Two Kinds of Writer


CHRISTOPHER: I recently read a journal by Eugene Ionesco, in which Jean-Paul Sartre was described as petty bourgeois, and as a petty bourgeois, moreover, who was envious of the grand bourgeoisie.  Would you agree?

LAWRENCE: No, not at all!  He was essentially a grand bourgeois himself, though of a different kind from the people of whom he is alleged to have been envious.

CHRISTOPHER: What do you mean by 'of a different kind'?

LAWRENCE: Just this: that there are always two kinds of bourgeoisie, which, at the risk of oversimplification, we may call the spiritual kind and the materialist kind - those in the former category including priests, teachers, artists, writers, judges, et cetera, and those in the latter category including businessmen, doctors, scientists, technologists, politicians, et cetera.  The spiritual kind live in the realm of ideas and produce books, sermons, lectures, lessons, papers, et cetera, whereas the materialist kind live in the realm of concrete phenomena and produce or uphold a variety of material products ... ranging from pills and lotions to vacuum cleaners and computers.  Sartre, being a writer and thinker, appertained to the spiritual category of bourgeois, even though, within that category, he was more of a materialist or, at any rate, had a materialistic bias, as his copious political writings adequately attest.  He belonged to a subcategory composed of writers like Koestler, Camus, and Orwell, rather than to that of writers like Gide, Huxley, and Hesse, in whose books religious concerns tend to preponderate.

CHRISTOPHER: And you would say he was a grand bourgeois?

LAWRENCE: Yes, I would.  Each kind of bourgeois, whether of the spiritual or the materialist categories, is divisible into those who are petty and those who are grand.  In the materialist category, for example, we all recognize the difference of status between a small businessman, like a private shopkeeper, and a big one, who may be the owner of a powerful corporation or the manager of a large factory.  No-one is going to confound the petty bourgeois with the grand bourgeois there; for the disparity of wealth and power can be enormous.  Now what applies to businessmen must also apply to every other kind of materialist, where similar differences are to be found.  There are petty-bourgeois politicians and grand-bourgeois politicians - backbenchers and cabinet ministers.  There are petty-bourgeois doctors and grand-bourgeois doctors - ordinary GPs and specialist surgeons.  There are lieutenants and generals, obscure backroom scientists and world-famous scientists, et cetera.  It would be impossible not to acknowledge the disparities of status which exist between these various types of commercial or professional people.  Yet the same distinction also applies to the spiritual category, where we have parish priests and bishops, teachers and professors, obscure artists and world-famous artists, mediocre writers and great writers, and so on.  Clearly in Sartre's case we are not dealing with a beginner or a mediocrity, but with a world-famous writer, who is therefore a grand bourgeois in the context of his profession.  To regard him as petty bourgeois, as Ionesco apparently does, would be either to fall into the error of regarding all writers, no matter what their individual standings in the world, as essentially petty-bourgeois types or to commit the even worse mistake of taking only successful materialists, and especially businessmen, for grand-bourgeois types, and then comparing writers to them, so that the almost inevitable inequality of wealth between the two categories will be regarded as confirmation of the latters' petty-bourgeois status.  But this is nonsense!  A writer appertains to the spiritual kind of bourgeois and should be less wealthy than the materialist kind; for, in being a writer, he has proclaimed his preference for the spiritual over the material life and cannot therefore be regarded as a man for whom wealth is an important acquisition.  On the contrary, what is important to him, and particularly to a writer of Sartre's type, is the acquisition of knowledge and, to a lesser extent, recognition.  It is precisely because he is not a materialist that money holds less importance for him.  He never sought to get rich but to become famous.  His criteria are completely different from the materialist's, and so he cannot be regarded as a petty bourgeois in relation to the materialistic grand bourgeoisie, as though he were some sort of shopkeeper or manager of a small firm.  He can only be compared, in this respect, to members of his own profession and to other types of spiritual bourgeoisie.  So if we stick to the example of Sartre, and compare him to an up-and-coming writer or to an established writer whose books are neither particularly brilliant nor famous, we are obliged to conclude that Sartre was a grand bourgeois in his senior years and that, if he was ever petty, it could only have been during the time when he was relatively unknown and struggling to establish his reputation as a writer.

CHRISTOPHER: I see!  He was a grand bourgeois in relation to lesser or younger writers.  But where would that place him, in your estimation, with regard to a materialistic grand bourgeois, like a wealthy businessman?

LAWRENCE: I would say that, since the spiritual should take precedence over the material in any morally objective appreciation of the world or of the people in it, the spiritual kind of bourgeois is generally a superior kettle-of-fish to his materialist counterpart, in consequence of which a writer of Sartre's standing should be regarded as a higher kind of man than a businessman, no matter how successful the latter may happen to be.  Whether he should also be regarded as such in relation to an outstanding statesman ... is another matter; though I would be inclined to grant him the benefit of the doubt!  There is only one category of man to whom a truly great writer may feel inferior, and that is the priestly category, especially those in the upper echelons of it.  A holy man, or sage, is superior to a writer, although this doesn't necessarily apply to a Christian priest who, even when well-advanced in his vocation, may well be inferior because what he stands for, namely the Christian religion, is becoming increasingly anachronistic or irrelevant, and the role of spiritual or moral leadership has accordingly passed elsewhere.  It is somewhat unlikely that a man like Sartre, who was a Marxist-turned-Existentialist, would regard any of the upholders of Christianity as his intellectual or moral superiors!  On the contrary, if he looked up to anyone at all, it would have been to certain statesmen of a revolutionary stamp, like Mao or Castro.  For he was, after all, a predominantly materialistic, and therefore political, type of writer.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes, I entirely agree!  But how therefore would he compare with those writers, such as Huxley, Hesse, and Gide, whom you have dubbed predominantly spiritual, and hence religious?  Would a similar distinction apply?

LAWRENCE: Yes, I believe so!  Although it is possible for a progressive materialistic writer to be superior to a regressive or reactionary spiritualistic one.  At any rate, he can be more important because relevant to the age.... What we really come down to here, in connection with the better spiritual writers, is the distinction between social realists and avant-gardists, that is to say, between those who specialize in appearances and those, by contrast, whose speciality is essence.  Broadly Sartre appertains, together with writers like Koestler and Camus, to the first category, whereas Gide, Hesse, and Huxley appertain to the second, though by no means exclusively so!  For there was a commitment to bourgeois tradition in each of the last-named authors which precludes us from regarding any of them as strictly avant-garde.  Neither, for similar reasons, can we regard the other three as strictly social realist.  Nevertheless the fact remains that the spiritually-biased writer is a superior type of writer to the materially-biased one, since essence must take objective priority over appearance, even if, for a given period of time, circumstances favour works treating of the apparent, i.e. the world, society, politics, economics, science, et cetera.

CHRISTOPHER: So you would regard Huxley, for example, as a superior type of writer to Sartre, because he gave greater importance to essence, or the spirit, in his writings?

LAWRENCE: Yes, broadly speaking I would.  Although one should perhaps emphasize the fact that it isn't so much a question of conscious choice as to whether an author gives greater importance or more attention to essence than to appearance in his writings, but primarily a question of temperament and intelligence - two factors he was born with.  A Sartre is born to be a Sartre, a Huxley to be a Huxley.  You cannot turn a materialist into a spiritualist, or vice versa.  What an author writes is largely a consequence of what he is predisposed, through intelligence and temperament, not to mention experience and environment, to write.  Huxley could no more have become a social realist than Sartre ... an avant-gardist.  They were largely shaped by their respective temperaments.

CHRISTOPHER: As, I should imagine, were you, whose bias is towards the spiritual, and who may well become a grand bourgeois in your own profession one day, assuming you become world famous.

LAWRENCE: Actually I prefer to regard myself as a master of proletarian inclination though petty-bourgeois antecedents.  By which I mean that I am one of those paradoxical writers who, because he concentrates on truth and educational matters rather than illusion and entertainment, puts his publisher in the position of a servant.  The lesser or popular writer, on the other hand, works to make his publisher wealthy and so becomes a slave of his publisher's commercial requirements, writing for someone else.  I, however, write for myself or, rather, in pursuit of truth, and am accordingly a master, like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.  Masters are published by the best publishers who, because they also have a number of slave authors working for them, can afford the luxury, as it were, of publishing an uncommercial book from time to time.  The most successful and noble publishers are inevitably those who can afford to publish the most number of masters.  A firm with five masters on its list can only be superior, in this respect, to a firm with merely two.

CHRISTOPHER: I am almost disposed to believe it!  Though one must also bear in mind the nature and quality of any individual master's works, surely?

LAWRENCE: Yes, giving priority to the spiritual ones, which must necessarily place such masters as Gide, Hesse, and Huxley above Koestler, Camus, and Sartre.  Or, for that matter, Henry Miller above, say, Norman Mailer.  After all, Miller is also of the predominantly spiritual breed, since one of the most avant-garde of twentieth-century authors and a grand bourgeois in his own right.  To combine the maximum of autobiography with the maximum of philosophy - you can't do much better than that!

CHRISTOPHER: No, I guess not.  But you can always go beyond Miller by improving on the quality of your truth.

LAWRENCE: Not to mention the nature of your autobiography!