In the Future There Is Only WarA Pseudo-Serious Manifesto about Futurism and How Shitty I feel by Alejandro Bellizzi
Disclaimer: this is a post-post-modern essay, and thus it has no direction, makes no real point, makes no attempts at convincing anyone of anything, and does not adhere to anything. I am a product of a certain time and place in human history, a post-rational world, and I accomplish nothing by pretending otherwise. Please, allow this essay to wash over you as any other meaningless distraction would. I feel spiritually and emotionally dead and I might vomit later.
Here is a Cursory description of Futurism
Futurism was an all encompassing artistic movement in Europe—specifically in Italy in 1909 spawned by Filippo Tommaso Emilio Marinetti. The movement allegedly embraced speed, violence, youth, nationalism, and antifeminism. I say allegedly, because I am gathering historical information, and what we know about the past based on historical research can never really capture a genuine, human essence of any given time. You might think the opposite is true, but that’s just your imagination running wild. The Futurists didn’t like looking to the past either. The movement ended in 1944 with Marinetti’s heart-wrenching death.
Delightful Exploration of a Futurist Painting
I’m going to dissect a random futurist painting. Why? Because I am dead inside.
Here it is.
Giacomo Balla, one of the first and most significant Italian Futurist painters, once painted a lady walking her dog. That’s all folks. Divisionism. Fragmented, repeated forms, movement. That’s it. Let me die. I’ve never wanted so badly to die. The piece, entitled “Dynamism of A Dog On a Leash,” references Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man in that the different motions of the dog’s limbs in space-time have been made visible with the medium. In this representation of repeated frames and motion, we also see a gesture of the speed and movement of the machines and culture of the time period. Additionally, Balla’s depiction of something as banal and trivial as a dog being walked, is satire of impressionistic thinking and aesthetic, and yet also a testament to the inevitability of change. In a futurist landscape, the, banal details of life–that other artists might seek to preserve and fawn over as “beautiful”—are just more noise in a machine that churns onward. There is no “stillness”, there is no “impression” of a single moment, because this conception of a still moment in time is a meaningless contradiction to humanity’s rightfully forward, dynamic nature.
Just as the ground beneath the lady and her dog have disappeared into ephemeral strokes of light, so has the stable foundation of my travel disintegrated. The past is not real, the present perpetually disappears, and the future is an abstraction, and thus my only reality is an unending pulse, a kind of internalized rage that propels me. The forward movement through time does not happen as an automatic constant, it occurs out of our own volition as objects in space. These basic meditations permeate the linear-fragmentation of many futurist paintings, and force me to consider the importance of my own capacity for choice. What am I going to do with myself. This is not just about paintings or art or college essays, this is about finding a sense of direction in a fractured world.
Back to the Futurism
The only logical way to proceed with this assigned paper is to disregard whatever has been assigned and focus on what really matters to me, and thus I admit that I’ve run out of coherent things to assert. The academic chore of recounting the same recycled historical facts over and over again simply to convince a professor that I’ve learned anything just doesn’t fulfill any of my spiritual needs. Has anyone else grown tired of this desert? Do our tiny, bank-loaned bodies litter the campus quad in a visible-enough fashion? I like to imagine a life beyond this current circumstance of exhaustion and institutional-servitude. I look at my life, and I see an antiquated system of value and thought that must be overtaken by the youthful spirit of destruction. Maybe that’s what draws me to Futurism—I’m a violent whippersnapper. Let’s find an interesting fragment in the landscape of futurism to expand upon.
When you think about futurism, and basically any artistic ism from the early modern era, and how all these different groups of artists had placed their bets in different philosophies that all went to shit—you can’t help but think, “jeeze, these people aren’t actually that smart.” Maybe in a relative sense, it was impressive that Matisse realized that a painting was a painting and not an illusion. Maybe it was really special when painters learned they could be “expressive” or abstract. Kandinsky had an adorable self-assessment that he was at the top of some pyramid of human progress, and that the First World War would nudge society past the threshold of a greater era in a struggle between the spirit and the material world. Aye, there’s the rub. Does it matter who we are in the inside, or does it matter what we own? What do we feel? Or can we just identify ourselves as a series of commoditized objects in a landscape that changes beyond our capacity to control? Meaningful questions, yes, but what can an artist do to address them? Or rather, what do artists do? When I think of futurism, I think of dumb people. Stupid Italians getting their panties in a bunch over fast objects and tall buildings. I think of the irony in artists celebrating the ideals of the “future” with something as antiquated as painting. I’m going to make a bold declaration: according to the ideals of futurism, artists cannot be futurists, simply because artists are not scientific enough. They cannot engage the natural world with enough understanding to realize new technologies. But do you want to know who actually did? Nikola Tesla! For example, not long after transforming the world with his alternating current, Tesla “proposed to arm a vessel with dynamite and then steer it by remote control toward an enemy…” (Carlson, W. Bernard, Scientific American). What a lame citation. Perhaps, in the war between spirit and the material, the Futurists were actually caught up in the “spirit” of it, and they, like other artists, only succeeded in having lots of feelings. (Tesla was a different kind of “futurist”, a term given to futurologists who actually had nothing to do with the artistic/literary/whatever movement that is the subject of this essay. Etymology is shit.) The art they made doesn’t really interest me as much as the rhetoric of their manifestos, which betray themselves with flowering descriptions:
“They will find us at last one winter’s night in the depths of the country in a sad hangar echoing with the notes of the monotonous rain, crouched near our trembling aeroplanes, warming our hands at the wretched fire which our books of today will make when they flame gaily beneath the glittering flight of their pictures.”
How can I warrant this evidence to my claim? How can any explanation offered by me extract or embolden any more clearly how melodramatic and stupid Marinetti sounds? (Let me clarify, I support the ideals of futurism, and thus, I must shit on the graves of all futurists, as they’ve only served to “antiquate” themselves from the true glories of the future by their insistence on existing in the past as opposed to right now or in the future—it’s very complicated. Simply put, futurism is too old, and so I am being forced to develop a new movement of thought called “hating myself and wanting to die.”) Do you catch my drift? Marinetti is lucky they didn’t have Kindles and Nooks and e-books, or the fumes from his bombastic, “wretched fire” would do a lot more than keep him warm.
Marinetti couldn’t even live up to his own professed love for violence. It was Mussolini and his happenin’ fascist squads, not the “dazzled” futurists, who raided and pillaged and conquered. (Jensen, Richard Bach)
Even Tesla, a proud supporter of eugenics and the reasonable optimization of the masses, was more fascist and more authentic than Marinetti. Tesla said in a 1935 issue of “Liberty Magazine” that “The year 2100 will see eugenics universally established. In past ages, the law governing the survival of the fittest roughly weeded out the less desirable strains. Then man’s new sense of pity began to interfere with the ruthless workings of nature.” -(Smithsonian.com)
Let’s keep in mind, Marinetti, like myself, was originally only a poet. Although, Hitler started out as a painter, and that didn’t stop him from actually doing something with his life.
Futurism in the Future
In short, the futurists have won, but none of them survived, as Marinetti off-handedly predicted in his manifesto—“When we are forty let younger and stronger men than we throw us in the waste paper basket like useless manuscripts!”—although many of them didn’t even make it past the First World War. Culture has embraced tall buildings and smoke and violence and fast objects and buzzing, and we still objectify the shit out of women (alas, it will never be as good as it was in Marinetti’s time)—but everyone is really sad. Go figure. Humanity innovated far too quickly for its physiological being too keep up. Faster than the speed of governmental bureaucracy, even. We’ve detached from the structures that control the pace of our own lives. We are slaves to a way of life, to a world of esoteric machines and devices that expand and develop faster than we do. I’m not saying it’s the dystopic robot apocalypse anyone fantasized about, but it’s certainly going to get us all killed—and these days, death is the only thing we can hope for. This vestige of culture I inhabit has presently climaxed in the “Brave New World” of Aldous Huxley where everyone is too distracted by vapid pleasures and immediacy to really give a shit about anything. That’s what the dramatic roar of science produces under the reigns of the commercialized world—fancy cell phones, infinite information, and almost no drive or use for it. Which is really tragic, because I kinda thought that violent technologies would envelope the world in darkness and death and at last end my existential suffering—and yet here I sit, in idle, abject, meaningless comfort, writing another college essay that probably only one other person will read. We have lots of violence, but it’s either been repressed into submission or transformed into virtual games, and is thus no longer relevant to the manipulation of political agendas.
History has been made null not by physical destruction, but by cultural stupefaction, and by its own hopeless redundancy.
But I’m an optimist, and there are still “futurists” and scientists out there who dare to ask the universe for its secrets, like Ray Kurzweil, whose book, “The Singularity is Near” details, with all kinds of graphs and detailed explanations, how the brain will soon meld itself with technology, and how this ongoing enhancement has become the true human evolution. And it’s happening exponentially fast! If we want our glorious and glistening ideals and violent addiction to human potentiality to be realized, however, then we must also destroy the commercialized world. With the development of three dimensional printers, nano-technology, and the continual deconstruction of the informational hierarchy through the technological indoctrination of the youth, we will immobilize the capitalist war machine—with a much bigger war machine.
Did I say I was an optimist? That was a lie, hence optimism merely implies a positive outlook, whereas I am harboring a brutal and dead certainty. The future belongs to those who are ready to embrace it, those who are willing to discard and destroy the obsolete baggage of over-valued convention. Want to know how “rad” the future is? After less than a minute of aimlessly browsing the internet, I found an article about a two year old getting a new windpipe made out of stem cells—all thanks to a type of research that obsolete religious people have previously tried to outlaw on moral grounds. I mean, this isn’t as violent as I would like it to be, but it makes science look good.
I wonder what it’s like in, let’s say, Liberia, an African nation once colonized by the United States (and at one point re-colonized/enslaved by former African American slaves)? I don’t even need to google this one: it’s all blood and death and explosions and malaria (and cannibalism, prostitution, AIDS, drugs…). Thanks to the soaring heights of technology, the natives of this proud nation have led to wide spread squalor, slums, and endless civil war. The soaring heights of technology are slightly uneven when placed in context with…the world, of all things. That’s why futurism has to be nationalistic, because developing countries must be enslaved and abused in order to fuel the machine. And that’s ok!
If we are going to speak about futurism’s more direct legacy, it’s nothing of any actual interest. They might have a show at a museum, like the moma—and I won’t even waste energy capitalizing that because of how little I care. The Futurists would certainly abhor being remembered in the sepulcher of museums.
I have so many feelings
I look at the limitations of my circumstances, and I can understand the anger and spite a futurist might feel for the existing world. In fact, the act of researching futurism at this point, over a hundred years after its conception, goes against every futurist ideal. I might be a futurist after all, because I see nothing to gain from filling my young mind with such tired garbage. If humanity could perhaps abandon its broken self, and its half-hearted morality, its cognitive dissonance, than collective society could reach a heightened sense of consciousness, one where we confront the mysteries of the universe. We could abandon the earth—an old old planet, billions of years old, how “antiquated!”—in search for new worlds. As sarcastic as that sounds, I must concede that there is nothing more important or necessary than to take hold of the unrealized future. We could have spaceships someday. In the eyes of the futurists, science had been tamed into a utilitarian stupor, where its progression served the materialistic moans of aimless people. “Victorious science has nowadays disowned its past in order the better to serve the material needs of our time,” The most redeeming quality of the futurist rhetoric is its worship of science.“That the name of ‘madman’ with which it is attempted to gag all innovators should be looked upon as a title of honor.” And once again, I remember Tesla—a man whose constant struggle to translate invention into patented mass-production would lead him into complete detachment from the world. Now, Tesla—he was more than a man—because the implication of humanity would actually serve to belittle what he was. He didn’t spend himself on distractions and the sensual quibbles of artists. He gave his mind to the exploration and harnessing of the natural world. When I think about it that way, suddenly the mundane and endless desires of individuals don’t seem to matter: all that matters is the continuation of humanity’s dissection and taming of the unknown. Curiosity is the only thing that holds me to being. If I am suffering, then let me suffer. The emotional weakness of the individual must be ignored for the greater good, for the curious and valid pursuit of the untouched cosmic forces in the universe. We futurists must “rise up against all superficiality and banality—all the slovenly and facile commercialism” –and that’s coming from a futurist manifesto about painting. Who is to say we cannot maim and destroy? Sensitive people? Women? Peace loving critics? The police? My parents? To hell with everyone!
And it’s at this point that I can start to grasp how futurist thought briefly coincided with fascism. Any movement that vocally supports violence advertises itself to other political ideologies that assume a violent struggle will ultimately lead the world closer to any given kind of purported utopia. The early modern artists, from everything I’ve absorbed in class the past few months, tended to believe in a world that was building towards a cathartic change. Want to know what young people imagine the world is building towards now? The weekend.
I began this paper as a miserable human being, and I end it as an inanimate object. Here’s a bold list of goals that summarize my societal quips, re-imagined for our new, triumphant generation:
- More sleep
- More food
- More TV
- More coffee
- The internet
- Dazzling lights
- Tall things
- Fast things
- More suffering
- More death
- More lists
- More items on the list
- Less meaning
- More speed
- More lights
- Please god kill me
- Save me from this tiresome meaningless torture
- Living is a joyless nightmare
A Moment for Balla's Street Light
Let’s take a moment to appreciate Giacomo Balla’s “Street Light.” Again, Balla places seemingly ironic emphasis on a trivial object—only this time, we are exploring a borderline divine spectacle of what the future contains. This is like the light at the end of the tunnel, a representation of all the wonder and forms and unknown fragments that go into producing the luminous glow of something as common and unappreciated as a street lamp. Behold the power!
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