(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Blasting and Bombardiering is suffused with the trauma of World War I. Lewis’ superficial treatment cannot hide the pain and cynicism produced by the bloody stalemate of the western front. The book is, as he says, a way to “get away from war,” but demons are not so easily exorcised. He intended to make the war “an unseemly joke,” but his effort to reduce the war to comic absurdity ultimately fails, for the horror was too great. Thus, the book is not particularly important as a war memoir. Still, one who does know something of the veterans’ struggles to come to terms with their experiences will be struck by how profoundly Lewis’ view of man and art has been influenced. The memoir could be more powerful in this regard only by having had the prewar section actually composed before 1914.

Another concern in Lewis’ memoirs is elitism. It is, perhaps, not so surprising that the work of an avant-garde artist—a vorticist—was not wildly popular. New artistic schools are rarely accepted at first. Thus, Lewis’ dismissal of the English taste in art and his endorsement of Matthew Arnold’s label of the English as “philistines” are to be expected. Nevertheless, Lewis has little positive to say for prewar literature and art; he also writes of the postwar era that great artistic expression was of the past. His praise for Pound, Eliot, and Joyce, in his mind the best of the lot in the twentieth century, is less than generous, and he does not bother to compare them to the greats of the past. Perhaps such attitudes on the part of a writer and artist who, even when the memoir was written, had not gained enormous renown might be written off as pique, but he goes beyond mere artistic commentary....

(The entire section is 704 words.)