Wyndham Lewis

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I have been called a Rogue Elephant, a Cannibal Shark, and a crocodile. I am none the worse. I remain a caged, and rather sardonic, lion, in a particularly contemptible and ill-run zoo.

Percy Wyndham Lewis (18 November 18827 March 1957) was an English polemicist, novelist, essayist, critic and Vorticist painter.

Quotes[edit]

Laughter is the climax in the tragedy of seeing, hearing and smelling self-consciously.
The ideas of a time are like the clothes of a season: they are as arbitrary, as much imposed by some superior will which is seldom explicit. They are utilitarian and political, the instruments of smooth-running government.
  • Certainly Mr Eliot in the twenties was responsible for a great vogue for verse-satire. An ideal formula of ironic, gently "satiric", self-expression was provided by that master for the undergraduate underworld, tired and thirsty for poetic fame in a small way. The results of Mr Eliot are not Mr Eliot himself: but satire with him has been the painted smile of the clown. Habits of expression ensuing from mannerism are, as a fact, remote from the central function of satire. In its essence the purpose of satire — whether verse or prose — is aggression. (When whimsical, sentimental, or "poetic" it is a sort of bastard humour.) Satire has a great big glaring target. If successful, it blasts a great big hole in the center. Directness there must be and singleness of aim: it is all aim, all trajectory.
    • Notes to Kenneth Allott, as quoted in Contemporary Verse (1948) edited by Kenneth Allott
  • 1. Laughter is the Wild Body's song of triumph.
    2. Laughter is the climax in the tragedy of seeing, hearing and smelling self-consciously.
    3. Laughter is the bark of delight of a gregarious animal at the proximity of its kind.
    4. Laughter is an independent, tremendously important, and lurid emotion.
    5. Laughter is the representative of Tragedy, when Tragedy is away.
    6. Laughter is the emotion of tragic delight.
    7. Laughter is the female of Tragedy.
    8. Laughter is the strong elastic fish, caught in Styx, springing and flapping about until it dies.
    9. Laughter is the sudden handshake of mystic violence and the anarchist.
    10. Laughter is the mind sneezing.
    11. Laughter is the one obvious commotion that is not complex, or in expression dynamic.
    12. Laughter does not progress. It is primitive, hard and unchangeable.
    • "Inferior Religions" (1917), cited from Lawrence Rainey (ed.) Modernism: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005) pp. 208-9.
  • The art of advertisement, after the American manner, has introduced into all our life such a lavish use of superlatives, that no standard of value whatever is intact.
    • "'Promise' as an Institution", in The Doom of Youth (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932).
  • I have been called a Rogue Elephant, a Cannibal Shark, and a crocodile. I am none the worse. I remain a caged, and rather sardonic, lion, in a particularly contemptible and ill-run zoo.
  • The earth has become one big village, with telephones laid on from one end to the other, and air transport, both speedy and safe.
    • America and Cosmic Man (New York: Doubleday, [1948] 1949) p. 21.
  • You as a Fascist stand for the small trader against the chain-store; for the peasant against the usurer; for the nation, great or small, against the super-state; for personal business against Big Business; for the craftsman against the Machine; for the creator against the middleman; for all that prospers by individual effort and creative toil, against all that prospers in the abstract air of High Finance or of the theoretic ballyhoo of Internationalism.
    • British Union Quarterly, 1937

The Art of Being Ruled (1926)[edit]

  • The puritanic potentialities of science have never been forecast. If it evolves a body of organized rites, and is established as a religion, hierarchically organized, things more than anything else will be done in the name of "decency". The coarse fumes of tobacco and liquors, the consequent tainting of the breath and staining of white fingers and teeth, which is so offensive to many women, will be the first things attended to.
    • "The Family and Feminism".
  • The ideas of a time are like the clothes of a season: they are as arbitrary, as much imposed by some superior will which is seldom explicit. They are utilitarian and political, the instruments of smooth-running government.
    • "Beyond Action and Reaction".
  • Men were only made into "men" with great difficulty even in primitive society: the male is not naturally "a man" any more than the woman. He has to be propped up into that position with some ingenuity, and is always likely to collapse.
    • "Call Yourself a Man!".
  • The Relativity theory, the copernican upheaval, or any great scientific convulsion, leaves a new landscape. There is a period of stunned dreariness; then people begin, antlike, the building of a new human world. They soon forget the last disturbance. But from these shocks they derive a slightly augmented vocabulary, a new blind spot in their vision, a few new blepharospasms or tics, and perhaps a revised method of computing time. (p. 336)
    • "The Great God Flux".
  • I am an artist, and, through my eye, must confess to a tremendous bias. In my purely literary voyages my eye is always my compass. “The architectural simplicity” – whether of a platonic idea or greek temple – I far prefer to no idea at all, or no temple at all, or, for instance, to most of the complicated and too tropical structures of India. Nothing could ever convince my EYE – even if my intelligence were otherwise overcome – that anything that did not possess this simplicity, conceptual quality, hard exact outline, grand architectural proportion, was the greatest art. Bergson is indeed the arch enemy of every impulse having its seat in the apparatus of vision, and requiring a concrete world. Bergson is the enemy of the Eye, from the start; though he might arrive at some emotional compromise with the Ear. But I can hardly imagine any way in which he is not against every form of intelligent life. (p. 338)
    • "The Great God Flux".

Quotes about Wyndham Lewis[edit]

  • There's Wyndham Lewis fuming out of sight,
    That lonely old volcano of the Right.
  • A buffalo in wolf's clothing.
    • Robbie Ross, quoted in Wyndham Lewis Blasting and Bombardiering (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1937) p. 12.
  • I do not think I had ever seen a nastier-looking man.... Under the black hat, when I had first seen them, the eyes had been those of an unsuccessful rapist.
  • Lewis sought no disciples, nor does he offer a program or solution, rather his contribution is a critical discipline. Lewis is a stimulant, a mode of perception, rather than a position or practice.
    • Marshall McLuhan, "A Critical Discipline," Renascence 12, no. 2 (Winter, 1960): 94-95

External links[edit]

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