- Futurism Today
Both of these new books attempt to renew studies of futurism and its founder F. T. Marinetti, attempting to overcome the dualism that has plagued critical assessments of Marinetti’s place in the history of the avant-garde: the tendency of critics either to praise Marinetti’s revolutionary aesthetics and downplay his historical involvement with fascism; or else to condemn his contribution to fascist discourse and discount his creative achievement (Blum, 2–3). Blum and Viola propose new ways to negotiate the tension between a historical approach, one that must confront the ethical issues and very concrete political implications of Marinetti’s rhetoric, and a more theoretical or aesthetic approach, one that acknowledges the force of artistic claims to autonomy from political, moral, or historical content, yet does not take these simply at face value. Yet they pursue this goal in different ways: Viola presents archival materials in an effort to offer a more nuanced historical analysis, while Cinzia Blum uses feminist and psychoanalytical theory to reveal new aspects of Marinetti’s poetic imagination and ideology.
Blum’s is the first book-length study of Marinetti’s poetics to be published in English, and the most thorough in any language. It uncovers new thematic continuities and private obsessions that structure his poetic imagination from his early decadent phase, through the so-called [End Page 197] “heroic” years of futurism (1909–1918), all the way to his later works, which exalt fascist nationalism and rediscover religion as a response to personal and national tragedy. These continuities are gathered together in what Blum calls the “futurist fiction of power,” a term that encompasses both the historical substance of Marinetti’s texts (decadent but also proto-fascist), as well as the psychological and ethical impetus that gives that substance its deeper structure and generates Marinetti’s apparently contradictory rhetorical strategies (ix).
Blum situates the origin of Marinettian futurism in “the cultural crisis of modernism” a crisis “of metaphysics and language: a collapse of transcendental values . . . a breakdown of the framing assumptions of Western civilization so far as they rest on the traditional conception of individuality, on the anthropocentric notion of the rational control and supremacy of man over reality” (3–4). Although Marinetti’s earliest works were written in the context of French decadent literature, “Marinetti’s prefuturist poetic persona is unlike the effeminate, passive, impotent dandy in that he experiences a violent expenditure, rather than deliquescence, of vital forces” (10), that is, he counters the crisis with “violent gestures of self-assertion” (11). Thus the “futurist fiction of power” is both an attack on the modern loss of absolute values and boundaries, a loss that threatens Marinetti’s optimistic, aggressive image of individuality (17), and a “collection of strategies for empowerment” that attempts to “reclaim” “the old, collapsed fiction of man’s mastery of the universe and of language” (19).
For Blum, the oppositional nature of Marinetti’s imaginative universe and his aggressive response to the modernist crisis mean that “the polarized, asymmetrical configuration of masculine totality and feminine lack provides a bedrock and a blueprint for the futurist destruction and reconstruction of the universe.” As a result the “methodological lens of gender” can reveal the “unarticulated emotional underside, the ‘other’ within the self” (viii). Her approach enables Blum to show that the same oppositional structure reappears under diverse guises in many texts that have previously been seen as radically different from one another: this is especially revealing when texts that are overtly political in content are shown to be similar in structure to other texts that are putatively less ideological, more purely aesthetic. The reappearance, for instance, of certain rhetorical constructions suggests that Marinetti, in his creative works, was more consistent than is usually thought in following the prescriptions he sets out in the manifestos...