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!"

Its processes:

1. Humanisation

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.

2. Dehumanisation

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.


Le Colonel Chabert said...


Among all the historical avant-garde movements, autonomy of formal construction no longer necessarily meant controlling daily existence through form. They were now disposed to accept the idea that it is experience that dominates the subject. The problem was to 'plan the disappearance of the subject', to cancel the anguish caused by the pathetic (or ridiculous) resistance of the individual to the structures of domination that close in upon him, to indicate the voluntary and docile submission to those structures of domination as the promised land of universal planning, paradise on earth is realized through the 'disappearance of the tragic.*'

*Extremely interesting are the reactions to the awareness of the dissolution of tragedy in the 1920s and 1930s on the part of the advanced theorists of the capitalist bourgeoisie and on the part of "left wing communism". For the latter, the intellectual opposition to the capitalist destruction of the bourgeois Geist, of the utopia of form, of "problematic" humanism, was identified with the tendency to recover such castoff ideological instruments by delivering them into the hands of the proletariat. Marxist humanism is thus seen as a project for the extension to the working class of the "Form-Utopia of the bourgeoisie which is tragedy".; the bourgeois hero is transformed into the collective hero. Such a process is very clear in the thought of the young Lukacs...but also in certain passages of Korsch and Löwith and, as pure ideology, in Bertolt Brecht.

catmint said...

thanks. I didn't know about Tafuri. It sounds very interesting. I can half see what he's getting at, I think, with the planned disappearance of the subject, but the context, you know. I'll look out for his books.

I still think a good model for these internet things is Lefebvre's early apostate period, or early Barthes, or Bataille's critical dictionary, (maybe without its dressing up side), which would allow talking about architecture this way, at this level of abstraction. - a digression.

"as pure ideology, in Bertolt Brecht"

context of course is everything, but this reminds me Empson says Byron belongs to the pastoral tradition, not through similarities in form but because he'd internalised its lessons - talking about the best subject in the best way - through his life aligning these things.

ktismatics said...

"Marinetti's surrealist in this way: that he effectively takes for his unconscious things that really belong to the wider social world."

The unconscious is always external, at least in part. The world immerses us in unprocessed material that influences us beneath the threshold of conscious awareness. It's how we learned to speak English rather than Parsee without even realizing what was happening to us.

By surrounding themselves by the massive high-speed engines of power, the Futurists would become turbocharged themselves -- was that the idea? We consciously try to expose ourselves to unconscious influences we regard as beneficial, like living deep in the woods in order to become more serene, or moving to a world-class city so as to be infused by its metropolitan sophistication. Isn't this a sort of self-dehumanization, by which we engineer our own subliminal retooling? The difference is that the external unconscious we choose is more sublime than the Futurists or the Modernists, who perhaps hope that some of their aesthetic abstraction will rub off on them.

catmint said...


the situation with Marinetti:

I feel like I've read several book reviews for postmodern type novels where one character discovers and appropriates the writings of another character who's usually absent - dead or committed to a madhouse or whatever. The problem would be: if I found a manuscript in a chest somewhere and published it as my own work, would I be doing anything different from borrowing from my "unconscious" - dreams say. There seem to be reasonable grounds for arguing that the coincidence of my unconscious with my literary persona (so that its my property) is quite arbitrary.

I'm fairly sure that Marinetti treated Jarry this way in 1905, to some extent. It's plagiarism, in a way, but there's somethig different too; because plagiarism implies a more or less humble attitude with what you're plagiarising, whereas Marinetti seems also to have appropriated Jarry's amour-propre.

When I first read the Walter Benjamin piece I was really struck by the brilliance of Marinetti's style, because of its antithetical morality and other things. So Marinetti at least later knew how to write well. (Needless to say the content here is objectionable.)