Saturday, August 18, 2007
Suppose Futurism performs two contradictory operations, that we could call humanisation and dehumanisation, and suppose the combined effect of these operations was a kind of empty religious art.
Walter Benjamin's reduction of Marinetti's manifesto on the Ethiopian war demonstrates Futurism's effect quite purely:
"For twenty- seven years we Futurists have rebelled against the branding of war as antiaesthetic.... Accordingly we state: ... War is beautiful because it establishes man's dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages, and many others.... Poets and artists of Futurism! ... remember these principles of an aesthetics of war so that your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art . . . may be illumined by them!"
Marinetti's surrealist in this way: that he effectively takes for his unconscious things that really belong to the wider social world. This happens first of all with his Jarry pastiche Roi Bombance, written as if Jarry had the legal status of an imaginary friend. We can applaud this disregard for the copyright laws. It's here again in this piece on the Ethiopian war, Marinetti effectively usurps the position of creator, as sanctioned in bourgeois art, but here with respect to a vast apparatus of death.
What Badiou calls formalism:
"On one side is the absolute desire for new forms, always new forms, something like an infinite desire. Modernity is the infinite desire of new forms."
...a recognisable tendency, is I think really a tendency to dehumanisation in art. There's no intrinsic inventory of forms with an implied succession, rather "newness" is here more an effect of form: "new architecture, like that of the big tanks" etc. This would relate formalism to the baroque, which Benjamin tells us "knows no eschatology". The market evidently dictates that art ought to be inhuman.
In the first case the artist stands in front of this alienation effect, in the second he tries to disappear behind it. In the situation where both operations are effected simultaneously the result is something like the genderless reproduction of the inhuman. This is how I'd want to introduce the subject of modern architecture.