August 16, 2010
Ninety-nine years ago in London, the Italian futurist and artist, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, cited an inconsistency to his British audience during his “Lecture to the English on Futurism”:
“You adore the beautiful flying machines that with their wheels skim the earth, the sea, and the clouds, and yet you carefully preserve even the smallest bit of detritus from the past!”
Marinetti made a career of proselytizing for the destruction of the old, the elimination of all museums and the “violent” introduction and adoption of the new. He professed his admiration for speed, the lack of rules and condemnation of “the old order”. Remember, this is just a few months to a few short years before the overthrow of the last Chinese emperor, the outbreak of World War I and the Russian Revolution. In that period, these “beautiful flying machines” will start the long journey to take on much greater significance in the 20th and 21st centuries as accomplices and midwives to the birth of the new order and its more sophisticated “weapons of mass destruction”.
As Scarlett Thomas implies last week in her Financial Times critique of a recent novel on futurism and modernity, Marinetti failed to see that this inconsistency is part of the human condition. Her observation is that the inconsistency “seems as true now as it was then. We love technology – but we love history too. People order antiques online, fly to world heritage sites, and watch classic films on their iPads”.
Finally, she admits that she once Googled Marinetti’s “1909 Futurist Manifesto” on her Blackberry from a museum, looking for a quote from him, and she had the distinct sensation he was laughing at her from beyond the grave.
To be continued…