- Selections from the Unpublished Diaries of F. T. Marinetti
“Throughout the course of his life,” we learn from the “Reminiscences” of his daughter, Luce, F. T. Marinetti persisted in “jotting down his thoughts in the tiny notebooks that followed him” almost everywhere, “from trains to battlefields.” 1 Begun perhaps as early as 1900, the notebooks originally spanned the entire period from the formation of Futurism in 1909 to several days before Marinetti’s death in 1944, and in their complete form they must have offered one of the most remarkable perspectives on the cultural and political history of the twentieth century’s first half. When his daughters returned to the family house in Tuscany after the war, however, they discovered that most of the diaries had been lost or destroyed by looters. 2 What remained were some fifty notebooks covering the period 1915 to 1921, together with a few others from 1926. 3 In 1979 the diaries, which had been put in their present order by Luce Marinetti, were acquired by the Beinecke Library of Yale University, together with the bulk of Marinetti’s papers, but placed under restriction until January of 1992. In the interim an edition of them was published by Alberto Bertoni (with guidance from Ezio Raimondi) in 1987, based on microfilms made prior to the diaries’ having been consigned to Yale.
Bertoni’s edition printed about 80 percent of the originals. It excluded “sketches, plans for novels, and notes for literary or fictional projects that decisively depart from the registration of actual events,” all of which were to be “the object of a later [End Page 1] publication” (“NSC,” lix–lx). In addition, when questions of “discretion and the preservation of privacy” were deemed at stake (“NSC,” lx), real names were systematically replaced with ciphers, while “occasional passages” were omitted altogether on the same grounds. 4 Other decisions were equally debatable. Bertoni was plainly trying to address a number of conflicting imperatives, and it would be unfair and inappropriate to criticize his decisions now. Yet one may question the wisdom of adhering to the basic distinction that Bertoni wished to draw between “actual events” and “literary or fictional projects.” For what characterizes the diaries, perhaps above all else, is how easily, how seamlessly they shift back and forth between the two, between experience and culture, life and art.
The notebooks as we have them are still a compelling document. They cover perhaps the most crucial and certainly one of the most dramatic moments of the twentieth century, a period that comprises the experience of the Great War in Italy, from the cataclysmic defeat of Caporetto in October 1917 to the euphoric victory of Vittorio Veneto a year later, and the birth of fascism four months later, formally marked by the organization of the Fasci italiani di combattimento or Italian Battle Fasces in March 1919 (an event in which Marinetti participated). as well as the official formation of the National Fascist Party or PNF in November 1921. The final passage in the selection that we present here shows Marinetti, in Rome on the day after the Party’s convention, watching Benito Mussolini as he leads a procession of forty thousand fascists to the Monument to Vittorio Emmanuele, the so-called Altar of the Patria, to salute the tomb of the unknown soldier, a show of force that preceded his arrival in power at the head of the government by less than a year. 5
The period covered by the diaries was no less eventful for Marinetti himself. By June of 1918 he had met Benedetta Cappa, the writer and painter who would eventually become his companion and later his wife. His literary career, in the same period, was marked by an almost feverish production. War, conflict, and struggle were central to Marinetti’s outlook on life, and the effort to convey the impact of war had already sparked much of his pre-war experimental writing, including the “words-in-freedom” works. 6 The experimental variety of his production in the years 1915–21, however, reflects a more sustained and more complex exploration of the aesthetic...