Thursday, October 22, 2009

You and your pants

[X]'s enthusiasm for [Y] is of the "kick-in-the-pants-for-art" category.  He fastens on that which is anti-cultural, anti-traditional, anti-intellectual, which subverts form and allows the writer to emerge as the permanent center and concern of all writing - "to hell with characters, look at me, I'm the big thing," etc.

The trouble with this is that it is absolutely no good for advancing advanced writing.  The writer discovers himself, pen in hand, and asks, “Whatever can I be doing with this object?” Which, like all cultivated expressions of naïveté, is a complete falsification. Such writing is in a culture, in a tradition, marked by a preoccupation with a definite class of subjects and objects, and is really no freer from social assumptions and values than the work of any other school. It is one of the worst habits of avant-garde writers to pretend a disdain of literature, and of the critics who are concerned with them to substitute exposition and political admiration for concrete analytical evaluation of literature as such. -- Issac Rosenfeld (ca. 1945)

The avant-garde, it seems, lives! But it is the roundtable the next day I want to discuss here. [...] there was a long talk called "Futurists, Fascists, Nazis: Rejecting Democracy in Theory and Practice" by Benjamin Martin. I have heard talks like this one again and again: it turns out that Futurism was nearly equivalent to Fascism and indeed Hitler's name was brought up frequently.

Whose Futurism?  Whose Fascism?  Everything Martin said was true enough if we label as Futurist, Marinetti's writings of the later twenties and thirties, up to his death in 1944.  The speaker assumed that here was Futurism, largely because Marinetti continued to call himself a Futurist and he had a following of now largely unknown poets and artists.  It was indeed an unsavory bunch, and Martin was right to pronounce on Marinetti's distrust of democracy.  The only trouble is that, whatever self-designated label the artists in question adopted, theirs was no longer the Futurism that mattered at all.  In point of fact, when Marinetti was composing the First Manifesto in 1908, Fascism had not yet been heard of; Marinetti was primarily a contrarian - he was a socialist-anarchist AGAINST the Papacy, the State, Parliamentary Democracy - and especially the loss of Italian territories to Austria - for example Trieste.  He was certainly a Nationalist, but one can't quite equate nationalism with Fascism.

Of the Futurist artists of the 1910s, two of the finest - Boccioni and Sant'Elia were killed at the Front in 1916. A third, Carlo Carra, dissociated himself from Futurism by 1918, as did the Russolo of the noise-makers.  Balla and Depero, known for their abstractions, became designers: Depero came to the U.S. and designed Vogue covers and worked on the Campari logos!  By the early 20s, Futurism was all over, the only important hold-out being Marinetti himself, who did indeed become a Fascist - and also an increasingly uninteresting writer.

I wonder then how and why we continue to be treated to the equation Futurism=Fascism, which has hurt the early movement so much that may of its publications are still out of print and its artwork unknown.  I hope others here will explore the following issue:

How long can and does ANY movement last?  Surely not three decades! Think of the Oxford Movement or Zurich Dada, Die Brücke or Lettrisme, Imagism or the New York School of Poets or Language Poetry...  -- Marjorie Perloff (October 20, 2009)

(Additional context re 1909 will be found here.)


Jordan said...

Assertions that a writer is interesting or uninteresting -- a critical black box.

Don Share said...

Yes, though one nevertheless feels that writers are or are not interesting... to him/her SELF; which constitutes a lot of black boxes in the aggregate. Or something.

Jordan said...

Interesting is a real evaluation, no doubt. It just makes me want to demand, how did the poet-publisher put it, show your work? To mangle Keynes, in the aggregate we are all bland.

So, Marinetti "did indeed become a Fascist," but because this change of state coincided with his becoming tedious, it's spurious to write off the futurists' political liabilities?

What about the possibility that pre-1918 futurism inspired fascism.

In any case, the sign-off question of a group formation's duration is interesting, by which I mean open to debate. If you think the New York School of Poets is equivalent to the heroic period in Frank O'Hara's work, then no, surely not three decades. But if you take that movement to be a series of influencings and counterinfluencings and collaborations among poets, artists, musicians, and favorable real estate conditions, then three decades starts to look about right.

Anonymous said...

Did pre-1918 futurism inspire fascism??

Don Share said...

Well, we know that Il Duce had better things to do than listen to Ezra Pound...

Jordan said...

And Lenin and co referred to useful idiots, not that Bolshevism and Fascism are the same.

The other side of Shelley's "unacknowledged legislators" remark is the attempt to perceive poets' influence where none may be found.

I just don't see how to exempt futurism from a discussion of how it may have contributed to fascism. It certainly doesn't work to cut Marinetti out of the conversation because he got tedious around when he became a fascist.

Anonymous said...

The Bolshies didn't listen to Mayakovsky, either.

I got no dogs here: I'm not much concerned whether anybody listens to poets. And M.P. is disputing that Futurism EQUALS Fascism, and contends that to say so is, strictly speaking, an anachronism. This doesn't exempt Fut. from a discussion. But what's wrong with questioning the extent of Marinetti's actual influence on the unfolding of fascism?

I'm no scholar of the fasces, so I'd just like to know more about this influence: what fascist ideas came from the Fut's and were taken up by them, and so on. Was the romanticized violence in the Fut. Man. in the air already?