‘“extreme consciousness”: D.H. Lawrence and America’s Challenge to European Modernism’

Brian Fox

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper will focus on D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature (1923) and will argue that Lawrence uses the concept of American literature he develops in this work to articulate a response to the ‘European moderns’ of the early twentieth century. In Studies, Lawrence attributes a ‘pitch of extreme consciousness’ to older American literature - Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, Whitman - asserting that modern literature has failed to live up to the radicalism of this generation. ‘Let us leave aside the more brittle bits of French or Marinetti or Irish production’, Lawrence writes. ‘The European moderns are all trying to be extreme. The great Americans I mention just were it. Which is why the world has funked them, and funks them today’. This paper will clarify precisely to what extent Lawrence’s ‘great Americans’ were being ‘funked’ by carefully historicizing the contemporaneous state of the American canon in Europe. In light of this historical contextualisation, it will then discuss how Lawrence's radical, irreverent and counterintuitive rereading of American literary history opens a space in which to reconsider modernist formulations of canonicity. Lawrence’s designation of ‘classic’ status on these ‘extreme Americans’ would certainly have struck many Europeans as a confrontational move, disturbing prevailing notions of canonicity. Such an unstable and unsettling intervention has itself an air of Modernist (or even Postmodernist) aesthetics, while being simultaneously critical of those very same aesthetics. Thus, it is Lawrence’s complex simultaneity of radical dissent and (inherently conservative) canon-making that is the subject of this paper.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2013
EventMaverick Voices and Modernity, 1890–1939 - St John’s College, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Jul 20136 Jul 2013


ConferenceMaverick Voices and Modernity, 1890–1939
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

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