Fanghorn Forest posted a famous manifesto of Futurism – you know the one – that includes the famous lines:
1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.
2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.
3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.
4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
5. We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit.
The response to Futurism, of course, came from Chesterton:
It was a warm golden evening, fit for October, and I was watching
(with regret) a lot of little black pigs being turned out of my garden,
when the postman handed to me, with a perfunctory haste which doubtless
masked his emotion, the Declaration of Futurism. If you ask me what
Futurism is, I cannot tell you; even the Futurists themselves seem
a little doubtful; perhaps they are waiting for the future to find out.
But if you ask me what its Declaration is, I answer eagerly;
for I can tell you quite a lot about that. It is written by an
Italian named Marinetti, in a magazine which is called Poesia.
It is headed “Declaration of Futurism” in enormous letters; it is
divided off with little numbers; and it starts straight away like this:
“1. We intend to glorify the love of danger, the custom of energy,
the strengt of daring. 2. The essential elements of our poetry
will be courage, audacity, and revolt. 3. Literature having up
to now glorified thoughtful immobility, ecstasy, and slumber,
we wish to exalt the aggressive movement, the feverish insomnia,
running, the perilous leap, the cuff and the blow.” While I am
quite willing to exalt the cuff within reason, it scarcely seems
such an entirely new subject for literature as the Futurists imagine.
It seems to me that even through the slumber which fills the Siege
of Troy, the Song of Roland, and the Orlando Furioso, and in spite
of the thoughtful immobility which marks “Pantagruel,” “Henry V,”
and the Ballad of Chevy Chase, there are occasional gleams
of an admiration for courage, a readiness to glorify the love
of danger, and even the “strengt of daring,” I seem to remember,
slightly differently spelt, somewhere in literature.
The distinction, however, seems to be that the warriors of
the past went in for tournaments, which were at least dangerous
for themselves, while the Futurists go in for motor-cars,
which are mainly alarming for other people. It is the Futurist
in his motor who does the “aggressive movement,” but it is the
pedestrians who go in for the “running” and the “perilous leap.”
Section No. 4 says, “We declare that the splendour of the world
has been enriched with a new form of beauty, the beauty of speed.
A race-automobile adorned with great pipes like serpents
with explosive breath. … A race-automobile which seems
to rush over exploding powder is more beautiful than the Victory
of Samothrace.” It is also much easier, if you have the money.
It is quite clear, however, that you cannot be a Futurist at
all unless you are frightfully rich. Then follows this lucid
and soul-stirring sentence: “5. We will sing the praises of man
holding the flywheel of which the ideal steering-post traverses
the earth impelled itself around the circuit of its own orbit.”
What a jolly song it would be–so hearty, and with such a simple
swing in it! I can imagine the Futurists round the fire in a tavern
trolling out in chorus some ballad with that incomparable refrain;
shouting over their swaying flagons some such words as these:
A notion came into my head as new as it was bright
That poems might be written on the subject of a fight;
No praise was given to Lancelot, Achilles, Nap or Corbett,
But we will sing the praises of man holding the flywheel of which the ideal
steering-post traverses the earth impelled itself around the circuit
of its own orbit.
Then lest it should be supposed that Futurism would be so weak
as to permit any democratic restraints upon the violence and levity
of the luxurious classes, there would be a special verse in honour
of the motors also:
My fathers scaled the mountains in their pilgrimages far,
But I feel full of energy while sitting in a car;
And petrol is the perfect wine, I lick it and absorb it,
So we will sing the praises of man holding the flywheel of which the ideal
steering-post traverses the earth impelled itself around the circuit
of its own orbit.
Yes, it would be a rollicking catch. I wish there were space to finish
the song, or to detail all the other sections in the Declaration.
Suffice it to say that Futurism has a gratifying dislike both of
Liberal politics and Christian morals; I say gratifying because,
however unfortunately the cross and the cap of liberty have quarrelled,
they are always united in the feeble hatred of such silly
megalomaniacs as these. They will “glorify war–the only true
hygiene of the world–militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture
of Anarchism, the beautiful ideas which kill, and the scorn of woman.”
They will “destroy museums, libraries, and fight against moralism,
feminism, and all utilitarian cowardice.” The proclamation ends with
an extraordinary passage which I cannot understand at all, all about
something that is going to happen to Mr. Marinetti when he is forty.
As far as I can make out he will then be killed by other poets,
who will be overwhelmed with love and admiration for him.
“They will come against us from far away, from everywhere,
leaping on the cadence of their first poems, clawing the air with
crooked fingers and scenting at the Academy gates the good smell
of our decaying minds.” Well, it is satisfactory to be told,
however obscurely, that this sort of thing is coming to an end
some day, to be replaced by some other tomfoolery. And though
I commonly refrain from clawing the air with crooked fingers,
I can assure Mr. Marinetti that this omission does not disqualify me,
and that I scent the good smell of his decaying mind all right.
I think the only other point of Futurism is contained in this
sentence: “It is in Italy that we hurl this overthrowing and
inflammatory Declaration, with which to-day we found Futurism,
for we will free Italy from her numberless museums which cover
her with countless cemeteries.” I think that rather sums it up.
The best way, one would think, of freeing oneself from a museum
would be not to go there. Mr. Marinetti’s fathers and grandfathers
freed Italy from prisons and torture chambers, places where people
were held by force. They, being in the bondage of “moralism,”
attacked Governments as unjust, real Governments, with real guns.
Such was their utilitarian cowardice that they would die in hundreds
upon the bayonets of Austria. I can well imagine why Mr. Marinetti
in his motor-car does not wish to look back at the past. If there
was one thing that could make him look smaller even than before it
is that roll of dead men’s drums and that dream of Garibaldi going by.
The old Radical ghosts go by, more real than the living men,
to assault I know not what ramparted city in hell. And meanwhile
the Futurist stands outside a museum in a warlike attitude,
and defiantly tells the official at the turnstile that he will never,
never come in.
There is a certain solid use in fools. It is not so much that they
rush in where angels fear to tread, but rather that they let out
what devils intend to do. Some perversion of folly will float
about nameless and pervade a whole society; then some lunatic
gives it a name, and henceforth it is harmless. With all really
evil things, when the danger has appeared the danger is over.
Now it may be hoped that the self-indulgent sprawlers of Poesia
have put a name once and for all to their philosophy. In the case
of their philosophy, to put a name to it is to put an end to it.
Yet their philosophy has been very widespread in our time; it could
hardly have been pointed and finished except by this perfect folly.
The creed of which (please God) this is the flower and finish
consists ultimately in this statement: that it is bold and spirited
to appeal to the future. Now, it is entirely weak and half-witted
to appeal to the future. A brave man ought to ask for what he wants,
not for what he expects to get. A brave man who wants Atheism in
the future calls himself an Atheist; a brave man who wants Socialism,
a Socialist; a brave man who wants Catholicism, a Catholic.
But a weak-minded man who does not know what he wants in the future
calls himself a Futurist.
They have driven all the pigs away. Oh that they had driven away
the prigs, and left the pigs! The sky begins to droop with darkness
and all birds and blossoms to descend unfaltering into the healthy
underworld where things slumber and grow. There was just one true
phrase of Mr. Marinetti’s about himself: “the feverish insomnia.”
The whole universe is pouring headlong to the happiness of the night.
It is only the madman who has not the courage to sleep.
Comment: if Fanghorn Forest has a correct translation, then it looks like Chesterton was working from a slightly mistranslated version of the text.