Blast Project: The Blasted and the Blessed

 

        “BLAST…LONDON COLISEUM/SOCIALIST-PLAYWRIGHT/DALY’S MUSICAL COMEDY/ GAIETY CHORUS GIRL…BLESS the great PORTS/ HULL/LIVERPOOL/LONDON/NEWCASTLE-ON-TYNE/BRISTOL/ GLASGOW” shout the pages of Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound’s Vorticist manifesto (Lewis 11, 23). Blast, though only running for two issues, left a dominant stamp in the realm of modernist journals and avant-garde movements. Blast served as Lewis and Pound’s megaphone for the promotion of the aggressive, energetic, yet still and concrete Vorticist movement. Likely the loudest and most prominent section of the journal, the blasts, curses, and blesses sections of Blast contain artistically structured lists that throw a vast array of people, ideas, movements, aspects of culture, and places into the heat of the “vortex.” In search of meaning, purpose, and pattern beyond that which is seen in close reading of this portion of the text, I employed the use of Google maps as a tool to map out every location blasted or blessed within the first issue. From the visual map of these locations, a focus and tightness to the Vorticists’ movement can be seen that is not found as overtly present in the written text alone. Though to many of its readers and critics Blast was and is nothing more than “various forms of silliness,” mapping of the blasts, curses, and blessings confirms the strong and unified presence of the themes of modernity, nationalism, and industry underneath the noise and flash of the Vorticists’ multi-faceted manifesto (Wees 193).

          To create the map, I used Google maps’ “my map” tool to place markers at all the locations mentioned in the blasting and blessing sections of the manifesto. In order to map these locations, first, I simply went through the Blast text pulling out all of the cities and countries listed that I knew upon first sight and pinned them on to my Google map with color-coded markers, red for the cursed, blue for the blessed. The most obvious locations mentioned consisted of England, France, London, Paris, and the various ports mentioned in the blessed section. Next, it was not difficult to recognize names like “Arcs de Triomphe” and the “London Coliseum” as specific locations and also add them to the map. The more challenging process came with the task of combing through the sections in search for references and locations that were unfamiliar to me, locations such as the London suburb of Putney, the Lyceum Club for women, and the London theatres Daly’s and Gaiety. Vital to this combing process became the annotations provided in The Norton Anthology of English Literature’s edition of the Blast journal. Through these annotations and the notes on the “blasted” and “blessed” provided in William C. Wees’s Vorticism and the English Avant-Garde, I was able to historically and geographically search and place unfamiliar references and locations. I included many of the annotative notes in the locations’ descriptions on the map for contextual purposes.

          The completed map was surprisingly narrowly focused. Even though Vorticism was in many ways the British avant-garde’s reaction to the Futurist movement headed by the Italian Filippo Marinetti, Lewis included no direct references to Italy or anything Italian within the blasts, curses, and blesses. Not only are Italian references and locations absent, but reference to non-English locations as a whole are extremely limited. Other than brief interludes that turn the spotlight over to France and Paris and the inclusion of the Scotland ports of Glasgow and Shetland amongst the blessed, all other locational references blasted or blessed are found within England. The Vorticists’ England focus suggests the promotion of a modern national identity over a broader identity with Great Britain as a whole. England is both the first thing blasted and the first thing blessed. Not only does the manifesto center upon England rather than Great Britain but within England Lewis and Pound specifically center their focus on London, the “VICTORIAN VAMPIRE” that “sucks the TOWN’S heart” (Lewis, 11).

          The Vorticists rightly saw London as England’s societal center for art, intellect, and politics. The map shows that of the locations and institutions Lewis and Pound felt the need to blast, many could be located in the heart of London. Though the Vorticists, along with other competing art, political, and intellectual movements, saw London as the vital axis point upon which cultural and/ or societal change could be built, Lewis and Pound realized the complacent inertia of the people of London had to be addressed before great progress could be made (Reynolds 247). Thus before Blast offered up its praise and hope for England’s modern future, Lewis first calls out London’s society for its “effeminate” and complacent response to the end of the Victorian era (Lewis 11). In the mind of the Vorticists, the “BRITANNIC AESTHETE” movement’s reaction to the Victorian period wasted “MUCH VAST MACHINARY” opportunities for English society by never diving beneath the intrinsic surface details (Lewis 11).

          Through centralizing their focus on England and London, the Vorticists showed their movement’s “aggressively naturalistic” intent to be “the organ for new, vigorous art in England…from an Anglo-Saxon point of view instead of a borrowed foreign standpoint” (Reynolds 241). Part of Lewis’s goal for the Vorticism movement was to clearly separate from Marinetti’s Futurist movement even though Vorticism’s rhetorical emphasis on machinery and industry borrowed heavily from the Futurists (Morrison). In the Blast manifesto Lewis and Pound blasted the London Lyceum Club for women for having Marinetti speak at their establishment. Lewis not only desired an ideal distinct from foreign influences, he wanted a new and modern reshaping of English cultural and societal ideology. The Vorticist movement pushed for the establishment of a pure English art form that would shock the English people out of their complacency. Hence, the Vorticists blasted many institutions that aligned with either a complacent attitude towards the arts, a traditionalist “Victorian frame of mind,” or an aesthetic view (Wees 167).

          Atypical of avant-garde movements, the Vorticists desired to communicate and advocate for a new form of art that would appeal to the masses and have an uplifting and revitalizing effect on society. In the promotion of this modern movement, the Vorticists “blast[ed] convention, standardization, the middle class” and in addition, the establishments that marketed conventional art forms and standardized productions to the middle class (“The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The 20th Century Topic 2: Texts and Contexts”). The map shows that Lewis specifically cursed Putney, a London middle-class suburb, and blasted a West-end group of popular, yet stagnant, high-end theatres, including Daly’s Theatre and Gaiety Theatre, because of their Edwardian “MUSICAL COMED[IES]” marketed to the upper and middle class of London (Lewis 11). In contrast to the rejection of these institutions of fine-art, later in the manifesto Lewis and Pound blessed many different people who represented small, less main-stream music and dance halls (Lewis 28).

          The Vorticists’ commitment to advancements in modernity and in the realm of commerce is furthered highlighted on the map by the blessing of London’s first modern department store, Selfridges (Lewis 28). The Vorticists investment in the growth of modern industry meant that they praised the establishment of modern conveniences that served beneficial societal functions such as Selfridges. The welcoming of modern adaption and new machinery coincided with the avant-garde’s modernizing of English art. Part of the Vorticists’ art movement involved the adapting of clean, precise designs of geometrical abstraction as a modern art form. According to Morrison, Lewis saw this new structured and precise art form as leading “away from the messiness and confusion of nature and natural things” and towards “the machine” (Morrison). Simple growths towards machinery-driven production and modernity in London, like the presence of Selfridges, excited the Vorticists and confirmed that London was “NOT A PROVINCIAL TOWN” despite the lingering fog of Victorianism and Aestheticism (Lewis 19).

          Few areas of modern growth and possibility seemed to excite Lewis and Pound more than that of global commerce and industrialism. The map’s numerous “blessed” ports show the high value Lewis placed on their industrial purpose and contribution to the nation’s growth and prosperity. Lewis defined all ports as “RESTLESS MACHINES” working to link England’s market to the global market of trade (Lewis 23). He specifically blessed Great Britain’s “great” ports- Hull, Liverpool, London, Bristol, Newcastle upon Tyne, Glasgow, and Shetland (Lewis 23). England is also blessed as a whole for being an “Industrial island machine… discharging itself on the sea” (Lewis 23). The map gives the visual of the productive port of Shetland at the literal “apex” of the “pyramidal workshop” of England and Scotland’s sea trade (Lewis 23, 24). The map also shows how distributed the great ports are around the borders of England, as if the ports are structurally upholding England, like the pillars of a pier— Bristol in the Southwest, London on the Southeast, Liverpool upholding the Western middle, Hull the Eastern middle, Newcastle upon Tyne to the Northeast, and finally Glasgow holding up the Northwest portion of the isle. The ports distribution across England further support the Vorticists’ theme of national development. Perhaps Vorticism is suggesting that just as the strong individual ports help to create a strong and unified industrial nation, so can the developing of well-rounded intellectually strong individuals lead to a stronger and more well-rounded society.

          The Vorticists’ individual and group input into society did at least serve to shake up London society for a time, but the majority of the English people were unprepared for the brash statements and demands found within the journal; the bold style and typography proved shocking enough to most readers of the day apart from its avant-garde sentiments and daring manifesto. Though people were unprepared for Vorticist art and the movement did not last long nor attract many true followers, it was not due to Blast’s failure to communicate the Vorticist vision. Blast brilliantly delivered the message of Vorticism. The map of the blasts, curses, and blessings is itself proof of a clear and centralized focused message arguing for the building of a distinctly English, modern, and industrialized nation. However, just as many of the blasts in the manifesto suggested, the English people had not fully awaken into the modern age enough to willingly throw themselves into the vortex of an avant-garde movement. London was most definitely not ready to blast away its leading entertainment venues nor the post office, and it definitely was not about to eliminate London’s middle-class. Though Blast did not convert a country into artists and intellects; it did make an impact in the modernist era that has lived on in history.

Works Cited

Lewis, Wyndham, ed. Blast: Review of the Great English Vortex. London: John Lane, the Bodley Head,          1914-06. The Modernist Journals Project. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

Morrisson, Mark. "BLAST: An Introduction." Modernist Journals Project.Modernist Journals Project,n.d.          Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

Reynolds, Paige. ""Chaos Invading Concept": Blast as a Native Theory of Promotional Culture."                    Twentieth Century Literature 46.2 (2000): 238-68.JSTOR. Web. 13 Dec. 2014.

"The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The 20th Century: Topic 2: Texts and Contexts." The                Norton Anthology of English Literature: The 20th CenturyTexts and Contexts. W.W. Norton and              Company, n.d.Web. 12 Dec. 2014. 

Wees, William C. Vorticism and the English Avant-garde. Toronto: U of Toronto,1972. Print.