Futurism: Where Man Becomes Machine, Research Time, 02/10/2013

One of the central historical pillars for the utopias project is fascism, in particular Italian fascism. I’ve been reading a lot lately about various examples of philosophy and art being co-opted or embracing fascism, totalitarianism, anti-semitism, and other forms of political violence. Art and philosophy can express a political ideal in its most pure form, where the actual political regimes driven by this ideal may not embody it perfectly because of the compromises and pragmatism necessary for any kind of political success. 

That’s why my focus in historical research is the Italian Futurist art movement and Filippo Marinetti. Futurism was the focus of my research Tuesday evening. The utopias project will, among other things, show how Futurism set the ideal toward which fascism was supposed to strive. It did not succeed, because it was thankfully destroyed in a hideously destructive war. But it did strive toward this goal.

Thankfully, the only man-machine to emerge since the fall
of European Fascism was this underrated Kraftwerk album.
That goal was the total mechanization of humanity. This was Marinetti’s vision of a radical break from the past. Technology itself would become a new immanent religion for the West, replacing a Christianity whose transcendent focus had become literally obsolete. Futurism is best understood as a technological product, which is, after all, how they conceived of human society in the first place. Fascism, in this case, was conceived as the new religion for Western humanity, the new model of human person. Man will become Machine, industrial technology forcing man to move faster than ever thought possible, perfecting itself through the fires of violence and war. This mechanized society is the society of totalitarianism, the transformation of all individual people into elements of a massive machine whose framework is the state and whose mind is the leader. Il Duce. Futurism embodies perfectly the violence humanity does when we forget the value of the present or our history to embrace an idealized dream vision of the future.

Yet when Italian Futurism began to express its political vision through the fascist movement, Marinetti found himself and his fellows yoked as well to a vision of the past. This was Mussolini’s nostalgia for the Roman Empire, Il Duce’s movement to resurrect in his own regime the idealized glory of ancient Rome, a vision equally imaginary as Marinetti’s Futurism of the man-machine. 

Ezra Pound, the poet, was the most notable artist other than Marinetti to wholeheartedly embrace Italy’s particular vision of fascism. I’ll have more to say on Pound tomorrow, but what matters for the current analysis is that he seems to have progressed the artistic vision of fascism beyond Marinetti’s Futurism, which was sometimes hastily written off as worship of the car.* Pound’s Canto 72 and some of his letters at the time of its composition show that he understood fascism as a union of idealized past and idealized future. The past resurrected becomes reiterated in a fascist future that does not repeat its details, but instead repeats its process, the vitalization and thorough unification of a people. Every prophecy is simultaneously an elegy.

*The definition of irony: A man who imagines a machine-man of the future who purges his organic weakness by the spectacle of the speeding car does not live to see the genuine ubiquity of the automobile and its result, daily traffic jams where cars are outrun by cyclists and joggers.

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