- Against Feminine Luxury
As an Italian poet, art theorist, and founder of the Futurist movement, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944) originally allied himself with literature, first as a utopian writer, then as a symbolist in the abbaye de Créteil community between 1907 and 1908 (Tisdall and Bozzolla 1978). Marinetti wrote the first Futurist manifesto and rose to fame in the Futurist movement following the manifesto’s publication on the front page of one of France’s most esteemed newspapers, Le Figaro, on February 20, 1909. For Marinetti, the manifesto represented the prefigurement of a world where art and aggression, cruelty, and injustice would be the basis of the coming Futurist society. As Futurism developed, by making common cause with both anarchism and fascism, Marinetti became part of a group of energetic supporters of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime (1922–43). Marinetti founded the cult of speed and the “new man,” which, determined to halt the affectation and debauchery of the dominant aesthetic styles, he led from 1909 until his death by cardiac arrest in Bellagio on December 2, 1944.
Yet it was Marinetti’s establishment of the Futurist Political Party in 1918, and its ensuing union with Mussolini’s Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, that provides the background both to Marinetti’s fascism (he coauthored the original Italian fascist manifesto with Alceste De Ambris for the Partito Fascista Rivoluzionario in 1919) and to his “Against Feminine Luxury,” [End Page 90] which, written in 1920, Cultural Politics publishes here for the first time in English translation by Chris Turner. Marinetti, the prosecutor at the trial of feminine luxury, echoes his previous opposition to existing sexual institutions when he terms them contemptibly stupid in the same year that he walked out of Mussolini’s Fascist Party conference in disgust, proclaiming his departure from politics for the next three years. That he failed to do, as Marinetti spent his time making abundant notes on the culture of the Fascist Party and its political philosophy, which became a significant influence on Italian fascist theory and strategy after they were endorsed at fascist congresses and ultimately addressed as ways to redefine fascism more decisively as a great mystical movement.
One of Marinetti’s many key contributions to cultural and political theory is his conception of luxury (Poggi 2008: 181–231), derived from “disease” but which he developed into a much more multifaceted instrument of analysis. Luxury, as a type of disease, became “outfit-itis.” Marinetti extended the idea of luxury to denote morbidity at large and employed it to examine how maniacal forces secured and upheld their command over sexual attraction, including carnality and pleasure as well as in actual and potential forms of captivation. In a period of political ascendancy for the fascist Right, Marinetti sought to investigate how manias such as luxury had eradicated male attraction to the female body and how a Futurist counter to feminine luxury might be constructed, particularly in political cultures with strong traditions of jewels and furs that pertained in the normal conditions of Italy, where pleasantness to the touch had demolished the male’s tactile delight in female flesh. For instance, in Italy, the division between the beautiful woman and the ugly woman was of determinate importance for Marinetti, as was the huge power of the elderly woman, who deployed luxury as a “defense” against fading youth. Marinetti’s considerations on these subjects, resounding down the decades as unquestionably politically incorrect terms like “feminine cretinism” and the “pious imbecility of males,” are testament to a failed aesthetic strategy of the 1920s and a historic attack on feminine luxury. Marinetti, however, clearly approved of that strategy.
In his cultural and political analysis, Marinetti used an almost spiritual idiom by distinguishing between “feminine luxury” and what might be called “feminine preciousness.” Women “disguised as prostitutes” were feminine luxury, women’s bodies “improved” by lavish clothing. In Italian Futurist and fascistic conditions, however, Marinetti advocated that the value of woman, as exclusively determined by men, must habitually be comprehended as something precious and secretive or enigmatic, as a kind of undiscovered territory that men...