Vision and voice : D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac as autobiographers of the soul

De Villiers, Dawid Willem, 1972- (1999-09)

Thesis (M.A.) -- University of Stellenbosch, 1999.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: At the root of this thesis lies a certain spirit that imbues the work of D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, different as their work undeniably is. It is this spirit, or quality, difficult to pin down and circumscribe, that first instilled the trust and belief (if one may use a term in keeping with the subject) that there are certain significantly similar characteristics in what must remain three very different literary voices. Furthermore, it became increasingly clear that one could not divorce any comparative discussion of these voices from the specific worldview, philosophy or "metaphysic", to use Lawrence's term - in short, vision - that informs and shapes each writer's voice. Significantly, it is inasmuch as their visions are comparable that their voices also are. It is the "coming into being" of the modem individual that lies at the centre of the fiction of Lawrence, Miller and Kerouac. It is my contention that their conceptions of the dynamic of this process have much in common, and that therefore, their voices share certain important characteristics. At the root of their respective visions lies the belief that modem western society has a stifling effect on the individual, a belief which results in a clear and unambiguous rejection of the modem social system, by both the writers and their central protagonists. For them it is essentially in society's materialism, or mechanised conformity, that the wholeness of the individual, and a more vital sense of place in the world is threatened. Their call, then, is for the individual to reject social codes and conventions, and this "criminality" is reflected on a textual level in the urgent, exuberant and generally transgressive (also controversial, in terms of contemporary standards) nature of their fiction. In addition to this, the very dynamic of the individual's "coming into being" is conceived of as a leaping off into the unknown, an abandonment to the chthonic flux and the flow of the (collective) unconscious. This is a "sacred instant", which effects the dissolution of the individual (self-) consciousness, and, upon ceasing, propels the individual into a new sense of self. It is around such "sacred instants" that the work of these writers is organised. For the purpose of placing them in the canon I have defined Lawrence, Miller and Kerouac as visionary writers, coming from a tradition decidedly Romantic in its focus on the (creative) individual. To this end I have included a necessarily brief consideration of basic Romantic tenets which I explore in terms of Lawrence's, Miller's and Kerouac's shared literary hero, the American poet, Walt Whitman. In this opening discussion I explore and elaborate on some of the major qualities and concepts put to use in the course of this thesis. Whitman is useful as an introduction also because he (like many of the Romantics) tends to blur the boundaries between himself and his protagonists/speakers. This is particularly the case with Miller and Kerouac, but Lawrence himself draws very strongly on autobiographical details in writing his fiction. Since, then, their fictions tend to draw on the writers' lives so overtly (while frequently altering and adapting the precise autobiographical facts), I have approached Lawrence, Miller and Kerouac as autobiographers of the soul, inasmuch as they trace the development of the individual soul (or self) in the context of external experiences.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Aan die kern van hierdie tesis le 'n sekere gees wat die werk van D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller en Jack Kerouac deurweek, verskillend soos hulle werk ook al mag weees. Dit is hierdie gees, moeilik om vas te vat en te omskryf, wat oorspronklik die vertroue en geloof(om 'n woord te gebruik wat die onderwerp pas) verwek het dat daar sekere beduidend ooreenkomstige karaktertrekke is aan wat steeds drie baie verskillende literere stemme bly. Verder het dit toenemend duidelik geword dat 'n mens nie enige vergelykende bespreking van hierdie stemme van die spesifieke wereld-beskouing, filosofie of "metaphysic", om Lawrence se term te gebruik - in't kort, visie - wat elke skrywer se stem besiel en vorm, sou kon skei nie. Merkbaar is dit insoverre hulle visies vergelykbaar is dat hulle stemme ook is. Dit is die "coming into being" (selfvolwaarding) van die moderne individu wat sentraal tot die fiksie van Lawrence, Miller en Kerouac Ie. Ek is van mening dat hulle voorstellings van die dinamiek van hierdie proses baie in gemeen het, en dat hulle stemme daarom sekere belangrike eienskappe deel. Aan die kern van hulle onderskeie visies le die geloof dat die moderne westerse samelewing 'n onderdrukkende invloed op die individu het, 'n geloofwat uiting vind in 'n duidelike en ondubbelsinnige verwerping van die moderne sosiale sisteem, beide deur die skrywers en hulle sentrale protagoniste. Vir hulle is dit grotendeels te danke aan die samelewing se materialisme, of gemeganiseerde konvensionaliteit, dat die heelheid van die individu, en 'n meer vitale gevoel van behoring in die wereld bedreig word. Hulle beroep op die individu, dan, is vir die verwerping van sosiale kodes en gebruike, en hierdie "kriminaliteit" word ook op 'n tekstuele vlak gereflekteer in die dringende, uitbundige en oor die algemeen transgressiewe (asook kontroversieel, in terme van kontemporere standaarde) aard van hulle fiksie. Daarby word die einste dinamiek van die individu se "coming into being" verstaan as 'n sprong in die onbekende in, 'n oorgawe aan die chtoniese stroming en die vloei van die (kollektiewe) onderbewussyn. Dit is 'n "sacred instant", wat die ontbinding van die individuele (self-) bewussyn teweegbring en, wanneer dit volbring is, die individu voortdryfna 'n nuwe self (-begrip). Dit is rondom sodanige "sacred instants" wat die werk van hierdie skrywers gestruktureer is. Ten einde die plasing in die kanon te bewerkstellig identifiseer ek Lawrence, Miller en Kerouac as visionere skrywers wat behoort aan 'n tradisie bepaald Romanties in sy fokus op die (kreatiewe) individu. Dien einde het ek 'n noodsaaklik bondige beskouing van basiese Romantiese tendense ingesluit, wat ek hoofsaaklik ondersoek aan die hand van Lawrence, Miller en Kerouac se gemene literere held, die Amerikaanse digter Walt Whitman. In hierdie inleidende bespreking ondersoek en brei ek uit op van die belangrikste eienskappe en konsepte wat deur die loop van hierdie tesis ingespan word. Whitman is nuttig as 'n inleiding ook omdat hy (soos baie van die Romantici) geneig is om die grense tussen homself en sy protagoniste/sprekers te verdof. Dit is veral die geval met Miller en Kerouac, maar Lawrence selfmaak redelik sterk staat op outobiografiese besonderhede in die skryfvan sy fiksie. Omdat, dan, hulle fiksies geneig is om so openlik materiaal uit die skrywers se lewens te put (terwyl dit dikwels die juiste outobiogafiese feite verander en aanpas), het ek Lawrence, Miller en Kerouac as outobiografeerders van die siel benader, insoverre hulle die ontwikkeling van die individuele siel (of self) in die konteks van uiterlike ervarings volg en dokumenteer.

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