Prophets of the beast: the modernist esotericism of D.H. Lawrence and W.B. Yeats

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Colonna, Anthony
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University College Cork
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This thesis analyses the influence of the esoteric tradition on D.H. Lawrence and W.B. Yeats’ thought and examines both authors’ writings in light of the antidemocratic political religions that emerged during and after their respective careers. While a number of extant studies investigate the connection between modernism and the occult and a number of critics have discussed the importance of antidemocratic politics to modernism, this study is unique in its emphasis on the relationship between modernist esotericism and antidemocratic politics, and in its insistence that the interconnection between the two constitutes a fundamental part of both authors’ world-views. This study calls for the development of a multivalent understanding of modernism, which appears as neither a “cultural movement identifiable with bourgeois, capitalist, paternalist, ethnocentrist, phallocentrist, and logocentrist ideologies” (Surette 5) nor entirely the opposite; Romantic, feministic, primitivistic and countercultural. Rather, modernism will be shown to have encompassed both of these ideological orientations, effectively operating on a double front in its crusade to establish a new age. This complexity is visible in both Lawrence and Yeats’ work, as both authors advocate a return to traditional structures while simultaneously endeavouring to usher Western civilisation into a new modern paradigm. Although they primarily grounded their writings in a mythico-pastoral discourse that masked the practical implications of their revolutionary agendas, both authors possessed an attraction to Futurist thought and, albeit rarely, showed an awareness that the change they envisioned could not be brought about without a radical intervention in the political and economic sectors – an intervention that would necessarily take place through the medium of the “machine” from which they were often so adamant to distance themselves. This fusion of technophilic and Arcadian thought-currents – dubbed “archeofuturism” by the French right-wing intellectual Guillaume Faye – constitutes the central focus of this discussion of Lawrentian and Yeatsian thought.
D.H. Lawrence , W.B. Yeats , Modernism , Antidemocratic politics , Fascism , Nazism , Occult , Esoteric , Hermetic , Tradition , Machine , Technology and the occult
Colonna, A. 2014. Prophets of the beast: the modernist esotericism of D.H. Lawrence and W.B. Yeats. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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