Reader's Encyclopedia


A radical movement in literature and art initiated in 1909 by the Italian poet and novelist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876 - 1944). His Manifeste du Futurisme (1909) called for a revolutionary attitude toward life and art in general, exalting such aspects of contemporary life as speed, machinery, and war. The special manifesto on literature (1912) insisted on courage, audacity, and rebellion as the essential elements of poetry; it advocated freedom for the word (parole in libert a), the abolition of syntax, and similar anarchic, " liberating " tendencies. In the field of art, futurism produced its most interesting works before World War I. In their effort to portray dynamic movement and force, futurist painters often presented a moving object in successive stages of motion. Among the representatives of futurist art were the painters Giacomo Bella and Gino Severini and the sculptor Umberto Boccioni. The movement won for a time the endorsement of the Italian fascists.

Futurism influenced modern European literature and art and was also a forerunner of cubism, dada, expressionism, and surrealism. Its most immediate effect was felt in Russia, where futurists attempted to do away with what they regarded as stale and hackneyed in Russian poetry, especially the kind of work written by the symbolist poets. The chief members of the Russian futurists were Velemir Khlebnikov and Vladimir Mayakovsky. The iconoclastic attitude of the futurists was revealed in their manifesto, Poshchiochina obshchestvennomu vkusu (A Slap in the Face of Public Taste, 1912), which voiced their demand: " Throw Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy ... overboard from the steamship of modernity. " The search for new poetic techniques led Khlebnikov to experiment with " trans - sense language " (Russ, zaumnayi yazik or zaum ), in which words are shorn of their meanings and used only for their sound values. One of Khlebnikov 's experiments consisted of a poem, written in 1910, made up of neologisms derived from the word smekh ("laughter"). Mayakovsky, the greatest poet of the group, was more successful in developing a new kind of poetry. Its chief features were a rhetorical style, original rhymes, powerful rhythms, and an emphasis on the individual word, rather than the line, as the basis of poetic organization.

Although revolutionary in temper and tone, the work of the futurists was too literary for the Soviet cultural overseers. To propagate their views, the futurists formed the organization known as LEF (Left Front of the Arts) in 1923 and published a journal under that name. The journal failed in 1925, and was revived briefly in 1927 - 28 as Novyi LEF (New LEF), but eventually the project died. By this time the proletarian trend in literature, advocated by RAPP (q.v.), was dominant.