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December 15, 2017

Blast from the Future

On this day in 1914, the first issue of the radical arts magazine, Blast, was published. This was "A Review of the Great English Vortex," and though neither the magazine nor "Vorticism" would last very long, the art-literary Establishment was jolted into taking notice. The cover was a violent pink, the typography and lay-out were an assault on Victorian order and ornateness, and though the specific lists of Blasted (English humor, do-gooders, sportsmen, aesthetics. . .) and Blessed (trade unionists, music halls, hairdressers, aviators. . .) might have been a bit of a puzzle, the manifesto sounded a trumpet for modernism:
    We stand for the Reality of the Present - not for the sentimental Future, or the sacripant Past.
    We want to leave Nature and men alone.
    The only way Humanity can help artists is to remain independent and work unconsciously.
    WE NEED THE UNCONSCIOUSNESS OF HUMANITY - their stupidity, animalism and dreams.
    We believe in no perfectibility except our own.
    Intrinsic beauty is in the Interpreter and Seer, not in the object or content.
    WE ONLY WANT THE WORLD TO LIVE, and to feel its crude energy flowing through us . . . .
They were not the only trumpet, but the Vorticists scoffed at the Bloomsbury crowd, rejecting their modernism as class-bound and clever, a tea-room movement. Vorticists hung out at the underground nightclub, The Cave of the Golden Calf, a place whose walls were "hideously but relevantly frescoed," and "splashed with the blood of exhausted heroes." In the world of the avant-garde, they were the bad-boy Marlowe to the Bloomsbury Shakespeare, and Blast was conceived as their "battering ram."

As a word, "Vorticism" was coined by Ezra Pound. As a movement in painting and sculpture, it was a branch of abstract art, as were all its fledgling cousins -- Futurism, Rayonism, Fauvism, Orphism, Suprematism, etc. As a literary movement, it was harder to define, the first issue including poems by Pound (in which he taunted the "continuous gangrene" of "gagged reviewers" and "slut-bellied obstructionists"), a suffragist story by Rebecca West and an early version of Ford Madox Ford's "The Good Soldier." But the major force in Blast and Vorticism, as both painter and writer, was Wyndham Lewis. The first issue of Blast contained his play, "Enemy of the Stars," and many of his declarations in favor of raw energy, hard edges and the helter-skelter life:
    Our Vortex is not afraid of the past: it has forgotten its existence.
    Our Vortex regards the Future as as sentimental as the Past.
    Our Vortex rushes out like an angry dog at your Impressionistic fuss.
    Our Vortex is white and abstract with its red-hot swiftness.
Looking back from 1956, Lewis would say, "Vorticism, in fact, was what I, personally, did or said at a certain time." This is confirmed by an anecdote from Ford Madox Ford in which he remembers walking with Pound and Lewis near his house, the "incomprehensible Philadelphian" talking in his one ear while Lewis played a second Mephistopheles at the other:
    "Tu sais, tu es foutu! Foutu! Finished! Exploded! Done for!... What people want is me, not you. They want to see me. A Vortex. To liven them up ... I ... I ... I ...." He struck his chest dramatically and repeated: "I ... I ... I .... The Vortex. Blast all the rest."
Neither Blast nor Vorticism lasted long, both falling victim to either the dogs of WWI, or just the dogs: "The common homo canis," said Pound, "snarls violently at the thought of there being ideas which he doesn't know."

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