The Machine Will Never Triumph, part thirty
Tragedy seems to me a loud noise
louder than is seemly.
Tragedy looks to me like man
in love with his own defeat.
Which is only a sloppy way of being in love with yourself.
I can’t very much care about the woes and tragedies
of Lear and Macbeth and Hamlet and Timon:
they cared so excessively themselves.
And when I think of the great tragedy of our material-mechanical
crushing out the natural human life
then sometimes I feel defeated; and then again I know
my shabby little defeat would do neither me any good
nor anybody else.1
For those awakened to the oppression of our mechanized and dark civilization, sometimes the weight of the Machine’s millstones will feel like they are grinding us exceedingly small and may squeeze the life out of us. Life in technological civilization is tough for all but a few, and most of us will experience many black days. But giving in to the feeling of defeat does no good, and giving up means giving in; so we should always strive to fight the good fight even if we feel we are fighting a losing battle. As for those darkest of days, when all hope seems lost, you can resort to the power of rage to purify yourself, and let its fires cleanse you of the filth of the world. Lawrence knew how to purify himself through rage, as evinced in the following passage:
I am in a black fury with the world, as usual. One writes, one works, one gives ones [sic] hand to people. And the swine are rats, they bite one’s hand. They are rats, sewer rats, with all the foul courage of death and corruption, darkness and sewers[…] I believe in a free, proud happiness. But how can one be happy with rats biting one. How to get away from them? They are everywhere, they cling on to one, they carry one down with their weight. Perhaps Bishop Hatto2 had only burned rats, after all. How to escape, how to get out, where to find a clean land?—Oh God above.3
Sometimes one just needs to be alone: no people, no crowds; just alone with a mountain. The tremendous beauty of nature can start to regrow the faith that has been torn away by all the robot masses. Sometimes when we think only of our own little corner of the world, things may not look so bad, but if one contemplates the onward march of the Machine across the globe, one cannot but be horrified by the rapid and nearly total ascendancy of evil. As Lawrence writes:
It is the hideous rawness of the world of men, the horrible, desolating harshness of the advance of the industrial world upon the world of nature, that is so painful. It looks as though the industrial spread of mankind were a sort of dry disintegration advancing and advancing, a process of dry disintegration. If only we could learn to take thought for the whole world instead of for merely tiny bits of it.4
My soul has had a long, hard day
she is tired,
she is seeking her oblivion.
O, and in the world
there is no place for the soul to find her oblivion
the after darkness of her peace,
for man has killed the silence of the earth
and ravished all the peaceful oblivious places
where the angels used to alight.5
Lawrence always told the truth, and he always fought for what was right, no matter the hardships. He paid dearly for his principles, and near the end of his life it exhausted him, but he never gave up, never gave in, and to his last dying breath he burned like the flame in the furnace of the god of blacksmithing, Hephaestus. A good, gentle soul needs a place of repose, both here and hereafter, but most of the peaceful places of the world have been destroyed or invaded. Now, aside from brief moments of respite, a man can only look forward to the peace of the hereafter, the peace that passes all understanding.
Our world has now become so strange. Plato or Shakespeare could easily have understood Lawrence, but most of the people of today would appear to them as diabolical alien entities. The human being changed little in its history, until the groundwork was laid for mankind’s mechanization approximately two hundred years ago. We have now so fully embraced the Machine that we can barely be called human any longer. While this mechanization may overwhelm one’s mind, it is better to fight for what one can fight for, and avoid getting exasperated over the details. As Lawrence writes:
The longer I live the more I realise it would shatter the nerves of an Aristotle or Socrates, to have to think deeply about this world we’ve gotten ourselves into. It’s no good taking long views: it’s like looking down the crater of Vesuvius, you see nothing and you asphyxiate yourself. Best only tackle little problems and tidy up small corners. A man tears himself to bits grappling with the whole machine.6
For all those who can still live apart from the grip of the Machine, who love life and worship the Gods, the edifice of modernity appears as a giant aberration. If all else fails, we still know the Gods are good, the soul never perishes, and the Fire that created us sustains us. While the world, despite our best efforts, may fall temporarily to the Machine, we can still ask, as Lawrence did: “Was this then all that remained? Was there left now nothing but to break off from the happy creative being, was the time up? Is our day of creative life finished? Does there remain to us only the strange, awful afterwards of the knowledge in dissolution[?]”7 But dissolution is not necessarily the end; it can be the fertile ground upon which new growth may occur. Know that you are not what you think you are, but are far more than that, having within you the spark of the eternal Fire that is the source from which all has sprung. So long as you identify only with the body or the ego, your day is up, and there is no escape, so dig deeply to find your spark before it is too late. Lawrence writes:
The vast massive superstructure of falsity, our London, our Black Country, our Industrial System, our false Constitution, this is not us. It is super-imposed upon us. Centuries of excavating into the raw earth have piled on us all this refuse and all this mineral. It is time we began to clear away the refuse, to build a great nation, a living cathedral of truth, a great rotunda attesting to the eternity we represent.
And the teeming swarms of human beings seethe against the immovable masses of created appliances, machines and laws and ideas, seethe and break against them at last in a red foam of blood. But the machines and the laws and the ideas are rocks, they do not change or move. Only the human life is broken even more and more into red foam against them, and still the tide of the great fixed Will throws us to destruction, there is no escape.8
Many lovers of life have asked why they were born here and now, and not in some remote place of an even remoter past. “Lord, but it is a bitter thing to be born at the end of a rotten, idealistic machine-civilisation.”9 But, nothing can be done save the great Work, namely attaining to a knowledge of the soul, and communion with the Gods. The soul was not born here and now: it has always been and will always be. It is time to withdraw, each and every one of us to our own little Thebaid, there to live justly, and to find our God. As Jeffers writes:
They are warming up the old horrors; and all that they say is echoes of
Beware of taking sides; only watch.
These are not criminals, nor hucksters and little journalists, but the
Of the great nations; men favorably
Representative of massed humanity. Observe them. Wrath and laughter
Are quite irrelevant. Clearly it is time
To become disillusioned, each person to enter his soul’s desert
And look for God,—having seen man.10
Jeffers, Robinson. The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Edited by Tim Hunt. Vol. Three. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1988.
Lawrence, D. H. Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays. Edited by Michael Herbert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
———. The Poems. Edited by Christopher Pollnitz. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
———. The Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Edited by James T. Boulton. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
———. “Twilight in Italy.” In D. H. Lawrence and Italy, 2–136. London: Penguin Books, 2007.
———. Twilight in Italy and Other Essays. Edited by Paul Eggert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. Women in Love. London: Everyman’s Library, 1992.
D. H. Lawrence, The Poems, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 441.
A German legend says a Bishop Hatto burned a mob of starving peasants in a barn, likening them to rats, rather than share his stores of food with them; their spirits returned as rats and devoured him.
D. H. Lawrence, The Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. James T. Boulton (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 143–44.
D. H. Lawrence, “Twilight in Italy,” in D. H. Lawrence and Italy (London: Penguin Books, 2007), 124.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:639.
Lawrence, The Selected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, 315.
D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love (London: Everyman’s Library, 1992), 248.
D. H. Lawrence, Twilight in Italy and Other Essays, ed. Paul Eggert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 316–17.
D. H. Lawrence, Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 162.
Robinson Jeffers, The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, ed. Tim Hunt, vol. Three (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1988), 15.