Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto expresses a very curious ideology. While it advocates revolution and the destruction of all moral systems, it anticipates and applauds a brave new world in which man resembles a machine. While this man does not transform himself into a cyborg in Marinetti’s fantasies, he acts on the basis of intuition, stripping him of rationality and superficial manners. Yet, I think responding to one’s base desires rather than to the inquiries of a higher intellect implies a more profound slavery, in which one can easily fall prey to leaders promising new and improved opportunities for the satisfaction of our desires. Today, we refer to such a system as consumerism, and to its Brahmins as marketing consultants. Marinetti’s calls for violence bring to mind the sort of impotent thrashing-about one might expect from the sort security-obsessed consumerist society described in the work of Aldous Huxley.
What can the contemporary student salvage from the Futurist Manifesto? After all, dubious projects occasionally have their merits. Its most interesting feature is its conflation of politics and experience. I think this sort of thinking stems from the early 19th century, with the development of conscription and centralized states. As states acquired more power, their subjects came into contact with history in ways inconceivable to the inhabitants of previous centuries. The Napoleonic Wars for instance, pushed millions of conscripts across the plains of Europe to foreign lands. There, they found themselves in a position to decide the fate of their homeland in small ways that became significant on a wide scale. Marinetti goes further, asking people to take history into their own hands and stop wasting time in museums and group tours of archaeological sites. To live fulfilling lives, they must act to build a new world. Though I disapprove of the type of world Marinetti would have us hope for, I think he does make an interesting point when he implores people to stop venerating the idols of the past and strive to remake the world according to their own values. On the other hand, I am not sure the great revolutionaries of the twentieth century ignored history and historical figures. Does anyone else think this might be the case? Do revolutions depend on an ability to free oneself from the past, or does every revolution depend on a tradition?