‘In quest’anno futurista’ conference (review)

The American Association for Italian Studies (AAIS) held congress May 7 – 10, 2009 at St. John’s University in Manhattan and was a nice opportunity to reconnect and see familiar faces. A while back, a call for papers had been fielded by Patrizio Ceccagnoli, though this original intention was absorbed by the panel “In quest’anno futurista,” which, I believe, was led by efforts made by Luca Somigli (University of Toronto) and Federico Luisetti (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) for an upcoming issue of Annali d’Italianistica : “A Century of Futurism: 1909-2009.”

The panel began Saturday at 8:00am
The panel began Saturday at 8:00am

Unfortunately, neither Federico Luisetti nor Luca Somigli were able to attend – though who could blame them, as the panels (along with so many others) were scheduled to begin at eight in the morning (!). Session one: “La ricostruzione futurista dell’universo,” was moderated by Michael Syrimis (Tulane University) and began with Silvia Contarini (Université Paris X, Nanterre) discussing the metamorphosis that male and female sexual identity underwent during and between the Wars, as well as within the Futurist community.

Next, Timothy Campbell (Cornell University) began with a comment regarding the early hour and Marinetti’s title as the “caffeine of Europe.” Though he was only presenting a small portion of a larger study, he did manage to raise some interesting views regarding sovereignty,  Foucault’s conception of biopower and Marinetti’s imagining of life and death. Campbell pointed out that Futurism created a milieu where heightened risks and the constant threat of the past was necessary in order to contextualize itself.

Selena Daly (University College Dublin) – whom I first had the pleasure to meet a year ago at the ISSEI conference in Helsinki – presented on the topic of putrefaction and digestion in Marinetti’s writings. More specifically, drawing on similar instances and descriptions of the digestive process (farts, burps, etc.) in Le Roi Bombance, Re Baldoria and the Futurist cookbook. With these examples, Daly also pointed to the correlation between the stomach and reproductive organs as well as the Futurists’ thoughts on diet.

After a quick coffee-break off-site, the group of about a dozen or so reconvened for the second session: “F.T. Marinetti,” which was led by Timothy Campbell. Michael Syrimis continued the biological theme by focusing on Marinetti’s Mafarka the Futurist, wherein the son of Mafarka, Gazurmah, develops a humorously gigantic penis. Syrimis used Mafarka as a point of reference for Henri Bergson’s treatise on laughter, which includes the mechanization and objectification of the human form as paradoy.

Marja Härmänmaa (University of Helsinki)  – whom I had also met previously in Finland – spoke on the relationship between Futurism and Nature (as embodied by the myth of Pan), using the “kingdom of Prometheus” as a metaphoric foil to 18th and 19th century Romanticism.

Patrizio and Marja
Patrizio and Marja

Lastly, Patrizio Ceccagnoli (Columbia University) spoke to the fetishization of Venice by the Futurists, particularly Marinetti – using Freud as a starting point – suggesting that Marinetti’s obsession may have even been rooted in an unconscious threat posed by D’Annunzio.

Overall, topics ranged from bodily elements – sex, genitalia, fetish, gastral-intestinal activity and laughter – to external and environmental factors such as power, Nature and death; all of which contributed to a fruitful early-morning discussion of Marinetti and Futurism.

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