“Pan in America,” Modernism, and Material Nature
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D. H. Lawrence’s “Pan in America” is a sweeping inquiry into being and a sustained consideration of humanity’s position alongside the many actors of the natural world. “Pan in America” offers an apt coda to Green Modernism because it restates the book’s major themes: nature is important to modernism, nature is a discursive force in modernist social negotiations, and nature’s material presence has been swept under the carpet of consciousness. In the context of Lawrence’s literary output from the 1920s, “Pan” is another place Lawrence redeems the material world for a culture lost in instrumental and idealist paradigms of existence. “Pan” describes—and in a sense prescribes—a lifeworld shared by human and nonhuman actors who all have agency and mutually shape the pattern of experience. The rocks and the animals and the image of Pan himself combine to displace the Cartesian orthodoxy of an inert world at the feet of an active human subject. In its place Lawrence offers readers nature as a complex, material realm where vigorous things interpenetrate human experience, and where “man” is redeemed by “a ceaseless living relation to his surrounding universe” (30). “Pan” stakes out an ontological position that subverts the romanticism of which Lawrence is accused and anticipates today’s discussions of materialism, the nonhuman turn, object-oriented ontology, and the limits of poststructuralism.
KeywordsNatural World Material Nature Material World Sexual Politics Preceding Chapter
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