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).

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