Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reasons to be a Futurist, parts 1, 2 and 3

ia Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Painting above is "La strada entra nella casa" or The Street Enters the House by Boccioni, 1911, an Italian futurist. (and face it there weren't many futurists who weren't Italian, as it became associated with nationalism and fascism.)

Marinetti, "War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt of metallization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony."

Futurism, as created by Marinetti, was a celebration of youth and technology. "Marinetti expressed a passionate loathing of everything old, especially political and artistic tradition. "We want no part of it, the past", he wrote, "we the young and strong Futurists!" The Futurists admired speed, technology, youth and violence, the car, the airplane and the industrial city, all that represented the technological triumph of humanity over nature, and they were passionate nationalists. They repudiated the cult of the past and all imitation, praised originality, "however daring, however violent", bore proudly "the smear of madness", dismissed art critics as useless, rebelled against harmony and good taste, swept away all the themes and subjects of all previous art, and gloried in science." (wikipedia)

This led to the adoption of Fascism and the promulgation of some truly hideous memes, although I like Sorel's ideas of science up to a point, the point of a separate nature, as very pre-postmodern. Others influenced by futurism include Ridley Scott's Bladerunner, who consciously attempted to traduce the meme. Finally, lIke Walter Benjamin, many futurists died (or were killed) in the violence of war that they espoused, although not usually because they were futurists.

Isaiah Berlin identifies three scientific anti-realist currents in Sorel's work.

[edit] Science is not reality

He dismissed science as "a system of idealised entities: atoms, electric charges, mass, energy and the like – fictions compounded out of observed uniformities…deliberately adapted to mathematical treatment that enable men to identify some of the furniture of the universe, and to predict and…control parts of it." [1; 301] He regarded science more as "an achievement of the creative imagination, not an accurate reproduction of the structure of reality, not a map, still less a picture, of what there was. Outside of this set of formulas, of imaginary entities and mathematical relationships in terms of which the system was constructed, there was ‘natural’ nature – the real thing…" [1; 302] He regarded such a view as "an odious insult to human dignity, a mockery of the proper ends of men", [1; 300] and ultimately constructed by "fanatical pedants", [1; 303] out of "abstractions into which men escape to avoid facing the chaos of reality." [1; 302]

[edit] Science is not nature

As far as Sorel was concerned, "nature is not a perfect machine, nor an exquisite organism, nor a rational system." [1; 302] He rejected the view that "the methods of natural science can explain and explain away ideas and values…or explain human conduct in mechanistic or biological terms, as the…blinkered adherents of la petite science believe." [1; 310] He also maintained that the categories we impose upon the world, "alter what we call reality…they do not establish timeless truths as the positivists maintained", [1; 302] and to "confuse our own constructions with eternal laws or divine decrees is one of the most fatal delusions of men." [1; 303] It is "ideological patter…bureaucracy, la petite science…the Tree of Knowledge has killed the Tree of Life…human life [has been reduced] to rules that seem to be based on objective truths." [1; 303] Such to Sorel, is the appalling arrogance of science, a vast deceit of the imagination, a view that conspires to "stifle the sense of common humanity and destroy human dignity." [1; 304]

[edit] Science is not a recipe

Science, he maintained, "is not a ‘mill’ into which you can drop any problem facing you, and which yields solutions", [1; 311] that are automatically true and authentic. Yet, this is precisely how too many people seem to regard it.

To Sorel, that is way "too much of a conceptual, ideological construction", [1; 312] smothering our perception of truth through the "stifling oppression of remorselessly tidy rational organisation." [1; 321] For Sorel, the inevitable "consequence of the modern scientific movement and the application of scientific categories and methods to the behaviour of men", [1; 323] is an outburst of interest in irrational forces, religions, social unrest, criminality and deviance - resulting directly from an overzealous and monistic obsession with scientific rationalism.

And what science confers, "a moral grandeur, bureaucratic organisation of human lives in the light of…la petite science, positivist application of quasi-scientific rules to society – all this Sorel despised and hated", [1; 328] as so much self-delusion and nonsense that generates no good and nothing of lasting value. In essence, something of a Romantic like Blake, Sorel would say, "the artist creates as the bird sings on the bough, as the lily bursts into flower, to all appearance for no ulterior purpose." [2; 196]
... too much wikipedia before breakfast is not good for digestion

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