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Undressing Lewis

In response to:

The War Game from the October 26, 1967 issue

To the Editors:

Everybody knows that Wyndham Lewis was a Fascist beast—I know it, Mr. D. A. N. Jones knows it and, I presume, the readers of your periodical know it. Yet even Fascist beasts should be treated fairly, especially by a reviewer who intends to improve other people’s morals. But what happens? I catch Mr. Jones doing a bit of faking—all for a good cause, I’m sure—and what does he do in turn? He fakes on a scale that takes your breath away. [NYR, Oct. 26, 1967 and Jan. 4, 1968].

I refer of course to the rigmarole of quotations from Lewis’s Blasting and Bombardiering which he tacked together to refute—what? My faking charge? Oh, no, nothing that forthright—to prove all over again that Lewis was a bastard, went around heavily armored, didn’t like to be touched by strangers, and therefore was a perfect, unpolymorphous candidate for the Hitlerian hordes. As if we needed Mr. Jones’s simple-minded psychologizing to tell us something which Lewis already told us in great detail and, I should add, much more amusingly. Simone Weil didn’t like to be touched either but that didn’t make her a Fascist. And just recently W. H. Auden has come out quite flatly against the undressing school of literature. The trouble is, Mr. Jones’s categories are too rough-and-ready, too concerned with showing us that he’s “with it.”

But I really can’t bother to put his new farrago of faking back in its proper order. I simply refer readers to the book in question, where they will quickly see that Mr. Jones either was born without the slightest satiric fancy or that he is perversely bent on being shown up in public. Since such behavior gives me the sticky feeling of being engaged in an obscene game, in which Mr. Jones’s trousers will inevitably be involved, I refuse to play it to the bitter end.

Raymond Rosenthal

New York City

D.A.N Jones replies:

This white-hot prose reads less like a letter to the editor than an abusive challenge to physical combat. Let’s not get carried away. I cannot defend my set of quotations, if Mr. Rosenthal “really can’t bother” to state coldly what’s wrong with them. Instead I must boringly discuss the subject matter of his letter—my own shallowness, hypocrisy and general moral turpitude.

In his earlier letters Mr. Rosenthal urged me to examine my own morals. He said that I had accused Wyndham Lewis of “lacking moral fibre”—a Boy Scout expression which I don’t use: “moral integrity” was what I wrote. On this basis, he now accuses me of wanting “to improve other people’s morals” (Whose? Wyndham Lewis’s?) and suggests that my supposed inaccuracies prove me to be a hypocrite. This is a far-fetched argument.

The concept of “with-it” interests me no more than that of “moral fibre.” Nor am I daunted by the news of Auden’s gallant stand against “the undressing school.” Does this mean that we must avert the eye from any passage in an autobiography where the author discusses at length his feelings about clothes and nudity? The subject may not be of great importance. In my review it occupied a brief parenthesis; for Mr. Rosenthal, it is inflammatory, inspiring passionate correspondence.

The “rough-and-ready categories” are all his own. I would not call Lewis a “bastard” or a “Fascist beast.” I suggested that he was “less opposed to Hitlerism” than other members of his class; and I pointed out that he himself denied this serious charge—quite eloquently, by the way.

I am sorry that Mr. Rosenthal feels sticky, and that thoughts of “an obscene game” drift through his muddled head. Get out in the fresh air, son, and stop quarreling with your typwriter.

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