University of Hertfordshire

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Ivan Phillips - Speaker

In his 1927 book Time and Western Man, Wyndham Lewis envisages a ‘quite credible domestic scene of the future’ in which a couple watch ‘their selves of long ago fly onto a screen’. Today, sixty years after Lewis’s death, anyone with internet access can summon him to the screen and watch him deriding the Royal Academy following the rejection of his portrait of T.S. Eliot from the 1938 Summer Exhibition.

Taking Lewis’s remarkable passage about the future ‘domestic cinematograph’ as its starting point, this paper explores his attitudes to the technologisation of Western culture, considering his place within the critical narratives that have formed around this process. Most obvious, in this respect, is his acknowledged influence on the ideas of Marshall McLuhan – particularly on his formulation of the concept of the ‘global village’ – but the aim here is to show his anticipation of a range of perspectives on media. Crucially, his uneasiness about the impact of electric mass media on temporal perception and subjective materialism will be seen to have foreshadowed concepts in the writings of Herbert Marcuse, André Bazin, Paul Virilio, and others.

‘Determinism,’ Andrzej Gąsiorek has written, ‘was the nightmare from which Lewis was trying to escape.’ It is striking, therefore, to note that many of those whose ideas on media effects seem to have been predicted by Lewis have been criticized as technological determinists. Understanding how his complex and visionary readings of a new technological consciousness enact a challenge to the utopian fetishism of some commentators can bring about a revised view not only of Lewis as social critic but also of wider discourses of cultural change. Viewed from the age of YouTube and Facebook, Lewis emerges as not only supremely sensitive but also finely questioning, his archived presence on video-sharing websites appearing as a ghostly provocation to, in McLuhan’s words, ‘discern the human shape once more in a vast technological landscape which has been ordered on Machiavellian lines’.
Sep 2016

Event (Conference)

TitleBenign Fiesta
Web address (URL)
LocationUniversity of Nottingham
CountryUnited Kingdom
Degree of recognitionInternational event

ID: 12004787