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A Historiographical Essay on Italian Futurist Women

In 1904 Umberto Notari, an Italian writer, presented a novel Quelle signore (Those Women) which was staged in a bordello. The story was sold out 80,000 copies in six months. Filippo T. Marinetti, Notari’s friend, the front man of Italian Futurism, published his Mafarka il futurista, an “effort at high pornography” (Adamson 1997, 97) in 1908. Both fictional texts received extensive popularity partly because they explored a female image from the scandalous point of view.

The original and notorious ideas about blending gender, technology, modern scientific and social concepts were packed together in Marinetti’s Fondazione e manifesto del Futurismo (The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism) published on February 20, 1909 in the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro (Harrison 2003, 155). Almost a century through the critical thought penetrates into the depths of Italian Futurism through this masculinist gateway, putting the women into the outskirts of the futurist movement.

In the present essay I seek to provide a survey of different historiographic strategies or approaches, which the historians of all the countries have used to reconstruct the patterns and attitudes having been created with the active participation of women within the general paradigm of Futurism in Italy. The corpus of literature, which I had to examine to conduct a research, extents from primary sources (such as women’s manifestoes) up to recent studies of Italian Futurism. Those studies explore different realms of applied knowledge about society and art.

They describe social and professional classes of participants, e. g. , bourgeoises, low- and middle-class females, and the members of either international or Italian intelligenzia; they explore various topics, e. g. , women’s rights and social identity, artistic mottoes, and representations of women’s bodies in the texts and objects of art; they study different genres and kinds of art, e. g. literature, journalism, fine arts and painting; and they address theoretical issues, e. g., the perspective to find out a feminist approach to history creation and to point out key features of such interpretation. I argue here that the aforesaid collection of sources and historiographies vividly falls apart into two sub-collections depending on the perspective of a researcher.

Either it is a masculinist and androcentric point of view with the broad angle of observation and over-personalization of female Futurist artists within the overall movement; or it is a feminist perspective with the stress on female activism/mimicry against the male-dominant community.

I am going to cover several historiographical approaches to reconstruction of women’s imprints on Italian Futurism, namely, traditional androcentric approaches with political, mass culture, or rhetorical coloring (Adamson, de Grand, Mosse, Cooper); feminist approaches with an emphasis on rhetoric or body and gender projections (Layne, Blum, Della Coletta); and a mixed approach adopting several strategies (Katz). Before the most famous manifesto of Italian Futurism was published, the ideology of a new artistic trend had received firmament in the Milanese magazine Poesia (was founded by Marinetti in 1905).

Adamson found evidence that it gave voice to about fifty women or, in other words, women constituted “about fifteen percent of the journal’s total contributors” (Adamson 1997, 203). The researcher emphasized that later, on the first stage of Futurism, “women were relatively absent” (Adamson 1997, 203). I should admit here that many researchers are eager to concentrate on quantification when discussing the role which females played in Italian Futurism.

Hardly is it possible to give the exact proportion of men and women who declared themselves to be Futurists or performed any socially significant activities under the Futurism banner. Lately there appeared another trend of categorization and characterization of female community within Italian artistic movement of Futurism. However, the names of futurist women must be mentioned because they have been sunk into oblivion for too a long period. Masculinist and feminist approaches to historiography are explicit even on the stage of making up the call list.

Cristina Della Coletta, for example, named the Florentine magazine L’Italia futurista (1916-1918) as the mass media, in which “[w]omen artists defined their type of futurism” (ibid. ). On the pages of The Feminist Encyclopedia of Italian Literature she mentioned Aurel (nom de plume of A. M. Mortier, 1882- 1950) who issued a Propos de femmes (Women’s proposal) in the same year as Marinetti. It was remarkable for “advocating a type of femininity in tune with futurist ideas” (Della Coletta 1997, 131).

In 1912 Valentine de Saint-Point stepped in with the Manifesto of the Futurist Woman followed by Manifesto futurista della lussuria (Futurist manifesto of lust, 1913). Whilst a feminist researcher is attentive to facts and their significance for the mass culture of Italy in that period of time, male researchers are still occupied with heads counting. Walter Adamson, for example, pays attention to the fact that there was one woman, Maria Ginanni, among seven members of the editorial collective that produced L’Italia futurista.

The same researcher also gives an extensive list of women who entered Futurism as novelists, poets, artists, journalists and propagandists: Eva Kuhn Amendola (wrote under the pen name Magamal), Enif Robert, a poet and novelist, Fanny Dini, Irma Valeria, Fulvia Giuliani, Marj Carbonaro, Emma Marpillero, and Shara Marini. Barry Katz concentrates on the futurist female artists Leandra Angelucci (Cominazzini), Regina Prassade Cassolo, Adriana Bisi Fabbri, Alma Fidora, Benedetta Capa Marinetti, Marisa Mori, and Rosa Rosa defining them as Futurist women.

Unfortunately, there is little of their creative ancestry left to prove the fact that they shared Futurist ideology. Besides, almost all of these women are reported to stay mainly in the shadow of male futurists with a few exceptions. I argue that we can not analyse the historiography of Italian Futurist female artists without discussing the null-point of investigation or, as Philippe Carrard once put it, “the question of voice,” “the set of issues that revolve around the basic query: ‘Who is speaking? ’” (Carrard 1997).

There is no secret that the personal background of a researcher may influence the structure of an investigation and its possible outcomes. It is also proved that the ascribed and shared social identity in the form of gender, class, race and etc. leaves a distinctive imprint on the problem due to a person who produces investigation data (in our case these are Italian Futurist women). To the question of “who” I would add the one of “where” and “in what relation. ” On the following pages I will try to analyse the perspectives and contexts of different approaches to historiography concerning Italian Futurist women.

To begin with, there is a traditionalistic approach to historiography which is often applied when examining the case of Futurist women in Italy. I do understand such an approach as the attempt to integrate women into the outer and androcentric system of class, artistic trend, etc. (see Adamson 1997, 102). Adamson admitted the traditional tendency to make a link between Futurism and social canvas of Italy in the beginning of the 20th century. The period between the two wars is heavily marked by the flourishing of Fascism.

Some researchers almost substitute Futurist and Fascist ideologies with each other and put them into the same temporal plane. For example, Harrison stated that “the impact of the movement waned and its previous revolutionary vigor was lost in its merger with Mussolini’s fascist regime” (2003, 156). From this perspective, the investigators tend to analyze the social role of women before and during the Fascist regime in Italy. Alexander de Grand within the camp mentioned gave a sociological analysis of patterns which women were allowed to follow under Italian Fascism.

He bided altogether the major propagandistic campaigns of Fascism such as ruralization or increased birth policies and “the class biases of the regime” (de Grand 1976, 947). On the point of women’s position under Fascism in general, de Grand made a remark: Concern for the role of women was at the heart of the conservative and stabilizing nature of fascism and, in so far as it meant the subjugation of the private lives of citizens to the demands of the State, policy towards women reflected the totalitarian and imperialistic side of fascism as well.

(ibid. ) On the point of Futurism under Fascism, de Grand did not identify women’s and men’s voices within the ideological constructions of the artistic movement. Instead, he appeared to be occupied with the analysis of futurist and fascist manifestoes on the level of ideas. He stated that “[g]iven their hostility to the past, the futurists inevitably were forced to confront the traditional position of women and the institution of bourgeois marriage” (1976, 952). In the Futurist political party programme (Sept. , 1918, paras.

4, 8) de Grand saw evidence that the Futurists accepted the right to vote for women and the equality of salary for both genders. Though the Fascist programme of June 1919 stated almost the same (equal rights to hold office, full voting rights for women), the 1921 Programme declared the genderless rights of individuals within institutions (such as the family, the corporation, and the communes). This approach vividly alienates women within both Futurism and Fascism from the dominant male, artistic, Futurist and Fascist community.

It concentrates on ideological and statistically assessed data and integrative strategies, which the Fascist regime used to lend women. In his turn, Adamson with the colleagues debated the aforesaid assumption that Italian Futurism was a kind of “proto-Fascism, as a movement within early Fascism, as the shaper of Fascist ideals of war, virility, and misogyny” (Adamson 1997, 89). The researcher stressed after Claudia Salaris the importance of examining mass-media culture and Italian Futurism as interdependent and co-influential variables.

Under this approach, however, the general context of the post-World War I period of European history was not denied. Adamson mentioned such futurist borrowings from the outer social context such as the enchantment with “masculinist ideals” and assertion of “a misogynism [which was] later appropriated by Fascism” (1997, 89). Simultaneously, he observed in Italian Futurism “a strong attraction for women anxious to escape the confines of traditional roles, an interest that further increased […] as the rapid social changes it imposed created new opportunities and expectations for women” (1997, 89).

To be even more specific, a complicated “four-term model” (Adamson 1997, 91) for understanding Futurism was used by an investigator. It consists of modernism, avant-garde, mass culture, and bourgeois culture variables with attention to gender construct. The researcher stated that mass culture is gendered female, and from the futurist perspective it was described in masculinist rhetoric (after Huyssen).

Adamson rejected the assumption that “the Futurists hoped to masculinize mass culture” (1997, 91) on the ground that both men and women entered the movement despite Marinetti’s assertions of manliness as cult and privilege. Thus, this approach concentrates on female members of Italian Futurism through the analysis of Marinetti’s rhetoric with its stressed “scorn for women. ” In my opinion, within the aforesaid approach or, may be, side by side with it, there is a historically-rhetorical school of investigation which concentrates on fictional and propagandistic ancestry of Futurism (texts).

Adamson made Marinetti’s “scorn for women” a trigger point for public relation (PR) strategy of analysis. The investigator explained the poet’s declaration of “the Futurist cult of speed, sport, force, courage, danger, and risk, and the Futurist hatred of quietism, the academic, the classical, the traditional, the nostalgic, and the sentimental” (Adamson 1997, 103) as “a rejection not of women as a biological category, but of the discursive position that the feminine had come to assume in fin-de-siecle life” (ibid. ).

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