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13 Chapter 1 Futurism as a Metaphysical Science It is surprising how little the common perception of futurism has changed since 1967, when Maurizio Calvesi complained about the “reductive general idea of Italian futurism as a simple exaltation of the machine and superficial reproduction of movement.”1 Although the futurists did not always agree among themselves on a definition of the movement, they certainly would not have shared a view that reduces futurism to merely materialistic terms.2 If a similarly reductive attitude can already be found in Varèse as early as 1917, the reduction of futurism to a materialistic movement within post–World War II art criticism was likely determined, as noted in the introduction, by a need to downplay the uneasy relationship between futurism and fascism.3 Yet futurism was a movement animated by contradictory ideas, constantly oscillating between science and art, the rational and the irrational, future and past, mechanical and spiritual. Indeed, it may well have been these very tensions and frictions that gave futurism its dynamic force. Defining the futurist movement and analyzing its aesthetics is not an easy task. To the casual observer the futurists seem to present a united front, unified by the charismatic personality of Marinetti, but analysis shows them to have been highly diverse intellectual personalities, each with slightly different opinions and conceptions of life and art and sometimes in open and violent opposition to one another. They may have found themselves (for reasons of convenience, if nothing else, and perhaps sometimes opportunism) under one ideological roof, but individually they maintained autonomous physiognomies and attitudes and peculiarities of their own. It seems, then, 14 . from the Formative Years to 1913 impossible to hope to find coherence inside the different poetic positions of the futurists, let alone to formulate an organic presentation with which they would have been satisfied. Marinetti’s work and personality succeeded in maintaining a certain order, at least in the beginning. It is well documented that Marinetti initially subsidized all the initiatives of the movement (including publications and exhibitions ), and, like a good impresario, he reserved the right to supervise the work of the other artists of the group, to the point that all the first futurist manifestos unquestionably ran the gauntlet of Marinetti’s censorship; this explains their similar tone.4 But in the privacy of living-room discussions or personal correspondence—or anywhere outside Marinetti’s public control— the futurists’ aesthetic visions diverged synchronically and diachronically; they were in continual growth and in a restless state of becoming, changing along with the shifting alliances within the movement. Critically the most lucid figure among them was probably Umberto Boccioni . Perhaps owing to a predisposition of spirit, and despite the brevity of his career, which almost did not leave him time to conclude a cycle of thought, Boccioni was one of the very few futurists to produce a volume that presented his poetics systematically.5 The other exception was Luigi Russolo. Although he was not as socially exuberant as Boccioni was, his thought was characterized by a surprising coherence of themes—many so extraordinarily close to those of his friend Boccioni as to suggest a sort of intersecting pollination between the two. Russolo was to repeat these early themes, unchanged in their substance, for the rest of his life; being spiritual in character, they corresponded well with futurism’s occult side. To summarize all the instances that show connections between futurism and esoteric preoccupations at various levels—ranging from spirituality to interest in and practice of the occult arts, and also including black and red magic and spiritualism—would be an ambitious undertaking. Here I shall simply create a backdrop against which to project the fruit of research on Russolo’s interest in the occult and my reinterpretation of his sound-related activities in the context of this interest. I am not the first to mention the influence of the occult arts on the futurist movement. Sporadic references to this influence can be found in volumes , catalogs, and essays on futurism and the visual arts edited by Calvesi and Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco. Until a few years ago the only contributing Futurism as a Metaphysical Science . 15 monographs available were a brief article by Germano Celant titled “Futurismo esoterico,” published in Il Verri in 1970, and Calvesi’s very brief article “L’écriture médiumnique comme source de l’automatisme futuriste et surr éaliste,” published in Europe in 1975, in which Calvesi shows connections between mediumistic phenomena...


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