November 12th, afternoon
My lover and I switched trains at Montreal yesterday afternoon, and piled onto a connection to Québec City, a train that had carpeted walls.
I was still anxiously refreshing my emails, hoping that my keys might turn up at work – and they did, which was a relief – and then just as our train recrossed the St Lawrence River for the last time and began slowing down in the suburbs of this provincial (“national” (Quebec is branded as a nation)) capital, something significant happened. After more than a full year of genuine uncertainty and “implied” permission to be in Canada, I received email confirmation that not only did I have formal, written, permission to be in the country, I also now have formal, written, permission to exit the country and re-enter it.
Was this some kind of a fucking joke???
After putting off and putting off and putting off taking annual leave this year until at the beginning of November I gave up on the possibility of leaving Canada any time soon and booked a week of domestic travel, the day I literally arrive into “Quebec City” (whatever the hell that is) at the start of eight days in Eastern Canada (which sounds harrowing however you phrase it), I received written confirmation that, instead, I could right now be pounding cheap rum on a sleazy Caribbean beach. I could be in sunshine, swimming in a warm sea, smoking but not enjoying massive cigars in a crumbling Havanese nightclub, I could be problematically climbing a pre-Colombian pyramid in México while trying to figure out how to buy ecstasy, I could be in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Kingston, Port-au-Prince, Puerto Rico… I could be in Dollywood, I could be-
I could be anywhere in the world, as of yesterday, without fear that – unless I got myself injured or imprisoned while away – I couldn’t go back to my dull but stable Canadian life afterwards.
Were they monitoring me? Was the Canadian deep state waiting until I’d committed to domestic tourism before they’d allow me to even think about leaving the country? My head and my heart say “yes”, though my intellect says “no” (I don’t consider my head to be without personal prejudice).
I’m no longer worrying about returning home to a burgled and beshitten apartment (well, not any more than I would be on an ordinary day), which means I can relax a little more, on my potentially unexciting trip around the East of this strange country I am now formally, legally, allowed to be in again with written permission!
When DH Lawrence was dying, he continued to write.
Lawrence wrote until he couldn’t breathe any more, he wrote until he was done.
Lawrence wrote about how he wanted to live, how he felt other people wanted to live, and about how he wished he had been able to live before he started to die.
I’ve read Etruscan Places multiple times, and written about it on here more than once, I think, and that’s because it’s a deeply powerful work: a writer at the peak of their intellect whose power of expression is never better, battering against the realities of their own declining health.
Apocalypse was written by Lawrence after Etruscan Places and – according to the introduction to this book, at least, was the final text he completed (or nearly completed), following that piece of travel writing and a novel[la] called The Man Who Died, which I’m pretty certain is “historical fiction” about Jesus. Apocalypse, too, is about Christianity and religiousness and spirituality, and this is a clear and understandable focus for the final texts of this unwell youngish man dying at the tail end of the 1920s.
What this book offers is a long form essay that analyses the Book of Revelation, exploring its composition and history, its legacy and impact on Christian mythologies in the near two thousand years of its existence (Lawrence cites the likely date of composition of the Book to be the 90s, as in the 0090s CE).
There is also close textual analysis, looking into the potential allegorical or psychological meanings of the symbols and images John of Patmos included in his text. There are also a couple of brief moments where Lawrence compares different translations of the text, but although the East Midlands’ only literary celebrity was an intelligent and knowledge-hungry man, I don’t think his Ancient Greek would have been up to reading the “original” version.
It is energetic literary exploration, and unlike in Etruscan Places, which is so much about travel and attempting to experience things directly, the steady physical decline of the author is less apparent.
The introduction states that Lawrence stopped working on that travel book without considering it “finished”: it reads excellently, so perhaps the real issue was his unwillingness to restart the book without the depiction of travel, or instead his inability to not accidentally centre his own creeping morbidity.
When writing about writing, when analysing text, when sat at a desk and composing the textual equivalent of ekphrasis, it doesn’t matter if you have to pause to catch your breath or cough or lie down for ten minutes – you’re at your desk, you’re not climbing a hill in Tuscany and exploring underground tombs: it’s easier to cover up the decline.
Because Lawrence is fierce here, he is articulate and persuasive and full of intelligent analysis. He discusses how the existence of a central apocalyptic mythos exemplifies the hopelessness of Christianity and Christians themselves: less than a century on from the forming of this new religion, it already believed the only way its adherents could exist in peace and happiness on Earth would be with the total destruction not only of unjust civilisational norms, but of everything that exists: there can be no end to cruelty and inquiry without an end to everything.
It’s fucking bleak, but it’s also kinda true.
Christianity is an inherently conservative ideology, one that negates the evil of corrupt power structures; Lawrence goes so far as to call Christ’s catchphrase “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” a foundational error on the part of the religion.
Money is food and food is essential.
Money is power.
Power is never benign, power is never freeing.
Christianity is a religion for people who think the world is full of irredeemable evil, except for them. To be a martyr is good, because it brings you out of the world of flesh, but – argues Lawrence and we all know by now that I largely agree with him (everything I do at the moment I do largely because I’m much fatter than I have any excuse to be, I just find that booze and food fill the holes inside like nothing else) – the world of flesh is full of pleasures and joys that – even if a spiritualised afterlife exists – will not be replicated. No one, not even Fatboy Slim, is fucking in heaven – so what purpose is served by denying the self bodily pleasures while stuck in a body?
Breathe while we still have lungs, fuck while we still have flesh, eat and drink and shit and piss and shout and sing and scream and sleep because these things are joyful, these things are ours, and the one certainty we have in life is that these pleasures will not be available forever.
Even those who die young, die.
Apocalypse is an excellent, powerful, potent little book. And I’m very glad to have read it today, sat in various cafes and bars in Old Quebec.