Violence, War, Revolution: Marinetti's Concept of a Futurist Cleanser for the World

By Berghaus, Gunter | Annali d'Italianistica, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

Violence, War, Revolution: Marinetti's Concept of a Futurist Cleanser for the World


Berghaus, Gunter, Annali d'Italianistica


Introduction

It has long been recognized that F.T. Marinetti's political ideas were heavily indebted to Anarchism and that the Futurist concept of guerra sola igiene del mondo (War, the Sole Cleanser of the World) had its roots in a political culture that had shaped the genesis of Futurism in the years 1898 to 1909 (see my studies, The Genesis of Futurism and Futurism and Politics). One of the key texts to illuminate Marinetti's concept of war was his lecture "The Necessity and Beauty of Violence," held in Naples and Milan in 1910 and repeated in Parma in 1911. Although the speech was reported on in several newspapers and parts of it printed in the Anarcho-syndicalist press, I have always considered it a great loss that this major political document did not survive in its entirety and that the speech could only be vaguely reconstructed on the basis of later and significantly altered versions.

In the past decade, while preparing a new edition of Marinetti's critical writings, I undertook a fresh attempt to locate the original manuscript of "The Necessity and Beauty of Violence," both at Yale University's Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library and amongst the remnants of Marinetti's private library in the house of his daughter Luce Marinetti in Rome. It was only due to a lucky circumstance that one year I chanced upon a box of manuscripts, which contained a sheaf of leaves with phrases that sounded familiar to me, although I had never heard of the title of the text: L'amore del pericolo e l'eroismo quotidiano. Marinetti had written quite extensively about love of danger and day-to-day heroism. (1) I therefore assumed that the folder contained some draft versions of an article, a speech or a manifesto concerned with those topics. But once I had read a few pages of the heavily marked up manuscript, I recognized their similarity with "The Necessity and Beauty of Violence." I had the whole 129 leaves of the folder copied, and a detailed examination of the text revealed that I was right: this was the heavily corrected manuscript of the speech given in 1910 in Naples and Milan, with many of the corrections showing up in the published sections of the script.

In this essay I should like to re-examine this major political document in the context of Futurist politics and Marinetti's ideology of war and violence, as it unfolded over the years 1898 to 1919. As Marinetti published the speech again in 1919--albeit in a heavily altered version--one must assume that he regarded its main tenets still topical for the post-war situation in Italy. However, my examination of Marinetti's political manoeuvres during the biennio rosso, the "two red years" of turmoil and revolution, reveals that his attitudes and outlooks underwent a major change, not least because the hopes he had placed in a union of leftist, nationalist and anarchist forces in the form of an alliance of Futurists, Arditi and Fascists, led into a cul-de-sac. Disappointed, he withdrew from active politics, reorganized his artistic and private affairs and relinquished his dream of fusing art and life in a compact union.

Marinetti and politics, 1898-1909:

Between detached observation and social engagement

Futurism was an art movement that aimed at nothing less than a total makeover of the social and political conditions prevailing in Italy and a permanent revolution in all spheres of human existence. Marinetti's studies of law (1885-1899) provided him with a sound knowledge of modern political theories. (Gallot; Roche-Pezard; Lista; Carpi; Nazzaro; D'Orsi; Berghaus, The Genesis and Futurism and Politics). His doctoral thesis on La corona e il governo parlamentare obliged him to acquire profound knowledge of traditional as well as revolutionary concepts of State and society. But Marinetti's development as a political thinker was not only influenced by books and programmatic statements; he also took a lively interest in the practical politics of his country, particularly those pursued by radical and subversive groups. …

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