Colloquy 12:10-27 (2006)

Both Nietzsche and Lawrence have been identified as important fore- runners and progenitors in the development of an ecocentric, “posthumanist” worldview. Nietzsche suggested, and Lawrence developed, the notion of an anti-mechanistic “gay science”. Both writers rejected the Christian denigration of nature, the Romantic notion of a “return to nature” and the instrumentalisation of nature by industrial rationality in favour of a conception of the good life founded in the body and an almost utopian “ascent to nature”. However, since the ascent to nature required an overcoming of existing humanity, both Nietzsche and Lawrence faced the task of articulating a conception of the Over-man – or post-human, as contemporary theory would put it – that is not merely a figure of authoritarian brutality. Deep ecologist Del Ivan Janik has claimed that Lawrence “saw man as part of an organic universe, living best by acknowledging its wonder and rejecting the temptation to force his will upon it. In this sense he stands at the beginning of the modern posthumanist tradition and of the literature of environmental consciousness.” 1 Accurate as this assessment is, however, the struggle with questions of power, gender, sexuality and religion that early posthu- manism involved has tended to be airbrushed out of the dark green reading of Lawrence. And Lawrence's personal spiritual and intellectual struggle was also a creative conflict with Nietzsche. A useful point of departure is Anna Bramwell's comment in Ecology in the Twentieth Century on the somewhat surprising ubiquity of Nietzsche in ecophilosophical works, as it might be applied with equal force to Lawrence: Nietzsche ... is frequently described as an important figure. Why should this be? In reality, he does not conform at all to the model ecologist ... Yet Nietzsche still hovers, worrying but relevant. I will get on to the worries in due course; for the moment, a few words on the relevance of Nietzsche might be in order. For one thing, Nietzsche was not much interested in nature per se; unlike Lawrence, he never concerned himself with either natural beauty or the threat posed to it by late 19th century industrialisation. This may be due in part to his actual environment, which was largely congenial, as Robert Solomon reminds us: From snatches of prose, one might well conclude that Nietzsche wants nothing more fervently than the life of Conan the Barbarian, a role for which he, in particular, was notoriously ill-suited. "Live dan- gerously" he tells us, from the posher resorts in Southern Europe. It seems reasonable to suggest that if Nietzsche was more fascinated by the Provencal art of the troubadours than by the resistable rise of the capi- talist machine economy, his convalescent exile by the Med, away from the industrial heartlands of Northern Europe, may be partly responsible. His chief concern is the overcoming of the Christian and moral misreading of nature – especially human nature – and the corresponding articulation of what HM Robinson calls a “somatic conception of the good life” to replace it. However, Nietzsche only calls for such a conception, rather than fully elaborating it – let alone living it – so he has “little to say about how human intelligence could be so immanent in our physical being as to make our articulation of our physical will to power something expressive of a properly human nature and not of brute strength.” 4 In short, the problem is how to distinguish the ideal, noble Overman from the mere thug. We should not expect to find the close and often reverent attention to the non-human world as such that is an attractive and central feature of Lawrence's writing; Nietzsche's interest is lively but essentially abstract
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