Old Joe on the University of Birmingham campus.
Old Joe on the University of Birmingham campus.

Writer Wyndham Lewis evoked the fantasy of being ‘thoroughly unanchored’ from London, from controversy, from recognizability: from his life as he lived it at the time, in effect. The fantasy compels not only because it is a typical contrarian move made by an unapologetic contrarian, but also because it invites reflection on the very Lewisian problem of autonomy itself.

This conference, a hybrid event featuring in-person and remote presentations, sought to open up these issues for discussion, focused on the doubled and doubling identity announced in the title of Lewis’s 1932 work: the filibuster. An obstructive, loquacious speaker as well as a kind of aggressor, the filibuster was as much a symbol of Lewis himself as of the age in which he lived—a time of proliferating orators and antagonists, of voices and violence.

Hosting this conference at Birmingham attests to the long tradition of Lewis scholarship at the University, and to the important role it has played in widening participation in the field. It has been really rewarding to see how Filibusters in Birmingham has encouraged a range of established and newer voices, some of them speaking on Lewis for the first time at an academic conference. We had speakers joining in person and remotely from across the globe—at one point, via Zoom, from North America and from Japan simultaneously.

Dr Nathan Waddell - Associate Professor in Twentieth-Century Literature.

The goal in organizing the event was to create a welcoming space for thinking critically about these questions, focusing on how Lewis’s filibustering—as a painter, literary writer, socio-political critic, polemicist, and philosopher—was anchored in a variety of material and intellectual contexts. This was also to prompt discussion of the figure of the contemporary scholar of Lewis: who such scholars are, what motivates them, and why they are important in and beyond modernist studies.

The keynote speakers of the conference were Professor Rebecca Beasley (University of Oxford) and Dr Alexandra Bickley Trott (Oxford Brookes University). The conference featured the usual run of panel sessions with a Q&A, a postgraduate training workshop, and opportunities to hear about the progress of the Wyndham Lewis Complete Critical Edition (Oxford University Press).