Уиндем Льюис – критик модернизма
The essay draws on Wyndham Lewis’s literary criticism written in response to some of the major modernist writers between the late 1920s and mid–1930s, which is considered here both as development of his initial critical writings about modern painting and as evidence of a change in his evaluation of the whole modernist practice.
The argument begins by outlining three reasons that make Lewis’s critical oeuvre a valuable object of modernist studies. Firstly, Lewis is a critic who, even in his literary criticism, continuously maintains the point of view of a visual artist, providing commentary upon the significance of the visual in modernist writing, a feature strikingly illustrated in his own fiction. Secondly, Lewis’s criticism thoughtfully and revealingly puts the artist in a specifically modernist position towards modernity, demanding from the former both engagement with and critical distance from the latter. Thirdly, Lewis merits attention by virtue of much better known modernist writers, such as Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and T.S. Eliot, whom he relentlessly criticizes on a number of grounds, offering a uniquely perceptive (if not always fair) first-hand account of their work.
In his early art criticism Lewis was mostly concerned with the limitations he saw in European avant-garde painting, which he considered a challenge to be overcome by truly modern English art, of both visual and verbal kind. If modernist painting at large is defined as a thoroughly grounded in modernity constructive response to overwhelming Impressionist mimesis, Vorticism as the most viable form of modernism is supposed to avoid the dangers (including that of romanticizing modern industrial conditions, limiting oneself to pointless experimentation, or retreating from modernity into purely subjective vision) the artist going in this direction faces. This criticism with the aim of self-identification emphasizes, above all, transformative power that modernist art should gain from the type of detached engagement with modernity proposed for it.
Lewis’s literary criticism, being part of an ambitious project of all-grasping cultural criticism, clearly follows the same oppositional strategy, but with even a bigger determination to distance oneself from “advanced” literature in the post–World War I world. Lewis interprets work of Pound, Joyce and Eliot as different forms of betrayal of two fundamental principles that form the basis of his conception of modernism, namely that, just like visual art, in order to be creative, modernist literature has to deal with the present rather than the past and be an expression, rather than suppression (voluntary or involuntary), of the individual. At the same time, the centrality that criticism gains in Lewis’s output since the late 1920–s indicates his not at first overt reevaluation of the modernist enterprise as it reflects at least a partial failure of creative (as opposed to critical) intelligence in whose name it was created in the first place.