Apart From Naughtiness

There are many ways of knowing, there are many sorts of knowledge. But the two ways of knowing, for man, are knowing in terms of apartness, which is mental, rational, scientific, and knowing in terms of togetherness, which is religious and poetic.
—D.H. Lawrence, A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (55)


It was only once I was walking down the dark empty hallway that an awareness began to percolate back into my brain alerting me that I had left my glasses behind. Before the realization entirely sank in, while I was still merely in an optical haze of confusion, I spun around and ran back hoping to beat the timer I had turned—I didn’t want the light to go off and have to blindly find my way back to the stack among multiple stacks. Not my fault. I had gone there to get one book. Just one. But in my arms were four. I got excited and was dashing off like a thief in the night.

People wallow in emotion: counterfeit emotion. They lap it up: they live in it and on it. They ooze it (18-19).

What began as My Skirmish With Jolly Roger, (which I found in there! in the general stacks—a first edition! —I’m going to have to talk with someone about that.) —a stand-alone limited edition of Lawrence’s forward to the “Paris edition” of Lady Chatterley’s Lover— turned into A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, extending the original essay by some fifty pages. I added both to my check out, naturally.

And with counterfeit emotions there is no real sex at all. Sex is the one thing you cannot really swindle; and it is the centre of the worst swindling of all, emotional swindling. Once come down to sex, and the emotional swindle must collapse. But in all the approaches to sex, the emotional swindle intensifies more and more. Till you get there. then collapse (21).

In the essay, Lawrence seems to be trying to find his reader. Not the one who skips to the dirty words, not the one who is sanctimoniously looking for moral outrage, but his reader–the one who craves something true. It is a delicate and precious thing:

Herein lies the danger of harping only on the counterfeit and the swindle of emotion, as most “advanced” writers do. Though they do it, of course, to counterbalance the hugely greater swindle of the sentimental “sweet” writers (23). 

It is even harder, in this day and age, to resist the cynics and avoid the fools. This week I began my summer internship. I am working in the editorial department of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I spend my lunch hour wandering the sublime halls of the museum. I let myself approach each piece of art instinctually—yes or no. It is simple. I have time. No pressure. It is just me. Is the answer to the multiple choice question yes or no? I wish life were so simple.

Édouard Vuillard, Conversation (1897-98)

Édouard Vuillard, Conversation (1897-98)

This is what is the matter with us. We are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilised vase on the table (40).

Poor blossom, indeed. Lawrence advocates passionately, in this essay,  for marriage, which, having been married, forces a sort of reckoning within me. Additionally, as the novel’s plot involves adultery, his stance is interesting. And yet, marriage for marriage’s sake–for stature or security or any other shallow or temporal purpose is exactly what he most vehemently rails against…so,  I do come to see his point. I am not only a dedicated observer of art, I am also an observer of couples, and when I espy the authentic thing—I rejoice with a yes in my heart. Life can be all that.

For an essay that begins, ostensibly, as a warning to the reader of the myriad pirated editions of his work, Lawrence diverges with such fervent passion into the heart of the matter, into our very hearts, that I cannot help adoring him. He is a sane man in a mad world, which may make him appear crazed, but it doesn’t make him wrong.

When the great crusade against sex and the body started in full blast with Plato, it was a crusade for “ideals”, and for this “spiritual” knowledge in apartness. Sex is the great unifier. In its big, slower vibration it is the warmth of heart which makes people happy together, in togetherness. The idealist philosophies and religions set out deliberately to kill this. And they did. Now they have done it. The last great ebullition of friendship and hope was squashed out in mud and blood. Now men are all separate entities. While “kindness” is the glib order of the day—everyone must be “kind”—underneath this “kindness” we find a coldness of heart, a lack of heart, a callousness, that is very dreary (57).

It’s the “dreary” that makes me smile. Yes, it is indeed dreary.

*title from pg. 32


8 responses to “Apart From Naughtiness

  1. “Life can be all that.”

    Yes, it can.

  2. Heaven: museums and food carts, thousands of interesting people ignoring you, AND being able to buy fountain pen ink in a store. Art: seeing the real thing, a paradox, sorta, the art is surely “in our civilised vase on the table” but it is not “a grinning mockery.” that description better fits the digital copy. Like walking towards a real Rembrandt (last tried on the Aristotle) trying to note (feel?) when portrait becomes paint: this is not something you can do when art is on a screen.
    “Art is not in the objects, but in the artist’s conception of art to which the objects are subordinated.” — Ursula Meyer

    • I agree. The value of digital images is merely to alert people as to the existence of the thing and so that they know where to go to see it…of course we can’t all go everywhere so there are many things that I, at least, will happily view in a second rate manner. But being surrounded by this encyclopedic and magnificent collection of art, as I currently am, I am everyday in awe of the difference between seeing a digital image and the real thing. I wander the halls and I swear some pieces just beckon me—come.
      Can I ask you something? What do you think of the Vuillard I posted?

  3. I like it, but first Vuillard in general: he never settled on a “style,” his works can be mistaken for any of any number of worthy peers, at least until you begin to read the things. IMHO, his stuff always has a more interesting balance of plot to paint than his contemporaries.
    The posted work: a quick sketch, a hasty effort to get an idea from inside his head out, yet signed. He values action of art as much as the object, that’s good.
    So what does it say to me? Not a conversation, really half of one at best. (like making art?) The man has spoken and he leans forward in anticipation of a reply which doesn’t appear to be forthcoming from the indifferent woman.
    I had to download the RGB/8 JPG and adjust it in photoshop to get a good view. Is it really that dark or is my digital screen hiding the art in its depths from me? “The last great ebullition of friendship and hope was squashed out in mud and blood. Now men are all separate entities.” Perhaps?

    • It is quite dark. An outdoor shaded cafe. He is so forthcoming with the cool darkness…I see her in a slightly more sympathetic light. I can feel the heat that the shade obscures, and she feels safe in her sensuality, in full repose. He says something to her and propriety demands that she turn her head away. It wouldn’t do to turn to him from that pose. Not fully dressed at least.
      I love his work. His interior backgrounds are so rich and exquisite. Thank you for giving me your opinion. The tombstone that accompanied this painting described it as gloomy. I was wondering if that word came to other people’s minds because I don’t see gloom. I think of Viulliard as a very sensitive painter- a sensitive soul.

      • “I don’t see gloom…” the museum goer sees dramatic darkness in a painting that one facing a computer screen sees flattened into muddy sameness. I can see your POV tho’, we all bring our particular histories to the show. I, too, like his interiors most of all; they are where the surface and the story mate best.
        “sensitive painter- a sensitive soul…” I think “styloclast” Duchamp kinda explains Vuillard’s painterly wanderings. Marcel said “…I only feel inclined to work when something stirs me in some way. Then I try to find a way of expressing the idea…” http://hyperallergic.com/151987/marcel-duchamp-paints-the-body-electric/

  4. Digital images are for browsing, for manipulating and playing with. There is no substitute for the real thing. Especially for very big or small images. You wonder how they did them.

  5. Digital images are more than for “browsing…” scientists use them to understand and journalists use them to explain things and events. And CSI/SOCOs use them–on TV at least–to catch criminals.
    Artists treat digital tools are treated no differently than old school ones. They are a flexible lot, less tradition-bound than critics generally. They’ll try something new, keep it if it works, discard it if it doesn’t.
    But I think you are referring to reproductions of art objects created in other media. I agree that much can be lost in translation. Walter Benjamin said it was art’s “aura” is lost where reproduced. But compare digital images to books; sure hand scribed and illuminated codices have lots of “aura,” but do you want all books to be locked up in rich folks’ houses? Isn’t it better to have books that anyone can read?
    When looking at a painting on my screen or in a book I know I‘m getting less from it than I would from staring it down in a museum, but at home I can, in minutes, see dozens of paintings by this artist as well as a hundreds more by other artists that relate to the image I began with. I get a lot out of both activities and I wouldn’t want to give up either.

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