Friday, May 9, 2014

What Kind of Future Comes From Worshiping Speed, Machines, Flight, War?

By coincidence, the weekend I found myself in New York pondering a movement to construct a new future, I had the chance to spend some time at the Guggenheim Museum and see an exhibition that had aroused my curiosity several months previous: the art of a group of Italians who called themselves "Futurists."

Gerardo Dottori, Aerial Battle over the Gulf of Naples or
Infernal Battle over the Paradise of the Gulf
(Battaglia aerea sul Golfo di Napoli
or Inferno di battaglia sul paradiso del golfo), 1942 (detail)
(more on the Guggenheim Futurists exhibition website)

The Futurists burst on the scene in Italy in 1909. The works in the exhibit are fascinating, full of energy and color, and the movement had a strong iconoclastic and inventive bent. Strangely -- and unfortunately -- is also glorified war and violence, and was unapologetically misogynist. It fed right into Mussolini's Fascism.

I noticed, in particular, that the Futurists loved airplanes, and other fast machines. Considering how we, in the U.S. today have been seduced by drones and drone warfare, we would perhaps do well to reflect on why people find these things so appealing.

Ivo Pannaggi, Speeding Train

More broadly, the Futurists were fascinated with energy, velocity, power, and lots of other dimensions of physics -- color, sound, etc.

The manifesto of the Futurists included statements like . . .

We want to sing the man at the wheel, the ideal axis of which crosses the earth, itself hurled along its orbit. 

Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character.  

We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman. 

And this led me to think: "Well, of course, no one knows for sure what the 'right' set of things are that characterize the future . . . that's what makes it 'the future' . . . but clearly if you focus on a few of the wrong things (like speed and power), of course you're going to end up way off course."

So . . . what should we focus on? What shall lie at the core of our futurism?

More about the Futurists.

Listen to "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" by John Adams.

Related posts

More than anything, I have a visceral memory of lying in the grass in Lincoln Park as a jet streaked east towards the lake, and the thought occurred to me, "This would be terrifying if I were a rice farmer in a paddy somewhere and I didn't know what this is all about." Yes, I confess, up until that moment, I had approached the Chicago Air & Water Show with very little perspective, or awareness, or empathy for others.

(See I { love | hate } the Chicago Air and Water Show)

I'm trying to understand: "What was Hayao Miyazaki thinking (when he made his latest animated film, The Wind Rises)?" How can this most humane (and antiwar) of artists created an homage to the creator of the Japanese Zero fighter plane?

(See Boys and Their Toys (Trying to Understand "The Wind Rises"))

"What are the unseen possibilities and risks associated with drones?" We need the insights of lots of people -- including the work of thinkers who are no longer living -- that are good at imagining the future and considering previously unimagined possibilities.

(See DRONES: Build a Foundation for Our 3-D Future )

I'm grateful to my friend, Jim Barton, for framing the problem in a way that is adequately broad, and yet contains a measure of hope.  It's about the future, and whether we have one -- or can construct one -- he said.  Young people today are asking: Do I have an economic future? Does the planet have a future? Will (nuclear) war extinguish everybody's future?

(See A FUTURE: Can we construct one? )