Sekhar Banerjee explores the relevance of D H Lawrence’s utopia … a tribute to the great writer who was born on 11th September 1885
“I want to go south, where there is no autumn, where the cold doesn’t crouch over one like a snow-leopard waiting to pounce. The heart of the North is dead, and the fingers of cold are corpse fingers. There is no more hope northwards, and the salt of its inspiration is the tingling of the viaticum on the tongue.” – writes D.H. Lawrence, or rather, D.H.L, in a letter to J.M. Murry in October, 1924 from a ranch in New Mexico. His death was then only six years away.
Lawrence always wanted to go somewhere. As we often do. But, classically, DHL’s escape was never a tour. It was a flight; a refuge; an escape to an alternative space. We do not do it always. However, we, at least some of us, do it sometimes. We go from North to south and, again, from South to North with a secret intention of a flight even to the East and the West. His letters reveal that it was neither a romantic wish nor a search for a place to live happily ever after. It was a desire, a fate, an ending ordained. This mortal wish was neither aggravated by a logical conclusion to live happy and healthy for another seventy years and write more on ways of the world, intimacy and relationships in a secluded place, nor by a wish to be immortal. He, actually, sought a comfortable place to live and die, unmasked. All he wanted was to unbound, to unfurl himself like a flag of his being — a flag of DHL. It would have been his republic.
However, deciding on a direction depends solely on where you are, and how geography and, to some extent, your perspective affect you. A north can be a north just beside your house, a south can be a south beyond your town or the continent, and a west is something which is just opposite of the east and vice versa. But directions, rather than your perception of a place in a desired direction, dictate how you interpret directions and places. Lawrence, for that matter, went almost to the end of directions — Australia to the south and Mexico to the west. And he had tried to measure such kilometres and latitudes that encompass Sri Lanka, India, and Vietnam in Asia besides some major cities nestled in sunshine in Europe and, obviously, in America. Why had it become so imperative to traverse so many miles for him, mostly in sea from 1913 till his death in Venice in 1930 like an unhappy fish?
Aldous Huxley writes: “I remember very clearly my first meeting with him. The place was London, the time 1915. But Lawrence’s talk was of the geographically remote and of the personally very near. Of the horrors in the middle distance – war, winter, the town- he would not speak. For he was on the point, so he imagined, of setting off to Florida- to Florida, where he was going to plant that colony of escape, of which up to last he never ceded to dream. Sometimes the name and the site of this seed of a happier and different world were purely fanciful. It was called Rananim, for example, and was an island like Prospero’s. Sometimes it had its place on the map and it was Florida, Cornwall, Sicily, Mexico and again, for a time, the English countryside. That wintry afternoon in 1915 it was Florida.”
The search for such Rananims gets more pressing when faced with constrictions — of war, of societal regulations, of totalitarian regimes, of rigid beliefs, of weather and of health — mental or physical, or, for that matter, a pandemic of world war proportions. Don’t we all now harbour a wish to escape to a sanctuary of safety of eternal sunshine and quietude?
The desire and resonance for a Rananim is as old as the birth of fire and use of iron. For Lawrence, it started as early as when he was seventeen or eighteen. All he wanted at that age was to take one of the big houses in Nottingham where he and all the people he liked could live together. This idea of a Rananim, a safe sanctuary of emotions and wellbeing, surfaced in DHL’s mind throughout his life. Beginning as a child’s wish to an indistinct political philosophy to a romantic idea of a promised, virgin haven to, ultimately, a dystopia of his own psyche, the Rananim he harboured inside the recess of his colourful mind changed its place , shape and essence with the changing realities of the world and the standing of his mind. But he held on to it like a piece of wood which he would use to make his own chair and would sit comfortably under the shade of a tree in a place only to be soothed — free and happy. In a letter to S.S.Koteliansky (January 3, 1915), Lawrence writes:
“We are going to found an Order of the Knights of Rananim. […] I want to gather together about twenty souls and sail away from this world of war and squalor and found a little colony where there shall be no money but a sort of communism as far as necessaries of life go. […] We keep brooding the idea – I and some friends.”
This was a pure, almost naive, wish to escape to someplace else.
Do we have our Rananims ? Don’t we all have a faint trace of an idea of living a ‘full’ life in another place, another time, as if, it is a memory of the past life? Don’t we actually have a sense of a perfect place etched in our skulls like a sense of proportion or a sense of aesthetics? How many times did we say while visiting a place that we would have loved to settle here or how many times did we look for pieces of land for a perfect dwelling – mostly in the countryside? What, then, compels us to think in a certain way for a paradise which might be lost forever? Is it the endlessness of wars, violence or a pandemic? Is it a Sylvania (Latin: forest land ) printed in our genes since pre-historic times? Or, rather, is it a monolith of a society which, slowly but surely, bypasses the individual and his or her otherness? The more ‘other’ you are , the more you are excluded , and that, in turn, like the stereotypical third law of Newton, forces one more to dream up a parallel world, a civilisation of his or her own like an exclusive club with limited members. It’s either a Prospero’s Island or a Rananim of D.H.L.
We all have our republics within ourselves. And there are definite yet illegible directions inside our lingering thoughts to reach those Utopias. In another place, in another landscape, in another country, in another time, or in another society. We also, intrinsically, know that these Utopias are also destined to fail. They are always conceived to fail. Still we wish to find one.
Sekhar Banerjee is a bilingual writer. He has four collections of poems and a monograph on an Indo-Nepal border tribe to his credit. He is former Secretary of Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi under the Government of West Bengal. He lives in Kolkata, India.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.