David Ashford: THE SIBERIA OF THE MIND
THE SIBERIA OF THE MIND
EGOISM IN THE WRITING OF WYNDHAM LEWIS
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Beginning of the essay:
A room held in a great northern city; nine foot by six, a typical student squat, pipes half-smoked, bed never-made, books piled on chair and table. Two are in Finnish. The third, ‘stalely open’, Arghol takes up to shut. It is the Einige und Sein Eigenkeit [sic]. ‘One of the seven arrows’ in this ‘martyr mind’ – only this book, by renegade Hegelian Max Stirner, is named by Wyndham Lewis, and rejected. ‘Poof! he flung it out of the window.’
The gesture is timely. According to Paul Edwards, in his account of the artist, ‘Stirner probably had little lasting influence upon Lewis’. Unlike other sources Edwards cites as being central to an understanding of this radical “play” entitled ‘Enemy of the Stars’, which appeared in the Vorticist journal BLAST in 1914, Stirner is not referred to again, does not survive the particularly rough handling he receives in this play. His book is condemned by Arghol as a ‘parasite’, with all the other books in the room, ‘Poodles of the mind, Chows and King Charles’, and is therefore torn up with the rest – left in ‘a pile by the door ready to sweep out’.
But in addition to marking the author’s own break with Stirner, the incident curiously anticipates the general movement away from the philosophy of Egoism that would take place during the war. Having enjoyed a period of intense interest in the English-speaking world following the publication of Byington’s translation in 1912, The Ego and His Own was to vanish just as suddenly into obscurity again, as writers such as Joyce, Lewis and Marsden began to confront problems posed by new materialist theories of the mind (originating in Schopenhauer, developed over the course of the nineteenth-century by James and Bergson, and finding their culmination in the Behaviourist theory of the C20th). The world imagined in the play is already permeated with a strong sense of the extent to which mind is riddled with the unconscious, an ‘underworld of energy and rebellious muscle’, inextricably involved in the mechanism of a material universe in which stars are ‘machines of prey’.
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