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This review is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

QUESTIONS OF CONTROL Wyndham Lewis, Creatures of Habit and Creatures of Change: Essays on Art, Literature and Society 1914-1956, edited by Paul Edwards (Black Sparrow Press) $25, $15 pb

The question is - will Wyndham Lewis ever possess the cultural status of his friends and co-modernists Eliot, Pound and Joyce? Though I would wish it otherwise, the answer is likely to be that he will not. This has less to do with his own disputable politics than with the politics of literary criticism. Eliot's supporters have been at their work of elucidation since the late 1930s, the Poundians are at it still, inspecting every allusion but too often ignoring the unpalatable implications. Most routine writing about Joyce is so charmed by his personality that his novels are treated with critical indulgence.

No high-status academic critic attached himself to Lewis, as Ellmann did to Joyce, at a time that would benefit both author and critic. Fredric Jameson's book came too late, in 1979; even his supporters don't read it, often because they haven't read Lewis. Lewis's Tarr is as well worth study as Joyce's Portrait, but one reason it will never be an undergraduate success is that there exists no Students' Guide to Lewis's fiction - and there will be no guide because Lewis is scarcely read on literature courses!

Lewis is important because without him Modernism makes no sense. He was both a practitioner, and a critic of Modernism from within. He was also the century's first critic of popular culture, beginning in the 1920s a project that preceded and surpassed the work of the Leavises and Orwell. He wrote fiction that was at ...


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