Sunday, 29 May 2011

Contro Venezia Passatista: Marinetti revisited in a fresh translation

Marinetti in 1912: motor-cars, not gondolas
The artist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) was the founder of the Italian Futurist movement. He and his followers embraced technological progress and were scornful of traditionalists, urging the bourgeoisie to abandon their nostalgic reverence for the past. Marinetti was particularly against romantic, nineteenth century perceptions of Venice as the 'eternal city'. In a provocative pamphlet entitled Contro Venezia Passatista (1910), he advocated the wholesale desecration of the Serenissima and the building of a new, industrially-driven metropolis in its place. In his recent book, The Venice Lido, Robin Saikia offers a new translation of some of the more scabrous passages of Marinetti's text. In the following extract, the poet warms to his subject in earnest: "Away with you, venerable old Venice, spent and ruined by voluptuousness. We loved one another well enough while the nostalgic dream lasted, but now it’s time to give you the boot. To hell with that Venice mooned over by tourists! Damn that forgers’ bazaar, that magnet for snobs and imbeciles, that four-poster smashed in by caravans-full of shaggers, that jewel-encrusted girdle for cosmopolitan old sluts, that Grand Privy of traditionalism. Let us cleanse and cauterise this putrescent city, this festering bubo of the past. Let us bring back to life and re-enoble the Venetians themselves, busting up their nasty, furtive little businesses. Let us prepare for the birth of an industrial and military might in Venice that will ravish that great Italian 'lake', the Adriatic, once and for all. There’s no time to lose. Fill in all the stinking little canals with the rubble of those crumbling, leprous palaces. Burn all the gondolas, those rocking chairs for cretins. Raise up to high heaven a glorious symmetry of iron bridges, topped by a great canopy of smoke from the factories. What a backlash that would be at the sagging curves of the miserable old buildings! And yes, may it come! The reign of Divine Electric Light, that will liberate Venice once and for all from the venal moonshine that illuminates all those ‘furnished apartments'.

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