The Futurist Imagination in the Radio Age
Radio waves not only transformed how bodies interacted with each other, but also gave modern writers and artists a new vocabulary with which to describe such connections. The “wireless imagination,” coined in 1912 by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, would famously adopt the nascent technology of wireless communication as a model for the innovative poetics and electrified sensibility of the futurist movement. This dissertation reconsiders the influence of radio on Italian futurism in order to reorient our understanding of the avant-garde itself: from an aesthetics of shock and opposition towards one of receptivity and relation. In conversation with contemporary media
theory, I challenge a dominant identification of the “wireless imagination” with a mechanized, militant subjectivity through case studies of texts that have received little critical attention. Futurism’s interest in radio, as I demonstrate, extends beyond the technology itself, and its association with war, to a broader preoccupation with radio as radiance, a metaphor for sensation, connectivity, and address. I displace a broadcast model of one-way transmission in favor of a relational paradigm that complicates key tropes often associated with the avant-garde: its technocentrism; its hyper-masculinity; its ambivalent rapport with mass culture and politics. Across the dissertation’s three
chapters, I describe modes of wireless interactivity that shed new light on the futurist subject and its relationship to others, within and outside the bounds of the texts under consideration. My analysis of Luciano Folgore’s Ponti sull’oceano (1914) in Chapter One reexamines futurist technophilia and its rhetoric of destruction through an emphasis on physical sensation and sympathetic vibrations. Chapter Two considers the gendered dynamics of communication through the subversive figure of the woman-as-wave, from
F.T. Marinetti’s “Miss Radio” (1928) to Benedetta Cappa Marinetti’s Astra e il sottomarino (1935). Shifting from an individual and interpersonal to a collective wireless imagination, Chapter Three reads Fortunato Depero’s Liriche radiofoniche (1934) in the context of Italian broadcasting under fascism in order to reevaluate the avant-garde’s fraught integration with cultural and political life. This tension is the focus of the dissertation’s coda, which considers the fate of the “wireless imagination” on the eve of the Second World War in order to interrogate the possibilities and limits of the avant-garde itself.