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On Love

Self Condemned , by Wyndham Lewis. London: Methuen, 1954.

One has been trying, for weeks, to compose oneself in terms of, or rather in relation to, a given instance. For example:

Your letter came in a moment when my heart was limping. A star had come and I couldn't receive it for I was repenting pride. And though you were expressing the world you know in Plato's Symposium , the nature of love, Socrates' conversation with Diotima, "and that one's disappointment finally becomes expectant . . . ," I knew the chastisement. I'd provided the mantle of my personal size . . . Love is the world and Logos the word but Life demands that Love know itself and when Love isn't in Grace it is testy and bitter . . .

I know this lady is a fine one, and was grateful for her reassurance. For an instant—I did not, I think, wish to laugh at either one of us, but how not to. I was afraid that I was I, and she was she. Writing is private, I thought. Later I read in Stein's Everybody's Autobiography:

. . . when you say what you do say [these were lectures] you say it in public but when you write it in private if you do not write it, that is what writing is, and in private you are you and in public you are in public and everybody knows that . . .

My heart has been limping, for months now. In that way, I tend to forget the lady, a little. Without glibness, Wyatt must have known

Black Mountain Review , Spring 1956.


it, very exactly, and he was then much older: "They flee from me who sometimes did me seek." For an instant, no matter more—there are these several juxtapositions possible, e.g., H.D.'s saying, I go where I love and am loved  . . . ; Williams', what, shut grief in from us? We who have perhaps nothing to lose? And the, myself forgetting violence, and long betrayal —of Robert Graves, the poem which introduces the first edition of The White Goddess .

Should we roar with laughter—or what do we have to do, with the moon, these days? Stendhal writes: "I am full of admiration for the shrewdness and unerring judgment with which women seem to me to grasp certain details; and yet the next moment I find them praising some dullard to the skies, allowing themselves to be moved to tears by a platitude, or gravely treating some hollow affectation as a sign of character. I cannot understand such folly. There must be some general law beyond my ken governing these matters . . ."

Robert Duncan, in a letter: "And I want them all as best I can, and so do you, any man: want to be free to give myself over to the sexual lure, to fall in love—and to learn the art of place and person, of tone and definition that might render the experience to itself. But it's a cheat to bring the accusation against ourselves or our lovers of selfishness in a situation that is of the essence 'thotless.'

"And a mixd hell on wheels to try to come to love that which has possessd us. Well, but then there is the figure of an hysterical female figure on a rollercoaster crying 'I simply love this.'"


Conversely, Wyndham Lewis' Self Condemned is a terrifying relation of more than 'one man's life'; it is a statement of the impossible distance of an intimacy, too often, these days. At the beginning:

As soon as she saw that he was occupied with his correspondence (and she was not detained by her own, which had been nothing but a few bills), she shook off the contretemps of the Princess Casamassima discussion—such a highbrow feature for their breakfast-table talk was almost without precedent—and returned to the setting of her own little traps. The terrific success of the night before, and René had been in perfect honeymoon form, must really be put to some good use. The moment had come, it seemed to her, to seize time by the forelock while his eyes were still gooey and his brain still drugged with the fumes of the Venusberg. Her eyes shining, her waist arched in


and hips thrust out, she held up a page of her newspaper on which were displayed a bunch of late-spring coats, a bait for those who were so silly as to imagine that in warm weather fur coats grew cheaper.

"Now that ," she exclaimed, arching her eyebrows, "is what, if you ever had a really lavish fit—that is the sort of thing I should get you to buy."

René looked up from his correspondence, momentarily stung almost to fury by the brazen naively mercenary calculations of the good Hester, with her garishly stock notion of what was a propitious moment . . .

This image is not a 'criticism' of anyone, or rather, I use it in no such context. Nor am I concerned with the 'reality' of either character or situation, except that they are here—some pages (weeks, months, countries) later:

. . . "Will you kindly tell me at once what my wife has done," demanded René.

"What did she do?" echoed the policeman. And René noticed the change of tense.

"She did nothing?" he asked; his lips trembled. "And if she has done nothing, why did you demand my presence here?" The aggressive tone provoked the reappearance of the unmodified jowl of the dogs of the Law.

"She did do something , Professor. She threw herself under a truck."

It continues: ". . . The poor hair was full of mud, which flattened it upon the skull. Her eye protruded: it was strange it should still have the strength to go peering on in the darkness."

René took a step forward towards the exhibit, but he fell headlong, striking his forehead upon the edge of the marble slab—the remains being arranged upon something like a fishmonger's display slab. As he fell it had been his object to seize the head and carry it away with him. To examine his legal right had been his last clear act of consciousness . . .

D. H. Lawrence writes: ". . . But if your wife should accomplish for herself the sweetness of her own soul's possession, then gently, delicately let the new mode assert itself, the new mode of relation between you, with something of spontaneous paradise in it, the apple of knowledge at last digested. But, my word, what bellyaches meanwhile. The apple is harder to digest than a lead guncartridge . . ."


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