ce399 | research archive (esoterica)

Futurism and Fascism: Gendered Political Strategies

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 19/11/2010

Marinetti’s version of futurism would seem, on the face of it, to be utterly incompatible with women. Given his “scorn for woman” (Marinetti 42) and the belief that “Woman, as she has been shaped by our contemporary society, can only increase in splendor the principle of corruption inseparable from the principle of the vote” (Marinetti 74), it may seem quite impossible to separate futurism from a rabid and absolute misogyny.

In this paper I would like to attempt to dislodge, or at least complicate, the pairing of futurism and misogyny by an examination of Marinetti’s own writings on women and futurism, as well as the writings of Valentine de Valentine de Saint-Point, herself a futurist. Essentially, I will argue that both Marinetti and Valentine de Saint-Point approach the ‘question of woman’ with distinctive strategies that allow them to see futurism and women as complementary rather than antagonistic. These strategies involve sidestepping the dangerous opposition between the forces of gender by positing a more complete being, what Marinetti calls the ‘multiplied man’ and Valentine de Saint-Point sees created out of the ‘dynamism of lust’.

I will argue, in the final section of this paper, that the futurist strategy of androgyny attempts to fill the same gap that Mussolini and Italian fascism attempted to fill with the State. Thus, it seems that there were, as Victoria de Grazia notes, “a legacy of outlooks and institutions ready to be exploited, as would happen in the second half of the twenties, when the dictatorship tapped widespread antiemancipationist sentiment to legitimate its antifemale politics” (de Grazia 26).

Rather than seeing futurist discourse (or fascism) as straightforwardly misogynist, I would like to complicate that picture by questioning how women futurists, like Valentine de Saint-Point, evade this simple misogyny in favor of an elevation of a masculinized androgyny that is connected (theoretically and historically) to the rhetoric of completeness found within Italian fascist literature.

In the end, I will conclude that the androgynous ‘complete being’ (or complete State) allows the legitimation of ‘women’ (through an attempt to rhetorically eradicate gender) while at the same time maintaining an antiemancipatory stance that in actual fact reinforces traditional, patriarchal structures.

First, however, I would like to briefly illustrate what might be seen as an a priori stance against women in Marinetti’s work. He states that:

You will certainly have watched the takeoff of a Blériot plane, panting and still held back by its mechanics, amid mighty buffets of air from the propeller’s first spins. Well then: I confess that before so intoxicating a spectacle we strong Futurists have felt ourselves suddenly detached from women, who have suddenly become too earthly, or, to express it better, have become a symbol of the earth that we ought to abandon (Marinetti 75).

Here women clash directly with the stated aims of futurism. While Marinetti wants to “sing the love of danger” (Marinetti 41), he sees traditional women (i.e. those bound up in domesticity) as necessarily tied to the static ‘earth’. So it seems that the “aggressive action” (Marinetti 41) and “feverish insomnia” (Marinetti 41) that futurism is founded upon exclude at least traditional women from the very beginning.

However, Marinetti’s scorn is not limited simply to traditional women (who are more intimately involved in the family and the home), he is also extremely critical of ‘modern’ woman. He sees the role of the modern woman as an ‘important’ one, though for reasons that drastically differ from feminist/suffrage movements of the time. He states that:

We who despise the careerists of politics are happy to abandon parliamentarianism to the envious claws of women; inasmuch as to women, exactly, is reserved the noble task of killing it for good and forever (Marinetti 74).

Thus, Marinetti is all for female suffrage but only insofar as he thinks women will undoubtedly destroy the hated parliamentary system (and the family♥1) that futurism so radically opposes. So, the role of such women may be useful for futurist purposes, but they can never be anything other than vaccines against the dual diseases of parliament and family. He also sees the modern suffragette’s dream of getting the vote as stemming directly from the traditionally domestic setting:

It is plain that if modern woman dreams of winning her political rights, it is because without knowing it she is intimately sure of being, as a mother, as a wife, and as a lover, a closed circle, purely animal and wholly without usefulness (Marinetti 75).

Thus, while modern women may, in some sense, be a cure for the ills of home and government, they are too overly dependant upon traditional institutions to become truly futurist. There is, seemingly, no room for a futurist woman, modern or traditional.

This entire picture becomes complicated when we examine his “Multiplied Man and the Reign of the Machine” in which a more positive aesthetic/political project is laid out. In this short essay, Marinetti argues that we should move toward the “abolition in literature of the seemingly unchallengeable fusion of the two ideas Woman and Beauty” (Marinetti 90), which he sees as “a dominant leitmotiv, tiresome and outworn” (Marinetti 90). In its place he wants to “exalt love for the machine, that love we notice flaming on the cheeks of mechanics scorched and smeared with coal” (Marinetti 90). Thus, the futurist aesthetic entails the replacement of one relationship (beauty-woman) for another (beauty-machine). But, in the same essay, Marinetti describes this ‘mechanic’s love’ as “the minute, knowing tenderness of a lover caressing his adored woman” (Marinetti 90). Further he notes that,

One can say of the great French railway strike that the organizers were unable to persuade a single mechanic to sabotage his locomotive. To me this seems entirely natural. How could one of those men have been able to wound or kill his great faithful devoted mistress with her quick and ardent heart? his beautiful steel machine that had so often glowed with pleasure beneath his ardent caress? (Marinetti 90).

These are not merely careless slips of the tongue; Marinetti himself notes that, “This is no fantasy, but almost a reality that in a few years we will easily be able to control” (Marinetti 90). Marinetti argues both that we have to move beyond the pairing of woman and beauty and that we should see the machine-beauty relationship as a heightened, more futurist, version of this relationship. Thus, the rejection of women as such is not exactly clear; Marinetti oscillates between appeals to this relationship and a desire to reject it. What interests me here is that Marinetti himself is conscious of this apparent contradiction, yet he does not see it as contradictory at all: he argues that it is ‘almost a reality’. This seems to me to be an indication that the new (futurist) reality will be one in which traditional gendered relations will become androgynous. The relationship toward beauty will not be simply an amorous, ‘romantic’ relation. In this purely male-female relationship all we can hope for is “a kind of heroic assault leveled by a bellicose and lyric male against a tower that bristles with enemies who cluster around the divine Beauty-Woman” (Marinetti 90). Marinetti sees in this deification of the woman-beauty pairing a denial of the ‘real’ aggressive, will-laden world. So, instead of participating in such predetermined categories (Male, Female) Marinetti proposes a blurring of all such categories. He wants to see the machine as a mistress, but he also wants to be “able to create a mechanical son, the fruit of pure will, a synthesis of all the laws that science is on the brink of discovering” (Marinetti 75). Theoretically at least, Marinetti’s apparent misogyny is a stance against “Woman, as she has been shaped by our contemporary society” (Marinetti 74). That is, he is not against all connection with women as such, but against the traditional relationships in which this connection has been made static (wife, mother, etc.). His misogyny is, on this reading, of a very particular, historically contingent type.

It is in this slippage between rejection and acceptance of a traditionally gendered relation (woman-beauty) that I think Marinetti’s desire for androgyny can be detected. ♥2 It is also the crack in the a priori misogynist façade that allows Valentine de Saint-Point to see herself as a futurist. Valentine de Saint-Point states that, “Humanity is mediocre. The majority of women are neither superior nor inferior to the majority of men. They are equal. Both deserve the same contempt.” This I think sums up quite nicely what Marinetti’s confusion of gendered relations only hints at. Rather than rejecting one or the other of either the purely female individual or the purely male individual, Valentine de Saint-Point wants to reject both as incomplete beings. She notes in typically acerbic futurist style, “An exclusively male individual is nothing but a brute; an exclusive female individual is nothing but weakness.” This desire for completion is described in more detail by Valentine de Saint-Point:

Women, like men, are not responsible for the fact that those who are truly young, filled with lymph and blood, are stuck fast. It is absurd to divide humanity into women and men: it is composed entirely of femininity and masculinity. Every superman, every hero, however epic he may be, every genius however powerful, is the amazing expression of his time only because he is composed simultaneously of feminine and masculine elements of femininity and masculinity – he is a complete being.

The futurist project, then, is not a desire to elevate ‘man’ to new and glorious aesthetic heights (to the detriment of ‘woman’); it is a drive towards a more complete being (what Marinetti calls the ‘multiplied man’. Described in this way, futurism can be seen as a reaction to the both traditional structures (like domesticity) and also to the reversal of those structures (for instance, the fear that feminism simply leads to a reversal of gender roles). Rather than subscribing to either of these seemingly incomplete modes of existence, futurism, like fascism later, attempts to occupy a more complete space in which no possibilities are ignored. By getting beyond superficial distinctions, like feminine/masculine, the true futurist is able to experience both sides of the dichotomy. The perfect example of this is, as mentioned above, Marinetti’s attitude towards the machine world: he sees technology as analogous to a (female) mistress, yet he also wants to bear a mechanical son (Mafarka). In this way he is able to occupy two spaces that would have been incommensurable if he accepted either modern (emancipatory) politics or the simplicity of tradition. Essentially, futurism desires the avoidance of rigid and strict limitations, regardless of their content. ♥3

Now I would like to move on to a comparative discussion of the above-mentioned androgyny in futurism and the idea of the State in Italian fascism. Just as Marinetti (and later Valentine de Saint-Point ) attempted to figure feminism and emancipationist political movements as emphasizing an incomplete vision of society, early Italian fascism would decry those movements for precisely the same reason. As we have seen, Marinetti was (on the face of it) virulently misogynistic, yet futurism was an attractive forum precisely because of the notion of the ‘complete’ being (the multiplied man). In almost exactly the same way, Italian fascism capitalized on the widespread feeling that something was lacking in modern life by attacking notions of emancipation as incomplete. Rather than the ‘multiplied man’ or the complete individual, fascism offered completion through service to the state. Though there are obvious and numerous differences between fascism and futurism, it does seem that both attempt to fill the perceived gap left by nineteenth century modern ‘decadence’. ♥4 Marinetti and Valentine de Saint-Point are eager to destroy the rigid, structural order of traditional Italy in order to question its relevance in an entirely new world that opened radical new possibilities for individuals. fascism’s move was to shift this new space from the individual to the State. Rather than exalting the completion of the individual through the rejection of withered half-experiences (male or female), fascism desired to eliminate these incomplete experiences through a loss of individuality in service to the complete, totalitarian state. Mussolini writes, for instance, that:

Against individualism, the Fascist conception is for the state: and it is for the individual insofar as he coincides with the State, which is the conscience and universal will of man in his historical existence… fascism reaffirms the State as the true reality of the individual. …for the Fascist, everything is in the State, and nothing human or spiritual exists, much less has value, outside the State. In this sense fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State, the synthesis and unity of all values, interprets, develops and gives strength to the whole life of the people (Mussolini 221-222).

Here the emphasis on completion is obvious. While in Democratic/parliamentary systems, we are tantalized by a liberty that is merely an “abstract puppet” (Mussolini 221), within fascism we are given the real thing: a liberty directly stemming from the absolute completeness of the state.

So, in the fascist state individual differences are erased and completion arises through service to the state. Thus, emancipatory feminism, which exists outside the state and is antagonistic towards the state, is seen as a limitation upon liberty: rather than freeing the individual from traditional limits (i.e. domesticity), feminism helps to impose new limits (i.e. the limitations of the work place, of the parliament).

In conclusion, I would like to speculate that by filling the felt need for completion (both in different, though related, ways) futurism and fascism created a space in which women were both included theoretically, and ignored politically. Thus, while both futurism and fascism attempted to avoid the pitfalls of traditional and modern liberal projects, they end up reinscribing themselves within the social/political practices they have theoretically rejected.

Marinetti attempts to participate in both sides of seemingly opposed forces; the futurist desires to at once love the machine as a man loves a woman, and also to birth a mechanical son. Thus, Marinetti occupies both the space of masculine lover and feminine mother. Similarly, Valentine de Saint-Point attempts to see futurism as bridging the gap between feminine/masculine by encouraging an equal measure of both in the complete individual.

However, Valentine de Saint-Point herself seems (to me) to deny the possibility of this radical subversion of gender roles by allocating traditionally gender specific roles to futurist women. Rather than entirely reconfiguring modes of existence, as Marinetti’s ‘multiplied man’ would attempt, Valentine de Saint-Point describes old projects in new terms:

Because of the fatal tithe of blood, while men are warring and fighting create sons and act the role of Destiny among them in the name of Heroism. Bring them up not for yourselves, which diminishes them; let them find a wide freedom, a complete development. Instead of reducing man to the servitude of detestable sentimental needs, encourage your sons and your men to excel themselves. It is you who make them. You have complete power over them. You owe heroes to humanity. Give them to us!

Here, I think, we see Valentine de Saint-Point’s reliance on traditional patriarchal structures (ones that she and Marinetti both attempt to subvert). Rather than radically realigning the whole existence of the futurist woman, Valentine de Saint-Point wants a reinterpretation of current ways of existing. That the project of women lies in their relation to men is never questioned, merely resituated. It is for this reason that I think futurism, as much as it wishes to see itself as a radical break, necessarily relies on, and reifies, traditional patriarchal relations. Though Marinetti may androgynously pine away for his mechanical son Mafarka, that pining is necessarily founded on a political system wherein women firmly occupy the role of futurist son-bearing mothers, rather than as futurists proper.

While futurism seems to forget, or efface, its claims about overturning traditional structures, fascism manages to evade the problem entirely through the figure of the State:

fascism, in short, is not only the giver of laws and the founder of institutions, but the educator and promoter of spiritual life. It wants to remake, not the forms of human life, but its content, man, character, faith. And to this end it requires discipline and authority that can enter into the spirits of men and there govern unopposed. Its sign, therefore, is the Lictor’s rods, the symbol of unity, of strength and justice (Mussolini 223).

Thus, the fascist state does not reject traditional forms as such. Rather, it imbues them with new content, in light of their new relation to the State. In the fascist State, the form of the family, or motherhood, may not change radically, but (theoretically) the content of those forms radically differs in that they are meaningful only insofar as they relate to the state. In this view, tradition is not rejected (as in Marinetti) but re-organized.

It is here that I see the strongest connections between fascism and Valentine de Saint-Point’s futurism. While Marinetti rejects tradition whole, Valentine de Saint-Point (like Mussolini) wants to refigure traditional roles like motherhood and imbue them with new and radically different meanings. By avoiding the question of the political situation of women (or re-affirming its traditional answer) through a rhetoricc of completeness, Valentine de Saint-Point allows for an anti-feminist position that seems to escape the negative aspects of traditional roles. However, this escape is merely illusory: the promise of a newfound legitimation of women’s roles is chimerical. When this stance is actually taken up (as in the fascist political regime) women’s role are not made meaningful, but rather pushed in new and different directions based upon the instrumental whims of a hyper-patriarchal State.
Notes:

1. This specificity does not, of course, excuse or evade Marinetti’s political condemnation of women. It limits his ‘scorn’ to all women before and contemporary with Marinetti’s writing: a suitably large group!
2. Marinetti, for his part, notes that “The immense Amore of the romantics is thus reduced solely to the conservation of the species, and friction of the epidermis is finally freed from all provocative mystery” (Marinetti 92). Here we note, again, that his treatment of traditionally gendered relations (here sex between male and female) allows him to de-gender, or androgynize them. Rather than rejecting sex, as such, he reduces it to “friction of the epidermis.”
3. Valentine de Saint-Point notes “…Feminism should be left aside, Feminism is a political mistake. Feminism is a mistake made by women’s intellect, a mistake which her instinct will recognize. Women should not be given any of the rights claimed by Feminism. To give women these rights would not produce any of the disorder the Futurists hope for, but on the contrary would create an excess of order.” Her position here does not differ terribly from Marinetti’s, outlined above.
4. That Marinetti saw his time as a considerable break with tradition is obvious: “We stand on the last promontory of the centuries! … why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the impossible? Time and Space died yesterday.” (Marinetti 41).

References

1. Victoria de Grazia, How fascism Ruled Women: Italy, 1922-1945 (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1992).
2. F.T. Marinetti, “Against Amore and Parliamentarianism” pp.72-75 in Marinetti: Selected Writings edited by R.W. Flint, translated by R.W. Flint and Arthur A. Coppotellli (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1971).
3. F. T. Marinetti, “Destruction of Syntax – Imagination without strings – Words-in-Freedom” cited from the website “Bob Osborn’s futurism and the Futurists” found at: http://www.futurism.org.uk (originally printed in the journal Lacerba, on June 15, 1913 in Florence).
4. F.T. Marinetti, “Multiplied Man and the Reign of the Machine” pp.90-93 in Marinetti: Selected Writings edited by R.W. Flint, translated by R.W. Flint and Arthur A. Coppotellli (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1971).
5. F.T. Marinetti, “The Founding and Manifesto of futurism” pp.39-44 in Marinetti: Selected Writings edited by R.W. Flint, translated by R.W. Flint and Arthur A. Coppotellli (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1971).
6. Benito Mussolini, “The Doctrine of fascism” pp.219-233 in Twentieth Century Europe, edited by John W. Boyer and Jan Goldstein (University of Chicago Press, Chicago).
7. Valentine de Valentine de Saint-Point, “Manifesto of the Futurist Woman” cited from the website “Bob Osborn’s futurism and the Futurists” found at: http://www.futurism.org.uk (originally printed on March 25, 1912 in Paris).
8. Barbara Spackman, Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in Italy (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1996).

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