- Waspish Segments: Lewis, Prosthesis, Fascism
We all to-day (possibly with a coldness reminiscent of the insect-world) are in each other’s vitals—overlap, intersect, and are Siamese to any extent. . . . The actual human body becomes of less importance every day.—Wyndham Lewis
Even better than the real thing.—U2
The fascist body is a forgery. That is, it is wholly constructed, meant for circulation, and stands in for a previous incarnation, the völkish body, that of the people. The fascist body is fabricated, renovated, reconstructed, consisting of extensions and projections. It is frequently said that all bodies are constructs, but there’s an original sort of forgery at work in the fascist body, because it’s a forgery of a forgery, a stand-in for a prototype that never existed, the double of a fake. I will anatomize the body presented in two texts written by Wyndham Lewis, Hitler (1931) and Snooty Baronet (1932). In order to do this, I must take two things for granted, neither of which is true. The first is that there is a fascist aesthetic, and the second is that Wyndham Lewis labored under it. I would like to propose that we collaborate with such dreams of coherence and necessity, that we strap them on artificially in the name of building a better understanding of a particular strain of literary modernism. [End Page 139]
My account of the fascism-modernism nexus is based on a belief that some writers were indeed articulating artistic structures that served the ideological interests of particular social groups. Whereas I can agree with Robert Casillo that these structures sometimes evince pathology, I want to track the aesthetic at work in the artistic structures articulated by Lewis and to argue for a coherence of perspective that does not reduce to either the ideological or the pathological. 1 I will use prosthesis as a way to articulate a form of embodiment that encompasses but is not limited to the collaboration between modernism and fascism. From my vantage point on these two terms, prosthesis is central to an alternative strain of modernism in which character, identity, narrative-functions, and the bodies that move through these modernist fictions are constituted so that embodiment can be dissembled, reworked, reproduced, and rendered either unintelligible or unmotivated. 2 My contention is that our most authoritative “genealogy of modernism” is incomplete, and that there is a competing line of descent that has everything to do with bodies, ossature, and carapace, and little to do with psychology, motivation, or desire. 3 I will refer to prosthesis as a way to understand—and not just to supplement—the body in two texts written by two writers, Lewis and, briefly, Ernst Jünger, both of whom have uneasy relationships to fascism, specifically to National Socialism, and to modernism. 4
In 1930 Lewis went to Berlin in order to write about the rise of National Socialism. During this last gasp of the Weimar Republic, Lewis wrote what came to be Hitler. He returned to England and two years later, in 1932, published the novel Snooty Baronet.
Ernst Jünger, who is one hundred and two this year, fought in both world wars and received numerous decorations as well as literary acclaim for his “Front-experience” book, The Storm of Steel. “Total Mobilization,” the essay with which I want to supplement Lewis’s textual world, appeared in an anthology called War and Warrior that Jünger himself edited in 1930. “Total Mobilization” is a précis of The Worker, published the same year as Snooty Baronet, 1932. Jünger looks to a future in which the individual is ennobled by a ferocious relationship to labor, entirely integrated into the landscape of a society for which mobilization is both means and end.
Lewis’s novel concerns a one-legged and extremely snooty baronet who writes scientific treatises on People Behaving, which is the title of his first popular book. He calls these books “behaviorist” tracts; they are a snooty science, artfully rendered (or so his loathed public decides). Snooty wants to study “Man upon exactly the same footing as ape or insect” (SB, 64) and writes two books...