Once Aryan Skynet Goes Live It Doesn't Matter Who Pulled The Switch
The writer and painter Wyndham Lewis presents a study in contradictions. He was, for one, a violent man and a soldier who longed for peace. “Lewis as an artist and as a writer is an American, a Briton, an Englishman, a Europeanist, a modernist who advocated ultimately the values of tradition within the vortex of force that he put forward, and I personally think he was a great man in his troublesome and vexatious way,” Jonathan Bowden avers1; but he was also a revolutionary, both artistically and politically, and reluctant to be constrained by the particulars of an exclusive nationality. “Wyndham Lewis was an exemplary modernist cosmopolitan: born a citizen of three nations, Lewis extensively toured the artistic scenes of pre-War Europe as a young bohemian,” points out Emmett Stinson:
[…] Lewis’s autobiographical works emphasize his unequivocal belief in the value of cosmopolitanism. For example, he notes that living on the continent in his youth was a transformative experience, since, while living abroad, “the bad effects of [his] English education wore off” and, as a result, he ceased to be an Englishman and “became a European.”
A combative and controversial figure on familiar terms with all of the avant-garde luminaries of his day, he led Britain’s Vorticist movement in the arts and edited the journal BLAST before serving in the Royal Artillery during the First World War, after which he published the novels The Childermass (1928) and The Apes of God (1930) and the essay collections The Art of Being Ruled (1926) and Time and Western Man (1927), among other books. Most notoriously, he wrote the favorable Hitler (1931). “Lewis’s chief political concerns” during the interwar years “and through most of the rest of his life,” writes Stinson, “were the avoidance of further world wars and the creation of societies and governments adequate for the production of great art.” The artist’s view of race “would bear directly on his conception of cosmopolitanism in the 1920s,” he continues:
In his polemical tract, Paleface (1929), which was prompted by a visit to the United States in the summer of 1927, Lewis critiques the “philosophy of the ‘melting-pot’” […] arguing that contemporary sentimental and “ethical” arguments for equality have been accompanied by “a darker and darker cloud of poison gas always gathering upon the horizon” and “aeroplanes pregnant with colossal bombs.” Here, Lewis suggests that contemporary, liberal arguments for equality have not been effective in stopping armed conflict – and thus need to be rejected for other strategies that will bring about global peace.2
“Lewis’s political trajectory in the inter-war years is by no means unusual, and has much in common with that of substantially different artist veterans such as the nurse-volunteer and writer Vera Brittain,” posits Ann-Marie Einhaus.
Lewis and Brittain alike emerged from the war as firm believers in its destructive effects and as opponents of the Treaty of Versailles; they were determined to prevent renewed conflict, although it is hardly surprising – given their disparate backgrounds – that they differed radically in their appraisal of the underlying causes of war and their motivation for wanting to prevent another. Whereas Brittain was driven by a desire to memorialise the dead through her pacifist activities, seeking to prevent future wars by promoting greater international unity through the young League of Nations, Lewis came to feel strongly that the League of Nations and its internationalist outlook would in fact be to blame for the next war. He condemned the League for what he saw as its unjustified interventionism […]3
Lewis specialist John Constable explains that “Lewis was never much interested in nationalism […] and he was as a consequence never much interested in Fascism,” considering it “simply as a dreary phenomenon of Italian patriotism.” Mere nationalism, in Lewis’s view, was tolerable only as a “necessity, as he saw it then, of a compromise with popular sentiments toward nationhood in order to achieve fruitful revolution.” Further, “Lewis’s interest in Nazism in the late Twenties and early Thirties was based on the quite mistaken belief that Hitler was an internationalist who would favor the creation of a Pan-European racial and cultural brotherhood,” Constable writes.4
Lewis, while not a racial supremacist, “suggests that race (here a European whiteness) might be a unifying concept for “a new West” (by which Lewis means Europe), creating a ‘local Melting-pot’ that would dissolve national boundaries and thus avoid the sovereign disputes that prompted WWI,” writes Stinson5. Lewis puts it like so in Paleface:
We should grow more and more polite: but, if possible, see less and less of such other kinds of men between whom and ourselves there is no practical reason for physical merging, nor for spiritual merging […] If the White World had kept more to itself and interfered less with other people, it would have remained politically intact, and no one would have molested it […] We could have been another China.6
Sadly, Lewis was to abandon his pan-Europeanism after the Second World War, and “would finally argue for a thoroughgoing cosmopolitanism, in which he finally dispensed with race as a meaningful political category,” Stinson explicates:
This reconsideration of cosmopolitanism and race, which receives its fullest treatment in America and Cosmic Man (1949), and is reiterated in Rude Assignment (1950) and The Writer and the Absolute (1952), seems to have been prompted by Lewis’ period of living in the United States and Canada and another more indirect factor: the creation of the atomic bomb. Lewis foregrounds the importance of his time in the United States, which has transformed him “from a good European into an excellent internationalist.” This transformation is already apparent in the titular reference to “cosmic man,” who has supplanted the figure of “Western man” from Lewis’s earlier Time and Western Man.
Lewis argues that the United States is “a new kind of country,” which is the “Cosmopolis” that “the Greeks of antiquity only dreamed of.” He argues that the US model should be globalized, since “the earth has become one big village, with telephones laid on from one end to the other, and air transport, both speedy and safe.” Lewis emphatically rejects both nationalist and racial bases for political unity, criticising the German nationalism of the 1930s that was based “upon a blood-tie, uniting the entire Volk,” and instead praises the United States as an exemplary post-racial and post-national society: “the one great community in which race has been thrown out.” Instead, Lewis proposes a cosmopolitan “rootlessness” (picking up on a term he had first deployed in Anglosaxony) that would push beyond “racial doctrines, or even to thinking in terms of soil, or rootedness.” This doctrine of rootlessness, in which people have no political ties to race or even specific localities, will produce “a new kind of man”: cosmic man.
Driving these arguments is Lewis’s desire to avoid the military conflict that had characterized the first half of the twentieth century. Lewis even argues that this new cosmopolis would not be a “utopia” but “just somewhere in which armed groups are not incessantly menacing each other, and throwing all ordered society back into a primitive savagery every few years.” Lewis’s sudden advocacy of cosmopolitanism can be at least partially attributed to his new fears about the destructive power of nuclear weapons, which, if they “were freely used in large numbers” would wipe out “half of the population of the world” and destroy modern civilization. Lewis suggests that the threat of self-destruction is what will actually impel the appearance of world government: for “the new principle of brotherhood, and the essential de-snobbing of the various racial stocks, we can depend, I suggest, upon the atom bomb.”7
Is it too mean to observe that these years in which Lewis embraced a deracinating American exceptionalism-cum-globalism are also the years in which he began to lose his eyesight?
When he produced The Demon of Progress in the Arts in the 1950s, he was beginning to go blind, which of course for an artist and for an intensely visual person is a great affliction, possibly the greatest one there could be. He had a particular type of cancer that came behind the nose and pressed upon the optic nerves and gradually dulled both eyes. He lost secondary vision, everything became misted, and finally they went. It’s exactly the condition that John Milton had many centuries before.
Now, when he was going blind, the one interesting thing about Lewis because of his Nietzschean credo was a total absence of sentimentality. There was no pity for the other, but there was no pity for himself either.
Bowden also notes, however, that “residually his modest Catholicism loomed rather large” at the end of his life8. For his earlier racialism combined with ardent opposition to war – and, too, for his creativity and his hatred of the boring – Aryan Skynet salutes the man who conceived of himself as the Enemy; but, for the rest, may he be blasted!