Marinetti, F. T. (1876–1944)

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MARINETTI, F. T. (1876–1944)


Italian writer and founder of Italian futurism.

Born in 1876 in Alexandria, Egypt, into a wealthy Italian family, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was educated by Jesuits. A rebellious student, he was sent to study literature in Paris and then law in Italy. In 1898 he began publishing poetry and later novels and plays. These early writings, such as "The Old Sailors" (1898), The Conquest of the Stars (1902), Destruction (1904), Le roi bombance (1905; The feasting king), and The Carnal City (1908), reveal both his embrace of and revolt against symbolism. Characterized by extravagant and experimental language, anarchic tone, and violent and scandalous imagery, they owe a debt to thinkers as varied as Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, François Rabelais, Alfred Jarry, and Walt Whitman. Marinetti also expressed both respect and distaste for the celebrated Italian, Gabriele D'Annunzio, whose melding of literature, politics, and public relations served as a model.

In 1905 in Milan, Marinetti started Poesia, an international review featuring modern radical writers. His 1909 "Founding and Manifesto of Futurism" brought him great notoriety. Part narrative, part list of prescriptions, it called for an art that embraced modernity, especially the sensations of speed, dynamism, and simultaneity produced by new technology, industry, and urbanism; expressed fascination with violence, revolution, and war; and rejected Italy's preoccupation with its glorious past. Because Italian unification had failed to effect genuine national rejuvenation, Marinetti aggressively called for a movement that would be a true risorgimento, or resurgence. Intending to put Italy back on the world's cultural map, Marinetti first published this manifesto in Paris, the center of the avant-garde. Its use, borrowed from politics, situated futurism within a lineage of movements stretching back to the mid-nineteenth century, in which art was integral to a broader social program. Dubbed "the caffeine of Europe" because he was so dynamic, Marinetti became part of a modernist line of artist-impresarios who intertwined aesthetics and public relations.

Futurism was ambitious and totalizing, as Marinetti and its practitioners theorized and worked in many areas, including painting, sculpture, assemblage, photography, poetry, architecture, design, music, theater, performance, politics, cinema, radio, television, and even lust and cuisine. Perhaps his greatest contribution was "words-in-freedom," announced in his 1912 "Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature." Inspired by airplane flight, this new literary form liberated words from conventional contexts, arranging them expressively and imagistically on the page, substituted mathematical symbols for punctuation, exploited onomatopoeia to indicate noise, and tried to evoke smell, weight, and temperature. Marinetti even used this approach for battlefield reporting, an apt expression of war, which he called "the world's sole hygiene."

At futurist serate (evenings), which might include art, music, and performance, Marinetti declaimed politically charged manifestos that led to riots and arrests. The futurists vociferously advocated Italy's intervention into World War I, in which Marinetti and other futurists eventually served. In 1918 he launched the Futurist Political Party. A year later futurism became part of the Fascist combat groups, signaling the beginning of an oscillating futurist-Fascist relationship. Uncomfortable with fascism's obsession with order, authority, and tradition, Marinetti left the group in 1920, protesting Benito Mussolini's renouncing of anti-clerical, antimonarchical, and pro-anarchist positions. Mussolini, in turn, distrusted futurism's formal correspondences with left-wing, vanguard developments elsewhere and felt that its modernist style of fragmentation, simultaneity, and distortion was counter to Fascist values and too confusing as propaganda. Nonetheless, two years after Mussolini seized the reins of the Italian government in 1922, futurism and fascism forged an alliance, marked by Marinetti's 1924 pamphlet of compromise, titled Futurism and Fascism. The coupling provided the futurists with outlets for their work while making Mussolini appear to be the unifier of heterogeneous elements in Italian society.

This uneasy union was strongest in 1929, when Marinetti accepted appointment to the conservative Italian Royal Academy and founded the futurist sub-movement aeropittura futurista (futurist aerial painting), terming it "the daughter of Fascist aviation and Italian Futurism." The bond was most strained in 1938 when Marinetti objected to the enactment of racial laws in Italy as Mussolini's ties to Nazi Germany grew deeper. Still, Marinetti's audacious jingoism remained unflinching, and he volunteered to fight in Ethiopia in 1935 and, at age sixty-six, on the Russian front in 1942. Marinetti died in 1944. His fervent engagement with avant-garde and progressive aesthetics, bellicose support of nationalism, and fluctuating ideological and official connections to fascism personify the complex and conflicting interactions of vanguard style and reactionary thought in the modern world.

See alsoD'Annunzio, Gabriele; Fascism; Futurism; Mussolini, Benito.


Primary Sources

Marinetti, F. T. Teoria e invenzione futurista. Edited by Luciano De Maria. Verona, Italy, 1968.

——. Let's Murder the Moonshine: Selected Writings. Edited by R. W. Flint; translated by R. W. Flint and Arthur A. Coppotelli; preface by Marjorie Perloff. Los Angeles, 1991.

Secondary Sources

Blum, Cinzia Sartini. The Other Modernism: F. T. Marinetti's Futurist Fiction of Power. Berkeley, Calif., 1996.

Cammarota, Domenico. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti: Bibliografia. Milan, 2002.

Lista, Giovanni. Marinetti. Paris, 1976.

Salaris, Claudia. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Florence, 1988.

Gerald Silk

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Marinetti, F. T. (1876–1944)

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