“With Expletive of Whirlwind”: BLAST Then and Now

In: BLAST at 100

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The publication of Wyndham Lewis’s BLAST was a seminal event in English modernism and in the development of the “little magazine” culture that helped to usher modernism into being. This essay asks what kind of textual production BLAST was and how it might be read a hundred years after its appearance? To what extent was its avant-gardism successful and what meaning can its cultural intervention have today? This essay addresses such questions by considering how readers interpreted BLAST in order to suggest that there was no single reaction to it but rather a series of variable responses. Commentators understood that BLAST was urging a broad cultural renewal (not a narrowly literary or visual one). The essay focuses on four key features of BLAST: its visionary impulse, by means of which it instantiated a new kind of anti-realist art; its hybrid nature, which complicates any reading of it as a singular phenomenon; its preoccupation with human agency, above all the need for independent critical thought; and its use of humour, a central component of its paradoxical modus operandi. The essay concludes by considering Lewis’s later critique of BLAST and Vorticism in order to argue that his negative view of it is misleading because it works with too monolithic a view of what might count as avant-garde success or failure.