Barry J. Scherr. D. H. Lawrence Today: Literature, Culture, Politics. New York: Peter Lang, 2004. Pp. viii + 458. $81.95 (cloth).
Barry J. Scherr. Love and Death in Lawrence and Foucault. New York: Peter Lang: 2008. Pp. viii + 396. $86.95 (cloth).
Vladimir Nabokov calls Alfred Apfel's essay on Lolita "the rare case where art and erudition meet in a shining ridge of specific information (the highest and to me most acceptable function of literary criticism)." Not so for Barry J. Scherr's last two books. Both pugnacious jeremiads deplore the decline of Lawrence's popularity, current morals, and Western civilization, with hooks and jabs aplenty. D. H. Lawrence Today targets politics and academia; Love and Death in Lawrence and Foucault demonizes the philosopher to lament the "eclipse" of Western civilization. Scherr refers to D. H. Lawrence Today as taking a "stance that spits in the eye of the left-wing literary-cultural-academic elite." He wants to use Lawrence "to return to the celebration/ valorization" of "greatness" in order to "(re)gain the inner strength that will enable us to be genuine Lawrentians, privileging the creative 'vision of greatness' over sterile, repressive 'political correctness.'" Scherr apparently also wants to reverse fifty years of social progress. As a straight, white male, he feels under attack by liberals, gays, the academy, and feminists, taking special offense at affirmative action, which he calls "reverse discrimination." His passion for Lawrence as the writer suffering the most from "discrimination" against white, heterosexual males seems to combust with his own resentment about being similarly marginalized to fuel these two tirades. His attacks on political correctness, other critics, and recent events masquerade as criticism, use Lawrence to bludgeon critics and politics, display little of the art Nabokov cited, and exhaust this reader's patience. If you expect civil discourse, compelling evidence, and lucid prose, skip these rants in spite of their occasional insights. With defenders like this, Lawrence needs no detractors.
D. H. Lawrence Today opens by quoting Lionel Trilling's comments in The Liberal Imagination (1950): "there is no connection between the political ideas of our educated class and the deep places of the imagination." Scherr interprets this critique as a condemnation of liberalism, which he decries as having "narrow, oversimplified, stale, sterile pieties and dogmas." Trilling, who identified as a liberal and with time became less so but not conservative, might question Scherr's use of his work. The "Preface" to Trilling's book, which Scherr does not quote, says, "the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas." Scherr's "spit[ting] in the eye" stance fits the category of "irritable ... gestures." Fifty years after publication of Trilling's book, Scherr finds the situation worse, with politics "trump[ing]" literature and diversity replacing "excellence." He quotes Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, F. R. Leavis, and Leslie Fiedler, among others, as ammunition in his barrage against "radical left-wing liberals" (e.g., Jonathan Dollimore, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, and Michel Foucault, along with "inauthentic" Lawrentians). Oddly, Scherr quotes himself (in the third person) as a "courageous," "mature," "authentic Lawrentian critic-scholar" possessing "psychic-ontological strength," a somewhat ineffable virtue that apparently few people, only heterosexuals, and probably only males, can achieve. After numerous jabs at President Clinton, Scherr declares that Lawrence deserves praise as "'a greater man' than most other human beings"--an ad hominem approach the back cover describes as "psycho-literary biography." Scherr also uses Bloom's theory of the anxiety of influence to advocate for Lawrence and heterosexual individualism. …