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  • Futurism, Nietzsche, and the Misanthropy of Art
  • Daniel Cottom (bio)

Even the least ambitious Pygmalion knows that art, as it is traditionally conceived, can appear as such only in distinction from "humanity" and so must challenge the self-sufficiency supposed to be possessed in and through that term. Insofar as tradition defines art by distinguishing it from human commonality—from all that Valentine de Saint-Point, author of the "Manifesto of the Futurist Woman," disdainfully referred to as "the terrain of culture"—art's claims to representation, meaning, and value must ultimately be hostile to the prerogatives of any normative conception of humanity.1 Artists resist these conceptions because they recognize them, correctly, as a threat to art's continuing existence. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti went so far as to claim that art "can only be violence, cruelty, and injustice."2 The misanthropy of this 1909 proclamation would be more easily dismissible now were it not for the immemorial consideration that art is misanthropic.3 It is for this reason that Thomas Bernhard made Glenn Gould an unhuman Übermensch—an "art machine" driven by "music-misanthropy"—in [End Page 87] contrast to the Untergeher, or loser, of his 1983 novel about the consequences of art.4 A life of identification with art should lead no one to humanist reverence, then, even though tradition has sought to explain away the unhuman agency in art in terms of its supposed ideality, transcendence, and immortality. Instead, identification with art might more logically entail an "anticultural" and "antisocial" movement whose members aspire, as Marinetti put it, toward a condition in which "life will no longer be simply a life of bread and toil, or a life of leisure, but in which it will be a life-artwork."5 In an attempt to live this logic, futurism redefined art as the destruction of commonality through violence.

In his praise of the death drive in civilization, Marinetti cut to the chase: he jettisoned the nuances of the past, Romanticism, sentimental love, museums, libraries, academics, and the finicky refinements of historicism in favor of the vitality of machines. The futurist machine was the product of a poetic materialism, a drive to "replace human psychology, now exhausted, with the lyrical obsession of matter."6 The goal was "to create 'non-human' poetry," as well as other arts "foreign to humanity," by way of transformations that would follow from the mechanization of humans.7 "One must prepare, then," Marinetti wrote, "for the imminent and inevitable identification of man with motor, facilitating and perfecting an incessant exchange of intuition, of rhythm, of instinct, and of metallic discipline absolutely unknown to the majority and yet divined by the spirits of the most enlightened."8 To do so, we must "vanquish the apparently irreducible hostility that separates our human flesh from the metal of motors."9 Futurist hearts, he announced, "feel no weariness, for they are nourished by fire, hate, and velocity!"10 In disdaining love and everything associated with it, futurists might even dream of being able "to create, one day, a mechanical son, the offspring of pure will, the synthesis of all the laws by which science is about to precipitate this discovery."11 Following Marinetti's lead, Fortunato Depero noted that contemporary "experiments with amputees" involving the application of "mechanical elements to man" might well be "the first steps toward a future of mechanical races."12 [End Page 88]

With a fine poetic justice, later discussions of hybridized human/machine entities have proceeded with scant reference to futurism. Marinetti's statement about art as violence, cruelty, and injustice may be said to have foretold its own oblivion. Despite a central concern with fascism, even the Anti-Oedipus (1972) of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari found no room to mention the movement that first popularized the image of desiring machines and then dedicated them to the service of Mussolini. Considering that futurism blazed the trail for the investments made by Deleuze and Guattari in Nietzsche, anarchism, avant-garde writing, madness, and theatrical cruelty, as well as in the poetic materialism of machinery, the silence in their case is especially marked.13 Marinetti and the futurist movement were about as close...


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