The aesthetic and the ethical: the dialogue between religious belief and literary form in D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot

Rayment, Andrew David (2006) The aesthetic and the ethical: the dialogue between religious belief and literary form in D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This is a cross-disciplinary investigation that seeks to read some of the representative works of Eliot and of Lawrence as viewed through the critical lens of Soren Kierkegaard's authorship, its strategies and preoccupations. The third arrival in the earlier development of my theoretical project of cross-reading, and not an ascertainably direct influence, Kierkegaard soon became the dominant maieutic presence in my thesis, a fact that is deliberately signalled by the explicit reference to his Life Stages that my title makes. Some of SK's major concerns were indeed shared, idiosyncratically, by the two later writers, each in his distinct biographical, cultural and historical context. There is little undisputed and ascertainable evidence for any conscious direct influence of Kierkegaard on Eliot and still less so of Kierkegaard on Lawrence, but there are thematic, literary and, I will argue, significant diagnostic points of contact and mutual illumination. As Michael Bell did with Lawrence and Heidegger, beginning with Cassirer (Bell 1991: 3-4,6-10), in the same manner I read Kierkegaard as an 'explicatory parallel' to Lawrence and Eliot, as an aid to clarify and to 'bring out the internal complexity and cogency of ... [each man's] ... conception.' I believe this to be an academically valid and illuminative approach to themes of continuing significance.

Biographical research and speculation, which continues to be intense in the case of each of these publicly enigmatic men, is largely eschewed in this literary-critical dissertation except where pertinent. However the issue of 'existence-statement', under the mutually modifying criteria of aestheticism and apostolicity, is at one and the same time a decisive and an elusive concern and how it may be both is a peculiarly Kierkegaardian kind of 'truth'. 'Lives' may not therefore be totally excluded from the perimeters of my discussion but must be discerningly considered, where this is germane, and with no rush to judgement. In his remarkable but flawed major study of Kierkegaard (1993), the late Dr. Roger Poole addressed this issue, perhaps too boldly in the context of a purportedly aesthetic reading, but I follow him to the extent that I have included some of my own very different and tentative researches in these areas largely in the Appendices to my main arguments.

I define the twinned issues of aestheticism and apostolicity here as, respectively, projected modes of artistic/imaginative pattern making, and the self-perceived status of one commissioned with a message to proclaim. Between these them comes a second-level Kierkegaardian Stage of awareness, the Ethical, that is transitional, explicitly purposeful but still fundamentally truncated and incomplete. These categories, themselves in constant transition, are central to my cross-comparison because in his distinctive way each writer occupied this thematically complex terrain or, put differently, his work can be profitably read through this theoretical 'grid'. Even a superficial consideration of pseudonymous Kierkegaard, 'doctrinal' Lawrence and 'invisible' Eliot indicates this. Similarly Kierkegaard's deliberate employment of the indirect as a mode of communication sheds real and variegated light on the related practices of the twentieth century authors.

In Chapter One, Kierkegaardian diagnostic preoccupations and authorial strategies are presented and contextualised, with emphases on the 'Individual', the 'Stages' and Indirection of Discourse. In Chapter Two Lawrence and Eliot are introduced in their wider cultural setting and Chapters Three and Four develop a relevant Kierkegaardian methodology-in-practice for reading some of Eliot's poetry. Chapter Five scrutinises passages from Burnt Norton as a text of progression-through retrieval. Chapter Six addresses the task of refining a method to engage with Lawrence through a Kierkegaardian approach to a quite different generic type of writer. Chapter Seven exploits the Kierkegaardian concepts of Repetition and his three Stages to inform a reading of Lawrence's most original novel, Women in Love. Chapter Eight reads late Lawrence, sometimes against Eliot, with a view to establishing the nature of Lawrence's final attempts to forge a religious discourse, paying attention again to Kierkegaardian insights. I conclude that through ingenious and dynamic strategies, within formidable constraints and limitations Lawrence attains a fitfully remarkable and, at best, strikingly original achievement of modern religious discourse. In Chapter Nine I draw my generalised conclusions about the value of Lawrence's and Eliot's work in the wider area of religion, language and meaning.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Daly, M.M.
Subjects: P Language and literature > PR English literature
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies
Item ID: 11187
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 16 Mar 2010 14:33
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2017 16:13

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