São Paulo's Futurism

Image: Mariana Tassinari / Jornal de Resenhas


Commentary on the book by Annateresa Fabris

Em Paulista Futurism, Annateresa Fabris studies the appropriations of Italian futurism by the scholars of São Paulo in 1920, who would be the modernists of 1922. Gathered by the desire for cultural innovation, they metaphorized the “novelty” of the modern industrialization of the place with contradictory uses of futuristic works, mainly the Marinetti's manifestos.

Annateresa Fabris demonstrates that the new culture was, however, more projective than effective in the conservative modernization of São Paulo, where the Light's insistence on inaugurating subtleties of special trams for workers found its homology in the donkey pulling a cart through ambrosia and nectar of the Elysian Fields.

The homology defined the exact tone of the kitsch of the culture of the place: Carlos Gomes Verdean pasta pastry with academic sunsets and Peris headdresses, served already very cold by epigones of Art in the marble of general Parnassianism. In the floodplains, however, not only mosquitoes boosted the local donkey-when-runs color. Little Italians, workers given to Bakunin, Kropotkin, Fourier and other arsonists, moved around... And, to top it off, blacks and mulattos buzzed that, for the edification of future ones, the First Republic kept in the imperial freedom of Abolition.

Thus, the 1917 strike had scratched the serene form of the institutions much deeper than the expressionist painting of Anita Malfatti, normalized by the remote Monteiro Lobato. As always, it was capital that revolutionized the arts, while the local vanguards debated their aesthetic conventions. Why, among the various European fronts of the “modern”, did the small group of unequal scholars in São Paulo in the 1920s choose Marinetti's warlike histrionics?

Still almost all haunted by the determinisms of the 1920th century, they intended to (dis)assemble the phantasmagoria of the past with the metaphors of the “machine” of Italian futurism, which effectively reassembled it to the service of the bourgeois order. A Menotti del Picchia, a Tristão de Athayde, a Ferdinando Labouriau, a Vicente Licínio Cardoso or a Mário de Andrade already knew this, in XNUMX, in Rio and São Paulo, imprinting different political orientations on appropriations. Refracted, contradictory, São Paulo futurism was “futurisms”.

For example, it was the recyclable ideology in the political strategy of the Anta verdamarela gang: nationalism, race, strength, regression. For bucolic Catholics, supporters of the panacea of ​​small rural property, the machine was the moral dissolution of the urban masses. Carioca engineers understood it as a Taylorist or Fordist progress of the “rational organization of work”. In Oswald de Andrade's my futurist poet, from 1921, or in Mário de Andrade do very interesting preface, from 1922, “futurism” was avowedly tactical. With the metaphor, one could affirm the intention to destroy not exactly the past, which the modern projectively re-updated, but the past. And, who knows more to the left, also the local pastism of the appropriations of futurism.

Italian futurism was a technological romanticism: the transformation of the self-reflexive ego of previous forms, as Schnapp says, in the “ago” of the external action of machine-men resorted to the psychological vitalism of Bergson and Nietzsche to establish the “compenetrazione”, by Boccioni or Marinetti, as the key device of its energy, which Annateresa discusses. Interpenetration fused the organicist metaphors of romantic patheticism and the industrial mechanics of the machine gun, twilight symbolist imagery and the statistical efficacy of bullets, the primitivist exoticism of the Near East and the “quod erat demonstration” of gas, the milk of Marinetti's African wet nurse and the imperialist cannon of Libya and Ethiopia. Vitalist principle of the mechanic, the “compenetrazione” organized the social as a molecular field of flows energized by rays emitted from the body-machine and the machine-body.

The hierarchical result of his technical processes of aesthetic fusion prefigured the dynamism of the notion of “totalitarian state” fascist, proclaimed in Augusteo, in 1925, which would be retaken in Leipzig by Nazis, in 1933, as “total status”. Mythical and technical, it was fatal. The key tocompenetrazione” was, as in fascism, energy: moving and making move, “the watchword of all innovators or intellectual snipers in the world”, said Marinetti in a public letter to the Belgian futurist Mac Delmarle, in 1913. national cultural projects would be internationalism above real localist interests, opening up to constructivist programs of the modern. And radical nationalism was evident, a dark technological religion of blood: “We profess an ultraviolent, anticlerical and antisocialist nationalism, an antitraditional nationalism that is based on the inexhaustible vigor of Italian blood”, he said in the same letter.

Given the limited space that prohibits the analysis of several mediations treated with great precision by Fabris, the immediate relationship between futurism and the fascist cult of “hierarchy” which is done here, although it may be considered adequate in essentials. Therefore, it is useful to summarize four basic things put in his book, which are also discussed by Schnapp in the seminar fascism and culture (Stanford Italian Review, 1993): Futurism establishes and organizes social relations in force; builds an epic subject lord of the natural and social environment; operates the fascist mix of populism and elitism, as an “artecrazia”; it has a warlike conception of gender relations and foreign policy.

Since the alternation of a militant internationalism and an imperial conception of culture and politics characterizes the Futurist manifestos as a whole, their separation in the “times” of “two Marinettis” – the pre-1924 artist and the fascist who would declare himself later, whose stay in São Paulo, in 1926, had moments of opera buffa – does not precisely consider the coherence of the energetic principle of organization in all of them. A dynamic and theoretically nomadic principle energizes transnational relations of symbolic exchange as an effective agent for activating all points of the same territoriality, the “nation”. Your Blitzkrieg aesthetics energizes the principle of forcibly imposed hierarchy in the totalitarian organization of the state.

In an absolutely excellent book, in which the writing transitions with precision from the plastic to the discursive, from description to theory, inventing new documentary sources for the modernism of 22, the last two chapters, “Under Marinetti” and “The Other Place” are mandatory. of Futurism”. In them, Annateresa discusses the São Paulo appropriations of futurism as enthusiasm for the new, criticism of the past, negative rationalization of form, anti-modern regression and fascist form of the modern. Returning to what Mário de Andrade said in 1945 about modernism, Annateresa Fabris demonstrates that what remained of futurism was perhaps only the revolutionary symptom that one day could have destructive functionality for the modern spirit of revolt. Fully aware of these determinations, she wrote an essential book, to be read with attention, pleasure and intellectual admiration.

*John Adolfo Hansen is a retired senior professor at USP. Author, among other books, of Sixteenth-century sharpnesses – Collected work, vol 1 (Edusp).

Originally published on Journal of Reviews/Folha de S. Paulo, No. 5 in June 1995.



Annateresa Fabris. São Paulo's Futurism. São Paulo, Perspectiva/Edusp, 296 pages.


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