“Futurism in Latin America.” Special Issue, International Yearbook of Futurism Studies by Mariana Aguirre, Rosa Sarabia, Renée M. Silverman, and Ricardo Vasconcelos
What was global about modernism? For years now we have seen academic positions, conferences, and books urging correctives to the Eurocentric historiography of modern art and literature and challenging us to think about modernities and modernisms.1 Whether analyzing “alternative” modernities, as in Dilip Gaonkar’s terminology, “multiple” modernities, as proposed by S. N. Eisenstadt, or “modernism at large,” as per Arjun Appadurai and Andreas Huyssen, modernism now is seen as a global but contradictory phenomenon with profoundly different temporalities and manifestations in its multiple locations.
Yet the challenge for these studies is to address both the particularities of local responses to modernity and what they might have in common, to emphasize the cultural, historical, and geographical specificity within a global landscape. Furthermore, it is urgent to complement an expanded view of modernism outside of Europe and North America with analyses that de-Westernize the historical avant-gardes themselves, studying how the various centers of modernist activity interacted with each other.
This special issue of the International Yearbook of Futurism Studies, edited by Mariana Aguirre, Rosa Sarabia, Renée M. Silverman, and Ricardo Vasconcelos, intervenes in this debate by exploring the circulation and reinterpretation of futurism in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking America during the 1920s. The International Yearbook has already devoted special issues to futurism in Eastern and Central Europe (2011) and to Iberian futurism (2013). This transnational approach has the aim of complicating the analysis and assessment of futurism, a movement that is all too often (especially in Anglo-American scholarship) reduced to a series of clichés about violence, technophilia, and hatred of women. The International Yearbook operates as a “medium of communication amongst a global community of Futurism scholars,” and indeed this issue includes contributions from scholars based in Latin America, North America, and Europe—a variety of perspectives and intellectual locations that is unusual for a publication on futurism. [End Page 415]
Since the 1909 publication of the “Manifesto of Futurism,” which appeared contemporaneously in multiple languages, futurism aspired to establish a globalized avant-garde. Yet by analyzing the networks of communication between Latin American intellectuals as well as the cultural specificities of Hispanophone and Lusophone America, the contributors to this volume transcend the model of “center-periphery” implicit in F. T. Marinetti’s concept of “world futurism” and still present in many studies on the global avant-garde today. As Günter Berghaus observes in his Editorial, instead of appealing to outdated notions of “influence” or seeing non-Italian versions of futurism as derivative, this volume reveals “heterogeneous forms of Futurism” (x) and the “appropriation and transformation” (xv) of futurist principles and aesthetics throughout the 1920s. As is typical for the International Yearbook of Futurism Studies, contributions to this volume are interdisciplinary, covering—as cannot be otherwise for a movement that since its inception had the totalizing ambition of penetrating every sphere of life and culture—literature, fine arts, music, and mass media.
As in the United States—for instance in the infamous press response to the 1913 Armory Show—in Latin America too “futurism” often did not stand for a specific, Italian-born avant-garde movement but for a generic “modern.” As news about the movement arrived sporadically to Latin America—often mediated by the agendas of intellectuals living in Europe at the time—futurism was seen as equivalent to “avant-garde,” “experimental,” and “fascinated with technology.” The lack of precise knowledge about the movement allowed for a freer interpretation of futurism and for its engagement far beyond the parameters of Italian futurism. This is clear in Mirhiane Mendes de Abreu’s article, in which she analyzes the correspondence and memoirs of the Brazilian modernists to unpack the multiple meanings associated with the word “futurism” during the 1920s. Mendes de Abreu concludes that Mário de Andrade, Oswald de Andrade, Rubens Borba de Moraes, and Mário da Silva Brito (among others) did not merely apply futurist tenets but rather actively transformed and repurposed them “to focus on language as a reflection of the cultural models of the time” (269). Similarly, Daniel Vidal studies the unexpected connections between futurism and Uruguayan anarchism. By analyzing a series of anarchist writings published between 1919 and 1921 that engage with futurist ideas, Vidal reveals the anarchists’ engagement with avant-garde aesthetic principles, but also the ideological distance between these two movements.
The editors of this volume point out that “the double act of Americanism/Cosmopolitanism was the foundational matrix of the Latin American avant-gardes” (xxix). This was certainly the case for modernismo—the first Latin America-born literary movement to profoundly shape Spanish-language culture between 1880 and 1920—and also affected the relation between Latin American intellectuals and futurism. As a movement that rejected the immediate past and reclaimed a “primitive” heritage in order to revive twentieth-century culture, futurism encouraged the creation of multiple centers for modern art. Irreverent and anticonventional, futurism was, for many Latin Americans, a useful tool to combat their own conservative artistic tradition as well as Europe’s stifling cultural influence. In his analysis of the only issue of the journal Vida-Americana: revista norte centro y sudamericana de vanguardia (1921), published in Barcelona by David Alfaro Siqueiros, Carlos Segoviano shows that the fusion of art and politics—and the iconoclasm—of futurism were welcomed by some Latin American intellectuals living in Europe. The futurist cult of the new was seen as a tool to spur an intercontinental and hemispheric artistic dialogue that was politically committed and aesthetically innovative: it is not coincidental that Siqueiros published his manifesto “Tres llamamientos de orientación actual a los pintores y escultores de la nueva generación americana” (Three Appeals for the Current Guidance of the New Generation of American Painters and Sculptors), an agenda for the postrevolutionary avant-garde, precisely in Vida-Americana. Esther Sánchez-Pardo’s comparative study reveals parallels between the poetry of Vicente Huidobro and that of Williams Carlos Williams as responses to futurist rhetoric and poetic experiments that aspired to operate as alternatives to “both northern and southern hemispheric American Modernisms” (182). Huidobro’s and Williams’s interaction with and reaction to futurism provides a useful framework to analyze their common interest in performativity, their anti-mimetic stance, and their experiments with text and image.
Futurism was also a useful point of departure for Latin American avant-gardes that reclaimed indigenous and vernacular traditions to challenge the art establishment in their own countries and [End Page 416] in Europe. Giovanna Montenegro provides an interesting example of this issue in her article on Andean indigenismo and futurism, analyzing the avant-garde magazines Nguillatún (Chile, 1924), Amauta (Peru, 1926–30), and Boletín Titikaka (Peru, 1926–9) as instances in which indigenous culture was promoted using futurist genres and poetic forms, as well as exalting technology and the dynamism of urban life. Writing on Caribbean avant-garde poets like José Z. Tallet, Luis Palés Matos, and Alejo Carpentier, Ramiro Armas Austria analyzes how they responded to the futurist manifestoes on radio and cinema by deploying elements of their American and African heritage in order to defy Eurocentric aesthetic canons. Vanessa Beatriz Bortulucce addresses the genre of the manifesto as a “constitutive element of Brazilian modernism” because of its challenge to the traditional channels for the production and consumption of culture, although she points out the writers and artist who belonged to this movement emphasized an identity “markedly tied to indigenous sources” (234).
Yet sometimes futurism also laid bare the contradictions of Latin American intellectuals, who mostly belonged to a white or criollo middle or upper class that was appropriating the indigenous and the vernacular. Romulo Costa Mattos’s contribution analyzes the debates that followed Marinetti’s visit to Morro da Favela in 1926. The favela, mostly inhabited by the Afro-Brazilian working class, was alternately described by Brazilian modernists as the authentic core of Brazil and as a dangerous space that should be razed in order to fully modernize Rio de Janeiro.
Region-specific modern social forms and aesthetics profoundly shaped the reception, and ultimately the rejection, of futurism in Latin America. This is clearly shown in Harper Montgomery’s article on the response to and dismissal of futurism in 1920s Buenos Aires, as artists like Emilio Pettoruti, Xul Solar, and Norah Borges—who had recently returned to Argentina after lengthy stays in Europe—found the movement “an indispensable foil” to “define themselves and their artistic concerns,” but also hopelessly outdated and unable to offer vital references for Latin American modernists (65). Enea Zaramella’s article explores Mexican estridentismo and microtonal music theory in the context of futurist ideas on music and noise, but also in terms of the soundscapes and cultural politics of postrevolutionary Mexico, especially the broadcast of its first commercial radio station in 1923. Odile Cisneros compares the poetics of estridentismo and Brazilian modernismo in their thematic engagement with the city, and argues that both movements engaged with futurism and cubism in order to “construct modern figurations of the national,” yet also as a way of “‘nationalizing’ the modern” (206). Such an idea is also taken up here by Justin Read, who probes the limits of applying the categories of futurism and fascism to Latin American intellectuals such as the Argentinian Leopoldo Lugones. A fervent opponent to immigration, Lugones is often cast as the Argentinian equivalent of Marinetti, but Read invites us to reflect on the specificity of Lugones’s politics and therefore on “how ideologies (whether aesthetic or political) manifest themselves geographically” (143).
Most of the Latin American artists and intellectuals addressed in this volume identified futurism with the theories exposed in the 1909 manifesto, rather than with the developments of the movement in the 1910s and 1920s. Indeed, if any criticism could be directed at this issue of the International Yearbook of Futurism Studies it is that the compendium does not explore the early reception of the “Manifesto of Futurism.” Instead, and understandably, all the contributors study the later response to futurism, because it is in the 1920s when Latin American intellectuals engaged in a more sustained manner with this movement, as many of them returned to their homelands after long periods in Europe, and as Marinetti and second-wave futurists like Piero Illari visited the region. Yet the question remains: if (as the editors rightly point out in their preface) the “Manifesto” was translated as early as March 1909 in Uruguay and Argentina, and December 1909 in Brazil, why did the local avant-garde not fully respond to it at that time? An article on this topic—updating Nelson Osorio Tejada’s now thirty-six-year-old-year-old analysis—would have been a welcome addition to the literature on the first wave of futurism.2
As many contributors to the volume point out, the Latin American reception of futurism was shaped by profound misunderstandings of futurist politics, which, in reality, covered the entire political spectrum from the far left to the far right.3 Despite what we now know to have been the complicated relation between futurism and fascism, news about the rapprochement of Marinetti with Benito Mussolini conditioned the responses to his visits to Latin America in the interwar period. Günter Berghaus introduces two interviews given by Marinetti during his 1926 visit to [End Page 417] Brazil. On this occasion, Marinetti insisted that he was not a fascist propagandist, and struggled to introduce Brazilian audiences—who overwhelmingly associated futurism with the tenets of the 1909 Manifesto and knew very little about the later developments of the movement—to his new literary experiments. But Marcelo Moreschi presents another interview that Marinetti gave in Brazil during a 1936 visit, returning from the controversial PEN Congress in Buenos Aires.4 In this interview—with Flávio de Carvalho, an architect, painter, and art critic interested in the relation between psychoanalysis and modern art—Marinetti expanded on what he saw as subconscious similarities between futurism and fascism, such as “the desire to use muscular force; that they identify with the violence of the sexual act; that they are in essence carnal”(265).
In addition to these fourteen thematic articles, the volume includes Elissa J. Rashkin and Carla Zurián’s assessment of the state of the research on the estridentista movement. In a section on “Caricatures and Satires of Futurism,” little-known examples of representations of futurism in the Latin American press of the 1920s are commented on and contextualized. Another section reports on the holdings of the Ibero-American Institute in Berlin, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, two archives that might not be familiar to many scholars of the global avant-garde. This account complements the very welcome updated multilingual bibliography, and reviews of recent exhibitions and books related to futurism, that are included in every issue of the International Yearbook.
By complicating notions of international and cosmopolitan avant-gardes, this volume offers a useful framework for studies of global modernisms. As scholars continue to work to decenter the narrative on the artistic and literary production of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and to emphasize the uneven flows of cultural dialogues, this volume of the International Yearbook of Futurism Studies successfully avoids homogenizing responses to modernity and critically provides a roadmap for future studies on modernisms that acknowledge the complex dialectics of the international and the local.
1. For example see textbooks, anthologies, and monographs such as Susan Friedman’s Planetary Modernisms (2015) and Peter Kalliney’s Modernism in a Global Context (2016), Multiple Modernities (2000), Alternative Modernities (2001), Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, and Identity (2005), Geographies of Modernism (2005), Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms (2013), Modern Art in Africa, Asia, and Latin America: An Introduction to Global Modernisms (2013), and the “Cosmopolitan Modernisms” series edited by Kobena Mercer, among many other venues (including this journal).
2. Nelson Osorio Tejada, “La recepción del Manifiesto Futurista de Marinetti en América Latina,” Revista de crítica literaria latinoamericana 8, no. 15 (1982): 25–37; Nelson Osorio Tejada, El Futurismo y la vanguardia literaria en América Latina (Caracas: Centro de Estudios Latinoamericanos Rómulo Gallegos, 1982). More recent but only focusing on the Brazilian case is Patricia Peterle and Aline Fogaça, “The Reception of Italian Futurism in Brazilian Periodicals: 1909, 1922 and After,” in International Yearbook of Futurism Studies, ed. Günter Berghaus (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014), 328–59. Texts analyzing the Latin American reception of futurism, but without focusing on the “Manifesto,” include Annateresa Fabris, “Futurismo in Brasile”, in Futurismo e futurismi, ed. Pontus Hulten (Milan: Bompiani, 1986), 480–81; Mario Sartor, “Italian futurism and its Latin American echoes,” in Seminário Internacional de Conservação de Escultura Moderna (São Paulo: Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo, 22–23 November 2012), mac.usp.br/mac/conteudo/academico/publicacoes/anais/modernidade/pdfs/MARIO_ESP.pdf; and Marisa Martínez Pérsico “Recepción ambivalente del Futurismo en Argentina,” Lingue e linguaggi 8, (2012): 89–96.
3. Günter Berghaus, Futurism and Politics: Between Anarchist Rebellion and Fascist Reaction, 1909–1944 (Providence, RI: Berghahn Books, 1996).
4. On this international association of writers and translators, and especially on the 1936 Congress in which Marinetti wrestled with Jules Romains (president of the French PEN Club) and other intellectuals over whether freedom of expression could be possible under a fascist regime, see Rachel Potter, “Modernist Rights: International PEN 1921–1936,” Critical Quarterly 55, no. 2 (2013): 66–80. [End Page 418]