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This review is taken from PN Review 64, Volume 15 Number 2, November - December 1988.

THE BUSINESS OF THE BOOK Wyndham Lewis, Men Without Art, edited with Afterword and Notes by Seamus Cooney (Black Sparrow Press, distributed by Airlift Book Co., 14 Baltic St, London, EC1) £10.95 pb.

When in March 1934 Ernest Hemingway read 'The Dumb Ox', the essay about himself that was to appear in Wyndham Lewis's Men Without Art later that year, he exploded and punched a vase of tulips at Sylvia Beach's Paris bookshop. When Virginia Woolf, forewarned about the same book, had finally 'taken the W.L. arrow to [her] heart', with its allegations of shrinking hyper-sensitivity and of plagiarism by the author of Mrs Dalloway, she fell victim to writer's block and lapsed into illness for two days. Mr Eliot, branded a 'pseudoist' in Men Without Art, was, according to a friend, too nervous to buy the book (price 10/6) and instead borrowed a copy, which he later returned 'gravely'. Mario Praz publicly protested against the suggestion in Men Without Art that The Romantic Agony owes its documentary assemblage of 'satanic bric-a-brac' to Lewis's directions. Other controversies erupted in The Spectator and TLS, with Middleton Murry denying charges of Communism, Stephen Spender accusing Lewis of malice towards Mrs Woolf, and Lewis himself giving as good as he got.

It was all typical of the breakdowns and donnybrooks touched off by The Enemy throughout his career. And now Men Without Art is back, reissued by the stubbornly Lewisite Black Sparrow Press of California and expertly edited by Professor Seamus Cooney of Western Michigan University. After fifty-four years, the book remains a bombshell and as relevant as ever. It is relevant not merely to present-day literary concerns but also to the broader ...

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