Inventing Futurism: The Art and Politics of Artificial Optimism
In 1909 the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published the founding manifesto of Italian Futurism, an inflammatory celebration of "the love of danger" and "the beauty of speed" that provoked readers to take aggressive action and "glorify war--the world's only hygiene." Marinetti's words unleashed an influential artistic and political movement that has since been neglected owing to its exaltation of violence and nationalism, its overt manipulation of mass media channels, and its associations with Fascism. Inventing Futurism is a major reassessment of Futurism that reintegrates it into the history of twentieth-century avant-garde artistic movements.
Countering the standard view of Futurism as naïvely bellicose, Christine Poggi argues that Futurist artists and writers were far more ambivalent in their responses to the shocks of industrial modernity than Marinetti's incendiary pronouncements would suggest. She closely examines Futurist literature, art, and politics within the broader context of Italian social history, revealing a surprisingly powerful undercurrent of anxiety among the Futurists--toward the accelerated rhythms of urban life, the rising influence of the masses, changing gender roles, and the destructiveness of war. Poggi traces the movement from its explosive beginnings through its transformations under Fascism to offer completely new insights into familiar Futurist themes, such as the thrill and trauma of velocity, the psychology of urban crowds, and the fantasy of flesh fused with metal, among others.
Lavishly illustrated and unparalleled in scope, Inventing Futurism demonstrates that beneath Futurism's belligerent avant-garde posturing lay complex and contradictory attitudes toward an always-deferred utopian future.
Marinetti rejected traditional values and norms as prototypes for the present. For Marinetti, a truly renovated Italy could only be born out of the ashes of a destroyed past. The newly militarized and industrial nation would be led by a cadre of artist-warriors, who had been liberated from all constraints except that of patriotism. Given this effort to fuse art and social transformation, it is not surprising that the Futurists sought to overcome distinctions between high and low culture in order
Divisionism in painting. 88 Several aspirants, including 121 Leonardo Dudreville, were rejected. 89 As the artist assumed an explicitly avant-garde attitude in his art, his antagonism toward the public grew. Perhaps Boccioni’s greatest disillusionment came from the failure of the Socialist intelligentsia and the workers to understand and embrace his art and its vision of modernity. By 1914 he could write bitterly of
power, the Futurist ideal of the male body is the site of multiple fantasies, images, poses, and performances. Predating the analyses of Freud, the Futurists nonetheless share his belief that the ego is primarily constituted as a “bodily ego,” understood not merely as a given sensory surface, but as “itself the projection of a surface.” 3 For Freud, this surface is at once a cognitive, psychic, and physical entity, whose sensory, defensive, and unifying functions develop in response to both
eros, Marinetti never entirely rejected voluntarism, or the realization of desire as a manifestation of power over nature. In L’alcova d’acciaio (The Steel Alcove) of 1921, a first-person romanzo vissuto (lived novel) recounting Marinetti’s experiences during the last months of the war, the poet proclaimed: “I believe that the audacious will to win is a force that projects itself out from the muscles with enormous impetus and force.” 13 And in “The New Religion-Morality of Speed,” published in
his hand secure on the inclined steering wheel, with all his faculties in a state of vigilance, he seems truly the lord of a whirlwind, the tamer of a monster, the calm, absolute sovereign 12 of a new force, he who stands straight in a vortex. 32 Morasso rejoiced in the transference of the “vital” power of the machine into men, so that “it is added to ours, and by this union we feel ourselves extraordinarily aggrandized and fortified.” No longer “defenseless” as before, he declared, “we are