This essay examines the neglected genre of the art manifesto in the context of high modernism and Wyndham Lewis's post-Blast polemics. The manifesto in Britain is more often an individual affair than a collective one, and seen from this perspective it is much more prevalent than previously thought: rather than a momentary pre-War embrace by Lewis, Ezra Pound, and others of the Continental fashion for militant rhetoric, it is a form with its own local history (Wilde, Whistler) and post-War legacy (Woolf, MacDiarmid, Lewis reborn as The Enemy). The central example here is Lewis's attack on the editors of transition, whom he accused of dangerous naïveté for what he saw as their endorsement of radical politics ("art for revolution's sake"). The confrontation that follows pits reactionary against revolutionary, the individual artist against the collective, and the British avant-garde against the transition circle of American expatriates in Paris. Most significantly, it represents an exchange of shoptalk on manifesto writing, traversing subjects ranging from the function of the form as cover fire for artistic ventures to the use of rhetorical violence as a shortcut to achieving the desirable tone of urgency and action.


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pp. 124-135
Launched on MUSE
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