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Thursday, June 05, 2014

Tarr (1918) by Wyndham Lewis

Johnny Depp as Wyndham Lewis in the biopic? JUST SAYING.

Book Review
Tarr (1918)
by Wyndham Lewis

  Portraits of bohemian life aren't particularly scarce in 19th century French literature aren't particularly uncommon:  Paris has been Parisian for a looooonggggg time.  However, analgous English language literature- either writers from the United Kingdom (and Ireland) and the United States are a distinctly 20th century phenomenon.

  In America it was the "lost generation" writers of the 20s.   In England and Ireland, writers like James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis combined experimental literary technique with a bohemian milieu to create  an enduring genre. Lewis, for some reason, used the "equals" = sign at the beginning of sentences in a kind of experimental punctuation, which I think is probably more popular in poetry than the novel.  Here is what wikipedia says about the move:

          The American first edition used a punctuation mark (resembling an equals sign: '=') between sentences (after full stops, exclamation marks or question marks). It has been claimed that these were an attempt by Lewis, an artist, to introduce 'painterly strokes' into literature. This has, however, been disputed by Dr. John Constable, who believes that they are nothing more than a German punctuation mark briefly adopted by Lewis. Lewis himself wrote to Ezra Pound about this when reconstructing missing parts of the manuscript for the U.S. edition: "Were those parallel lines = Quinn mentions kept going by the Egoist, or not? Could not they be disinterred, & used by Knopf?" (Lewis to Pound, October 1917). Evidently not all were disinterred, as large stretches of the book as published are without them. (Tarr Wikipedia)
   The other peculiar aspect of Tarr is the distinctly polyglot nature of the cast of characters- Kreissler, who figures prominently in the first 5/6ths of the novel, is a kind of 19th century German romantic who is out of place and out of time.  Tarr himself is a kind of peripheral figure and a stand in for the author.  Early 20th century Paris is another main character.  The combination of characters who are doing nothing with money and those who are doing nothing without is something that will be intimately familiar to fans of later generations of bohemian celebrating literature, i.e. the Beats.

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