Thursday, 1 May 2014

When Percy Misread Adolf

Those fine people at the Journal of Wyndham Lewis Studies have made my 2011 piece on Lewis and fascism available for free download. It confronts difficult and frequently oversimplified issues in this great artist-writer's work, at the same time relating these to complex trends within European culture and politics. It was given a prominent place in the second number of the relaunched peer-reviewed journal of the Wyndham Lewis Society, The Journal of Wyndham Lewis Studies, proving timely as a counterpoint to James Fox’s parody of Lewis in his BBC4 series Great Masters (July 2011) and as an anticipation of discussions at the Wyndham Lewis: Networks, Dialogues and Communities conference at the University of London, 31 October-1 December 2012. (The conference included a performance of my one-act play, The Wise Man Knows, in part a dramatisation of the article.)
     Exploring the contexts of the 'fascism' that continues to undermine Lewis's reputation as an artist, writer and political thinker, the article is identified in Andrzej Gąsiorek’s editorial commentary for the journal as one of several articles which ‘greatly enrich our understanding of Lewis’s contribution to twentieth-century culture’.
     The article begins by contrasting the received view of Lewis’s politics – typified by John Carey’s account in The Intellectuals and the Masses (1992) – with the extent and complexity of his writings on the subject. Drawing on both foundational and resurgent Lewis scholarship, it proceeds through reference to key primary texts ranging from ‘The Code of a Herdsman’ (1917) to The Writer and the Absolute (1952). In particular, it offers close readings of Lewis’s publications of the late 1920s and early 1930s, placing these in their historical context at the same time as deploying theoretical perspectives from Julia Kristeva and Jean Baudrillard to suggest an unrecognised subtlety within their political discourse.
     ‘In His Bad Books’ led directly to an invitation to contribute a chapter on Lewis’s treatment of race and gender in the forthcoming Edinburgh University Press publication Wyndham Lewis: A Critical Guide (2014).

‘Research methodology: a “guide to the non-fascist life”’ (Formerly ‘Psychogeography & Revolution: Traveling on the 21 bus from Bastille to Concorde’) May 14th 2014. 

Plaster and stone maquette of the Bastille, 1790 (Musée de l'Histoire de Paris).  

I want to use the session to think about how we might speak and write about cultural events and artefacts. I’m primarily concerned with an historical event - the storming of the Bastille that marked the start of the French Revolution - but the problems I have encountered - a plethora of information and objects, no stable structures to begin to classify them, and opportunities to configure my study in multiple ways - seem germane to all our research, both text-based and practice-led (if these distinctions are still meaningful). In trying to tackle the material, I have looked at Buffy Studies, gender and necrophilia, Queer Theory, codicololgy - the material study of the written word - by way of psycho-geography, the materialist turn in critical studies and, not least, greater involvement with my trade union.  

Mired in all of this, one particular passage from Michel Foucault’s preface to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus stood out as especially useful and gives me, I think, the room to write seriously and accountably about my subject, avoiding both the potential ‘fascism’ of a singular, sedentary methodology and the incontinence of a ‘mixed methods’ approach commonly found in the social sciences. (1)  

Compellingly, there is also a connection between my problem writing about the Bastille and the problems of configuring a moment faced by those that gathered around the fortress on Tuesday afternoon of July 14th1789. Then and now, in a various ways, we are struggling to find a cogent way to speak about an event and the artefacts connected with it. This talk – it is not a paper, note, more of a dérive with colleagues – explores some of the ways we might work with D&G’s programme and the application of proliferative modes of working to the past … The italics are mine.    

(1)  “ Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoiaDevelop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization.

Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality.

Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.

Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of desire to reality (and not its retreat into the forms of representation) that possesses revolutionary force.

Do not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action.

Do not demand of politics that it restore the rights of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to de-individualize’ by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualization. 

Do not become enamored of power.”

(M. Foucault, in G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis U.P., 1980) pp. 152-156.