The ‘New Man’ Symposium
Conveners: Jorge Dagnino (de los Andes) & Matthew Feldman (Teesside)
The ‘New Man Symposium’ will examine fascist movements and regimes through the lens of an attempted anthropological revolution. This attempt to create a ‘homo fascistus’ during the fascist epoch is approached via a comparative angle, with presentations by leaders in the field of Fascist Studies. Taking different perspectives and looking at national movements across Europe, as well as in Latin America, it is hoped that this interdisciplinary conference will revive interest in this much neglected topic.
Dr Jeannette Baxter (Anglia Ruskin) – ‘Men in Fascism’: Encountering the New Man in the B.U.F. Press and Selected Writings of Wyndham Lewis
The starting point for this paper is ‘Men in Fascism’, a visual feature that ran from December 1933 to April 1934 in Fascist Week, and which showcased prominent B.U.F. figures such as Alexander Raven Thomson, Robert Forgan, William Joyce, and Eric Hamilton Percy. Consisting of a photographic portrait of the featured individual and a biographical blurb outlining his main political, physical and intellectual achievements, ‘Men in Fascism’ is noteworthy for the role it plays in marketing British ‘masculine fascism’ (Gottlieb). Here, I explore the dynamics of identification and appeal at work in the feature together with its formal strategies for presenting the British fascist new man to the politically dedicated and the politically persuadable reader. A striking dimension of ‘Men in Fascism’, I will suggest, is its visual relationship with a cartoon portrait by John Gilmour of ‘soft’ political figures, including Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George and Jimmy Maxton, and ‘hard’ photographic portraits of the quintessential British fascist new man, Oswald Mosley. When read in relation to the political visual discourses of Gilmour’s cartoons and B.U.F. images of Mosely, ‘Men in Fascism’ emerges as a charged expression of revitalised racial, sexual and physical hierarchies that dare to give face to a fascist future in Britain.
The second part of this paper turns to selected visual and literary works by Wyndham Lewis as they intersect with British fascist conceptions of the new man. I begin by outlining Lewis’s controversial engagements with fascism across the late 1920s and 1930s in order to give a taste of the artist’s shifting – and often conflicting – expressions of fascist masculinity. Paying particular attention to Lewis’s visual and verbal portraits of Mosley across various B.U.F. publications, I go on to re-examine the extent and nature of Lewis’s fascist modernism. Should Lewis simply be dismissed, to follow Peter Carey (amongst others), as an unequivocally noxious fascist intellectual? Or is there potential to encounter Lewis’s provocative and contradictory fascist modernism as less ‘an aberration to be explained’ away and more as a ‘full-fledged, internally consistent variant’ of what Roger Griffin has identified as ‘programmatic modernism’?