Blast 1

R.E.M.’s “I Believe.” Kelly Link’s little magazine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. Marilyn Manson’s entire career, along with that of Trent Reznor. Designer T-shirts bearing the image of William Burroughs. Poetry slams. Cyberpunk. The Naked Cowboy of Times Square, New York City. “The Battle in Seattle.” The blog known as bOING-bOING. YouTube. Juxtapoz magazine. Sarah Palin’s resignation speech. What can all these disparate items possibly have in common? Each one can, more or less plausibly, be traced back to Blast 1, Wyndham Lewis’s seminal 1914 explosion of avant-garde, pie-in-your-face bomb tossing, now available in an impeccable high-quality facsimile edition from Gingko Press. The DIY, anti-bourgeois, nostalgie de la boue cultural wavefront from this publication radiated powerfully throughout the 20th century and continues to reverberate down to the present day — a thesis convincingly and succinctly propounded in an elegant, backstory-informative foreword by Paul Edwards. Of course, Lewis and his co-conspirators such as Ezra Pound, Edward Wadsworth, Rebecca West, and Ford Madox Ford did not invent the avant-garde nor constitute the only contemporary bastion of that sensibility and lifestyle. Earlier influences such as J. K. Huysmans and Walt Whitman loom large over Blast, and rivals to the Vorticists (a tag invented by Pound for the project) abounded. Still, Blast 1 retains a certain centrality and projects a sense of residing at the apex of all such movements; and reading this edition in 2009 engenders a sense of both its original audacity and eternal relevance. Despite pretensions to sheer anarchy and an unborn surrealism, Blast 1 is engineered as cleverly and logically as one of the sleek racing cars beloved by the Futurists whom Lewis emulated at first. It opens with a catalogue of “blasts” and “blesses,” raking foes both predictable and fellow-travelerish with wit and invective, and praising unlikely icons and talismans of creativity and fertility. Pound’s poems come next, then Lewis’s play, followed by West’s story. A critical essay on Kandinsky paves the way for more sloganeering and manifestos, and thus the vortex swirls down the drain — but the drain is really a hole in the bottom of Lewis’s much-idolized ocean, and all the cant and canon of Western art and literature have been bracingly consigned to the cloaca of history, leaving a fantastical, fish-flopping, dripping submarine landscape ripe for colonization by esthetic nomads and other arcane lifeforms. In other words, the postmodern culture of the21st century we now inhabit.