Saturday, January 31, 2009

Centennial of Futurism

It's been a hundred years since an Italian poet named Marinetti dropped his Futurist manifesto all over Milan. Poetry is commemorating it, only half-seriously, by having a lot of poets write their own manifestos of Whateverism. I, on the other hand, am commemorating it with the following excerpt from GK Chesterton's shrewd and amusing essay, 'The Futurists.' (That guy has something for everything...)

It was a warm golden evening, fit for October, and I was watching
(with regret) a lot of little black pigs being turned out of my garden, when the postman handed to me, with a perfunctory haste which doubtless masked his emotion, the Declaration of Futurism. If you ask me what Futurism is, I cannot tell you; even the Futurists themselves seem a little doubtful; perhaps they are waiting for the future to find out. But if you ask me what its Declaration is, I answer eagerly; for I can tell you quite a lot about that. It is written by an Italian named Marinetti, in a magazine which is called Poesia. It is headed "Declaration of Futurism" in enormous letters; it is divided off with little numbers; and it starts straight away like this: "1. We intend to glorify the love of danger, the custom of energy, the strengt of daring. 2. The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity, and revolt. 3. Literature having up to now glorified thoughtful immobility, ecstasy, and slumber, we wish to exalt the aggressive movement, the feverish insomnia, running, the perilous leap, the cuff and the blow." While I am quite willing to exalt the cuff within reason, it scarcely seems such an entirely new subject for literature as the Futurists imagine. It seems to me that even through the slumber which fills the Siege of Troy, the Song of Roland, and the Orlando Furioso, and in spite of the thoughtful immobility which marks "Pantagruel," "Henry V," and the Ballad of Chevy Chase, there are occasional gleams of an admiration for courage, a readiness to glorify the love of danger, and even the "strengt of daring," I seem to remember, slightly differently spelt, somewhere in literature. The distinction, however, seems to be that the warriors of the past went in for tournaments, which were at least dangerous for themselves, while the Futurists go in for motor-cars, which are mainly alarming for other people. It is the Futurist in his motor who does the "aggressive movement," but it is the pedestrians who go in for the "running" and the "perilous leap." Section No. 4 says, "We declare that the splendour of the world has been enriched with a new form of beauty, the beauty of speed. A race-automobile adorned with great pipes like serpents with explosive breath. ... A race-automobile which seems to rush over exploding powder is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace." It is also much easier, if you have the money. It is quite clear, however, that you cannot be a Futurist at all unless you are frightfully rich.

30 comments:

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Toad of Toad Hall comes to mind. ;)

Speed is overrated--except when one is in a desperate hurry, of course. Then it's everything. =P

some guy on the street said...

When did people start writing "manifestos"? Were Engels and Marx the first? Is it more or less pretentious to write a manifesto than a credo? Do they call it a manifesto instead of a creed because they don't believe it? Or is it supposed to be obvious?

And I quite agree that impatience and hastiness are close competitors to sloth. One's celerity ought to be prudent!

Meredith said...

I honestly don't know! Manifestos are so silly. But at least they have an unironic overtness about them. “To proclaim a manifesto you have to want: A.B.C., thunder against 1, 2, 3.” That's unfashionable nowadays.

Meredith said...

Oh my goodness, Embrethiliel! I am hearing the Futurist Manifesto in the voice of Toad and laughing my head off...

"Poop-poop!"

some guy on the street said...

"It's the only Thing!"

some guy on the street said...

Oh! More toad: http://seraphicmeetsbridezilla.blogspot.com/2009/02/friday-night-date-at-last.html

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