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  • Adrian Stokes' Psychoanalytic Aesthetics and the First World War
  • Janet Sayers (bio)
Adrian Stokes: An Architectonic Eye. Stephen Kite. London: Legenda, 2009. xiii + 200pp.

Many people have complained about the obscurity of Adrian Stokes' psychoanalytic aesthetics. Melanie Klein, for instance, told him: "[W]hile in your writings some parts are of great beauty others are not clearly enough expressed. I have heard this criticism expressed by people who much appreciated your books and seemed to me to belong to the class of 'good' readers" (in Sayers, forthcoming). No such criticism could justly be leveled against Stephen Kite's book about Stokes. It is admirably clear in providing the first account of the architectural basis of Stokes' journey toward beauty from the ugliness of Edwardian London as he remembered it after the First World War.

Within Stokes' family the First World War took a devastating toll. One of Stokes' two older brothers, Geoffrey, aged only fifteen, had been stationed in a crow's nest at the top of a ship's mast during the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 when over six thousand fellow combatants were wounded or killed. Geoffrey survived, but he was severely traumatized. Less than a year later, in April 1917, Stokes' eldest brother Philip died from a head wound sustained during battle near the Somme. He was nineteen.

After the war, said Stokes, London—which he had "once loved" for its "vastness, freedom and gaiety"—plunged him into "the darkness of despair," its street lights appearing as "anaemic mediocrities of pain and ugliness" (Kite, p. 18). He remembered prewar London with loathing. He recalled the fountains in Hyde Park being operated by a "cold and grinding [End Page 561] mechanism . . . housed in Portland stone of a late Victorian style," while a police description of a park suicide contributed to his impression of the park as "a dead body" (p. 23). After his psychoanalytic treatment with Klein, he remembered in Oedipal terms the park's giant Achilles statue and Watts equestrian sculpture as "figures of a father . . . who both attacked and had been attacked" (p. 28).

Loyal to his dead brother Philip's boyhood love of geology and stone, Stokes, Kite claims, sought to make reparation to him by finding an alternative landscape to the "broken mother" of Hyde Park (p. 31), to the stuccoed edifices of Edwardian London, and to the ugliness of Oxford where, Stokes wrote, "I looked for beauty up and down / And only saw some bicycles" (p. 35). From ugliness he found temporary respite on a rail journey that at the end of 1921 carried him as an Oxford undergraduate from France to Italy. "As the train came out of the Mont Cenis tunnel, the sun shone," he recalled, "[revealing] bright rectangular houses free of atmosphere, of the passage of time, of impediment, of all the qualities which steep and massive roofs connote in the north" (p. 36). Two years later he found escape from the ugliness of remembered prewar London in a post-Oxford, Conrad-inspired journey to India where he admired the Taj Mahal as "definite, complete, and suggestive only of itself" (p. 39). Further liberating influences included the Buddhist Amaravati limestone carvings from South India displayed prominently in the British Museum and the Orientalist writings of the Austrian art historian Josef Strzygowski emphasizing the material and labor involved in architectural expression.

Soon after the publication of Stokes' first book, The Thread of Ariadne (1925), the writer Osbert Sitwell introduced him to early Renaissance Italy—the "counter landscape" (p. 60), as Kite calls it. This intellectual discovery led to Stokes' epiphany on 5 July 1925: his first experience of "the mass-effect" (p. 64) at the Alberti designed façade of the Tempio in Rimini. Admiration of the Tempio and its carvings—an example of which Stokes included on the cover of his second book, Sunrise in the West (1926)—laid the basis for his close friendship with Ezra Pound, another Tempio enthusiast, who influenced Stokes' aesthetics and who was fascinated, says Kite, "with energy harnessed, [End Page 562] directed, and made definite in clear-cut form" (p. 73). That fascination became an oft repeated theme in Stokes' writings. He rejected...


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