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By F. T. Marinetti, Günter Berghaus, Doug Thompson
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2006 Luce Marinetti, Vittoria Marinetti Piazzoni, and Ala Marinetti Clerici
All rights reserved.
I had a strange, colorful, uproarious sort of life. I started off with rose and black, a blossoming, healthy little tot in the arms and between the carbon-coke breasts, of my Sudanese nurse. Which maybe explains my somewhat blackish concept of love and my open antipathy toward milk-and-honey politics and diplomacy.
My father's Piedmontese tenacity was passed on to me in the blood. It is to him that I owe the great strength of his willful, domineering, sanguine temperament, but fortunately, I have not inherited his dense tangle of spiritual arguments, nor his fantastic memory which made him, in his time, the greatest civil law lawyer in Alexandria.
On certain evenings, down there in the witchery of Africa,
They would take us onto your dark, deserted beaches,
A doleful flock of boarders
Who crept along, placid and slow, watched over
By our priests, strict and black ... Little blots
Of ink we were against the immaterial
Silks of a divine, oriental sky.
My mother, who was entirely composed of the most delicate, musical poetry of affectionate tears and tenderness, was Milanese. Though born in Alexandria, I feel myself bound to Milan's forest of chimneys and its ancient Cathedral.
O Cathedral of Milan! I have terrified you
Brushing with my seagull's wings
Against the monstrous, steep slopes
Of your age-old cliffs ...
You say, I am a Milanese in too great a hurry.
When I was six, I was often severely scolded when I was caught redhanded, spraying passersby from our balcony.
They weren't exactly passing by; rather were these solemn Arab merchants standing around, extending their lengthy, ceremonious greetings, with their backs arching their salaams, beneath their many-colored turbans, avidly bargaining for Parisian bed linen and chests of fruit with Jewish brokers and camel drivers.
On one side, my father's house in Alexandria looked out onto a busy street, and on the other onto a huge walled garden that was filled with palm trees, fans gently waving against the foamy blue laughter of the African sea.
I lived out my days on a tiny wooden balcony in a dreamy sort of closeness with some fat turtledoves which, perched up among the date palms, just a couple of meters from me, cooed away melodiously, perhaps preparing my ears for their future sensitivity to sounds.
When the noise of the merchants talking disturbed my friends, the doves, I would turn on the tap of my childish liquid scorn, down among them.
For a long time, at the French Jesuit College of St. Francis Xavier, all I ever learned was how to play soccer, and to fight with any of my classmates who said anything against Italy. Many times my terrified mother would find me covered in blood as a result of these furious games.
I was just fourteen when Father Bufferne, my Humanities teacher, solemnly announced one day in class that a description of mine, of the dawn, was far superior to any of those written by Chateaubriand, and predicted my glory as a very great poet.
I evinced a mad passion for Mary, a sweet fourteen-year-old girl who was a pupil at a nuns' school next to my college. From the Levant, with her large liquorice eyes, her camelia cheeks, her fleshy, sensual lips, slinky, tender, all woman already, sly and full of malice. To kiss her, I climbed onto the shoulders of my Arab servant every day, and after having cut myself on the sharp glass shards on a wall top, I would wait among the branches of a fig tree, until she could slip away without the nuns noticing. But sometimes, up in the fig tree, there would be chameleons with me, drinking in the heat of the afternoon. Trying to get a better look at one of them one day, I lost my balance and fell, dislocating my shoulder.
My love for Mary was all mixed up with a terrible crisis I was in over mysticism. From being fourteen to when I was sixteen, I was
... the adolescent
who submitted the stirrings of his feeble body
to the voluptuous embrace of the Evening,
to the scent of incense and sweetened hosts,
when the Month of Mary
came to visit us in the parlor,
like a perfumed lady,
more beautiful than the sisters of my friends!
But the religious constraints of my teachers, the Jesuits, rather than supporting my mystical urges, cut them down. I was expelled from the college for having brought in some of Zola's novels. I got myself into debt for the first time in my life in order to set up my first journal, Le Papyrus, which was brimful of Romantic poetry and anticlerical invectives against the Jesuits. However, I found myself in the impossible situation of not being able to continue my classical studies in Alexandria, much to the fury of my father, who felt compelled to pack me off to Paris.
Alone in Paris. At eighteen years of age. Evenings in the Latin Quarter, with all the ladies of easy virtue at my disposal. And all the usual student upsets. A disastrous examination in mathematics, but a triumphant one in philosophy, on the theories of Stuart Mill. I arrived in Milan a bachelier ès lettres, with a French culture, though incontrovertibly Italian—and that despite all the temptations of Paris.
While I was reading for my degree in law at the University of Genoa, one of my poems written in Free Verse, "Les Vieux Marins," which had been published in the Anthologie-Revue, was awarded a prize by Catulle Mendès and Gustave Kahn, the directors of Sarah Bernhardt's Samedis populaires, and was then gloriously recited by the great actress herself, in her own theater.
With the little money allowed me by my father, sworn enemy of all my literature, I dashed off to Paris. My entry into the literary circles there represented the acclaimed rise of a new, young, great poet: the doors of the publishing houses were open to me, editors and journals were entirely deferential.
My literary campaign throughout Italy then began to unfold, promoting both French Symbolism and Decadentism, with endless lectures in which I introduced Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Laforgue, Gustave Kahn, Claudel, Paul Fort, Verhaeren, and Jammes to Italy. The establishment and development of the international revue Poesia then followed, a teeming hothouse in which our best young poets germinated and burst into flower: Cavacchioli, Paolo Buzzi, Govoni, Palazzeschi, Gian Pietro Lucini, and Luciano Folgore. Thus it was that in 1905 Futurism was born.
I was the much-acclaimed author of La Conquête des étoiles (Conquest of the Stars), a poem far from the realistic; nevertheless I followed all the disturbances and ideological developments of the Italian socialist movement very closely, and these crystallized into my tragedy Le Roi Bombance (King Guzzle). This fat-bellied king of mine stormed onto the Parisian stage, already bearing the scandal of Futurism in his symbols and grotesque actions. For a whole month, Paris was violently shaken by the revolutionary truculence of this work and by the arguments raging back and forth about the Futurist Manifesto, which appeared in Le Figaro, as well as about my sword gash, dealt me in a duel with the novelist Charles-Henri Hirsch. The Parisian papers dubbed me "The Caffeine of Europe"!
The text translated here is taken from the chapter "Alessandria d'Egitto," in Marinetti e il futurismo (1929). It is based on "Autoritratto" in Scatole d'amore in conserva (1927), which itself is taken from the autobiographical sketch "Il delizio pericolo," in Come si seducono le donne (1920) and Racconte-Novelle: Periodico quindicinnale (December 15, 1920). It was reprinted with some evocative illustrations by Prampolini in Novella: Rivista mensile di novelle italiane e straniere e di varietà in January 1925 and excerpted in L'impero, February 3–4, 1925, under the title "Caffeina dell'Europa." Two more evocations of Marinetti's early life can be found in the poetic autobiographies La grande Milano tradizionale e futurista and Una sensibilità italiana nata in Egitto, both written between 1943 and 1944.CHAPTER 2
The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism
My friends and I had stayed up all night, sitting beneath the lamps of a mosque, whose star-studded, filigreed brass domes resembled our souls, all aglow with the concentrated brilliance of an electric heart. For many hours, we'd been trailing our age-old indolence back and forth over richly adorned, oriental carpets, debating at the uttermost boundaries of logic and filling up masses of paper with our frenetic writings.
Immense pride filled our hearts, for we felt that at that hour we alone were vigilant and unbending, like magnificent beacons or guards in forward positions, facing an army of hostile stars, which watched us closely from their celestial encampments. Alone we were, with the stokers working feverishly at the infernal fires of great liners; alone with the black specters that rake through the red-hot bellies of locomotives, hurtling along at breakneck speed; alone with the floundering drunks, with the uncertain beating of our wings, along the city walls.
Suddenly we were startled by the terrifying clatter of huge, doubledecker trams jolting by, all ablaze with different-colored lights, as if they were villages in festive celebration, which the River Po, in full spate, suddenly shakes and uproots to sweep them away down to the sea, over the falls and through the whirlpools of a mighty flood.
Then the silence became more somber. Yet even while we were listening to the tedious, mumbled prayers of an ancient canal and the creaking bones of dilapidated palaces on their tiresome stretches of soggy lawn, we caught the sudden roar of ravening motorcars, right there beneath our windows.
"Come on! Let's go!" I said. "Come on, my lads, let's get out of here! At long last, all the myths and mystical ideals are behind us. We're about to witness the birth of a Centaur and soon we shall witness the flight of the very first Angels! ... We shall have to shake the gates of life itself to test their locks and hinges! ... Let's be off! See there, the Earth's very first dawn! Nothing can equal the splendor of the sun's red sword slicing through our millennial darkness, for the very first time!"
We approached the three panting beasts to stroke their burning breasts, full of loving admiration. I stretched myself out on my car like a corpse on its bier, but immediately I was revived as the steering wheel, like a guillotine blade, menaced my belly.
A furious gust of madness tore us out of ourselves and hurled us along roads as deep and plunging as the beds of torrents. Every now and then a feeble light, flickering behind some windowpane, made us mistrust the calculations of our all- too-fallible eyes. I cried out: "The scent, nothing but the scent! That's all an animal needs!"
And we, like young lions, chased after Death, whose black pelt was dotted with pale crosses, as he sped away across the vast, violet-tinted sky, vital and throbbing.
And yet we had no idealized Lover whose sublime being rose up into the skies; no cruel Queen to whom we might offer up our corpses, contorted like Byzantine rings! Nothing at all worth dying for, other than the desire to divest ourselves finally of the courage that weighed us down!
But we sped on, squashing beneath our scorching tires the snarling guard dogs at the doorsteps of their houses, like crumpled collars under a hot iron. Death, tamed by this time, went past me at each bend, only to offer me his willing paw; and sometimes he would lie down, his teeth grinding, eyeing me with his soft, gentle look from every puddle in the road.
"Let's leave wisdom behind as if it were some hideous shell, and cast ourselves, like fruit, flushed with pride, into the immense, twisting jaws of the wind! ... Let's become food for the Unknown, not out of desperation, but simply to fill up the deep wells of the Absurd to the very brim!"
I had hardly got these words out of my mouth when I swung the car right around sharply, with all the crazy irrationality of a dog trying to bite its own tail. Then suddenly a pair of cyclists came toward me, gesticulating that I was on the wrong side, dithering about in front of me like two different lines of thought, both persuasive but for all that, quite contradictory. Their stupid uncertainty was in my way ... Howridiculous! What a nuisance! ... I braked hard and to my disgust the wheels left the ground and I flew into a ditch ...
O mother of a ditch, brimful with muddy water! Fine repair shop of a ditch! How I relished your strength-giving sludge that reminded me so much of the saintly black breast of my Sudanese nurse ... When I got myself up—soaked, filthy, foul-smelling rag that I was—from beneath my overturned car, I had a wonderful sense of my heart being pierced by the red-hot sword of joy!
A crowd of fishermen, with their lines, and some gouty old naturalists were already milling around this wondrous spectacle. Patiently, meticulously, they set up tall trestles and laid out huge iron-mesh nets to fish out my car, as if it were a great shark that had been washed up and stranded. Slowly the car's frame emerged, leaving its heavy, sober bodywork at the bottom of the ditch as well as its soft, comfortable upholstery, as though they were merely scales.
They thought it was dead, that gorgeous shark of mine, but a caress was all it needed to revive it, and there it was, back from the dead, darting along with its powerful fins!
So, with my face covered in repair-shop grime—a fine mixture of metallic flakes, profuse sweat, and pale-blue soot—with my arms all bruised and bandaged, yet quite undaunted, I dictated our foremost desires to all men on Earth who are truly alive:
THE FUTURIST MANIFESTO
1. We want to sing about the love of danger, about the use of energy and recklessness as common, daily practice.
2. Courage, boldness, and rebellion will be essential elements in our poetry.
3. Up to now, literature has extolled a contemplative stillness, rapture, and reverie. We intend to glorify aggressive action, a restive wakefulness, life at the double, the slap and the punching fist.
4. We believe that this wonderful world has been further enriched by a new beauty, the beauty of speed. A racing car, its bonnet decked out with exhaust pipes like serpents with galvanic breath ... a roaring motorcar, which seems to race on like machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Winged Victory of Samothrace.
5. We wish to sing the praises of the man behind the steering wheel, whose sleek shaft traverses the Earth, which itself is hurtling at breakneck speed along the racetrack of its orbit.
6. The poet will have to do all in his power, passionately, flamboyantly, and with generosity of spirit, to increase the delirious fervor of the primordial elements.
7. There is no longer any beauty except the struggle. Any work of art that lacks a sense of aggression can never be a masterpiece. Poetry must be thought of as a violent assault upon the forces of the unknown with the intention of making them prostrate themselves at the feet of mankind.
8. We stand upon the furthest promontory of the ages! ... Why should we be looking back over our shoulders, if what we desire is to smash down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the realms of the Absolute, for we have already created infinite, omnipresent speed.
9. We wish to glorify war—the sole cleanser of the world—militarism, patriotism, the destructive act of the libertarian, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for women.
10. We wish to destroy museums, libraries, academies of any sort, and fight against moralism, feminism, and every kind of materialistic, self-serving cowardice.
11. We shall sing of the great multitudes who are roused up by work, by pleasure, or by rebellion; of the many-hued, many-voiced tides of revolution in our modern capitals; of the pulsating, nightly ardor of arsenals and shipyards, ablaze with their violent electric moons; of railway stations, voraciously devouring smoke-belching serpents; of workshops hanging from the clouds by their twisted threads of smoke; of bridges which, like giant gymnasts, bestride the rivers, flashing in the sunlight like gleaming knives; of intrepid steamships that sniff out the horizon; of broad-breasted locomotives, champing on their wheels like enormous steel horses, bridled with pipes; and of the lissome flight of the airplane, whose propeller flutters like a flag in the wind, seeming to applaud, like a crowd excited.
Excerpted from Critical Writings by F. T. Marinetti, Günter Berghaus, Doug Thompson. Copyright © 2006 Luce Marinetti, Vittoria Marinetti Piazzoni, and Ala Marinetti Clerici. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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