Typographic Abrogation

Abrogation is a refusal of the categories of an imperial culture, its aesthetic, its illusory standard of normative or “correct” usage, and its assumption of a traditional and fixed meaning “inscribed” in the words (Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back 38). It is with some irony that I assert abrogation was the intent behind such typographic explorations as Carra’s Interventionist Manifesto, below. Ironic because the term is best known in this sense for its use in post-colonial studies, and here I am attributing it to an Italian nationalist. It fits because, although the Futurists weren’t particularly post-colonial, they certainly were extremely post-everythingelse.

So, ironically or not, Carra assembled in 1914 a “frenetic collage […] suggestive of a propeller shredding newspapers” (Humphreys 67) and declared it a “celebration of Italy, its aviators, [and] the noises of war” (qtd. 67). But 1914 was to mark a transition in the life of Futurism: soon, most of the artists who comprised the movement would themselves become post-Futurists.

Carra, Carlo. Interventionist Manifesto (1914)

Carra, Carlo. Interventionist Manifesto (1914)

By the time Carra spun the Interventionist Manifesto, above, Futurism was spasmolytic with appreciation for the war and rattling its last cry of enthusiastic support before disappearing into Dadaism and returning Cubism’s tools to Cubism. But where did Futurist typography come from? Consider the cover for Zang Tumb Tumb, an attempt by the movement’s patriarch (Marinetti) to  create “lyrical intoxication […] by making use of the expressive and pictorial possibilities of typography,” one of the most-often reproduced fruits of the Futurist mission.

F.T. Marinetti, Frontispiece to Zang Tumb Tumb (1912).
F.T. Marinetti, Frontispiece to Zang Tumb Tumb (1912).

Or is it (yet again) something the Futurists lifted from a preceding movement with the sort of dog-and-pony weirdness they usually meted out to accurate accusations of plagiarism? Consider the typographic stylings of Apollinaire…

Guillame Apollinaire – from Calligrammes 1918
Guillame Apollinaire – from Calligrammes 1918

…or the Typography of Mallarme.

Stephane Mallarme, A throw of the Dice 1897.
Stephane Mallarme, A throw of the Dice 1897.

But why let the truth get between you and an opportunity to pooh-pooh your aesthetic ancestors? When confronted, Marinetti explains that his

…new array of type, this variety of colours, this original use of characters enable me to increase many times the expressive power of words. By this practice I combat the decorative ‘precious’ style of Mallarme, his recherche language. I also combat Mallarme’s static ideal. My reformed typesetting allows me to treat words like torpedoes and to hurl them forth at all speeds: at the velocity of stars, clouds, aeroplanes, trains, waves, explosives, molecules, atoms. (qtd. Rye 115).

And so, once again, the Futurists pull themselves fully formed out of their own skulls as did Athena fully armed spring from the unsuspecting head of Zeus, though quite a lot more ouroborosly so. By 1916, especially because of the demoralizing defeat for the Italians at Caporetto, Marinetti’s gleeful celebration of “War — the world’s only hygiene” (qtd. Humphrys 11) no longer rang of the spontaneous Avant-garde precociousness it once had, and he soon found himself the movement’s only remaining booster.

That loneliness didn’t last, of course, but from here the story is about dicks like Mussolini, and how art played a role in the rise of fascism in Italy–just the sort of thing which ought not concern us here, as that would increase the dicks:artists ratio beyond that which qualifies this blog as both an informative and spiritually uplifting read.

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