Soft Spot for a Nihilist; My introduction to Modernism

Let us throw ourselves, like food, into
the Unknown, not in desperation, but to fill the deep wells of the

More than a
hundred years since Marinetti published his fervent rant on art in
‘The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism’ he has succeeded to burst
my Victorian aesthetic bubble. For so long I have been immersed in
Mr. Hyde, Mary Shelley’s creature, corsetry and top hats. Reading
Marinetti for the first time on a train home from university was
like getting a hard stamp on the foot.

demands and idealology are so appalling and yet I could read his
outbursts all day long with a little shock and a wry smile. Even
his ‘Contempt for Women’ declaring us females a useless, less
intelligent sex in the way of men achieving power makes me laugh
rather the button up a feminist uniform. The many contradictions
don’t merely flaw his conviction but make me think of the ‘do this,
no, do this, either way do it’ giddy rhetoric I am finding in
modernist writing. This can be seen in the bold, irregular lay out
of ‘Blast’ magazine both blessing and cursing the same

It has led me to question why reading the
literature of men that became fascists and were anti-Semitic should
peak my interests and excitement in
literature? It is like how my favourite dancer is Mary Wigman and then I found out that she sacked all Jewish dancers from her school. And yet she is still my greatest inspiration as a dancer. I don’t know what to think of it when I detest prejudice.

Shouldn’t I be hating

In one Stanza by Ezra Pound he is insulting
Jews and in the next I read a defiant attack on the reader that I
find utterly brilliant;

Or perhaps I will die at
Perhaps you will have the pleasure of defiling
pauper’s grave;
I wish you joy, I proffer
you all my assistance.
It has been your habit for
to do away with good writers,
You either
drive them mad, or else you blink at their
Or else you condone their drugs,
and talk of insanity and genius,
But I will not go
mad to please you,
I will not flatter you with an early
Oh, no, I will stick it out,
Feel your
hates wriggling about my feet
As a pleasant
to be observed with derision,
many move with suspicion,
Afraid to say that they hate
The taste of my boot ?
Here is the taste
of my boot,
Caress it,
lick off the

The version that I copied this stanza
from had exchanged the word ‘Jews’ for ‘Panders’ in the section
before this. Shouldn’t I hate them not be celebrating their boldness?
I who can’t abide the smallest insult from one person to

Then I think maybe the words and beliefs
of them should be exposed, should make me angry. Isn’t that what their
negative, praise of ugliness and desire for chaos is trying to
place on me? When I read ‘Enemy of the Stars’, a play (of sorts) by
Wyndham Lewis I was left feeling grubby as though I had witnessed
and taken part in something violent and degrading I shouldn’t have
got myself into by reading it. The way Lewis uses prose to make you
forget it is a play and somehow you fall in to being in it, unsure
who is speaking when, with no control over the action is incredibly
clever. Somehow it is likable, almost enjoyable to read what I
don’t like.

It is not what they say but how they
are saying it. Mostly though, it is the thought of young men
embarking on new ideas to change art, collaborating on magazines
and movements against everything that had come before that entices
me; the shock of the new. I like to think that again there could be some kind of uprising, wanting for freedom in literature
and art. I live in hope that the era of chick lit and
50-shades-of-tediousnous have their day where something marches out
of the underground scene (does one still exist?) and will tear it
all to shreds. Or maybe the likes of Blast standing the test of time will always suffice against mass literature.

I think how Marinetti’s future is
now our past, how sadly all things revolutionary and new were just
as institutionalized as the institution they were against. In the
way that punks became the faces on novelty postcards the manifesto
in Blast is now analysed in academia.

But then
without becoming part of a curriculum I don’t think I would have
encountered these avant-garde men and their wit and objections that
have gripped me.


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