Monday, April 13, 2015

F is for Futurism

‘Let’s go!’ I said. ‘Friends, away! Let’s go! Mythology and the Mystic Ideal are defeated at last. We’re about to see the Centaur’s birth and, soon after, the first flight of Angels!… We must shake at the gates of life, test the bolts and hinges. Let’s go! Look there, on the earth, the very first dawn! There’s nothing to match the splendor of the sun’s red sword, slashing for the first time through our millennial gloom!’

Whoa... Although I had heard about the Italian Futurist movement of the first few decades of the 20th century, I'd never read Tommaso Marinetti's 1909 Futurist Manifesto.

I'm not sure why, but I feel like a better person now, for having read it.

Does it make much sense?  Not really!  The art and architecture that eventually bore the name "futurist" developed more slowly... It took a while for the raw feelings of the manifesto to gel into a distinct visual style.

The manifesto proper was a list of 11 points, embedded in the midst of Marinetti's first-person bombastic stylings.  Here are the first five:
  1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.
  2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.
  3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.
  4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
  5. We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit.
The succeeding points took a slightly darker detour, wherein war ("the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers") was exalted and these young turks reveled in the destruction of the old (museums and libraries!).  But this was all prior to the Great War, and in some parts of Italy the weight of history can be quite heavy.  Should they be forgiven?  Maybe not -- Marinetti ended up supporting Mussolini quite strongly -- but in 1909 it was all quite honest and fresh.  Let me skip to the 11th and final item in the manifesto:
11. We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervor of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd.
The remaining parts of the manifesto talk a lot about how the oldest of their cadre is just turning thirty, and that in ten years they expect the next generation of revolutionaries to put them out to pasture.  A bit Logan's Run I think, but again, I'm swept up by their passion.
You have objections?—Enough! Enough! We know them… We’ve understood!… Our fine deceitful intelligence tells us that we are the revival and extension of our ancestors—Perhaps!… If only it were so!—But who cares? We don’t want to understand!… Woe to anyone who says those infamous words to us again!
Lift up your heads!
Erect on the summit of the world, once again we hurl defiance to the stars!


  1. 'a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.'

    I can quite see how this would have left an ineffable impression on you, good sir.

    1. :-) I've got to get me to the Louvre some day -- or, better yet, to Samothrace!