Thursday, 16 June 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 7. The redeeming hero

Some of the theories about T. E. Lawrence's personality and psychology have been effectively repudiated by those who knew him best. First and foremost, ideas about him being homosexual have been dismissed by many as they point out that Lawrence was repulsed by the sexual act. Some might argue that this was because of the sexual assault he had to withstand when he was, briefly, a captive of Turkish soldiers, however his disregard for sex clearly predates that incident. Also related is the idea that he was a masochist. The problem with that word is that's its sexual meaning springs to everyone's minds while its context as in "He exercises three times a day, he must be some sort of masochist!" is actually closer to the truth. At best, when he is described as a masochist it is a poor choice of terms. In  Malcolm Brown; Julia Cave, A Touch of Genius: The Life of T. E. Lawrence, New York, 1989, p. 8, is the following about his school days:
"He was short — just under 5' 6" when fully grown — but he was far from puny; toughened from bicycle rides and other athletic pursuits he was eventually to make himself, in his own phrase, 'a pocket Hercules'."
Many other examples of this attitude appear in the biography and it was a characteristic of his entire life: he was always pushing himself beyond his limits. Significantly, he had no great interest in team sports, and in the military: in drill. He was always competing against himself, whether in physical or in intellectual activities.

The phrase "pocket Hercules" did not come from boasting but fury. Shaw was greatly angered by something about him that had appeared in the London Mercury and writing to Edward Marsh from India on the 10th June, 1927 Shaw says:
"Also he says that I was a physical weakling. I'm not that yet, despite my extreme age. In fact I passed into the Army as a first-class recruit, in 1923. In 1914 I was a pocket Hercules, as muscularly strong as people twice my size, and more enduring than most. I saw all the other British officers' boots off in Arabia: they went to base, or to hospital, while I did two years in the fighting areas, and was nine times wounded, and five times crashed from the air, and had two goes of dysentery, and suffered enough hunger and thirst and heat and cold and exposure, not to mention deliberate maltreatment, to wreck the average constitution. I go so far as to claim that I've been perhaps the toughest traveller who has ever written his true history. 'Mooning about the towns of South Italy'. Gods!"
Pay particular attention to "despite my extreme age". Shaw was only 38 at that time and he did not say this as a joke. He really believed he was old. This will become an important point in another post. The "deliberate maltreatment" probably refers to the beating he took from the Turkish soldiers at Derra, Of the later beatings by John Bruce, to which Shaw submitted, Brown/Cave, op. cit. offer this from a 1985 interview with A. W. Lawrence:
"He hated the thought of sex. He had read any amount of medieval literature about characters, some of them saints, some of them not, some ordinary people who had quelled their sexual longings by beating. And that's what he did."
I really doubt this explanation and believe it is more due to the Lawrence brother's religious upbringing.

Lawrence reported experiencing sexual pleasure at one point during the beatings at Deraa, In hating the sexual act he would be unlikely to commission beatings in order to experience such for pleasure, so sexual masochism is a poor atribution. Sexual sensations and pain occur in the same part of the brain and both sensations can result in the release of endorphins. We can even look to an evolutionary purpose for this linking that goes back perhaps as far as organic life, itself. Even a fruit tree will bear a larger crop just before it perishes as a way to continue its species. We should also consider that Lawrence did not survive the beating at Deraa as well as he said and in his compulsion to overcome any and all weaknesses, commissioned those later beatings in the hope that he would not have to live with the knowledge that something could have got the better of him. This would be more in keeping with his general behaviour throughout his life. The sexual emphasis being more sensational, naturally draws people to such  as an explanation and thus limits the perception of other causes.

But we have to look deeper still. Not only was Lawrence very short, but his head was larger than it should have been when he was an adult, and his proportions were more like that of a boy. Neoteny (also known as juvenilization or paedomorphism)  is the physiological condition and it can manifest itself in varying degrees and symptoms. Less likely would be hypothyroidism and a deficiency of the human growth hormone, but we place labels, too often, on parts of over all conditions where they are more like a continuum or spectrum (something that David Bohm stressed with regards to both physics and language). We might then speculate that many of Lawrence's actions were his own manifestations of the psychological body dismorphic disorder, to add yet another label to what might be better seen as a "constellation" in Jungian terms. With the latter, we would have to include his personality type as an introverted intuitive, but I will come back to this in another post.

This brings us to another analysis of his psychology: that he was a "Puer Aeternus".  If you follow the link and know something of his life, I will forgive you for saying "Yes! That must be it!" There are some details, however, that do not fit and I think we are entering some unknown territory in the holistic brain/mind "dichotomy". This must wait until tomorrow to start, but perhaps not to finish.

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