Apocalypse by D. H. Lawrence is a fascinating breakdown of the Book of Revelation (apokalypsis is ancient Greek for revelation) and also an inspiring philosophy of the same theme found in Lawrence’s novels.
“Men are far more fools today, for stripping themselves of their emotion and imaginative reactions, and feeling nothing. The price we pay is boredom and deadness.”
Lawrence fairly rails against the writer of the Apocalypse, practically accusing John of Patmos of outright theft and then hypocritical, hysterical disavowal of the re-purposed ancient pagan symbols and mythology. The Apocalypse’s brand of Christianity “is popular religion, as distinct from thoughtful religion.” He describes it as a sort of ideology of the weak which prays only for their day of bloody vengeance. Lawrence prefers to speak to “the tenderness and gentleness of strength,” going so far as to define the word “aristocracy” as an embodiment of his concept of true strength,
“Brave people add up to an aristocracy, the democracy of the thou-shalt-not is bound to be a collection of weak men. And then the sacred “will of the people” becomes blinder, baser and more dangerous than the will of a tyrant.”
“They will only listen to the call of mediocrity: which is evil. Hence the success of painfully inferior and even base politicians.”
The Apocalypse as told in the Bible, according to Lawrence, is a muddled version of the deep symbolism of mythology or paganism which, in an effort to co-opt the story, the fathomless rich mystery of symbolism has been reduced to mere blunt one-dimensional allegory. Lawrence detests allegory.
“We are back again at the level of allegory, and for me, the real interest is gone. Allegory can always be explained: and explained away. The true symbol defies all explanation, so does true myth. You can give meaning to either – you will never explain them away. Because symbol and myth do not affect us only mentally, they move the deep emotional centres every time.”
And I have to admit, his criticism of Pilgrim’s Progress on this note is something I agree with, we can not be reduced to – “Obstinate,” “Faithful,” “Wanton,” without causing some serious harm to the complexity of our being, as well as our intellect.
“How beastly their New Jerusalem, where the flowers never fade, but stand in everlasting sameness! How terribly bourgeois to have unfading flowers!”
Some of Lawrence’s theories are more widely accepted now, which dates his book slightly: after all, the number of people who cling to the idea that any person born before the days of Homer must be Urdummheit (a German word for primal stupidity) surely shrinks and yet…and yet,
“Today the antichrist speaks Russian, a hundred years ago he spoke French, tomorrow he may speak cockney or the Glasgow brogue. As for Urdummheit, he speaks any language that isn’t Oxford or Harvard or an obsequious imitation of one of these.”
On second thought, change Arabic for Russian and I take his point.
“- Any how there is far too much destroying in the Apocalypse.
It ceases to be fun.”
As always Lawrence’s wit stays sharp, if his message weren’t so moving and profound one might think he was simply irritated by the banality of it all:
“Soon after 1000 B C the world went a little insane about morals and sin.”
It is our fragmentary existence that is our undoing. As Lawrence sees it, the fact that the Apocalypse was written at all proves to us that we are in fact resisting, “unnaturally.” Otherwise there is no purpose to the destructive message; it has to be against something. It is against our unified wholeness, and wants only to destroy and take revenge for the pain the very fracturing has given rise to. Lawrence insists that we cannot love or even truly live if we are fragmented individuals:
“We cannot bear connection. That is our malady. We must break away, and be isolate. Beyond a certain point, which we have reached, it is suicide. Perhaps we have chosen suicide. Well and good. The Apocalypse too chose suicide, with subsequent self glorification. But the Apocalypse shows, by its very resistance, the things that the human heart secretly yearns after. ..What man most passionately wants is his living wholeness and his living unison, not his own isolate salvation of his “soul.” Man wants physical fulfillment first and foremost, since now, once and once only, he is in the flesh and potent. For man, the vast marvel is to be alive.”
For Lawrence, what is essential is that we worry about our lives, in our bodies, here and now and not so much for our souls in a future unknowable then and wherever. He wants for us all to feel alive so that we can BE alive.
“What we want is to destroy our false, inorganic connections, especially those related to money, and to re-establish the living organic connections, with the cosmos, the sun and earth, with mankind and nation and family. Start with the sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly happen.”