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Notes on Wyndham Lewis

Al 329 & Notes on Tarr

As I suspected, what at some points looks as if it is going to be an excellent novel, is badly flawed.

When you first read about Tarr, you have your suspicions, but after the first scene with Bertha you hope he is a figure of comedy. You hope he is without much artistic talent, a ne'er do well like Kriesler and Bertha, In fact he is Lewis himself, and his mouthpiece.

The trouble with Lewis’s ideas, which is quite obvious, is that he is trying to get one up on Nietzsche. Tarr’s ideas are not well expressed nor easy to grasp. He is trying to move beyond Wildean paradoxes and Nietzschean wisdom.

‘Our child shall be the successor to the superman ‘ says Anastasya. That gives the game away completely.

As if Nietzsche is a style, that only has to be replaced by a new style. A kind of schoolboy impertinence whose outcome is plain pretentiousness. Nothing really to say. Implicit nihilism, as if there is only style.

So what is vorticism? Kind of imitation futurism. Creating a movement by wanting to do so.

Kreisler. Quite well portrayed. Historically interesting. Lewis says he is a typical German student of his generation., His frustration and futility come across well. But Tarr/Lewis’s explanation of this is not up to standard. Seeing him as an artist without talent who should put all his energies into sex. Assuming that he, Tarr, does have talent, The elitist presumption of this. Lewis is every bit as pretentious as those he attacks for pretentiousness. Perhaps he feels so bad about Bloomsbury because he is not part of it. Like the way he attacks aristocrats in Apes of God the manner of ( he says) a fascist.

The insecurity of his position, Because what is it based upon?

He wants intellectual authority. But on what ground? His supposed superior talent. But how well is that established.

Tarr’s discussion with Anastasya. ‘Their sinuous intellects’. It makes you squirm the way he praises himself so highly. Tarr's ideas, expressed not very coherently, attempt to advance beyond Wilde and Nietzsche, while being as witty as one and as wise as the other.

Am 141 &&,

Time and Western Man

Lewis, his very short chapters. Attack on all manner of targets. What the connection with time doctrine?

Diaghalev and the Russian Ballet, revival of spirit of naughty nineties, but for the war gilded bourgeoisie,

Bergson, time doctrine, influences Einstein, substitutes ‘sensation’ for reality. Frenzy of advertisement.

Where have I come across these ideas before? Marshall Mcluhan, though in an opposite sense. He welcomes what Lewis deplores. He has much the same depressing view of modernity as surging chaos, but holds to the maxim ‘if you can’t beat em join em’.

Lewis and his time philosophy. Like Mcluhan he lumps together too much. Monovalency of cultural products. He blames Bergson for everything, including democracy and materialism. Yet it is really far to much of a generalisation. Mcluhan goes into, embracing this evil, because there seems no escape, but initially he sees it as evil.

What is offered must be better than what is expected. Lewis, Mcluhan, Ideological framework. Art may confirm in a position, Ideally it resolves a problem.

Mcluhan’s view of art is in a way sick. It really cannot resolve what he wants it to resolve. Lewis’s hostile view of much of the avant garde, from Picasso to Joyce. That he does not see it as offering a solution, i.e. of being affirmation. It seems on the contrary to express an idea to which he is hostile. Mcluhan seems to see much of it in terms of the same ideas. Yet he feels he cannot resist. Actually much twentieth century art and literature has a life of its own and could be given a number of interpretations.

But Mcluhan seems to suggest we must accept what we don’t even like. He assimilates the avant-garde to the endless onslaught of advertising ugliness.

So he advocates precisely this horrible post modern chaos, this ‘sea of meanings’

Influence of Bergson on Mcluhan. A Bergson type philosophy, with its disparagement of the intellect and its advocacy of other forms of experience.

Like the sufism of Idries Shah.

Shah offers what he presents as a higher wisdom, or a richer form of experience. A book could be written on such themes, seeing how well they work. Wisdom of the orient.

Lewis on Bergsonism. The philosophy for the nouveau-riche philistine. Quote from Bosanquet on Bergson. As the fount of all irrationalism.

Lewis on Spengler, He does not read his comparison of classical with Faustian as I do. He sees Spengler as asserting the superiority of the Faustian at every point. I don’t find this at all, only the assertion of difference. Which lets us see that the classical had its own standard of perfection which is inaccessible to us.

He criticises Spengler's insistence on incomprehensibility. There is something in this. But in history there Do seem to be principles of development that take time to reach full articulation, He sees Spengler as a vulgar populist.

Ulysses, what to be made of it? Sterne, Rabelais behind it. Could it be that what Joyce expresses is actually a genuinely Nietzschean affirmation? That through all the tedium he is actually on the right track?

Bergsonian futurism, the political impulse Lewis identifies.

His pertinent criticism of Spengler. That despite the all pervasions of the Faustian, Spinoza as a Jew is described as being outside it, suggesting perhaps that race is more important. Also that there may have been other outsiders.

Lewis, Mcluhan. Ideas of decadence. Ideas of the significance of certain cultural movements,. How what seems very convincing can be one sided or wrong. Forces of decadence. Seemingly the whole meaning of some phenomenon. Seeming logic we can give it.

Yet in a slightly different context, it may provide a counter in a different game.

Lewis and Mcluhan see much the same kind of thing. But it may not be altogether what is there.

The philosophical pattern that Lewis sees as underlying, might not be the only pattern it is possible to discern. But that would not be a trite observation., Because it is very significant how convincing a lot of his material is. It has the convincingness of self sufficient ideology, it really comes alive.

Science as magic. All ideas operate in the way of magic.

Comes alive, not just as a speculative hypothesis, but as a whole way of experience.

So in getting to criticise this, perhaps we can get down to some nodal point of plausibility’

Where the way of seeming is revealed in its full seemingness.

Lewis on God. His paradoxical inversion of Kant.

His reference to William James Varieties of Religious Experience.

Consider the effect of the idea upon experience. The books I read up to age 18, when I had my first acid trip. The crude, popular theosophy, all the ideas that nevertheless gave rise to powerful individual vision. Accepted ideas can work very powerfully, however open to criticism they may be in an intellectual sense. They can work as a kind of plunder.

Say western man has this urge to plunder the treasures of the east. Feed himself the right idea, and it is possible for his to do so.

All the books analysing the decadence of modern ideas. Presumably one could go back a long way. Decadence is what frustrates one’s own projects.

Relativity. Russell quoted as saying it gives support to Berkeley. This strange hybrid world, part idealist, part materialist.

Nietzsche, says Lewis, gives a certificate of blue blood, But Bergson excites through his bestowal of a certificate of reality. Memory is dead, he promotes the idea of the superiority of action, Which people find very exhilarating and exciting.

Magical power of ideas in the 20s and 30s.

Russell and the climate of relativity. Our Knowledge of the External World. Lewis’s interesting criticisms of Russell. What he says about his fickle mind.

Political motive behind Bergsonism. The exaltation of action over the life of leisure. Active hostility to the life of leisure.

Magical power of ideas. Irrespective of whether we think of them as true or not. To see some good in Bergson. Liberation from the seeming necessity of the opposite view. A different style of ecstasy, which proves something or other. It proves that ecstasy need not be tied to memory, or concepts of memory. New Rousseauism.

Russell, Broad, and the consequences of relativity. All the ideas that Wittgenstein was concerned to put right.

It is a shame that Lewis, having written such a good book, spoiled things by getting into some bad causes.

All these ideas of the twenties and thirties. In one sense decadent, in another fertile and productive.

Bergsonism. Idea of where reality is situated. Reality is like god, like belief in God.

.Ideas, values, as forms of life. As forms of life they are hardly susceptible to knowledge. Lewis says something about Alexander’s views on truth and reality. The real not being necessarily the true or vice versa. They struggle against each other. Their individual viability is not in question,

Am 258 In Art of Being Ruled as in Time and Western Man, for the first few chapters it is not clear what he is driving at.

He is obviously very distressed by mass culture. Like Mcluhan he feels it is to an extent inescapable, and feels he has to go along with it to some extent.

I think his advocacy of authoritarianism is a counsel of despair. Like Mcluhan he is giving in to what he feels to be the zeitgeist, Lenin and Mussolini. Unfortunately for him he is driven into paradoxicalism by his eagerness to reject the fashions of the past. English Protestant liberty he treats as nineteenth century cliché.

He is suitably ironic about the rhetoric of Russell and other thirties figures. Populists intoxicated with the power of their own rhetoric

Am 268 Mass culture Proving that mass culture can be depressing. Thought. How now the focus of mass culture has become the television screen. It is largely focussed there, whereas previously it would spill out all over the place. The music hall, the Crystal Palace. One watches it, and one may watch critically.

A refined public in the old sense scarcely exists. One cannot despise those who include one’s own children.

Mass culture and affirmation. Some people are able to use it to secure affirmation, it represents their own affirmation.

Mass culture, democracy, still succeed in creating depression, a depressing morality of the weak. In saying it attacks strength, it attacks a personal idea of strength, in ability to do anything, a morality which leads to prefer the worse to the better.

Am 271 Art of Being Ruled. The first part is confusing, the book gets much better as it goes on. The middle part you feel what he says is fine, but insufficiently defended. Dogmatism of Hypothesis (Russell, Shaw etc.)

Socialism of Russell and Lewis. Why socialism became so powerful in the world, because so many intellectuals asserted it was necessary. Something somehow disconnected. Why socialism, rather than poor relief? Why this move away from the traditional value of freedom?

Lewis attacks Proudhon as more oppressive than Rousseau or Marx. Some good points here. Obviously modern industry does have over and above the old system, but it is difficult to think of it in a way that is aesthetically and romantically satisfying. And I do find Proudhon more appealing. For in the village I fee I could take my chance, and either dominate or live as an eccentric. But when he says socialism is necessary, what does he mean? Does he really want to throw liberty away or is it some counsel of despair?

The very idea one could base one’s politics on such flights of rhetoric. The very incomprehensibility of the individual masses. I men there is a disturbing, a worrying phenomenon. How to deal with it? Being pretty well in the dark, one conceives what one takes as a solution. Feeling that will do, one is prepared to be committed to it.

There are many forms of socialism and fascism.

How the real drawbacks of industrial society really are very hard to measure. Altogether it becomes something like an aesthetic problem. Industry may bring greater freedom, but how do we relate to it?

Problem with Wyndham Lewis. I feel when I read him I think of my own writing, and the need to defend against opponents. I feel the need to argue. Nicolas accuses Benda of a reprehensible interpretation of Nietzsche. Benda book, so much quoted. The life of the small craftsman was in many ways good. But obviously industrial society offers a general improvement. But how can we relate to it, where is its affirmation?

Wyndham Lewis’s ideas are not unlike those provoked in me in opposition to Mcluhan. The sense of this vulgarising pressure and speculations as to what can be done about it. Like the ides I held in 1972.

He talks of Nietzsche as vulgarising the notion of aristocracy, But might this not be a worthy thing to do? The values of Teutonic aristocracy, to which even religion was subordinate. Once the essential value is understood, why should it not be made more generally available? We value the idea, to restrict it to the outward form is surely the real snobbery.

Aq 86 Looking at Time and Western Man. Feeling Lewis misses the point a bit. Seeing Bergsonism everywhere. His remedies are not likely to be adopted, whatever they are. I feel he misunderstands Spengler. Most importantly his main thesis does not hit upon what is most essential.

Kantian framework of all our knowledge.

Lewis’s peculiar form of avant-gardeism. Supposedly having overcome romanticism. Anti-futurism, yet visually indistinguishable from it. A peculiar arrogance. Punditry.

Our human framework of memory an history is necessary for human communication. Outside that is the thing in itself, which is not part of the human world.

Ar 35 ? Idea for paper on the pundits, Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley etc. The pundit thing brings me to Wyndham Lewis and his criticisms of relativity.


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