Essay on Poetic Theory

“Long Live the Vortex!” and “Our Vortex” (1914)

by Wyndham Lewis

Introduction

Modernist British painter and writer Wyndham Lewis was the central figure of the Vorticists, an artistic and literary movement born of Expressionism and Cubism. Vorticism reacted to and in some ways converged with the Italian Futurist movement, led by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. While Vorticists shared the Futurists’ fascination with dynamism and industry, they rejected the Futurists’ celebration of industrial advancement. Vorticism, aiming to capture movement within the image, “proud of its polished sides,” sought the stillness at movement’s center, whereas Futurism sought movement itself. Poets T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, who is said to have given the movement its name, were briefly associated with the Vorticists.

Lewis published two issues of the Vorticist magazine BLAST, in June 1914 and July 1915, in which these two pieces of his appeared, along with work by Pound and Eliot. “Long Live the Vortex!” is an introductory manifesto of the movement, listing in brief, staccato paragraphs what the movement stands against (Futurism, Romanticism, Naturalism, Impressionism, and more), as well as what it seeks. Aiming not to effect change but to harness it, Lewis asserts, “WE ONLY WANT THE WORLD TO LIVE, and to feel its crude energy flowing through us,” and later, “We stand for the Reality of the Present—not or the sentimental Future, or the sacripant past.”

“Our Vortex,” also published in BLAST, is a four-part piece focusing on the charge of the Vorticist artist. Here Lewis states, “There is no Present—there is Past and Future, and there is Art,” and “The Vorticist is at his maximum point of energy when stillest.”

The Vorticist movement ended three years after it began, when many of its members were called to serve in World War I. An alignment with aspects of Fascism also contributed to the movement’s early end.

Long live the great art vortex sprung up in the centre of this town!

We stand for the Reality of the Present—not for the sentimental Future, or the sacripant Past.

We want to leave Nature and Men alone.

We do not want to make people wear Futurist Patches, or fuss men to take to pink and sky-blue trousers.

We are not their wives or tailors.

The only way Humanity can help artists is to remain independent and work unconsciously.

WE NEED THE UNCONSCIOUSNESS OF HUMANITY—their stupidity, animalism and dreams.

We believe in no perfectibility except our own.

Intrinsic beauty is in the Interpreter and Seer, not in the object or content.

We do not want to change the appearance of the world, because we are not Naturalists, Impressionists or Futurists (the latest form of Impressionism), and do not depend on the appearance of the world for our art.

WE ONLY WANT THE WORLD TO LIVE, and to feel it’s crude energy flowing through us.

It may be said that great artists in England are always revolutionary, just as in France any really fine artist had a strong traditional vein.

Blast sets out to be an avenue for all those vivid and violent ideas that could reach the Public in no other way.

Blast will be popular, essentially. It will not appeal to any particular class, but to the fundamental and popular instincts in every class and description of people, TO THE INDIVIDUAL. The moment a man feels or realizes himself as an artist, he ceases to belong to any milieu or time. Blast is created for this timeless, fundamental Artist that exists in everybody.

The Man in the Street and the Gentleman are equally ignored.

Popular art does not mean the art of the poor people, as it is usually supposed to. It means the art of the individuals.

Education (art education and general education) tends to destroy the creative instinct. Therefore it is in times when education has been non-existant that art chiefly flourished.

But it is nothing to do with “the People.”

It is a mere accident that that is the most favourable time for the individual to appear.

To make the rich of the community shed their education skin, to destroy politeness, standardization and academic, that is civilized, vision, is the task we have set ourselves.

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. 

We will convert the King if possible.

A VORTICIST KING! WHY NOT?

DO YOU THINK LLOYD GEORGE HAS THE VORTEX IN HIM?

MAY WE HOPE FOR ART FROM LADY MOND?

We are against the glorification of “the People,” as we are against snobbery. It is not necessary to be an outcast bohemian, to be unkempt or poor, any more than it is necessary to be rich or handsome, to be an artist. Art is nothing to do with the coat you wear. A top-hat can well hold the Sixtine. A cheap cap could hide the image of Kephren.

AUTOMOBILISM (Marinetteism) bores us. We don’t want to go about making a hullo-bulloo about motor cars, anymore than about knives and forks, elephants or gas-pipes.

Elephants are VERY BIG. Motor cars go quickly.

Wilde gushed twenty years ago about the beauty of machinery. Gissing, in his romantic delight with modern lodging houses was futurist in this sense.

The futurist is a sensational and sentimental mixture of the aesthete of 1890 and the realist of 1870.

The “Poor” are detestable animals! They are only picturesque and amusing for the sentimentalist or the romantic! The “Rich” are bores without a single exception, en tant que riches!

We want those simple and great people found everywhere.

Blast presents an art of Individuals.

 

 

 

OUR VORTEX.

I.

Our vortex is not afraid of the Past: it has forgotten it’s existence.

Our vortex regards the Future as as sentimental as the Past.

The Future is distant, like the Past, and therefore sentimental.

The mere element “Past” must be retained to sponge up and absorb our melancholy.

Everything absent, remote, requiring projection in the veiled weakness of the mind, is sentimental.

The Present can be intensely sentimental—especially if you exclude the mere element “Past.”

Our vortex does not deal in reactive Action only, nor identify the Present with numbing displays of vitality.

The new vortex plunges to the heart of the Present.

The chemistry of the Present is different to that of the Past. With this different chemistry we produce a New Living Abstraction.

The Rembrandt Vortex swamped the Netherlands with a flood of dreaming.

The Turner Vortex rushed at Europe with a wave of light.

We wish the Past and Future with us, the Past to mop up our melancholy, the Future to absorb our troublesome optimism.

With our Vortex the Present is the only active thing.

Life is the Past and the Future.

The Present is Art.

II.

Our Vortex insists on water-tight compartments.

There is no Present—there is Past and Future, and there is Art.

Any moment not weakly relaxed and slipped back, or, on the other hand, dreaming optimistically, is Art.

“Just Life” or soi-disant “Reality” is a fourth quantity, made up of the Past, the Future and Art.

This impure Present our Vortex despises and ignores.

For our Vortex is uncompromising.

We must have the Past and the Future, Life simple, that is, to discharge ourselves in, and keep us pure for non-life, that is Art.

The Past and Future are the prostitutes Nature has provided.

Art is periodic escapes from this Brothel.

Artists put as much vitality and delight into this saintliness, and escape out, as most men do their escapes into similar places from respectable existence.

The Vorticist is at his maximum point of energy when stillest.

The Vorticist is not the Slave of Commotion, but it’s Master.

The Vorticist does not suck up to Life.

He lets Life know its place in a Vorticist Universe!


III.

In a Vorticist Universe we don’t get excited at what we have invented.

If we did it would look as though it had been a fluke.

It is not a fluke.

We have no Verbotens,

There is one Truth, ourselves, and everything is permitted.

But we are not Templars.

We are proud, handsome and predatory.

We hunt machines, they are our favourite game.

We invent them and then hunt them down.

This is a great Vorticist age, a great still age of artists.

IV.

As to the lean belated Impressionism at present attempting to eke out a little life in these islands:

Our Vortex is fed up with your dispersals, reasonable chicken-men.

Our Vortex is proud of its polished sides.

Our Vortex will not hear of anything but its disastrous polished dance.

Our Vortex desires the immobile rhythm of its swiftness.

Our Vortex rushes out like an angry dog at your Impressionistic fuss.

Our Vortex is white and abstract with its red-hot swiftness.

Originally Published: February 15, 2010

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