Time and Western Man Essay - Critical Context

Wyndham Lewis

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Ultimately, Time and Western Man must be seen not as philosophy—or indeed, as an influential criticism of philosophy—but as a literary text. Even if one disagrees with Lewis’ belief that the Bergsonians’ influence was a bad thing, there is clear evidence that the influence existed and that many of the major artists of the twentieth century were determined to put it into action in their works. What Lewis provides is an articulate, sometimes extravagantly zealous attack on the excesses, the limitations, and the failures of those works. He is not always right, and one may well suspect that he is only occasionally right; nevertheless, he knows the danger that artists, particularly lesser artists, face when they record the minutiae of sensation. From Lewis’ extreme position, the well-read student can move back into a more balanced, less prejudiced position, taking along some of the rigorous skepticism of a man who was not easily swayed by fashion and was not afraid of sometimes looking the fool.

The book must also be seen as part of the Lewis canon. He was always a propagandist, a satirist, a troublemaker, and a splendidly irreverent upsetter of literary applecarts. In this work, he turns philosophical polemics into something which looks suspiciously like fun, and he can be read just for the pleasure of watching him blasting his way across the landscape of modern thinking, throwing everything into disarray for the moment, and making it necessary to think again— or, indeed, for the first time—about ideas which have been taken for granted.