At a friend's party last year, while leaning with glass of wine in one hand against a bookcase bulging with many fantastic things, I came across a facsimile of BLAST II, the "war number" of Wyndham Lewis's Vorticist journal (ca. 1914-15). I had never seen it before, and spent the next hour with it, eventually ordering myself a copy (which took eons to arrive). Another time, another continent, several wars ago... it got me thinking about how art and social issues are necessarily conjoined but have long been uneasy bedfellows, particularly during wars and revolutions. Here's a bit about Wyndham Lewis, and another bit about BLAST, via Wikipedia:
Percy Wyndham Lewis (November 18, 1882 – March 7, 1957) was a Canadian-born British painter and author. He was a co-founder of the Vorticist movement in art, and edited the Vorticists' journal, BLAST (two numbers, 1914-15). His novels include his pre-World War I-era novel Tarr (set in Paris), and The Human Age, a trilogy comprising The Childermass (1928), Monstre Gai and Malign Fiesta (both 1955), set in the afterworld. A fourth volume of The Human Age, The Trial of Man, was begun by Lewis but left in a fragmentary state at the time of his death.
Lewis was born on his father's yacht off the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. His British mother and American father separated about 1893. His mother subsequently returned to England, where Lewis was educated, first at Rugby School, then at the Slade School of Art in London, before spending most of the 1900s travelling around Europe and studying art in Paris. [read more]
BLAST was edited and largely written by Wyndham Lewis with contributions from other Vorticists. The first edition was printed in folio format, with the oblique title BLAST splashed across its bright pink soft cover. Inside, Lewis used a range of bold typographic innovations and tricks to engage the reader.
The opening 20 pages of Blast 1 contain the Vorticist manifesto, written by Lewis with assistance from Ezra Pound and signed by Lewis, Edward Wadsworth, Pound, William Roberts, Helen Saunders, Lawrence Atkinson, Jessica Dismorr and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. David Bomberg and Jacob Epstein chose not to sign the manifesto, although their work was featured.
The manifesto is primarily a long list of things to be 'Blessed' or 'Blasted'. It starts:
- Beyond Action and Reaction we would establish ourselves.
- We start from opposite statements of a chosen world. Set up violent structure of adolescent clearness between two extremes.
- We discharge ourselves on both sides.
- We fight first on one side, then on the other, but always for the SAME cause, which is neither side or both sides and ours.
- Mercenaries were always the best troops.
- We are primitive Mercenaries in the Modern World.
- Our Cause is NO-MAN'S.
- We set Humour at Humour's throat. Stir up Civil War among peaceful apes.
- We only want Humour if it has fought like Tragedy.
- We only want Tragedy if it can clench its side-muscles like hands on its belly, and bring to the surface a laugh like a bomb.
The first edition of BLAST also contained articles by Pound, Rebecca West, Gaudier-Brzeska and an extract from Ford Madox Hueffer's novel The Saddest Story, better known by its later title The Good Soldier (published under his subsequent pseudonym Ford Madox Ford). The first edition also contained many illustrations in the Vorticist style by Jacob Epstein, Lewis and others.
The second edition contained a short play by Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot's poems Preludes and Rhapsody on a Windy Night. Another article by Gaudier-Brzeska entitled Vortex (written from the Trenches) further described the vorticist aesthetic. It was written whilst Gaudier-Brzeska was fighting in the First World War, a few weeks before he was killed. [read more...]
I was reminded of BLAST today when I came across this quote from Cyril Connolly, 1903-1974, (pictured below) posted by João Ribas on his blog Notes + Queries, which sets the stage for further musings, links, quotes and citations for books, re: war, literature, cinema. For most Americans, Cyril Connolly's name may not ring a bell, but he was one of the most influential figures in English literary circles of his time:
"At the moment politics are more dangerous to young writers than journalism.....because writers now feel that politics are necessary to them, without having learnt yet how best to be political....writers function in a state of political flux, on the eve of the crisis, rather than in the crisis itself; it is before a war or a revolution that they are listened to and come into their own and it was because they are disillusioned at their impotence during the war that so many became indifferent to political issues after the peace"
-- Cyril Connolly in 1938.
Speaking of Cyril Connolly, a few years back I read a terrific book by Connolly's daughter, Cressida Connolly: The Rare and the Beautiful: The Art, Loves, and Lives of the Garman Sisters, "...whose lives described a glittering arc through London's High Bohemia between the two world wars" (The Washington Post). More to the point: decadence, beauty, insanity and creativity set against the background of war and politics.
Connolly, the daughter of writer Cyril Connolly, has a bit of an in with bohemian England of the 1920s and '30s. As a window into that era, she chooses four of the nine Garman siblings: sisters Mary, Kathleen and Lorna, and (despite the subtitle) their brother Douglas. Just writing a descriptive sentence about the four is an exercise in name-dropping: among their spouses and lovers were artists, writers and patrons who shaped the 20th century, including Roy Campbell, Jacob Epstein, Vita Sackville-West, Peggy Guggenheim and Lucian Freud. Perhaps because she is a child of that generation, Connolly focuses on their family lives and the numerous ways they flouted the conventions of marriage and child-rearing. The Garmans, who were raised by servants and sent away to school, seemed unable to deal with the realities of keeping house and especially raising children. Connolly captures this irresponsibility as both a personal and a generational pattern... (From Publishers Weekly)
blurbs,via metacritic :
Booklist, Donna Seaman:
Connolly's elegantly insightful family portrait, a worthy companion to Virginia Nicholson's Among the Bohemians, raises many still urgent questions about sexism, creativity, and responsibility. [July 2004, p.1813]
Wall Street Journal, David Pryce-Jones :
A book about so many similar characters necessarily switches its focus in ways that can be confusing, but on the whole Cressida Connolly tells a coherent and readable story in The Rare and the Beautiful, and a perfect little microcosm of social collapse it is too. [...]