Penis Mightier than the Sword

If somebody had a look at my search history, they may conclude I’m a cock-obsessed fetishist. This is because for the past month I’ve been googling every iteration imaginable for penis: ‘Penis shaped bridge,’ ‘penis rainbow,’ ‘building that looks like a cock,’ ‘plants that look like a willy.’ It’s amazing what lurks deep inside the digital void. There’s something for everyone.

As it happens, my intentions are honourable. I’ve been researching for the third artefact in the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre: Phallic Tenderness. This was submitted by Stephen Alexander, author of Torpedo the Ark. Stephen is a writer who I greatly admire. He is provocative and playful. He is also a writer whose opinions I often disagree with.

Lawrence was a tad obsessed with his todger – but not in a puerile way (although in his younger days he did write a gushing poem about the magnificence of his erection). The phallus had symbolic meaning for him and represented a broad range of ideas that tapped into his life philosophy and belief in blood consciousness. If you want to know how, you’ll have to read Stephen’s pithy and provocative fragments.

There’s 12 of them in total – one for each hour – because I originally wanted to have a ‘Speaking Cock’. The clock would have a penis as an hour handle and visitors would press a button and it would spin round and land on an hour and one of Stephen’s essays would be read out. I even went as far as contacting one of my friends – a woman of Flemish descent – to see if she would like to read out some essays about willies. She never responded.

D.H. Lawrence as Christ by Dorothy Brett

D.H. Lawrence as Christ by Dorothy Brett with an added flower border.

I decided against the Speaking Cock because it may lead our project to be perceived as a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ – a series of oddities to be gawped at and amused by – rather than a thoughtfully curated moveseum that explores key themes in Lawrence’s writing via artefacts. It may also have made light of what is a key philosophical strand to Lawrence’s writing, thereby defeating the purpose of its inclusion.

So how do you represent something as abstract as ‘Phallic Tenderness’ without turning it into a Carry On movie? My solution was to create a hybrid of the phallus and the phoenix to emphasise the transformative potential of this symbol rather than reduce it to an innuendo. I then added a flower border (for nature and tenderness) – and added a fringe filter in Pixlr to distort the colours and reinforce the transformative element. I think it works well, but I would. If you disagree, please get in contact.

Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron and Marcel Proust

I was thinking Mount Rushmore when I put these stencils of Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron and Marcel Proust together. This was the holding image for an essay on falsifying phallic consciousness.

Likewise, I needed holding images for the 12 fragments. These had to be strong pictures that captured the essence of each article while luring readers in. Given Stephen explores the phallus in terms of consciousness, power, union, Christ and gynaecological deconstruction, it is little wonder my Google search history was so weird.

The two previous artefacts in the memory theatre comprised of four essays. As this one included twelve (because they were originally intended to form a clock) it would have looked like we’d gone willy mad if I’d populated it with twelve phallic images. Thus it took a long time to design appropriate images.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that I visited Stephen in Hackney in 2018 when I had the original idea for a speaking cock. His essays have sat patiently in my inbox for five years. Part of the reason for the delay has been Paul, my co-producer on the project, has been too busy to upload content to the website as he is involved in various projects while also running his business, Think Amigo. We have found a compromise and he has redesigned the website so that it has a WordPress interface. This means that I can now upload essays and help with the design. I can only compare this with being given control of the S.S. Enterprise and feel as if I have the entire galaxy at my fingertips.

Over the past five years I have learned so many new skills from video production (the above video took two days to research, write, edit, publish) to graphic design to HTML. This means I have less people to rely on while saving a fortune in costs as well as having more editorial control. Don’t get me wrong, I – and Paul – would love to have a bigger team supporting us but the reality is we don’t have the money at the moment, and don’t have the time to put in for a funding bid. Upskilling is not only a means of ensuring this project maintains momentum but it also provides the kind of stimulation and variety that a creative needs to get up early in the morning and head to bed late.

The 12 fragments will be published on the memory theatre in September to coincide with Lawrence and Millett’s birthdays.


All aboard with D.H. Lawrence

Postcard artist B. Gribble

On 26 February 1922 Lawrence sailed from Naples aboard the R.M.S Osterley heading towards Ceylon to meet a friend ‘who is taking Buddhism terribly seriously’. As Lawrence was want to do, he had to convince himself he was doing the right thing in leaving the comfort of his home in Sicily. He does this in typically dismissive fashion in a letter to Norman Douglas on 4 March 1922: ‘Thank the Lord I am away from Taormina, that place would have been the death of me after a little while longer’.

His latest sojourn would see him travel at 5mph along the Suez where he would observe palm trees and Arabic men plodding by on camels. This tranquillity contrasted with Mount Sinai which he described in a letter to S.S. Koteliansky on 7 March as ‘like a vengeful dagger that was dipped in blood many years ago, so sharp and defined’.

Lawrence was acutely aware of his immediate environment and had the wonderful ability of being able to see the world from all perspectives. ‘Being at sea is so queer’ he wrote to Rosalind Baynes on 8 March ‘it sort of dissolves for the time being all the connections with the land, and one feels like a sea-bird must feel’.

When the land beckons him to Ceylon, everything appears to be fine in his temporary accommodation at Kandy. On the 24 March he sends his sister Emily a bit of hand-made lace and describes sitting high up on a verandah watching chipmunks and chameleons and lizards. But despite the lovely view, it is so hot he has to wear a sun helmet and white suit. ‘If one moves one sweats’. Lawrence is not very good at sitting still – he will later chastise the buddha for not getting up – and by the 28th March he has confessed to Anna Jenkins that ‘I don’t feel at all myself. Don’t think I care for the east’. By the 30th Robert Pratt Barlow is informed ‘I do think. still more now I am out here, that we make a mistake forsaking England and moving out into the periphery of life. After all, Taormina, Ceylon, Africa, America – as far as we go, they are only the negation of what we ourselves stand for and are: and we’re rather like Jonahs running away from the place we belong’.

Despite this temporary fondness for his country of birth, Lawrence never stopped running. Since his self-imposed exile of 1919 he would continue to big places up, get irritated by them, then move on. How short his life may have been and how little he would have written had he found lasting contentment anywhere.

The D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre, as well as my editorship of the Lawrence Society bulletin, has led me to reading Lawrence’s letters in chronological order so that I can map out what he was doing on each day exactly one century ago. If you would like to join me in this pursuit you need to pick up a copy of the Cambridge edition Volume IV (1921-24). As he dies in 1930, I only have eight years of this pleasure to go.

The contrast of our respective fates has not been lost on me. Lawrence is constantly on the move while I am constantly stationary. Whereas he is on the deck of a ship observing flying fish and black porpoises ‘that run about like frolicsome little black pigs’ I am googling phalluses for artefact three in the memory theatre and scrolling through Instagram wondering why one person got a Gregg’s tattoo on their bum during lockdown and another person had Lawrence’s poem ‘Self Pity’ tattooed on their arm. Something tells me nobody will be looking up this blog on this day in one hundred years time…

An almost identical version of this blog was originally published on The Digital Pilgrimage

Further reading