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BLAST at 100

A Modernist Magazine Reconsidered

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Edited by Philip Coleman, Kathryn Milligan and Nathan O'Donnell

BLAST at 100 makes an original contribution to the understanding of a major modernist magazine. Providing new critical readings that consider the magazine’s influence within contexts that have not been acknowledged before – in the development of Irish and Spanish literature and culture in the twentieth century, for example, as well as in the areas of cultural studies, performance studies and the scholarship of teaching and learning – BLAST at 100 reconsiders the magazine’s complex legacy. In addition to situating the magazine in new and often unexpected contexts, BLAST at 100 also offers important new insights into the work of some of its most significant contributors, including Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, and Rebecca West.

Contributors are: Philip Coleman, Simon Cutts, Andrzej Gąsiorek, Angela Griffith, Nicholas E. Johnson, Kathryn Laing, Christopher Lewis, J.C.C. Mays, Kathryn Milligan, Yolanda Morató, Nathan O’Donnell, Alex Runchman, Colm Summers, Tom Walker

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Simon Cutts

Drawing on his experience over several decades, especially with Tarasque Press and Coracle, in this essay Simon Cutts explores the ways in which his work has evolved in relation to BLAST and the broader tradition of the “little magazine”.

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Kathryn Laing

The contradictions implied by Lewis’s title, BLAST, at once destructive explosion and originary moment, conjure the image of a literary “Big Bang”. This sets the scene for the critical approach of this essay to Rebecca West’s story, “Indissoluble Matrimony”, and its fittingly uneasy fit in its BLAST contexts. The essay attends to the theme and metaphor of genesis, textual and contextual origins, and the idea of creative explosion. This includes discussion of West’s contributions to Dora Marsden’s The Freewoman/New Freewoman and her early fiction experiments. It also argues for a more careful consideration of intersections between Lewis’s artworks and West’s prose of this period, surfacing further possible reasons for its inclusion in BLAST. The essay concludes with an analysis of how the story simultaneously acknowledges and subverts its debts to feminist and literary models and a reconsideration of the story in its “bibliographic environment”.

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Kathryn Milligan

“A Review of Contemporary Art” appeared in the second issue of BLAST, published in July 1915. In it, Wyndham Lewis evokes the energetic changes then taking place in painting as the traditional form of the medium and its subjects were dismantled and reconstructed in new, complex ways, made manifest in British painting through the art of Lewis and his Vorticist companions. This essay explores how Lewis conceived of, and presented to the reader, the development of modern painting. Furthermore, it seeks to consider Lewis’s text in relation to the writings of his contemporaries, and how the narrative of changes in modern painting was constructed and presented to a wider audience.

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Edited by Philip Coleman, Kathryn Milligan and Nathan O’Donnell

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Nathan O’Donnell and Philip Coleman

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J.C.C. Mays

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.

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Tom Walker

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.

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Yolanda Morató

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.

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Alex Runchman

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.