In pursuit of glamour

‘…  alone with the black spirits which rage in the belly of rogue locomotives…

This photograph shows the Gare Montparnasse rail accident of October 23, 1895, in which a train overan 30 metres of concourse after its brakes failed, ending up – rather spectacularly – on the street outside the station. It’s an almost allegorical scene; evocative of machismo and ego and of a certain romantic folly.

In 1909 F. T. Marinetti wrote the Futurist Manifesto, quoted above: by all accounts a manic, self-mythologising, melodramatic rant, and for these reasons an intensely satisfying one. When I first read it, I tried to memorise these lines:

“Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggresive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.”

There’s something extraordinarily vital about this pronouncement that I like – an emboldening physicality. Too often I find myself reading stodgy, complacent books and thinking stodgy, complacent thoughts. I’d much rather be punched in the face.

Of course, the Futurists were often nutters (& sometimes fascists) and despite extolling new technologies, urban protrusions and violent injustices, not even particularly original. Marinetti and friends were committed – fuck the brakes! fuck the end of the line! – to the headlong pursuit of glamour in art: fame, mystique, permanence – all the old motivations, in other words. Every artist wants these things.

The Futurists, though, believed that Art is necessarily an imposition upon the natural order of things and in that sense any creative act is an act of ‘violence, cruelty, injustice’ requiring no justification. They therefore invoked the ‘black spirits which rage in the belly of rogue locomotives’ without moral scruple.

One person was killed in the rail accident of 1895.

The Futurists on Road Safety:

Marinetti describes driving his car into a ditch upon encountering some unaccommodating cyclists, which is laughable when you consider that he was a fascist nutter and James Martin – a TV chef – wouldn’t dream of dirtying his Prius for the sake of ‘a bunch of City-boy ponces’.

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