Literary Daybook, June 20

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published June 20, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction
On June 20, 1897, Sara Howard climbs through the window of Dr. Kreizler's house and informs Stevie and John Moore of the kidnapping of little Ana Linares.
-- "The Angel of Darkness" (1997)
by Caleb Carr

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in literary history
On this day in 1914, the first issue of the radical arts magazine, Blast, was published. This provided "A Review of the Great English Vortex," and though neither the magazine nor "vorticism" would last very long, the art and literary establishment was jolted into taking notice. The cover was a violent pink, the typography and layout were an assault on Victorian order and ornateness, and though the specific lists of Blasted (English humor, do-gooders, sportsmen, aesthetics ...) and Blessed (trade unionists, music halls, hairdressers, aviators ...) might have been a bit of a puzzle, the manifesto had the ring of modernism:

"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.
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 ONLY WANT THE WORLD TO LIVE, and to feel its crude energy flowing through us."

As a movement in painting and sculpture, vorticism was a branch of abstract art, as were all its fledgling cousins -- futurism, rayonism, fauvism, Orphism, suprematism, etc. As a literary movement, it was harder to define, the first issue including poems by Ezra Pound (with such expressions as "You slut-bellied obstructionist"), a suffragist story by Rebecca West, and an early version of Ford Madox Ford's "The Good Soldier." But the major force in Blast and vorticism, as both painter and writer, was Wyndham Lewis -- so much so that, looking back from 1956, Lewis would say, "Vorticism, in fact, was what I, personally, did or said at a certain time." The first issue of Blast contained his play, "Enemy of the Stars," and many of his declarations:

"Our Vortex is not afraid of the past: it has forgotten its existence.
Our Vortex regards the Future as as sentimental as the Past.
Our Vortex rushes out like an angry dog at your Impressionistic fuss.
Our Vortex is white and abstract with its red-hot swiftness."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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