Socialists! Where Is Your Vortex?
Among recent things which I have forgotten to plug is a piece for volume One of the new Journal of Wyndham Lewis Studies*. It's an expansion and development of previous things on Vorticism, or more specifically the question of why and how Vorticism didn't become a British analogue to the continental avant-garde, despite distinctly looking like one in 1914. It contains, however, an opening attempt at counterfactual fiction, part of which I'm posting below, because a) there's a Vorticism show at the Tate and everything and b) as a way of making clear why I don't write fiction. Enjoy, or not, as the case may be).
1929, London, capital of the Union of British Socialist Republics. A decade after the end of a short and brutal Civil War, and 14 years after the British Expeditionary Force was driven out of Europe by General Ludendorff's victorious offensive. The capital of a devastated country, denuded of its Empire but now tentatively regaining some of its former prominence as the most industrially powerful of the Socialist Republics that now make up half of Europe - though trade between them is difficult, with the Baltic Sea cut off by the vast German Empire, its trade embargo assisted by the anticommunist United States. At the turn of the 1930s, the UBSR is starting to construct new cities.
This is not happening without controversy. Through much of the country, pastoral garden cities are rising from the ruins, the towns destroyed first by Zeppelin raids and then by the Black & Tans. New towns like Connolly outside Dublin, Maxtonburgh in Strathclyde or Morristown in Hertfordshire have been planned by Raymond Unwin using local materials, craftsmanship and winding streets, to the splenetic derision of the Vorticist International. Based in London, Glasgow, Newcastle and Leeds, but with corresponding branches in Budapest, Warsaw, Moscow and Leningrad, this group has the ear of the more enlightened commissars of the UBSR's four constituent republics. Edward Wadsworth and Frederick Etchells' redesign of West Yorkshire into a model Vorticist Metropolis is proceeding apace, with their intricate, jagged structures of concrete and glass sprouting walkways and towers that criss-cross the factory chimneys of Halifax and Huddersfield. Wyndham Lewis, the group's chair, is finally completing his government commission to transform Regent Street, which was halfway through Reginald Blomfield's neo-baroque redesign when interrupted by of the 1919 Whitechapel Insurrection. Monumental sculptures by Jacob Epstein adorn the House of Soviets on the site of the demolished Houses of Parliament, though the 'compromised' classical-Vorticist design by Charles Holden was subjected to much Vorticist scorn on publication.
Opponents of the Vorticists are keen to remind them of their roots in a pre-revolutionary art movement. Commissar Harry Pollitt told the Daily Worker that 'not so long ago these were bohemians who sneered at the proletariat, who hoped to 'kill John Bull with art' when John Bull was trying to kill the British bourgeoisie'. Some mutter darkly about counter-revolutionary activity during the Civil War on the part of some in the group, with Edward Wadsworth under particular suspicion. But although their eager participation in the reconstruction has allayed the suspicions of many in the Trade Unions and the Workers' Councils, perhaps their antisocial reputation isn't completely undeserved. Interviewed on his work at Regent Street, Lewis, dressed in a far from proletarian dinner jacket offset by a hammer and sickle pin, told the Daily Herald ‘when I say that I should like to see a completely transfigured world, it is not because I want to look at it. It is you who would look at it. It would be your spirit that would gain by this exhilarating spectacle. I should merely benefit, I and other painters like me, by no longer finding ourselves in the position of freaks.’
* (which can be obtained from here, and features several far less silly and more intelligent papers)