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More on Futurists and Fascism

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To the editors:

Anthony Adler seems to have totally missed Loren Kruger's point (Feb. 24th Letters) which was to take issue with the statement he made in Feb. 3rd's Reader ["A Hard Man to Know"] concerning Stage Left's calling themselves Neo-futurists: "Whether they are that is debatable--and also less than desirable, given the first Futurists' affinity for fascism."

While it is true Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (the founder of Futurism) and Benito Mussolini became friends in 1914, it was at a time when the future "Duce" was a revolutionary Socialist and editor of Avanti, who, in his editorials, staunchly defended the Anarcho-syndicalist general strike and armed uprising of that year.

The term "fascist" wasn't even used until 1919, when a group of misfits coalesced under Mussolini and the banner of his splinter of revolutionary Anarcho-syndicalism, with Marinetti a member of the central committee. Marinetti's manifesto of that time, which advocated "power to the artists" and "Futurist democracy," demanded an end to cops, courts, jails, taxes and the military draft.

The following years (1920-21) the Fascists became a catchall for any strange bedfellow who was seeking personal power, a characteristic it kept to its dying day. Italian Fascism was a style and not a philosophy; because Marinetti's craziness became such a part of that style, he was allowed to criticize the regime openly. Besides, these contradictions widened the appeal of Fascism to all the disaffected, thereby getting their votes. 1921 was also the year that the Minister of Culture of the Soviet Union (Lunacharsky) declared "that in Italy there is only one intellectual revolutionary and that is Filippo Tommaso Marinetti."

To ascribe Fascist affinities to the early Futurists is absurd; the term and the associations we have with it didn't exist yet. Marinetti was later classified as "anti-fascist" in his police dossier for loudly criticizing the rightist and conformist direction later taken by the Mussolini government, specifically singling out the accords with the Vatican and the racial policies. Yet Mussolini kept the police off of Marinetti, catered to him, tried to incorporate him into the government, and the last official act of the Salo government, Musso's swan song, was Marinetti's state funeral.

Ultimately the question is: is it fair to criticize abstract theater (read "art") as "less than desirable" because some or most of its founding artists survived Mussolini, Franco, Petain, or Hitler under comparative protection or even joined up with some of the bad guys? Would you condemn the Surrealists as Communists (and undesirable) for joining up with Leon Trotsky? Is it desirable to read Ezra Pound but undesirable to allow the Futurists their rightful place in art history? Was Loren Kruger's opinion desirable?

Lionel Bottari

W. 20th Pl.

Anthony Adler replies:

A few points:

1. Names prove nothing, especially in the mouths of demagogues. Hitler, after all, called himself a "national socialist." That nobody called fascism "fascism" until 1919 doesn't mean Mussolini wasn't practicing it prior to that year. His big split with socialist policy actually came in 1914, when he supported Italy's participation in World War I, which the socialists rejected as a capitalist diversion. Marinetti was gung ho for the war, as well. But then he was gung ho for any war.

2. Italian fascism was neither a style nor a philosophy, but a crime--ruthless and evil. Your attempt to make it seem somehow cuddlier by characterizing it as a convocation of weirdos on a variety of trips just doesn't jibe with Mussolini's very deliberate campaign against a defenseless Ethiopia (in which Marinetti fought), or his suppression of domestic dissent (from which Marinetti, as you note, was excused).

3. You're right: futurist politics don't negate futurist art. But they sure as hell color it. The poet John Giorno once published a book called Cancer in My Left Ball, consisting of poems he wrote during a period when--unknown to him--a cancer was making itself at home in his scrotum. Giorno knew that that cancer must have made itself at home in his writing as well. And that it must have transformed his writing even as it transformed him. Why is it so hard to believe that politics might have a similar effect? An artist, more than anyone, must answer for his whole being. Brecht is inseparable from his communism; Pound, inseparable from his fascism; Hemingway, inseparable from his republicanism. Ditto the futurists. It seems to me entirely fair to ask where they were when the world was being destroyed, and to judge them--though not to censor them; never to censor them--on that account.

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