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Vorticism and the Day of Atonement

In response to:

A Portrait of Gertrude Stein from the July 7, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

In his fine piece on Gertrude Stein, [July 7] Virgil Thomson writes that “giving the illusion of movement within a framed picture was the excitement of vorticism, as in Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircase.”’ This must be a slip, the excitement referred to being that of Futurism, to which movement Duchamp’s painting is certainly related. Vorticism was a purely English affair and had, as far as I know, no bearing on Duchamp’s work. What is more, both in practice and in its rather confused theory, it was as close to the stillness of Cubism as to Marinetti’s cult of motion. As Wyndham Lewis put it, “At the heart of the whirlpool is a great silent place where all the energy is concentrated.” Actually, Lewis and his cohorts were working for the same kind of tension Mr. Thomson ascribes to Tender Buttons when he credits Gertrude Stein with having “described objects, food and rooms both statically and dynamically.” In view of the head Vorticist’s celebrated disregard for Mr. Thomson’s heroine, it would be unwise, however, to pursue this comparison.

W. K. Rose

Vassar College

Poughkeepsie, New York

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