Chapter Three

Machine + War - Woman = Futurism:
Marinetti's Recreation of Creation

In his vision of a car-crash with the actress, Vaughan was obsessed by many wounds and impacts-by the dying chromium and collapsing bulkheads of their two cars meeting head-on in complex collisions endlessly repeated in slow-motion films, by the identical wounds inflicted on their bodies, by the image of windshield glass frosting around her face as she broke its tinted surface like a death-born Aphrodite, by the compound fractures of their thighs impacted against their handbrake mountings, and above all by the wounds to their genitalia, her uterus pierced by the heraldic beak of the manufacturer's medallion, his semen emptying across the luminescent dials that registered for ever the last temperature and fuel levels of the engine.

J.G. Ballard, Crash[1]

Giacomo Balla, 1913-1914, Futurism

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I. Introduction

Futurism's earliest moments, as reported by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, reverberate with noise and speed. "Suddenly," writes the artist and propagandist in the first of a stream of manifestos, "we jumped, hearing the mighty noise of the huge double-decker trams that rumbled by outside" (M 47).[2] Noise startles these self-described "proud beacons" of Futurist thinking into an awareness not of the early morning hours but of the mechanical sounds which echo across the recently industrialized streets of Milan. By contrast, the rest of the city is reduced to silent immobility: "the old canal muttering its feeble prayers and the creaking bones of sickly palaces above their damp green beards." Surrounded by empty air, Marinetti and his colleagues yearn for the "famished roar of automobiles," or the noise of factories at full throttle. Machines capture their hearts, filling them with a "raging broom of madness," which "drove us through streets" in search of lamplights, engines, and "Death" (M 48).

In "The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism," published on February 20, 1909 in the Parisian newspaper, Le Figaro, Marinetti defines Futurism as a radical redefinition of art, body, and spirit for a modern, technological world. He rejects bourgeois culture by destroying libraries, museums, and academies, by replacing the image of female beauty with the idealized image of the machine, and by purifying language through the removal of syntax and grammar. The Futurists were at once a joke and a threat to established powers in Italy and other parts of Europe. They caused riots, spread rumors, and disrupted public events as part of a campaign to install into Italian culture a resolute fascination with technology, power, and (above all) war. "We will glorify war-the world's only hygiene," Marinetti writes, "militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for women" (M 50). Flaunting intolerant rhetoric before angry, divisive audiences, the Futurists fought to gain support for Italy's imperial invasion of Libya and its entrance into World War I. In the process, the movement foreshadowed many of the political and aesthetic developments of the twentieth century, particularly those relating to the physical and psychological effects produced by the rapid rise of modern technology.

Early modernist artistic movements-including Futurism, Vorticism, Imagism, and Cubism-are often defined in and around what Cinzia Sartini Blum calls "a reaction against the fin de siècle malaise that took the form of a pervasive sense of a dislocation in the logical, casual relationship between past, present, and future."[3] Although many artists and writers of this period deliberate upon this "sense of crisis in the human existence" and "the breakdown of secure communal ideologies,"[4] Marinetti's response is different: "We stand on the last promontory of the centuries... Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed" (M 49).[5] To Marinetti, the "absolute" world of "eternal, omnipresent speed" is the world of machines, which rework and recreate human knowledge, social organization, and individual experience. His vision staunchly opposed the "pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep" of contemporary writers like Garbrielle D'Annunzio, whose "decadent" poetry blurred distinctions between self and other, time and space, and male and female.

Marinetti's frequent attacks against passéist writers suggest the influence of pragmatism, a philosophical school that prioritized experience and action over theory and intuition.[6] By separating mind and body, Marinetti argues that humanity is progressing away from its faulty, fragile, "animalistic" past and toward a technological future in which human physiology and art are redefined according to the ideal body of the machine. Blum describes this "mythicization of the machine" as "a phantasmatic transformation of an enemy into a friendly object," which "affords an illusory amplification of power, a feeling of sadistic omnipotence."[7] While I agree with Blum's analysis, I would argue that Marinetti is much more aware of the psychological underpinnings of his argument than Blum is willing to acknowledge. While there is a great deal of unconscious mythicization of machines and demonification of female bodies in his writings, it is mixed with a conscious and deliberate rejection of psychological assumptions. For example, in the "Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature," Marinetti declares his opposition to psychology's emphasis upon human emotions and passions in favor of a "lyric obsession with matter" [l'ossessione lirica della materia]. By replacing "human psychology" with an "obsession with matter," he redefines the word "human" as an object rather than a subject, with "governing impulses,...forces of compression, dilation, cohesion, and disaggregation" (M 95). Humanity, in short, is an object to be studied and scrutinized, not dramatized and sentimentalized.

However, there is a contradiction at work in Marinetti's desire to remove the physical and psychological elements associated with human "imagination." On the one hand, he argues for the rejection of animalistic emotions and desires; on the other hand, he refers to the new creation, the "new man," in terms that suggest a violent, animalistic merging of machine and human body. For instance, while he notes that "Woman does not belong to a man, but rather to the future and the race's development," he also points out that this "future" is one entirely devoid of "every emotional morbidity, every womanly delicacy" (M 86). Women, Marinetti notes, are bound to animalistic emotions and impulses which Marinetti's "new man" is capable of overcoming. In order to overcome humanity's physical and emotional limitations and recreate humanity, Marinetti must first recreate creation: namely, women's "animalistic" power to reproduce. In short, Marinetti's conception of Futurism requires that he both stigmatize and vilify that female body to achieve his prescribed vision of the future.

II. "Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo"

Futurism's history is largely encapsulated in the period before and after World War I. Its roots, however, stretch back to the middle of the preceding century, to a time when Italy was struggling to keep up with the major economic and imperial powers of Europe and was burdened with its reputation as a backwards "tourist mogul celebrating its glorious past for the sake of the German antiquarians who emigrated by the thousands each year."[8] Italy did not become a unified nation until 1859, after victories of French and Piedmontese forces over Austria enabled a central government (located first in Turin, then Florence, then later in Rome) to organize and begin the task of building a modern society. The goals of this government were twofold: first, to make Italy a modern industrial power on a par with Germany and England; second, to establish Italy's national dominance by asserting it as an Imperial, colonizing force. Almost immediately, however, these twin goals fell into jeopardy, as much of the investment capital needed to pay for industrialization was parceled out to military expenditures, which "accounted for 18-25 per cent of the taxation revenues between 1870 and 1890."[9] The remaining funds were used to build the infrastructure of roads and rails necessary for further growth; consequently, the industrial base necessary for a country to become modernized arrived slowly-so slowly, in fact, that "before 1900, Italy remained a largely agrarian society."[10]

Italy's economic situation did not significantly change until the election of Prime Minister Giovani Giolitti in 1900. His ability to create and sustain a coalition of wealthy landowners, government officials, and the Catholic Church enabled Italy to achieve its first real industrial expansion of significant proportions. As Roger Absalom notes, "Between 1896 and 1914 industrial production almost doubled, national income rose by 50 per cent and investment in industry by 300 per cent." These dramatic increases, however, were limited to northern cities like Marinetti's Milan, which was able to use hydroelectricity to cheaply power its factories and thereby allow "Italian engineering and light industry to compete successfully in foreign markets and to maximize their initial advantage of cheap labor."[11] That Futurism is closely associated with Milan, then, is no coincidence, since it is only in a city such as Milan that the presence of technology was significant enough that it would make the appropriate impact upon Marinetti and his colleagues.[12]

All the same, Giolitti's government was unable to compete with other nations in military endeavors. This angered Marinetti and his followers, who placed the blame for this lack of action upon "the parliamentary system, which allowed mere numbers to triumph over ability."[13] As with many nationalist groups of the time, Marinetti's Futurists wanted a government of strong leaders and dominant foreign policy. These solutions are often cited (rightly) as forerunners to Mussolini's fascism. As Caroline Tisdall and Angelo Bozzolla note, "Futurism shared at least three characteristics with Fascism-romantic and uniformed glorification of the machine (technology) in society, the use of physical violence against opponents, and infatuation with youth."[14] Nevertheless, while Mussolini praised these philosophic beliefs, the specific political, cultural, and aesthetic programs which Futurism sought to implement "[bore] little relation to Mussolini's political philosophy of ten years later. These early fascists were strongly anti-clerical and wanted confiscation of ecclesiastical property; they favored ending the monarchy; they opposed any kind of dictatorship or arbitrary power and demanded an independent judiciary."[15] Although Mussolini initially supported Futurism, he ignored the movement when he came into power in 1922. In fact, the art most favored by the Mussolini's government was Futurism's exact opposite: "the romantic or archaizing realism that asked no questions and posed no problems."[16] Gabrielle D'Annunzio replaced Marinetti as Fascism's poet laureate, and the former's image of a "Rome reborn through art"[17] became the centerpiece of Fascism's propaganda campaign throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Futurism's goal to destroy bourgeois civilization is far from Mussolini's "status-quo" fascism, which was centered on the same image of "Fatherland" which Hitler would adopt for Germany a decade later. For Mussolini, as with Hitler, the image of "Fatherland" offered the image of national identity "as an extension of the individual."[18] In an Italy where national identity was still a relative novelty, Mussolini's creation of a fascist state involved many pragmatic compromises, particularly with the Catholic Church, whose financial and moral power over Italian society was crucial for the success of any secular government. Consequently, in order for fascism to work, it needed to link its national ideology to the very institutions of the past that Futurism was squarely against. By contrast, Futurist manifestoes called not only for a repudiation of the church and other institutions but also an eradication of the artistic center of bourgeois culture. Marinetti defines this center as Italy's incessant fetishization of its past: "For too long has Italy been a dealer in secondhand clothes. We mean to free her from the numberless museums that cover her like so many graveyards" (M 50). Rather than dwelling on death and history, Futurism embraced the many potentials offered by the modern world and its technologies. Cinzia Sartini Blum notes that "the movement responded to the challenge of the modern age by constructing a fiction of the individual's power vis-à-vis the world-a modern myth for reimposing symbolic control on a world without absolutes, in which power seemed to have become the only measure of the self and the subjective imagination the only measure of reality."[19] Unlike most "modernist" myths,[20] which sought to divorce or detach the subject from his/her role in a mechanical society, Marinetti chose to embrace the power and speed represented by machines.

Technology, according to Marinetti, would change the way life is experienced and lived; as such, the goal of Futurism is to embrace this new experience and redefine humanity accordingly. This is nowhere more evident than the opening to his "Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo": "We had stayed up all night, my friends and I, under hanging mosque lamps with domes of filigreed brass, domes starred like our spirits, shining like them with the prisoned radiance of electric hearts" (M 47).[21] Rather than rejecting social order, Marinetti expressly highlights the camaraderie of his friends and the sheer joy of the evening ambiance. Added to this, however, is the fascinating image, "prisoned radiance of electric hearts,"[22] which describes the lamps that hang above their heads. While this image emphasize the simple fact that the evening would not be possible but for the electric-powered lamps providing sufficient lighting to compose their "frenzied scribbling" (M 47), the addition of the phrase "prisoned radiance" also suggests both a fear of domination by these surroundings and a hint that within such an atmosphere resides the energy source that will propel the group out of the darkness and into a new future.

This future emerges to them not through light but through sound: "Suddenly we jumped, hearing the mighty noise of the huge double-decker trams..." Marinetti and his followers leave the "prisoned" past of mosque lamps[23] and "oriental rugs" and head out into the rushing noise and speeding flurry of their automobiles. "Let's go!" Marinetti cries. "Friends, away! Let's go! Mythology and the Mystic Ideal are defeated at last. We're about to see the Centaur's birth and, soon after, the first flight of the Angels!...We must shake the gates of life, test the bolts and hinges. Let's go!" (M 47-8).[24] The movement from mythology and "Mystic Ideal" to "Centaurs" and "Angels" initially suggests an historical progression from primitive myths to modern religions. However, because the automobile's incarnation is figured alongside the birth of the centaur and appearance of the angel, it is more likely that the distinction drawn here is subtler. Centaurs and angels are symbols not only of strength, agility, and perfection, but also speed and flight. They are transitional figures, between horse and human and between God and humanity, just as technology functions in Futurism as a transitional state between humanity's past and its future. As the Futurists climb into their automobiles ("fauves," or beasts), "The raging broom of madness swept us out of ourselves and drove us through streets as rough and deep as the beds of torrents" (M 48).[25] This "madness" is defined according to the breakdown of human bodies: even though the "sick lamplight" is not strong enough for "perishing eyes," the automobile has no problem finding its way through the darkness.

The mechanical "beasts" race along streets, disrupting everything in their wake; by their speed alone, Marinetti and his friends "run after Death," as they envision their own bodies transformed into machines. This speed enables them to reject l'amore: "we had no ideal Mistress raising her divine form to the clouds, nor any cruel Queen to whom to offer our bodies." The "ideal Mistress" and "cruel Queen" whom the Futurists leave behind purport to represent the idealized images of Woman that dominate Italian culture. In place of "woman" are machines and their power to destroy: "Death, domesticated, met me at every turn, gracefully holding out a paw, or once in a while hunkering down, making velvety caressing eyes at me from every puddle" (M 48). Blum notes that, in this instance, the "domestication" of death is achieved "by personifying it as a seductive and tamed lover."[26] After calling out to this "lover," however, Marinetti's car swerves out of control and crashes into a ditch. Rather than diminishing his passions, this accident instead pushes Marinetti's mechanical desire to its apex. As he lies in a pool of "muddy water," he cries out: "Oh! Maternal ditch!...Fair factory drain! I gulped down your nourishing sludge; and I remembered the blessed black breast of my Sudanese nurse...When I came up-torn, filthy, and stinking-from under the capsized car, I felt the white-hot iron of joy deliciously pass through my heart!" (M 48-9).[27]

Marinetti's retelling of the accident is, essentially, a Futurist creation myth; however, I would argue that, in this case, creation does not equal physical birth. Although Marinetti associates "the unpalpable sludge of the industrial waste with milk,"[28] these sentiments are followed by his emergence "from under the capsized car." While the sludge recalls memories of his Sudanese nurse, it is his emergence from the womb of the automobile that enables Marinetti to be "born again" as a Futurist. This rebirth recreates life as a product not of biology but rather as a combination of technology and Marinetti's power over death: "They thought it was dead, my beautiful shark, but a caress from me was enough to revive it; and there it was, alive again, running on its powerful fins!" (M 49). Aligning automobiles with sharks certainly suggests the very action and speed Futurism fetishizes, but it also reinforces Marinetti's dependence upon "natural" metaphors to describe the power and fury of his mechanical desires. To an extent, it is this very inability to escape nature that propels much of Futurism's discourse, especially their impulse toward destruction: "We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice" (M 50). To escape the past, it is not enough to be reborn into a technological future; one must also erase the ever-present reminders of history, memory, and physiology. As Marinetti's reference to destroying "feminism" suggests, the ideological and linguistic destruction of "woman" is of central importance to this endeavor.

III. "Contro l'amore e il parlamentarismo"

At the center of Futurism's discourse against the past is their "scorn" for "horrible, dragging Amore that hinders the march of man, preventing him from transcending his own humanity, from redoubling himself, from going beyond himself and becoming what we call the multiplied man" (M 80).[29] By attacking l'amore, Marinetti is rejecting the "sentimentality and lechery" of much Italian art and culture, in particular the "romantic treatment of love and women as epitomized by the adulterous heroines of D'Annunzio."[30] D'Annunzio's "adulterous heroines," like the heroines of soap operas, are the focus of both desire and longing on the part of the male characters. They are described in rich, romantic detail, so that each movement they make or each word they speak is transformed into a mystery that must be uncovered. Ironically, despite rejecting these kinds of verbal excesses, Marinetti's own writings reprocess many of these same romantic sentiments. However, there is a significant difference between Marinetti's use of Amore and the use of Amore in D'Annunzio's works. For D'Annunzio, the object toward which Amore is focused is the idealized image of "Woman" and "Beauty"; consequently, his writing revels in that ideal. In Marinetti's case, the object is not woman but a machine; likewise, the direction that his attention takes is to praise the beauty and nature of technology. To accomplish this, Marinetti subsequently attacks, vilifies, and destroys that which is in opposition to his object of praise.

As Marinetti notes in "Contro l'amre e il parlamentarismo" ["Against Amore and Parliamentarianism"], "We scorn woman conceived as the sole ideal, the divine reservoir of Amore, the woman-poison, woman the tragic trinket, the fragile woman, obsessing and fatal, whose voice, heavy with destiny, and whose dreaming tresses reach out and mingle with the foliage of forests drenched in moonshine" (M 80). Although Marinetti's critiques against Amore do not directly attack women or mothers, he does critique the role women play (both symbolically and culturally) within the language and poetic systems of the early twentieth century. Significantly, Marinetti places this poetic critique within a larger political context. "In this campaign of ours for liberation," he notes, "our best allies are the suffragettes, because the more rights and powers they win for woman, the more will she be deprived of Amore, and by so much will she cease to be a magnet for sentimental passion or lust" (M 81).[31] Although the antagonistic attitude Marinetti takes against women and the suffragettes movement highlights why many critics dismiss Futurism as misogynistic, Marinetti's separation of women's bodies from the idealized and unrepresentable pedestal of "Woman" sounds surprisingly progressive for his culture and his time-certainly different from his call to "destroy feminism." This support for women's rights, however, is largely strategic. Marinetti considers the suffragettes movement "childish" and "ridiculous" and chooses to defend them for the simple reason that they will "involuntarily help us to destroy that grand foolishness, made up of corruption and banality, to which parliamentarianism is now reduced" (M 81).[32] By giving women a voice in the political process, Marinetti envisions the downfall of the government through "pacifism and Tolstoyan cowardice" [pacifismo e di viltà tolstoiana] (M 82) and a "war of the sexes" [la guerra dei sessi] (M 83). This voice, in his view, can only help his cause, as he could not imagine women ever having anything significant to say.

In Marinetti's examination of the women's movement, he notes that the most significant effect resulting from women gaining political power is the destruction of "the principle of the family."[33] Marinetti's notion of "family" is, of course, centered on women's bodies, their ability to reproduce, and their social roles as mothers and wives. In regards to the breakdown of the family unit, Marinetti remarks, "Allow me to smile just a bit skeptically and say to you that if the family, suffocater of vital energies, disappears, we will endeavor to do without" (M 83).[34] This statement is not at all surprising, considering Futurism's call for the destruction of social and domestic institutions. However, the inclusion of the word "endeavor" [cercheremo] suggests a logical gap in Marinetti's argument: there is a sense that, in his desire to recreate humanity in the image of machines, women's reproductive roles and the sustenance of the family unit cannot be easily replaced.

The problem which women's bodies and "Woman," the unrepresentable ideal, create in Marinetti's schema is especially evident in the metaphors he uses to describe the mechanical center of Futurist discourse. As he declares in "Let's Murder the Moonshine": "See the furious coitus of war, gigantic vulva stirred by the friction of courage, shapeless vulva that spreads to offer itself to the terrific spasm of final victory! It's ours, the victory..." (M 61-62).[35] The sexualization of war in this passage is not uncommon in European literature of the early twentieth century. According to Klaus Theweleit, it is prevalent in German proto-fascist literature of the 1920s, where the battlefield itself becomes a sexual terrain far more familiar and desirable than a woman's body. As he notes, "These men look for ecstasy not in embraces, but in explosions, in the rumbling of bomber squadrons or in brains being shot to flames."[36] In the case of Marinetti and his brand of proto-fascism, however, the terrain of the battlefield, although sexualized, is nevertheless centered upon a recreation of creation: a realization (echoing Nietzsche) that "Man is something that shall be overcome."[37] While Nietzsche's declaration has no literal bearing on women's reproductive organs, Futurism's desire to replace human physiology with mechanical technology necessitates a rejection and elimination of procreation in general and women's reproductive organs in particular. To the Futurists, this can only be accomplished by redefining the act of creation as a process of engineering rather than biology-that is, not as an interiorized, "human" experience but a mechanical assemblage of parts.

IV: "La Guerra Elettrica"

In response to witnessing an airplane taking off into the sky, Marinetti notes, "I confess that before so intoxicating a spectacle we strong Futurists have felt ourselves suddenly detached from women, who have suddenly become too earthly, or, to express it better, have become a symbol of the earth that we ought to abandon" (M 83).[38] As a symbolic link to "earth" that is quickly being replaced by metal, women represent a past Futurism wants to destroy. He continues: "We have even dreamed of one day being able to create a mechanical son, the fruit of pure will, a synthesis of all the laws that science is on the brink of discovering" (M 83).[39] To Marinetti, "pure will" represents a fusion of scientific knowledge and physical force, which is capable of overturning the metaphysical and moralistic boundaries of contemporary thinking-boundaries which depend upon accepting the limitations of human existence.

In Marinetti's "pure will," the forces that shape and determine consciousness are not external to the human body but products of that body's fusion (both physical and spiritual) with machines. In this sense, Marinetti is borrowing from Nietzsche's "will to power," which the latter defines as a force that "defines limits, determines degrees, variations of power."[40] Such force, Nietzsche notes, is principally "a commanding of other subjects, which thereupon change."[41] Just as Marinetti envisions a future in which the process of production would supplant biological reproduction, so Nietzsche conceives of consciousness itself as a process. However, the difference between these theories is significant. By depending upon machines to change humanity for the better, Marinetti is patterning his future upon the same tenets used in metaphysics to identify forces external to the mind itself. By contrast, Gilles Deleuze argues that Nietzsche defines consciousness "less in relation to exteriority (in terms of the real) than in relation to superiority (in terms of values)."[42] Instead of focusing attention upon external objects (like machines or "God"), Nietzsche hypothesizes "the subject as multiplicity,"[43] which is to say the subject continually in the process of becoming something else.

Marinetti's vision of the future is a world in which humanity has accepted the power and authority of machines: "Oh! how I envy the men who will be born into the next century on my beautiful peninsula when it is wholly vivified, shaken, and bridled by the new electric forces" (M 112). By recreating humanity from the template of the machine, Marinetti conceives of an utopia where "Hunger and poverty disappear. The bitter social question, annihilated. The financial question reduced to a simple matter of accounting. Freedom for all to make money and to coin gleaming coins." It is a world where "every intelligence grows lucid, every instinct is brought to its greatest splendor, they clash with each other for a surplus of pleasure...An anarchy of perception" (M 114). Through technology, then, consciousness itself will be raised to a higher level, thereby eliminating human frailties and instilling a surplus of freedom and prosperity.

As I mentioned earlier, Marinetti's rhetoric is largely connected to pragmatism's separation of mind and body, theory and action, and organic and inorganic. As the many manifestoes make clear, Futurism's mission is to separate human bodies and human culture from nature in order to situate humanity within an inorganic world of machines and industrial power. Marinetti's "Electrical War" describes a scenario in which a future Italy is ruled by the power and fury of machines: "The energy of distant winds, the rebellion of the sea, transformed by man's genius into many millions of Kilowatts, will penetrate every muscle, artery, and nerve of the peninsula, needing no wires, controlled from keyboards with a fertilizing abundance that throbs beneath the fingers of the engineers" (M 112). Images of energy and power fuel a battle between organic nature and mechanical man; however, in the process, human beings themselves are separated from the very mechanical world that is supposed to be their "home." While engineers create life by "fertilizing" every "muscle, artery, and nerve" of wind, sea, and hills, they do so entirely separated from that world-controlling everything through a keyboard that is not even connected to nature through a wire. As Marinetti notes later, "These men have finally won the joy of living between iron walls.... They are finally free of wood and its lessons of weakness and debilitating softness, and from fabrics with their rustic ornaments" (M 113). Marinetti's future does not only erase the female body from reproduction and poetic production, but it further eliminates organic objects that suggest frailty, imperfection, or softness in favor of "iron walls" and "steel furniture." These objects are consumed by metal and power and are removed from humanity to the point that "their flesh, forgetful of the germinating roughness of trees, force itself to resemble the surrounding steel" (M 113).

Cinzia Sartini Blum sees "Electrical War" as a paradigm of hypermasculinity, where "Affects and drives must be channeled or drained in the territory of the male body, so that its energies can be supernaturally multiplied."[44] Although Marinetti's manifesto attempts to reimagine life in an environment removed from the terrestrial limitations of human bodies, it is these very limitations that continually rupture his image of the twenty-first century and direct his writing back to the very maternal and material imagery he so adamantly wants to destroy. In fact, much of "Electrical War" is given over to his analysis of an impending war which will rid the world of its own flesh: "Between one battle and another, diseases have been attacked from every side, confined to two or three final hospitals that have become useless. The sick and weak, crushed, crumbled, pulverized by the vehement wheels of intense civilization" (M 115-16). This "war," however, is not as universal as it appears. Marinetti's immediate concern is to raise Italy back into a position of power and authority: "Our hatred of Austria; our feverish anticipation of war; our desire to strangle Pan-Germanism. This is the corollary of our Futurist theorum!" (M 116). The struggle for the future, then, is a product of the pro-war rhetoric of Europe in 1911; it is also an admission that his "vision-hypothesis" of the future is inevitably linked to Futurism's present-day struggles against aesthetic and political forces opposed to his conception of modernity.

By situating his "future" within an immediate present, Marinetti does not only suggest that his fear and hatred of nature is specifically linked to his political "enemies," but he also positions the struggle between machines and nature within the bodies of human beings. This is most acutely expressed in Marinetti's accounts of war, for it is in war that Futurism's ideology is most evident. The majority of Futurist artists fought during World War I; many, in fact, died during this conflict. For Marinetti and his followers, however, war was not dispiriting or depressing but, rather, an affirmation of Futurist thinking. Nowhere is technology's ability to transform or destroy human bodies more evident than on a battlefield, surrounded by machine guns, tanks, bombs, airplanes, and shrapnel. The consequences of this battlefield, however, include not merely the transformation of the physical body but the transformation of the body's perception of reality.

III. Shell Shock

To Futurists, modern warfare was the ultimate site of humanity's mechanical transformation. War bombarded the senses with an overload of gunshots, explosions, mud, blood, death, speed, and noise; likewise, technology speeded up warfare while separating the action from its participants. Although armies could kill faster and more precisely, the distances between armies became greater, thereby making it harder to locate and overcome the enemy. Consequently, combat was centered less upon engaging the enemy and more upon hiding from them. As Robert Michaels notes:

Modern combat is played out almost entirely invisibly; the new day of fighting demands of the soldier that he...withdraw from the sight of the opponent. He can not fight upright on the earth but must crawl into and under it; at sea he fights most securely when he is concealed under the surface of the water, and in the air when he flies so high that he no longer offers a target.[45]

Because combat centered around invisibility, it is not surprising that hearing overtook sight as the primary sense, for it was much easier to hear an enemy approaching than see and react to a bullet flying at your face. During war, sound overwhelms all other senses, for its parameters (unlike those of sight) are never closed down but are, rather, accentuated by the barrage of machine and military noises surrounding each battle. Futurists saw these noise as central to their conception of modernity; as Russolo remarks, "In modern warfare, mechanical and metallic, the element of sight is almost zero. The sense, the significance, and the expressiveness of noises, however, are infinite."[46] To Futurists, noise heightened the human body's ability to perceive and process information, providing a tableau for the reimagination of music. Others, however, argue that the preponderance of noise and information inhibits the human body's ability to function. As Stephen Kern notes, "There is abundant evidence that one cause of World War I was a failure of diplomacy, and one of the causes of that failure was that diplomats could not cope with the volume and speed of electronic communication."[47] According to Kern, the kings, presidents, generals, and other leaders who directed the events leading up to the war were unfamiliar with the rapid channeling of information across wires and through radio signals. By attempting to keep up with this barrage of data, they made hasty decisions that led, inevitably, to the deaths of thousands and the economic and political collapse of several major European powers.

The confusion produced by modern technology is nowhere better represented than the medical condition originally defined by World War I physicians as "shell shock."[48] The illness can be traced to the Battle of the Marne in 1914, where a rumor quickly spread that "dead men had been found standing in the trenches, apparently in possession of their faculties. Every normal attitude of life was imitated by these dead men; their bodies were found posed in all manner of positions, and the illusion was so complete that often the living would speak to the dead before they realized the true state of affairs."[49] Originally seen as the result of undetected physical injuries, shell shock was quickly rediagnosed as a mental and neurological disorder suffered under combat conditions involving "heavy gunfire or...the bursting of a shell in the neighborhood of the affected man."[50] Often the individual lost their memory, their sense of hearing, or their sight; however, such conditions were "not in any way connected with the sense organs." In other words, "the deaf man was often aware that words were being spoken, though he could extract from these words no meaning."[51]

Shell shock was new to the medical doctors and psychologists of World War I: it was a mental disorder that caused no discernible injuries but altered the patient's ability to perceive and communicate. The cause of shell shock, in other words, was not located within the body but within the machines that generate the reality of modern war. Among the 589 cases examined by doctors during World War I, nearly every one involved a patient's encounter with exploding shells, grenades, or mines. Although, in certain cases, the blasts caused some damage to the sense organs that could not be repaired, the sight or sound of exploding metal brought about the majority of shell shock occurrences. "A soldier," for example, "was in a mine explosion.... After regaining consciousness he was a deaf-mute and for seven months he did not speak. His mutism did not bother him, as he thought he had always been mute. He had always been able to write. He could not remember what had interfered with his speech or tell whether he could think the words which he could not utter."[52] Mines and machines redefined perception by silencing human bodies that must then make sense of a fragmented reality. As one soldier wrote, "I hear and understand all you are talking about, and I know what I wish to reply, but I am unable to utter the words."[53] The machines of war silence the human voice; and although writing remains, it too is silenced by aphasia. Like a machine, the human body functions as a programmable object, capable of being shut down by various external forces.

The mechanization of the human body that is evident in cases of shell shock reinforces Futurism's belief in humanity's inevitable technological transformation. It also suggests the very difficulties which human bodies face when confronted by machines capable of killing or silencing them. These contradictory readings of technology-as capable of enhancing humanity and destroying it-are certainly not limited to the debates surrounding Futurism before and after World War I, but are, in fact, central to any debate concerning the relationship between technology and human agency. In the case of Futurism, however, the issues are specifically linked both to the technological transformation of bodies and the means by which human bodies can cope with and understand this transformation. At the center of Futurist philosophy, in other words, is the desire to transform humanity into a new species that is faster, stronger, and smarter than homo sapien. To accomplish this, Marinetti posits a future in which the human body will fuse with the machine. In order to accomplish this fusion, however, it is necessary to change both the body itself and the mechanisms by which that body understands and perceives the surrounding world. In other words, the transformation of the Futurist body entails as much a mechanical transformation as it does a linguistic one. Just as the aesthetic center of Futurist discourse replaces "woman" with "machine," so too does Futurist language reinvent syntax, grammar, and punctuation for a "wireless" world.


J.G. Ballard, Crash (New York: The Noonday Press, 1973), 8.[back]

2 The original Italian reads: "Sussultammo ad un tratto, all' udire il rumore formidabile degli enormi tramvai a due piani"[back]

3 Cinzia Sartini Blum, The Other Modernism: F.T. Marinetti's Futurist Fiction of Power (Berkeley and London: U. of California Press, 1996), vii.[back]

4 Ibid., 3.[back]

5 The original Italian reads: "Noi siamo sul promontorio estremo dei secoli!... Perchè dovremmo guardarci alle spalle, se vogliamo sfondare le misteriose porte dell'Impossibile? Il Tempo e lo Spazio morirono ieri. Noi viviamo già nell'assoluto, poichè abbiamo già creata l'eterna velocità onnipresente."[back]

6 Blum, 17.[back]

7 Ibid., 52.[back]

8 Christiana J. Taylor, Futurism: Politics, Painting and Performance (Ann Arbor, Mi: U. Microfilm Int'l., 1974), 2.[back]

9 Absalon, 81.[back]

10 Alexander De Grand, Italian Fascism: Its Origins & Development, 2nd ed. (London and Lincoln, NE: U. of Nebraska Press, 1989), 5.[back]

11 Absalom, 74.[back]

12 Marinetti, however, was not born in Milan; in fact, he did not move to the city until 1905. The poet's international background (born in Alexandria, attended school in Paris, traveled extensively throughout Europe), coupled with the fact that his father's wealth and influence allowed him access to the technological marvels of the time, can be cited as reasons for his interest in poetry and technology.[back]

13 De Grand, 13.[back]

14 Taylor, 200.[back]

15 Denis Mack Smith, Mussolini: A Biography (New York: Vintage Books, 1982), 35.[back]

16 Ibid., 207-08.[back]

17 Ibid., 208.[back]

18 Caroline Tisdall and Angelo Bozzolla, Futurism (New York and Toronto: Oxford U. Press, 1978), 206.[back]

19 Blum, 17.[back]

20 For instance, Sir James George Frazier's myth of violence, sacrafice, and renwal in The Golden Bough, Eliot's and Joyce's appropriation of Greek and Latin mythology within a modern, industrial context as a way of shaping and ordering their present situations (althoug, as I will show, this "order" is never entirely fixed in Joyce), or Pound's appropriation of Eastern myths of change, silence, and renewal in The Cantos.[back]

21 The original Italian reads: "Avevamo vegliato tutta la notte-I miei amici ed io-sotto lampade di moschea dalle cupole di ottone traforato, stellate come le nostre anime, perchè come queste irradiate dal chiuso fulgòre di un cuore elettrico."[back]

22 "Prisoned radiance" [irradiate dal chiuso fulgòre] is also translated, "caged radiance."[back]

23 The reference to "mosque lamps" suggest Marinetti's birthplace, Alexandria.[back]

24 The original Italian reads: "Andiamo, diss'io; andiamo, amici! Partiamo! Finalmente, la mitologia e l'ideale mistico sono superati. Noi stiamo per assistere alla nascita del Centauro e presto vedremo volare I primi Angeli!...Bisognerà scuotere le porte della vita per provarne I cardini e I chiavistelli!...Partiamo!"[back]

25 The original Italian reads: "La furente scopa della pazzia ci strappò a noi stessi e ci cacciò attraverso le vie, scoscese e profonde come letti di torrenti."[back]

26 Blum, 49.[back]

27 The original Italian reads: "Oh! materno fossato, quasi pieno di un'acqua fangosa! Bel fossato d'officina! Io gustai avidamente la tua melma fortificante, che mi ricordò la santa mamsollevai-cencio sozzo e puzzolente-di sotto la macchina capovolta, io mi sentii attraversare il cuore, deliziosamente, dal ferro arroventato della giola!"[back]

28 Blum, 49.[back]

29 The original Italian reads: "Noi disprezziamo l'orribile e pesante Amore che ostacola la marcia dell'uomo, al quale impedisce d'uscire dalla propria umanità, di raddoppiarsi, di superare sè stesso, per divenire ciò che noi chiamiamo l'uomo moltiplicato."[back]

30 Tisdall and Bozzolla, 153.[back]

31 The original Italian reads: "In questo nostro sforzo di liberazione, le suffragette sono le nostre migliori collaboratrici, poichè quanti più diritti e poteri esse otterranno alla donna, quanto più essa sarà impoverita d'amore, tanto più essa cesserà di essere un focolare di passione sentimentale o di lussuria."[back]

32 The original Italian reads: "Infatti, siamo convinti che esse se ne impadroniranno con fervore e ci aiuteranno così, involontariamente, a distruggere quella grande minchioneria, fatta di corruzione e di banalità, a cui è ormai ridotto il parlamentarismo."[back]

33 Mocking those who would be shocked by his comments, Marinetti adds: "but you surely would rebel, terrified, and oppose me with ingenious arguments because you do not want the family touched at all. Every right, every liberty should be given to women, but let the family stay intact!" (M 83).[back]

34 The original Italian reads: "Permettetemi di sorridere con un po' di scetticismo e di dirvi che se la famiglia, soffocatoio delle energie vitali, scomparirà, cercheremo di farne a meno."[back]

35 The original Italian reads: "Ecco la furibonda copula della battaglia, vulva gigantesca irritata dalla foia del coraggio, vulva informe che si squarcia per offrirsi meglio al terrifico spasimo della vittoria imminente! È nostra, la vittoria...."[back]

36 Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies. Volume 1: Women, Floods, Bodies, History, trans. Stephen Conway, Theory and History of Literature, vol. 22, ed. Wlad Godzich and Jochen Schulte-Sasse (Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press, 1987), 41.[back]

37 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1954), 124.[back]

38 The original Italian reads: "vi confesso che noi forti futuristi, davanti a uno spettacolo tanto inebbriante, ci siamo sentiti subitamente staccati dalla donna, divenuta a un tratto troppo terrestre, o, per dir meglio, divenuta il simbolo della terra che si deve abbandonare."[back]

39 The original Italian reads: "Abbiamo finanche sognato di poter creare, un giorno, un nostro figlio meccanico, frutto di pura volontà, sintesi di tutte le leggi di cui la scienza sta per precipitare la scoperta."[back]

40 Nietszche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 342.[back]

41 Ibid., 271.[back]

42 Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson (New York: Columbia U. Press, 1983), 39.[back]

43 Nietzsche, 270.[back]

44 Blum, 44.[back]

45 Robert Michaels, Beiefe eines Hauptmanns (Berlin, 1916), quoted in Joe H. Kirchberger, The First World War: An Eyewitness History (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1992), 202.[back]

46 Luigi Russolo, Art of Noises (New York: Pendragon Press, 1986), 49.[back]

47 Kern, 275-6.[back]

48 This medical condition has undergone significant terminological changes over the twentieth century; its most recent incarnation is "post-traumatic stress disorder."[back]

49 "The Mental Factor in Modern War: Shell Shock and Nervous Injuries," in The Times History of the War, vol. 7, part 87 (London: The Times Printing House, 1916), 314.[back]

50 Ibid., 317.[back]

51 Ibid., 320.[back]

52 Elmer E. Southard, Shell Shock and Other Neuropsychiatric Problems: Presented in Five Hundred and Eighty-Nine Case Histories from the War Literature, 1914-1918 (New York: Arno Press, 1973), 366.[back]

53 "The Mental Factor," 320.[back]

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