This article argues for the centrality of ideas of automatism and habit within the political and aesthetic life of literary modernism. D. H. Lawrence's characteristic interest in the raptures of sexuality and corporality are read in relation to shifts in the nature of political life, in particular the function of material conditioning within the institutions of the nation-state. The rise of such a political technology, this article suggests, was an important precondition for Lawrence's own emphasis on alternative categories of political life, most importantly the “primary cognition” of the body. Lawrence's sense of political embodiment placed him in fundamental accord with the work of the vitalist philosophers Henri Bergson and Georges Sorel. Sorel's notion of political myth in particular informs a reading of Lawrence's late novel The Plumed Serpent (1926), which enacts a vitalist drama of political embodiment. Considered by Lawrence to be his best novel, The Plumed Serpent enables a retrospective reading of Lawrence's formal method, including the value of readerly affect in his attempts to counter the habituating forces of mass modernity.

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