Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The form and content of Time and Western Man are, appropriately, given the author, not easy to explain. They are best understood by examining the complex artistic and intellectual personality of Wyndham Lewis, who by the mid-1920’s was equally famous as a novelist, as a painter, and as a critic. In Time and Western Man, he has taken his interest in philosophy and wedded it to his disdain for certain nineteenth century and early twentieth century philosophers whom he believes have undermined the culture of post-World War I Europe. Their seemingly innocent confirmation of one another’s positions, in Lewis’ opinion, not only ruined philosophy but also seeped into the social sensibility. As a thinker, as a social critic, and as an artist of unusually wide gifts, Lewis is on the attack against the shoddy thinking, as he sees it, developed in Europe under the influence of Henri Bergson, Alfred North Whitehead, Oswald Spengler, and several lesser followers. The rot, he claims, did not stop with philosophers and historians; it also infested the artistic world, and Lewis is willing to take on the task of straightening up literature and the plastic arts at the same time.

There is, however, another aspect of Lewis’ talent that must be understood. He is often (some would say always) a satirist, and as such is not satisfied with simply putting his arguments forward reasonably. A streak of Swiftian excess is often the best part of his work. Lewis is not usually the best source of the facts, but he is always lively and eccentric and occasionally bellicose. Whatever else it is, Time and Western Man is lividly, wittily aggressive and often smartingly comical in the best tradition of roughhouse satire.

Lewis divides the book, if only loosely, into two sections. In the first, “The Revolutionary Simpleton,” he addresses, in the main, the way in which his philosophical enemies have encouraged sloppy thinking and behavior in society and particularly in the arts; he examines with some care specific artists whom he sees as the most serious examples of the problem. The second section, “An Analysis of the Philosophy of Time,” is somewhat more complicated and more dependent on special knowledge. In it, Lewis explores the philosophical influences of the fad he calls “the time-cult.”

Time and Western Man Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Grigson, Geoffrey. A Master of Our Time: A Study of Wyndham Lewis, 1951.

Jameson, Fredric. Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Modernist as Fascist, 1979.

Kenner, Hugh, Wyndham Lewis, 1954.

Pritchard, William H. Wyndham Lewis, 1968.

Tomlin, E.W.F. Wyndham Lewis, 1955.

Wagner, Geoffrey. Wyndham Lewis: A Portrait of the Artist as the Enemy, 1957.