free expressive orthography

Marinetti’s “Destruction of Syntax – Imagination without strings – Words-in-Freedom” (1913), summarizes the “futurist sensibility” and provides a socio-psychological foundation for the futurist project.

“Futurism is grounded in the complete renewal of human sensibility brought about by the great discoveries of science. Those people who today make use of the telegraph, the telephone, the phonograph, the train, the bicycle, the motorcycle, the automobile, the ocean liner, the dirigible, the aeroplane, the cinema, the great newspaper (synthesis of a day in the world’s life) do not realize that these various means of communication, transportation and information have a decisive influence on their psyches.

An ordinary man can in a day’s time travel by train from a little dead town of empty squares, where the sun, the dust, and the wind amuse themselves in silence, to a great capital city bristling with lights, gestures, and street cries. By reading a newspaper the inhabitant of a mountain village can tremble each day with anxiety, following insurrection in China, the London and New York suffragettes, Doctor Carrel, and the heroic dog-sleds of the polar explorers. The timid, sedentary inhabitant of any provincial town can indulge in the intoxication of danger by going to the movies and watching a great hunt in the Congo. He can admire Japanese athletes, Negro boxers, tireless American eccentrics, the most elegant Parisian women, by paying a franc to go to the variety theater. Then, back in his bourgeois bed, he can enjoy the distant, expensive voice of a Caruso or a Burzio.”

This consciousness of the effects of modernity on consciousness provide further insight into the context of futurism. This exploration of mordernity is present in Whitman, Zukofsky, Apollinaire, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Ginsberg, and O’Hara – who all explore how modernity influences psyche. We can see Pound’s “all ages are contemporaneous in the mind” here as well, a position reinforced by the availability of disparate information to be experienced – the Diaspora of modernity held together in consciousness. The positionality is crucial as well, the futurist project centralizes itself in the industrial city, establishes a fetishized periphery, and re-grounds itself in the “buorgeois bed.” In essence, futurism has the privilege of access.

From this, M. outlines how modernity modifies psyche:

1 Acceleration of life to today’s swift pace. Physical, intellectual, and sentimental equilibration on the cord of speed stretched between contrary magnetisms. Multiple and simultaneous awareness in a single individual.
2 Dread of the old and the known. Love of the new, the unexpected.
3 Dread of quiet living, love of danger, and an attitude of daily heroism.
4 Destruction of a sense of the Beyond and an increased value of the individual … 5 The multiplication and unbridling of human desires and ambitions.
6 An exact awareness of everything inaccessible and unrealizable in every person.
7 Semi-equality of man and woman and a lessening of the disproportion in their social rights.
8 Disdain for amore (sentimentality or lechery) produced by the greater freedom and erotic ease of women and by the universal exaggeration of female luxury. …
9 A modification of patriotism, which now means a heroic idealization of the commercial, industrial, and artistic solidarity of a people.
10 A modification in the idea of war, which has become the necessary and bloody test of a people’s force.
11 The passion, art, and idealism of Business. New financial sensibility.
12 Man multiplied by the machine. New mechanical sense, a fusion of instinct with the efficiency of motors and conquered forces.
13 The passion, art, and idealism of Sport. Idea and love of the “record”.
14 New tourist sensibility bred by ocean liners and great hotels (annual synthesis of different races). Passion for the city. Negation of distances and nostalgic solitudes. Ridicule of the “holy green silence” and the ineffable landscape.
15 The earth shrunk by speed. New sense of the world. To be precise: One after the other, man will gain the sense of his home, of the quarter where he lives, of his region, and finally of the continent. Today he is aware of the whole world. He little needs to know what his ancestors did, but he must assiduously discover what his contemporaries are doing all over the world. The single man, therefore, must communicate with every people on earth. He must feel himself to be the axis, judge, and motor of the explored and unexplored infinite. Vast increase of a sense of humanity and a momentary urgent need to establish relations with all mankind.
16 A loathing of curved lines, spirals, and the tourniquet. Love for the straight line and the tunnel. The habit of visual foreshortening and visual synthesis caused by the speed of trains and cars that look down on cities and countrysides. Dread of slowness, pettiness, analysis, and detailed explanations. Love of speed, abbreviation, and the summary. “Quick, give me the whole thing in two words!”
17 Love of depth and essence in every exercise of the spirit.

This is a portrait of the futurist Superman: Speed, War, Patriotism, Business, Sport, Adventure, Ambition, Mechanical, Abbreviated, Urban, Omnipresent, Omniscient. “So these are some elements of the new Futurist sensibility that has generated our pictorial dynamism, our antigraceful music in its free, irregular rhythms, our noise-art and our words-in-freedom.” Even though the futurist sensibility creates a frightening imperialist portrait, it is not far off in describing the effects of modernity on the western consciousness.

The manifesto then continues to summarize the technique that arises from the futurist “stance-towards-reality.”

1. Words in Freedom: this is the foundational idea for futurist lyricism.

“He will begin by brutally destroying the syntax of his speech. He wastes no time in building sentences. Punctuation and the right adjectives will mean nothing to him. He will despise subtleties and nuances of language. Breathlessly he will assault your nerves with visual, auditory, olfactory sensations, just as they come to him. The rush of steam-emotion will burst the sentence’s steampipe, the valves of punctuation, and the adjectival clamp. Fistfuls of essential words in no conventional order. Sole preoccupation of the narrator, to render every vibration of his being.

If the mind of this gifted lyrical narrator is also populated by general ideas, he will involuntarily bind up his sensations with the entire universe that he intuitively knows. And in order to render the true worth and dimensions of his lived life, he will cast immense nets of analogy across the world. In this way he will reveal the analogical foundation of life, telegraphically, with the same economical speed that the telegraph imposes on reporters and war correspondents in their swift reportings. […] So the poet’s imagination must weave together distant things with no connecting strings, by means of essential free words.”

This, of course, brings me back to Whitman’s “I permit to speak at every hazard, / Nature without check with original energy” and Tzara’s “Thought is made in the mouth.” and O’hara’s “You Just go on your nerve.”

Words-in-Freedom marks the death of free-verse because:

1 Free verse fatally pushes the poet towards facile sound effects, banal double meanings, monotonous cadences, a foolish chiming, and an inevitable echo-play, internal and external.
2 Free verse artificially channels the flow of lyric emotion between the high walls of syntax and the weirs of grammar. The free intuitive inspiration that addresses itself directly to the intuition of the ideal reader finds itself imprisoned and distributed like purified water for the nourishment of all fussy, restless intelligences.

Even though it seems like words-in-freedom is a variation of free-verse, the emphasis seems to be on the words themselves being free, not just the verse…

“With words-in-freedom we will have: Condensed metaphors. Telegraphic images. Maximum vibrations. Nodes of thought. Closed or open fans of movement. Compressed analogies. Color Balances. Dimensions, weights, measures, and the speed of sensations. The plunge of the essential word into the water of sensibility, minus the concentric circles that the word produces. Restful moments of intuition. Movements in two, three, four, five different rhythms. The analytic, exploratory poles that sustain the bundle of intuitive strings.”


To further the rejection of the psychological i, M. suggests we “must abandon the habit of humanizing nature by attributing human passions and preoccupations to animals, plants, water, stone, and clouds. Instead we should express the infinite smallness that surrounds us, the imperceptible, the invisible, the agitation of atoms, the Brownian movements, all the passionate hypotheses and all the domains explored by the high-powered microscope. To explain: I want to introduce the infinite molecular life into poetry not as a scientific document but as an intuitive element. It should mix, in the work of art, with the infinitely great spectacles and dramas, because this fusion constitutes the integral synthesis of life.”

Interesting, never thought of Futurism as a ecological movement.


In this essay, M. complicates his view of the adjective into something quite interesting, what he calls the semaphoric / lighthouse/ atmosphere adjective: “What I call a semaphoric adjective, lighthouse-adjective, or atmosphere-adjective is the adjective apart from nouns, isolated in parentheses. This makes it a kind of absolute noun, broader and more powerful than the noun proper.

The semaphoric adjective or lighthouse-adjective, suspended on high in its glassed-in parenthetical cage, throws its far-reaching, probing light on everything around it.

The profile of this adjective crumbles, spreads abroad, illuminating, impregnating, and enveloping a whole zone of words-in-freedom.”

Without strings and syntactic sequence, viewing the poem as a “Zone” of words-in-freedom which then the caged in adjective radiates creates a new spatial-semantic dimension to the poem. I must try this some time.


Beyond that, “the bold introduction of onomatopoetic harmonies to render all the sounds and noises of modern life, even the most cacophonic […] Onomatopoeia that vivifies lyricism with crude and brutal elements of reality […] of giving the greatest number of vibrations and a deeper synthesis of life, we abolish all stylistic bonds […] Instead we employ the very brief or anonymous mathematical and musical symbols and we put between parentheses indications such as (fast) (faster) (slower) (two-beat time) to control the speed of the style. These parentheses can even cut into a word or an onomatopoetic harmony.”

I feel mostly Zukofsky here in “A” 7. and levertov, strangely: “In organic poetry the metric movement, the measure, is the direct expression of the movement of perception. And of extended onomatopoeia…” The difference, of course, is what is being shaped to represent in language. I wonder if there is a connection between Concrete poetry and these two conceptions of onomatopoeia?


We can already notice how much of futurism is against Mallarme, but Marinetti comes out and names him in the section called “Typographical Revolution”:

“My revolution is aimed at the so-called typographical harmony of the page, which is contrary to the flux and reflux, the leaps and bursts of style that run through the page. On the same page, therefore, we will use three or four colors of ink, or even twenty different typefaces if necessary. For example: italics for a series of similar or swift sensations, boldface for the violent onomatopoeias, and so on. With this typographical revolution and this multicolored variety in the letters I mean to redouble the expressive force of words.

I oppose the decorative, precious aesthetic of Mallarmé and his search for the rare word, the one indispensable, elegant, suggestive, exquisite adjective. I do not want to suggest an idea or a sensation with passéist airs and graces. Instead I want to grasp them brutally and hurl them in the reader’s face.

Moreover, I combat Mallarmé’s static ideal with this typographical revolution that allows me to impress on the words (already free, dynamic, and torpedo-like) every velocity of the stars, the clouds, aeroplanes, trains, waves, explosives, globules of seafoam, molecules, and atoms.

Thus I realize the fourth principle of my First Futurist Manifesto: “We affirm that the world’s beauty is enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.”

I like the idea of “multicolored variety” and typography as movement (roots in concrete/plastic poetry perhaps). The typographical revolution leads him to an idea of “multilinear lyricism”:

“On several parallel lines, the poet will throw out several chains of color, sound, smell, noise, weight, thickness, analogy. One of these lines might, for instance, be olfactory, another musical, another pictorial.

Let us suppose that the chain of pictorial sensations and analogies dominates the others. In this case it will be printed in a heavier typeface than the second and third lines (one of them containing, for example, the chain of musical sensations and analogies, the other the chain of olfactory sensations and analogies).

Given a page that contains many bundles of sensations and analogies, each of which is composed of three or four lines, the chain of pictorial sensations and analogies (printed in boldface) will form the first line of the first bundle and will continue (always in the same type) on the first line of all the other bundles.

The chain of musical sensations and analogies, less important than the chain of pictorial sensations and analogies (first line) but more important than that of the olfactory sensations and analogies (third line), will be printed in smaller type than that of the first line and larger than that of the third.”

One thing i am beginning to appreciate about futurism is not their phenomenology, but their technique. The emphasis on the multilinear, multicolored, and multiperspectival does provide what Apollinaire and Tzara called “encyclopeadic liberty.” It opens up the monologic space of the page into a dialogic, carnivalesque, spatio-temporal revolution —

“Today we no longer want the lyric intoxication to order the words syntactically before launching them forth with the breaths we have invented, and we have words-in-freedom. Moreover our lyric intoxication should freely deform, reflesh the words, cutting them short, stretching them out, reinforcing the center or the extremities, augmenting or diminishing the number of vowels and consonants. Thus we will have the new orthography that I call free expressive. This instinctive deformation of words corresponds to our natural tendency towards onomatopoeia. It matters little if the deformed word becomes ambiguous. It will marry itself to the onomatopoetic harmonies, or the noise-summaries, and will permit us soon to reach the onomatopoetic psychic harmony, the sonorous but abstract expression of an emotion or a pure thought.”

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