Copyright © 1999 by The Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights reserved. This work may be used, with this header included, for noncommercial purposes within a subscribed institution. No copies of this work may be distributed electronically outside of the subscribed institution, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the JHU Press.Theatre Journal 51.4 (1999) 395-415
Of Cyborg Technologies and Fascistized Mermaids: Giannina Censi's Aerodanze in 1930s Italy
Technologized Discourses I
Technologies condition the knowledge and experiences produced in a specific site at a particular historical moment. The need to historicize and contextualize the interrelationships between certain technologies and technological practices becomes particularly apparent in the case of Italian Futurism,1 an early twentieth-century avant-garde movement that embraced and glorified the latest technological innovations with its representational practices. Much of the scholarly study of Italian Futurism, however, has tended to dehistoricize and decontextualize the futurist works of art, literature and performance.2 For a long time after the traumatic experience of World War II, this [End Page 395] movement was ignored by scholars across all disciplines. It was generally assumed that futurist practices of representation had informed the Italian fascist propaganda of the 1920s and 30s.3 Thus most of the presently available studies in the field of futurist performance and theatre try to legitimize the presence of these works in the history of the avant-garde. They treat the futurist productions as autonomous from the field of political and technological forces within which they emerged and focus on their revolutionary form or aesthetics. Such aestheticizing practices have prompted scholars to multiply rather than analyze the polemics of revolution, of destruction and of a future of men, machines and technology in the early futurist writings (that is, those [End Page 396] texts that were written in the years immediately after the movement's foundation in 1909). Furthermore, they continue to spread the myth of Futurism as a universe of "men multiplied by machines"4 without "the help of the vulva,"5 and as an avant-garde movement that existed exclusive of women. Despite the hostilities against female-gendered bodies on the surfaces of the futurist works, many women participated in or responded to specific moments in Italian Futurism.6
Giannina Censi's Aerodanze (Aerial Dances) in 1930s Italy are one example of how a woman's practices of representation and self-representation acquired visibility within the futurist movement. With her dance-performances of aeronautic experiences she desired not only to simulate the movements and vibrations of the apparatus of an airplane in flight, but also to show the effects of the airplane on the human mind and body. These representational practices were informed by Marinetti's "Futurist Manifesto of Dance" from 1917, in which the founder and leader of the futurist movement had called for a technologization of mankind with the help of dance-performances that were informed by the latest technologies. By the 1930s, when Censi put some of Marinetti's theories into practice, the political and technological context of the emergence of futurist dance had obviously changed. Our present understanding of the complexity and historicity of the interrelationships between technologies, power and representation can help us to trace the shifts that occurred between the 1917 manifesto of futurist dance and Censi's performances of the Aerodanze in the 1930s. Furthermore, a reflexive understanding of technologies as both conditioning and conditioned by our structures of knowing and belonging calls for a discussion of the limitations and possibilities of Censi's technologies of gender--in other words, for a discussion that situates her technologized practices within both the futurist movement and within the cultural politics of Italian Fascism. In this essay, I explore how an analysis of the interrelationships between power, technologies, and the (self-)representation of women [End Page 397] can complicate and shift our understanding of the representational practices of Italian Futurism as well as contribute to our awareness of the technologies of sex and gender in specific historical moments and settings.
Technologized Bodies and the Manifesto of Futurist Dance
In this futurist epoch, while more than twenty million men swathe the ground with their lines of battle and while a fantastic milky-way of shrapnel-stars explodes, . . . the Italian futurist dance must glorify the heroic man who fuses with the machines of speed and war. . . .8Marinetti's use of war-imagery and his references to war-technologies point to the major event that shaped his experience of "modern life" at that time: World War I. As we know from the 1909 publication "The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism," the futurists welcomed and glorified war and battle in their desire to destroy "pastist"--which is to say, nineteenth-century bourgeois--institutions, habits, tastes and modes of thinking. They also celebrated the technological innovations and machines of the twentieth century (such as cars, planes and electricity) for their liberating and energizing effects on human perception and everyday practices. Marinetti and many other futurists enthusiastically enlisted in the Italian army when Italy entered this war that would employ some of the latest technological inventions in the battlefield.9 In World War I, twentieth century technologies penetrated, conditioned and were fused with the experience of battle for the first time in European history. Hence it is neither a coincidence nor a surprise that, in 1917, a technophile and bellicose futurist like Marinetti would model the concept of futurist dance after three of the most "innovative" war-technologies at that time: shrapnel, the machine-gun, and the airplane.10 Besides the polemics of war-technology, however, the manifesto performs two procedures that will become significant in my analysis of the later futurist aerodanze of the 1930s.
The first of these procedures is a shift in the representation and construction of the relationship between the machine and the human body. Whereas in 1915 Marinetti still [End Page 398] idealized the machine as separate from and superior to the human body,11 the ideal of the futurist body that is presented in the 1917 manifesto shifted. Here, the ideal futurist body is presented as a technologized body, as a fusion of the human body and the machine:
To succeed in the metalism of the futurist dance, one must imitate the movements of motors with gestures by assiduously courting the steering-wheels, the wheels, the pistons and thereby prepare the fusion of man and machine.12Specifically, the dancer performs the fusion of the human body and the machines of war. Marinetti's outline of the "Dance of the Shrapnel," the "Dance of the Machine-gun" and the "Dance of the Aviator" describe how the dancer should imitate or simulate the dynamics, sounds and operation of such machines: she should draw, with her opened arms, the long hissing curve of the shrapnel that passes over the combatant's head, showing how it explodes high above or behind him; she should produce the hammering sound of the machine-gun with her feet; she should wear a large celluloid propeller on her chest that vibrates with every movement of her body; and so on. With these descriptions, Marinetti prescribes, not without a sense of irony, the technologization of the dancer's body--how the experience of technological apparati should be interiorized and exteriorized. Man, machine and war/battle are no longer separate entities, but they are fused in the futurist representational practices and in the body of the futurist dancer.
The second procedure that is performed by this text is the incorporation into the futurist universe of a female-gendered body. The 1909 manifesto presented Futurism as violently misogynistic,13 and all other futurist manifestoes on performance prior to 1917 constructed the "futurist universe" as existing exclusive of women.14 The [End Page 399] representational practices that are described by the 1917 manifesto, however, explicitly call for the presence of a danzatrice, a female-gendered dancer. This entrance of a female body into futurist discourse presents a shift away from the belief that women belonged to the paradigm of nature and the past and thereby were incompatible with the futurist paradigm of men, technology and progress. Marinetti's discursive technologization of the female dancer's body not only prescribes and performs her acculturation into what he called the "futurist epoch"; it also acknowledges a woman's potential of "preparing" and possibly bringing about the "fusion of man and machine," as demanded in the passage from the manifesto quoted above. Woman enters into and conditions the process of liberation generated by the latest technological innovations.
Technologies of Fascistization and the Futurist Aerodanze
I launched this idea of the aerial-futurist poetry with Marinetti, he himself declaiming the poetry. A small stage of a few square meters; . . . I made myself a satin costume with a helmet; everything that the plane did had to be expressed by my body. It flew and, moreover, it gave the impression of these wings that trembled, of the apparatus that trembled, . . . And the face had to express what the pilot felt. . . . I looked at a futurist painting and I had to interpret it with dance, without music. I remember how, at the Pesaro Gallery, Prampolini walked through the audience carrying his paintings, and he said: "This, this and this will be danced." . . . [H]e had made me a costume based on gas-pipes, rubber-tubes and pieces of copper-wire.16[End Page 400] [Begin Page 402]Significantly, the emergence of these representational practices has been mostly remembered not in the context of the futurist poetry-competition, but as part of an event that occurred in the same space only one week later--the inauguration of the "Exhibition of Aerial Painting and Futurist Scenography" on November 6, 1931. The futurists promoted and celebrated this first showing of futurist paintings that explicitly and exclusively focused on the concept of aeropittura (aerial painting) as a major shift in their practices of representation and self-representation.17 Hence the inaugural festivities, and the aerial dances that Censi presented in their framework, received more attention by the press and also by the subsequent scholars. The speeches and performances that were delivered at this occasion reflect the futurists' desire to celebrate, implement, promote and partly also construct the "innovation," the new futurist "invention" of futurist aerial painting--a concept that had been launched theoretically with a manifesto in 1929.18 Marinetti's speech at the inauguration, based on this manifesto, constructed and represented the history of Futurism around the central metaphor of the airplane. He derived a direct lineage that led from his own 1908 publication of The Pope's Airplane and from the "aerial poetry" of the 1910s (note that this term was not established until the "Manifesto of Aerial Poetry" in 1929), through Pratella's "aerial music" of 1919 and the "first work of aerial painting"--Azari's 1926 Prospectives of Flight, to the 1929 manifesto and the exhibition of aerial paintings that his speech was inaugurating. After having thus established the centrality of aeronautic experiences and technologies within the history of Futurism, he concludes and demands that "we are entering into the beautiful abstract synthesis of a great new art."19 Giannina Censi's performances of the futurist aerial dances acquired visibility within and contributed to this "synthesis" of the "new" futurist practices of representation.
The futurists' construction, performance and promotion of Aerial Futurism in the late 1920s and early 1930s was based on the understanding that the airplane was the technology that most dominated their times and that bore the greatest potential for liberation. The futurists from Turin, for instance, declared, [End Page 402]
We intend to use the plane (the most perfect vision of the mechanical nature) to express the "spirit of the epoch." These pictures therefore break the circle of reality to indicate the mystery of a new spirituality. . . . The shapes of the apparati, the skies, the earth, the sidereal mountains are organized outside of any visual logic or any permeation of the plains that are caused by movement.20This statement shows, however, that the futurists' turn towards the airplane was more than just another polemical glorification of a new technological device. Words like "spirit," "spirituality" and "mystery" also indicate a shift in the futurist rhetoric and its underlying theory--a shift from the polemics and theory of liberation through destruction (that is, the exertion of forces in the horizontal plane) to a liberation through spirituality and non-materiality (that is, an exertion of forces in the vertical plane). These coinciding shifts towards a celebration of the airplane and towards a vertical alignment of the futurist movement are intricately interwoven, as a passage from Prampolini's article on aerial art makes clear: "Painting emigrates from the surface, and the picture from the frame. Sculpture emigrates from the plastic bloc and from the auxiliary planes [original emphasis]."21
The emergence of Censi's aerial dances needs to be situated within this much larger shift that rippled through Futurism in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Even though the airplane had always fascinated and inspired the futurists, it had been only one of the many machines that the futurists worshipped for their liberating and destructive forces. Recall, for instance, Marinetti's manifesto of dance from 1917 in which the "Dance of the Aviator" had been only one of the three technologizing dances that Marinetti envisioned for a possible presentation. By November 6, 1931, the concept of futurist dance in terms of a fusion of man and machine has shifted from a fusion of the human body and (war)-machines generally to a fusion of the human body and the airplane specifically. Furthermore, the machine's destructive potential has been glossed over by its potential as a source of spiritual experience and liberation. The (re)definition of futurist dance as aerial dance is infused with an ambiguous language of spirituality that desires to leave the material conditions rather than destroy them. This desire to evade (rather than attack) the dominant structures of knowing and belonging with their representational practices, this desire to speak without saying anything that could be stabilized or anchored down, crystallizes in Prampolini's introduction to Censi's performance: "The art of the futurist dance is based on the volumeric conception of space to imprint the aerial sensations and views in flight with gestures and plastic poses."22 This definition of futurist dance is based entirely on non-material concepts: volume, conception, space, sensations, views.
One way of explaining this shift in the futurists' practices of representation and self-representation--and of understanding the significance of Censi's dance-performances within it--is to situate the emergence of Aerial Futurism within the process of fascistization that shaped Italian life and culture ever since Mussolini's "March on Rome" in 1922. It is necessary to briefly outline some aspects of this process in order to delineate the contours of the field of political forces in which Censi's performances of [End Page 403] aeronautic experiences acquired visibility. In Italy, the fascist regime began to install the fascist logic and ideology very slowly. Over a period of ten years, it strove to gradually (re)organize and streamline the structures of knowing and belonging in the Italian society and in its individual members.23 Thus it is neither possible to discuss Futurism--always a heterogeneous movement of individual practitioners--as existing outside and autonomously of these procedures, nor can it be regarded as having been completely absorbed by them. Since 1925, for instance, artists had to be members of the fascist syndicate for the arts in order to be able to officially sell and show their work. This organ of control served to disseminate the regime's vision of the "good" artist who prepared the intellectually inferior "co-workers" for a fascist culture that was grounded in a blend of traditions from antiquity and technological progress. The rhetoric of preparing a country for the future--and particularly a future of machines increasing the productivity of the fascist state--was compatible with futurist theories and practices. The ideal of the fascist culture as being grounded in antiquity, Roman classicism and Roman Catholicism was not.24 Consequently, the futurists as a group and as individuals were constantly negotiating and re-negotiating their position within the fascist state, compromising with and at the same time pushing the boundaries of fascist discourse. At the Futurist Congress in Milan in 1924, for instance, the members of the futurist movement strove "to present themselves as the precursors of the fascist movement and Futurism as the purest expression of fascist faith and ideology."25 The fascists' struggle with this modality of thought emerges in G. Manzella Frontini's article from 1926, entitled "The fascist art will not be the futurist art":
Fascism has given concrete hope to a restless Italy and has overcome Futurism, a movement that was only struggling towards realisation in a vague and ill-defined manner. The art of this new reality . . . must therefore not be futurist--this would ask of life to be stagnant, even to withdraw from its elementary functions--but must be a Fascist art. . . . This new art must be classical, . . . balanced, and rooted in tradition and the soil of the earth, in order to nourish the eternal life stream of the eternal race, always new and always renewing itself.26[End Page 404]Although we know that Mussolini tended to favor his old comrade Marinetti, this extract clarifies how the fascist "logic" aimed at excluding Futurism: the reactionary cultural politics of the fascist regime is presented as progressive and as revolutionary, as "new," as more avant-garde than the avant-garde, so to speak. Futurism and its desire to challenge the traditional structures of knowing and belonging are defined as "stagnant," as not having any valuable content, as stuck in form, as dead. Ironically, within this kind of logic, the futurist desire to destroy "pastist" life and art becomes "pastist" itself. Already from this example emerges the impossibility of speaking about the relationship between Fascism and Futurism in terms of an aestheticization of politics according to the futurist representational practices. Ever since Walter Benjamin causally linked the futurist representational practices with Fascism's "introduction of aesthetics into political life,"27 this myth and sweeping generalization has appeared in different variations in the scholarly discourses on the historical avant-garde. In reference to the de-contextualized perpetuation of Walter Benjamin's statement, which occurred in a very specific historical moment, Andrew Hewitt comments:
[A]ny application of Benjamin's model without continued interreference to social and economic determinants must itself fall prey to a form of aestheticization. To analyze fascism as aestheticization smacks, in turn, of aestheticization, and the attempt to establish a univesalizable model on the basis of literary production alone risks replicating at the level of theory the practice of aestheticization itself.28The excerpt from Frontini's 1926 article shows that, on the micro-level of discourses and events, politics, aesthetics and technology always interweave differently according to the site and moment of their production. Frontini's text, for instance, clearly strives to de-politicize Futurism, a labor that could itself be regarded as an act of aestheticization. There were futurists who openly rejected this kind of domestication of their theories and practices, there were futurists who claimed a fascist tradition in order to negotiate with fascist discourse from within, and there were futurists who aesthetically adhered to the fascist iconography for economic, ideological or other reasons. In the 1920s, Futurism as a movement became a heterogeneous space of constant negotiations over how to represent and self-represent within the fascist state.
The emergence of aerial painting, aerial poetry and aerial dance should be seen as a product of and a response to this struggle. Susanne von Falkenhausen has shown how the futurists' launching of aerial painting responded to the regime's practices of awarding cash prizes to "good" fascist artists who fulfilled their didactic mission. At the 1930 Biennial of Venice, for instance, the highest amounts of money were available in categories such as "Maternity," "Poetics of Work," and "Physical and Spiritual Vigor of the Race." The only futurist painter who received an award at this exhibition was Tato. He was awarded a prize by the General Fascist Confederation of Aerial and Maritime Transportation for having presented "a motif with the characteristics that are inherent to the function of the means of aerial or maritime transportation."29 The title of his painting: "Airplanes." As von Falkenhausen notes, [End Page 405]
None of the other themes with which the Futurists had tried to express their understanding of the "fascist era" had registered such prompt successes. . . . Here, the Aeropittura hit a niche: Since the novecentists and the traditionalists were not interested in this topic and since the abstract painters were not at all thematically inclined, the futurists were the only ones who incorporated this motif of the fascist propaganda that, furthermore, did not lose its significance until the end of the regime.30Aerial Futurism could be regarded as having emerged through the process by which public visibility was granted to those futurist works that already existed within this "niche," within an overlap between the fascist and the futurist imagination of the machine. The very possibility of this public space, in which also Giannina Censi's aerial dances acquired visibility, was obviously conditioned by the technological development and the use of the airplane itself. By the late 1920s, the airplane had entered public consciousness and many people's daily lives as a means of transportation, a recreational tool in sports and flight-shows, a presence in the sky and daily newspapers, or an icon in popular culture.31 Robin Pickering-Iazzi, in her analysis of [End Page 406] the function of the airplane and of flight-imagery in the 1920s Italian "aeroromance" (popular romance novels that revolved around love, pilots and airplanes), talks about "the fashioning of aviation as a symbol of boundless freedom, power, adventure, and, ironically, escape from the economic and social conditions that make technology and mechanical production possible."32
Thus it becomes clear how a multiplicity of intersecting discourses brought about the futurists' shift towards a celebration of the airplane in the futurist dances of the 1930s. The airplane was the only machine that both belonged to the iconography of fascism and that had also always been part of the futurist paradigm. Hence representational practices that centered around this technology were able to gloss over the differences between the futurist and the fascist imaginations. Moreover, a futurist practice that centered around the spiritual qualities or verticality of the experience of flight was able to evade the ground of more horizontally oriented political pragmatics--it could accommodate various different artistic practices and political orientations within Futurism itself. Emerging in an overlap between the futurist and the fascist paradigm, the airplane became a vehicle of transporting Futurism back into the public consciousness, and at the same time it also offered the individual artist a possibility to "fly from" the established structures of daily, terrestrial life. Aerial dance no longer celebrated the fusion of the human body with technologies that could destroy the established structures of knowing and belonging, but with a machine that made possible the simultaneous existence within and a flying from the reality of fascistized life and culture. Particularly, this fusion allowed the female performer to exist within and at the same time challenge the fascist ideal of "Woman."
Of Cyborg Politics and Fascistized Mermaids
In a telegram sent in 1934, Mussolini requested the prefect of Bologna to inform the director of the Aero-Club, which had published an ad inviting women to enroll in flying classes, that "in Fascist Italy, the most Fascist thing women can do is to pilot a lot of children, [End Page 407] something that doesn't prevent them from taking a plane when they have to, or for pleasure. But piloting a plane is another very serious matter that must be left to men, who, at least in Italy, are not in short supply."34Although Giannina Censi never piloted a plane herself, she joined flight-acrobats like Mario De Bernardi during his aerial stunts in order to internalize the vibrations and the velocity of the plane and thereby become the technologized body that Marinetti had already demanded in 1917. Her aerial dances could be seen as extending into the realm of dance Italian women's aviation, which began in 1913 when her aunt, Rosina Ferrario, was the first Italian woman to receive a pilot's license.35 Yet the metaphor of Censi as a pioneer-"aviator" in the realm of dance seems hardly satisfactory. We need more refined analytical tools for her movement through the interwoven discourses on women, technology, fascist politics and the accommodation of futurist representational practices within them. The need for micro-technologies of analysis becomes even more apparent in the context of some other and very different manifestations of the fusion of woman and airplane that coexisted with Censi's futurist aerial dances in 1930s Italy. Particularly, I am referring to the work of Bruno Munari who belonged to the futurist group of Milan since 1927. In his collages, he frequently mixes pictures of women with machines, and in his 1932 work entitled Thus we will take up the search for a female of the airplane he shows two versions of a being that is half woman and half plane. In the one case, the upper part consists of the photo of a woman in a tight summer-dress, crossing her arms in sharp yet "inviting" angles behind her head, while her lower body consists of the tail of an airplane. In the second case this anatomic construction is reversed-the upper part of the body shows the front part of a plane with propeller and wings that rest on the lower body of a long-legged woman in a mini-skirt and high heels. Munari's collages present us with yet another example of the fusion of woman and airplane. However, his practices of representing this fusion are completely different from those that emerge from Censi's performances. While in the aerial dances it is never clear whether Censi simulates the plane and its movements or exteriorizes the plane's effect on her, whether she physicalizes the pilot's feelings, a spiritual experience, or the plane's encounter with forces such as wind, rain, clouds and light, while, in other words, her performances blur the boundaries between woman and machine, materiality and spirituality, mind and body, signifier and signified, Munari's pictures keep these binaries intact. In his collages, it is always clear which part of the being is woman and which part is machine. The traditional image of woman and the symbols of female erotic power (such as the long bare legs, the full view of her bust, the breasts underneath the tight dress) are combined with the power of aeronautic technologies, yet none of these images ever leave their traditional frames of reference. Both parts of the binary are clearly "readable" within the dominant structures of knowing and belonging. Indeed, Munari's pictures construct what I call "fascistized mermaids." Much as fascist culture was grounded in a blend of traditions and images from antiquity with the icons and achievements of technological progress, Thus we will take up the search for a female of the airplane revisits the ancient myth of the seductive power of sirens in the age of [End Page 408] [Begin Page 410] technology: in the fascist state of progress and (re)production, men no longer dream of a creature who is half-woman-half-fish, but, as Munari's explicitly male fantasy suggests, they fantasize about the eroticized body of a half-woman-half-airplane. Even though a woman's reproductive parts might have been replaced by the machine, even though she might have been degenitalized, this displacement of her reproductive and erotic power does not transgress Mussolini's fascist ideal of woman as "piloting a lot of children." On the contrary, the machinization of her abdomen might make her (re)productive capacities even more controllable and efficient, while the displacement of her biological power makes her more submissive to the male fantasies of domination.
In Giannina Censi's aerial dances, the very concept of borders between a female-gendered body and the airplane is absent. Her representational practices go beyond and disrupt the binary mode of thinking that constructs a traditional image of femininity as separate from technology. Her performances should therefore not be underestimated in their potential to rework the fascist discourses on nature and culture. Whereas I discussed Munari's "females of the airplane" in terms of "fascistized mermaids," I believe that Censi's fusion of woman and machine can be understood more in terms of Donna Haraway's conceptualization of the "cyborg." Censi's technologized body in the aerial dances could be regarded as engaging in cyborg politics in so far as it produces "boundary breakdowns"--a distinct function of the cyborg in Haraway's feminist theory. A body that blurs the lines between human and machine, the cyborg disrupts the boundaries within and around a variety of dichotomies. As Haraway suggests,
The dichotomies between mind and body, animal and human, organism and machine, public and private, nature and culture, men and women, primitive and civilized are all in question ideologically. The actual situation of women is their integration/exploitation into a world system of production/reproduction and communication called the informatics of domination.36But the need to differentiate between the function of Censi's "cyborg technologies" and Munari's "fascistized mermaids" already indicates that the micro-technologies of Haraway's "cyborg politics" need to be historicized and situated. Munari's representations could be called cyborgs, as well. Yet his images of woman-plane do not perform any of the three "crucial boundary breakdowns" (between human and animal, between animal-human organism and machine, between physical and non-physical) that make Haraway's "political-fictional (political-scientific) analysis possible."37 While her understanding of the cyborg as "a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as women's experience in the late twentieth century"38 can provide a language to also talk about the technologies of women's representation and self-representation in the earlier twentieth century, we need to understand that cyborgs do not exist in and of themselves. The potential of their "field of operations" also always depends on how they are being used and read in their respective sites of production. We should not forget, as Haraway rightly cautions, that [End Page 410] "the main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism," a point that might have become clear in my discussion of Marinetti's 1917 manifesto of futurist dance that conditioned the emergence of Censi's aerial dances in 1931. I would like to demonstrate the potential and the limitations of reading Censi's representational practices as performing a "cyborg politics" with the help of three very different contemporary responses to them: first, the outrage of Censi's ballet colleagues from La Scala; second, the inclusion of her futurist performances as a good example of a woman's physical education in the fascist publication The Woman's Physical Culture and Female Aesthetics; and third, the exclusion of her practices of aerial dance from another fascist discourse, an article on aerial dance published in the national periodical of fascist aviation.
Censi's own account of her audience's reaction to her performances of aerial dance at the Pesaro Gallery in 1931 reveals a response of outrage and disturbance by the ballet dancers from La Scala and the "pastist" critics:
[T]he audience applauded and booed at the same time. . . . I wore a low-necked, provocative body-suit, certainly different from the usual romantic tutù. But I am convinced that the boos were all addressed to the dance. My ballet colleagues from the Scala like Attilia Radice did not understand why I was content with miming the flight of an airplane, they said that I could have done better. Also many critics did not miss the occasion to belittle me.39This reaction would have been desirable to the futurists as a sign of having succeeded in disrupting the value-system of their more traditional spectators. The dynamics of an airplane obviously do not belong to the paradigm of classical ballet. Hence a dance that is based on the performance of aeronautic experiences is not "knowable" within and disrupts the referential system of traditional, classical dance. The dancer no longer performs a story, a clear content, that can be read according to the rules of perspective of the proscenium-stage and according to the codified and stylized "language" of ballet. Furthermore, Censi's representational practices with the aerial dances produce boundary breakdowns within the paradigm of classical ballet in that the dancer's body simultaneously fuses and dissolves the signifier and the signified. Censi's body never settles down in an image, but "moves in a poly-centric space that changes continuously, at least in her imagination."40 While this poly-centric space was clearly rejected by the dancers of the classical school, it bore the potential for more ambiguous reverberations with fascist discourse, as I would like to show with the help of the two fascist publications that I mentioned above.
In 1933, Censi's representational practices acquired an exemplary status in a fascist discourse on women's physical health and education, The Woman's Physical Culture and Female Aesthetics, published in Milan by the "hygienist" and physical therapist G. Poggi-Longostrevi.41 The book explicitly addresses a female audience and possibly the (male) specialists who supervised the physical education of girls and women--in terms of their development of classical beauty and maternal strength--in the schools, [End Page 411] hospitals, and fascist youth and women's organizations in 1930s Italy.42 The six chapters of this book cover a wide range of topics from the historical background of physical education (with particular reference to ancient Greece, of course) and medical explanations (anatomy, circulation, respiration, etc.) to contemporary issues of cosmetics, of hygiene, and of the function of women within the fascist state. Section titles such as "The Laws of Female Aesthetics and Physical Education," "Plastic Beauty and Functionality," "The Aesthetic Purpose of the Female Physical Culture" and "The Labor of the Great Fascist Council--Facing the delicate question of women's sports" clearly indicate the purpose of this publication. It prescribes the fascistization of the female body, the streamlining of every single muscle, in order to prepare women for their primary function within the fascist state: the perpetuation of the race (by seducing men) and motherhood. The section titles reflect this concern with purpose, pragmatics and functionality that governs the entire text. In the chapter on the methods of women's physical education, for instance, Poggi-Longostrevi states that "the female movements need to be different from those of men because woman needs to be strong for maternity, but likewise she needs to possess the grace and the harmony to seduce."43 As Pier Carlo Monti explains in his review of the book,
According to Poggi-Longostrevi, therefore, a good sportive preparation for females should, in every case, try to enhance the qualities that are intrinsic to a woman: agility, ability, grace; . . . In no way should woman emulate man on the level of strength. . . . This opinion was also expressed by the Great Council of Fascism (16 October 1930) that gave order to the president of the C.O.N.I. [Italian National Olympic Committee, A.K. ] to review women's sportive activity and to settle its range and limits with the competent federations and with the Federation of Sports Physicians, firmly insisting that everything should be avoided that could deter a woman from her fundamental mission: Maternity.44Legitimized by medical and historical discourses, Poggi-Longostrevi prescribes how, where, and when women should use and train their bodies in the service of the fatherland. Pull-out tables with sequences of gymnastic positions for women to execute at home as well as photographs of athletic exercises and dance positions serve as models that should be imitated and internalized. Chapters one to four feature photographs of the athlete Dolly Wagner Kutschera in gymnastic positions, chapter four also presents dance positions of the rhythmic dancer Cesca Sicione, and chapters five and six include pictures of Giannina Censi's classical and futurist dances. Even though none of the illustrations are referred to in the text, the seven pictures that show Censi in positions from her futurist aerodanze give outspoken visibility to her representational practices within this fascist discourse (see figures 2, 3, and 4). Her practices of fusing woman and airplane, which are far from being "rooted in tradition and the soil of the earth" (as demanded by the 1926 article on fascist art), acquire visiblity in a text that presents a pro-natalist politics and the traditional image of classical female beauty as progressive and modern. The captions next to the pictures of [End Page 412] the aerial dances crystallize the simultaneous struggle and overlap of different imaginations in which Censi's futurist dances emerged and acquired visibility. Every picture bears two titles--the name of the position within the respective futurist dance (such as "Capsizing of the apparatus" or "Ascending velocity") and Poggi-Longostrevi's explanation of how the position exemplifies a particular muscle's function or a particular use of the body according to the previously established laws and aesthetics (such as "elegant flexion of the entire body on the points of the feet" and "stretching of the entire body in an equilibrium on the point of the left leg"). These double-titles reflect the author's desire to erase or stabilize the struggle of Censi's practices with the purpose of his text. They point to both the potentials and limitations of Censi's cyborg practices. The very mode in which her dances are used in Poggi-Longostrevi's book at the same time limits and makes possible her field of operations as a cyborg "that changes what counts as women's experience" at that time. While the author clearly appropriates the futurist practices of technologizing the body for his purpose of [End Page 413] fascistizing women's bodies, the very presence of Censi's representational practices within this discourse also conditions the image of "woman" that emerges from this text. The pictures of her present a woman who took the inspiration for her "physical culture" not from the desire to become an agile, able, graceful fascist "beauty" or a mother, but from her experiences of acrobatic flight and from her desire to "construct something new together with this group of artists who were so different from others" because "during that time in Italy there was really nobody who danced with bare feet and without music!"45 Her representational practices, especially when captured in still photographs that gloss over the asymmetric and non-harmonic (hence non-classical) dynamics of her futurist dances, are assimilated into a discourse that seeks to entice women towards a life as mothers and wives. But at the same the underlying dynamics of Censi's practices disrupt the binaries of woman/nature/reproduction and man/technology/production of the fascist paradigm.
Her potential to exist outside of and disrupt the fascist structures of knowing and belonging is exemplified by another fascist discourse: Anton Giulio Bragaglia's article on aerial dance in a special edition of the national periodical of fascist aviation, L'Ala d'Italia (The Wing of Italy), in 1935. Bragaglia explicitly states his intention to "annoy the futurists" with this article by imagining for himself "the origins of the aerial dance . . . to attest them a noble historical past," and to ridicule the futurist concept of aerial dance because "alas, the laws of physics forbid bodies to seriously fly!"46 Within the context of a fascist publication of 1935, his seemingly personal intentions perform a specific labor: on the grounds of an implied but never quite outspoken fascist value system, he accuses futurist aerial dance of rebelling against the logic, structures and "practical ends" of the contemporary everyday life and against the higher power of God (which, since Mussolini's contract with the church in 1929, informed fascist ideology): "The aerial dance is a rebellion against the everyday givens of the contingencies of man who was born from the mud by God. Every dance, moreover, is a liberation from the logic and the rational pedantry of the gestures that are designed for a practical end."47
Significantly, in this text we do not find any trace of Giannina Censi's representational practices, and I recall Haraway's statement that "the cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust."48 The potential of Censi's aerial dances to perform boundary breakdowns, their potential to simultaneously exist within and fly from the fascist paradigm cannot acquire visibility in a discourse that strives to prove that "the aerial dance is thus the drama of the children's ingratitude to the mother earth." The very visibility of her technologized body would burst the parameters of Bragaglia's article. The only way for Bragaglia to "deal" with representational practices that he perceives as disrupting and threatening the established structures of knowing and belonging is to erase the ambiguous space in the overlap between the fascist and the futurist imaginations. By measuring the futurist aerial dances according to non-futurist standards such as the traditional concept of mimesis (in terms of an imitation and possible reworking of [End Page 414] nature), he turns them into a laughing-stock. Thus aerial dance becomes "a lyrical flight, a flight of the soul, while the body is growing wings and the arms are beating as in the primitive idea of flight that stems from the imitation of birds."49 These representational practices in Bragaglia's article as well as the complete absence of a discussion of Giannina Censi's performances point to the very potential of the futurist aerial dances to disrupt the fascist logic. This potential danger surfaces in sentences such as "interrogated by me about the ideology that certainly informs the very conception [of aerial dance], the painter Prampolini remained silent." In the context of a fascist journal, this silence, of course, implies a potential for anti-fascist thoughts and activities. Yet, Bragaglia is unable or unwilling to explicitly present the futurist concept of aerial dance as anti-fascist. Bragaglia's very attempt to prove that "more vaporous and ephemeral than dance in itself, the aerial dance is therefore an art that is intentional by its social standing: an evasive art," speaks about his inability to get a grip on these kind of representational practices: they evade his discourse. Here, futurist aerial dance literally flies from the grounds of fascist logic.
Technologized Discourses II
Anja Klöck is a doctoral candidate in the department of Theatre Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota.
1. I use the capitalized word "Futurism" in reference to the historical avant-garde movement, the lower-case attribute "futurist" in relation to specific works or practices that pertain to Futurism and the lower-case noun "futurist" for individuals who were associated with the movement. The words Fascism and fascist are treated accordingly. The sources that I am using differ in how these words are spelled and used.
2. On the subject of futurist performance and theatre only two English language publications are currently available: Victoria and Michael Kirby's Futurist Performance (New York: PAJ Publications, 1971) and Günther Berghaus' Italian Futurist Theatre (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).
Michael Kirby's study reflects a desire to legitimize not only the presence of futurist performance in theatre history but also the complete absence in his analyses of the question of politics. Consider, for instance, his statement: "This connection between Futurism and Fascism may be interesting sociologically. . . . The value of art, however, is not dependent upon knowing the beliefs of its creator" (4). Like the Italian scholars before him, he limits the discussion of futurist representation to questions that center around a specific futurist aesthetics, a specific revolutionary form, which consequently has to be defined and stabilized: what is futurist and what isn't, what is avant-garde and what is not? For Kirby "it is not necessary to go further than the work of Marinetti to establish this point" (10)--a value-measure that he then modifies by stating that Marinetti's earlier plays were more futurist than those written in the 1920s (i.e. after Mussolini's march on Rome). The later plays, so he argues, were more symbolist and expressionist and "contribute little or nothing to our understanding of the important contributions of Futurism to performance" (10). The polemics of revolution, destruction and anarchy of Marinetti's early writings, including the 1909 "Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism," are taken at face-value and become the standardized grid against which all futurist works produced during the 35 years of the movement's existence are measured. Marinetti's own work of the 1920s falls through the cracks of this grid, and so do the female-gendered futurists. In Berghaus' recent Italian Futurist Theatre 1909-1944, the absence of a thorough contextualization of the futurist representational practices within a field of political and technological forces is marked by the statement "the examination of the political dimension of Futurism required separate treatment." The absence of the woman futurists is explained with the lack of space: "a separate chapter on the role of women in futurist theatre had to be omitted" (vii). Berghaus' study--and particularly his separate treatment of Futurism's political dimensions in Futurism and Politics (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1996)--have brought forth a wealth of previously unknown documents and information, and my own research is greatly indebted to his ground-breaking work. However, these discourses fail to situate and explore the complex interrelationships between power, technologies and representational practices through a self-reflexive historiography--a historiography that demonstrates an awareness of the technologies of gender and politics in its own site of production.
Examples of aestheticizing discourses in other areas of futurist representation are Marianne Martin's Futurist Art and Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968) and John White's Literary Futurism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).
3. Ever since Walter Benjamin causally linked the futurist representational practices with Fascism's "introduction of aesthetics into political life" in his 1936 article "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," this generalization--which occurred within a very specific historical moment--has informed how Futurism has been studied, taught and represented. Particularly, I am referring to the following passage from the epilogue of Benjamin's text: "All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war. . . . The technological formula may be stated as follows: Only war makes it possible to mobilize all of today's technical resources while maintaining the property system. It goes without saying that the Fascist apotheosis of war does not employ such arguments. Still, Marinetti says in his manifesto on the Ethiopian colonial war: "For twenty-seven years we Futurists have rebelled against the branding of war as antiaesthetic. . . . War is beautiful because it establishes man's dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body. . . ." . . . "Fiat ars--pereat mundus," says Fascism, and, as Marinetti admits, expects war to supply the artistic gratification of a sense perception that has been changed by technology." Illuminations (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), 243-44.
4. "This nonhuman and mechanical being, constructed for an omnipresent velocity, will be naturally cruel, omniscient, and combative." From "Multiplied Man and the Reign of the Machine" in F. T. Marinetti, Selected Writings, ed. R. W. Flint, trans. Flint and Arthur A. Coppotelli (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971), 91.
5. Filippo-Tommaso Marinetti, Marfarka Futurista (Paris: 1909), published in English as Mafarka the futurist, trans. Carol Diethe and Steve Cox (London: Middlesex University Press, 1998), 145. The quoted phrase stems from a passage in which the male futurist Mafarka talks about the birth of his son: "His giant statue stands twenty cubits tall, and all day long his mighty arms can power wings more vast than all the tents of the Bedouin and all the roofs of your huts. For I tell you that I have given birth to my son without the help of the vulva! . . . So I concluded that without the support and stinking collusion of the woman's womb, it is possible to produce from one's own flesh an immortal giant with unfailing wings!"
6. Two publications explicitly deal with and present the works of women futurists: Claudia Salaris' Le futuriste: donne e letteratura d'avanguardia in Italia (1909-1944) (Milano: Edizioni delle donne, 1982) on futurist women's literature, and Mirella Bentivoglio and Franca Zoccoli's The women artists of Italian Futurism: almost lost to history (New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 1997) on futurist women's visual art. These publications bring forth a surprisingly large amount of women's names, some biographical information and descriptions of or extracts from their works. Particularly Salaris' work can serve as a starting point and source-book for those Italian-speaking scholars who would like to engage in further research on the topic. However, these works are so much concerned with filling the gaps in Western historiography and with bringing to light previously "lost" bodies and facts, that their studies lack critical analysis and the necessary contextualization and historicization of how the futurist women acquired visibility in both the past and the present. No book-length study has ever been published on or of the works by those women futurists who were active in the field of theatre and performance.
7. F. T. Marinetti, "La danza futurista (Danza dello shrapnel--Danza della mitragliatrice--Danza dell'aviatore)--MANIFESTO FUTURISTA," L'Italia Futurista, July 8, 1917: 1-2. All translations are my own unless otherwise indicated.
8. Marinetti, "La danza futurista," 2.
9. Boccioni, Marinetti, Russolo, Sant'Elia and other futurists enlisted in the Italian army in July 1915. Marinetti was wounded in the battlefield in May 1917, and it is likely that he wrote the manifesto of dance during his recovery in the hospital at Udine.
10. In 1914, half-automatic pistols and guns were introduced to the 20th century battlefield, and planes were no longer only used as technologies of reconnaissance but also as technologies of battle: air attacks involved the throwing of bombs, and planes like the Italian SVA 5 were equipped with machine-guns with which the pilot could shoot through the propeller.
11. Between the foundation of Futurism in 1909 and the publication of the manifesto of futurist dance in 1917 Marinetti authored and co-authored over twenty manifestoes and manifesto-style texts. I find the 1915 manifesto "Multiplied Man and the Reign of the Machine" particularly suited to elucidate the shift from his idea of man as separate, dominated and multiplied by the machine to the fusion of man and machine in the manifesto of dance. Rather than proposing a kind of cyborg incarnation, the 1915 manifesto still states that "we look for the creation of a nonhuman type [my emphasis] in whom moral suffering, goodness of heart, affection, and love, those sole corrosive poisons of inexhaustible vital energy, sole interrupters of our powerful bodily electricity, will be abolished." F. T. Marinetti, Selected Writings, 91. The Italian text is published in F. T. Marinetti, Teoria e Invenzione Futurista, ed. Luciano De Maria (Verona: Arnaldo Mondadori Editore, 1968), 255-58. For a discussion of the shifting importance and symbolic function of the machine in Marinetti's writings see also Andrew Hewitt, Fascist Modernism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), 145-55.
12. Marinetti, "La danza futurista," 2.
13. In the "Founding and Manifesto of Futurism" of 1909, Marinetti had demanded the "scorn for woman." F.T. Marinetti, Selected Writings, 42.
14. The absence of any references to female-gendered futurist artists on the surface-level of the manifestoes that were penned by the futurist men does not mean, of course, that there were no women active within or in response to the futurist movement. As early as 1912 Valentine de Saint Point, a French dancer who had met the futurists in Paris, authored the "Manifesto of the Futurist Woman." She subsequently, and ironically, was absorbed and publicized by the movement as the "feminist futurist." When she toured her dance-production "Metachorie" to New York in 1917, the newspapers advertised and reviewed her performances as futurist. Marinetti objected to this use of his movement's name, which might also have motivated him to control the realm of futurist dance by writing a manifesto a few months later. But even though he refers to de Saint-Point's dances as "passéist, . . . static, arid, cold, emotionless" and thereby denies their belonging to the movement, his manifesto of futurist dance clearly responds to the pressure that was exerted on the futurist representational practices by women artists.
15. See the document archived under Cen.5.25 at the Archivio '900, Rovereto, Italy.
16. Giannina Censi, "Raccontandomi (1989)," in Elisa Vaccarino and Roberto Antolini, ed., Giannina Censi: Danzare il Futurismo (Milan: Electa, 1998), 120-21. Unfortunately no pictures survive of Censi in the costume designed by Prampolini.
17. It is probably partly due to the importance that was ascribed to this event by the futurists and by the press and partly due to the temporal closeness of the first two manifestations of Censi's aerial dances that the second presentation of the futurist aerial dances has become a reference point for their emergence and that the two events are frequently conflated by scholars. See, for instance, G. B. Sanzin's article on "La danzatrice futurista Giannina Censi," Il Piccolo delle Ore Diciotto, March 31, 1932: "In the evening of the 10th of April, at the Circolo Artistico, Censi will appear with approximately the same program that, at the occasion of the exhibition of aerial painting, had a warm success at the Pesaro Gallery, at the end of last year." (11); Carlo Belloli's "Giannina Censi negli anni trenta danzava la poesia futurista," La Martinella, January-February 1976: "The inauguration of the exhibition at the Pesaro Gallery saw the eidoramic debut of Giannina Censi, first choreoplastic interpreter of the futurist word-in-freedom." (11); or Günther Berghaus in "Danza Futurista--Giannina Censi," Dance Theatre Journal, vol. 8:1 (Summer 1990): "In October 1931, the Galleria Pesaro in Milan organized a major exhibition of Futurist aeropittura (Air Paintings). At the opening, on 31 October, the literary prize of Poeta Record of Italy was going to be awarded, and Censi was invited to perform her aerodanze on this occasion. The event was a spectacular success and went down in the chronicles of Italian dance as the Futurist dance soirée." (5).
18. The "Manifesto dell'Aeropittura Futurista" was first printed in La Gazzetta del Popolo, Turin, 22 September 1929.
19. "L'Aeropittura Futurista," Mostra futurista di aeropittura e di scenografia (Milan: Galleria Pesaro, 1931), reprinted in Marinetti, Teoria e invenzione futurista, 169-72.
20. From Mostra futurista di aeropittura e di scenografia, reprinted in Enrico Crispolti, Aeropittura futurista Aeropittori (Modena: Galleria Fonte d'Abisso, 1985), 22.
21. Ibid., 18.
22. Quoted in Belloli, 10-11.
23. Some technologies of fascistization were, for instance, the re-naming of cities and the resemanticization of language, the formation of women's and youth organizations, the reform of the educational system and of the content of school-books, Mussolini's speeches that conflated issues of social and personal hygiene (such as technologies of reproduction, the censorship of the press and the "squadristi"--violence against oppositional parties), the substitution of local representatives and mayors with members of the fascist party, the transformation of the syndicates to corporatives (fascistized versions of unions that, instead of including their members in decision making processes, became organs of state control over any aspect of production). For a detailed discussion of Mussolini's resemanticization of the Italian language, see Barbara Spackman, "Fascism as Discursive Regime," in Fascist Virilities (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 1996), 114-55.
24. Catholicism began to play an important part in fascist culture and iconography since the Lateran Pacts between Mussolini and the Holy See (Pius XI) on February 11, 1929. These pacts consisted of a treaty that regulated the relationships between the Catholic Church and the Italian State, a concordat that recognized the sovereignty of the Holy See over the Vatican, and a financial convention that settled the Vatican's claims on the Papal States that it had lost in 1870 in the process of the Italian unification. Even though Mussolini had to pay a high price--financially but also ideologically (such as permitting religious education in secondary schools)--to move the Holy See towards signing the pacts, his appeal to the masses in a predominantly Catholic country greatly depended on the official support by the Church.
25. Günther Berghaus, Futurism and Politics (Providence: Berghahn Books, 1996), 234-35.
26. "L'arte fascista non sarà l'arte futurista," L'Arte Fascista, 1:3 (1926): 117, translated in Berghaus, Futurism and Politics, 236.
27. Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Illuminations (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), 219-53.
28. Hewitt, Fascist Modernism, 3.
29. Susanne von Falkenhausen, Der Zweite Futurismus und die Kunstpolitik des Faschismus in Italien von 1922-1943 (Frankfurt am Main: Haag + Herchen, 1979), 63.
30. Ibid., 149.
31. Within ten years, between 1924 and 1934, the following airlines were founded: Delta, Lufthansa, Northwest, American, TWA, United, Air France, Swiss Air, and Continental. In 1928, the first trans-Atlantic flight-connection for regular passenger travel was inaugurated between Paris and Buenos Aires.
32. Robin Pickering-Iazzi, Politics of the Visible (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 117.
33. Doug Thompson compiles some echoes of these images in the contemporary discourses as follows: "Hovering between the popular and the 'scientific' were a whole army of 'experts', tendering overt or indirect advice: 'A gynaecologist has observed very painful disturbances during the menstrual period among women who have taken up intellectual professions'; the ideal 'type' of woman would be 'of middling height, well proportioned, a bit on the plump side with broad hips'; Nicola Pende, an 'expert' on the racial question also had valuable advice to give to women . . .--'we know that the female brain is not sufficiently prepared by nature' for certain kinds of study or for 'careers in the sciences, mathematics, history, engineering or architecture.'" Doug Thompson, State Control in Fascist Italy: culture and conformity 1925-43 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), 109.
34. Pickering-Iazzi, Politics of the Visible, 112-13, translating from Renzo De Felice, Mussolini il Duce, vol. I (Turin: Einaudi, 1974), 155.
35. Enrico Grugnola, Rosina Ferrario (Milan: Monguzzi, 1959), 5.
36. Donna Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs, Women (Routledge: New York, 1991), 163.
37. Ibid., 151.
38. Ibid., 149.
39. Marinella Guatterini, "La danza aerea del Futurismo," interview with Giannina Censi, Balletto Oggi, 35 (July 1986), 45.
40. Silvana Barberini, "Futurismo e danza: Giannina Censi," Giannina Censi: Danzare il Futurismo, 42.
41. G. Poggi-Longostrevi, Cultura fisica della donna ed estetica femminile (Milan: Hoepli, 1933).
42. In the first paragraph of the introduction, Poggi-Longostrevi states that he wrote the book "for the young women who love to liberate themselves with physical exercises from the cohort of afflictions from which generations that preceded them have suffered" and "for the young mothers who, having well understood the importance of physical education, want their little daughters to become healthy, beautiful and strong." (xi).
43. Ibid., 202.
44. Monti, "Libri Utili: Cultura fisica della donna," Lidel (September 1932).
45. Guatterini, "La danza aerea del Futurismo," 45.
46. Anton Giulio Bragaglia, "Aerodanza," L'Ala d'Italia (June 1935): 49.
48. Haraway, 151.
49. Bragaglia, 49-50.