber and, later, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, saw bureaucratic rationality and logical positivism as profoundly dehumanising but ‘escape-proof’ and ‘practically unshatterable’,53 thus setting the stage for the equally one-sided return to romanticism from Nietzsche to Heidegger and beyond. Collingwood, like José Ortega y Gasset, while as critical of the marginalisation of art and emotion by rationality and positivism, remains far more optimistic about the creative potential of dialogue, context and conflict.54 Not, I would say, to ‘split the difference’ but to preserve the difference unsplit.