Geoff Dyer
Out of Sheer Rage

What Lawrence's life demonstrates so powerfully is that it actually takes a daily effort to be free. To be free is not the result of a moment's decisive action but a project to be constantly renewed. More than anything else, freedom requires tenaciousness. There are intervals of repose but there will never come a state of definitive rest where you can give up because you have turned freedom into a permanent condition. Freedom is always precarious. That is what Rilke, who dogs these pages like a shadow, meant when he wrote of falling back into a life we never wanted. Lawrence warned John Middleton Murry of the same thing: 'Either you go on wheeling a wheelbarrow and lecturing at Cambridge and going softer and softer inside, or you make a hard fight with your. self, pull yourself up, harden yourself, throw your feelings down the drain and face the world as a fighter.—You won't though.' And now I won't either.

'Freedom is a gift inside one's soul,' Lawrence declared. 'You can't have it if it isn't in you.' A gift it may be but it is not there for the taking. To realise this capacity in yourself is a struggle. Of what, then, did Lawrence's hard-won freedom consist?

Catherine Carswell applauded Lawrence for the way 'he did nothing that he did not really want to do, and all that he most wanted to do he did.' Accused, in his poem 'The Life with a Hole,' of living up to the second half of Carswell's claim—'you've always done what you want'—Larkin grumbles that he has succeeded only in living down to the first: 'what the old ratbags mean/ Is I've never done what I don't.' For his part, Lawrence felt there had to be more to freedom than doing what one wanted—but how could one be free if one could not do as one wanted? He gnawed away at this constantly, resolving it by elevating the idea of what one wanted not just to a determining principle but to an obligation to one's self. 'Elevating' is perhaps not the right word for this meant fathoming one's deepest desires—and remaining faithful to them.

One of Lawrence's most eloquent declarations of personal liberty is expressed in terms of a vehemently indifferent retort: 'My wife and I have lived on 37 dollars a month before now: and always with sang froid. I doubt if I make more than 400 per annum now—and knock about Europe as I like, and spit in the face of anybody who tries to insult me.' To take on the world like this is also to test oneself: that, for Lawrence, is the challenge of freedom.

'The only history is a mere question of one's struggle inside oneself,' he declared, and in the midst of this struggle a man gained a sense of his 'his inner destiny.' In practice this meant a great deal of chopping and changing, deciding and undeciding—so much so that Lawrence's own surges and reversals of intent sometimes left him mystified. 'We had almost booked our passage to America, when suddenly it came over me I must go to Ceylon.'

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.