Time and western man : Wyndham Lewis as critic

Campbell, SueEllen, Department of English, University of Virginia

Time and Western Man: Wyndham Lewis as Critic Among modern critics, Wyndham Lewis stands out not only because of his equal powers as a novelist and a painter, but also because of his energetic and dramatically personal insistence that "the independent critical mind is still the supreme instrument of research." As Eliot wrote on Lewis's death in 1957, "We have no critic of the contemporary world at once so fearless, so honest, so intelligent, and possessed of so brilliant a prose style." In Lewis's career, Time and Western Man occupies a central place. This massive critique of modern Western culture is, I believe, at once his best and his most representative work of criticism. It embodies with special clarity the most important of his distinguishing characteristics as a critic of the arts and of his culture.

My dissertation is a study of Time and Western Man and what it reveals about the principles and applications of Lewis's critical intelligence. It is divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 discusses the critical persona Lewis adopted in the late 1920s. The multicolored, armored knight on horseback who decorates the cover of his one-man outlaw journal The Enemy symbolizes the doubleness of his Enemy stance: Lewis saw himself both as a knight defending good against evil and as a Quixote championing lost causes. As he describes it, his function as a critic was to restore cultural balance by insisting--as loudly as possible--on currently unpopular truths. By thus defining himself as society's Enemy, he simultaneously anticipated and exploited the rejection he expected--and received. This persona satisfied his love of satiric self-dramatization; but more importantly, it self-consciously personified his serious critical principles. My second chapter explores these principles as Lewis declared and defended them in the Enemy "Editorial" and in Time and Western Man. He argues that a writer's personality--his idiosyncrasies and biases--should be admitted and displayed rather than hidden beneath the pretence of "scientific" impersonality. Yet this procedure, he realizes, avoids solipsism only when it is based on a shared "common sense." Lewis's use of this phrase encompasses several ideas central to his thought: his "common sense" refers to vision, the physical sense which makes possible our belief in reality; to ordinary, everyday perception; and to intersubjectivity.

In Chapter 3, I analyze the philosophical position which Lewis takes in his attack on what he calls the "time philosophy." By combining vision with intellect, he believes, we experience a static, spatial reality, not the ever-changing reality of relativity physics and modern thought. I examine his arguments against the time philosophers Samuel Alexander and Alfred North Whitehead and his place in the philosophical tradition as it is revealed by his relationships with Bergson and Berkeley.

Chapter 4 continues my analysis of Lewis's specific arguments against the modern time-cult by examining his long critique of Joyce as a "time-artist.'' The strong--and for many critics, unreasonable--bias of this attack dramatizes Lewis's commitment to deliberately personal criticism; more importantly, his specific arguments about Ulysses illustrate the kinds of aesthetic judgments into which he was led by his allegiance to vision, common sense, and the stability of space.

Finally, in Chapter 5, I examine Lewis's attempts to construct a model of cultural unity and change which would give the desired primacy to stasis and independent intellect. His discussions of the nature of a Zeitgeist, I think, show us some of the tensions fundamental to Lewis's work-- tensions which reflect his very personal ways of dealing with the complexities of his culture.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Lewis, Wyndham -- 1882-1957 -- Time and western man, Lewis, Wyndham -- 1882-1957 -- Criticism and interpretation
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