- Mafarka and Son: Marinetti’s Homophobic Economics
A tale of rape, carnage, and Futurist declamation set in Africa, Marinetti’s 1909 Mafarka le Futuriste takes as its theme the generation of a mechanical son born of male parthenogenesis. In the opening scene its protagonist Mafarka-el-Bar, an Arabian king with imperial ambitions to conquer all of Africa, has recently defeated an army of black Africans and dethroned his uncle, King Boubassa. Those ambitions, both imperial and Futurist, will finally be satisfied, however, not by Mafarka but by the son he constructs without the aid of what the text refers to as the “vulva.” The novel thus combines a number of elements that might be called fascist: a rhetoric of virility, imperial fantasies tied to the colonization of Africa, misogyny, a reproductive project, and an obsession with self-sufficiency. Grounding itself on the notion that the ideological specificity of a discourse or text is to be found not in the single ideas that circulate within it, but rather in the relations and articulations among elements, my project in this essay is to map out the ideo-logic that binds together the elements above, and to suggest a parallel articulation of elements in fascist discourse. 1
If Mafarka is a Futurist text that looks ahead to fascism, it also looks back to nineteenth-century orientalism. Like Flaubert’s Salammbô, to which it is often disparagingly compared, Mafarka is a novel immersed in an orientalist world into which no self-identified Western narrator intrudes. 2 The only “Western” voice to be heard is that of Marinetti in the preface, where he identifies himself with his “barbarian” theme: “Am I not a barbarian, at least for those false devotees of progress?” 3 [End Page 89] Within the novel itself, the perspective camouflages itself as non-Western, even producing a reverse orientalism in which the West, and Western women, are the source of exoticism. But unlike Salammbô, a novel resolutely without a future, Mafarka ends both with the obliteration of the earth and with the birth of a superhuman creature who will rule over a new world. The orientalist notion that the West will be reborn, revitalized, by returning to the East, a notion that appears in the narrative setting of the “founding manifesto” and “Let’s Kill the Moonlight” as well, thus informs the narrative structure of the novel. 4 As Liz Constable has noted, at least one of the functions of the African setting is to invert the figuration of the Eastern/African other as belonging to a time period different from that occupied by the West. 5 The notion that African peoples are “primitive,” that they presently occupy a place in the West’s past, is simply overturned so that they now occupy the place of the West’s future, with all the orientalist notions about atrociously “primitive” qualities still intact. 6
Into this setting is introduced a reproductive fantasy: the novel’s project, in its own terms, is to bypass the vulva and impregnate the ovary that is the male spirit: “the spirit of man,” proclaims Marinetti in the preface, “is an unused ovary...It is we who will fertilize it for the first time [la première fois]!” 7 The narrative impetus for this fantasy is provided by the death of Mafarka’s beloved brother Magamal, who contracts rabies and dies after ripping his bride to shreds and reducing her to what the text pleasantly refers to as “scarlet mud” (M, 134). Gazourmah, the mechanical son, is to be the immortal substitute for the dead brother. A sort of Futurist Geppetto (Mafarka in fact sculpts his son from a piece of oak), Mafarka’s reasons for creating his own kin are less than kind—to women. The transplant of the ovary to the male spirit is necessitated by the unabashedly misogynist desire for procreation without procreative sex: in his “discours futuriste” (M, 163), Mafarka jubilantly announces that “it is possible to procreate an immortal giant from one’s own flesh, without concourse and stinking complicity with woman’s womb.” 8
Of course this is not really “la première fois” that such a fantasy has been...