The Definitive Dwiggins no. 72—More about Vague

Among the many items in the 2001 W.A. Dwiggins Collection at the Boston Public Library is a single undated sheet headed “MAXIMS and AXIOMS.” It is signed on the reverse by Hermann Püterschein (the alter ego of W.A. Dwiggins) and there is a pencil note that says “Page from the Notebook of a Modernist.” [1] The text suggests that the sheet is related to Vague no. 7, the satirical magazine that Dwiggins (in the guise of Püterschein), John J. Phillips, Jr., and Glenn Palmer published in 1915.

This is the entire text (with periods added after the roman numerals and at the end of sentences):

I. “Sense” is a term loosely used in connection with the words “good” or “common” to connote a function of wisdom.

II. But to limit thought by the boundary of “sense” is to foregoe [sic] the experience of the greatest sector of wisdom.

III. “Sense” is a detractor, an inhibitor, a lower power of the mind.

IV. Nonsense is not folly, or idiocy, but the negation of sense.

V. Nonsense is more vital than “sense” because more mobile.

It is forbidden to use the expression “Vagueisme,” say rather: “The Motion toward the Vague”.

The Higher Coherency is the more subtile [sic] and direct convergence of communicating minds obtainable only on the borders of the Vague.

Away with circles; away with definitions; away with standards, rules, precedents; away with political boundaries, other than those made by the mountains and the meandering of streams.

The constructions of man are a rectilinear / rectangular eczema in the earthy epidermis.

The line from the needle to the north magnetic pole is an abomination; all shortest distances between two points are [an] abomination. We announce to the lines of latitude and longitude that we will destroy them violently. This is an ultimatum.

In these “notes,” the stages of a philosophical argument are mixed with a group of strange declarations. Although the five “axioms” seem fairly reasonable, the five statements that follow are clearly parodies of avant-garde proclamations. The tone of the last three echoes the stridency of the Vorticist and Futurist manifestoes. The other two may be jabs at architect and designer Claude Fayette Bragdon (1866–1946), author of A Primer of Higher Space (the Fourth Dimension) (Rochester, New York: The Manas Press, 1913). Bragdon was also an ardent Theosophist. [2]

I have not been able to pin down any further than this the specific artists, art movements, works of art, or philosophies of the time that Dwiggins (as Püterschein) was responding to. The first two “maxims” provide the link to Vague, but beyond that this document remains frustratingly vague itself.

1. The sheet is in Folder 17, Box 9, 2001 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library. The folder is labeled “Devil’s Formula,” but in addition to a 5-page typescript of that name from 1947, it contains several other miscellaneous items from different moments in Dwiggins’ career.
2. See The Beautiful Necessity: Seven Essays on Theosophy and Architecture by Claude Bragdon (Rochester, New York: The Manas Press, 1910).