The Agon of Modernism: Wyndham Lewis's Allegories, Aesthetics, and Politics

By Munton, Alan | Yearbook of English Studies, Annual 2002 | Go to article overview

The Agon of Modernism: Wyndham Lewis's Allegories, Aesthetics, and Politics


Munton, Alan, Yearbook of English Studies


The Agon of Modernism: Wyndham Lewis's Allegories, Aesthetics, and Politics. By Anne Quema. Cranbury, NJ: Bucknell University Press; London: Associated University Presses. 1999. 242 pp. 30 [pounds sterling].

Two kinds of unsatisfactory criticism of Wyndham Lewis are at present current. One alters Lewis's texts in order to make him say what the critic requires, whilst the other relies upon what everybody knows about Lewis without being disturbed by what his texts actually say. In articles for the Wyndham Lewis Annual of 1997 and 1998 I have given examples of both approaches. Anne Quema's book relies upon `what everybody knows', so that whilst the question of whether Lewis is modernist or avant-garde is meticulously examined, his authoritarianism and anti-feminism are simply assumed to exist. Certainly, Lewis's democratic or pro-feminist remarks are quoted, but there is never the remotest possibility that they will be given credence.

For example, a definition of the feminine is quoted without allowing that Lewis is describing what the culture of his time knew as `feminine'. Quema can then write: `It is obvious that, despite the author's argument to the contrary, "female" and "feminine" are synonymous in his vocabulary' (p. 90). This is far from obvious when Lewis is properly read, as he is not here. Elsewhere, Quema quotes Lewis's horrified account of what an authoritarian state might be like, suggests that it models Nineteen Eighty-Four, and yet concludes that this was for him a utopia. On the question of race, a quotation from Paleface (1929) is followed by a fantastic denunciation that appears all the more absurd when a check on the passage shows that Lewis is condemning the attitudes that Quema believes him to be endorsing. …

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