This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
UNIVERSITY MISSOURI OF
The English Vortex: Literature Modern and the "Pattern of Hope"
AT THE AGE OF 77, EzraPound published his final memorial to the
Vortex, the association he began with Wyndham Lewis and T. S. Eliot in the crisis year of 1914. "FromCanto CXV,"one of Pound's Drafts & Fragments,laments the disappointed hopes of the group and commemorates its central figure, Wyndham Lewis. The poem opens with an extravagantbut moving tribute to Lewis:
The scientists are in terror and the European mind stops Wyndham Lewis chose blindness rather than have his mind stop.1
A brain tumor blinded Lewis in 1951. He "chose blindness" when he refused to undergo surgerythat risked darkeninghis mental faculties. Lewiscontinued to paint even while his sight was failing (for example, his second portraitof T. S. Eliot),and total blindness could not stop the writing of his novels and social criticism. In a figurative sense, Lewis'blindness relates him to the writersPound describes in "all Canto CXV: the resistersblacked out" (p. 781). Lewiswhen alive was the greatest "resister"in England."A great energy like that of Lewis,"Pound wrote in 1938, "is beyond price in such a suffocated nation...."2 Yet the tone of this elegy for Lewis becomes less enthusiastic as Pound reflects on his failure to enlist men like Lewis and Eliot, among others, in his causes:
'The Cantos of Ezra Pound (New Directions, 1970), p. 794. Canto CXVwas first published in 1962. 2EzraPound, Guide to Kulchur (1938; rpt. New Directions, 1968), p. 106.1123
MATERER TIMOTHY When one's friends hate each other How can there be peace in the world? Theirasperitiesdiverted me in my green time. (p. 794)
These lines are characteristicallyoverstated. There was no hate among Lewis,Eliot,and Pound at least, even in the 1930swhen their relationswere most strained.But Pound was deeply frustratedwhen he failed to convince the two writers to direct their concerted energies at the economic issue. After reading Lewis'LeftWings over Europe(1936), Pound pleaded with him to direct his political blasts at the usurers.And he persisted in his vain efforts to educate the man he addressed as "the Vort"on the money issue.3Eliotwas perhaps more interested in economic issues than Lewis,but Pound believed that Eliot'sCriterioncould have no positive social impact. He concludes bitterly in Canto 102: "But the lot of 'em, Yeats, Possum, Old Wyndham / had no ground to stand on" (p. 728). To understand the depth of Pound's disappointment, the sense that the failure of the Vortex implied the crash of an entire culture, we must examine Pound's "green time" and the "asperities"that so diverted him and raised his hopes. II Vorticismprimarilyrepresented a visual ratherthan a verbal revolution. Although Pound invented the term "Vorticism" in 1914, Lewis was using a vortex motif in his drawings as early as 1912. Lewis himself was influenced by the London exhibitions of Italian Futuristsin 1912 and 1913, especially by Boccioni's States of Mind In series, which employs the vortex pattern.4 Lewis'Timonof Athens illustrations (1912), the geometrical shapes of armored figures struggle in a whirlwind that draws them into its vortex. Although the Vorticists'abstractforms were not invariablybound to the vortex design, it gave them a clearly recognizable trademark. In literature, however, Vorticism cannot be clearly defined, nor even satisfactorilydiscriminatedfrom Imagism.In his essay on Vorticism, Pound wrote that "The image is not an idea. It is a radiant from which, and through which, node or cluster; it is... a VORTEX,
'The correspondence between Lewis and Pound, as well as that between Lewis and Eliot, is in the Wyndham Lewis Collection at the Cornell University Library.My debt to this collection runs throughout the article. I am grateful to the late George H. Healey of the Department of Rare Books at Cornell for assistance in using the Lewis collection. 'See William Lipke, "Futurism and the Development of Vorticism," Studio International, CLXXIII (April, 1967), 173-179.
and into which, ideas are constantly rushing."5 This makesVorticism more ambitious and dynamic kind of Imagism. By 1913, seem a Pound was exasperated with the Imagist group and the bullying way Amy Lowell had taken it over. The theories he developed in his Imagist phase drew new energy, if not a clearer formulation, from his association with Lewis and with the sculptor Gaudier-Brzeska. He used the term "Vortex"quite subjectively to describe the creative energy the Imagistslacked, as in this description of Lewis'art to John Quinn: "It is not merely knowledge of technique, or skill, it is intelligence and knowledge of life, of the whole of it, beauty, heaven, hell, sarcasm, every kind of whirlwind of force and emotion. Vortex.That is the rightword, if I did think of it myself."6 was a useful word because it could be Though vague, "Vorticism" applied to more than a single art. Vorticismgave a poet like Pound, the a painter like Lewis, and a sculptor like Gaudier-Brzeska sense the that they were working for a common goal. In BLAST, magazine Lewis founded in June of 1914 to publicize Vorticism,Pound wrote POUND": in a section entitled "VORTEX.
Every concept, every emotion presents itself to the vivid consciousness in some primaryform. It belongs to the art of this form. If sound, to music; if formed words, to literature;the image, to poetry;colour in position, to painting; form or design in three planes, to sculpture. No. (BLAST, 1, p. 154)
form." In Lewis'"ComWhatever his art, the Vorticistuses "primary position in Blue" (1915), the geometric shapes are nonrepresentational and exist only to set off the area of blue watercolor against the black lines and shadings of the composition. In what could be a comment on this severe design, Pound wrote that "Vorticismis art before it has spread itself into flaccidity, into elaboration and secondary application" (Gaudier-Brzeska, 88). Similarly,Pound's feap. "Hieratic Head of Ezra tures are recognizable in Gaudier-Brzeska's Pound" (1914), but the emphasis falls on the relationship of the curved masses of the hair,the domed forehead and slitted eyes, and the geometrically shaped nose, mouth, and goatee. Could literary Vorticism attempt a similarly abstract treatment of primaryform? Pound had little success in doing so until his Cantos were well under way.
'Ezra Pound, "Vorticism," in Gaudier-Brzeska, A Memoir (New Directions, 1970), p. 92. Many of the essays of Pound's Vorticist days are collected in this memoir. 6The Letters of Ezra Pound, ed. D. D. Paige (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1950), p. 74.
Vorticismnot only tried to bridge the visual and the verbal arts;it also hoped to humanize the quantitative world of the sciences. In the Vorticism essay, Pound gives us the mathematical formula for the circle, which represents "the circle free of space and time limits": "Greatworks of art contain this... sort of equation. They cause form to come into being. By the 'image' I mean such an equation" (Gaudier-Brzeska, 91, 92). At this point in the essay, he redefines pp. the image as the Vortex.This term is ideal because a vortex defines a pattern of energies, as it does in the whirlwind of forces in Lewis' Timon drawings;and patterned energies also constitute the physical world. Pound tells us that science reveals "a world of moving
energies... magnetisms that take form...."7 The Vorticists hoped to
reflect this world in their art. As one critic of Vorticismwrites, "Recent advances and popularizationsof physics had forced many, like HenryAdams,to quail before the 'new multiverseof forces,' but the Vorticists had no such fears and gladly took on the task of conceptualizing this new world as a world of forms."8 "'Vorticism,'" Lewiswrote in a 1939 reminiscence, "accepted the machine world: that is the point to stress."9 When Lewiswrote this, he was opposing Herbert Read's claim that the abstract artist was fleeing from the mechanized world of science into an imaginary world. The Vorticist Manifesto in BLAST, the contrary,asserted on that the modern artistmust be inspired by "the forms of machinery, No. Factories,new and vaster buildings, bridges and works" (BLAST, The Vorticistswould not deny that the landscapes created 1, p. 40). by industrialism were generally hideous. But the Vortex would sweep up this ugliness, blast it to pieces, and reassemble it in beauLewiswrites:"A man could make just tiful, painted forms. In BLAST, as fine an art in discords, and with nothing but 'ugly' trivialand terrible materials, as any classic artist did with only 'beautiful' and No. pleasant means" (BLAST, 1, p. 145). An "artin discords"suggests the finest pieces of verbal art BLAST offered, T. S. Eliot's"Preludes"and "Rhapsodyon a Windy Night." Eliot was not one of the original Vorticists,and Lewis did not even
'LiteraryEssays of Ezra Pound, ed. T. S. Eliot (New Directions, 1968), p. 154. 8Herbert N. Schneidau, "Vorticism and the Career of Ezra Pound," Modern Philology, LXV (February, 221. 1%968), 'Wyndham Lewis on Art, Collected Writings, 1913-1950, eds. Walter Michel and C. J. Fox (Funk & Wagnails, 1969), p. 340.
No. know him when BLAST 1 was published. Butsometime before the flat next issue, Lewiswalked into Pound'striangular in Kensingtonand met, as he describes it, "the author of Prufrock-indeed... Prufrock to himself: but a Prufrock whom the mermaidswould decidedly have sung...."10 Eliotwas still studying at Oxfordthen, but he followed the with Vorticists' activities in London and tried to break into BLAST appropriatelyenergetic poems. "I have corresponded with Lewis," Eliotwrote to Pound, "but his PuritanicalPrinciplesseem to bar my way to Publicity.I fear that King Bolo and his Big BlackKween will Lewistold Poundthat he wished to use Eliot's never burstinto print."11 "excellent bits of scholarlyribaldry...but stick to my naif determination to have no 'words ending in -Uck, -Unt, and -Ugger.'
"Preludes,"however, made a positive contribution to the Vorticist cause that "King Bolo," one suspects, could not have. Eliot's that poems were the only literaryproductions in BLAST matched in of Lewis,the painter Edward Wadsforce and originalitythe designs No. BLAST 1 did print a section from worth, and Gaudier-Brzeska. Ford's The Good Soldier (then entitled The Saddest Ford Madox Story). Butthe novel's prose seems tame next to the Vorticists'proclamations and "Blasts,"and its technical innovations could not be appreciated in a brief excerpt. As for Pound, Lewis was right when he commented years laterthat Pound's "fire-eatingpropagandistutterances were not accompanied by any very experimentalefforts in Pound mixed awkwardsatire ("Letus dehis particularmedium."13 with uninspired atride the smugness of 'The Times' / GUFFAW!") tempts to use primary form (as in the two-line poem "L'Art": "Green arsenic spread on an egg-white cloth, / Crushed strawNo. berries!Come let us feast our eyes" [BLAST, 1, pp. 45, 49]). Eliot'spoems, on the other hand, were compressed enough to at least seem inspired by the Vorticist theory of primaryform. The modern urban life they reflected was assembled from the poem's "sordid images." Like a work by Gaudier-Brzeska, the poem presents a human figure, but one unlike a conventional representation of a realisticcharacter:
'"Wyndham Lewis, Blasting and Bombardiering (London: Eyre& Spottiswoode, 1937), pp. 283-4. ""A Bundle of Letters," in Ezra Pound, Perspectives, ed. Noel Stock (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1965), p. 111. '2TheLetters of Wyndham Lewis, ed W. K. Rose (New Directions, 1963), pp. 66-7. 'Wyndham Lewis, Time and Western Man (1927; rpt. Beacon Press, 1957), p. 39.
TIMOTHY MATERER You had such a vision of the street As the street hardlyunderstands; Sitting along the bed's edge, where You curled the papers from your hair, Or clasped the yellow soles of feet In the palms of both soiled hands. (BLAST, 2, p. 48) No.
The powerful sense of character conveyed by the images of "yellow soles" and "soiled hands" arises from an art, to repeat Pound's phrase, that has not "spread itself into... elaboration and secondary application." But unfortunately Eliot began his association with the Vorticists as the movement was dying. In the second issue of BLAST,following a "Vortex" sent from France by Gaudier-Brzeska, appears the black-bordered notice: "MORT POUR LA PATRIE.Henri GaudierBrzeska: after months of fighting and two promotions for gallantry" (p. 34). Soon Lewis had also joined the army. As Lewis wrote in his last editorial, "BLAST finds itself surrounded by a multitude of other Blasts.... [It] will, however, try and brave the wave of blood, for the serious mission it has on the other side of World-War" (p. 5). The first short-lived phase of the Vortex and the one to follow correspond to what Pound calls the first two phases of "Kulchur": "the nineteen teens, Gaudier, Wyndham L. and I as we were in Blast, and the next phase, the 1920's. The sorting out, the rappel a I'ordre" (Guide to Kulchur, p. 95).
By dispersing the Vortex, World War I destroyed England's hope for a new Renaissance. This statement may seem extreme, but it represents Pound's and Lewis' opinions. In Februaryof 1915, Pound could still write: "new masses of unexplored arts and facts are pouring into the vortex of London. They cannot help bringing about changes as great as the Renaissance changes" (Gaudier-Brzeska, p. 117). The Vorticists were in effect following Pound's prescription for the making of a Renaissance, as he outlined it in Patria Mia (1913). First,dead ideas must be demolished: "A Risorgimento implies a whole volley of liberations; liberations from ideas, from stupidities...." By its very name, BLASTpromised to do the demolishing, as well as provide two more qualities Pound thought essential to a Renaissance, "enthusiasm and
a propaganda."14 A major target of the Vorticists' blasts was the Victo'Ezra Pound, Patria Mia (Chicago: Ralph Fletcher, Publisher, 1950), pp. 79, 42. Although this work was published only in 1950, it was finished in 1913.
in rianage, as in one of the manyeditorial"Blasts" Lewis'publication:
BLAST years 1837 to 1900.... BLAST their weeping whiskers-hirsute of RHETORIC EUNUCH and STYLISTSENTIMENTAL HYGIENICS ROUSSEAUISMS(wild Nature cranks) FRATERNIZING WITHMONKEYS(BLAST, No.1, p.18)
With the remnantsof Victorianismcleared away, the artscould lead the way to a remade culture: "This will have its effect not only in the arts," Pound wrote of his Renaissance,"but in life, in politics, and in economics. If I seem to lay undue stress upon the status of the arts, it is only because the arts respond to an intellectual movement more swiftly and more apparentlythan do institutions"(Patria Mia, pp. 41-42). In 1939, Lewis reflected on the intense hopes of the BLAST days; he speaks of himself in the third person, as if to disassociate himself from his own "green time":
He thought the time had come to shatter the visible world to bits, and build it nearer to the heart's desire: and he really was persuaded that this absolute transformation was imminent.... The war looked to him like an episode at first-rather proving his contentions than otherwise. (Wyndham Lewis on Art, p. 340)
The Vorticists imagined that the war might finish the job of demolishing Victorianismthat they had begun. With terrible irony, Gauwrote in the "VORTEX" sent from Francejust before he dier-Brzeska WARISA GREAT his death: "THIS REMEDY" No. (BLAST, 2, p. 33). When Lewis himself went to the front in 1917, he quickly lost any illusions about the "remedial" aspect of the war. Before he was transferredto LordBeaverbrook's "CanadianWar Memorials"project, he saw heavy fighting. (Lewis'friend and colleague T. E. Hulme was killed in a battery less than a quarter of a mile from Lewis' own.) Lewiswrote in 1939 that he understood the war's significance when "he found himself in the mud of Passchendaele"and realized that "the community to which he belonged would never be the same again: and that all surplus vigour was being bled away and stamped out" (WyndhamLewison Art,p. 340). Although his disillusion was intense, much of his vigor, or Vorticist energy, did survive the war. "The thought of the modern and the energy of the cave-man," Eliotwrote in 1918 to describe Lewis'
works.5 Lewis was full of new schemes to rebuild the visual world, but he did not know how to activate them. Plans for a new issue of fell BLAST through. Although the Vorticist painters (including Edward Wadsworth and FrederickEtchells)reassembledas "GroupX," they broke up after one exhibition. Pound, Lewis,and Eliotcould at least publish together in The Little Review, which Pound announced as "a place where the current prose writings of James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, T. S. Eliot, and myself might appear regularly, promptly, and together....16 But the focus of Pound's energies
was obviously shifting from England.Evenby 1916, he had probably started on what he called his "farewell to London," Hugh Selwyn Mauberley. Mauberley,according to Hugh Kenner, is "an elegy for the Vortex."7And in section V it is an elegy for men like GaudierBrzeska,who died before they could remakea moribundculture:
There died a myriad, And of the best, among them, Foran old bitch gone in the teeth, Fora botched civilization....
While Pound was planning to move to Paris,Lewis and Eliotwere active in London. They had drawn closer after the War and took a holiday in Francetogether in the summer of 1920, when, as bearers of a present from EzraPound (it turned out to be a used pair of In brown shoes), they visited Joyce in Paris."1 London, they cast around for financial backing for a new magazine. Lewis had interested Sidney Schiff (the author "Stephen Hudson") in financing the project, but he was doubtful because he thought Lewis and Eliot would be the only first-ratecontributors to it. Finally, Lewis published his own tiny and inexpensive publication, The Tyro,in 1921. Since the paper surveyed the artof painting ratherthan general cultural trends, The Tyrodid not meet Eliot'sstandards.Nevertheless, he loyally contributed three essays and a poem before The Tyro folded in 1922. By 1922, of course, Eliot had begun to dominate London intellectual life as the author of The Waste Land and editor of The Crite-
"T. S. Eliot, "Tarr,"The Egoist, V (September, 1918), 106. "Ezra Pound, The Little Review, IV (May, 1917), 3. "Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (University of California Press, 1971), p. 287. See also Kenner's chapter, "Vortex Lewis." "See Blasting and Bombardiering, pp. 270-76.
rion. Although The Waste Landwas at first read as an obituary for Western culture, it contains positive elements. First,by the very fact that it was a great poem it bore witness to a degree of vitality in the modern age. Pound felt that it "justified"modern poetry, and after seeing the drafts for it wrote to Eliot, "It is after all a grrrreatlittttttteraryperiod" (Letters,p. 170). Secondly, although the poem despairs of the present state of culture, it makes us aware of the traditions our culture lacks and implies the need for individual responsibility in attaining them. "Shall I at least set my lands in order?" one of Eliot's protagonists asks. Through the Criterion,Eliot intended to recognize his responsibility. Unless the three writers published together, there could be no Vortex, which Pound once defined as a "convergence" of the best minds available. Eliot therefore needed Lewis and Pound for The Criterion.He told Lewis that he wanted to keep their "association before the public mind," and requested a contribution from him, including a regularartchronicle, in every issue of the quarterly(The Lettersof WyndhamLewis, p. 150). Eliotalso editorialized on Lewis' literary and social criticism-books like The Art of Being Ruled (1926) and Timeand WesternMan (1927). In his commentaryon the 1926 work, Eliot saw Lewis as representative of the "dispossessed artist,"who "may be driven to examining the elements in the situation-political, social, philosophical or religious-which frustrate his labor."19 his study of Eliot's intellectual development, John In credits Lewis' example with strengthening Eliot'sdecision Margolis to broaden The Criterion'sinterest in social issues.20 Nevertheless, by 1927 Lewis had lost confidence in Eliot'sediting of his quarterly.He felt that Eliothad opened it to the very forces it should be fighting. For example, Eliot published sections from Lewis' great satire of the London art world, The Apes of God, and told Lewis that "It is worthwhile running the Criterionjust to publish these" (Letters,p. 140). But at the same time he was also printing works by some of Lewis' prime satiric targets-Sacheverell Sitwell, for example, and Lewis' estranged patron Sidney Schiff. Lewiswas doubtlessly over-sensitive. Yet Pound felt much the same as Lewis about Eliot'sediting. Pound often urged Lewis to contrib-
"T.S. Eliot, "Commentary," The New Criterion, IV (June, 1926), 420. "John Margolis, T. S. Eliot's Intellectual Development (University of Chicago Press, 1972), p. 83.
ute more to The Criterion,since it was by default the best outlet in England,and wrote over twenty articles and poems for it himself. But he continually criticized Eliot for his lack of commitment, particularlyon economic issues. He closed a complaining letter to the Criterionwith the reservation,"Farbe it from me to deny or affirm
or in any way uncriterionisticly to commit myself...."21 In an eco-
nomic journal, he wrote that an analysis of many of The Criterion's contributorswould result in a libel action.2 IV The Vorticistswanted to build a new world, but they were forced to squander their energy demolishing the old one. Theirefforts began to diverge because they did not find a programto unite them. Although they all shared a commitment to order and authority,the events of the 1930s subjected their political ideas to pressuresthey could not bear. In For Launcelot Andrewes, Eliot praised Lewis because he was "obviously strivingcourageously toward a positive theory...."23Yet Lewis' major theoretical work, Time and Western Man, is almost wholly destructive criticism-an attack on what he calls the "timecult."Accordingto this Bergsonian "cult,"all experience is reducedto temporal flux;even one's identity is merely a series of chronological events. Lewiswrites, in the most "positive"statement he offers,
So what we seek to stimulate, and what we give the critical outline of, is a philosophy that will be as much a spatial-philosophy as Bergson's is a time-philosophy. As much as he enjoys the sight of things 'penetrating' and 'merging' do we enjoy the opposite picture of them standing apart... much as he enjoys the 'indistinct,' the 'qualitative,' the misty, sensational and ecstatic,-very much more do we value the distinct, the geometric. (pp. 427-8)
Lewis associates the temporal sense with the emotions and a romantic condition of becoming, and the spatial sense with the intellect and a classical state of being. (The reference to "geometric" qualities is related to T. E. Hulme's view of modern classicism.) All experience should be clearly ordered ("with usura is no clear deBut marcation,"Pound writes in Canto XLV). even though the terms of Lewis'"criticaloutline" are suggestive, they are no more related
2Ezra Pound, "Letter," The Criterion, X (July, 1931), 730. UEzraPound, "Mr. Eliot's Quandaries," New English Weekly, IV (March 29,1934), 559. 3T. S. Eliot, For Launcelot Andrewes (Doubleday, Doran, 1929), p. 142.
THE ENGLISH VORTEX
to a "positive theory" than Eliot's ambiguous statement (in For LauncelotAndrewes) that he considered himself "classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion" (p. vii). Only his Anglo-Catholicismcommitted Eliotto specific beliefs, but even it did not lead him to support any direct social action-as Pound observed. Reacting to the religious viewpoint of After StrangeGods (1934), Pound complained that Eliot"implies that we need more religion, but does not specify the natureof that religion; all the implications are such as to lead the readers' minds into a
Pound's own "positive theory," based on Major Douglas' system of Social Credit,was a specific one. And his jagged technique in the Cantos was meant to keep the reader'smind alert:comparingdifferent men and cultures and drawing economic moralsthat illuminate Douglas' system. Pound invites us to correlate "luminous details": Malatesta'senormous efforts to build the Tempio (Canto IX),John Quinn's story of the "Honest Sailor's"financial success (XII),the hell faced by Gaudier-Brzeska, Hulme, and Lewis in World War I and Kublai Kahn's invention of paper money (XVIII). This (XVI), technique, as several critics have noted, is related to the theories of Vorticism:"The innumerable disparate elements that make up the Cantos can be thought of as 'planes in relation'... united visually,or spatially, in the same manner as a Lewis painting or a Gaudier
Whatever positive ideas were held by these three artists,the real problem was to put these ideas into action. This was not so much Eliot'sconcern because he thought that the intellectual should criticize and compare social theories ratherthan put them into practice. But Pound and Lewis tried to take more direct action, with disastrous resultsfor their careers. "The great protector of the arts,"Pound wrote in 1913, "is as rare as the great artist,or more so" (PatriaMia, p. 77). Pound was always watchful for such a patron and found one in John Quinn. He wrote to Quinn, "If there were more like you, we should get on with our renaissance" (Letters,p. 51). In Mussolini, Pound believed that he had found not only a man sensitive to the arts (as in Canto 41), but
""Mr. Eliot's Quandaries," p. 559. 'William C. Wees, "Ezra Pound as a Vorticist," Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, VI (Winter-Spring, 1965), 70-71.
also one capable of reforminga usurious economic system. The artist's duty was to recognize such a leader when he appeared. By presenting figures like Malatesta and Thomas Jefferson in the Cantos, Pound supposedly preparesus to recognize the promisingqualities in Mussolini. Pound accepted the weakest indications that Mussolini would reform Italy'seconomics. Behind his desire to believe that the dictator would do so is his conviction that only authoritarianrule could distribute economic goods fairly:"In a hideaction...." He thus bound Italy,fascism meant at the start DIRECT convinced himself that "the Duce will stand not with despots and the lovers of power but with the lovers of ORDER."26 Lewis also felt that only authoritariancontrol could change an economic system. In 1931, he wrote a book that was sympathetic toward German National Socialism, a book that he almost immediately regretted,Hitler. Lewiswas careful to point out that he was an "exponent," not an "advocate," of Hitler's programs. But he was clearly sympathetic to Hitler'seconomic views (rejecting, however, their anti-Semitic aspect) and at one point cited Eliot on Social Credit to explain the Germanposition on the war debts imposed at Versailles. Like Pound, Lewis believed the simplistic theory that wars are caused by the manipulation of financiers:"the Versailles TreatyMakers must have known that the more 'nations' you make
(or break the world up into) . . .the more pickings for the
Outsider."27 All three men approachedthese issues as, to use Eliot'sphrase for Lewis, "dispossessed artists." As artists, they would all probably have agreed with Lewis'justification of a strong, central authority: "to get some sort of peace to enable us to work, we should naturally seek the most powerful and stable authority that can be devised."28 Best of all, however, would be the kind of authority that would give the artist some direct influence on society (Pound thought that Mussolini would make this possible in Italy).The work that best reveals the fundamental reason for this fascination with authoritariangovernment takes us back to the conclusion of the first Vorticist phase: Lewis' pamphlet of 1919, The Caliph's Design,
Architects! Where is your Vortex?
'Ezra Pound, lefferson and/or Mussolini (1935; rpt. Liveright, 1970), pp. 70,128. 'Wyndham Lewis, Hitler (Chatto & Windus, 1931), p. 76. ,Wyndham Lewis, The Art of Being Ruled (Chatto & Windus, 1926), pp. 369-70.
THE ENGLISH VORTEX
This brilliant and exuberant critique of the arts begins with a "parable." Lewis imagines a Caliph rising one morning, sketching out some strange designs, and then summoning his chief engineer and architect. He tells them that he is dissatisfied with his city, "so I have done a design of a new city, or ratherof a typical street in a new city. It is a little vorticist bagatelle...." The Caliph's men are amused and puzzled, then terrifiedas they learnthat they have only a few hours "to invent the forms and conditions that would make it possible to realize my design," or else "your heads will fall...." Under these conditions, the job gets done. The plans appearon schedule, "And within a month a strange street transfiguredthe heart of that cultivated city" (WyndhamLewison Art,pp. 133-4). "A VORTICIST KING!WHY NOT?"BLAST inquired. An enlightened monarch, by transforminga city's architecture,could ennoble its citizens' lives and make them happier with their lot, as Lewis argues in The Caliph'sDesign. He furtherdeveloped this argument in The Tyro:
A man might be unacquainted with the very existence of a certain movement in art, and yet his life could be modified directly if the street he walked down took a certain shape.... Its forms and colours would have a tonic or a debilitating effect on him.... The painting, sculpture and general design of today, such as can be included in the movement we support, aims at nothing short of a physical reconstructing... of the visible partof the world."
In admiringthe above passage, Stephen Spender finds that it reflects one of the great characteristics of modern art: "The invention through artof a pattern of hope, influencing society." Lewisand the Vorticists believed, to use Spender'swords, "that modern art might transformthe contemporary environment, and hence, by pacifying
and ennobling its inhabitants, revolutionize the world...."30 We
should not forget the idealism of these early hopes. But unfortunately the VorticistCaliph was an artist'sdream, the fascist dictator a political reality.
The EnglishVortexrevealsnot the development of a social or intellectual program,but ratherwhat Spender calls a "patternof hope."
"Quoted in Stephen Spender, The Struggle of the Modern (Hamish Hamilton, 1963), pp. 85-86. "Spender, pp. 83,84.
was Modernliterature not bornin despairafterWorldWar1,but before the War,with the hope of transfiguring every aspect of life through a new Renaissance. By the middle Thirties this hope was no longer viable. Pound alone kept pushing for a revivalof the Vortex, even Lewisin 1936.His supportof Lewis suggesting a new issue of BLASTto continued, as Lewislearnedto his distressafterthe War,when Pound went on Fascistradio in ItalyduringWorld War II. Pound's fate during and after the War is well-known. Lewis' fate was not so severe, but harsh nonetheless. His unpopular political writings of the Thirties,especially the Hitlerbook, put his entire literarycareer under a cloud; and a series of illnesses left him deeply in debt. His skill as a painter was as fine as ever, and he received valuable publicity when the Royal Academy refused to exhibit his magnificent 1938 portraitof T. S. Eliot-which led Augustus John to resign from the Academy in protest. But the pre-War market for paintings was barrenfor even the best of artists,and in 1939 Lewis and his wife left for America, where he was promised some commissions. He planned on a short stay, but the War stranded him in Canadawith no way of obtaining money to return.His lonely, poverty-strickenyears in Toronto became the subject of his greatest novel, Self Condemned (1954). Lewis' novel is representative of the kind of introspection all three writers underwent as a result of the War. The spirit of both Self Condemned and The Pisan Cantos is reflected in the following great lines from Eliot's"LittleGidding," in which he lists the "gifts reservedfor age":
the conscious impotence of rage At human folly, and the laceration Of laughterat what ceases to amuse. And last, the rending pain of re-enactment Of all that you have done, and been; the shame Of motives late revealed, and the awareness Of things ill done and done to others' harm....
Although the theme of Self Condemned is in these lines, it is nowhere stated with this precision and confidence. Sometimes it is hard to tell whether Lewis is justifying or condemning his protagonist. But the greatness of the novel lies in what Eliotcalled its tone of "almost unbearablespiritualagony."3'
3T. S. Eliot, "A Note on Monstre Gai," Hudson Review, VII (Winter, 1955), 524.
Lewis' protagonist in Self Condemned, Rene Harding,resigns his chair of history shortly before World War II breaksout because he thinks that his subject as it is presentlytaught encourages a war psychosis. He claims that historiansdignify the war-makers and systemthe economic causes of war. Although he is atically ignore heartened that "the student masses have begun to regard the
world...with a cold eye,"32he feels that he can no longer compro-
mise himself and leaves for Canada. Once there, however, poverty and intellectual isolation transformhis rebelliousness and hope into despair. He now believes that the brief periods of civilization man has known will always be the exceptions and animal brutalityand greed the rule. Western civilization is dying, he believes: "He estimated that we were perhaps rathermore than half-way across that, in geological terms, infinitely brief era of 'enlightenment' " (p. 211). This passage echoes the conclusion of one of Lewis'favorite books of the post-World War I period, Julien Benda's La Trahison des Clercs. But in this post-World War II novel such ideas are put in a new and harsher light. In Harding'scharacter,they lead to a contempt for the masses who are producing what he considers a new dark ages. Two years before he published Self Condemned, Lewis admitted in The Art of Being Ruled that "intolerance regardingthe backward, slothful, obstructive majority-'homo stultus'-is This present."33 intolerance, in an extreme form, corrupts Rene HarOne senses the book's "spiritualagony" as Lewis traces this ding. corruption in his autobiographicalhero. As Hardingloses his idealism and writes historicalstudies that despair of human progress,he ironicallybecomes a famous author;but he "no longer even believed in his theories of a new approach to History... for him it had all frozen into a freak anti-historicalwax-works, of which he was the Keeper, containing many libellous wax-works of famous kings and queens. He carriedon mechanically with what the bright, rushing, idealistic mind of another man had begun" (p. 400).
"Wyndham Lewis, Self Condemned (Methuen & Company, 1954), p. 84. Lewis may have had Pound in mind when he created Rene Harding. Rene's London flat, as Hugh Kenner has informed me, is based on Lewis' memories of Pound's triangular flat in Kensington, where Lewis first met T. S. Eliot. (For a description of this flat, see Lewis' "Early London Environment," in T. S. Eliot, A Symposium [London: Editions London Poetry, 1948], pp. 24-32.) Two details in Lewis' description of Rene in the first chapter recall Pound: his "eyes were at the cat-like angle, glittering out of a slit," as in Lewis drawings of Pound in 1920, and his inclination "to assume half-recumbent attitudes," as in Lewis' 1938 portrait of Pound. "Wyndham Lewis, Rude Assignment (Hutchinson & Company, 1950), p. 188.
Bythe novel's end, his misanthropyhas turned him into a "glacial shell of a man." "Yuss.my beamish buckO!" Pound wrote after reading Self Condemned, "this IZsome book," and he added in a later letter from St. Pound had plenty of disElizabeth's,"Shd / get yu the Nobble."34 ciples around him at the asylum, but he wasn't deceived by their mere youthful energy. He continued to write to Lewis about his long-standing wish to revive the spirit of the Vortex:"WORTEXXX, gorrdammit,some convergence." He told Lewis,"Have always held re / vortex, dominant cell in somatic devilupment...."35The Pisan Cantos show that even his thoughts about Englandhad mellowed. In Canto LXXX, recalls his first meeting with Lewis at the Vienna he and in Canto LXXVIII asserts that Lewis and Gaudierhe Cafe, Brzeskaare still vital influences:
in whom are the voices, keeping hand on the reins Gaudier'sword not blacked out, nor old Hulme's,nor Wyndham's.... (p. 479)
As for himself, Pound reveals the kind of remorse Lewisexpresses in Self Condemned. Pound writes, though not consistently, of a man self-condemned, "that had been a hard man in some ways":
J'aieu pitie des autres probablementpas assez, and at moments that suited my own convenience.... (p. 460)
One finds a similarconfession in one of Lewis'war-time letters from Canada.He admitsthat his politcal writingswere too concerned with achieving the best conditions for the "tribe"of the artist:"I now see that I thought if anything too much about our tribe...not enough about"le genre humain"of the revolutionary song" (Letters, 324). p. But Pound kept driving at his social credit theory. Lewis'description of his "rock-drillaction... he blasts away tirelessly, prodding and coaxing" delighted Pound,6 and he used Lewis' term for his Section: Rock-DrillDe Los Cantares(1955). His ambitions still were high in the 1959 Thrones, which he described as "an attempt to move out from egoism and to establish some definition of an order possible or at any rate conceivable on earth."37 They declined only
'Pound to Lewis, November 19,1954; December 6,1954. Both letters are in the Wyndham Lewis Collection at the Cornell University Library. 3Pound to Lewis, January 20,1955; December 7,1956 (Cornell Lewis Collection). 6Wyndham Lewis, "The Rock Drill," in Stock, ed., p. 198. 3Donald Hall, "EzraPound: An Interview," Paris Review, XXVIII (Summer/Fall, 1962), p. 49.
when he was in his eighties. In Drafts& Fragments(1969),he admits his failures,but in lines of poetry that are themselves a triumph:
I have brought the great ball of crystal; who can lift it? Can you enter the great acorn of light? But the beauty is not the madness Tho' my errorsand wrecks lie about me. (pp. 795-6)
His weariness marksthe elegy for Lewisof Canto CXV, with which we of this surveyof the Vortex.The"asperities" his "greentime"no began longer amuse, and Lewis'time / space categories, or any system that tries to order human experience, now seem meaningless: "Time, space, / neither life nor death is the answer"(p. 794). Pound had the grandestdesigns forthe new cu turethe Vorticistshoped to build, and he was consequently more painfully disillusioned than Lewis and certainly more than Eliot. Butwhatever the practicalfailuresand the errorsof judgment, the "patternof hope" lives in theirworks.The orderedsociety that would foster greatartwas never to be. As Lewiswrote of the "men of 1914," "We arethe firstmen of a Futurethat has not materialized.We belong
to a 'great age' that has not 'come off.'
They have left us instead
"some definition of an order possible or at any rate conceivable on earth,"as Pound himself suggests in his memorialfor Lewis:
A blown husk that is finished but the light sings eternal.... (p. 794)
"Blasting and Bombardiering, p. 258.