We are Transmitters – so what are we transmitting?
Artefact 1: Mr Muscle | Article 4 of 4
We are transmitters – YouTube video by Karina Bush, author, poet and video artist
As we live, we are transmitters of life,’ wrote Lawrence. And what we transmit has an impact on us and the immediate world. In the fourth and final essay in this series, James Walker explores how saying yes to life was central to Lawrence’s work ethic.
Lawrence was a transmitter of positive energy throughout his life, giving each task his undivided attention. His wife Frieda was in awe of this element of his personality: ‘to me his relationship, his bond with everything in creation was so amazing, no preconceived ideas, just a meeting between him and a creature, a tree, a cloud, anything. I called it love, but it was something else – Bejahung in German, ‘saying yes’.’
This sentiment of ‘Bejahung’ is best exemplified in the poem ‘We are Transmitters’ which appeared in Pansies (1929), his last published collection of poems during his life. These somewhat pithy poems were described by the critic H.J. Davies as ‘where the whole quality of life at a single moment is intensely felt’. Lawrence was certainly an intense person, prone to rage and tenderness as the moment took him.
The idea of energy flows throughout his writing, most notably in his philosophy of blood consciousness that allows us to become attuned to the sentience of our immediate environment. In Sons and Lovers (1913) we see the dialogic flow of life transmitted between man and beast: ‘They took the udder of the cows, the cows yielded milk and pulse against the hands of the men, the pulse of the blood of the teats of the cows, beat into the pulse of the hands of the man’.
‘As we live, we are transmitters of life,’ begins the poem ‘We are Transmitters’. This suggests that we have responsibility over what we feel and the way that we make others feel. ‘When we describe the moon as dead,’ he writes in his introduction to The Dragon of the Apocalypse (1929), ‘we are describing the deadness in ourselves. When we find space so hideously void, we are describing our own unbearable emptiness’.
To make ‘Bejahung’ to life you must be absorbed in the task at hand – be that ‘a woman making an apple dumpling, or a man a stool’. It is the process that matters. The internal struggle. The journey rather than the destination. These sentiments were somewhat echoed by a contemporary of Lawrence’s. ‘I don’t like work,’ wrote Joseph Conrad. ‘No man does – but I like what is in the work – the chance to find yourself. Your own reality – for yourself, not for others – what no other man can ever know.’
One of my favourite tasks in the garden is sifting small stones from the mud to fill in cracks of our paving. It amuses my girlfriend that I can spend entire days on such a seemingly pointless task. But there is nothing pointless about it. It provides an excuse to be outside and the simplicity of the task allows me to melt into the immediate environment, picking up on birdsong and the rhythm of nature. Quickly a mundane tasks becomes a pleasurable leisure activity. It is the process that matters, the transmission. These sentiments can also be found in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Age of Cholera when food is abruptly rejected because it is ‘not made with love’. It’s not the food that matters, it’s the thought that went into making it.
Lawrence is critical of modernity because of the values it transmits and the subsequent impact on society. Capitalism has no place for pursuits such as my stone picking because it can’t be commodified. Capitalism values profit and status which in turn creates an ugliness and emptiness in the soul – ‘when we fail to transmit life, life fails to flow through us’. We are empty.
In ‘Why the Self is Empty’ Philip Cushman explores the inherent contradictions of a capitalist system that produces feelings of depression and anxiety and remedies them by encouraging us to purchase and consume more. Then there’s the ‘happiness’ industries that try to distract us from the misery that our consumption reduces other lives to, and finally there’s the mandating that people display positive behaviours and characteristics at work (and in life in general) so that we continue to work hard for someone else rather than create meaningful change.
Lawrence is not interested in abstractions. He espouses a physical relationship with the world so that we may connect with our surroundings. Capitalism, profit, status, are all idealised notions that stop the flow of life. Being aware that we are transmitters of life is to place responsibility on our individual actions – both for ourselves and the impact this has on others. Indeed, it is fair to say that he would not approve of this project (or any form of digital storytelling) because there is nothing more ‘sexless’ and artificial than a screen mediating human contact…
We are Transmitters
As we live, we are transmitters of life.
And when we fail to transmit life, life fails to flow through us.
That is part of the mystery of sex, it is a flow onwards.
Sexless people transmit nothing.
And if, as we work, we can transmit life into our work,
life, still more life, rushes into us to compensate, to be ready
and we ripple with life through the days.
Even if it is a woman making an apple dumpling, or a man a stool,
if life goes into the pudding, good is the pudding
good is the stool, content is the woman, with fresh life rippling in to her,
content is the man.
Give, and it shall be given unto you
is still the truth about life.
But giving life is not so easy.
It doesn’t mean handing it out to some mean fool, or letting the living dead eat you up.
It means kindling the life-quality where it was not,
even if it’s only in the whiteness of a washed pocket-handkerchief.
Poem originally published in Pansies (1929)