Literary daybook, Feb. 20

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published February 20, 2003 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Feb. 20: The (scheduled) date of the wedding of Lady Augusta and Mr. Moffat.
-- "Doctor Thorne" (1858)
By Anthony Trollope

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
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Today in literary history
On this day in 1909 the Italian poet F.T. Marinetti published his "The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism" in the Paris newspaper Le Figaro. This is regarded as the birth of the Futurist movement, which in radical or watered-down ways had a significant influence on modern art and literature, and on modern communications theorists such as Marshall McLuhan.

The Futurist movement celebrated the techno-discord it saw on the horizon -- the rush of cars, the collapse of community, the shock of new and now. Although it derided Romantic nostalgia, Marinetti's preamble to the "Manifesto" could get lyrical:

"We had stayed up all night, my friends and I, under hanging mosque lamps with domes of filigreed brass, domes starred like our spirits, shining like them with the prisoned radiance of electric hearts. For hours we had trampled our atavistic ennui into rich oriental rugs, arguing up to the last confines of logic and blackening many reams of paper with our frenzied scribbling ...
Suddenly we jumped, hearing the mighty noise of the huge double-decker trams that rumbled by outside, ablaze with colored lights, like villages on holiday suddenly struck and uprooted by the flooding Po and dragged over falls and through gorges to the sea. Then the silence deepened. But, as we listened to the old canal muttering its feeble prayers and the creaking bones of sickly palaces above their damp green beards, under the windows we suddenly heard the famished roar of automobiles.
'Let's go!' I said. 'Friends, away! Let's go! Mythology and the Mystic Ideal are defeated at last. We are about to see the Centaur's birth and, soon after, the first flight of Angels! ... We must shake at the gates of life, test the bolts and hinges. Let's go! ...'"

The 11 specific points in the "Manifesto" glorified the driver at the wheel, the smashing of the museums, the literature written with "the racer's stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap," the great crowds of New Man "excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot," and the "hygiene" of war. It even celebrated the overthrow of its own beliefs: "The oldest of us is thirty: so we have at least a decade for finishing our work. When we are forty, other younger and stronger men will probably throw us in the wastebasket like useless manuscripts -- we want it to happen!"

The Italian Futurists had an attraction to Mussolini and Fascism, but they also had a sense of humor. Among their many promotions and manifestos -- on art, language, music, cinema, noise, "lust" -- was "The Futurist Cookbook," published in 1932. This was based on the earlier "Manifesto of Futurist Cuisine," in which Marinetti urged his countrymen to give up pasta, not just because they would need to be thin in order to ride the ultralight aluminum trains, but because macaroni was a "symbol of oppressive dullness, plodding deliberation, and fat-bellied conceit." Marinetti's fellow Italians thought him a showman, a visionary, and perhaps right about much, but they scoffed at his nouvelle cuisine: one thing to advocate a pared-down language free of "the high wall of syntax and the weirs of grammar," quite another to call for a pasta-less future. The American National Macaroni Manufacturers Association was apparently alarmed enough by the idea to send Mussolini a telegram of protest.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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