A Century of Futurism: Introduction

Article excerpt

The Futurist movement marked a crucial rupture within European literature and art. For all its political and cultural contradictions, Italian Futurism called into question all aspects of literary and artistic production, from the sacrality and eternalness of the work of art to the privileged role of the artist and the passivity of the reader and the spectator. Yet, one hundred years after the publication in Le Figaro of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's founding manifesto, Futurism can still be considered an enigmatic and uncanny object. Although countless scholars have tirelessly examined the aesthetic, cultural, and social implications of Futurism's most radical and adventurous ideas and art practices, the most widespread habit--at least in the humanities--still remains that of cautiously approaching the movement as a pathological detour from mainstream literary communication and stylistic practices.

Futurism's shameless cult of war and Marinetti's sexism and alliance with Fascism have certainly not helped to disseminate or even garner sympathy for the artistic methods of this pioneering avant-garde movement. However, while scholars do not exclusively reduce Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy of life, Martin Heidegger's ontology, or Ezra Pound's literary achievements to their political beliefs, Futurism is still predominantly understood as a (crypto-)Fascist artistic ideology. Not surprisingly, as a result of this strategy of immunization from Futurism and the avant-gardes at large, whereas contemporary visual arts are consciously post-Dada, and contemporary classical music is overtly post-tonal, most contemporary literature and criticism proudly prolong the agony of nineteenth-century classical forms.

The essays collected in this volume question, from a multiplicity of perspectives, the common-sense reception of Futurism. Instead of merely assessing the chronological and stylistic borders of the movement, most texts cast light on fundamental stylistic, thematic, and theoretical aspects. Taken as a whole, they can be fruitfully read as attempts to move beyond a major limitation of modern Western culture, namely, the "xenophobia" towards the technical object, and the "opposition established between the cultural and the technical" (Simondon 9). In following these presuppositions, we have arranged the essays according to their proximity to four trajectories of Futurism: the relationship between art and violence, the affections and modifications of the body, mechanical and biological machines, organic and inorganic matter.

The first section, "The Art of Violence," allows us to revisit one of the most controversial topoi of both Futurist practice and the critical canon on the movement. We could have entitled it just as easily "The Violence of Art," for in Futurism the relationship between the two terms of the syntagm--a possible articulation of that rethinking of the relationship of art and life that in his classical study Peter Burger identified as the distinguishing trait of the avant-garde --was never simply one-way, and entailed a complex series of negotiations with numerous aesthetics and ideological movements of the turn of the century. It is in this perspective that Gunter Berghaus re-examines Marinetti's debt to the political currents of the early twentieth century--anarchism in particular--arguing that it was not the result of mere amateurish dabbling but of a serious engagement with the political debates of the day. The documents appended to Berghaus's essay--the much-revised and corrected text of Marinetti's conference "La necessita e bellezza della violenza," never before published in its original form, and the reactions to it in both mainstream newspapers and in the anarchist press--help us understand more clearly the wide-ranging project of Futurism, which from the very beginning aimed at overcoming, in specific and practical terms, the distance between aesthetics and politics that had characterized aestheticism. …