Friday, February 20, 2009

The Futurist Manifesto at 100

100 years ago today Le Figaro published F.T. Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto. Here's a full English translation. But we'll cover some of the wilder bits here:
We have been up all night, my friends and I, beneath mosque lamps whose brass cupolas are bright as our souls, because like them they were illuminated by the internal glow of electric hearts. And trampling underfoot our native sloth on opulent Persian carpets, we have been discussing right up to the limits of logic and scrawling the paper with demented writing.
Immediately here we see the difference between French and American newspapers. Just you try and submit something like this to the Wall Street Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, or Camden Courier-Post. This doesn't fly Stateside — not even in 1909. Oh, today's rags publish their fair share of "demented writing" that tests the "limits of logic" — but you have to earn that privilege first as a staff columnist.

"Let us leave good sense behind like a hideous husk and let us hurl ourselves, like fruit spiced with pride, into the immense mouth and breast of the world! Let us feed the unknown, not from despair, but simply to enrich the unfathomable reservoirs of the Absurd!"

As soon as I had said these words, I turned sharply back on my tracks with the mad intoxication of puppies biting their tails, and suddenly there were two cyclists disapproving of me and tottering in front of me like two persuasive but contradictory reasons. Their stupid swaying got in my way. What a bore! Pouah! I stopped short, and in disgust hurled myself — vlan! — head over heels in a ditch.

Oh, maternal ditch, half full of muddy water! A factory gutter! I savored a mouthful of strengthening muck which recalled the black teat of my Sudanese nurse!

Cliff's Notes: Rich kid gets hammered, runs his car off the road, tells bystanders "I meant to do that."

(1) We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness.
(2) The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity and revolt.
(3) Literature has up to now magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy and slumber. We want to exalt movements of aggression, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the perilous leap, the slap and the blow with the fist.
(4) We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath . . . a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
(5) We want to sing the man at the wheel, the ideal axis of which crosses the earth, itself hurled along its orbit.
(6) The poet must spend himself with warmth, glamour and prodigality to increase the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements.
(7) Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown, to force them to bow before man.
(8) We are on the extreme promontory of the centuries! What is the use of looking behind at the moment when we must open the mysterious shutters of the impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed.
(9) We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.
(10) We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice.
(11) We will sing of the great crowds agitated by work, pleasure and revolt; the multi-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals: the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the workshops beneath their violent electric moons: the gluttonous railway stations devouring smoking serpents; factories suspended from the clouds by the thread of their smoke; bridges with the leap of gymnasts flung across the diabolic cutlery of sunny rivers: adventurous steamers sniffing the horizon; great-breasted locomotives, puffing on the rails like enormous steel horses with long tubes for bridle, and the gliding flight of aeroplanes whose propeller sounds like the flapping of a flag and the applause of enthusiastic crowds.

These are the 11 canons/commandments of Futurism. Let's report back to Maronetti on how all this is working out, a century later:

*The 20th century was surely the Century of the Automobile. We've made good on this, F.T.: we've come up with hot rods, Interstates, NASCAR, Hunter S. Thompson. There have been stumbles: we briefly flirted with the idea of trading our big, angry engines for bumper-car electrics, but all that's by the wayside now. Gas prices are down to two bucks a gallon. The car companies are on life-support, but we think they'll pull through. What — are we all gonna ride bikes?

*I think we struck out with literature. There's just one book now. It's about a young, liberated professional woman and her urban odyssey toward self-actualization and true love. Well, there's that and all the Jesus/ Armageddon books. You might like the Jesus/ Armageddon books, but you have to go to a special store (Wal-Mart) to get them.

*Our museums and libraries are still standing. That's the bad news. The good news is we have the Internet, and the sheer volume of its published content overwhelms all the dusty old books gathered in hard-copy archives. And I hear that most web sites turn over completely in less than three months. Out with the old! Go forth, TiVo, and delete this two-week-old recording of Grey's Anatomy from my hard drive. In fact, delete all of 'em.

*Lethal, beautiful ideas had their time in the sun, thanks to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot. Whoopee. Hooray. War, militarism, patriotism, contempt for woman — we pretty much locked down (9) for you. The anarchists petered out, but then again, they were never all that well-organized.

*Re (11): wow! Quite a lot to cover there. These days great crowds are agitated because they're not working. We're trading carbon credits now, so smoke tendrils are a bit passé. Steamers are long gone, unless you're ordering mussels. We still have trains, but Mithridates will tell you that they're limping along languidly, with the occasional kick in the backside from a government subsidy. We did just earmark three quarters of a trillion dollars for a lot of this stuff. Oh, we'll have bridges, Signore, bridges spanning the great yawning chasm of this stolid, stupefied Economy. Great, graceful arcing bridges to Prosperity. And bridge loans for banks. Harrumph.

It is in Italy that we are issuing this manifesto of ruinous and incendiary violence, by which we today are founding Futurism, because we want to deliver Italy from its gangrene of professors, archaeologists, tourist guides and antiquaries.

And it was in Italy that Futurism found an evil twin — or punk cousin — in Mussolini's Fascism. Did some corruption of meaning happen in the retranslation back from French? Hey, everybody — let's drain the swamps, get those trains running on time, and invade Ethiopia! Let's get wrecked and drive the country into a ditch!

The oldest among us are not yet thirty years old: we have therefore at least ten years to accomplish our task. When we are forty let younger and stronger men than we throw us in the waste paper basket like useless manuscripts! They will come against us from afar, leaping on the light cadence of their first poems, clutching the air with their predatory fingers and sniffing at the gates of the academies the good scent of our decaying spirits, already promised to the catacombs of the libraries.

It ought to be clear from all this that F.T. Marinetti was declaring a permanent state of rock 'n' roll. Noise, speed, reckless youth, generational warfare. Shoot, the rock tradition (in its purest form, anyway) even calls for "contempt for woman." What's the difference, really, between Marinetti and Jim Morrison, other than that Marinetti was actually a poet?

I don't think I like this 40-year cutoff point for relevance. Urk. This Frustrated Writer has only five years left before his useless manuscripts (their words, not mine) would hit the Waste Paper Basket. And what does this mean for rock music, now that I've raised this issue? Yeah, so maybe I enjoyed the "light cadence" of the first Killers album, but I'm damned if I let those poseurs push aside the Old Masters.

And Signore, you're pushing one hundred and forty. Would a true Futurist be pleased that his work has been assigned a library call number, that he's been stuffed away in the proverbial climate-controlled storage facility, to be released only for the occasional time capsule-style review in a blog post?

I'll leave you to think this through, Signore, but I enjoyed the exercise.

1 comment:

Mithridates said...

Good shit. I have nothing further to add.

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