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84 CHAPTER 8 Pound’s Vorticist Textbook Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, the French sculptor tragically killed in action on the Western Front when he was only twenty-three, was perhaps the most promising sculptor of his generation. Yet the only available edition of his sculpture and drawings, that of Mervyn Levy (October House, 1965), is hardly adequate: it omits some of Gaudier’s most important sculptures, provides indifferent reproductions of the others, and Levy’s brief introduction is, at best, sketchy. Reviewing the book for Apollo, John Parry asks: “Why doesn’t some enterprising publisher reprint Pound’s monograph?” The enterprising publisher who did just that was James Laughlin of New Directions. In 1970 he brought out an enlarged edition of Pound’s 1916 memoir, including thirty pages of illustrations as well as Pound’s later notes on Gaudier. Now this edition has been reissued in paperback, and although the reproductions are disappointingly small and grainy, one must be grateful to New Directions for making readily available at low cost one of the central documents of our century on avant-garde art. Pound’s “Memoir” tells us little about Gaudier’s personal life. The sculptor’s bizarre semi-Platonic love affair with Sophie Brzeska, the Polish writer twenty years his senior whose name he adopted, and with whom he lived on and off during the last five years of his short life, is barely mentioned: Pound discreetly refers to Sophie as Gaudier’s “sister,” and those who want to know more about the romance must turn to H. S. Ede’s rather histrionic The Savage Messiah (1931). Nor can Gaudier-Brzeska be called, in any usual sense of the word, “art criticism.” It is a seemingly random, repetitious, disorganized, and eccentric book, a miscellany of personal vignettes, tributes by fellow artists, a selection of Review of Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir, by Ezra Pound. The New Republic, December 28, 1974, 21–22. Pound’s Vorticist Textbook 85 Gaudier’s letters from the Front, reprints of his critical prose (part of the “Vortex ” essay for Blast [1914], appears twice!), Pound’s own “Vorticist” essays of 1914–1915, a “Partial Catalogue” of Gaudier’s work, and Pound’s preface to the Memorial Exhibition of 1918. Yet today, more than half a century after it was written, we can begin to understand Gaudier-Brzeska as the formal equivalent of Gaudier’s credo that “sculptural energy is the mountain,” or of Pound’s insistence that “the image is not an idea. It is a radiant node or cluster . . . a VORTEX, from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing.” For all its seeming chaos, Gaudier-Brzeska does have a plan. Pound begins with the plain facts: the news of Gaudier’s death as “part of the war waste,” and reprints a moving obituary by Ford Madox Ford. He then moves rapidly from the “Vortex” essay and Gaudier’s other manifestos back in time to his first meeting with the sculptor that took place in 1913 at an Albert Hall exhibition, when Pound, admiring a particular green clay statue, and making of its sculptor’s unpronounceable name (“Brzkjk . . . Burrzisskzk”), was suddenly approached by a young, wolflike, bright-eyed “Greek god,” who said gently: “Cela s’appele tout simplement Jaershka. C’est moi qui les ai sculptés.” So began the great friendship that quickly led to Pound’s posing for Gaudier. “Some of my best days,” Pound recalls, “the happiest and most interesting, were spent in his uncomfortable mud-floored studio when he was doing my bust.” Only after this account and the series of Gaudier letters does Pound suspend the narrative and pause to define vorticism in poetry as it relates to Gaudier’s “vorticist” sculptures. On closer inspection, the book may be seen to embody the aesthetic of process that is, in fact, its subject matter. We come to understand Gaudier’s art only gradually, just as Pound himself did. The first time one reads the “Vortex” essay, phrases like “the PALEOLITHIC VORTEX . . . Early stone-age man disputed the earth with animals” sounds merely pretentious. But when they reappear one hundred pages later, after Pound has inspected them from all sides and puzzled out their implications, these odd elliptical statements begin to make sense. Gaudier-Brzeska is, then, as Pound says of Gaudier’s “Vortex” essay, “a remarkable arrangement of thought”; it presents ideas in action, capturing fragments of Pound’s aesthetic at the very moment of their formulation. What is that...


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