Wednesday, 28 April 2010


"I suppose that there is no one who has not noticed, passim and without attentiveness, perhaps, in a hundred different forms, the prevalence of what now amounts to a cult of childhood, and of the Child. This irresponsible, Peterpannish psychology is the key to the Utopia of the "revolutionary" Rich; the people, namely, who have taken over, have degraded, and are enjoying the fruits of revolutionary scientific innovation - far from its creative ardours, cynically scornful of its idealisms, but creating out of its ferments, which they have pillaged, a breathless Millenium.

This subject has been so thoroughly analysed by me elswhere that I do not propose to go into it again here. All that is necessary to say is that it is essential, if you wish to understand at all a great deal of contemporary art and thought, even the developments of positive science, not only to gather up all the dispersed manifestations of this strange fashion, but - having done so - to trace this impulse to its source in the terrible and generally hideous disturbances that have broken the back of our will in the Western countries, and have already forced us into the greatest catastrophes. Whether, these great disturbances are for the ultimate good of mankind or not, no one can claim that they are pleasant, or that they do not paralyse and weaken the system they attack. Many complaints break out in consequence in the midst of our thinking; and the instinctive recoil of the stricken system makes it assume strange shapes.

What you have to ask yourself is why, exactly, a grown person should wish to be a child? - for to use the forms of infantile or immature life, to make an art of its technical imperfections, and to exploit its natural ignorance, is, in some sense, to wish to be a child.

That, to start with, it is connected with the cult of the primitive and the savage is obvious. The same impulse that takes the romantic painter, Gauguin, to the South Sea paradise, takes a similarly romantic person of today to the Utopia of childhood, in the sense indicated above. Only the latter has the Heaven of Childhood inside himself (it is time-paradise); whereas Gauguin had to go a long way to reach Samoa. That is the advantage that time-travel has over space-travel.

That was really Proust's Utopia, too. And the great appeal of that author is partly because he shows a method for capturing and retaining that spirit - the recherche du temps perdu - and partly because he so feverishly expresses the will to that particular dream. As we read him, the 'I' of his books is that small, naïf, Charlie Chaplin-like, luxuriously-indulged, sharp-witted, passionately snobbish, figure, a model for many variations bred thickly everywhere. But that is not the whole story; and rather than give an imperfect notion of what a little investigation will reveal, I will having started the inquiry, leave it at this point, or refer the reader to that part of my recent book dealing with this subject [The Art of Being Ruled].

How the demented also joins hands with the child, and the tricks, often very amusing, of the asylum patient, are exploited at the same time as the happy inaccuracies of the infant; how contemporary inverted-sex fashions are affiliated to the Child-cult; and in fact all the different factors in this intricate sensibility, being evolved notably by such writers as Miss Stein, will be found there. Not to seize the secret of these liaisons is totally to misunderstand the nature of what is occurring around you today."

- Wyndham Lewis, Time and Western Man (1927)

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