Fascist Modernism: Aesthetics, Politics, and the Avant-Garde 9781503622128

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Fascist Modernism: Aesthetics, Politics, and the Avant-Garde

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FASCIST MODERNISM Aesthetics) Politics) and the Avant-Garde


Stanford University Press Stanford) California

Stanford University Press Stanford, California © 1993 by the Board ofTrustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University Printed in the United States of America CIP

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Stanford University Press publications are distributed exclusively by Stanford University Press within the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America; they are distributed exclusively by Cambridge University Press throughout the rest of the world.

For Tony -and the boys!



t is tempting, upon the publication of a first work, to assay the impossible: to thank everyone whose influence has in any way shaped one's thinking and development. I shall resist the temptation, for those people are too numerous. I trust that they shall take pleasure in the publication of this work, and hope they might find their thanks in its appearance. To those who played a more direct role in the shaping of this book, however, I express my particular gratitude. Specifically, I would like to thank my colleagues and mentors at Cornell University, Jonathan Culler, Peter Hohendahl, and Sander Gilman. Though they will not recognize this book from the work I undertook with them during my time at Cornell, they should know that the interests informing it took shape during study with them. And for their continued interest and solicitude-above and beyond the call of duty!-! particularly thank Jonathan and Peter. To my departmental colleagues at SUNY Buffalo-Rodolphe Gasche, Carol Jacobs, and Henry Sussman-I also owe a debt of gratitude for creating an atmosphere in which it would be impossible not to produce one's very best. And to Matias-for your diligence-thanks.

Contents Introduction: Why Fascist Modernism?



Avant-Garde and Modernism: A Theoretical Introduction 20


Excursus on the Dialectic of Autonomy and Rationalization: History and Theory 4-8

Decadence and Nationalism



The Politics of the Manifest



Avant-Garde and Technology: Futurist Machines-Fascist Bodies


Fascist Modernism and the Theater of Power r6r



Bibliography w Index 219



Introduction: Why Fascist Modernism?


he aim of this study is to understand just what in fascism proved so attractive and exciting to large sections of a literary generation-a generation broadly coextensive with the historical avant-garde. Rather than reading the political exploits of Ezra Pound, Gottfried Benn, or Filippo Tommaso Marinetti as unfortunate aberrations of purely biographical interest, I wish to examine the points of contiguity between a "progressive" aesthetic practice and a "reactionary" political ideology. In other words, while working with the "aestheticization" model, I hope to be a little more specific about the type of aesthetic that could result in this particular political position. Rather than simply hypostatizing or dehistoricizing the category of the aesthetic, I will seek to trace both the institutional and discursive developments that made an expansive aestheticization possible, and the specific aesthetic concerns of those who subsequently embraced various forms of fascism. It is not and cannot be a question of stigmatizing "aesthetics" or championing "politics." Consequently, generalizable theses regarding the development of the aesthetic as an autonomous discourse had to be supplemented by substantive textual references.


Introduction: Why Fascist Modernism?

This supplement seeks to render more concrete the ideological maneuvers all too often masked by the hypostatized entities of Art and Politics. By limiting my textual analyses to a closer consideration of Marinetti and his aesthetico-political context, I seek to overcome certain taxonomic difficulties. Clearly, any analysis of Fascist Modernism suggests two prior projects: an analysis of fascism and an analysis of modernism. In fact, the reference to modernism in my title is somewhat misleading, since I will insistalong with Peter Burger, though I differ from him in my reasons for drawing the distinction 1-on the necessity of differentiating between modernism and the avant-garde. It is as an exemplar of the avant-garde rather than of modernism that I will treat Marinetti. Consequently, I will be dealing with modernity only at a moment of rupture-the avant-garde-and reconstituting the concept of modernism largely from the perspective of the avant-garde. In speaking of Fascist Modernism, then, I aim to suggest that this ideological rupture made practicable a fascistic ideology consistent with an avant-garde aesthetic. I am not suggesting that the avant-garde and fascism were in any sense identical, nor (unlike Lukacs) that they are related causally. The relationship is that of two contemporaneous responses to objective developments in the self-consciousness of modernity. I will conclude by suggesting that the condition of what is rather loosely termed "postmodernity" is an attempt to revisit that rupture, to reassess issues that the theoretical reification of the avant-garde and the defeat of fascism had apparently laid to rest. It is no coincidence that thinkers such as Jean-Fran