Thursday, December 19, 2013

Regarding an Unnamable Non-Manifesto

On the 5th of February, 1909, in a local newspaper in the Italian city of Bologna, the Italian poet Filippo Tommasso Marinetti published a Manifesto that would herald everything that was about to come in the century ahead, both good and bad. It was, of course, the and it started (or just made visible) a storm that is brewing until this day.Ugo Gianattasio (1888-1958), untitled, 1920

Even if Marinetti's manifesto is, for all intents and purposes, an Art manifesto or, perhaps pluralized, an Arts manifesto -- it discusses the best way to produce beauty, after all -- it has always had more value as a timeless meditation on how to approach the Great Unknown of the future.

Let us leave good sense behind like a hideous husk and let us hurl ourselves, like fruit spiced with pride, into the immense mouth and breast of the world! Let us feed the unknown, not from despair, but simply to enrich the unfathomable reservoirs of the Absurd!

For Marinetti, the future is the unfathomable reservoir of the absurd, it is a monster, with immense mouth and breast. Years later, Kevin Barnes of the band Of Montreal, would invert Marinetti's words, calling the past But Marinetti and his companions, when they saw the past, saw only something dormant, a sleeping giant turned to stone, a statue memorializing something nobody can even remember. They saw the age of the Novel with capital N, of men with beards encompassing all life in the flimsy pages of their works. They saw Tolstoy and Balzac and Dickens. "Literature has up to now magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy and slumber." It's easy to see where they were coming from.

And yet it spawns from such a different world than we witness today! It is, like most manifestos (and especially in those days) an attempt to shake things up, to blow life into everything that comes within earshot. It is, in Marinetti's own words, an ode to the beauty of speed. "Beauty exists only in struggle," he states. It calls to mind AndrBreton, nearly two decades later, in Nadja, proclaiming that "beauty will be convulsive, or it will not be at all." Reading this, you'd like to travel back in time, and warn them. Be careful what you wish for: speed will come to you, convulsions will come to you, and then they will immediately pass you by and disappear in the distance. We are now, perhaps, at the other end of the spectrum, where we could do with some dormancy, where we could do with memorials that have no meaning to them. Everything is buried under the dust of words, while the vacuum cleaner of Time, which used to clean up the Ozymandiases of this world, has been constrained. Nothing disappears anymore. Everything is cumulative. Time and Space died long ago and we are "living in the absolute", "moving at eternal, omnipresent speed."

Therefore, it is not so odd that John Freeman calls for the beauty of slow, in a . He condemns "the tyranny of e-mail", where we are all slaves to the non-stop onslaught of communication. However, it does not do to wait for the past to come (back). Perhaps we should take the thesaurus's hint, when it does not even have a good antonym for Futurist. There is simply no such thing as a Manifesto for the Past. But let's at least agree that speed does not look as beautiful when you are inhaling the exhaust fumes of that "roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire". Looking at it from behind, I think I would prefer the Victory of Samothrace after all.
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