The Italian Futurists and the Modernity of the 20th Century

The Italian Futurists and the Modernity of the 20th Century

The Future, an audio podcast by The Conversation. Gemma Ware is a society editor for The Conversation and producer of The Anthill. She interviewed Selena Daly, an expert in Italian Futurists.

When the Italian journalist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti went off to the frontlines of World War I, he was thrilled to be pedaling there on a bicycle. Back in 1915, bikes were an avant-garde mode of transport – and Marinetti was an avant-garde kind of guy. He’d made waves across Europe a few years earlier when he launched the Futurist Manifesto.

Selena Daly: Marinetti was an advertising genius and master of self-promotion. He got the first manifesto to be published in the Paris daily Le Figaro on February 1909, the day before the birth of Selena Daly. It was an extremely bold move to launch a cultural and artistic movement in 1909, and it received a great deal of attention around the globe.

Selena Daly, a lecturer of Italian Studies at University College Dublin, is an expert on the Italian Futurists. Marinetti’s futuristic vision was based on a high regard for modernity and technology.

SD: In this manifesto, he praised the speeding automobiles, steamships, and locomotives. These technologies, which may now seem quaint to us, were at the forefront of technology at the time. Marinetti, in his manifesto, praised the speeding car as more beautiful than the Winged Victory of Samothrace sculpture in the Louvre.

The Futurists were a movement that began in literature and poetry and then spread to fine art, music, and textiles. The Futurists influenced, for example, the Italian composer Virgilio Mortari’s 1921 piece Foxtrot Futurist. Marinetti’s vision is as provocative and destructive as it is creative and forward-thinking.

SD: He thought that Italy was a nation that was weighed down with the baggage from the Renaissance, ancient Rome, and its classical past. He wanted Italy to stop always looking backwards and to instead focus on what the future had to offer in terms of art and literature. In his first manifesto, he says that he wants Italy to be revitalized. He found it to be very stagnant. Therefore, he suggested that people should burn down libraries and flood museums to break the links to the past.

A photo from 1912 of the futurists. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, centre, and Umberto Buccioni, second right. Wikimedia Commons

Marinetti and his followers agitated quickly for Italy to enter the war as World War I was approaching. They believed that the war would bring about their Futuristic vision.

SD: In his very first manifesto, Marinetti coined one of the most well-known slogans. He praised war as “the sole hygiene of the World.” It was Marinetti’s idea that a purging conflict would be necessary to rid Europe and Italy of their obsession with the past and allow them to move on to a better future.

Nine months passed before Italy’s leaders agreed to enter the war. During this time, the Futurists fought fervently for intervention. Marinetti, along with his Futurist group, signed up immediately when Italy entered the war in May 1915 on the Allies’ side.

SD: The bombardments were very exciting for them. This was an inspiration for them and their art. They were able to put into practice in many ways what they had imagined and preached in the years leading up to World War I.

The Futurist party was formed in 1918 after the end of World War I. They created a political party and forged a close relationship with Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Movement. The Futurist Party wanted to make Italy great once again. They wanted to create a nation that no longer “served its past,”” where “the religion of tomorrow” was the only religion. The manifesto included revolutionary nationalism and ideas like abolishing the Senate and gradually dissolving marriage.

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