The Poetics of Mockery: Wyndham Lewis's the Apes of God and the Popularization of Modernism


This study reconsiders Wyndham Lewis's adversarial role in the modernist movement through a close reading of his prodigious satire of 1920s cultural politics. It presents a new interpretation of The Apes of God as a Menippean satire, with attention to its style, characterization, allegory, and historiography, and to Lewis's polemics of the period. Previous studies have emphasised Lewis's external method of visual narration and the personal attacks on the London art world. This one also treats the rhetorical and parodic elements in his mechanistic caricatures of literary impressionism and its proponents, besides the theory of participation and the player behind his schizoid image of the modern subject. The study reinterprets the apprenticeship plot as a carnivalesque discrowning based on the primitive themes of the shaman and the scapegoat. It explores the ways in which the discursive broadcasts - on the social exploitation of a subjectivist aesthetic, publicity as imposture, cultural levelling - are dramatized in the sado-masochistic bond between impresario and naif and in the contradiction of carnival institutionalized. Lewis is shown using his rivals' mythic method to implicate the avant-garde itself in nascent mass culture. The study includes an analysis of the scandal surrounding Lewis's private edition of The Apes and the defence of non-moral satire presented in his subsequent pamphlet Satire and Fiction. Drawing upon unpublished manuscripts and correspondence, it demonstrates how Lewis's own devious publicity campaign re-enacted the crux of the novel and epitomized his conflicts with his contemporaries.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • London
Publication year:
  • 1995


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