Saturday, September 22, 2007

(Percy) Wyndham Lewis



[Image: Wyndham Lewis, "Self-Portrait as a Tyro"]

Vorticism, the movement that Lewis co-founded, was the only British avant-garde movement of the early twentieth century and was an attempt to challenge the radical energy of Continental modernism with a home-grown radical aesthetic. In light of this aspiration, does it seem to you that any of the materials that we have read up to this point (inlcuding Freud, Nietzsche, Marx, Mallarmé, Bergson, Marinetti and Lewis' own manifesto--or anything else that you think relevant) help you to gain a foothold on Lewis' complex and elusive quasi-drama, "Enemy of the Stars"? Keep your response brief but try to be as specific as possible in explaining why a given author (or authors) seem to articulate ideas that you think are also at work in Lewis.

For more information on Lewis and Vorticism, including images of his own artwork, go here:
http://www.fluxeuropa.com/wyndhamlewis.htm

14 comments:

mike ryan said...

Like Arnold’s essay, I don’t imagine “Enemy of the Stars” would have created much flap on its release. Just kidding. This is a wild and violent text born of a movement that derides even Futurism as “limited” in imagination, obvious and infantile: “Elephants are VERY BIG. Motor cars go quickly” (Blast 292-293). Still, the differences between Vorticism and Futurism seem largely cosmetic to me, as if Vorticism were not so much a mature movement as a rebuttal of Marinetti’s acerbic “Futurist Speech to the English”. I’ll leave it to someone with a more discerning eye to argue otherwise.

My main interest is to trace how Lewis’ text intersects with and diverges from the ideas of Nietzsche. Hanp offers this confused, unfavorable epitaph of Arghol’s life: “To have read all the books in town . . . and to come back here to take up this life again” (Enemy 180). Arghol abandons the university and metropolis in a seemingly Nietzschean move away from institutions; he rips up all his books, all the words that have slowly filled him with the mores and valuations of others. But he is not one of Nietzsche’s “free spirits,” no. Conversely, he is resigned to an overwhelming fatalism that pushes him to reject notions of the self. His idea of destiny is not identifiably dogmatic, but rather quite idiosyncratic and secular; nonetheless, it draws him back home, to the epicenter of convention -— exactly where Nietzsche says the free spirit must escape from (Human 18). He concedes that he is not now any less despicable than ever, that he will "always be a prostitute," but that again smacks of his fatalism (Enemy 183). Arghol appears to be a half-formed free spirit -- released from the “caverns of belief," but consequently without shelter, naked to the stars (183).

Andrew Vives said...

I see three main influences in Lewis work, influence from French art movements, mainly the work of artist like Cezanne, and Rousseau artist who were inventing new ways of interpreting the visual world and creating art.

Lewis was also clearly influenced by the futurist movement in art and thought. Lewis work is almost in a reactionary and completely opposite direction then the futurists. Additionally Lewis' explanation of the futurist as a reoccurring concept is similar to Arnold’s idea of the modernist. Lewis however is highly critical and disparaging of the futurist.

Lewis also claims that the artist is a savage, and that art must be created through the unconscious, and must speak to the unconscious. This is a clear indication of Freud’s influence on Lewis

additionally, and I agree with mike when I say this, when Lewis speaks of English innovation and life, he at one point takes on a tone that strongly resonates with the philosophies of Nietzsche "a movement towards art and imagination could burst up here from this lump of compressed life" Lewis envisions a sort of explosive force that propellers this new artistic movement into existence, which is similar to Nietzsche’s philosophy on the individual but at a societal level.


Lewis was obviously influenced by many of the new ideas emerging Europe at the time, and even though I can figure out what some of those influences were, I still have no idea where he was going with enemy of the starts, but I think it is mainly a sort of satire and critique of the idea of the modern, and futurist movements as well as a criticism of the bourgeoisie.

Bailey said...

I am clueless when it comes to "Enemy of the Stars" and the significance and overall point is still a question for me. It seems as though he's trying to depict one man's struggle against humanity, but truthfully I found the whole thing really confusing. For me, there was a thin line between love and hate in regards to Lewis' writing. He's very passionate and I find that admirable. Passionate writing tends to draw me in, so on that note I enjoyed his writing. However, I'm not really sure where this passion stems from. It seems to me that he's writing purely to cause controversy and to get a reaction from his audience. I feel like he would take a 'devil's advocate' position no matter what he was arguing. In other words, I don't know if I believe him.
Another problem I had with his writing, was that it was just confusing for me. I thought he took stream of consciousness to an entirely new level. Each word seemed to have no connection to the next. I thought his writing seemed more like a painting than a play. Like each word was a paint stroke that had no effect on the next. Maybe I was just really lost throughout "enemy of the stars" and thats why I found his writing hard to follow. I can't wait to read other people's posts later tonight. Maybe someone can point me in the right direction??

andrew wirzburger said...

I'm not quite sure where to begin with "Enemy of the Stars," and perhaps there really isn't any place where I could begin. The entire text is slippery, seeming to elude any attempt at analysis. At some points I was tempted to say something like, "Maybe Arghol is like the ego caught between the superego of the city and the id of Hanp," or another theory, but does that entirely make sense? I don't know. It seems impossible to conform Lewis' text to any type of movement. It's just boisterous and detail rich and constantly shifting and slipping, and to me personally it also seems a little bombastic, like Lewis has declared *himself* enemy of stars because he reaches for them but can never grasp them. Part of the feeling I get from this story is that because the surface is complex, the underlying meaning must therefore be complex. Wouldn't it be very Nietzschean (sp?) if the point was that there was no underlying meaning except what we make?

And from a writing standpoint, this really seems like a point-making piece or a big ideas piece rather than a story or anything close to entertainment. The word "agenda" comes to mind when reading "Enemy of the Stars," as if Lewis is so caught up in symbolism and his marvelous vocabulary that he forgot to actually tell a story.

Catherine said...

The first author I thought of when I began reading Lewis’ “Enemy of the Stars” was Baudelaire. Some of the phrases Lewis concocted, like “Thick sickly puddle of humanity, lying there by the door,” I thought were similar to those we read in Flowers of Evil. The whole story seemed heavy with description that was at some points repulsive, however not to the point of shock that Baudelaire had. I agree with Bailey that Lewis’ writing is quite overwhelming because of all this description and consequently fairly confusing.
The second piece of material I was reminded of was Freud. Particularly, and quite obviously, the section about the dream seemed to have some similar qualities. The idea that his dream had “tentative symbols” and began to value “preceding events.” We also truly experience the character’s stream of consciousness, as the events of the dream seem to spill out of Arghol’s head.

Megan Putney said...

I agree with Mike that Arghol has definitely not yet reached the level of one of Nietzsche's free spirits, but I think that it is interesting how there are lines in the text that point toward Lewis promoting and idealizing this ideal of Nietzsche's. When Arghol states that: "To leave violently slow monotonous life is to take header into the boiling starry cold"(179), I think that Lewis is drawing an analogy between his realm of the stars and Nietzsche's world of the free spirits. The inability of both of the characters to become free spirits and their subsequent deaths reminded me of the line from Nietzsche: "Better to die than to go on living here"(Human 18). Even though they are dead, they are free from the world of restrictions and burdens that tied them down and kept them from reaching the ultimate goal of the free spirit.

Ryan Tilley said...

I like Catherine's comparison of Lewis' work to that of Baudelaire. While we have read mostly criticism of the other authors (and Lewis and Baudelaire stand out for this reason), their writing style is still strikingly similar. Both authors have a very dark sense of imagery, and while merely an asthetic similarity it is worth noting.
Content-wise, and in regards to helping understand Lewis, I would have to say that Freud comes into play here. Lewis is not dealing with flat characters, but rather more complex identities that are hard to grasp and comprehend. A small sample- "His mind unlocked, free to this violent hand. It was his mind's one cold flirtation..." (Lewis Stars 178)- is one piece that demonstrates how Lewis' text (and characters) has a subconcious, and that it can only be optimally understood through Freudian terms.

Jennifer Zupicich said...

When I first began to read "Enemy of the stars" I was like what is this??? I was so confused and I had to go back and reread some parts. I really enjoyed reading everyone's posts... I, too, felt very confused while reading this and much f it did not make sense to me. In reading everyone's posts, I found that I really liked how Catherine compared Lewis to Baudelaire. Lewis does use a lot of vivid, harsh language, even when just describing the dress of the characters- "enormous youngsters, bursting everywhere...full of fiery dust and sinewy energetic air." As Catherine said, there is a lot of "heavy" language and material here.

Andy Murphy said...

I found this piece to be dark and melancholy, as if it was the narration of a depressed man's dream. The entire time I was thinking of Arnold's idea that art, in this case a play, is an escape from violence. From what I've read I would take Freud's idea of subconcious thoughts combined with Arnold's vision of art, and describe Lewis' play as a method to use script as a way to exert subconcious violent thoughts through non-violent means. Lewis' vivid descriptions suggest that he thoght about the play on a highly in-depth level before writing, even if only subconciously. The personification of his emotions onto paper follow his ideas of Vorticism and Futurism through a distorted form of art similar to many painting of the time that depict ideas of anarchy and violence; the characters in Lewis' story could represent free, communal society destroying capitalism.

KevinB said...

Lewis' use of in-your-face images really stuck out to me, and it definitely reminded me of Baudelaire as others have mentioned before me."Arghl could see only ponderous arabesques of red cloud." Lines like that really made the connection for me, and it also kept it entertaining because i had previously enjoyed Baudelaire's use of all the vivid images.

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