The influence of Wyndham Lewis and BLAST marks a turning point in the careers of Ezra Pound and Marshall McLuhan. BLAST confirmed the direction of Pound’s view of England and subsequent career as a poet; Lewis’s writing early became associated with McLuhan’s paradigmatic method of reading culture, as the latter recognised in his second book-publication COUNTERBLAST. Without Lewis, both writers would not have developed as they did, although McLuhan in particular ended in a different position to what Lewis nominated as the Enemy. This essay concludes with personal recollections by Jim Mays of McLuhan’s seminar on Communications at Toronto in the 1960s.
This essay focuses on W.B. Yeats’s contact via his close relationship with Ezra Pound in the mid-1910s with Vorticism and its textual embodiment in the pages of BLAST. The Irish poet’s June 1914 essay “Art and Ideas” seemingly refers to Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s sculpture, Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound. It also bears the traces of the art criticism written around this time by Pound and other associates of Vorticism. Yeats’s essay, therefore, can be read as offering a pre-emptive and implicit critique of the first issue of BLAST. In exploring the legacies of aestheticism and decadence in relation to the emergence of modernism in the visual arts, it highlights the danger to the Vorticists of being co-opted into the nineteenth century’s cult of beauty. In BLAST’s second number, Lewis responds to such dangers by overtly blasting away at the remnants of aestheticism. He also exhibits a more sociological concern for the place of the artist amid modernity in turning to questions of patronage and institutionalization. Parallel developments occurred in Yeats’s and Pound’s work of the period too, as all three writers sought for a means of reconnecting art to ideas and of escaping the ongoing crisis of aestheticism.
Yolanda Morató was charged with producing a semi-facsimile edition of BLAST for a large-scale retrospective exhibition of Wyndham Lewis’s work at Juan March Foundation (Madrid, Spain) in 2010. In this essay the challenges involved in this process are described and analysed: working with multiple co-contributors to replicate BLAST’s original physical appearance and adapting its typeface to sequences in Spanish to produce a magazine as close as possible to the original. With a variety of authors (and, therefore, styles), all texts required special attention so that the Spanish version could reproduce their techniques and the visual impact of their disposition on the page. This highly demanding commission meant working closely with a typographer to retain both visual impact and syntax, and – to avoid footnotes – creating a special annexed section. This essay explores a comprehensive range of decisions applied to every step of this complicated process.
This essay argues that, despite the disparate concerns and stylistic idiosyncrasies of its various contributors, the two volumes of BLAST can be read together as a single collaborative poem. In fact, reading them closely while at the same time situating them within broad literary and artistic contexts poses a substantial challenge to the very category of “poem” as well as to the notion of single authorship. Tracing the magazine’s recurring motifs of destruction, the essay identifies a prevalent disgust with the slow processes of natural decay, an ambivalence towards the violence of manmade machines, and, in particular, an awe-inspired regard for seismic chaos. Reading this admiration in relation to a later tendency to mythologize the enterprise’s short-lived nature, the essay concludes by speculating upon the implied aesthetic that any worthwhile work of art must bear within itself the risk of its own destruction.
In seeking to establish the connections between BLAST and Irish art, this essay continues a project initiated in recent scholarship by Rebecca Beasley and Scott W. Klein, aimed at placing BLAST in those international contexts to which, at points, the magazine seemed so vehemently averse. The essay begins by tracing references to Ireland in the magazine, mostly pertaining to the Celtic Revival and the associated sense of a natural “mysticism” against which the new “native” English art of BLAST can be – uneasily – defined. On the contrary, as this essay goes on to show, BLAST was in fact deeply indebted to and embedded in specifically Irish networks of artistic production and patronage, most notably through the figures of John Quinn and W.B. Yeats. Finally, the essay explores the heretofore under-examined relationship between the BLAST contributors and the Irish artist and architect, Eileen Gray, whose excision from Lewis’s later accounts of the pre-war period can be seen to continue and exemplify a strategy of disavowal in BLAST, one which imbues the magazine with its singular sense of aesthetic unity, but also arguably militated against any prospect of longevity and evolution for the movement it attempted to foster.1
In this essay, the received understanding of Irish art and modernism is reassessed through an examination of selected Irish critical writings which appeared in little magazines and periodicals in the 1920s. These writings suggest that a broader assessment of the cultural agency of continental modern art in a newly independent Ireland is appropriate. In particular, the periodical To-morrow, which is compared here to BLAST, was conceived and presented by its editors, Francis Stuart and Cecil ffrench Salkeld, as a platform for the modern agenda in literature and in art in Ireland. Recognized as one of the few Irish artists to actively pursue links with German modernism, Salkeld’s contributions to To-morrow suggest the existence of a more nuanced relationship between Irish intellectuals and continental modern art than has previously been explored. He was part of a small angry impatient group of writers and artists eager to challenge the pervading aesthetics of Irish Revivalism which, for them, had run its course. Like BLAST in its brief publication run, To-morrow advocated for a more cosmopolitan artistic agenda, but was quickly denounced by the conservative Irish Free State.
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.
Edited by Mihaela Irimia, Andreea Paris and Dragoş Manea
Contributors: Luis Manuel A.V. Bernardo, Lina Bolzoni, Peter Burke, Pia Brinzeu, Adina Ciugureanu, Thomas Docherty, Christoph Ehland, Herbert Grabes, László Gyapay, Donna Landry, Christoph Lehner, Gerald MacLean, Dragoş Manea, Daniel Melo, Mirosława Modrzewska, Rareş Moldovan, C.W.R.D. Mosely, Petruţa Năiduţ, Francesca Orestano, Maria Lúcia G. Pallares-Burke, Andreea Paris, Leonor Santa Bárbara, Hans-Peter Söder, Jukka Tiusanen, Ludmila Volná, Ioana Zirra.