Wyndham Lewis and the Moronic InfernonLooking back today at the achievements of the heroic modernists,nwe must do so with at least some degree of ambivalence.nThe presence of those colossi has receded with thenpassing of the years; and we no longer regard them as theynthemselves taught us to do. Yet they still loom on the mentalnhorizon, and we continue to live in their long shadow.nEliot, Pound, Joyce, and Lewis—“the men of 1914,” asnWyndham Lewis himself named them—remain vital todaynbecause of the continuing viability, the relevance, and the diagnosticnpower of their best work. We still live in Mr. Eliot’snWaste Land, like it or not. Madame Sosostris is still in businessnand sees “crowds of people, walking around in a ring” innthe Unreal City. Of course, there have been some changes.nThe “other testimony of summer nights” are now distributed,nin the best modern way, to schoolchildren. I am told that “thenyoung man carbuncular” is now on Retin-A, and that “the typistnhome at teatime” is a data processor who no longer “laysnout food in tins” but rather nukes it in her microwave.nI think too that the citizen who menaces Leopold Bloom innthe “Cyclops” section of Ulysses continues to harass us via thendaily news. He still doesn’t “grasp” the “point.” hi that sense.nPound’s Mr. Nixon (from Hugh Selwyn Mauberley) is still thenembodiment of the literary/publishing racket. Literature isnnews that stays news; and that Poundian prescription appliesnas well to much of the work of his peer, Wvndham Lewisn(1882-1957).nThe prophetic quality in Lewis’s work is one that he himselfnironically deprecated, in Blasting and Bombardiering (1937—nthe first installment of his autobiography): “It is somewhat depressingnto consider how as an artist one is always holding thenmirror up to politics without knowing it. My picture calledn’The Plan of War’ painted six months before the Great Warn’broke out,’ as we say, depresses me. A prophet is a most unoriginalnperson: all he is doing is imitating something that isnnot there, but soon will be.” But even so, to recognize thenprophetic quality of Lewis’s writing (as well as his painting) isn].0. ‘Tate is a professor of English at Dowling College onnLong Island.n24/CHRONICLESnby J.O. Tatennn)F .mnnot to claim for it any predictive authority, in the ordinarynsense. We would not go to Wyndham Lewis, any more thannwe would to Ezra Pound, for anything so humble as practicalnadvice. The rantings of Pound say nothing to the student ofnpolitics, in the common sense of that word; yet something maynbe gleaned from them if they are carefully sifted—insight intonart and cultures, the integrity of craftsmanship, the implicationsnof massive debt. The man in the street could liave toldnPound tliat Mussolini was somehow not Jefferson—but whenndoes a self-appointed “genius” heed the common or the obviousnwisdom? Wyndham Lewis in his Hitler (1931) fell flatnon his face refusing to acknowledge what was already transparent.nHe thought that Herr Hitler was a “man of peace”nand that anti-Semitic outrages were routine street theater.nWyndham Lewis was wrong about that, wasn’t he? No, hisnpolitical sense was flawed by an internal agenda that sometimesnblinded him. It is his visionary politics, not his journalism,nthat retains a prophetic power today.nThat agenda, I would say, can be understood by bearing innmind two ideas. The first is the Cartesian mind/l^ody split—none which Wyndham Lewis did not see as a division to benovercome (as Eliot did his “dissociation of sensibility”). Thensecond is the Nietzschean injunction to rise above the herd, tonwhich we may attach Lewis’s modernist presumption of thensuperiority of the artist. A great deal that is off-putting or bafflingnabout Lewis’s (and Pound’s) writings can be explained ifnnot justified by an assumption that the purpose of politics wasnto provide a platform for the artist. That was what civilizationnwas supposed to be—a society in which an honest artist couldnmake a living. If prescriptive leadership was necessary to securenthe artist’s peace, so be it—whatever it took to pacify the mob,nthe ones who need to be told what to do.nThe great irony, of course, is that a man like WyndhamnLewis—a cantankerous contrarian, among other things—wasnand would have been the last individual useful to any totalitarianngovernment for the very reason of his unflinching individualism.nAnd when he was an old blind man, to some degreenhe came to grasp the point. But even so there isnsomething salvageable and much of value in the social cri-n