Inventing Futurism: The Art and Politics of Artificial Optimism

Inventing Futurism: The Art and Politics of Artificial Optimism

Christine Poggi

Language: English

Pages: 400

ISBN: 0691133700

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In 1909 the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published the founding manifesto of Italian Futurism, an inflammatory celebration of "the love of danger" and "the beauty of speed" that provoked readers to take aggressive action and "glorify war--the world's only hygiene." Marinetti's words unleashed an influential artistic and political movement that has since been neglected owing to its exaltation of violence and nationalism, its overt manipulation of mass media channels, and its associations with Fascism. Inventing Futurism is a major reassessment of Futurism that reintegrates it into the history of twentieth-century avant-garde artistic movements.

Countering the standard view of Futurism as naïvely bellicose, Christine Poggi argues that Futurist artists and writers were far more ambivalent in their responses to the shocks of industrial modernity than Marinetti's incendiary pronouncements would suggest. She closely examines Futurist literature, art, and politics within the broader context of Italian social history, revealing a surprisingly powerful undercurrent of anxiety among the Futurists--toward the accelerated rhythms of urban life, the rising influence of the masses, changing gender roles, and the destructiveness of war. Poggi traces the movement from its explosive beginnings through its transformations under Fascism to offer completely new insights into familiar Futurist themes, such as the thrill and trauma of velocity, the psychology of urban crowds, and the fantasy of flesh fused with metal, among others.

Lavishly illustrated and unparalleled in scope, Inventing Futurism demonstrates that beneath Futurism's belligerent avant-garde posturing lay complex and contradictory attitudes toward an always-deferred utopian future.

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interpretive studies of the movement to address its social ideology and ambivalent response to industrial modernity is Roberto Tessari’s 1973 book Il mito della macchina: Letteratura e industria nel primo novecento italiano (The Myth of the Machine: Literature and Industry in Early Twentieth Century Italy), which includes a chapter on Futurist literature. 7 As Tessari convincingly argues, the Futurist myth of the machine often reveals an undercurrent of anxiety, and, at times, outright rejection.

Elaborating upon the theme of the construction of an electric plant, Boccioni seems to have wanted to add elements that further dramatized the modernity of the scene, as well as the significance of electric power. As we have seen, a bridge with an electric tram appears in the upper left background of some of the earliest sketches, while below a train hurtles through an arch directly at the viewer. As a bridge did not exist at the Piazza Trento, its presence in the final painting reminds us of the

humanitarian Giovanni Cena, whose portrait he painted in 1910, and to the other members of his circle, including the feminist writer Sibilla Aleramo and the educator Alessandro Marcucci, his brother-in-law. Despite these political and aesthetic alignments, Balla surprised his contemporaries by signing the “Manifesto of the Futurist Painters” in 1910, partly in response to the enthusiasm of his former pupils Gino Severini and Umberto Boccioni. Yet his work continued to develop independently along

photodynamism. 25 Through the latter he aspired to counter the accusation that photography could only capture the static, successive stages of movement, never its fluid continuity. His photodynamisms, produced through long exposures, recorded the back and forth motion of simple, repetitive gestures and tasks: a carpenter sawing, a man changing position, hands typing. The resulting images, as photography historian Marta Braun has noted, emphasized the first and final position of the moving

seeking adventure and risking one’s life could become a need and a habit, which the experience of racing could satisfy in the absence of opportunities for colonial conquest, exploration, travel, or war. 35 But if today the race car driver expended his energy in sport and pleasure, tomorrow he would not refuse before the great necessity, before the complete sacrifice for the most noble ideal; he will bury himself under the mine blown up by his own unshaking hand, he will plunge into the

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