Eternity in an Hour
The Single State of Man, A Study of D. H. Lawrence and Blake by R. S. Sudarshanam. Vasundhara Publications. Kinige e-book, pages 90, Rs.50.
Sudarshanam (1927-2001) drew inspiration, and the title, from Shakespeare, for his study of the two British maestros: William Blake (1757-1827) and D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930). Stirred by the tempting prophecies of the witches igniting his ‘vaulting ambition’, Macbeth muses: ‘My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, / Shakes so my single state of man / That function is smothered in surmise, / And nothing is but what is not’ (I, 3, 142-45). Sudarshanam takes his cue from the doomed nobleman’s shaken ‘single state of man’, dissociates it from the individual, connects it with the spiritual explorations of Blake and Lawrence, and gives us an insight into the general human condition. The study leads the reader to look at parallels in the philosophical speculations of seekers all over the world.
Sudarshanam cites Blake’s aphorism ‘Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age’, and finds the possibility of ‘reconciliation between the Body and the Spirit in man’ (23). This comes so close to the Hindu concept of the embodied soul (Jeevaatma), and the universal soul (Paramatma). While the Christian view is linear, the Hindu view is cyclical.
Sudarshanam sums up Blake’s formulation of the three states of man’s being: (1) man in his unfallen state, the limit of contraction, Adam; (2) man’s blissful union with God in the senses, Beulah; (3) man become divine, expansion without limit, translucent man. The final state of translucence is attained when the division of genders disappears (24). This abstraction of ‘contraction’, ‘union’, ‘expansion’ and ‘translucence’ may well be traced back, at a universal level, to the eternal segue of man, woman, and, in their pristine union, return to their Maker, indicative of the creative cycle and the divine bliss attained in transcending the dualities. In all major religions, an archetypal image for spiritual realization is untainted sexual union, for instance, in the Sufi and the Vaishnav thought, the fusion with the divine signified in terms of the angelic mingling of the lovers.
Recognition of the triple ‘Female Tabernacle’, ‘the division in the Brain, the Heart and the Loins’, so necessary to move forward for ‘the final consummation, the union of man with Humanity in God’, often turns an impediment. Aptly Sudarshanam likens it to a ladder, ‘which one has gradually climbed, and having reached the last rung one is unable to kickoff to step on the final stage, the goal of climbing. One clings fondly to the ladder, but unless there is courage enough to discard it, the final step will never be taken’ (32). This again is so like the idea of moksha, which requires breaking of all bonds to be one with the divine, so hard to reach because even a rishi finds it hard to shed the trappings of asceticism.
When Blake says, ‘The worship of God is honoring His gifts in other men’, he is emphasizing humanism as spiritual path, another construct common to most religions.
Sudarshanam invokes Blake’s symbol of bow and connects it with Lawrence’s symbol of rainbow: ‘In the single state of man, his Self is like the Bow; it consists of a fine tension between two Contraries… the Male and Female principles, the active and passive … Love is what emerges’ and concludes ‘This is the basic idea underlying all the writings of D. H. Lawrence’ (35-36). He cautions: ‘While Sons and Lovers constitutes the Prologue and Lady Chatterley’s Lover the epilogue, the main theme of the problem of Self lies in the novels that appeared between them. It is often forgotten that “the play is the thing”; and people, in reading Lawrence, have concentrated on the Prologue and the Epilogue and missed the play.’ He points out that while Lawrence works out his synthesis with body as the base, Blake does so with imagination (16).
He considers The Rainbow ‘a record of Lawrence’s inner experience, of the processes of thought and feeling, which give birth to his new consciousness … to deal with the problem of Self, with the “allotropic states” it passes through to discover the truth about itself’ (38).
In the argument between Will and Anna, Sudarshanam finds the endless debate between religion and science: ‘the same struggle is enacted over again between the believing man and the questioning, reasoning woman. And that final gesture of asserting manly authority is reminiscent of what Religion did when it was not able to withstand the attacks of Science’ (43). Lawrence risks heresy when he gets Anna to say, ‘It is impudence to say that Woman was made out of Man’s body, when every man is born of woman’ (44). The tussle between gospel and hermeneutics, intuition and evidence, emotion and reason, is a seesaw, and the game goes on.
Sudarshanam locates the three states of man in Lawrentian thought, in the three-generation study of the Brangwens: the eternal triangle of man, woman and god: ‘fulfillment in marriage and in spirituality, the two kinds of fulfillment being one in the single state of man; the two being different and negative to each other in the schismatic state of man. There is the unfallen state of man (Adam); there is the fallen state of man, fallen through temptation and doubt; there is the process of redemption and hope to regain the lost integrity. These are the three states of man described in the three stories … indeed the continuing story of mankind itself’ (39).
Cathedral is a recurring metaphor in The Rainbow. ‘Passing the large church, Ursula must look in. But the whole interior was filled with scaffolding, fallen stone and rubbish were heaped on the floor, bits of plaster crunched under foot, and the place re-echoed to the calling of secular voices and to blows of the hammer.’ She sits in the back pew, ‘in the gloom, and she watches the dirty, disorderly work of brick-layers and plasterers, while workmen in heavy boots walk grinding down the aisles, calling out in vulgar accent, and the place echoes desolate’ (56). The building and its repairs, the workmen in heavy boots and vulgar accents, the efforts to restore the church to its original condition, are indicators of what has become of the faith, now in need of re-discovery. The anguish of Lawrence percolates to later novelists across the Atlantic too, for example, Marilynne Robinson: in her Gilead, Ames recollects: ‘Well, the church is shabby for the same reason it’s still standing at all’ (199).
Sudarshanam finds ‘Evil consists in the dissociation between the senses and the mind. The balance between the Contraries, when tilted, might never be restored, resulting in a permanent antagonism and separation between them, in which case there is degeneration, gradual dissolution and finally death. This is the theory of evil implied in Lawrence’s analysis of human civilization and contemporary life’ (82). And the importance of mind had been captured poetically, over a century before Lawrence and Blake, by Milton in his Paradise Lost: ‘The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n (I, 233-34). Mind has always occupied a prime place in the Hindu philosophy.
Sudarshanam quotes from Lawrence’s Study of Thomas Hardy: ‘The goal of the Male impulse is the announcement of motion, endless motion, endless diversity, endless change. The goal of the Female impulse is the announcement of infinite oneness, of infinite stability. When the two are working in combination, as they must in life, there is as it were, a dual motion, centrifugal for the male, fleeing abroad, away from the centre outward to infinite vibration, and centripetal for the female, fleeing in to the eternal centre of rest. A combination of the two movements produces a sum of motion and stability at once satisfying. But in life there tends always to be more of one than the other’ (49). And, for the first time in his study, Sudarshanam mentions Rabindranath Tagore’s Sadhana on the ‘dvandva’, a series of opposites in creation … the centripetal force and the centrifugal, attraction and repulsion … the rising and falling waves finding repose in the sea. He could have drawn more parallels between the occidental and the oriental imagination, but then we realize this was a work in progress he never got to complete.
Why he abandoned his research halfway raises more questions than answers. Deterioration of health, the reason given in the note about the author, has not come in the way of his academic and literary pursuits in Telugu, because it was at the age of thirty-five he had registered for Ph.D. in English with the Karnatak University, and he lived up to seventy-four. While he gave up his study of Blake and Lawrence, he went on with his writings in Telugu, won two State Academy Awards, enriched the Telugu literature and criticism to the extent the National Academy of Letters, India, published a monograph on him in the Makers of Indian Literature Series. Could the reason for such a talented scholar to discontinue his doctoral pursuit be that he might have felt ‘cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in’ – to borrow, again, words from Macbeth – by the academia? Or, fortunately for Telugu, the pull of mother tongue proved stronger than the lure of English?
Whatever the reasons, even the fragments of his research open windows to the study of Blake and Lawrence, and let in fresh air. While it is laudable that they have come out as an e-book, it is regrettable that the typescript and its web-design did not receive even basic editorial and technical attention.
The Contents page itself is an eyesore: It begins with ‘Frontispiece’, and in vain do we look for one; what follows is the epigraph, a quote from Nietzsche.
No style sheet has been followed. The academic practice of italicizing titles of books is ignored; underlining is inconsistent (3, 4, 6, 9…); quotation marks, single and double, are freely mixed up. Documentation, so essential to a research work, is untidy: mostly page references are missing, but where given, they are inadequate; ‘Chapter III,The Rainbow’ is lazy referencing; some glare in bold lettering in brackets, also underlined, as if the author had planned to look them up later, to connect better (31); the footnote on page 49 spills to the top of 50; indenting is mixed up with text; line spacing is inconsistent; and formatting is messy: there are two hanging lines on 81.
The least one expects in an academic work is careful proof reading and scrupulous checking of quotations. Silly typos or grammar slips are unfortunate but understandable (34, 40, 48, 70, 71, 81). But errors in quotes are unforgivable, more so in the Google age of easy check. Take for instance the opening Shakespeare quote for epigraph of Chapter I: ‘sunrise’ for ‘surmise’; ‘This woman was claimed as her own’ instead of ‘This woman has claimed as her own’ (52); ‘It is quire inhuman’ for ‘It is quite inhuman’ (75); ‘the grandeur if Inspiration’ for ‘the grandeur of Inspiration’ (63);
There are lines reading like jottings to be expanded later ‘Los prays to Saviour; Los’s helplessness; Jerusalem’s imprisonment. Reason asks him to think of the history of man; the vanity of human aspiration for greatness’ (20), which could have been either dropped, or an explanatory note given in the beginning of the book, to caution the reader of what to expect. Or the subtitle could have been revised as ‘Notes for further study of William Blake and D. H. Lawrence’.
Sudarshanam’s contribution to Telugu literary criticism is of seminal importance, and his study, though incomplete, of the two British masters, is bound to be of immense aid to students and professors.