The Evolution of T. E. Hulme’s Thought by Mead, Henry

I: The Nightmare of Determinism

T. E. Hulme was born on the 18th of September 1883 in Staffordshire, the son of a farmer who later entered the ceramic trade. By the time of Hulme’s death in the First World War in 1917, he had made a mark as one of the major philosophical contributors to the New Age. He would later be seen as one of the leading figures of early modernism. His career was marked by anti-intellectualism, a concern with language and its properties, and a belief in “classicism” (as opposed to romanticism) in art, literature and politics. During his career, he wrote on various subjects, moving from one enthusiasm to the next, from symbolist poetry to the philosophy of Henri Bergson, from Tory politics to avant-garde art criticism. However, by charting the development of his ideas we may identify underlying continuities in his ideology, the nature of which make him one of the most remarkable contributors to A.R. Orage’s “socialist” journal.

To understand his intellectual development, it helps to have a sense of the intellectual climate surrounding him in his youth, which he later described as a neo-Darwinian materialism. Writers like Herbert Spencer and Huxley had continued a deterministic tradition that Hulme saw extending back to Spinoza, and which he saw encapsulated in the words of the German psychologist Hugo Münsterberg (1863-1916):

Science is to me not a mass of disconnected information, but the certainty that there is no change in the universe, no motion of an atom, and no sensation of a consciousness which does not come and go absolutely in accordance with natural laws; the certainty that nothing can exist outside the gigantic mechanism of causes and effects; necessity moves the stars in the sky and necessity moves the emotions in my mind. (Quoted in Hulme 140)

Hulme in an article of 1911 described how, as a child, he took pleasure from the scientific certainties of this system:

[It was] like the feeling produced by a new toy or a steam-engine that “works” to a boy. It exhilarates us to feel that we have got a neat key to the universe in our pockets, and this delight of acquisition obliterates the nightmarish effect it would naturally produce in a man. . . . (141)

His early enthusiasm for science and logic may have contributed to his academic success as a schoolboy in the fields of mathematics and physical sciences, which earned him a place as Exhibitioner at St. John’s College, Cambridge to study mathematics. However, at some point, this boyish pleasure in his “toy” theory was replaced by a feeling of intellectual claustrophobia. The idea that everything is already strictly defined around us became maddeningly stifling. “Necessity moves the stars in the sky and necessity moves the emotions in my mind.” As Münsterberg’s words suggest, the deterministic materialism Hulme was absorbing ruled out human free will. This resounded at every level: all moral and social choices are bound within the same rules. From taking pleasure in scientific truth, Hulme moved towards a horror of the consequent rigid order, both epistemological and moral. He would later call this the “Nightmare of Determinism”.

This prospect may explain why Hulme found it necessary as an undergraduate to reject the particular social codes around him, a practice that would continue throughout his life, as if he were continually testing the rigidity of the moral order in which he found himself. His academic work deteriorated, and in 1904 he became involved in a series of brawls and riots in Cambridge, which eventually led to his expulsion from the University in March of that year.

Hulme then studied chemistry for a short while at University College London, before his abrupt departure in July 1906 for Canada. Little is known of this period, but apparently he worked his way across the country as a cattle hand. The fragmentary text that Hulme produced during this time, entitled Cinders, is our only documentary evidence of his intellectual development between 1906 and 1907. What it reflects is Hulme’s loss of faith in the logical systems he had at first loved, and then resented, in his youth. They were now revealed to be man-made constructions. All systems of analysing the universe are false—not merely in scientific method, but also in idealist philosophy. Hulme saw in metaphysics, as much as physics, the human impulse to impose order upon experience. Idealist philosophy constructs its systems like scaffolding over another fallacy—that of the “absolute”, the transcendent quality that can never be defined, but which man endlessly aspires to perceive. Hulme saw this as the essence of romanticism, an idea that Hulme would attack repeatedly over the next few years.

In Cinders, Hulme rejected empirical science and romantic idealism equally: he wanted to look at experience directly, unmediated by interpretative tactics provided by science or philosophy. When Hulme pierced through these conceptual networks to look upon real experience, he saw chaos. He uses a metaphor in this text that will recur throughout his work: the universe is a “cindery heap”, upon which was imposed the “chess board” of our conceptual life. Cinders thus marks a radical scepticism, a loss of faith.

After Canada, Hulme was back in London for a short spell before leaving for Belgium, where he spent a year at the Berlitz School, studying French and German. His study of languages may have contributed to his increasing emphasis on the role of language in the formation of conceptual systems. His notebook of this time, later published as “Notes on Language and Style” ( 1907 ), dwells on linguistic structures and their inherent tendency to conceptualise. Around this time Hulme was reading French literary theorists, such as Remy de Gourmont and Jules de Gaultier, as well as leading French philosophers, such as the experimental psychologist Theodule Ribot and his colleague at the Collége de France, Henri Bergson. This reading gave Hulme’s rejection of conceptual systems a new theoretical grounding. The common thread among these varied writers was an idea of how language orders our experience. They believed that language originates in metaphors for sense-impressions. As language becomes more sophisticated, these metaphorical beginnings are forgotten, and concepts are born. Concepts are then woven into complex structures of thought, as we have seen in science and metaphysics, which eventually lose contact with the point of linguistic departure in tangible, felt experience. One can see why Hulme was drawn to such an argument after his disillusionment with systematised thought.

There was also a glimmer of hope provided by the French theorists. Ribot, Gaultier and Gourmont shared an understanding of the higher conceptual “counter-language” that could be used for rapid calculations, like algebra, but lacked contact with reality. However, they also agreed in their notion of another form of language, which was poetic and intuitive, and in touch with its physiological origins. By using this language, one could get back from the abstractions of “counter-language”, back to local and particular truths. This identification of an intuitive language was of great importance for Hulme, both as a philosopher and a poet.

Gourmont, among the French litterateurs, led the way in defining a new, post-Symbolist poetic style. To avoid the deadening effects of abstraction and cliché, he advocated a return to the “lower” language as a source for vivid metaphors. This medium allowed a limited but intensified communication of individual experience. At the same time, Henri Bergson was developing his philosophy of intuition, which would be of great significance to Hulme. In short, Bergson believed that conceptual thinking overlooked the essence of human thought, in its real state of flux. The only way of conveying this kind of experience was through an orchestration of analogical language that could induce intuitive moments as they were first experienced. The actual experience was beyond language, but the mechanism of metaphor was as close as one could get to recreating it.

What Gourmont and Bergson shared was the belief that, of the two kinds of thought, conceptual and intuitive, the latter had potential as a redemptive force. If imagistic language could be harnessed in the right way, it could capture something of real experience, of individual consciousness at a fundamental level. The effort to fix this limited epistemological truth depends on the use of metaphor, the fundamental component of language, which is deadened in conceptual structures.

Hulme’s reading of these French writers gave him a new way of ordering his thoughts on the chaos of the universe. His first impulse was to follow Gourmont’s example, and trace the intuitive language into the literary realm. In 1908 he joined the Poets’ Club, a London group that met regularly for formal dinners, readings and public lectures. Hulme may have enjoyed provoking this rather old-fashioned society with his avant-garde French theory, but it seems he was serious enough about his membership to take the post of secretary in 1908. Around this time Hulme was writing the poems that would later become famous as the origins of the “imagist” movement. He contributed to the Club’s two anthologies, published annually for Christmas in 1908 and 1909. Hulme wrote in a crystalline vers libre, concentrating on intense moments of analogical insight, in which, as he put it, two images coincide “like two notes in a chord.” One of his first published poems was entitled “Autumn” ( 1909 ):

A touch of cold in the Autumn night 
I walked abroad, 
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge 
Like a red-faced farmer. 
I did not stop to speak, but nodded; 
And round about were the wistful stars 
With white faces like town children.

F. S. Flint, then poetry critic for the New Age, attacked the Poets’ Club’s first anthology, noting a few contributions for faint praise (including “Autumn”), but ultimately condemning the club’s literary and social conservatism. Hulme gamely wrote back to disagree in the letters page in the next week, and Flint responded in similar style the week afterwards. This encounter marks the important intersection of Hulme’s career—not only with Flint, his colleague as proto-Imagist—but also with the New Age, the journal that would publish much of his work over the rest of his career. The upshot of his correspondence with Flint was that Hulme apparently conceded a point for once, as he left the Poets’ Club in 1909 to form with Flint a new, more radical group known as the “Secession Club”. Flint, as an expert on the French literary scene, evidently had much in common with Hulme. The Secession Club met at the Restaurant de Tour Eiffel and included in their members Ezra Pound.

Among Hulme’s French sources for his poetic theory, it seems that Henri Bergson was a dominant influence. We see this in the “Lecture on Modern Poetry”, and more clearly in his remarks in a 1911 review of French literature for the New Age, in which he drew a direct comparison: “the spirit which finds expression in the Symboliste movement in poetry is the same as that represented by Bergson in philosophy.” and went on to define Symbolism as “an attempt by means of successive and accumulated images to express and exteriorise . . . a central lyric intuition” (58).

The synthesis of Bergson and the Symbolists was a useful one at the time, but increasingly it contrasted with Hulme’s wish for hardness and directness in art. The “Lecture on Modern Poetry”, delivered in 1908, gives us hints of this tension. In his opening remarks, he makes clear his instinctive mode of thinking: “I want to talk of poetry as a farmer might talk of pigs”, Hulme notes in typically provocative style. Yet, he goes on to define the new verse in Symbolist terms, as aiming to capture “some vague mood”, in a “half-shy or tentative” manner (53-4). Hulme’s instinctive attitude was anything but “tentative or half-shy”. It may be that his differences with Symbolism and Bergson began to emerge here: the problem was that Symbolist intuition remained beyond language in the form of a “vague mood” that could only be gestured at through metaphor. The rough empiricism of Hulme’s “talk of pigs” halts at the point of the intuitive experience. It is notable that Bergson’s ideas, when applied to aesthetics in particular, often shared the same terminology as romantic art theory. We see this effect in Hulme’s notes for a lecture on “Bergson’s Theory of Art” (c. 1911). Hulme wrote: “between ourselves and our own consciousness, there is a veil that is dense for the ordinary man, transparent for the artist and the poet” (198). The artist must pierce the veil of appearances to get at reality. In this case, the veil is our habit of conceptual thought, and what lies beyond is reality in its tangible form. But despite Bergson’s aim to work in empirical terms, the vocabulary he uses is strikingly reminiscent of romanticism. The meaning may be different, but the terms are the same. This tendency in Bergson would become a serious problem for Hulme.


II: Bergson

In 1909 Hulme began a journalistic career with his first article for the New Age. Entitled the “New Philosophy”, it was the first of a number of articles on the subject of Henri Bergson. Bergson’s philosophy can be traced to its first principle in his first book, Essai sur les données immediates de conscience ( 1889 ) (translated in English as Time and Free Will in 1910 ). The argument was founded on the notion of durée, or “real duration.” Bergson’s idea was that we habitually analyse our experience using terms acquired in our perception of space. Our mental apparatus is designed to perceive distinct quantities in spatial relation to each other and to ourselves. Time however is not a spatial quantity. The traditional clock face exemplifies our effort to divide time into consecutive periods in this way—but, in reality, time is by no means a linear, analysable quantity. Bergson defines “duration” as the experience of the consciousness moving through time, something that is impossible to analyse:

Pure duration is the form which the succession of our conscious states assumes when our ego lets itself live, when it refrains from separating its present state from its former states . . . in recalling these states, it does not set them alongside each other, but forms both the past and the present states into an organic whole, as happens when we call the notes of a tune, melting, so to speak, into one another. (Time and Free Will, 100)

The human need to explain complex mental phenomena in spatial terms is at the root of conceptual thinking. We endeavour to analyse all the parts of the universe. Scientists dissect the organic to find the mechanic, identifying chemical processes of cause and effect, distinct forces in an explicable chain. Similarly, metaphysicians devise elaborate systems with each component of consciousness in a network: the obvious example is Kant’s principles and categories that make up a detailed map of our perceptual structures.

These approaches are erroneous: consciousness in fact resides in what Bergson calls the “intensive manifold”: an indivisible multiplicity (and at the same time a unity) of sensation and thought. To try to analyse this is, as Hulme puts it, to try to catch a river in a net. The only way of achieving knowledge of the intensive manifold is through intuition. Hulme believed that, in making this distinction between the extensive and intensive, analysis and intuition, Bergson had perfected the variations on the conceptual/intuitive divide in the work of Ribot, Gourmont and Gaultier:

By intuition is meant the kind of intellectual sympathy by which one places oneself within an object in order to coincide with what is unique in it and consequently inexpressible. Analysis, on the contrary, is the operation which reduces the object to elements already known, that is, to elements common both to it and other objects. All analysis is thus a translation, a development into symbols, a representation taken from successive points of view. . . . But intuition . . . is a single act. (Introduction to Metaphysics, 14)

More importantly, he goes on to show how intuitive thought can redeem us from this fallacious spatialization of psychic experience.

In his 1907 book Creative Evolution, which made his name in England particularly, Bergson took these insights and applied them to the evolutionary science that had been so dominant in the intellectual field since Darwin. His argument was that the intuitively felt growth and elaboration of man’s consciousness, with new experiences constantly adding to and subtly altering the make up of the mind, indicated the presence of a creative impulse in nature itself. He called this force the elan vital. For Hulme the re-reading of evolution as the product of a renewing, growing force akin to the intensive experiences in one’s own mind, was a further liberation from what he saw as “the nightmare of determinism”.

Bergson was hugely influential in his day, and by 1911 his name was famous across Europe. His growing audience was attracted by the promise of an intellectual revolution. Hulme, at first, was no exception, as we see in his account of his first reading of Bergson in 1907:

It was almost a kind of physical sense of exhilaration, a sudden expansion, a kind of mental explosion. It gave one the sense of giddiness that comes with a sudden lifting up to a great height. (Hulme 126)

Hulme, like many of Bergson’s readers, was taken with the “extreme originality” of Bergson’s thought. It was true that Bergson’s conclusions had been expressed in different forms by many other writers, as Hulme notes, in the nominalist/realist controversy of medieval philosophy, and, before that, in the classical philosophy which had been Bergson’s point of departure. More recently, similar anti-intellectual ideas had been expressed by Nietzsche. However, Hulme argued, “Bergson was the first to present the radical attack”, in a “complete system” (86).

Between 1909 and 1912 Hulme wrote for the New Age almost exclusively on the subject of Bergson. After meeting the philosopher in person in 1910, Hulme was granted the rights to translate the short but important monograph Introduction à la Metaphysique. Over this period of three years, one can see Hulme aspiring to a career as a philosopher in his own right—an ambition which would culminate with him re-applying to Cambridge to study philosophy with a reference letter from Bergson himself. His application, supported as it was by the most famous philosopher of the age, was accepted; however, by the time Hulme took his place at the University, his attitude to Bergson had become complicated. This was owing to various reservations that were growing in Hulme’s mind that reached a kind of crisis in late 1911.

There had been various fundamental tensions from the start in Hulme’s “exhilarated” reception of an entirely new “system” of thought. Firstly, there was the idea of a “system” itself: Hulme reveals one of the main faultlines in the oxymoronic statement: “Bergson gives a complete system to justify . . . anti-intellectualist sentiment”. How could a philosophy that identifies man’s error in system-building, and which relies expressly on the category of the intuitive, work as a “complete system”? The intuitive remained an elusive category, incommunicable by language. At the heart of the system was something beyond expression. The problem in short was, as T.S. Eliot put it later, “A philosophy about intuition is somewhat less likely to be intuitive than any other”.

Secondly, given the questionable nature of Bergson’s “system”, the claim of “extreme originality” for his philosophy was becoming a problem for Hulme. Novelty was a fundamental characteristic of Bergson’s work. The very nature of Bergson’s philosophy was one of constant renewal: “the continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future and which swells as it advances”. The exciting ideological connotations of this force were reflected in the popular reception of Bergson’s thought. His philosophy was proclaimed as an intellectual revolution. His Paris lectures had become society events and, when Bergson arrived in London in late 1911, the excitement brought crowds to his lectures, creating a spectacle that, for Hulme, was a crisis point in his admiration for Bergson’s philosophy. In his article of November 1911, “Bergson Lecturing”, he gave vent to his profound disillusionment on seeing the size of the audience at one of these events. To a certain extent, Hulme’s reaction was absurd and childish, as he himself was happy to admit—he was to some extent jealous of others sharing his discovery—but it had its roots in a deeper problem. The attraction for the crowds had been the promise of revolution—a notion from which Hulme recoiled instinctively.

For Hulme, Bergson’s ideas had been debased into a kind of populist wonder-cure. Hulme had been consistent in saying that there was nothing new about Bergson’s conclusions, but even he had confessed to “exhilaration” on discovering a “complete system” of thought. However, as the excitement over Bergson grew in England, accompanied by journalistic references to intellectual “liberation” and “revolution”, Hulme grew disillusioned. The popular reaction came worryingly close to a kind of utopian rhetoric that Hulme instinctively disliked:

I might be suspected of that particular kind of enthusiasm that imagines it has come across the secret of the world for the first time, the kind of enthusiasm that imagines Bergson supersedes all other philosophy. . . . This would be a most awful accusation . . . it would identify me with a particular type of mentality which I regard with a peculiar horror, and which has been particularly prominent in ccnnection with appreciations and criticism of Bergson. . . . This malaise can be roughly described as a repugnance to and irritation at the ordinary and the humdrum. . . . It is at the back of all forms of romanticism. Translated into social beliefs, it is the begetter of all the Utopias. It is the source of all the idealist support of Revolution. (130)

By early 1911, Hulme had begun to write outside of the New Age, for the Commentator. The subject matter of this new writing was markedly different, as he for the first time broached the subject of politics, or more specifically the nature of ideology. He had met Pierre Lasserre in April 1911, at which time Lasserre had planted the seeds of doubt about Bergson in Hulme’s mind. Hulme was much in sympathy with the classicist, nationalist and royalist L’Action française. Their belief in the need for social rigidity appealed to that Burkean side of Hulme which believed that “there are such things as necessary laws governing societies, and more particularly . . . these laws can be discovered from past history . . .”

I find no attraction in the idea that things must be discovered, or even restated, in each generation. I would prefer that they were much more continuous with the same ideas in the past even than they are. There is a tremendous consolation in the idea of fixity and sameness. . . . (135)

Hulme’s discussion of politics echoes the famous debate in the New Age from 1907-8 between Chesterton, Belloc and Wells, regarding the nature of “socialism”. However, Hulme’s decision to make these points in the Commentator rather than the New Age suggests he had reservations in playing both the Tory and the Bergsonian in the same pages: perhaps because he increasingly felt the two roles were not compatible. This feeling was no doubt strengthened by Lasserre’s critique of Bergson’s principle of endless renewal and progress through durée and the élan vital. He argued that the notion of constant progression of consciousness was obviously at odds with the principle of “fixity and sameness” in human nature:

It is we are told that Bergson has now proved that Time is real—that is, that the present moment is a unique moment and can be paralleled by nothing in the past—there is no repetition. . . . To our judgements in the name of reason interpreting experience, the Bergsonians oppose to us what they call “Life”—life which is always creation and always incalculable. . . . Bergsonism was nothing but the last disguise of romanticism. (165)

Hulme commented in late 1911: “If I thought this was true, I should be compelled to change my views considerably.” By the end of the year, he was in exactly that position. Much had changed since his 1909 account of Bergson as the prophet of a “New Philosophy.” By mid 1912 he was not so fond of the adjective “new,” or with expressions of “exhilaration”:

There is always at the back of romanticism a certain characteristic sentiment, a certain kind of exhilaration. . . . It betrays itself in certain clichés, breaking down barriers, freedom, emancipation, and the rest of it; but, above all, it betrays itself in the epithet NEW. One must believe that there is a NEW art, a NEW religion, even a NEW age. (237)

Here the various concerns dovetailed: Bergson’s thought lapsed into a resurgence of romanticism, complete with a revolutionary fervour of the sort that might have surrounded Rousseau. Hulme’s instincts were firmly against the idea that “everywhere man is born free.” He was interested in freedom certainly, as we see in his struggle to disprove the “nightmare of determinism”; however, the freedom he envisioned was not a utopian vision of fulfilling man’s transcendent potential. Instead it was an almost theological notion of Free Will and Original Sin, from which condition man must strive to improve himself. Bergson’s emphasis on continual progression was essentially optimistic and humanistic. It was not, ultimately, compatible with Hulme’s vision of the “cindery heap” of the universe and the human struggle therein to express some sort of truth about our experience, against the odds of our flawed perceptual apparatus and limited means of expression.


III: Worringer

In 1912, Hulme’s phase of Bergsonism was coming to its end. However, he had been commissioned to write articles and deliver lectures on Bergson, and even translate Bergson’s Introduction a la Metaphysique. Perhaps in the interests of his burgeoning journalistic career, he fulfilled these commitments. The translation finally came to press in 1913—by which time, Hulme’s interests had moved away from Bergson. This development was clear as early as 1912, when he spent a few months in Germany and began to absorb the aesthetic theory prevalent there. It may have been around this time that Hulme first read, and met, the philosopher Wilhelm Worringer, who would have an important impact on the next stage of Hulme’s work. Worringer had published his doctoral thesis, Abstraktion und Einfühlung (Abstraction and Empathy) in 1907, to great acclaim: this text would have a major impact on modern art over the next few years. His aesthetic theory was of particular importance for Hulme, because it reflected his ideological position in a way Bergson ultimately had not. Worringer’s philosophy, unlike Bergson’s, began expressly as a theory for the history of art, but Hulme would incorporate it into his wider vision of a modern frame of mind. For Hulme, as we have seen, forms of art were expressive of profound philosophical beliefs; this was true of his poetry, and now, as he absorbed Worringer’s theory for the visual arts, his attention was drawn to painting, and, most powerfully, to sculpture.

The dates of Hulme’s first acquaintance with Worringer are unclear, but what is certain is that he attended the Kongress fur Aesthetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft held in Berlin from 7th to 9th October 1913, and heard Worringer lecture on the history and origins of ornament in art. On Hulme’s return to England, he delivered a lecture that made clear Worringer’s influence. His talk, delivered on 22 January 1914 to G. R. S. Mead’s Quest Society, was another important moment in modernist history. In attendance were Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound. Here, Hulme announced his new aesthetic. Although he was largely paraphrasing Worringer, the purposes to which he then put the ideas were original: he would lead the way in theorising the new art emerging from the proto-Vorticist group around Lewis.

Worringer’s thesis was that there are two distinct kinds of psychological impulse behind artistic creativity, and there are correspondingly two kinds of art that recur through history: the abstract and the empathetic. The abstract is produced by a state of mind that desires certainties in an uncertain world. It is produced by a kind of spiritual agoraphobia, or “space-shyness,” as Hulme put it. Because humans could not control the movement of forces around them, we turned to art in an effort to fix perception into stable representations. Art was a way of imposing order upon the moving world. The kind of art produced by this state of mind creates rigid forms, rather than mimetic representation. Mimesis would merely recall a state of discomfort; but by abstracting the spatial forms before his eyes, and turning them into hard, definite shapes, artists could render their experience stable and controllable. Worringer concludes that “abstract” art emerges from this agoraphobic response to a bewildering disorderly universe.

The other kind of art Worringer termed “empathetic.” It is produced by humans who feel they have mastered their environment, and control nature to the point where they are at ease with their perceptions. The result of this self-assurance is a mimetic art. The flux of perception is no longer intimidating and therefore can be evoked in all truthfulness. This is the impulse behind Renaissance art. We see the movement from the abstract to the empathetic for example in the transference from Cimabue to Giotto—from the Eastern icon to the Western altarpiece.

What Hulme did was to take this historical account, and turn it into a diagnosis not merely of contemporary art, but of the wider cultural moment. One important proposition implied by Worringer was that the movement from abstraction to empathy was not a result of the invention of new skills, but it was a shift in man’s fundamental worldview, or Weltanschauung. Hulme expanded on this point, arguing that there was no historical or spiritual progression involved in art history, as Hegel for example had argued, but that it was merely a cycle of two unchanging attitudes vying for dominance. Hulme argued that in the modern world, the abstract worldview was resurgent, reflecting human experience in an industrialised and urbanised world, where the individual no longer controlled his natural environment on a personal level.

Here we see Hulme referring back to a favourite theme of his: the existence of an implicit, underlying ideology in any given philosophical or artistic statement. He had already defined his own terms in his political writings: liberal romanticism was shaped by the belief in the human potential to achieve some kind of ideal. Bergson had lapsed into this habit of thought. On the other hand, ideological classicism, as espoused by Lasserre and Maurras, was shaped by the belief in the limitations and fallibility of man. Now Worringer had provided terms that matched romanticism and classicism in aesthetic terms: empathy and abstraction. Hulme’s aesthetics turned decisively towards Worringer’s definition of abstraction. Sculpture particularly appealed to Hulme in its substantiveness, its tangibility; its existence as stuff in the empirical world. He found the modern practitioners of Worringer’s “abstraction” in the circle including Jacob Epstein, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, David Bomberg, William Roberts and Edward Wadsworth. Over the next year Hulme would publish a series of articles on these new artists for the New Age, discussing their work in clearly Worringerian terms.

In Hulme’s evolution from youthful scientism, to radical scepticism to Bergsonian symbolism, and finally to Worringer’s aesthetics, the underlying continuity is his vision of a chaotic universe. Beneath our orderly rationalised human structures lies a world of flux and disorder. Our senses and our means of expression are unreliable. There is no wholly original or ultimate solution to be discovered, only limited ways of snatching some kind of understanding—through language or artistic representation. Bergson had hinted at a way of capturing intuition as “some vague mood”—but, in contrast, Worringer had shown that man needed to fix perceptions into static shapes, to create order where there was none.

Hulme was now beginning to see the need for some kind of imposed structure of understanding, however artificial—purely for pragmatic reasons. However, as opposed to scientific systems that aspired to explain the objective “truth,” Hulme sought a “religious attitude.” It was this idea that would become central to his later writings. In terms of politics, it was reflected in his liking for the work of Georges Sorel, the anarchist-syndicalist author of Réflexions sur la violence, which Hulme translated in 1915. Sorel’s paradoxical theory proposed the harnessing of destructive social energies within a rigid class structure founded on the “myth” of revolution—in this marriage of ideological “classicism” and anarchism, Hulme found an expression of his own vision of chaos and order in necessary tension.

Hulme was now developing a synthesis of all his reading up to that point: a project that he undertook in his last series of articles for the New Age, running from December 1915 to February 1916. Alongside these philosophical pieces, Hulme contributed a series of articles on the subject of the war, while also conducting a public debate with Bertrand Russell on the subject of pacifism (which Hulme opposed) in the Cambridge Magazine. Much work was left incomplete, however, including his planned monograph on Jacob Epstein, when Hulme was killed in battle on 28 September 1917.


Works Cited

  • Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution. Translated by Arthur Mitchell. London: MacMillan, 1920.
  • —. Introduction to Metaphysics. Translated by T. E. Hulme. London: Macmillan, 1913.
  • —. Matter and Memory. Translated by N. M. Paul & W. S. Palmer. London: George Allen, 1911.
  • —. “Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness.” Translated by F. L. Pogson. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1910.
  • Hulme, T. E. Collected Writings. Edited by Karen Csengeri. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.
  • Sorel, Georges. Reflections on Violence. Translated by T. E. Hulme. London: Macmillan, 1917, 1961.
  • Worringer, Wilhelm. Abstraction and Empathy: A Contribution to the Psychology of Style. Translated by Michael Bullock. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953.
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