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Materer, Timothy_The English Vortex - Modern Literature and the Pattern of Hope

Materer, Timothy_The English Vortex - Modern Literature and the Pattern of Hope

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Published by jonathanlerner
Ezra Pound, his friends, and Vorticism.
Ezra Pound, his friends, and Vorticism.

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Published by: jonathanlerner on Feb 27, 2010
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10/24/2014

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TIMOTHYMATERER
UNIVERSITYOFMISSOURI
The
English
Vortex:
Modern
Literature
and
the
"Pattern
of
Hope"
AT
THE AGE OF
77,
EzraPoundpublishedhisfinalmemorialto theVortex,theassociation hebeganwithWyndhamLewis andT.S.Eliotinthe crisisyearof 1914."FromCantoCXV,"oneof Pound'sDrafts&Fragments,amentsthedisappointed hopesof thegroupandcommemorates its centralfigure,WyndhamLewis.Thepoemopenswithanextravagantbutmovingtribute to Lewis:
Thescientistsarein terrorand theEuropeanmindstopsWyndhamLewischose blindnessrather than have his mindstop.1
Abrain tumor blinded Lewisin1951. He"choseblindness"whenhe refused toundergosurgeryhat riskeddarkeninghis mental fac-ulties. Lewiscontinued topainteven while hissightwasfailing(forexample,hissecondportraitofT. S.Eliot),andtotalblindness couldnotstopthewritingof his novelsand social criticism.In afigurativesense,Lewis'blindness relateshim tothe writers Pounddescribes inCanto CXV:"allthe resistersblacked out"(p. 781).Lewiswhenalivewasthegreatest"resister"nEngland."Agreat energylikethat ofLewis,"Pound wrotein1938,"isbeyondpriceinsuch a suffocatednation...."2Yet thetoneofthiselegyforLewis becomes less enthusiastic asPound reflects on his failureto enlistmenlikeLewisandEliot,amongothers,inhis causes:
'TheCantosof Ezra Pound(NewDirections,1970),p.794.CantoCXVwasfirstpublishedin1962.2EzraPound,Guideto Kulchur(1938;rpt.NewDirections,1968), p.
106.1123
 
TIMOTHYMATERERWhen one's friendshate eachotherHowcan there bepeacein the world?Theirasperitiesdivertedme inmygreentime.(p.794)
Theselines arecharacteristicallyoverstated.Therewasno hateamongLewis,Eliot,and Pound atleast,eveninthe 1930s when theirrelationsweremost strained.But Poundwasdeeplyfrustratedwhenhe failedto convincethetwo writers todirecttheirconcertedenergiesat theeconomicissue.AfterreadingLewis' LeftWingsoverEurope(1936),Poundpleadedwith him to directhispoliticalblastsatthe usurers.Andhepersistedinhis vain efforts to educatetheman headdressedas "the Vort"on themoneyissue.3Eliotwasper-hapsmore interestedineconomicissuesthanLewis,butPound be-lievedthat Eliot'sCriterioncould havenopositivesocialimpact.Heconcludesbitterlyin Canto102: "Butthe lot of'em,Yeats,Possum,OldWyndham/ had nogroundto stand on"(p.728).Tounder-stand thedepthof Pound'sdisappointment,the sensethat thefail-ure of the Vorteximpliedthecrash of an entireculture,we mustexamine Pound's"greentime"and the"asperities"hat sodivertedhimand raisedhishopes.IIVorticismprimarilyepresenteda visual rather han a verbalrevo-lution.AlthoughPoundinvented theterm "Vorticism"in1914,Lewis wasusingavortexmotifinhisdrawingsasearlyas 1912.Lewis himselfwas influencedbythe Londonexhibitionsof ItalianFuturistsn 1912 and1913,especiallybyBoccioni'sStates ofMindseries,whichemploysthevortexpattern.4n Lewis'Timon of Athensillustrations(1912),thegeometricalshapesofarmoredfiguresstrugglein awhirlwind thatdrawstheminto its vortex.Althoughthe Vorticists'abstract formswerenotinvariablyboundto thevor-texdesign,itgavethem aclearlyrecognizabletrademark.Inliterature,however,Vorticism cannot beclearlydefined,norevensatisfactorilydiscriminatedfromImagism.In hisessayon Vor-ticism,Pound wrote that "Theimageis not anidea. It is aradiantnodeorcluster;itis... aVORTEX,romwhich,andthroughwhich,
'ThecorrespondencebetweenLewisandPound,as well as thatbetweenLewis andEliot,isintheWyndhamLewisCollection at the CornellUniversityLibrary.Mydebttothiscollectionrunsthroughoutthearticle.Iamgratefulto the lateGeorgeH.Healeyof theDepartmentof RareBooks at Cornellforassistance inusingtheLewiscollection.'SeeWilliamLipke,"Futurism and theDevelopmentofVorticism,"StudioInternational,CLXXIIIApril,1967),173-179.
1124
 
THE ENGLISHVORTEX
and intowhich,ideas areconstantlyrushing."5his makesVorticismseem amore ambitiousanddynamickind ofImagism.By1913,Poundwasexasperatedwith theImagistgroupand thebullyingwayAmyLowellhadtakenit over. The theorieshedevelopedin hisImagistphasedrew newenergy,ifnota clearerformulation,fromhis associationwithLewisand with thesculptorGaudier-Brzeska.Heused the term"Vortex"quitesubjectivelyto describethe crea-tiveenergytheImagistsacked,as in thisdescriptionof Lewis'arttoJohnQuinn:"It isnotmerelyknowledgeoftechnique,orskill,itisintelligenceandknowledgeoflife,ofthe wholeofit,beauty,heaven,hell,sarcasm,everykindofwhirlwindofforce and emo-tion. Vortex.That is therightword,ifIdidthink ofitmyself."6Though vague,"Vorticism"wasa usefulwordbecauseit couldbeappliedtomore than asingleart. VorticismgaveapoetlikePound,apainterlikeLewis,and asculptorlike Gaudier-Brzeskahesensethattheywereworkingfor a commongoal.InBLAST,hemagazineLewisfoundedinJuneof1914topublicizeVorticism,Poundwrotein asectionentitled"VORTEX.OUND":
Everyoncept,everyemotionpresentsitselfto thevividconscious-nessin someprimaryorm. Itbelongsto the art of thisform. Ifsound,tomusic;if formedwords,toliterature;heimage,topoetry;colour inposition,topainting;formordesignin threeplanes,tosculpture.(BLAST,o.1,p.154)
Whateverhisart,theVorticist uses"primaryorm."In Lewis'"Com-positionin Blue"(1915),thegeometric shapesarenonrepresenta-tional andexistonlytosetoff the areaofblue watercoloragainsttheblacklines andshadingsofthecomposition.In whatcouldbe acomment onthis severedesign,Poundwrotethat "Vorticism s artbeforeit hasspreaditself intoflaccidity,intoelaboration and sec-ondaryapplication" (Gaudier-Brzeska,. 88).Similarly,Pound'sfea-tures arerecognizablein Gaudier-Brzeska's HieraticHeadof EzraPound"(1914),but theemphasisfalls on therelationshipof thecurvedmassesofthehair,the domed foreheadand slittedeyes,andthegeometricallyshapednose,mouth,andgoatee.CouldliteraryVorticismattemptasimilarlyabstract treatmentofprimaryorm?Poundhadlittle successindoingsountil hisCantoswerewell un-derway.
'EzraPound,"Vorticism,"inGaudier-Brzeska,AMemoir(NewDirections,1970), p.92.Manyofthe es-saysof Pound'sVorticistdaysare collected in thismemoir.
6The
Lettersof EzraPound,ed.D. D.Paige(Harcourt,BraceandCompany,1950),p.74.
1125

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