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.)