Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 5. A new direction

T. E. Lawrence in 1921
We have looked at the way B. V. Jones saw T. E. Shaw in India; the way that Shaw saw the R.A.F; and what mostly occupied Shaw in his off-duty hours in India. It comes now, to try to understand why T. E. Lawrence joined the R.A. F. (and for short time, the army) under two assumed names. Ross/Shaw was not certain of all of the reasons, himself, as the following excerpts from his letters reveal:

To Edward Garnett August 26th 1922:

"I enlisted in the R.A.F. to find a fresh plane of activity: for it is very difficult for me to do nothing, and I've tried soldiering, and science, and politics, and writing: and manual labour seemed the obvious next."

To Robert Graves November 12th 1922:

"Honestly I couldn't tell you exactly why I joined up: though the night before I did (a very wonderful night by the way: I felt like a criminal waiting for daylight) I sat up and wrote out all the reasons I could see or feel in hope that I'd find myself on common ground with men: by a little wish to make myself a little more human than I had become in Barton Street: by an itch to make myself ordinary in a mob of likes: also I'm broke, so far as money goes, by an unexpected event. All these are reasons: but unless they are cumulative they are miserably inadequate. I wanted to join up, that's all: and I am still glad, sometimes, that I did. It's going to be a brain-sleep, and I'll come out of it less odd than I went in: or at least less odd in other men's eyes."

To his mother,  February 15th 1922:

"My own plans are still doubtful. I asked Winston to let me go, and he was not very willing: indeed he didn't want it. I told him I was open to hold on for a little till his first difficulties were over (there are new things happening just now), but not in a formal appointment. Probably I'll get leave on the first of March, and not go back again, unless that Paris idea comes further: or some other odd notion. There was a question of me for Egypt, if Allenby came away: but that of course I wouldn't accept. I don't think ever again to govern anything. If I get away finally from the Colonial Office about May my plans are to do nothing for a little, and then perhaps to consider the Air Force. Of course I'm too old to join it, but I think that the life and the odd mind (or lack of mind) there, might give me a subject to write about."

To B. E. Leeson, February 4, 1923

"...(did you understand that I enlisted not to write books, but because I was broke?) and am not yet quite in the deep stuff, though three Govt. Departments exhaust themselves trying to find me a billet.... I turn down all their ideas, and ask for something poorer, and they think I mean richer. Soon they will burst themselves. You see I'm fed up with being called Colonel in this ridiculous year 1923: and am determined not any more to be respectable. Besides I liked being an A.C.2. and would like to be something of the sort in future..."

To Lionel Curtis March 19th 1923:

"What should the preliminaries be? A telling why I joined? As you know I don't know! Explaining it to Dawnay I said 'Mind-suicide': but that's only because I'm an incorrigible phraser. Do you, in reading my complete works, notice that tendency to do up small packets of words foppishly? At the same time there's the reason why I have twice enlisted, in those same complete works: on my last night in Barton Street I read chapters 113 to 118, and saw implicit in them my late course. The months of politics with Winston were abnormal, and the R.A.F. and Army are natural. The Army (which I despise with all my mind) is more natural than the R.A.F.: for at Farnborough I grew suddenly on fire with the glory which the air should be, and set to work full steam to make the others vibrate to it like myself. I was winning too, when they chucked me out: indeed I rather suspect I was chucked out for that. It hurt the upper story that the ground-floor was was grown too keen. The Army seems safe against enthusiasm. It's a horrible life, and the other fellows fit it. I said to one 'They're the sort who instinctively fling stones at cats'... and he said 'Why what do you throw?' You perceive that I'm not yet in the picture: but I will be in time. Seven years of this will make me impossible for anyone to suggest for a responsible position, and that self-degradation is my aim. I haven't the impulse and the conviction to fit what I know to be my power of moulding men and things: and so I always regret what I've created, when the leisure after creation lets me look back and see that the idea was secondhand.

"This is a pompous start, and it should be a portentous series of letters: but there is excuse for it, since time moves slower here than elsewhere: and a man has only himself to think about. At reveille I feel like Adam, after a night's pondering: and my mind has malice enough rather to enjoy putting Adam through it. Don't take seriously what I wrote about the other men, above. It's only at first that certain sides of them strike a little crudely. In time I'll join,...

"I'm not sure either that what I've said about my creations is quite true. ...

"...and my other creation, that odd and interminable book... do you know I'm absolutely hungry to know what people think of it - not when they are telling me, but what they tell to one another. Should I be in this secret case if I really thought it pernicious? There again, perhaps there's a solution to be found in multiple personality. It's my reason which condemns the book and the revolt, and the new nationalities: because the only rational conclusion to human argument is pessimism such as Hardy's,..."

Winston Churchill by Willian Orpen, 1916

Winston Churchill had placed T. E. Lawrence in what should have been the ideal position for Lawrence: the mythological/psychological next step for the returning hero becomes that of the elder, adviser and counsellor. Not that Churchill would have thought of such things. Churchill saw in Lawrence, a highly intelligent person with a very deep understanding of the Arab world: its states, cultures, leaders and populations. Who better to advise in Middle Eastern politics after the First World War for a West with a new thirst for oil?

But Lawrence's original goals of the heroic quest (and these existed before he made them a reality) became tarnished along the way because mythology has no place for political expediency. He saw his ideals become increasingly tarnished by economic lust with its mantle of patriotic nationalism:

"When we were away, we were worth more than other men by our conviction that she was the greatest, straightest and best of all the countries in the world, and we would die before knowing that a page of her history had been blotted by defeat. Here, in Arabia, in the war's need, I was selling my honesty for her sustenance, unquestionably." 
T. E. Lawrence, The Complete 1922 Seven Pillars of Wisdom: The 'Oxford' Text, J. and N. Wilson, Castle Hill Press Editions, third edition with amendments, 2014, Volume II, Chapter 113, p. 651f.
As the mythology about "Lawrence of Arabia" grew in the public mind, its expressions were daggers to his own psyche whose ideals had already been damaged by the realization of the role that he was playing for his country. He had betrayed what he loved for his country and now he had become the myth to the public who wanted only the hero and not the elder. Western society has not progressed a single iota from that time: The hero defeats the bad guys, gets the girl. and the credits role, as Joseph Campbell expressed it. The mythology: the cult of young. Our society is still a young adult. We have yet to reach the wisdom of earlier tribal societies. They achieved that state because they were small enough to do so; to evolve within a small system. So-called "primitive governments" are far more complex and far more directed to "special cases" than global politics and modern "big government" whose leaders are remote and have little comprehension of the ordinary person. Although Lawrence might have psychologically evolved to the state of that of an elder. The forces that were directing him had different motives. He had no choice: "I turn down all their ideas, and ask for something poorer, and they think I mean richer." It was a reversal; an enantiodromia; Mythos to Logos. Possibly, he was even changing from an INFJ to an INTP.

There were other forces at play, though, and tomorrow we will look at what made him set out on his hero quest in the first place.

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