Against Acceleration: Wyndham Lewis vs The Futurists

marinetti2

From Blasting and Bombardiering (1937)

Meanwhile the excitement was intense. Putsches took place every month or so. Marinetti for instance. You may have heard of him! It was he who put Mussolini up to Fascism. Mussolini admits it. They ran neck and neck for a bit, but Mussolini was the better politician. Well, Marinetti brought off a Futurist Putsch about this time.

It started in Bond Street. I counter-putsched. I assembled in Greek Street a determined band of miscellaneous anti-futurists. Mr. Epstein was there; Gaudier Brzeska, T. E. Hulme, Edward Wadsworth and a cousin of his called Wallace, who was very muscular and forcible, according to my eminent colleague, and he rolled up very silent and grim. There were about ten of us. After a hearty meal we shuffled bellicosely round to the Dore Gallery.

Marinetti had entrenched himself upon a high lecture platform, and he put down a tremendous barrage in French as we entered. Gaudier went into action at once. He was very good at the parlez-vous, in fact he was a Frenchman. He was sniping him without intermission, standing up in his place in the audience all the while. The remainder of our party maintained a confused uproar.

51KHOt9ctPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Italian intruder was worsted. There was another occasion (before he declared war on us, and especially on me) when Mr. G. R. W. Nevinson—always a dark horse—assisted him. The founder of Fascism had been at Adrianople, when there was a siege. He wanted to imitate the noise of bombardment. It was a poetic declamation, which must be packed to the muzzle with what he called ‘la rage balkanique’. So Mr. Nevinson concealed himself somewhere in the hall, and at a signal from Marinetti belaboured a gigantic drum.

But it was a matter for astonishment what Marinetti could do with his unaided voice. He certainly made an extraordinary amount of noise. A day of attack upon the Western Front, with all the ‘heavies’ hammering together, right back to the horizon, was nothing to it. My equanimity when first subjected to the sounds of mass-bombardment in Flanders was possibly due to my marinettian preparation—it seemed ‘all quiet’ to me in fact, by comparison.

When I first was present at a lecture of his I accompanied him afterwards in a taxicab to the Cafe Royal. ‘II faut une force de poumon epouvantable pour faire ca!’ He explained to me, wiping the perspiration off his neck, and striking himself upon the chest-wall.

Marinetti5Marinetti was a rich man. It was said that his father owned a lot of Alexandria and other ports in the Eastern Mediterranean. I do not know whether this was true. But he certainly had at his disposal very considerable funds.

‘You are a futurist, Lewis!’ he shouted at me one day, as we were passing into a lavabo together, where he wanted to wash after a lecture where he had drenched himself in sweat.

‘No,’ I said.

‘Why don’t you announce that you are a futurist!’ he asked me squarely.

‘Because I am not one,’ I answered, just as pointblank and to the point.

‘Yes. But what’s it matter!’ said he with great impatience.

‘It’s most important,’ I replied rather coldly.

‘Not at all!’ said he. ‘Futurism is good. It is all right.’

P1010928‘Not too bad,’ said I. ‘It has its points. But you Wops insist too much on the Machine. You’re always on about these driving-belts, you are always exploding about internal combustion. We’ve had machines here in England for a donkey’s years. They’re no novelty to us.’

‘You have never understood your machines! You have never known the ivresse of travelling at a kilometre a minute. Have you ever travelled at a kilometre a minute?’

‘Never.’ I shook my head energetically. ‘Never. I loathe anything that goes too quickly. If it goes too quickly, it is not there.’

‘It is not there!’ he thundered for this had touched him on the raw. ‘It is only when it goes quickly that it is there!’

‘That is nonsense,’ I said. ‘I cannot see a thing that is going too quickly.’futurism_words_marinetti_zang_tumb_tumb

‘See it—see it! Why should you want to see?’ he exclaimed. ‘But you do see it. You see it multiplied a thousand times. You see a thousand things instead of one thing.’

I shrugged my shoulders—this was not the first time I had had this argument.

‘That’s just what I don’t want to see. I am not a futurist,’ I said. ‘I prefer one thing.’

‘There is no such thing as one thing.’

‘There is if I wish to have it so. And I wish to have it so.’

‘You are a monist!’ he said at this, with a contemptuous glance, curling his lip.

‘All right. I am not a futurist anyway. Je hais le mouvement qui deplace les lignes.’

At this quotation he broke into a hundred angry pieces.

‘And you “never weep”—I know, I know. Ah zut alors! What a thing to be an Englishman!

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