Manifesto: A Century of Isms

Manifesto: A Century of Isms

Manifesto: A Century of Isms

Manifesto: A Century of Isms


The first anthology of its kind, Manifesto features over two hundred artistic and cultural manifestos from a wide range of countries. The manifesto, a public statement that sets forth the tenets of a forthcoming, existing, or potential movement or "ism"- or that plays on the idea of one- became in various modernisms a crucial and forceful vehicle for artists, writers, and other intellectuals to express their ideas about the direction of aesthetics and society.

Included in this collection are texts ranging from Kurt Schwitters's Cow Manifesto to those written in the name of well-known movements- imagism, cubism, surrealism, symbolism, vorticism, projectivism- and less well-known ones- lettrism, acmeism, concretism, rayonism. Also covered are expressionist, Dada, and futurist movements from French, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Latin American perspectives, as well as local movements, such as Brazilian hallucinism.

Influential, startling, unsettling, amusing, and continually engaging, these modernist manifestos give voice to a fascinating array of ideas and opinions that will prove invaluable to scholars and students of nineteenth and twentieth-century art, literature, and culture.


Originally a “manifesto” was a piece of evidence in a court of law, put on show to catch the eye, “A public declaration by a sovereign prince or state, or by an individual or body of individuals whose proceedings are of public importance, making known past actions and explaining the motives for actions announced as forthcoming.” Since the “manus” (hand) was already present in the word, the presentation was a handcrafted marker for an important event.

The manifesto was from the beginning, and has remained, a deliberate manipulation of the public view. Setting out the terms of the faith toward which the listening public is to be swayed, it is a document of an ideology, crafted to convince and convert. The stance taken may be institutional or individual and independent. The Communist Manifesto of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx in 1848 is the original model, of immense influence and historical importance for later aesthetic proclamations and political statements. Recently Steven Marcus has described its “transpersonal force and sweep” as marking “the accession of social and intellectual consciousness to a new stage of inclusiveness. It has become part of an integral modern sensibility…. It emerges ever more distinctly as an unsurpassed dramatic representation, diagnosis and prophetic array of visionary judgment on the modern world.” It is “incandescent” action writing, says Marcus. Yet even in lesser documents the actual efficacy of the political or theological manifesto depends on its power of declamation and persuasion. That of the artistic manifesto, whose work will be carried on in another world altogether— aesthetic battles having different consequences—depends on its context as well as its cleverness, and on the talents of its producer. In the aesthetic field the Italian showman Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wins the all-time Oscar for producing and presenting the ur-manifesto, that of Futurism in 1909.

At its most endearing, a manifesto has a madness about it. It is peculiar and angry, quirky, or downright crazed. Always opposed to something, particular or general, it has not only to be striking but to stand up straight. We stand “erect on the summit of the world,” says “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” (5.5), deliberately macho-male.

The manifest proclamation itself marks a moment, whose trace it leaves as a post-event commemoration. Often the event is exactly its own announcement and nothing more, in this Modernist/Postmodernist genre. What it announces is itself. At its height, it is the deictic genre par excellence: LOOK! it says. NOW! HERE!

The manifesto is by nature a loud genre, unlike the essay. What I would call the “high manifesto,” on the model of “high Modernism,” is often noisy in its appearance, like a typographical alarm or an implicit rebel yell. It calls for capital letters, loves bigness, demands attention. Rem Koolhaas’s “Bigness: Or the Problem of Large” begins, “Beyond a certain scale, architecture acquires the properties of Bigness. The best reason to broach Bigness is the one given by climbers of Mount Everest: ‘because it is there.’ Bigness is ultimate architecture,” and ends, “Bigness surrenders the field to afterarchitecture.” The violent typography of Wyndham Lewis’s blast Vorticist manifestos is the model of the shout. The manifesto makes an art of excess. This is how it differs from the standard and sometimes self-congratulatory ars poetica, rational and measured. The manifesto is an act of démesure, going past what is thought of as proper, sane, and literary. Its outreach demands an extravagant self-assurance. At its peak of performance, its form creates its . . .

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