lundi, 21 novembre 2016
Wyndham Lewis, Ernst Jünger & Italian Futurism - Paul Bingham
jeudi, 27 novembre 2014
par Kerry Bolton
English original here
Note du Rédacteur:
Cette version très enrichie d’un essai précédemment publié sur Wyndham Lewis est le chapitre 8 du livre de Kerry Bolton, Artists of the Right: Resisting Decadence, [Artistes de la Droite : Résister à la Décadence] qui devrait être publié prochainement par Counter-Currents.
Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), est considéré comme le fondateur du seul mouvement culturel moderniste indigène en Grande-Bretagne. Cependant, on le met rarement sur le même plan que Ezra Pound, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, et d’autres de sa génération . Lewis était l’une de ces nombreuses figures culturelles qui rejetaient l’héritage du XIXe siècle – celui du libéralisme bourgeois et de la démocratie, qui pesait sur le XXe.
Cependant, à la différence de nombreux autres auteurs qui rejetaient la démocratie, le libéralisme et « la gauche », Lewis rejetait aussi le contre-mouvement qui cherchait à revenir au passé et qui plaçait l’intuitif, l’émotionnel et l’instinctif au-dessus de l’intellectuel et du rationnel. Lewis dénonçait particulièrement D. H. Lawrence pour son placement de l’instinct au-dessus de la raison et pour ce qui semblait être une célébration de la doctrine du « noble sauvage », qui a servi de base au libéralisme à partir du XVIIIe siècle.
Lewis était un individualiste extrême, tout en rejetant l’individualisme du libéralisme du XIXe siècle. Son adoption d’une philosophie de la distance entre l’élite culturelle et les masses l’amena à Nietzsche, bien qu’il fût effrayé par la popularité de Nietzsche chez tout le monde , et au fascisme et à l’éloge d’Hitler, mais aussi au rejet de ceux-ci puisqu’ils faisaient appel aux masses.
Né en 1882 sur un yacht au large des rivages de la Nouvelle Ecosse, il était de mère anglaise, et son père était un officier de l’armée américaine, excentrique et sans revenus, qui déserta bientôt sa famille. Wyndham et sa mère arrivèrent en Angleterre en 1888. Il suivit les cours des Ecoles des Arts de Rugby et de Slade , qui le mirent toutes deux à la porte. Il visita ensuite les capitales artistiques de l’Europe, et fut influencé par le cubisme et le futurisme.
En 1922, Lewis présenta son portfolio de dessins qui avait d’abord été conçu pour illustrer une édition du Timon d’Athènes de Shakespeare, où Timon est décrit comme une marionnette désarticulée. Cela illustrait l’idée de Lewis selon laquelle l’homme peut s’élever au-dessus de l’animal par le détachement et le contrôle de soi, mais que la majorité des hommes resteront toujours des marionnettes ou des automates. Ayant lu Nietzsche, Lewis avait l’intention de rester une figure du type Zarathoustra, solitaire sur sa montagne et bien au-dessus de la masse de l’humanité.
Au début, Lewis fut associé au groupe de Bloomsbury, les intellectuels prétentieux et snobs d’un quartier bien précis de Londres, qui pouvaient lancer ou briser un artiste ou un auteur débutant. Il rejeta bientôt ces libéraux de gauche beaux-parleurs et les attaqua violemment dans The Apes of God [Les singes de Dieu] . Cela entraîna un tournant – un tournant négatif – dans la carrière de Lewis : « Une bruyante controverse s’ensuivit ». Le manuscrit avait été rejeté par l’éditeur de Lewis, Chatto and Windus, et il avait publié le livre lui-même au nom de « The Arthur Press ». Les choses ne s’arrangèrent pas avec le livre de Lewis en 1932, Hitler. Son proche soutien Roy Campbell fut aussi entraîné dans sa chute , bien que Campbell se serait certainement heurté à la même opposition de Bloomsbury à cause de ses propres idées.
Un biographe a écrit : « Les triomphes de la fin des années 1920, des triomphes qui incluaient généralement une réponse critique favorable (…) furent temporairement oubliés dans le tintamarre littéraire/judiciaire/populaire… », et Lewis devint un « sale risque » pour les éditeurs . Bloomsbury était une coterie puissante qui « pouvait aller jusqu’à excommunier et ostraciser » .
Résister à ce genre d’opposition n’était pas facile. Pourtant c’est précisément ce que fit Lewis, en dépit d’un manque de fonds et d’un refus de se mettre à la merci de gens ayant « des relations ». Pendant les années 1930, alors que c’était la mode en Grande-Bretagne d’avoir des opinions de gauche, Lewis n’en avait aucunement .
Concernant la révolte de Lewis contre la Gauche à la mode et son importance pour notre époque, Tomlinson remarque :
« Quand on pense aux sympathies politiques radicales manifestées par des hommes qui ont depuis rejoint l’Establishment, le refus de Lewis d’être estampillé, manœuvré ou manipulé dans une alliance avec l’intelligentsia de gauche montre sa fermeté de caractère et son indépendance d’esprit. Et maintenant qu’une Nouvelle Gauche est apparue, l’œuvre de Lewis possède une importance renouvelée particulièrement maintenant que le radicalisme d’aujourd’hui combine son assaut contre les ‘fondements’ de la société avec les plus pitoyables essais dans le scabreux. (…) Comme Lewis aurait écrasé tout cela… » 
Rompant avec l’Atelier Omega de Bloomsbury, Lewis fonda le Centre d’Art Rebelle d’où émergea le mouvement vorticiste et son magazine Blast: Review of the Great English Vortex , « balayant des idées mortes et des notions usées », comme le dit Lewis . Parmi les signataires du Manifeste Vorticiste figuraient Ezra Pound, le sculpteur français Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, et le peintre Edward Wadsworth. T. S. Eliot fut aussi un adhérent, écrivant des articles pour le deuxième numéro de Blast .
Pound, qui décrivit le vortex comme « le point d’énergie maximum », inventa le nom de Vorticisme. Alors que Lewis avait trouvé intéressants la stase du cubisme et le mouvement effréné du futurisme, il s’indigna quand Marinetti le décrivit comme un futuriste et voulut trouver un mouvement moderniste anglais indigène. Le but était de synthétiser le cubisme et le futurisme . Le vorticisme décrirait le point statique dont l’énergie surgissait. Il était aussi très soucieux de refléter la vie contemporaine où la machine finissait par dominer, mais rejetait la glorification romantique de la machine par le futurisme .
Pound et Lewis étaient tous deux influencés par le classicisme du critique d’art et philosophe T.E. Hulme, un conservateur radical. Hulme rejetait l’humanisme et le romantisme du XIXe siècle dans les arts, les considérant comme des reflets de la croyance rousseauiste (et finalement communiste) en la bonté naturelle de l’homme non-corrompu par la civilisation, et à la malléabilité infinie de la nature humaine par un changement de l’environnement et du conditionnement social. Hulme écrit :
« …Des gens de toutes classes, des gens qui craignaient d’y perdre, étaient en effervescence concernant l’idée de liberté. Il devait y avoir quelque idée qui leur permettait de penser que quelque chose de positif pouvait sortir d’une chose aussi essentiellement négative. Il y en avait une, et ici j’ai ma définition du romantisme. On leur avait dit par Rousseau que l’homme était bon par nature, que c’étaient seulement les mauvaises lois et coutumes qui l’avaient opprimé. Enlevez tout cela et les possibilités infinies de l’homme auraient une chance. C’est ce qui leur faisait penser que quelque chose de positif pouvait sortir du désordre, c’est ce qui créait l’enthousiasme religieux. Voilà la racine de tout le romantisme : que l’homme, l’individu, est un réservoir infini de possibilités, et si vous pouvez réarranger la société ainsi en détruisant l’ordre oppressif alors ces possibilités auront une chance et vous aurez le Progrès.
On peut définir le classique très clairement comme l’opposé exact de cela. L’homme est un animal extraordinairement fixé et limité dont la nature est absolument constante. C’est seulement par la tradition et l’organisation que quelque chose de bon peut être obtenu de lui.
…Bref, ce sont les deux visions, donc. L’une, que l’homme est intrinsèquement bon, corrompu par les circonstances ; et l’autre qu’il est intrinsèquement limité, discipliné par l’ordre et la tradition pour l’orienter vers quelque chose de bon. Pour le premier parti la nature de l’homme est comme un puits, pour l’autre comme un seau. La vision qui voit l’homme comme un puits, un réservoir plein de possibilités, je l’appelle la vision romantique ; celle qui le voit comme une créature très finie et fixée, je l’appelle la classique. » 
Hulme dit clairement que le « romantisme » est le soubassement dogmatique du paradigme libéral dominant des sociétés occidentales.
Le classicisme de Lewis est construit autour d’une série de dichotomies : classicisme contre romantisme, raison contre émotion, intellect contre intuition et instinct, masculin contre féminin, aristocratie contre démocratie, l’individu contre la masse, et plus tard le fascisme contre le communisme. L’esthétique vorticiste se prêtait facilement à des interprétations proto-fascistes et conservatrices : des motifs « disciplinés, brusques, épais et brutaux », la clarté et la forme par opposition à l’art qui se dissout dans le « vague de l’espace », comme le décrivit Lewis .
Sur le plan artistique, le classicisme signifie aussi clarté du style et forme distincte. Pound était attiré par la manière dont, par exemple, l’idéogramme chinois décrivait les idées succinctement . C’est pourquoi l’art et l’écriture devaient être basés sur la netteté et la clarté de l’image. Le sujet était vu extérieurement, d’une manière détachée. Pound et Hulme avaient fondé le mouvement imagiste selon des principes classicistes. A cela se superposait maintenant le vorticisme, décrivant les motifs géométriques complexes mais clairs de l’âge de la machine. Par opposition au futurisme italien, l’art vorticiste ne visait pas à décrire le déchaînement de l’énergie mais à le figer dans le temps. Tout en décrivant le tourbillon d’énergie, le vorticisme se distinguait du futurisme par son axe central de stabilité. Le vorticisme fut cependant rejeté par Lewis durant la Première Guerre mondiale comme étant « morne et vide », comme quelque chose qui avait besoin d’être « rempli », alors qu’en littérature, les mots et la syntaxe ne devaient pas être des sujets d’abstraction .
Dans sa nouvelle Tarr, publiée comme un monument à lui-même pour le cas où il serait tué dans la guerre où il servit comme officier d’observation avancée pour l’artillerie, il critique sévèrement les artistes et auteurs bohêmes représentés en Angleterre par la coterie de Bloomsbury :
« …Votre potion insipide est un mélange des lies du libéralisme, la pauvre écume produite par les années 90 décadentes, les restes de la garde-robe d’une bohême vulgaire. (…) Vous êtes de la tisane d’orge concentrée et hautement organisée : il n’y a rien à dire en votre faveur dans l’univers : n’importe quel Etat efficace confisquerait vos biens, brûlerait votre garde-robe – ce vieux chapeau et tout le reste – comme infectieuse, et vous interdirait de la propager.
…Une variété de choux douçâtres et prolifiques a provoqué un pourrissement général et rampant en Occident (…) que n’importe quel pouvoir résolu pourra anéantir en un clin d’œil et les yeux fermés. Votre gentil interlude en fait indirectement une période de tribulation pour les choses vivantes qui restent dans votre voisinage. Vous systématisez la vulgarisation de l’individu : vous êtes la copie à l’avance du communisme, un faux communisme millénaire de la classe moyenne. Vous n’êtes pas un individu : vous n’avez, je le répète, aucun droit à ces cheveux et à ce chapeau : vous tentez d’avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre. Vous devriez être en uniforme et au travail, pas uniformément hors de l’uniforme et calomniant l’Artiste par votre oisiveté. Etes-vous oisif ?
…La seule justification pour votre allure débraillée, c’est bien qu’elle est parfaitement emblématique. » 
En 1918, Lewis fut nommé artiste de guerre officiel pour le Bureau Canadien des Archives de Guerre. Ici certaines de ses peintures sont de style vorticiste, décrivant les soldats comme des machines de la même qualité que leur artillerie. A nouveau, l’homme est montré comme un automate. Cependant, la guerre détruisit le mouvement vorticiste, Hulme et Gaudier-Brzeska succombant tous les deux, et Blast n’alla pas plus loin que deux numéros.
Le Code d’un Berger
Le néo-nietzschéisme de Lewis est succinctement exprimé dans un essai publié dans The Little Review en 1917, « Le Code d’un Berger ». Parmi les 18 points  :
« En t’accusant toi-même, reste fidèle au Code de la Montagne. Mais le crime est étranger à la nature d’un Berger. Tu dois être ta propre Caste. »
« Chéris et développe côte à côte tes six plus constantes indications de personnalités différentes. Tu acquerras alors la potentialité de six hommes… Chaque tranchée doit en avoir une autre derrière elle. »
« Passe un peu de ton temps chaque jour à traquer les faiblesses que tu as contractées par ton commerce avec le troupeau, aussi méthodiquement, solennellement et énergiquement qu’un singe le fait avec ses puces. Tu découvriras que tu en es recouvert quand tu es entouré par l’humanité. Mais tu ne les emmèneras pas sur la montagne… »
« Ne joue pas avec les notions politiques, les aristocratismes ou l’inverse, car c’est un compromis avec le troupeau. Ne te laisse pas aller à imaginer un bon troupeau qui resterait un troupeau. Il n’y a pas de bon troupeau. Les bestiaux qui se font appeler ‘gentlemen’ t’apparaîtront un peu plus propres. C’est simplement une ruse et c’est l’œuvre d’un produit appelé savon… »
« Sois sur tes gardes avec le petit troupeau des gentlemen. Il y a des règles très strictes pour empêcher le troupeau de mettre les pieds sur les flancs de la montagne. En fait ta principale fonction est d’empêcher leur empiètement. Dans un moment d’ennui ou d’agressivité, certains sont capables de faire des incursions vers les régions plus hautes. Heureusement leur instinct les fait rester en masses ou en bandes, et leur transgression est bientôt remarquée. Contredis-toi. Pour vivre, tu dois rester fragmenté. »
« Au-dessus de ce triste commerce avec le troupeau, fais en sorte que quelque chose reste véritablement sur la montagne. Descends toujours avec des masques et d’épais vêtements dans la vallée où nous travaillons. Les gaz stagnants de ces troupeaux vulgaires et pourris sont plus dangereux que les cylindres errants qui les émettent. (…) Notre colline sacrée est un ciel volcanique. Mais le résultat de la violence est la paix. Même la malheureuse houle, au-dessous, a des moments de paix. »
Le « Code d’un Berger » rappelle beaucoup le texte de Nietzsche « Des mouches du marché », dans Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra . Le credo indique aussi pourquoi Lewis ne pouvait pas rester longtemps un admirateur du fascisme ou du national-socialisme – « Ne te laisse pas aller à imaginer un bon troupeau qui resterait un troupeau. Il n’y a pas de bon troupeau » –, puisque le fascisme et le national-socialisme exaltent le « troupeau », culturellement, socialement, et économiquement.
La pauvreté suivit Lewis toute sa vie. Comme Pound, il était à la recherche d’une société qui honorerait les artistes. Comme Pound et D. H. Lawrence, il avait le sentiment que l’artiste est le gouvernant naturel de l’humanité, et il s’insurgeait contre la dégradation de l’art au niveau d’un article courant.
L’attitude politique et sociale de Lewis venait de son esthétique. Il était opposé à la primauté de la politique et de l’économie sur la vie culturelle. Son livre de 1926, The Art of Being Ruled [L’art d’être gouverné] expose en détail les idées de Lewis sur la politique, incluant un rejet de la démocratie et quelques références favorables au fascisme. Ici Lewis condamne la vulgarisation de la science comme une « religion populaire », favorable à un « état d’esprit révolutionnaire », et le mythe du « Progrès »  basé sur idolâtrie de l’« amélioration mécanique » . L’idéal est l’« Homme de la Rue » comme « le nouveau Messie de la religion contemporaine », à qui l’on vend continuellement l’idée de changement, ou de « révolution-comme-habitude » . En tant que révolutionnaire, Lewis aspirait au renversement des « valeurs désuètes », et était antithétique à la « révolution-comme-habitude » des intellectuels stéréotypés du type Bloomsbury .
Il propose aussi une analyse sceptique concernant les buts de la « démocratie » où le pouvoir est exercé derrière l’illusion d’élections libres, qui sont basées sur le conditionnement de la masse des votants par les possesseurs de la Presse ; c’est-à-dire, ceux qui ont l’argent :
« Le fonctionnement du système électoral ‘démocratique’ est bien sûr comme suit : Une personne est formée rigoureusement à certaines opinions ; puis on lui donne le droit de vote, et on dit qu’elle est ‘libre’ et pleinement affranchie ; puis elle vote (soumise, bien sûr, à de nouveaux et rigoureux ordres de la presse, où parfois son mentor lui commande de voter contrairement à ce qu’on lui a enseigné) strictement en accord avec sa formation. Son appui à tout ce qu’on lui a appris à soutenir peut être pratiquement garanti. C’est bien sûr pourquoi le vote du citoyen libre est une farce : il est annulé par l’éducation et la suggestion, l’imposition de la volonté du gouvernant au moyen de la presse et d’autres canaux des pouvoirs publics. Le gouvernement ‘démocratique’ est donc bien plus efficace que la subjugation par la conquête physique. » 
L’appui au fascisme était un produit de son classicisme – sa valorisation de la dureté, du masculin, de l’exactitude, et de la clarté – ainsi que de ses opinions de longue date concernant la démocratie et les masses. Ce classicisme le poussa à applaudir l’Etat fasciste « rigidement organisé », basé sur des lois immuables et absolues que Lewis appliquait aux arts, par opposition aux « fluctuations » ou aux changements du romantisme.
Lewis apporta son appui à l’Union des Fascistes Britanniques de Sir Oswald Mosley. Celui-ci raconte dans son autobiographie que Lewis lui donnait des rendez-vous secrets, craignant un assassinat . Cependant, Lewis fut assez ouvert d’esprit pour écrire un essai sur le fascisme, intitulé « Left Wings » [« Gauches »], pour le British Union Quarterly. Ici Lewis écrit qu’une nation peut être subvertie et capturée par des groupes numériquement faibles. L’intelligentsia et la presse faisaient ce travail de subversion avec une orientation de gauche. Lewis était au courant de l’appui que le marxisme recevait des riches, incluant les bohêmes millionnaires qui patronnaient les arts. La propagande marxiste en faveur de l’URSS bénéficiait d’un financement énorme. Le marxisme était une imposture, une mascarade dans son soutien aux pauvres contre les riches . « Que le communisme russe ne soit pas une guerre au couteau des Riches contre les Pauvres n’est que trop bien démontré par le fait que sur le plan international tous les Riches sont de son coté. Tous les ‘magnats’ parmi les nations lui sont favorables ; toutes les communautés appauvries, tous les petits Etats paysans, le craignent et s’opposent à lui » .
Les observations de Lewis sur la nature du marxisme étaient corroborées par la position antibolchevique du Portugal et de l’Espagne, auxquels il pensait probablement en parlant d’opposition des ‘petits Etats paysans’ au communisme. Alors que le bolchevisme lui-même était financé par des milieux financiers à New York, en Suède, et en Allemagne (les Warburg, Schiff, et Olaf Aschberg – le dénommé « banquier bolchevik » ), d’où l’affirmation : « les ‘magnats’ parmi les nations lui sont favorables ».
Lewis conclut en déclarant que le fascisme est le mouvement qui est authentiquement pour les pauvres et contre les riches, pour la propriété alors que les ‘super-riches’ sont contre la propriété, « puisque l’argent s’est fondu dans le pouvoir, le concret dans l’abstrait… »
« En tant que fasciste, vous défendez le petit commerçant contre le grand magasin ; le paysan contre l’usurier ; la nation, grande ou petite, contre le super-Etat ; le commerce personnel contre le Big Business ; l’artisan contre la Machine ; le créateur contre l’intermédiaire ; tout ce qui prospère par l’effort individuel et le travail créatif, contre tout ce qui prospère dans l’air abstrait de la Haute Finance ou du jargon théorique de l’Internationalisme. » 
Comme on le voit par ses références à la « Haute Finance » et aux « magnats » soutenant la gauche, Lewis, comme Ezra Pound , était conscient de la pourriture complète du système financier fondé sur l’usure, écrivant : « …et la technique du Crédit est un instrument de destruction en comparaison duquel toute autre arme offensive connue tombe dans l’insignifiance » .
Cependant, Lewis avait des réserves concernant le fascisme, de même qu’il avait des réserves concernant l’engagement en faveur de n’importe quelle doctrine, non seulement à cause de la nature de masse – ou « troupeau » – du fascisme, mais aussi parce que le principe de l’action, de l’homme d’action, devient trop souvent une activité frénétique, alors que la stabilité dans le monde est nécessaire à l’épanouissement des arts. Il dit dans Time and Western Man [Le temps et l’homme occidental] que le fascisme en Italie était trop tourné vers le passé, mettant l’accent sur une résurgence de la splendeur impériale romaine et l’usage de son imagerie, au lieu de se consacrer à la réalisation du présent . Dans ce « culte du Temps » étaient inclus le courant doctrinal de l’action, du progrès, de la violence, du combat, du changement constant dans le monde, qui incluent aussi le darwinisme et le nietzschéisme, en dépit de l’influence continue de ce dernier sur la philosophie de Lewis.
Pourtant, quand les lignes commencèrent à être tracées pour la future confrontation entre le fascisme et la démocratie, Lewis prit la défense de l’Italie fasciste dans son invasion de l’Abyssinie, condamnant les sanctions de la Société des Nations contre l’Italie, et déclarant : « si l’Italien industrieux et ingénieux, plutôt que l’Ethiopien paresseux, stupide et agressif, devait finalement contrôler l’Abyssinie, ça ne serait sûrement pas une grande tragédie » .
Une première appréciation intitulée Hitler fut publiée en 1931, scellant le sort de Lewis en tant que génie marginalisé, en dépit de sa répudiation de l’antisémitisme dans The Jews, Are They Human? [Les Juifs, sont-ils humains ?] et du nazisme dans The Hitler Cult [Le culte de Hitler], tous deux publiés en 1939.
Temps et Espace
Un environnement artistique sain requiert l’ordre et la discipline, pas le chaos et la fluctuation continuelle. C’est le grand conflit entre le « romantique » et le « classique » dans les arts. Cette dichotomie entre « classique » et « romantique » est représentée en politique par la différence entre la philosophie du « Temps » et celle de l’« Espace », cette dernière étant illustrée par la philosophie de Spengler. A la différence de beaucoup d’autres représentants de la « Droite », Lewis était fermement opposé à l’approche historique de Spengler, critiquant son Déclin de l’Occident dans Time and Western Man. Pour Lewis, Spengler et d’autres « philosophes du Temps » reléguaient la culture dans la sphère politique. Les interprétations cycliques et organiques de l’histoire sont vues comme « fatalistes » et démoralisantes pour la survie de la race européenne. Lewis résumait la thèse de Spengler comme suit : « Vous les Blancs, êtes sur le point de vous éteindre. Tout est fini pour vous ; et je peux vous le prouver par le résultat de mes recherches, et par ma nouvelle science de l’histoire, qui est bâtie sur le grand système du temps… » .
Lewis affirmait que la « philosophie du Temps » est vouée à subir le changement et les fluctuations, alors que la philosophie de l’« Espace » est vouée à la forme et à la présence, les fondements du classicisme, que Spengler dénigrait en faveur du désir d’infini sans forme de l’homme « faustien » .
L’art véritable n’est pas révolutionnaire, mais est un « bastion permanent », qui n’est jamais en révolte sauf quand l’art cesse d’exister ou devient « faux et vulgaire ». Le dénommé « art révolutionnaire » que Lewis observait à son époque était « de l’art inférieur et stupide, ou bien de l’art consciemment politique » . Lewis écrit en outre : « Aucun artiste ne pourra jamais aimer la démocratie ou son parent doctrinaire et plus primitif, le communisme ».
« Les unités-de-masse émotionnellement excitées, en troupeau serré, lourdement standardisées, agissant dans une union aveugle et extatique, comme en réponse au rythme d’une musique invisible – de style… soviétique – seraient la pire chose souhaitable, selon moi, pour l’Occident démocratique libre, s’il était libre, et si sa démocratie était du genre intelligent… » 
Lewis voyait les mouvements « révolutionnaires » comme régressifs, bien qu’ils fussent qualifiés de « progressistes ». Le féminisme vise à revenir aux « conditions supposées du Matriarcat primitif ». Le communisme et tous les mouvements révolutionnaires de son époque, il les voyait comme visant à revenir au primitif . D’après ce motif, on peut comprendre pourquoi il condamnait aussi D. H. Lawrence. La « Haute Bohême », incluant « le monde des milliardaires », particulièrement ceux qui se concentrent sur le féminisme et la révolte sexuelle, sont des symptômes du « Temps », tout comme les réussites techniques et le commerce – alors que l’art est « éternel » . Ce qui était promu comme de l’art « osé » et « scandaleux » était selon Lewis « mièvre », « domestiqué » et « ridicule », « rien de cela ne pouvant accélérer le pouls d’un lapin » . Apparenté à cette pseudo-révolution est le « culte de l’enfant », artistiquement exprimé dans « le culte du primitif et du sauvage » de Gauguin, par exemple .
L’antipathie de Lewis envers la démocratie est enracinée dans sa théorie du Temps. Dans Men Without Art [Hommes sans Art], il écrit que la Démocratie est hostile à l’excellence artistique et encourage « les standards de souscription du box office et des bibliothèques » . L’art, au contraire, est éternel, classique. La démocratie hait l’intellectuel et le prend pour cible, parce que l’« esprit » est aristocratique et insultant pour les masses. C’est encore une fois la dichotomie du « romantique contre le classique ». Conjointe à la démocratie est l’industrialisation, toutes deux représentant les masses contre le génie solitaire. Le résultat est le « rassemblement des gens en énormes masses mécanisées ». L’« esprit de masse… doit nécessairement parvenir à une taille standard pour recevoir l’idée standard ».
La démocratie et la publicité font partie intégrante de cette dégradation, et derrière tout cela se trouve l’argent, incluant les « bohêmes millionnaires » qui contrôlent les arts. La fabrication d’une image romantique de la machine, qui commença à l’époque victorienne, est le produit de notre « Age de l’Argent ». Le vorticisme, dit Lewis, décrit la machine comme convenant à un art qui observe le Présent, mais à la différence du futurisme, ne l’idolâtre pas. C’est la technologie qui génère le changement et la révolution, mais l’art reste constant ; il n’est jamais en révolte, sauf quand la société promeut des conditions où l’art ne peut pas exister, comme dans la démocratie.
Quand Lewis fait la satire des gens de Bloomsbury, il écrit qu’un gouffre sépare l’élite et les masses, mais que cela n’est pas forcément malveillant envers ces masses :
« L’intellect est plus éloigné de la foule que toute autre chose : mais ce n’est pas un retrait snob, c’est une distanciation pour les besoins du travail, du travail sans son utilité pour la foule (…) ; Plus que le prophète ou l’enseignant religieux, (le chef) représente (…) le grand élément détaché de ce monde, et ceci est la garantie de son utilité. Et il devrait être déchargé de la compétition futile dans tous les domaines mineurs, pour que ses facultés les plus pures puissent être libres pour les tâches majeures de la création intelligente. »
Malheureusement, placer ses idéaux sur le plan de l’activité a pour conséquence la vulgarisation, un dilemme qui fut à l’origine des réserves de Lewis vis-à-vis de Nietzsche. Dans The Art of Being Ruled, Lewis écrit que toute chose contient son « ombre », « son singe et familier ». Lewis parlait encore de ce dilemme dans Rotting Hill [La colline pourrissante] durant les années 50 : « Tous les dilemmes du créatif cherchant à fonctionner socialement sont centrés sur la nature de l’action : sur la nécessité de l’action brutale, de faire appel au barbare pour bâtir une civilisation ».
Révolte du Primitif
Le livre de Lewis Paleface: The Philosophy of the Melting Pot, [Visage pâle : la philosophie du melting-pot], destiné à être une réplique à D. H. Lawrence, fut écrit pour répudier le culte du primitif – l’idéal rousseauiste du « retour à la nature » et du « noble sauvage » – très à la mode parmi les bohêmes millionnaires, comme il l’avait été parmi les intellectuels de salon du XVIIIe siècle. Alors que Lawrence disait que les tribus primitives pouvaient inspirer la race européenne décadente et l’aider à revenir à son propre être instinctuel, un tel « romantisme » était contraire au classicisme de Lewis, avec sa primauté de la raison. Contrairement à Lawrence, Lewis affirme : « Je préférerais avoir une once de conscience humaine plutôt qu’un univers entier rempli d’inspirations ‘abdominales’ subites et d’intenses palpitations mystiques, inconscientes et ‘étourdissantes’ ».
Dans Paleface, Lewis souhaite une caste dirigeante d’esthètes, assez semblablement à son ami Ezra Pound et à son adversaire philosophique Lawrence :
« Nous, [qui sommes] de naissance les dirigeants naturels de l’Européen blanc, ne sommes plus des gens ayant des visées politiques ou publiques (…). Nous, les dirigeants naturels du monde où nous vivons, sommes maintenant des citoyens privés au plein sens du terme, et ce monde est, en ce qui concerne l’administration de sa loi traditionnelle, sans direction. Dans ces circonstances, son âme, dans une génération environ, sera éteinte. » 
Lewis s’oppose au « melting-pot » où les différentes races et nationalités ne peuvent plus être distinguées. Une fois de plus, les objections de Lewis sont esthétiques dans leur fondement. Le cadeau du Nègre à l’homme blanc est le jazz, « le médium esthétique d’une sorte de subconscient prolétarien frénétique », dégradant, et poussant les masses à une agitation insensée, un « son massif et idiot » qui est « marxiste ». Nous pourrions comprendre maintenant que c’était le début du processus sur lequel l’industrie de la musique moderne est largement fondée, la musique « populaire » – la musique transitoire du marché de masse – étant centrée sur des rythmes frénétiques souvent accompagnés d’une danse pseudo-tribale effrénée, symptomatique du retour au « culte du primitif », au nom du « progrès ».
A l’époque où Lewis écrivait Time and Western Man, il croyait que les gens devaient être « contraints » à être libres et individualistes. Inversant certaines de ses idées exprimées dans The Art of Being Ruled, il ne croyait maintenant plus que le besoin des masses à être asservies devait être organisé, mais plutôt que les masses devraient être contraintes à être individualistes, écrivant : « Je crois qu’ils pourraient avantageusement être contraints à rester absolument seuls plusieurs heures chaque jour, et avec une semaine d’isolement complet dans des conditions agréables (disons dans un paysage montagneux), tous les deux mois, cela serait une disposition excellente. Cela et d’autres mesures coercitives d’un genre similaire, je pense, en ferait des gens bien meilleurs » .
On pourrait dire qu’ici encore le processus d’industrialisation et le type de système économique qu’il implique, en même temps que l’urbanisation et la primauté de la City [= le pouvoir financier], sont nécessairement favorables à la création et au maintien d’une masse frénétique et pressée, enfermée dans une broyeuse. Chaque aspect de la vie est soumis au besoin de hâte, même sur le plan gastronomique, sous la forme du « fast food » comme cuisine de l’ère moderne. Le besoin d’heures de travail plus longues s’oppose aux premières attentes, selon lesquelles l’âge de la machine inaugurerait une ère de loisirs où la multitude aurait le temps de réfléchir sur l’art et la littérature, et même de les créer, comme pour les idéaux utopiques des premiers esthètes socialistes tels que William Morris et Oscar Wilde. L’espoir de Lewis que les individus pourraient être un jour contraints à se relaxer dans la solitude, pour qu’ils puissent devenir des individus réels, est plus éloigné que jamais.
Retour en Angleterre socialiste
En 1939, Lewis et sa femme se rendirent aux USA et ensuite au Canada où Lewis donna des cours à la Faculté d’Assumption, une situation qui ne lui causa pas de désagrément, car il avait depuis longtemps un grand respect pour le catholicisme, même s’il ne s’y était pas converti.
Lewis, le polémiste impénitent, commença une campagne contre l’abstraction extrême dans l’art, attaquant Jackson Pollock et les expressionnistes abstraits.
Il revint en Angleterre en 1945, et bien que devenu complètement aveugle en 1951, il continua d’écrire. En 1948 son livre America and Cosmic Man [L’Amérique et l’homme cosmique] décrivit les USA comme le laboratoire d’un futur nouvel ordre mondial d’anonymat et d’utilitarisme. Il voyait les USA non comme un pays mais comme une « Cosmopolis » . Il pensait que les Américains étaient voués non au patriotisme national mais à la « fraternité », parce que les Américains sont de « race mêlée », et pour Lewis « la fraternité est plutôt une bonne chose pour laquelle combattre » , une combinaison d’« éthique puritaine et de politique révolutionnaire », une leçon donnée au monde sur « la manière d’obliger le lion à se coucher à coté de l’agneau » .
Comme nous l’avons vu, Lewis se moquait paradoxalement de la croyance de Pound au crédit social, mais il était très conscient du pouvoir de l’usure et des « Empereurs de la Dette ». Il examina cela une nouvelle fois en 1948 en écrivant :
« Les intérêts monopolistiques, avec tout le pouvoir dont de tels intérêts disposent, s’opposent à tout changement dans un système vieilli qui a si bien servi leurs buts, et qui a tant d’avantages de leur point de vue, par rapport à un nouveau modèle.
Le royaume de féérie du capital bancaire et de la grandiose usure universelle, d’où un épais brouillard d’irréalité se déverse continuellement dans la politique (…) est un Mystère, dont l’existence même est ignorée par l’homme éduqué moyen…
Tout ce qu’il suffit de dire, c’est que la grande artificialité de la politique, que dans ces pages j’ai tenté de décrire, est au moins égalée, sinon dépassée, par l’artificialité de l’économie. Cela est vrai de l’Angleterre tout autant que de l’Amérique, bien que les Etats-Unis soient maintenant le quartier-général de la finance mondiale. » 
Revenant en Angleterre, Lewis reçut une certaine reconnaissance « officielle » lorsqu’il fut chargé d’écrire deux drames pour la BBC et qu’il devint un chroniqueur régulier pour The Listener.
Un poème d’après-guerre, So the Man You Are [Voilà l’homme que tu es], continue sous une forme autobiographique à refléter certains des thèmes favoris de Lewis ; celui de l’individu créatif opposé à l’alliance du troupeau, de la « Haute Finance, et du Bolchevisme » :
L’homme que je suis pourrait vendre la sacrée mèche
Si on me donnait des tribunes ! A la racaille
On peut donner toutes les trompettes que l’on veut.
Mais pas à ceux qui ont une langue en or. Le rebord de la fenêtre
Est la seule chaire qu’ils peuvent espérer obtenir.
Quel vent un esprit honnête fait-il souffler ? Ne cherchez pas
Un vent de la faucille et du marteau, des cloches et du livre,
Ni le vent d’un parti quelconque, ou soufflant
Depuis une montagne quelconque pour nous parler
De la Haute Finance, ou depuis des contreforts du même genre.
L’homme que je suis ne joue pas le jeu ! 
Lewis avait le sentiment que « tout était en train de se dessécher » en Angleterre, que « l’extrémisme dévorait les arts et le pourrissement était général à tous les niveaux de la société ». Sur l’Angleterre d’après-guerre, il écrit : « C’est la capitale d’un empire mourant – ne s’écroulant pas dans les flammes et la fumée mais expirant d’une manière particulière et silencieuse ».
C’est l’Angleterre qu’il dépeint dans sa nouvelle de 1951, Rotting Hill (le nom donné par Ezra Pound à Notting Hill), où vivaient Lewis et sa femme. L’Etat Providence symbolise un mauvais standard d’utilité dans la recherche du bonheur universel. Dans l’Angleterre socialiste, tout devient de qualité inférieure, incluant les boutons de chemise qui ne correspondent pas aux boutonnières, les lacets de chaussures trop courts pour être noués, les ciseaux qui ne coupent pas, et du pain et de la confiture immangeables. Lewis tente de décrire pleinement la grisaille socialiste de la Grande-Bretagne des années 40.
A la différence des littéraires qui se révoltèrent contre la domination de la gauche dans les arts, Lewis finit par soutenir l’idéal d’une culture mondiale surveillée par un Etat mondial central, et d’une humanité qui deviendrait l’« Homme Cosmique », voyant les USA comme le prototype d’une future société mondiale que le reste du monde rejoindrait . Il écrivit sa dernière nouvelle The Red Priest [Le Prêtre Rouge] en 1956. Lewis mourut en 1957, salué par T. S. Eliot dans une nécrologie dans The Sunday Times : « Une grande intelligence a disparu ».
 Frederic Jameson, Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Fascist as Modernist (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), p. 1.
 Dans sa préface à l’édition de 1918 de Tarr, Lewis déplore que le nietzschéisme a « transformé en Surhomme chaque épicier vulgairement énergique en Europe ».
 William H. Pritchard, Wyndham Lewis (London: Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1972), p. 2.
 Wyndham Lewis, The Apes of God (Publisher? 1932).
 Bradford Morrow, “A History of an Unapologetic Apologia: Roy Campbell’s Wyndham Lewis,” Blast 3 (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1984), p. 11.
 Morrow, p. 11.
 E. W. F. Tomlin, “Wyndham Lewis: The Emancipator,” Blast 3, p. 109.
 Tomlin, p. 110.
 Tomlin, p. 110.
 William C. Wees, “Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism,” Blast 3, p. 47.
 Wees, p. 49.
 Blast 2 (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1981).
 Wees, p. 48.
 Wees, p. 49.
 T. E. Hulme, Speculations (1911), “Romanticism and Classicism” (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World Inc., 1936), p. 114.
 Wees, p. 49.
 Voir par exemple les idéogrammes chinois illustrant les concepts de confusion et d’ordre social dans le livre de Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini (New York: Liveright, 1970), chapitre XXIX : « Kung », qu’il identifie à l’ordre fasciste. Voir aussi les idéogrammes chinois utilisés dans les Cantos de Pound, LI et LIII.
 Wyndham Lewis, Rude Assignment: A narrative of my career up-to-date (London: Hutchinson, 1950), p. 129.
 Wyndham Lewis, Tarr (1918) (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1982), pp. 25–26.
 Le « Code d’un Berger » peut être trouvé (en anglais) sur : http://www.gingkopress.com/09-lit/code-of-herdsman.html
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin books, 1969), pp. 78–81.
 Roy Campbell, “Wyndham Lewis,” Blast 3, p. 15.
 Campbell, p. 23.
 Campbell, p. 16.
 Campbell, p. 18.
 Wyndham Lewis, The Art of Being Ruled (London: Chatto & Windus, 1926), p. 111.
 Oswald Mosley, My Life (London: Nelson, 1968), p. 225.
 Wyndham Lewis, “Left Wings,” British Union Quarterly, January–April, 1937, in Selections from BUF Quarterly (Marietta, Georgia: The Truth At Last, 1995), p. 137.
 “Left Wings,” British Union Quarterly, p. 137.
 K. R. Bolton, “November 1917: Wall Street & the November 1917 Bolshevik Revolution,” Ab Aeterno, No. 5, October–December 2010 (Academy of Social and Political Research).
 “Left Wings,”p. 137.
 Pourtant il rejetait le conseil insistant de Pound d’étudier le crédit social de C. H. Douglas, et parlait des « cinglés du crédit » – Lewis, The Hitler Cult (London: Dent, 1939), p. 26, apparemment sans proposer d’alternative pratique à ce qu’il appelait aussi les « Rois du Crédit » et les « Empereurs de la Dette » (Lewis, Doom of Youth [New York, 1932], p. 35).
 Doom of Youth, p. 35.
 Paradoxalement, Lewis, en dépit de son soutien à Hitler et à Mosley, n’avait jamais soutenu le fascisme italien, le considérant comme du « futurisme politique ». Bryant Knox, “Ezra Pound on Wyndham Lewis’s Rude Assignment,” Blast 3, p. 161.
 Lewis, Left Wings Over Europe (London: Jonathan Cape, 1936), p. 165.
 Lewis, Time and Western Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1927), p. 262.
 Spengler ne « dédaignait » pas les autres cultures ; il cherchait à décrire leur essence interne comme un observateur détaché.
 Time and Western Man, pp. 39–40.
 Time and Western Man, p. 42.
 Time and Western Man, pp. 51–52.
 Time and Western Man, p. 53.
 Time and Western Man, p. 53.
 Time and Western Man, p. 69.
 Wyndham Lewis, Men Without Art (London: Cassell, 1934), p. 263.
 Wyndham Lewis, Pale Face: The Philosophy of the Melting-Pot (London: Chatto and Windus, 1929), p. 82.
 Time and Western Man, p. 138.
 Lewis, America and Cosmic Man (New York: Country Life Press, 1949), p. 18.
 America and Cosmic Man, p. 27.
 America and Cosmic Man, pp. 30–31.
 America and Cosmic Man, pp. 158–59.
 Lewis, “If So the Man You Are,” 1948, The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1965), pp. 73–74.
 America and Cosmic Man, “Cosmic Society and Cosmic Man.”
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dimanche, 17 février 2013
Some Sort of Nietzschean
By Alex Kurtagić
Some Sort of Genius: A Life of Wyndham Lewis 
London: Pimlico, 2000
In his acknowledgment pages Paul O’Keefe states that it took him a decade—not including the years of research already donated to him by another writer—to complete his biography of Wyndham Lewis, a project he began in 1990 while he was president of the Wyndham Lewis Society. And this is apparent, for this volume, holding 700 pages of tightly packed print, offers an indefatigably detailed and masochistically researched account of the British modernist artist and author’s life.
Biographies differ in emphasis, depending on the author’s biases, and the tone here is set early in the first chapter, which consists of a detailed description of Lewis’ bisected brain—now preserved in the Pathology Museum of the Imperial College School of Medicine—and the progressive destruction (through compression of the adjacent structures) caused by the growth of its pituitary tumor, medically known as a chromophone adenoma. O’Keefe’s narration is temperate and balanced in the extreme, abstaining from either celebration or condemnation, or indeed evaluation, of his subject. Instead, we are presented with unvarnished facts and restrained descriptions of circumstances, and, where records have not survived or never existed and witness memories were unavailable, with the most disciplined of inference.
Initially, the effect of this cold detective approach is a certain literary anhedonia: the narrative barely raises the pulse, despite Lewis’ turbulent social life, truculence, and extraordinarily difficult personality. One feels that another author would have been able to produce much more dramatic prose with the same information.
All the same, O’Keefe’s biography is impressive, and after a somewhat laborious account of Lewis’ Bohemian early life and career—which, ironically, includes his most significant artistic period, coinciding with Cubism and Futurism, and now referred to as Vorticist—the pace picks up once we get to 1930, the year Apes of God (London: Arthur Press, 1930), Lewis’ savage satire of London’s literary scene and the Bloomsbury Group, was published. We learn, as we race through the decade, that Lewis would routinely ridicule his friends and patrons in his novels, where they would appear thinly disguised under a pseudonym. Few were spared, which led to many a falling out, libel writs, and loss of patronage. This, plus Lewis’ quarrelsome, irascible, ultra-individualistic, cruel, secretive, litigious, and somewhat paranoid personality, kept him always on the verge of bankruptcy, despite his tremendous creative energy and productivity. Indeed, when a group of friends decided to contribute monthly to a fund so that Lewis could work without financial worries—for he was always in arrears and in debt—he very quickly and rudely alienated his benefactors. This was probably because he resented being beholden to anyone. Any well-meaning gesture was an affront.
The book is hard to put down as we pass through the 1940s. From the late 1930s, when Lewis travelled to North America, where he alternated between Canada and the United States and where he remained until after the end of the war. There we are taken to what was probably the most bitter and penurious period in his life. By this time he had difficulties finding a publisher, having become notorious for attracting libel suits, locking horns with his earlier publishers, and not delivering manuscripts for which he had been paid an advance. In the United States his books were deemed by some not the most marketable. Commissions for portraits and other art, which he desperately needed and assiduously sought, were scarce and not proof against upsetting his patrons. They were also not terribly popular—in 1938 his portrait of T. S. Eliot had been rejected by the Royal Academy . And speaking engagements, greatly facilitated by the publicity efforts of friend and future media guru Marshall McLuhan, proved insufficient and disappointing financially—Lewis was no Jonathan Bowden, in any event. Thus, he and his wife survived in cheap hotels and grim rented accommodation only a dollar, sometimes a few cents, away from eviction until 1945.
Lewis’ situation improved marginally thereafter, though by this time his eyesight was in steep decline, owing to his as-yet-undiagnosed pituitary tumor compressing his optic nerve. His 1949 portrait of T. S. Eliot would be his last painting. All the same, Lewis marched on, continuing to author substantial and difficult books—including the last two volumes of his Human Age trilogy, the first of which had been published many years earlier—even after he went blind in 1951. In his final years, Lewis benefited from the radio dramatisation of his trilogy and from his Civil List Pension, which, though exiguous, provided him with a bare minimum of security.
O’Keefe’s narration continues through to a search of Lewis’ condemned flat soon after his death and to his final resting place inside a niche in a wall at Golder’s Green Crematorium.
Despite its comprehensiveness in all that pertains to Lewis, O’Keefe’s biography has two major deficiencies, which stem from the fact that all we learn is tightly circumscribed to the facts and events relating to Lewis and his immediate social periphery. Firstly, aside from a few clinical descriptions, we learn very little about Lewis’ art and writing, or their cultural significance. By the time he finally receives a modicum of institutional honors and recognition, it comes almost unexpectedly; it is as if there had been a sudden sea change and the invisible powers who had previously been critical, suspicious, or unimpressed suddenly decided to relent. Secondly, there is virtually no wider historical, cultural, or sociological context, leaving Lewis’ life and work somewhat abstracted; the points of reference appear shadowy, remote, and somewhat peremptory. One can go too far in the opposite direction, of course, which would detract from a work that aims to be objective, devoid of opinion and coloration, or about an individual as opposed to his times, but it seems O’Keefe was a little too careful to avoid this.
We do obtain some perspective through Lewis’ relations with (and on occasion anecdotes involving some of) the various and now illustrious members of Lewis’ circle—which included Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and W. B. Yeats—but this perspective remains somewhat shallow, and the individuals concerned remain somewhat distant. This may well be because Lewis was a study in detachment; we learn that for him friends were there to be used, and were friends only in so much as they were useful. Bowden described him  as “a bit of a rogue” and “a rascal,” and one can see why.
Having said that, in this biography Lewis does not come across as the iron-hard Right-winger that Bowden made him out to be. It is admitted that Lewis wrote a book called Hitler (London: Chatto and Windus, 1931), but he wrote it hastily and it seems he later regretted it, writing The Hitler Cult and How It Will End (London: J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1939) and The Jews: Are They Human? (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1939), the latter of which is an attack against anti-Semitism. (O’Keefe also documents the frustration with Lewis of German National Socialists visiting the United Kingdom in the early 1930s in the face of the British author’s refusal to identify Communists as Jews—although this may have been recalcitrant individualism on the part of Lewis, for an anecdote a few hundred pages later on in the biography suggests he was aware of the “Jewish question,” a state not necessarily incompatible with dismissing anti-Semitism as “a racial red-herring.”)
It is admitted that Lewis met William Joyce and Oswald Mosley (O’Keefe, p. 370), but any relations in this biography appear vague and non-committal, his article in the British Union Quarterly notwithstanding. It is admitted also that, he wrote two other books (Left Wings Over Europe [London: Jonathan Cape, 1936] and Count Your Dead: They Are Alive! [London: Lovat Dickson, 1937]) which have been interpreted as in support for Mussolini and Franco respectively, but they are anti-war tracts. Later, Lewis would write Anglo-Saxony: A League that Works (Toronto: Ryerson, 1941), which is pro-democracy, and America and Cosmic Man (New York: Doubleday Company, 1949), where he pledges allegiance to a cosmic or cosmopolitan utopianism (Cosmic Man, p. 238).
Lewis’ politics were complex. Not Red, certainly, but not pure Black either. Now, Bowden, who knew O’Keefe for a time, described the latter as a liberal, and told in his 2006 talk about Lewis how, while being a member of the Wyndham Lewis Society, he told those present at an AGM that the society was “based on a lie”—proceeding then to accuse its members of revisionism, timidity, and denial. It may be that Bowden saw in Lewis want he wanted to see, or that his interpretation of Lewis as a Nietzschean metapolitical fascist owed to Bowden’s approaching his subject as a Nietzschean and a Stirnerite. Or that he focused only on the parts of Lewis that interested him, obviously the inter-war and then the late period.
In O’Keefe’s biography, certainly, Nietzsche does not figure in relation to Lewis. This is not to say, however, that Lewis was not a Nietzschean force or cannot be seen as such: aside from what can be gleaned from his prose or the conceptual elitism of his 1917 manifesto (“The Code of a Herdsman”), Lewis was certainly always against, always difficult and “rebarbative,” and always—despite his navigating a fairly wide circle of leading modernist artists and literati, alone against all, unabated by poverty and refusing to throw in the towel even after he went blind.
The reason for the above remarks is that I read this book as background research for a biography of Jonathan Bowden. Bowden mentioned Lewis frequently in his early writing, and among his effects after his death several books by Lewis were found, including Childermass (London: Chatto and Windus, 1928), The Revenge of Love (London: Cassell and Co. 1937), Self Condemned (London: Methuen Press, 1954), Apes of God, Snooty Baronet (London: Cassell and Co., 1932), Tarr (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1918; London: Chatto and Windus, 1928), and The Demon of Progress in the Arts (London: Methuen Press, 1954).
From the present biography of Lewis one can easily see the reasons why Bowden could have conceivably either identified with or seen something of himself in Lewis. Both lost a parent in early life. Both were prolific painters and writers, both of an experimental sort, though Bowden more than Lewis. Both identified with the politics of the Right, while also being aggressively individualistic, though, again, Bowden more than Lewis. Both were unafraid of—and indeed enjoyed—including friends and acquaintances in their prose, where these victims of cruel and often libellous psychoanalysis appeared quasi-cartoonified and only thinly disguised under pseudonyms. Both moved frequently during early adulthood and later lived closed off, hidden away at a recondite and obscure address. Both were secretive in their personal lives, which they strictly compartmentalized—in Lewis’ case, many of his friends were unaware of the fact that he had a wife and several children (by previous lovers) until Lewis was in late middle age; initially, he never mentioned her, few ever saw her, and no one was ever given access to the flat hidden behind a door below his studio, where she lived with him, until many years later. Both found wealth elusive, and were mostly interested in recognition. And there are other parallels. On the whole, however, Bowden was more consistent philosophically, harder politically, and a more extreme artist and writer.
Irrespective of your thoughts on modernism in general, Wyndham Lewis is sufficiently interesting on his own for this major biography to be educational and entertaining, though I suspect it will be those familiar with Jonathan Bowden’s oratory who will get the greater profit.
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lundi, 21 janvier 2013
Classical Modernism & the Art of the Radical Right
By Jonathan Bowden
Edited by Alex Kurtagić
The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Bowden’s Heat. He wrote the text aged 30, between July and September 1992. The text is reproduced as it appears, only lightly edited for spelling and punctuation.
. . . this brings a particular dilemma to the surface, namely the division between political and literary extremism. This is the division or discrepancy, if one exists, between the expectation, thought, and expression of a particular desire and its political realization. Indeed, Stephen Spender was quick to point out in his introduction to Alistair Hamilton’s book The Appeal of Fascism: Fascism and the Intellectuals , that a large amount of guilt underlay the Leftist response to fascism in the thirties—namely, his own flirtation with communism, among others, could be explained by the proximity he saw between intellectual gestures and the irrationalism of the radical Right.
In a sense Spender had recognized that an enormous amount of anti-bourgeois emotion and Romantic conceit—the entire sweep of Romanticism, Symbolism, and the Decadence—had at root “fascistic” emotions. This was a somewhat sweeping statement, it had to be admitted, but it was not completely inaccurate. For as with the Symbolist and decadent liberal anarchist Octave Mirbeau and his Garden of Supplicants, a large amount of Romantic rhetoric was bourgeois anti-bourgeois. In other words, it was so radical it soon began to take leave of the class, namely the middle class, which had given it birth. It was Spender’s understanding (in a rudimentary way) of the thesis which George Lukács would later put in a more forceful manner (namely, in The Destruction of Reason) that turned this poet into a pansy-Bolshevik; a pink shade of red—a member of the Homintern. Yet Spender grasped a fundamental point, which is often overlooked, and this has to do with the educated antecedents of classical fascism. It is as if—at least at one level of consciousness—all work of a Romantic, pre-modern, anti-modern, illiberal, and anti-Victorian guise presaged a classical vision of the Right. It even penetrated into the early stages of modernism—where an attempt was made to clear away the “decadent” effluvium of High Romanticism with some sharp-edged early modernism, if not neo-classicism in modern guise. Hence, the fact that Lewis, Pound, Eliot, and Hulme were “soured” Romantics; cynical post-Romantics, if you will. Men who viewed Romanticism with a certain leavened sardonicism. It was a bitter and twisted form of modernism which looked to the past as it demolished it and to the future as it remonstrated with it on behalf of forms of the past. As a result, classical early modernism had two conflict strands within it. One of these went forward into an analysis of pure form—the architecture of formal misstatement—where all that matters is the consideration of a particular type of form; a formalist criteria, a logarithmic exercise in relation to the possibility of taste—whereby modern art produced through Surrealism and its aborted pre-birth/after-birth (Dadaism) to a consideration of color, tactility, and the instrumental nature of a form of vision. When there was nothing left to say—when art had been neutered by the nature of the photographic image, on the one hand, and the impossibility of expressing meaningful statement in a “bourgeois world,” on the other. (The latter in accordance with a particular type of minimalist Marxist aesthetic; the sort of thing which was an Adornoesque parody of itself.) While another tendency in modernism has yet to be explored and this is the proto-classicism which led early modernists to experiment with the possibility of a return to classical simplicity by virtue of a modernist aesthetic. This was why a large number of early modernists, like Epstein and Gaudier-Brzeska (whose work outraged traditionalists), were so interested in the purity of classical form—its aesthetic simplicity and proportion. Likewise, modern classicists, of a highly modernist and individualist character, like Maurras and T. E. Hulme, preached a new form of art which was spare, linear, rectangular, and masculine. In some respects, this predisposition teetered on the edge of two conflicting cultural vistas. On the one hand, it wished to go back even to before Romanticism, on the other, it wanted to recreate everything again in a way which had never been done before.
As can be seen from the projected career of various modernists, the modern aesthetic could only go so far, in that a large number would fall away before the vista of total modernity. This is in relation to a pitiful summation of complete modernism which entered into a form of reiterated stylization; sheer form in the pursuit of its absence, the formlessness of an aesthetic concerned with nothing but the possibility of misstatement. Hence, the fact that Lewis, Dalí, Marinetti, de Chirico, Roberts, Gaudier-Brzeska, and many more, gradually fell away from modernism—Dalí towards a symbolic, classical, neo-Romantic form of iconography, namely religious painting, and Lewis towards modernist figuration, expressive linearity, anti-abstraction, and blindness. Also, the latter was to repudiate a form of aesthetic futility, the abandoned purpose of nihilistic modernism—i.e., the sheer purposelessness of empty abstraction; the pursuit of a type of form which had nothing to communicate—in his book that was also a form of recantation, namely The Demon of Progress in the Arts .
So we can say that there was a form of arrested classicism within early modernism which later came to reject it. This type of art either put modernism at the service of a neo-classical state, i.e., futurism in Fascist Italy, or it embraced fully-fledged traditional neo-classicism à la Arno Breker and the return to a naturalist form of neo-Grecian art. This was a type of counter-revolution in relation to modernism; a reformatory form of counter-reformation—a type of European modernity that was anti-modernist, a modern form of non-formalist criteria, neither academic nor anti-academic. It was a form of anti-formalist, anti-Bolshevik revolutionary tradition in relation to artistic procedure. What became known—somewhat crassly—as “Nazi art.”
Indeed, it is interesting to note that after the war, after defeat, these various strands came together again, if only in the form of friendship between the various protagonists—namely, the practitioners of a form of pre-to-early modernism that had a classical bias and straightforward neo-classicists who were the radical and talented vanguard of a type of artistic traditionalism; revolutionary artistic traditionalism nonetheless. The people concerned were Breker, Dalí, Fuchs, Pound, Cocteau, Hauptmann, Céline, members of the Wagner family, Speer (if only retrospectively), and the gradual reconsideration of Vorticism and Futurism—as the political passions which had led to opposition against them began to fall away.
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dimanche, 02 décembre 2012
Eliot, Pound, and Lewis: A Creative Friendship
It may be a source of some pride to those of us fated to live out our lives as Americans that the three men who probably had the greatest influence on English literature in our century were all born on this side of the Atlantic. One of them, Wyndham Lewis, to be sure, was born on a yacht anchored in a harbor in Nova Scotia, but his father was an American, served as an officer in the Union Army in the Civil War, and came from a family that has been established here for many generations. The other two were as American in background and education as it is possible to be. Our pride at having produced men of such high achievement should be considered against the fact that all three spent their creative lives in Europe. For Wyndham Lewis the decision was made for him by his mother, who hustled him off to Europe at the age of ten, but he chose to remain in Europe, and to study in Paris rather than to accept the invitation of his father to go to Cornell, and except for an enforced stay in Canada during World War II, spent his life in Europe. The other two, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, went to Europe as young men out of college, and it was a part of European, not American, cultural life that they made their contribution to literature. Lewis was a European in training, attitude and point of view, but Pound and Eliot were Americans, and Pound, particularly, remained aggressively American; whether living in London or Italy his interest in American affairs never waned.
The lives and achievements of these three men were closely connected. They met as young men, each was influenced and helped by the other two, and they remained friends, in spite of occasional differences, for the rest of their lives. Many will remember the picture in Time of Pound as a very old man attending the memorial service in Westminster Abbey in 1965 for T.S. Eliot. When Lewis, who had gone blind, was unable to read the proofs of his latest book, it was his old friend, T.S. Eliot who did it for him, and when Pound was confined in St. Elizabeth’s in Washington, Eliot and Lewis always kept in close touch with him, and it was at least partly through Eliot’s influence that he was finally released. The lives and association of these three men, whose careers started almost at the same time shortly before World War I are an integral part of the literary and cultural history of this century.
The careers of all three may be said, in a certain way, to have been launched by the publication of Lewis’ magazine Blast. Both Lewis and Pound had been published before and had made something of a name for themselves in artistic and literary circles in London, but it was the publication in June, 1914, of the first issue of Blast that put them, so to speak, in the center of the stage. The first Blast contained 160 pages of text, was well printed on heavy paper, its format large, the typography extravagant, and its cover purple. It contained illustrations, many by Lewis, stories by Rebecca West and Ford Maddox Ford, poetry by Pound and others, but it is chiefly remembered for its “Blasts” and “Blesses” and its manifestos. It was in this first issue of Blast that “vorticism,” the new art form, was announced, the name having been invented by Pound. Vorticism was supposed to express the idea that art should represent the present, at rest, and at the greatest concentration of energy, between past and future. “There is no Present – there is Past and Future, and there is Art,” was a vorticist slogan. English humour and its “first cousin and accomplice, sport” were blasted, as were “sentimental hygienics,” Victorian liberalism, the Royal Academy, the Britannic aesthete; Blesses were reserved for the seafarer, the great ports, for Shakespeare “for his bitter Northern rhetoric of humour” and Swift “for his solemn, bleak wisdom of laughter”; a special bless, as if in anticipation of our hairy age, was granted the hairdresser. Its purpose, Lewis wrote many years later, was to exalt “formality and order, at the expense of the disorderly and the unkempt. It is merely a humorous way,” he went on to say, “of stating the classic standpoint as against the romantic.”
The second, and last, issue of Blast appeared in July, 1915, by which time Lewis was serving in the British army. This issue again contained essays, notes and editorial comments by Lewis and poetry by Pound, but displayed little of the youthful exuberance of the first – the editors and contributors were too much aware of the suicidal bloodletting taking place in the trenches of Flanders and France for that. The second issue, for example, contained, as did the first, a contribution by the gifted young sculptor Gaudier-Brzeska, together with the announcement that he had been killed while serving in the French army.
Between the two issues of Blast, Eliot had arrived in London via Marburg and Oxford, where he had been studying for a degree in philosophy. He met Pound soon after his arrival, and through Pound, Wyndham Lewis. Eliot’s meeting of Pound, who promptly took him under his wing, had two immediate consequences – the publication in Chicago of Prufrock in Harriet Monroe’s Poetry magazine, and the appearance of two other poems a month or two later in Blast. The two issues of Blast established Lewis as a major figure: as a brilliant polemicist and a critic of the basic assumptions and intellectual position of his time, two roles he was never to surrender. Pound had played an important role in Blast, but Lewis was the moving force. Eliot’s role as a contributor of two poems to the second issue was relatively minor, but the enterprise brought them together, and established an association and identified them with a position in the intellectual life of their time which was undoubtedly an important factor in the development and achievement of all three.
Lewis was born in 1882 on a yacht, as was mentioned before, off the coast of Nova Scotia. Pound was born in 1885 in Hailey, Idaho, and Eliot in 1888 in St. Louis. Lewis was brought up in England by his mother, who had separated from his father, was sent to various schools, the last one Rugby, from which he was dropped, spent several years at an art school in London, the Slade, and then went to the continent, spending most of the time in Paris where he studied art, philosophy under Bergson and others, talked, painted and wrote. He returned to England to stay in 1909. It was in the following year that he first met Ezra Pound, in the Vienna Cafe in London. Pound, he wrote many years later, didn’t greatly appeal to him at first – he seemed overly sure of himself and not a little presumptuous. His first impression, he said, was of “a bombastic galleon, palpably bound to or from, the Spanish Main,” but, he discovered, “beneath its skull and cross-bones, intertwined with fleur de lis and spattered with star-spangled oddities, a heart of gold.” As Lewis became better acquainted with Pound he found, as he wrote many years later, that “this theatrical fellow was one of the best.” And he went on to say, “I still regard him as one of the best, even one of the best poets.”
By the time of this meeting, Lewis was making a name for himself, not only as a writer, but also an artist. He had exhibited in London with some success, and shortly before his meeting with Pound, Ford Maddox Ford had accepted a group of stories for publication in the English Review, stories he had written while still in France in which some of the ideas appeared which he was to develop in the more than forty books that were to follow.
But how did Ezra Pound, this young American poet who was born in Hailey, Idaho, and looked, according to Lewis, like an “acclimatized Buffalo Bill,” happen to be in the Vienna Cafe in London in 1910, and what was he doing there? The influence of Idaho, it must be said at once, was slight, since Pound’s family had taken him at an early age to Philadelphia, where his father was employed as an assayer in the U.S. mint. The family lived first in West Philadelphia, then in Jenkintown, and when Ezra was about six bought a comfortable house in Wyncote, where he grew up. He received good training in private schools, and a considerable proficiency in Latin, which enabled him to enter the University of Pennsylvania shortly before reaching the age of sixteen. It was at this time, he was to write some twenty years later, that he made up his mind to become a poet. He decided at that early age that by the time he was thirty he would know more about poetry than any man living. The poetic “impulse”, he said, came from the gods, but technique was man’s responsibility, and he was determined to master it. After two years at Pennsylvania, he transferred to Hamilton, from which he graduated with a Ph.B. two years later. His college years, in spite of his assertions to the contrary, must have been stimulating and developing – he received excellent training in languages, read widely and well, made some friends, including William Carlos Williams, and wrote poetry. After Hamilton he went back to Pennsylvania to do graduate work, where he studied Spanish literature, Old French, Provencal, and Italian. He was granted an M.A. by Pennsylvania in 1906 and a Fellowship in Romantics, which gave him enough money for a summer in Europe, part of which he spent studying in the British museum and part in Spain. The Prado made an especially strong impression on him – thirty years later he could still describe the pictures in the main gallery and recall the exact order in which they were hung. He left the University of Pennsylvania in 1907, gave up the idea of a doctorate, and after one semester teaching at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, went to Europe, to return to his native land only for longer or shorter visits, except for the thirteen years he was confined in St. Elizabeth’s in Washington.
Pound’s short stay at Wabash College was something of a disaster – he found Crawfordsville, Indiana, confining and dull, and Crawfordsville, in 1907, found it difficult to adjust itself to a Professor of Romance Languages who wore a black velvet jacket, a soft-collared shirt, flowing bow tie, patent leather pumps, carried a malacca cane, and drank rum in his tea. The crisis came when he allowed a stranded chorus girl he had found in a snow storm to sleep in his room. It was all quite innocent, he insisted, but Wabash didn’t care for his “bohemian ways,” as the President put it, and was glad for the excuse to be rid of him. He wrote some good poetry while at Wabash and made some friends, but was not sorry to leave, and was soon on his way to Europe, arriving in Venice, which he had visited before, with just eighty dollars.
While in Venice he arranged to have a group of his poems printed under the title A Lume Spento. This was in his preparation for his assault on London, since he believed, quite correctly, that a poet would make more of an impression with a printed book of his poetry under his arm than some pages of an unpublished manuscript. He stayed long enough in Venice to recover from the disaster of Wabash and to gather strength and inspiration for the next step, London, where he arrived with nothing more than confidence in himself, three pounds, and the copies of his book of poems. He soon arranged to give a series of lectures at the Polytechnic on the Literature of Southern Europe, which gave him a little money, and to have the Evening Standard review his book of poetry, the review ending with the sentence, “The unseizable magic of poetry is in this queer paper volume, and words are no good in describing it.” He managed to induce Elkin Mathews to publish another small collection, the first printing of which was one hundred copies and soon sold out, then a larger collection, Personae, the Polytechnic engaged him for a more ambitious series of lectures, and he began to meet people in literary circles, including T.E. Hulme, John Butler Yeats, and Ford Maddox Ford, who published his “Ballad of the Goodley Fere” in the English Review. His book on medieval Latin poetry, The Spirit of Romance, which is still in print, was published by Dent in 1910. The Introduction to this book contains the characteristic line, “The history of an art is the history of masterworks, not of failures or of mediocrity.” By the time the first meeting with Wyndham Lewis took place in the Vienna Cafe, then, which was only two years after Pound’s rather inauspicious arrival in London, he was, at the age of 26, known to some as a poet and had become a man of some standing.
It was Pound, the discoverer of talent, the literary impresario, as I have said, who brought Eliot and Lewis together. Eliot’s path to London was as circuitous as Pound’s, but, as one might expect, less dramatic. Instead of Crawfordsville, Indiana, Eliot had spent a year at the Sorbonne after a year of graduate work at Harvard, and was studying philosophy at the University of Marburg with the intention of obtaining a Harvard Ph.D. and becoming a professor, as one of his teachers at Harvard, Josiah Royce, had encouraged him to do, but the war intervened, and he went to Oxford. Conrad Aiken, one of his closest friends at Harvard, had tried earlier, unsuccessfully, to place several of Eliot’s poems with an English publisher, had met Pound, and had given Eliot a latter of introduction to him. The result of that first meeting with Pound are well known – Pound wrote instantly to Harriet Monroe in Chicago, for whose new magazine, Poetry, he had more or less been made European editor, as follows: “An American called Eliot called this P.M. I think he has some sense tho’ he has not yet sent me any verse.” A few weeks later Eliot, while still at Oxford, sent him the manuscript of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Pound was ecstatic, and immediately transmitted his enthusiasm to Miss Monroe. It was he said, “the best poem I have yet had or seen from an American. Pray God it be not a single and unique success.” Eliot, Pound went on to say, was “the only American I know of who has made an adequate preparation for writing. He has actually trained himself and modernized himself on his own.” Pound sent Prufrock to Miss Monroe in October, 1914, with the words, “The most interesting contribution I’ve had from an American. P.S. Hope you’ll get it in soon.” Miss Monroe had her own ideas – Prufrock was not the sort of poetry she thought young Americans should be writing; she much preferred Vachel Lindsey, whose The Firemen’s Ball she had published in the June issue. Pound, however, was not to be put off; letter followed importuning letter, until she finally surrendered and in the June, 1915, issue of Poetry, now a collector’s item of considerable value, the poem appeared which begins:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table …
It was not, needless to say, to be the “single and unique success” Pound had feared, but the beginning of one of the great literary careers of this century. The following month the two poems appeared in Blast. Eliot had written little or nothing for almost three years. The warm approval and stimulation of Pound plus, no doubt, the prospect of publication, encouraged him to go on. In October Poetry published three more new poems, and later in the year Pound arranged to have Elkin Matthews, who had published his two books of poetry to bring out a collection which he edited and called The Catholic Anthology which contained the poems that had appeared in Poetry and one of the two from Blast. The principal reason for the whole anthology, Pound remarked, “was to get sixteen pages of Eliot printed in England.”
If all had gone according to plan and his family’s wishes, Eliot would have returned to Harvard, obtained his Ph.D., and become a professor. He did finish his thesis – “To please his parents,” according to his second wife, Valerie Eliot, but dreaded the prospect of a return to Harvard. It didn’t require much encouragement from Pound, therefore, to induce him to stay in England – it was Pound, according to his biographer Noel Stock “who saved Eliot for poetry.” Eliot left Oxford at the end of the term in June, 1915, having in the meantime married Vivien Haigh-Wood. That Fall he took a job as a teacher in a boy’s school at a salary of £140 a year, with dinner. He supplemented his salary by book reviewing and occasional lectures, but it was an unproductive, difficult period for him, his financial problems increased by the illness of his wife. After two years of teaching he took a position in a branch of Lloyd’s bank in London, hoping that this would give him sufficient income to live on, some leisure for poetry, and a pension for his wife should she outlive him. Pound at this period fared better than Eliot – he wrote music criticism for a magazine, had some income from other writing and editorial projects, which was supplemented by the small income of his wife, Dorothy Shakespear and occasional checks from his father. He also enjoyed a more robust constitution that Eliot, who eventually broke down under the strain and was forced, in 1921, to take a rest cure in Switzerland. It was during this three-month stay in Switzerland that he finished the first draft of The Waste Land, which he immediately brought to Pound. Two years before, Pound had taken Eliot on a walking tour in France to restore his health, and besides getting Eliot published, was trying to raise a fund to give him a regular source of income, a project he called “Bel Esprit.” In a latter to John Quinn, the New York lawyer who used his money, perceptive critical judgment and influence to help writers and artists, Pound, referring to Eliot, wrote, “It is a crime against literature to let him waste eight hours vitality per diem in that bank.” Quinn agreed to subscribe to the fund, but it became a source of embarrassment to Eliot who put a stop to it.
The Waste Land marked the high point of Eliot’s literary collaboration with Pound. By the time Eliot had brought him the first draft of the poem, Pound was living in Paris, having left London, he said, because “the decay of the British Empire was too depressing a spectacle to witness at close range.” Pound made numerous suggestions for changes, consisting largely of cuts and rearrangements. In a latter to Eliot explaining one deletion he wrote, “That is 19 pages, and let us say the longest poem in the English langwidge. Don’t try to bust all records by prolonging it three pages further.” A recent critic described the processes as one of pulling “a masterpiece out of a grabbag of brilliant material”; Pound himself described his participation as a “Caesarian operation.” However described, Eliot was profoundly grateful, and made no secret of Pound’s help. In his characteristically generous way, Eliot gave the original manuscript to Quinn, both as a token for the encouragement Quinn had given to him, and for the further reason, as he put it in a letter to Quinn, “that this manuscript is worth preserving in its present form solely for the reason that it is the only evidence of the difference which his [Pound’s] criticism has made to the poem.” For years the manuscript was thought to have been lost, but it was recently found among Quinn’s papers which the New York Public Library acquired some years after his death, and now available in a facsimile edition.
The first publication of The Waste Land was in the first issue of Eliot’s magazine Criterion, October, 1922. The following month it appeared in New York in The Dial. Quinn arranged for its publication in book form by Boni and Liveright, who brought it out in November. The first printing of one thousand was soon sold out, and Eliot was given the Dial award of the two thousand dollars. Many were puzzled by The Waste Land, one reviewer even thought that Mr. Eliot might be putting over a hoax, but Pound was not alone in recognizing that in his ability to capture the essence of the human condition in the circumstances of the time, Eliot had shown himself, in The Waste Land, to be a poet. To say that the poem is merely a reflection of Eliot’s unhappy first marriage, his financial worries and nervous breakdown is far too superficial. The poem is a reflection, not of Eliot, but of the aimlessness, disjointedness, sordidness of contemporary life. In itself, it is in no way sick or decadent; it is a wonderfully evocative picture of the situation of man in the world as it is. Another poet, Kathleen Raine, writing many years after the first publication of The Waste Land on the meaning of Eliot’s early poetry to her generation, said it
…enabled us to know our generation imaginatively. All those who have lived in the Waste Land of London can, I suppose, remember the particular occasion on which, reading T.S. Eliot’s poems for the first time, an experience of the contemporary world that had been nameless and formless received its apotheosis.
Eliot sent one of the first copies he received of the Boni and Liveright edition to Ezra Pound with the inscription “for E.P. miglior fabbro from T.S.E. Jan. 1923.” His first volume of collected poetry was dedicated to Pound with the same inscription, which came from Dante and means, “the better marker.” Explaining this dedication Eliot wrote in 1938:
I wished at that moment to honour the technical mastery and critical ability manifest in [Pound’s] . . . work, which had also done so much to turn The Waste Land from a jumble of good and bad passages into a poem.
Pound and Eliot remained in touch with each other – Pound contributed frequently to the Criterion, and Eliot, through his position at Faber and Faber, saw many of Pounds’ books through publication and himself selected and edited a collection of Pound’s poetry, but there was never again that close collaboration which had characterized their association from their first meeting in London in 1914 to the publication of The Waste Land in the form given it by Pound in 1922.
As has already been mentioned, Pound left London in 1920 to go to Paris, where he stayed on until about 1924 – long enough for him to meet many people and for the force of his personality to make itself felt. He and his wife were frequent visitors to the famous bookshop, Shakespeare and Co. run by the young American Sylvia Beach, where Pound, among other things, made shelves, mended chairs, etc.; he also was active gathering subscriptions for James Joyces’ Ulysses when Miss Beach took over its publication. The following description by Wyndham Lewis of an encounter with Pound during the latter’s Paris days is worth repeating. Getting no answer after ringing the bell of Pound’s flat, Lewis walked in and discovered the following scene:
A splendidly built young man, stripped to the waist, and with a torso of dazzling white, was standing not far from me. He was tall, handsome and serene, and was repelling with his boxing gloves – I thought without undue exertion – a hectic assault of Ezra’s. After a final swing at the dazzling solar plexus (parried effortlessly by the trousered statue) Pound fell back upon the settee. The young man was Hemingway.
Pound, as is well known, took Hemingway in hand, went over his manuscripts, cut out superfluous words as was custom, and helped him find a publisher, a service he had performed while still in London for another young American, Robert Frost. In a letter to Pound, written in 1933, Hemingway acknowledged the help Pound had given him by saying that he had learned more about “how to write and how not to write” from him “than from any son of a bitch alive, and he always said so.”
When we last saw Lewis, except for his brief encounter with Pound and Hemingway wearing boxing gloves, he had just brought out the second issues of Blast and gone off to the war to end all war. He served for a time at the front in an artillery unit, and was then transferred to a group of artists who were supposed to devote their time to painting and drawing “the scene of war,” as Lewis put it, a scheme which had been devised by Lord Beaverbrook, through whose intervention Lewis received the assignment. He hurriedly finished a novel, Tarr, which was published during the war, largely as a result of Pound’s intervention, in Harriet Shaw Weaver’s magazine The Egoist, and in book form after the war had ended. It attracted wide attention; Rebecca West, for example, called it “A beautiful and serious work of art that reminds one of Dostoevsky.” By the early twenties, Lewis, as the editor of Blast, the author of Tarr and a recognized artist was an established personality, but he was not then, and never became a part of the literary and artistic establishment, nor did he wish to be.
For the first four years following his return from the war and recovery from a serious illness that followed it little was heard from Lewis. He did bring out two issues of a new magazine, The Tyro, which contained contributions from T.S. Eliot, Herbert Read and himself, and contributed occasionally to the Criterion, but it was a period, for him, of semi-retirement from the scene of battle, which he devoted to perfecting his style as a painter and to study. It was followed by a torrent of creative activity – two important books on politics, The Art of Being Ruled (1926) and The Lion and the Fox (1927), a major philosophical work, Time and Western Man (1927), followed by a collection of stories, The Wild Body (1927) and the first part of a long novel, Childermass (1928). In 1928, he brought out a completely revised edition of his wartime novel Tarr, and if all this were not enough, he contributed occasionally to the Criterion, engaged in numerous controversies, painted and drew. In 1927 he founded another magazine, The Enemy, of which only three issues appeared, the last in 1929. Lewis, of course, was “the Enemy.” He wrote in the first issue:
The names we remember in European literature are those of men who satirised and attacked, rather than petted and fawned upon, their contemporaries. Only this time exacts an uncritical hypnotic sleep of all within it.
One of Lewis’ best and most characteristic books is Time and Western Man; it is in this book that he declared war, so to speak, on what he considered the dominant intellectual position of the twentieth century – the philosophy of time, the school of philosophy, as he described it, for which “time and change are the ultimate realities.” It is the position which regards everything as relative, all reality a function of time. “The Darwinian theory and all the background of nineteenth century thought was already behind it,” Lewis wrote, and further “scientific” confirmation was provided by Einstein’s theory of relativity. It is a position, in Lewis’ opinion, which is essentially romantic, “with all that word conveys in its most florid, unreal, inflated, self-deceiving connotation.”
The ultimate consequence of the time philosophy, Lewis argued, is the degradation of man. With its emphasis on change, man, the man of the present, living man for the philosophy of time ends up as little more than a minute link in the endless process of progressive evolution –lies not in what he is, but in what he as a species, not an individual, may become. As Lewis put it:
You, in imagination, are already cancelled by those who will perfect you in the mechanical time-scale that stretches out, always ascending, before us. What do you do and how you live has no worth in itself. You are an inferior, fatally, to all the future.
Against this rather depressing point of view, which deprives man of all individual worth, Lewis offers the sense of personality, “the most vivid and fundamental sense we possess,” as he describes it. It is this sense that makes man unique; it alone makes creative achievement possible. But the sense of personality, Lewis points out, is essentially one of separation, and to maintain such separation from others requires, he believes, a personal God. As he expressed it: “In our approaches to God, in consequence, we do not need to “magnify” a human body, but only to intensify that consciousness of a separated and transcendent life. So God becomes the supreme symbol of our separation and our limited transcendence….It is, then, because the sense of personality is posited as our greatest “real”, that we require a “God”, a something that is nothing but a person, secure in its absolute egoism, to be the rationale of this sense.”
It is exactly “our separation and our limited transcendence” that the time philosophy denies us; its God is not, in Lewis’ words “a perfection already existing, eternally there, of which we are humble shadows,” but a constantly emerging God, the perfection toward which man is thought to be constantly striving. Appealing as such a conception may on its surface appear to be, this God we supposedly attain by our strenuous efforts turns out to be a mocking God; “brought out into the daylight,” Lewis said, “it would no longer be anything more than a somewhat less idiotic you.”
In Time and Western Man Lewis publicly disassociated himself from Pound, Lewis having gained the erroneous impression, apparently, that Pound had become involved in a literary project of some kind with Gertrude Stein, whom Lewis hated with all the considerable passion of which he was capable. To Lewis, Gertrude Stein, with her “stuttering style” as he called it, was the epitomy of “time philosophy” in action. The following is quoted by Lewis is in another of his books, The Diabolical Principle, and comes from a magazine published in Paris in 1925 by the group around Gertrude Stein; it is quoted here to give the reader some idea of the reasons for Lewis’ strong feelings on the subject of Miss Stein:
If we have a warm feeling for both (the Superrealists) and the Communists, it is because the movements which they represent are aimed at the destruction of a thoroughly rotten structure … We are entertained intellectually, if not physically, with the idea of (the) destruction (of contemporary society). But … our interests are confined to literature and life … It is our purpose purely and simply to amuse ourselves.
The thought that Pound would have associated himself with a group expounding ideas on this level of irresponsibility would be enough to cause Lewis to write him off forever, but it wasn’t true; Pound had met Gertrude Stein once or twice during his stay in Paris, but didn’t get on with her, which isn’t at all surprising. Pound also didn’t particularly like Paris, and in 1924 moved to Rapallo, a small town on the Mediterranean a few miles south of Genoa, where he lived until his arrest by the American authorities at the end of World War II.
In an essay written for Eliot’s sixtieth birthday, Lewis had the following to say about the relationship between Pound and Eliot:
It is not secret that Ezra Pound exercised a very powerful influence upon Mr. Eliot. I do not have to define the nature of this influence, of course. Mr. Eliot was lifted out of his lunar alley-ways and fin de siecle nocturnes, into a massive region of verbal creation in contact with that astonishing didactic intelligence, that is all.
Lewis’ own relationship with Pound was of quite a different sort, but during the period from about 1910 to 1920, when Pound left London, was close, friendly, and doubtless stimulating to both. During Lewis’ service in the army, Pound looked after Lewis’ interests, arranged for the publication of his articles, tried to sell his drawings, they even collaborated in a series of essays, written in the form of letters, but Lewis, who in any case was inordinately suspicious, was quick to resent Pound’s propensity to literary management. After Pound settled in Rapallo they corresponded only occasionally, but in 1938, when Pound was in London, Lewis made a fine portrait of him, which hangs in the Tate Gallery. In spite of their occasional differences and the rather sharp attack on Pound in Time and Western Man, they remained friends, and Lewis’ essay for Eliot’s sixtieth birthday, which was written while Pound was still confined in St. Elizabeth’s, is devoted largely to Pound, to whom Lewis pays the following tribute:
So, for all his queerness at times–ham publicity of self, misreading of part of poet in society–in spite of anything that may be said Ezra is not only himself a great poet, but has been of the most amazing use to other people. Let it not be forgotten for instance that it was he who was responsible for the all-important contact for James Joyce–namely Miss Weaver. It was his critical understanding, his generosity, involved in the detection and appreciation of the literary genius of James Joyce. It was through him that a very considerable sum of money was put at Joyce’s disposal at the critical moment.
Lewis concludes his comments on Pound with the following:
He was a man of letters, in the marrow of his bones and down to the red rooted follicles of his hair. He breathed Letters, ate Letters, dreamt Letters. A very rare kind of man.
Two other encounters during his London period had a lasting influence on Pound’s thought and career–the Oriental scholar Ernest Fenollosa and Major Douglas, the founder of Social Credit. Pound met Douglas in 1918 in the office of The New Age, a magazine edited by Alfred H. Orage, and became an almost instant convert. From that point on usury became an obsession with him, and the word “usurocracy,” which he used to denote a social system based on money and credit, an indispensable part of his vocabulary. Social Credit was doubtless not the panacea Pound considered it to be, but that Major Douglas was entirely a fool seems doubtful too, if the following quotation from him is indicative of the quality of his thought:
I would .. make the suggestion … that the first requisite of a satisfactory governmental system is that it shall divest itself of the idea that it has a mission to improve the morals or direct the philosophy of any of its constituent citizens.
Ernest Fenollosa was a distinguished Oriental scholar of American origin who had spent many years in Japan, studying both Japanese and Chinese literature, and had died in 1908. Pound met his widow in London in 1913, with the result that she entrusted her husband’s papers to him, with her authorization to edit and publish them as he thought best. Pound threw himself into the study of the Fenollosa material with his usual energy, becoming, as a result, an authority on the Japanese Noh drama and a lifelong student of Chinese. He came to feel that the Chinese ideogram, because it was never entirely removed from its origin in the concrete, had certain advantages over the Western alphabet. Two years after receiving the Fenollosa manuscripts, Pound published a translation of Chinese poetry under the title Cathay. The Times Literary Supplement spoke of the language of Pound’s translation as “simple, sharp, precise.” Ford Maddox Ford, in a moment of enthusiasm, called Cathay “the most beautiful book in the language.”
Pound made other translations, from Provencal, Italian, Greek, and besides the book of Chinese poetry, translated Confucius, from which the following is a striking example, and represents a conception of the relationship between the individual and society to which Pound attached great importance, and frequently referred to in his other writing:
The men of old wanting to clarify and diffuse throughout the empire that light which comes from looking straight into the heart and then acting, first set up good government in their own states; wanting good government in their states, they first established order in their own families; wanting order in the home, they first disciplined themselves; desiring self-discipline, they rectified their own hearts; and wanting to rectify their hearts; they sought precise verbal definitions of their inarticulate thoughts; wishing to attain precise verbal definitions, they sought to extend their knowledge to the utmost. This completion of knowledge is rooted in sorting things into organic categories.
When things had been classified in organic categories, knowledge moved toward fulfillment; given the extreme knowable points, the inarticulate thoughts were defined with precision. Having attained this precise verbal definition, they then stabilized their hearts, they disciplined themselves; having attained self-discipline, they set their own houses in order; having order in their own homes, they brought good government to their own states; and when their states were well governed, the empire was brought into equilibrium.
Pound’s major poetic work is, of course, The Cantos, which he worked on over a period of more than thirty years. One section, The Pisan Cantos, comprising 120 pages and eleven cantos, was written while Pound was confined in a U.S. Army detention camp near Pisa, for part of the time in a cage. Pound’s biographer, Noel Stock, himself a poet and a competent critic, speaks of the Pisan Cantos as follows:
They are confused and often fragmentary; and they bear no relation structurally to the seventy earlier cantos; but shot through by a rare sad light they tell of things gone which somehow seem to live on, and are probably his best poetry. In those few desperate months he was forced to return to that point within himself where the human person meets the outside world of real things, and to speak of what he found there. If at times the verse is silly, it is because in himself Pound was often silly; if at times it is firm, dignified and intelligent, it is because in himself Pound was often firm, dignified and intelligent; if it is fragmentary and confused, it is because Pound was never able to think out his position and did not know how the matters with which he dealt were related; and if often lines and passages have a beauty seldom equaled in the poetry of the twentieth century it is because Pound had a true lyric gift.
As for the Cantos as a whole, I am not competent to make even a comment, much less to pass judgment. Instead I will quote the distinguished English critic Sir Herbert Read on the subject:
I am not going to deny that for the most part the Cantos present insuperable difficulties for the impatient reader, but, as Pound says somewhere, “You can’t get through hell in a hurry.” They are of varying length, but they already amount to more than five hundred pages of verse and constitute the longest, and without hesitation I would say the greatest, poetic achievement of our time.
When The Waste Land was published in 1922 Eliot was still working as a clerk in a London bank and had just launched his magazine, The Criterion. He left the bank in 1925 to join the newly organized publishing firm of Faber and Gwyer, later to become Faber and Faber, which gave him the income he needed, leisure for his literary pursuits and work that was congenial and appropriate. One of his tasks at Fabers, it used to be said, was writing jacket blurbs. His patience and helpfulness to young authors was well known–from personal experience I can bear witness to his kindness to inexperienced publishers; his friends, in fact, thought that the time he devoted to young authors he felt had promise might have been better spent on his own work. In spite of the demands on his time and energy, he continued to edit the Criterion, the publication of which was eventually taken over by Faber. He attached the greatest importance to the Criterion, as is evidenced by the following from a letter to Lewis dated January 31, 1925 which is devoted entirely to the Criterion and his wish for Lewis to continue to write regularly for it, “Furthermore I am not an individual but an instrument, and anything I do is in the interest of art and literature and civilization, and is not a matter for personal compensation.” As it worked out, Lewis wrote only occasionally for the Criterion, not at all for every issue as Eliot had proposed in the letter referred to above. The closeness of their association, however, in spite of occasional differences, may be judged not only from Eliot’s wish to have something from Lewis in every issue, but from the following from a letter to Eliot from Lewis:
As I understand with your paper that you are almost in the position I was in with Tyro and Blast I will give you anything I have for nothing, as you did me, and am anxious to be of use to you: for I know that every failure of an exceptional attempt like yours with the Criterion means that the chance of establishing some sort of critical standard here is diminished.
Pound also contributed frequently to the Criterion, but at least pretended not to think much of it–“… a magnificent piece of editing, i.e. for the purpose of getting in to the Athenaeum Club, and becoming permanent,” he remarked on one occasion. He, by the way, accepted some of the blame for what he considered to be Eliot’s unduly cautious approach to criticism. In a letter to the Secretary of the Guggenheim Foundation, written in 1925 to urge them to extend financial assistance to Eliot and Lewis, he made the following comment:
I may in some measure be to blame for the extreme caution of his [Eliot’s] criticism. I pointed out to him in the beginning that there was no use of two of us butting a stone wall; that he’d never be as hefty a battering ram as I was, nor as explosive as Lewis, and that he’d better try a more oceanic and fluid method of sapping the foundations. He is now respected by the Times Lit. Sup. But his criticism no longer arouses my interest.
What Pound, of course, wished to “sap” was not the “foundations”of an ordered society, but of established stupidity and mediocrity. The primary aim of all three, Pound, Eliot and Lewis, each in his own way, was to defend civilized values. For Eliot, the means to restore the health of Western civilization was Christianity. In his essay The Idea of A Christian Society he pointed out the dangers of the dominant liberalism of the time, which he thought “must either proceed into a gradual decline of which we can see no end, or reform itself into a positive shape which is likely to be effectively secular.” To attain, or recover, the Christian society which he thought was the only alternative to a purely secular society, he recommended, among other things, a Christian education. The purpose of such an education would not be merely to make people pious Christians, but primarily, as he put it, “to train people to be able to think in Christian categories.” The great mass of any population, Eliot thought, necessarily occupied in the everyday cares and demands of life, could not be expected to devote much time or effort to “thinking about the objects of faith,” their Christianity must be almost wholly realized in behavior. For Christian values, and the faith which supports them to survive there must be, he thought, a “Community of Christians,” of people who would lead a “Christian life on its highest social level.”
Eliot thought of “the Community of Christians” not as “an organization, but a body of indefinite outline, composed of both clergy and laity, of the more conscious, more spiritually and intellectually developed of both.” It will be their “identity of belief and aspiration, their background of a common culture, which will enable them to influence and be influenced by each other, and collectively to form the conscious mind and the conscience of the nation.” Like William Penn, Eliot didn’t think that the actual form of government was as important as the moral level of the people, for it is the general ethos of the people they have to govern, not their own piety, that determines the behaviour of politicians.” For this reason, he thought, “A nation’s system of education is much more important than its system of government.”
When we consider the very different personalities of these three men, all enormously gifted, but quite different in their individual characteristics–Pound, flamboyant, extravagant; Eliot, restrained, cautious; Lewis, suspicious, belligerent–we can’t help but wonder how it was possible for three such men to remain close friends from the time they met as young men until the ends of their lives. Their common American background no doubt played some part in bringing Pound and Eliot together, and they both shared certain characteristics we like to think of as American: generosity, openness to others, a fresher, more unencumbered attitude toward the past than is usual for a European, who, as Goethe remarked, carries the burden of the quarrels of a long history. But their close association, mutual respect and friendship were based on more than their common origin on this side of the Atlantic. In their basic attitude toward the spirit of their time, all three were outsiders; it was a time dominated by a facile, shallow liberalism, which, as Eliot once remarked, had “re- placed belief in Divine Grace” with “the myth of human goodness.” Above all they were serious men, they were far more interested in finding and expressing the truth than in success as the world understands it. The English critic E. W. F. Tomlin remarked that a characteristic of these three “was that they had mastered their subjects, and were aware of what lay beyond them. The reading that went into Time and Western Man alone exceeded the life-time capacity of many so-called ‘scholars.’” The royalties Lewis earned from this book, one of the most important of our time, which represented an immense amount of work and thought of the highest order, didn’t amount to a pittance, but Lewis’ concern, as he put it toward the end of his life, was for “the threat of extinction to the cultural tradition of the West.” It was this mutual concern, on a very high level, and an utterly serious attitude toward creative work that brought them and held them together.
Why did Pound and Eliot stay in Europe, and what might have happened to them if they had come back to this country, as both were many times urged to do, or to Lewis if he had gone to Cornell and stayed over here? In Pound’s case, the answer is rather simple, and was given in essence by his experience in Crawfordsville, Indiana, as a young man, and the treatment he received following the war. There is no doubt that in making broadcasts on the Italian radio during wartime he was technically guilty of treason; against this, it seems to me, must be weighed the effect of the broadcasts, which was zero, and his achievement as a poet and critic, which is immense. One can’t expect magnanimity from any government, and especially not in the intoxication of victory in a great war and overwhelming world power, but one might have expected the academic and literary community to have protested the brutal treatment meted out to Pound. It didn’t, nor was there any protest of his long confinement in a mental institution except on the part of a few individuals; his release was brought about largely as a result of protests from Europe, in which Eliot played a substantial part. When, however, during his confinement in St. Elizabeth’s, the Bollingen prize for poetry was given him for the Pisan Cantos, the liberal establishment reacted with the sort of roar one might have expected had the Nobel Peace Prize been awarded to Adolf Hitler.
Lewis spent some five years in Toronto during World War II, which, incidentally, provided him with the background for one of his greatest novels, Self Condemned. He was desperately hard up, and tried to get lecture engagements from a number of universities, including the University of Chicago. A small Canadian Catholic college was the only representative of the academic institutions of North America to offer this really great, creative intelligence something more substantial than an occasional lecture. Since his death, Cornell and the University of Buffalo have spent large sums accumulating Lewis material-manuscripts, letters, first editions, drawings, etc. When they could have done something for Lewis himself, to their own glory and profit, they ignored him.
The American intellectual establishment, on the other hand, did not ignore the Communist-apologist Harold Laski, who was afforded all the honors and respect at its command, the Harold Laski who, in 1934, at the height of Stalinism–mass arrests, millions in slave labor camps and all the rest–had lectured at the Soviet Institute of Law.
Following his return to England the Labour government gave Lewis, “the Enemy” of socialism, as he called himself, a civil pension, and the BBC invited him to lecture regularly on modern art and to write for its publication, The Listener. He was even awarded an honorary degree by the University of Leeds. Can anyone imagine CBS, for example, offering a position of any kind to a man with Lewis’ unorthodox views, uncompromising intelligence, and ability to see the world for what it is, the Ford Foundation offering him a grant, or Harvard or Yale granting him an honorary degree? Harold Laski indeed yes, but Wyndham Lewis? It is inconceivable.
The following taken from letters from Ezra Pound, the first written in 1926 to Harriet Monroe, and the second in 1934 to his old professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Felix Schelling, puts the problem of the poet in America as he saw it very graphically:
Poverty here is decent and honourable. In America it lays one open to continuous insult on all sides. . . Re your question is it any better abroad for authors: England gives small pensions; France provides jobs. . . Italy is full of ancient libraries; the jobs are quite comfortable, not very highly paid, but are respectable, and can’t much interfere with the librarians’ time.
As for “expatriated”? You know damn well the country wouldn’t feed me. The simple economic fact that if I had returned to America I shd. have starved, and that to maintain anything like the standard of living, or indeed to live, in America from 1918 onwards I shd. have had to quadruple my earnings, i.e. it wd. have been impossible for me to devote any time to my REAL work.
Eliot, of course, fared much better than Pound at the hands of the academy. As early as 1932 he was invited to give the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard, many universities honored themselves by awarding him honorary degrees, he was given the Nobel Prize, etc. One can’t help but wonder, however, if his achievement would have been possible if he had completed his Ph.D. and become a Harvard professor. He wrote some of his greatest poetry and founded the Criterion while still a bank clerk in London. One can say with considerable justification that as a clerk in Lloyd’s Bank in London Eliot had more opportunity for creative work and got more done than would have been possible had he been a Harvard professor. It was done, of course, at the cost of intensely hard work–in a letter to Quinn in the early twenties he remarks that he was working such long hours that he didn’t have time either for the barber or the dentist. But he had something to show for it.
It is impossible, of course, to sum up the achievement of these three men. They were very much a part of the time in which they lived, however much they rejected its basic assumptions and point of view. Both Lewis and Eliot described themselves as classicists, among other reasons, no doubt, because of the importance they attached to order; Lewis at one time called Pound a “revolutionary simpleton,” which in certain ways was probably justified, but in his emphasis on “precise verbal definitions,” on the proper use of language, Pound was a classicist too. All three, each in his own way, were concerned with the health of society; Eliot founded the Criterion to restore values; in such books as Time and Western Man, Paleface, The Art of Being Ruled, Lewis was fighting for an intelligent understanding of the nature of our civilization and of the forces he thought were undermining it. The political books Lewis wrote in the thirties, for which he was violently and unfairly condemned, were written not to promote fascism, as some simple-minded critics have contended, but to point out that a repetition of World War I would be even more catastrophic for civilization than the first. In many of his political judgments Pound was undoubtedly completely mistaken and irresponsible, but he would deserve an honored place in literature only for his unerring critical judgment, for his ability to discern quality, and for his encouragement at a critical point in the career of each of such men as Joyce, Hemingway, Eliot, Frost, and then there are his letters–letters of encouragement and criticism to aspiring poets, to students, letters opening doors or asking for help for a promising writer, the dozens of letters to Harriet Monroe. “Keep on remindin’ ’em that we ain’t bolsheviks, but only the terrifyin’ voice of civilization, kultchuh, refinement, aesthetic perception,” he wrote in one to Miss Monroe, and when she wanted to retire, he wrote to her, “The intelligence of the nation [is] more important than the comfort of any one individual or the bodily life of a whole generation.” In a letter to H. L. Mencken thanking him for a copy of the latter’s In Defense of Women, Pound remarked, almost as an afterthought, “What is wrong with it, and with your work in general is that you have drifted into writing for your inferiors.” Could anyone have put it more precisely? Whoever wants to know what went on in the period from about 1910 to 1940, whatever he may think of his politics or economics, or even his poetry, will have to consult the letters of Ezra Pound–the proper function of the artist in society, he thought, was to be “not only its intelligence, but its ‘nostrils and antennae.’” And this, as his letters clearly show, Pound made a strenuous and, more often than not, successful effort to be.
How much of Lewis’ qualities were a result of his American heritage it would be hard to say, but there can be no doubt that much in both Pound and Eliot came from their American background. We may not have been able to give them what they needed to realize their talents and special qualities, they may even have been more resented than appreciated by many Americans, but that they did have qualities and characteristics which were distinctly American there can be no doubt. To this extent, at least, we can consider them an American gift to the Old World. In one of Eliot’s most beautiful works, The Rock, a “Pageant Play written on behalf of the forty-five churches Fund of the Diocese of London,” as it says on the title page, there are the lines, “I have said, take no thought of the harvest, but only of perfect sowing.” In taking upon themselves the difficult, thankless task of being the “terrifying voices of civilization” Eliot and his two friends, I am sure, didn’t give much thought of the possible consequences to themselves, of what there “might be in it for them,” but what better can one say of anyone’s life than “He sowed better than he reaped?’’
Henry Regnery (1912-1996) was an American publisher.
samedi, 30 juillet 2011
Wyndham Lewis’ The Apes of God
The Apes of God 
The Apes of God happens to be one of the most devastating satires to be published in the English language since the days of Dryden and Pope. It appeared in a Private Press edition  (prior to general release), and at over 600 pages it was the size of your average London telephone directory.
The Apes deals, in ultra-modernist vein, with a catalog or slide-show of dilettantes from the London of the inter-war period. It is, in reality, a gargantuan satire against the Bloomsbury Group and all of its works. The historical importance of the Bloomsbury Group is that they were the incubator for all the left-liberal ideas which have now hardened to a totalitarian permafrost in Western life. This is the real and crucial point of this gargantuan effort — an otherwise neglected work.
To recapitulate some of the detail: the novel concerns the sentimental education of a young idiot (Dan Boleyn) in the ways of Bloomsbury (apedom). During this prologue he meets a great galaxy of the millionaire bohemia so excoriated by Lewis. The chapters and sub-headings basically deal with his education in ideological matters (not that the simpleton Dan would see it in that way), and he is assisted in his insights by Pierpoint (a Lewis substitute), the Pierpointian ventriloquist and contriver of ‘broadcasts’, Horace Zagreus, as well as Starr-Smith. The latter is Pierpoint’s political secretary, a Welsh firebrand, who dresses as a Blackshirt for Lord Osmund’s fancy-dress or Lenten party which makes up a quarter to a third of the book.
The liberals who are dissected are James Julius Rattner (a Semitic version of James Joyce), Lionel Kien and family, Proustians extraordinaire, various poseurs and Bullish lesbians, as well as the Sitwell family group who are depicted as the Finnian Shaws. The Sitwells are all but forgotten today, but they were highly influential in the world between the Wars — as is witnessed in John Pearson’s masterly biography Facades: Osbert, Edith and Sachaverell Sitwell. It is no accident to say that this satire has kept the Sitwells in contemporary culture, despite the fact that they are the butt of Lewis’ ferocious wit.
Throughout this odyssey through Apedom various themes are disentangled. The first is a penchant for the class war — in a parlor Bolshevik manner — from those who superficially have the most to lose from it. This leads to an active collaboration between masters and servants ahead of time. The next “war” to which these pacifists hook their star is the age-war between the generations which is best illustrated by the Sitwells’ attitude to their aged Patriarch, Cockeye in the novel.
Other cults or pseudo-cults of the lower thirties (i.e., the twenties) were the cult of the child, feminism of various kinds, the glorification of the negro (witness the work of Firbank, for instance), and the ever-present cult of homosexuality. As Horace Zagreus — one of Lewis’ voices in the novel — acidly points out: as far as Bloomsbury was concerned, heterosexuality was the love that dare not speak its name.
All of these putative forms of political correctness were held together by a rising generation whose most ‘advanced’ adherents were determined to let their hair down during the roaring ’20s. Indeed, the cloying, ormolu tainted facade of the super-rich — anatomized in this novel — only came to an end with the Great Crash, which burst at about the time of the novel’s appearance in 1930.
The semantics of the radical bourgeoisie have largely taken over the world — and what was anathema to mass or philistine opinion is now the normal chit-chat of the semi-educated to educated. Revolutionary bohemia — according to Lewis — proceeds in three stages. First you have the aristocratic version of it during the 1890s — the “naughty nineties,” the breaking of Oscar Wilde, etc., only for this stage to be followed by a mass bourgeois version of la Decadence in the 1920s. This makes way for the mass proletarianized version of bohemia which hits the world in the 1960s, after a few beatnik preliminaries the decade before. Lewis never lived to see this period, having died in 1957.
Another very interesting feature about Lewis’ prescience is his understanding of revolutionary ideology and its after-effects. For, as early as The Art of Being Ruled in 1926, Lewis was positing the notion that the emancipation of women to work would kill off the family far more effectively than all the feminist route-marches put together.
One of Lewis’ most extraordinary judgments is that many Marxian values, floating freely and slip-streaming their historical source, could make use of market capitalism to achieve their ends. This was an insight of such penetration and Chestertonian paradox in 1926 that it must have appeared half-insane.
Other ancillary positions which were part of this Super-structuralist ramp (sic) were the cult of the exotic and the Primitive in art, Child art and children’s rights, Psycho-analysis, and hostility to all prior forms.
The revolutionary thinker Bill Hopkins once said to me that one of the reasons for the obsession with primitivism in early modernism was a reaction to Western thought’s compartmentalization in the late nineteenth century. This led to a desire to kick against the pricks and develop contrary strategies of pure energy in the Arts. Whatever the truth about this, a hostility towards the martial past, nationalism, imperialism, race and empire — the entire rejection of Kipling’s Britain — was part-and-parcel of the Bloomsbury sensibility.
Nonetheless, it goes without saying that Lewis, the founder of the Vorticist movement inside modernism, saw modern art as a weapon in his battle against The Apes of God. In this regard Lewis was that very rare animal — a thoroughgoing modernist and a right-wing transvaluator of all values.
Interestingly, the idea of The Apes comes from the dilettantist perquisite of thousands of amateur painters, poets, sculptors, writers and the rest, themselves all part of a monied bohemia, who crowd out the available space for genuine creatives like himself. The cult of the amateur, however, would soon be replaced by the general melange of entertainment and the cultural industry which has probably stymied a great deal of post-war creation that Lewis never lived to see.
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