Wyndham Lewis - The 1940s and After - The Human Age and Retrospective Exhibition

The Human Age and Retrospective Exhibition

The BBC now commissioned him to complete the 1928 "The Childermass," to be broadcast in a dramatisation by D. G. Bridson on the "Third Programme" and published as "The Human Age." The 1928 volume was set in the afterworld, "outside Heaven" and dramatised in fantastic form the cultural critique Lewis had developed in his polemical works of the period. The continuations take the protagonist, James Pullman (a writer), to a modern Purgatory and then to Hell, where Dantesque punishment is inflicted on sinners by means of modern industrial techniques. Pullman becomes chief advisor to Satan (here known as Sammael) in his scheme to undermine the divine and institute a "Human Age." The work has been read as continuing the self-assessment begun by Lewis in "Self Condemned." But Pullman is not merely autobiographical; the character is a composite intellectual, intended to have wider representative significance.

In 1956 the Tate Gallery held a major exhibition of his work, "Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism," in the catalogue to which he declared that "Vorticism, in fact, was what I, personally, did and said at a certain period"—a statement which brought forth a series of "Vortex Pamphlets" from his fellow "BLAST" signatory William Roberts.

A pituitary tumour which had caused him to go blind since 1951 (its growth placing pressure on the optic nerve), ended his artistic career, though he continued writing until his death in 1957. Always interested in Roman Catholicism, he nevertheless never converted.

Lewis wrote 40 books. Other works include "Mrs. Duke's Million" (written about 1908-9 but not published until 1977); "Snooty Baronet" (a satire on behaviorism, 1932); "Doom of Youth" (a sociological account of youth culture, 1932); "The Red Priest" (his last novel, 1956); and "The Demon of Progress in the Arts" (on extremism in the visual arts, 1954).

In recent years there has been a renewal of critical and biographical interest in Lewis and his work, and he is now regarded as a major British artist and writer of the twentieth century. An exhibition of his books, magazines, paintings and drawings was held at Rugby School in November 2007 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death. The National Portrait Gallery in London held a major retrospective of his portraits in 2008. In 2010 Oxford World Classics published a critical edition of the 1928 text of "Tarr" edited by Scott W. Klein of Wake Forest University. The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University held an exhibition entitled "The Vorticists: Rebel Artists in London and New York, 1914–18" from 30 September 2010 through 2 January 2011. The exhibition then travelled to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (29 January – 15 May 2011: 'I Vorticisti: Artisti ribellia a Londra e New York, 1914–1918') and then to Tate Britain under the title 'The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World' between 14 June and 4 September 2011.

Several readings by Lewis are collected on The Enemy Speaks, an audiobook CD published in 2007 and featuring extracts from "One Way Song" and "The Apes of God", as well as radio talks titled "When John Bull Laughs" (1938), "A Crisis of Thought" (1947) and "The Essential Purposes of Art" (1951).

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