Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Tag Archives: The Dancers at the End of Time

Red white and blue retirement

This glossy invitation to experience Exceptional Retirement Living tipped onto my doormat the other day. Though my wife and I may be the right age for luxury retirement, we’ve neither the cash nor the inclination, and certainly not, I must say, if this eye-pummelling décor is a glimpse of what we might expect.


Since this is apparently not the Boutique Hotel from Hell, it must be the “Library” at St George’s Place. (It’s clearly not the on-site Health Club or Restaurant also advertised. Nor the living accommodation, which, thank goodness, looks extremely bland.) If I were shut in this room, I might last fifteen minutes before attempting to gnaw my way out through the locked door. It’s like a bad dream of an afterlife that’s gone wrong – the cheap baronial chandelier, the Catherine Cooksons and Geoffrey Boycott’s memoirs stacked beneath the job lot Chinese vases, the crassly doubled-up sub-Bauhaus mirrors, the pseudo-Sonia Delaunay curtains and cushions, the overpowering square yardage of bright red (including the radiators), the indescribable chairs and – the real Piece of Resistance – some oversized Hanoverian in full tartan striding out from the faux chimney breast.

Or some hopelessly impoverished parody of The Posh Life, conjured up by a drunken magician on a bad day, or reconstructed from a garbled, twenty-third-hand source and thrown together by Michael Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time. This is genuine Outsider Post-Modernism, so unknowingly AWFUL that it could hardly have been done better. And I can’t see that it can represent any actual environment that anybody has ever known, expected to know or would want to know.

Oh yes, and why “St George’s”? What’s with the nationalist vibe? The retirement rabbit hutches apartments down the road from us are slapped up by a firm of Tory donors called Churchill, who fly the Union Jack outside. What next? Thatcher Mansions? Rees-Mogg Mews? Farage Towers?

Maybe that’s it. Post-Brexit, this will be your expected aspiration, what you will think you remember with longing, or what someone else more “cultured” than you will be remembering for you. This room’s been designed as a *meme* of Britishness. Though if the Scots cut free, the dude in the gold frame will need a hasty makeover.

Mashing up the Vortex

While I’m in the business of blessing Blast, a short thought or two about the “lost” number three of the Vorticist mag.

“I think your idea of … the launching of a fresh number of Blast, which you could call an American Number, is an excellent notion,” Wyndham Lewis wrote from his army training camp at Weymouth to Ezra Pound in late April 1916. “You would have to conduct it largely, I expect. I personally should be very pleased to see Blast do another lap.” As Lewis envisaged it, the contents of a third number might have included “a drawing or two & a little writing” of his own, reproductions of works shown at the Vorticist group show in New York (including one in colour), Pound’s Byronic satire “L’Homme Moyen Sensuel” (which eventually appeared in the Little Review in 1917), and a contribution of some sort by Eliot.

Even after the “American Number” proved a non-starter, Lewis was still proposing a third issue as late as 1919. Writing to John Quinn, he confidently described the likely contents as his own essay on art and architecture, The Caliph’s Design: Architects! Where is your Vortex? (separately published the same year, in the event), “fifteen or twenty designs” by half a dozen contributors, a story by himself and “a long, new poem by Eliot”. Pound (“vanished into France and … in a mist of recuperation and romance”) was not expected to be involved. Publication was anticipated in November. (The “long, new poem” from Eliot is curious: does anything in his 1919 Poems qualify? Or does this mean that a preliminary draft of part of The Waste Land was already in existence at this early date?)

In the event there was of course no third lap, though the “American Number” was eventually reanimated, after a fashion, as the hefty mish-mash of academic criticism, modern creative writing and associated bits and bobs put out in 1984 as Blast 3 by diehard Lewis re-publishers Black Sparrow Press of California. Lots of fun, but, inevitably, not kwite the bisnez, as Ezra might have put it.

I’m surprised that there haven’t been countless other attempts at a Blast 3, if only at the cover. Or have there? All I can find is a Blast 3 cover “remake” thread from 2010 at the “Whitechapel” website run by “Freakangels” webcomic creator Warren Ellis. There are five pages of entries from various digitty-comicky-graphicky people, though few of them really hit the mark, to be honest. But here’s a half dozen that I felt made a real attempt to be true to the spirit of the original while dragging it a few decades into an alternative future; the low-tech design of the first two seems particularly apposite.

Oxbrow

J Garrattley

Kuru93

David Bednarski

Luis Fuentes

Paul Sizer

Though at the end of the day, this sort of thing doesn’t amount to much more than deco-punk game-play. As steampunk subsides comfortably into commercial neo-Victorian whimsy, the modernist era might appear to offer an edgier source for retro-futurism. Having said that, the Tate Vorticist show last summer was flagged up here for the dieselpunk community, but apparently with little interest; in these circles, film noir cosplay, vintage vehicles or closet stormtrooperdom seem a bigger pull than modernist art. But pickiness about the real culture of the fetishised past might actually indicate a developing boredom with it – hence, our mash-up version of the ‘thirties or whenever is expected to be more interesting than the real thing. Besides being a convenient laziness, a refusal to engage for real. In our parodic, superficial, postmodern charades we really are becoming The Dancers at the End of Time.