- Futurism’s First War: Apocalyptic Space in F. T. Marinetti’s Writings from Tripoli
While the apocalyptic dimensions of F. T. Marinetti’s most notorious pronouncement on war – “La guerre, seule hygiène du monde” – are evident, the nature of this “hygiène” initially bore more cultural, even spiritual, implications (Futurisme 53; Bataille i). The apocalyptic theme, prevalent even in Marinetti’s earliest works, such as La Conquête des Étoiles (1902) or Destruction (1904), represents the rapid and violent establishment of new social values or new perceptions of the world, based on both emergent technologies of production, communication, and travel, and the purging of old hierarchies and traditions. However, the apocalyptic impulse of Futurism attempted to provide a mode of aesthetic, ethical, and religious practice, rivaling and even superseding that of Christianity, by establishing its “spirit” in the heart of contemporary warfare, where Marinetti saw the threads of modernity catastrophically entangled.
Marinetti’s cavalier attitude toward war and framing of Futurism as a “nouvelle religion-morale de la vitesse” (Lista 366) cannot be easily separated from the situation of October and November 1911, when Marinetti was serving as a correspondent for L’Intransigeant in the Italo-Turkish War, and in which he composed two crucial pieces of work: the bizarre and outrageous epic poem Le Monoplan du pape: Roman politique en vers libre and the journalistic account La Bataille de Tripoli (26 Octobre 1911): vécue et chantée.1 This war, in modern-day Libya, served as a platform for renewed Italian [End Page 425] imperial ambitions. Bataille is a highly impressionistic and nationalist account, peppered with references to Futurism, of the Italian defense of Tripoli against an Arab siege. Technologically, the war is notable for being the first in which airplanes were used in bombing campaigns and reconnaissance (Fredrickson 223), and Marinetti was quick to mythologize this Italian innovation. Monoplan is a bizarre and outrageous epic poem written from the point of view of an unnamed pilot of an airplane with a life and voice of its own. The pilot describes his experience in the prophetic language of ecstatic visions and grand pronouncements. In the opening of Monoplan, he flies into the volcanic Mount Etna, where, through a series of visions and dialogues, he communes with the volcano and determines that his destiny is to re-establish Italy as a world power by agitating for war against Austria.2 Throughout the poem, he attacks pacifists, engages in a parliamentary debate in Milan, and kidnaps the Pope, whom he ultimately drops into the Adriatic Sea.
These last pieces of blasphemy are essential for Marinetti’s aesthetic project and Futurist propaganda. For example, in the manifesto “La Nouvelle Religion-Morale de la vitesse” (1916) Marinetti claimed that Christianity’s usefulness for modern society had run its course: “La morale chrétienne a développé la vie intérieure de l’homme, mais elle n’a plus raison d’être aujourd’hui, puisqu’elle s’est vidée de tout le Divin” (Lista 366). Divinity, in the modern world, was a product of speed: “L’ivresse des grandes vitesses en auto est l’ivresse de se sentir fondu avec l’unique divinité” (368). Monoplan frequently, even excessively, emphasizes the height, speed, and dynamism of the eschatological “religion” of Futurism over the inertia of Christian eschatology. In doing so, Futurism conceived art and war, in a conflation that turned on the metaphor of the theater, as semi-autonomous, interior spaces operating within a non-rational logic. This autonomous space for art and war is analogous to apocalyptic thought as far back, ironically, as that presented by the Bible itself.3 War was an aesthetic and allegorical space conceived as its own particular revelatory and cataclysmic experience, assuming for Marinetti the space where individual and collective identities were radically redefined. In this way, by orienting Futurism toward a separate world that would be revealed in an apocalyptic moment, Marinetti drew from some of the same conceptual sources as the religion he sought to overthrow. [End Page 426]
Theater of War
The practice of characterizing warfare as a distinctively theatrical event was popularized by On War (Vom Kriege...