Let there be life: notes toward a philosophy of art in the work of D.H. Lawrence and Wallace Stevens
Caufield, Michael Dace
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This dissertation is a study of D. H. Lawrence and Wallace Stevens. It examines the philosophical attitudes with which Lawrence and Stevens viewed their own creative powers. How Lawrence and Stevens developed aesthetic theories based on "feeling" is the thesis of the dissertation (in a strict etymological sense of the word "aesthetic"---aisthesthai [f. vb. stem aisq3 ---'feel, apprehend by the senses' OED]). The relationship between traditional rationalist philosophy and feeling (Reason vs Imagination) provides the dialectical agon of the study as Lawrence and Stevens are analyzed within the context of their modernist contemporaneity, and, simultaneously and more broadly, within a frame combining recent critical theory, biological theories of feeling, cosmological theories of quantum mechanics, and formal academic criticism of their work.The idea of unmediated experience---of feeling the world---is presented by examining themes it configures in Lawrence and Stevens: 'nobleness' of refined sensate perception, the need for 'newness', belief in art as a redemptive power, and the aestheticising of creative isolation while effecting a nomenclature for spirits of mind and place. These themes are charted in conjunction with Lawrence's flight from England and Stevens's withdrawal into imagined landscapes. How a homeless English literalist and a home-bound American abstract realist come to establish similar conceptions of the primordial creative force, how feeling manifests itself in descriptive language, and, how thought, as the very act of description itself, determines identity are questions this dissertation works through to suggest how Stevens and Lawrence arrive at congruent conclusions about what is at the center of their literary pursuits: "The all-commanding subject matter of poetry is life. It is life that we are trying to get at in poetry. Thought is life" (NA 28, OP 185, 198); "Nothing is important except life... What we want is life, and life-energy inside us. Where it comes from, or what it is, we don't know, and never shall. It is the capital X of all our knowledge" (PH 535, PHII 428).
- English