Three new articles on Wyndham Lewis (1882–1957) have been added to the publications page. All are previously unpublished, and date from ca. 1993, with a little re-writing in subsequent years.
I have not made any attempt to revise the arguments or check the evidence or the quotations, though the texts have been tidied up and reset. They can be read independently, but probably make more sense if examined in the following order, before and after the piece on The Doom of Youth published here last year:
1. "Wyndham Lewis' Hitler: Content and Public Reception: the Truth" is a somewhat revised chapter from my doctoral dissertation. I make no apologies for the title. When it was written the misconceptions about the book were so numerous that the corrections offered in this study seemed to me, and still seem to me, to represent a major improvement.
2. "The Doom of Youth: Wyndham Lewis' Conspiracy Theory'". Published on www.libellus.co.uk last May, this article discusses in detail one of the rarer and most unread of Lewis's works from this period.
3. "Two Filibusters in Barbary: Wyndham Lewis and Alfred Rosenberg" is highly controversial, or was so when it was written. It suggests that Lewis knew the writings, at least, of Alfred Rosenberg and was to all appearances convinced by many elements of Rosenberg's cultural diagnosis. As far as I am aware this suggestion is novel, though I have myself touched on it very briefly in a footnote to the study of Doom of Youth, above.
It was while working on the first of these pieces that I first realised that the received wisdom about Lewis in the non-specialist world (i.e. outside the charmed circle of Lewisians), namely that he was for at least parts of his writing life an anti-semite, was far from being an error and, if anything, understated the case. In my view, anti-semitism was a crucial motivating component in his work throughout the 1920s and at least part of the 1930s, and (at this point I become less assertive but still suspicious) arguably to the end of his life.Whether it was as important as I think it, others will decide. In any case, it is reasonably certain, I argue, that Lewis's interest in Nazism was grounded in a reading of the philosopher-painter Alfred Rosenberg, editor of the Völkischer Beobachter and leader of the party during Hitler's imprisonment, not in Hitler himself. I have often wondered whether archival research in Germany would provide evidence of a personal relationship or correspondence with prominent members of the Nazi movement, but this is work for someone else.
My point in publishing this material now is that since the mid 1990s understanding of Lewis's anti-semitism has deteriorated still further, largely, I think because of the surprisingly mistaken observations of Anthony Julius, in his influential book, T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form CUP, 1995), where, misled by mainstream Lewis scholarship, he writes that:
"Admirers of Wyndham Lewis's work freely concede its anti-Semitism. Essentially trivial, it took the form of personal abuse or a bellicose, political invective. He didn't care much for or about Jews; he routinely said as much. The anti-Semitism in his fiction and poetry is typically casual, unreflective, and slight: 'Is he a Nigger,/ A Chink, a Jew, or some yet odder figure'; 'Chacun son Jew! is a good old english saying.' This is an anti-Semitism that lacks commitment. His portrait of Lionel Kein in The Apes of God is more hostile to the friend on whom it was based than to Jews as a whole. It is not so much anti-Semitic as anti-Schiff [...]. The contrast here with Eliot's anti-Semitism is striking [...] Eliot's Jews tend to slide into anonymity, while Wyndham Lewis's bloom into an extravagantly personal eccentricity. The anti-Semitism of his critical prose is as bluff and unreflective as that of his fiction. Though vigorously, even splenetically expressed, it lacks consideration. Again in contrast to Eliot, there is no sign of any pressure of thought behind the anti-Semitism; it is unthinking. [...] This is an anti-Semitism without sting. It is simply the only language Lewis knows." (pp. 187-188)
None of this is right, but it has had the effect of closing down debate on the matter (see for example the Wikipedia entry on Lewis). As the material in the papers I am releasing shows, Wyndham Lewis's anti-Semitism was profound, interested, persistent, intellectual, substantial, committed, principally racial (and only secondarily personal), self-conscious, evasive, intense, learned, and driven. In short it was programmatic.