Paul Edwards

Paul Edwards editor of Enemy News, the journal of the Wyndham Lewis Society, works in an Industrial Language Training Unit in East London, where he designs courses on work-place communications. His edition of Lewis’s Rotting Hill was published on 18 February (Black Sparrow, distributed by Air-life Books, 349 pp., £19.95 and £11.95, 0 87685 647 4).

Dialectical Satire

Paul Edwards, 18 September 1986

‘If I had been Lenin I would have introduced the concept “shit” instead of “matter”. Shit is primary. How does that sound?! But it’s not only primary. It’s secondary, as well. And that puts paid to all philosophical argument.’ So much for dialectical materialism, a philosophy for which Alexander Zinoviev feels a professional scorn. Zinoviev’s academic speciality is logic, and his main work in that field (popularised in a forbidding volume called Logical Physics) is an analysis of the cogency and implications of the language of science. The results of this analysis are frequently counter-intuitive, apparently, but tell us nothing about the world: ‘the sphere of application of logic is language and only language.’ This is a rarified subject, but we are all familiar enough with the habits of thought subsumed under ‘dialectical logic’ not to be surprised that Zinoviev should also be the source of a gross and unstanchable flow of satire. The Madhouse, which dates from 1980, is the latest of his novels to be published here in translation. Since then, Zinoviev has turned to the subject of émigré life, but The Madhouse concerns the thoughts and fate of an intellectual misfit in Russia.

The Education of Gideon Chase

Paul Edwards, 5 June 1986

‘Mastah Eastman just now come chop-chop say you plomise give him sketch-y lesson, you no lemember bime-by?’ It is shocking to find such dialogue – so squarely within the racist convention of the comic ‘Chinaman’ – seven pages into Timothy Mo’s novel about the first Opium War. Is this shameful convention, with its ‘all rightees’ and ‘yes Missees’, being endorsed as mimetically accurate by a writer at home in both English and Chinese cultures? If he does endorse it, he does so only to the extent of using it to show how small the point of contact between two cultures can be. Mo’s hero compares language to a delta; and just as the Western traders in the 1830s had access to China only through one part of the treacherous Pearl River delta and through the precarious stockade of ‘Factories’ at Canton, so linguistic contact also was straitened and treacherous. The pidgin that defined for popular consumption an image of the Chinese (along with opium dens and tong gangs) has its origin, Mo shows us, in purely commercial exchanges, where it functions as an adequate bridge between cultures so long as it carries only commercial traffic: ‘ “Half-um?” he says witheringly. “Half-um? Me tink-ee mak-ee half-um silver dollar can buy all-um duck market hab got Canton-side.” ’ (This time it is the American Eastman talking.) For any other form of cultural exchange it is worse than useless – ‘ridiculous nonsense’, as Mo reassuringly calls it later in the novel. The word ‘pidgin’, he might have added, is simply a Chinese corruption of the word ‘business’. Pidgin English is business English, purely instrumental in origin.’

Have we finished with Conrad and racialism yet? ‘The disdainful pout of Comrade Ossipon’s thick lips accentuated the negro type of his face.’ Conrad accepts the racial stereotypes of the ‘scientists’ of his time, but in some ways he certainly attempts to undermine them too. Heart of Darkness shows that ‘civilised’ whites are as prone to savagery and superstition as the ‘uncivilised...
SIR: I wondered, before I started it, how far I would be able to read into John Bayley’s review of the Tolstoys’ Diaries (LRB, 5 December 1985) before his argument would become too refined for me to understand. It happened even earlier than usual: in the second paragraph, when I reached the sentence ‘Solipsism is an index of immortality.’ I tried the sentence the other way round – ‘Immortality...

Apoplectic Gristle: Wyndham Lewis

David Trotter, 25 January 2001

The day he first met Wyndham Lewis, shortly after the end of the First World War, Ernest Hemingway was teaching Ezra Pound how to box. The encounter took place in Paris, where Pound had a studio,...

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