February 20: On this day in 1909 the Italian poet F. T. Marinetti published “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism,” launching the movement which, in radical or watered-down forms, spread across Europe, influencing modern art, literature, communications theory, and other cultural forms. The Futurist movement celebrated the techno-discord it saw on the horizon — the rush of cars, the collapse of community, the shock of the new and now. The eleven specific points in the Manifesto glorified the driver at the wheel, the smashing of the museums, the literature written with “the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap,” the great crowds of New Man “excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot,” the new aesthetic in any form: “We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.” It even celebrated the overthrow of its own beliefs: “The oldest of us is thirty: so we have at least a decade for finishing our work. When we are forty, other younger and stronger men will probably throw us in the wastebasket like useless manuscripts — we want it to happen!”
The Italian Futurists had an attraction to Mussolini and Fascism, but they also had a sense of humor. Among their many promotions and manifestos — on art, language, music, cinema, noise, “lust” — was The Futurist Cookbook, published in 1932. This was based on the earlier “Manifesto of Futurist Cuisine,” in which Marinetti urged his countrymen to give up pasta, not just because they would need to be thin in order to ride the ultralight aluminum trains, but because macaroni was a “symbol of oppressive dullness, plodding deliberation, and fat-bellied conceit.” Marinetti’s fellow Italians thought him a showman, a visionary, and perhaps right about much, but they scoffed at his nouvelle cuisine: one thing to advocate a pared-down language free of “the high wall of syntax and the weirs of grammar,” quite another to call for a pasta-less future. The American National Macaroni Manufacturers Association was apparently alarmed enough by the idea to send Mussolini a telegram of protest.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.