Blast, a publication planned primarily by Wyndham Lewis, uses poetics coupled with typography to promote a distinctly English avant-garde movement. In contrast to the Italian Futurist movement that downplayed the role of mankind through a “drama of objects” (Norton 898), Blast emphasizes the particular roles and strengths of mankind based on England’s technologic feats. This call to mankind’s greater mechanics is distinguished through the use of bold language and a powerful graphic style that forms a structure of words framing the Vorticist’s relationship with Futurism and the Englishman’s domination of language, form, energy, and ultimately, nature. Blast‘s stylistic choices stress a clear statement on the importance of the individual and condemns what is natural in favor of what man can create.
The text on the first page is printed in a standardized type format, except for a few all-capitalized sentences, and is deliberately shadowed by the heavier weighted font and partially underlined “Long Live the Vortex!” (897). The overtly large typesetting of the first line, in relation to the text that follows, operates aesthetically much like a newspaper headline. Vorticism is announced to the public by mimicking massively produced media. The heavy text and the exclamation point excite a strong energy or momentum and the message behind the headline is clued by the word “live.” The word personifies Vorticism and the phrase itself mimics the idiom “long live the king.” A relation between Vorticism and kingly power is reiterated in the line “A VORTICIST KING! WHY NOT?” (898). These tactics work to announce Vorticism as having a connection to the people’s interests, energy, and English power.
The first two pages of the issue are composed of thirty three statements that work to stress and define the Vorticist movement. The terminology that follows continually emphasizes the role of man in the movement. The declarations use strong “we” statements that distinguish man’s role as intrinsically linked to its force. Out of the thirty-three statements, sixteen contain the pronoun “we” and human modifiers such as humanity, individual, and man, appear over eighteen times (897-98). This vigorous momentum of bold statements coupled with man’s immense presence fastens the energy of the Vorticist movement to humanity. In doing so, the Vorticists are demonstrating the power of man in relation to energy.
This demonstration of man’s power is deliberately placed at the beginning of the work in order to exaggerate man’s literal presence in its fabrication. It mimics a structural foundation for the rest of the piece, much like the foundations of buildings that were springing up through the industrial revolution. Through subtle and deliberate construction, a profoundly comprehensive representation of the Vorticist’s relationship with the Futurists becomes apparent. The Vorticists are immediately pitted against the Futurists in the first two statements of the work: “Long live the great art vortex sprung up in the center of [London]/We stand for the Reality of the Present–not for the sentimental Future” (897). The words Reality, Present, and Future are capitalized in order to acknowledge the contrast of the Vorticist’s interest in the present as opposed to the Futurists who idolized machinery in lieu of man. These words would not be capitalized unless they were referencing a proper noun, i.e. Futurism. The comprehensive message can be understood by acknowledging the following details: the beginning of the work is operating like a foundation, the English man’s distinct presence at the beginning of the piece acknowledges his part in its fabrication, and the immediate provocation of the Futurists signifies their presence in the intended audience. The initial, angry energy of the piece represents the frustration of the English man due to the Futurist’s invalidation of his role in industrialization; which is evident in their basing art on the direct/indirect fruits of England’s industrial labor while ignoring the presence and power of the English human. The Vorticist’s use intense negation of the Futurists in order communicate the importance man’s role with regard to technology.
The Vorticist’s poetic energy becomes more condensed around one of its main points; the individual’s importance in relation to nature. “We want to make in England not a popular art, not a revival of lost folk art, or a romantic fostering of such unactual conditions, but to make individuals, wherever found” (898). Part of this statement is self evident, Vorticists want to dismiss romanticism and focus on the individual himself. This point is elaborated in the first part of Manifesto 1 with the line: “Curse [England’s] climate for its sins and infections” (899). The size of the font and its heaviness indicate a connection to a “Dismal Symbol” (899). They are both in the exact same font size and weight, which separates the two statements from the larger print of the first line and the smaller print of what immediately follows. Furthermore, the relationship between the two statements is exemplified through the perfectly centered placement of “Dismal Symbol” below the word “Climate.” In doing so, the climate is being related to a dismal symbol that is “set round our bodies of effeminate lout within” (899). The Vorticists suggest that the climate of England has become its artistic symbol in place of the bodies.
In order to combat the “dismal symbol”, the Vorticists excite the idea of nature impeding on England. “A 1000 mile long, 2 kilometer deep body of water even, is pushed against us from the Floridas to make us mild” (899). This statement expresses the Vorticist’s struggle against nature. The imagery of the ocean pushing against England to “make us mild” invokes a sense of conflict. However, the Vorticist’s do not simply demonstrate the strength of the ocean. By using measurement of length and depth, they seem to exert their own power over the water through the science of measurement, Metrology. They go on further to call it a “body” of water which removes it from the natural and personifies it, inciting the importance of the human. Finally, the graphical representation of these lines offer a similar interpretation. The measurements of the first line are in a heavier and larger font than the much smaller font, of “body of water.” This interpretation argues for England’s individual struggle to loose the chains of nature’s importance.
This slandering of nature continues in the line “Curse the flabby sky that can manufacture no snow, but can only drop the sea on us in a drizzle like a poem…” (900). Here, the command “Curse” dominates the page in weight and capitalization, “the flabby sky that can manufacture no snow” is underlined and comes directly after the command “curse”. This graphically represents the momentum and energy behind cursing nature by distinguishing the sky’s weakness. With this line, the embodiment of the Vorticist’s passion for technology, disdain for nature, and their relation to art is all present. They are cursing the sky for not having the ability to manufacture (like man can), and they are likening that weakness to poetry regarding nature.
So far, the ocean and the sky have been weakened in an effort to bolster man’s technology, but this correlation to the strength of manufacturing over nature becomes further evident in the very next line of the Manifesto: “Curse the lazy air that cannot stiffen the back of the Serpentine or put aquatic steel half way down the Manchester Canal” (900). The Serpentine is an artificial lake in London (900), and the word itself is capitalized and in a heavy font unlike the rest of the sentence, which is lower case and a lighter font. The Manchester Canal is an interesting choice not only because a canal demonstrates man’s power, the industrial center of England, and a restraint of nature, but because it actually includes the word “man.” This word choice directly encapsulates the main points, the canal is manmade and nature was unable to resist. Furthermore, Manchester Canal is in the same font size and weight as Serpentine and their domination over nature is visually represented by their stacking at the end of the two lines. They are figuratively built on top of each other and form a sort of textual damn stopping up the importance of nature through stacked text and weight. This word choice and graphical treatment of the text constructs a dense demonstration of the power of man (or the “Man”chester Canal) over nature.
In the second part of the Manifesto, a man who performs a remedial task, compared to the building of artificial lakes and canals, is bolstered as having power over nature: “Bless the Hairdresser/He attacks Mother Nature for a small fee” (909). This statement comes immediately after the magazine’s blessing of Englishmen who are “cold, magananimous, delicate, gauche, fanciful, stupid” (909) and indicates that all men who extort power over nature are to be much-admired. The poetic representation of this portion takes a different graphical form than previously demonstrated in the work. It is more paragraph-like and reads like a poem, rhyming sounds at the end of a line: “Hourly he ploughs heads for sixpence/Scours chins and lips for threepence/He makes systematic mercenary war on this wildness” (909). Even the word Wildness operates like a slant rhyme. Describing a hairdresser’s tasks through a poetic and hyperbolic style offers a sense of importance and an acknowledgement of the various and many ways man exhibits his domination over nature.
Throughout the magazine, a similar treatment of nature in relation to the English man’s ability to construct and manufacture continues. Nature and it’s modifiers appear at least ten more times, and each time nature is diminished in exchange for the bolstering of man. Man’s domination from the beginning of the text through the end is so over abundant that it symbolizes the main momentum of the Vorticist movement: man’s ability to create and manufacture is an art form that dominates previously established Romanticism and sentimentalist forms. Establishing its place in relation to Futurism, graphically representing the strength of textual form over content, as well as establishing content through clever word choice, Blast is a comprehensive work revealed through both subtle interpretation and artistically overt representation.
Reference Note: Page numbers refer to the Norton Anthology of English Literature: The 20th Century.