Friday, October 19, 2012

Norman Mailer, Wyndham Lewis and Universal Imbecility

I quoted this in my previous post because of the tenuous connection between "goods" and the "desire for new commodity":

It is likely that the survival of capitalism is no longer possible without the creation in the consumer of a series of psychically disruptive needs which circle about such wants and emotions as the desire for excessive security, the alleviation of guilt, the lust for comfort and new commodity, and the consequent allegiance to the vast lie about the essential health of the State and the economy, an elaborated fiction whose bewildering interplay of real and false detail must devil the mass into a progressively more imperfect apperception of reality and thus drive them closer to apathy, psychosis, and violence. Nineteenth-century capitalism exhausted the life of millions of workers; twentieth-century capitalism can well end by destroying the mind of civilized man. (Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself, p. 355-6)

That was written in 1958 or 59. This morning I happened to be reading Wyndam Lewis's The Art of Being Ruled, from 1926:

There is today a new reality; it is its first appearance in terrestrial life—the fact of political world-control. Today this may be said to be in existence, and tomorrow it will be still more of a fact. Neither can it be hidden—short of destroying everybody's sense of reality altogether. People could no doubt be persuaded that they did not see the sun and the moon: but the effort to assimilate this gigantic lie would destroy their brains altogether, and universal imbecility would ensue. (TAoBR, p. 367)

I hope we can agree that there is a striking affinity between these two statements. It is, perhaps, important to recall that "in 1927, Philo Farnsworth made the world's first working television system", i.e., Lewis was writing in ignorance of something that Mailer knew very well. Universal imbecility, we might say, did ensue. And twentieth-century capitalism did, I'm afraid, destroy the mind of civilized man.

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