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F. T. Marinetti's construction of World War I narratives (1915).

When in May 1915 Italy entered the war, Marinetti had justjoined the Italian army as a soldier. With other Futurist artists, (1) he had enrolled in the Battaglione Lombardo Volontari Ciclisti Automobilisti (VCA), a newly formed auxiliary corps which fought alongside the Alpini in the mountain region of Lake Garda from October to December 1915. The days in the VCA marked a significant step in Marinetti's development as an intellectual, since for the first time he came face to face with war as a soldier. Previously, he had experienced war only as a news correspondent for the French newspaper L'Intransigeant, first during the Italo-Turkish conflict in Libya in 1911, which he described in La battaglia di Tripoli (1912), (2) and then during the siege of Adrianople in 1912-1913, which would inspire his first words-in-freedom poem Zang Tumb Tumb (1914). Marinetti narrates the VCA experience in a number of texts belonging to different literary genres: two notebooks, a set of loose sheets, two newspaper articles and three tavole parolibere. In this article, a comparative analysis of these texts shows the extent of the impact that the Great War had on Marinetti's literary activity.

Among other things, the First World War introduced into Marinetti's war writing a significant autobiographical element. As a life-writing literary space, his personal notebooks thus started playing a key role within his methods of literary composition. This is evident from the study of his World War I notebooks written in 1915, which worked as a particular kind of source text for developing the other VCA narratives. As I will argue in the article, Marinetti's 1915 notebooks were conceived in the first place as drafts for these other VCA texts, rather than as plain, "neutral" autobiographical daily chronicles. Despite being a private literary space without external addressees, the notebooks are affected by some degree of autobiographical unreliability, which they share with the other VCA writings. This unreliability shows that in spite of their appearance as factual diaries recounting a war experience where Marinetti would do no more than jot down plain daily notes, Marinetti's notebooks constituted in fact a proper experimental laboratory, where he knowingly put together narratives which diverged from the actual experience, and which he subsequently manipulated for composing or assembling together with further works.

The First World War therefore prompted a new method of composing autobiographical war literature, in which his notebooks functioned as a place where memories are "actively constructed" rather than just "passively gathered." Marinetti's war notebooks of 1915 were sophisticated and elaborate aesthetic creations, already imbued with a degree of Futurist imaginary and ideology. Their textuality was then reworked by Marinetti in order to compose the newspaper articles and the tavole parolibere, which together with the 1915 notebooks will constitute the objects of my inquiry. The reworking was done following two different rhetorical strategies, which were finely tuned to fit the expectations of the two sets of readers for whom these writings were intended, namely, a general audience and a cultural elite. This compositional method will also be employed by Marinetti in subsequent works about World War I and beyond.

Marinetti and War

It is difficult to overstress the centrality of war and in particular of World War I in Marinetti's thought and in Futurist aesthetics. The ninth "commandment" of the foundational manifesto of Futurism specifically points to the celebration of war as one of the primary aims of any Futurist artist (Teoria e invenzione 11). In La battaglia di Tripoli and especially in Zang Tumb Tumb, to glorify war meant to portray its external manifestations (sounds, colors, shapes, actions) and to leave aside human feelings and thoughts as well as any interpretations of it. This aim entailed a primarily aesthetic approach to war, deriving in part from the principles of the technical manifestoes (especially the "distruzione dell'io" and the pursuit of the "sensibilita lirica della materia," stated in the Manifesto tecnico della letteratura futurista; Distruzione della sintassi. Immaginazione senza fili. Parole in liberta; and Lo splendore geometrico e meccanico e la sensibilita numerica). Marinetti conceived and described war as an extraordinary spectacle and display, the best one ever created by man, which the Futurist artist was to observe and could only accurately represent through the techniques of Futurist writing.

When it comes to glorifying the First World War, however, the situation is different. Even before its outbreak, Marinetti felt this war as his war, since in addition to aesthetic significance it brought with it political and ideological implications. Marinetti was an anti-Austrian and an irredentist: before the conflict he had promoted Italy's intervention by proselytizing in the streets and in theaters and by engaging in a massive propaganda campaign using his publishing house, Edizioni futuriste di "Poesia." Even after its end, World War I continued to be a central preoccupation in Marinetti's literary and political activity, as he fought for an appropriate social recognition for its veterans. The very outbreak of the Great War, therefore, constituted the realization of a part of the Futurist program: fighting, describing, and glorifying the war became an imperative for Marinetti and his fellow Futurists. As he saw it, the Great War was the "ultimate avantgarde artwork" (Re 84).

Another new element that distinguished the Great War from both the Libyan and the Balkan conflicts was Marinetti's personal involvement. In 1915 he was no longer a news reporter describing a bombardment, but a soldier himself, fighting for his life in the cold trenches of the Garda mountains. War was no longer an external phenomenon to be carefully observed and described; now it was a personal event affecting his own daily existence. The Great War, in other words, introduced into Marinetti's war writing a new autobiographical element, which modified the way war was experienced and narrated; unlike in his previous works, its glorification was now carried out from within, since the writer and the fighter were the same person. The texts narrating the VCA experience therefore marked a new, important stage in Marinetti's war writing, since for the first time he recounted his own war actions.

Marinetti's Experience in the VCA

Formed in the spring of 1914, the Battaglione Lombardo Volontari Ciclisti Automobilisti left Milan for Peschiera del Garda on 21 July 1915, and at the end of September reached the border town of Malcesine, on the eastern side of Lake Garda. On 13 October the volunteers arrived at the base camp of Redecol, on Mount Altissimo, where they joined the Alpine battalion "Verona." (3) They were involved in several military operations, the most important of which was the capture of Dosso Casina, a big Austrian entrenchment of key strategic importance taken on the night between 24 and 25 October. The resonance of the battle was such that it was reported in a feature illustration published on the front page of La Domenica del Corriere on 14 November 1915. The battalion was then disbanded on 6 December, and as a result Marinetti and his fellow Futurists returned to Milan.

Even though it officially started its operations in July, the VCA had its first armed encounter with the Austrians beginning only in mid-October. In his writings, Marinetti provides a detailed account only of the two weeks from 13 to 27 October, giving no information about the subsequent days. The narration mostly recounts single episodes of that experience, from the first patrolling duties on 13 October to the dangerous water duty of 27 October, including the capture of Dosso Casina on 24-25 October and other military tasks. Marinetti's narration is spread out over a number of texts, each containing one or more of these episodes. Although their forms and literary genres vary, they all share a descriptive approach; Marinetti mostly writes war chronicles recounting battles, patrols, shootings, individual or collective actions, seldom mentioning feelings, emotions, thoughts, and reflections concerning the events. (4)

1. Notebooks. The first place in which Marinetti recounts his actions at the frontline are two notebooks, subsequently published in 1987 (Taccuini 4-42). (5) It is possible that during this period Marinetti wrote a few other notebooks, which, however, remain unaccounted for (Bragato). The two extant notebooks contain both texts and drawings, and record three episodes which took place in those weeks: the sight of the first wounded man of the battalion on 22 October (notebook 1782), the account of the night between the 26th and the 27th, spent in an outpost near the Austrian trenches (notebook 1781), and that of a water duty carried out on the following day (notebook 1781). These notes were probably written at the front, as the hasty, rushed and sometimes rather confused handwriting seems to suggest. Their style is mostly nominal and telegraphic, punctuation is poor, as if Marinetti wanted to quickly record as much information as possible--indeed, Raimondi compared him to a film director storing film footage every day (XLI). As mentioned above, these notebooks gather only the data of phenomena and events (Raimondi XLVI; Benedetti 230-31). It is possible to recognize this descriptive approach also in the particular focus these texts take on the soundscape of the war, which is profusely conveyed by means of words and onomatopoeias. It has been argued that this focus on soundscape served as a coping mechanism for Marinetti to negotiate the difficulties of life in the trenches (Daly, "Futurist War Noises" 8-11).

2. Loose sheets. A detailed chronicle of the days 22-27 October, divided by dates, can be found in 36 loose sheets which have been published in 1997 in an article entitled "36 pagine dimenticate e inedite del diario di guerra di F. T. Marinetti." (6) My examination of the manuscripts led me to hypothesize that they consist of a subsequent rewriting of the 1915 notebooks, a fair copy carefully written at a desk (Bragato), and I therefore will treat them as a fragment of a subsequent version (possibly a more comprehensive fair copy) of Marinetti's notebooks. (7)

3. Newspaper articles. The experience in the VCA is also recounted by Marinetti in two newspaper articles published in La Gazzetta dello Sport on 31 January and 7 February 1916, both entitled "Quinte e scene della campagna del Battaglione Lombardo Volontari Ciclisti sul lago di Garda e sull'Altissimo. Annotazioni episodiche di F. T. Marinetti." They are structured as two parts of a single narration and presented as a "behind the scenes" report of those days, as also stated in the summary on the first page of the 31 January issue ("F. T. Marinetti narra le vicende della campagna dei Volontari Ciclisti milanesi al fronte trentino"). The first article covers the period from the departure from Milan in July to the first war action on 13 October, whereas the second narrates the events of the two weeks from 13 to 27 October, and therefore displays some notable links with the notebooks and "36 pagine."

4. Tavole parolibere. Unlike the newspaper articles, the three tavole referring to the days in the VCA do not report Marinetti's entire experience but focus only on single events. The first tavola, "Con Boccioni a Dosso Casina," describes the difficult night of 26-27 October, spent by Marinetti at the head of a lookout party very near the Austrian trenches; its focus is on the many night noises constantly unsettling him and his comrades. It was published on 25 August 1916 in L'Italia futurista, in an issue entirely dedicated to the recent death of Boccioni (17 August). (8)

The difficulties encountered by Marinetti and Boccioni (the physical and emotional impact of the bitter climatic conditions, the danger of slipping on the icy ground, etc.) during a water duty on 27 October are the subject of the second tavola, "Corvee d'acqua sotto i forti austriaci," published in L'Italia futurista on 8 July 1917. For many years it was featured in Marinetti's public performances, as is evident from the records in his notebooks.

The last tavola is a drawing entitled "Battaglia a 9 piani," published on 8 January 1916 in the journal Vela latina. (9) By merging together events that happened on different days (19, 23 and 24 October), in this cross section Marinetti represents a mountain battle simultaneously fought on nine different levels. Various features of this tavola have attracted critical attention (10); however, an interesting feature that has so far gone unnoticed is its potential Dantesque reference. The funnel shape of the tavola seems to recall one of the most fascinating visual representations of Dante's Inferno, namely, Botticelli's Chart of Hell (c.1485-c.1500). (11) In Botticelli's illustration two oblique lines converge at the bottom of the picture to form a funnel, which is horizontally divided into nine sections representing the nine circles of Hell. With a remarkable adherence to Dante's text, in each circle the damned are portrayed undergoing their specific punishment and different episodes of the poem are represented. Although he was never explicitly mentioned after the pre-Futurist works (published in Scritti francesi), Dante constituted a central presence throughout all Marinetti's literary activity, providing narrative structures and themes (as well as hidden references), from the foundational manifestoes Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo and Uccidiamo il chiaro di luna! (Baldissone, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti 47-48), to the private poems Poesie a Beny, where his wife Benedetta is associated with Beatrice (Baldissone, "Beatrice e Marinetti. Da Dante a Venezianella" 121-38; Baldissone, Benedetta Beatrice 149-76), up until his very last novel Venezianella e Studentaccio (Valesio, Introduction XLVII, LXXVIII-LXXIX, LXXXIII, XCI), published posthumously. Given both this Dantesque legacy and Marinetti's attention to numerology, the similar structures of "Battaglia a 9 piani" and Botticelli's Chart of Hell may not be coincidental. The resemblance between the two can be seen, in my opinion, as a rhetorical device aimed at raising the literariness of the tavola, by creating a further intertextual level that can be grasped and appreciated only by educated readers. As I will discuss in the following pages, this is part of Marinetti's strategy of adjusting the narratives of his VCA experience differently according to the two different kinds of readership they address.

Textual Links among the VCA Writings

1. The textual analysis of the VCA writings shows that the notebooks and "36 pagine" worked as source texts for the composition of the newspaper articles and the tavole parolibere. This is evident, for example, in the third level of "Battaglia a 9 piani":

i nostri 149 invisibili uah uah uah uah partenza di treni suicidi su ponti aerei fragili fatalita di rumori rotaie convergenti in un unica stazione ogni 27 secondi PLUM PLUUM PLUUM

In this passage, Marinetti is describing cannon shells (caliber 149) shot by the Italian artillery on the left-hand side. They are shot across Lake Garda and reach the Austrian trenches on the right-hand side, as if an invisible rail bridge connected the two mountains. The Austrian trench becomes then like a station to which these shell-trains arrive every 27 seconds. When they explode, they produce a noise similar to that of big trains ("PLUM PLUM"). The comparison between shells and trains is expressed by an urban metaphor, a feature that is widely identifiable in "Battaglia a 9 piani" (Daly, "The Futurist Mountains" 32731). (12) The source of this idea can be identified in a notebook drawing illustrating shells shot from a "batteria italiana" on the left-hand side of the page which land on a mountain on the right-hand side, producing the same noise of the tavola, "PLUM PLUM" (Taccuini 16). On the top left corner of the notebook page, moreover, Marinetti mentions a "lampo di specchio al sole," which can be related to the "raggio solare tubocalorifero" written on the top left corner of "Battaglia a 9 piani"; finally, in both the notebook and the tavola Lake Garda appears at the bottom of the page.

All of this is shared by a passage in "36 pagine":

Giorno 23 e Notte 23-24

Alba. 149 nostri, treni suicidi su arcate rotte di grandi ponti di ferro aerei che scavalcano il lago.--Dall'Altissimo [Italian trench] al Colle del Bal [Austrian trench]. [...] 1 raggio di sole che rade le altissime vette s'aggrappa, trema, poi scatta giu lunghissimo e m'infilza sull'orlo del precipizio.


This passage is also the source text of the following section in the first article of the Gazzetta dello Sport:

Dall'Altissimo, al disopra delle nostre teste, partono ora come treni pesanti che striscino sui binari di grandi ponti incurvati, le grosse granate dei nostri 149. Convergono tutte al di la del lago, con orario preciso, come ad un'unica stazione, a quel trincerone austriaco di Colle del Bal.


It is evident that both this passage and the one in "Battaglia a 9 piani" come from the text in "36 pagine," which is reworked in different ways in order to produce two different outputs as a tavola parolibera and a newspaper article.

A few features of these rewritings show the different procedures followed by Marinetti for their composition. In the making of the tavola, the source material of "36 pagine" is poured into a rather complex rhetorical structure, whereas the newspaper article is much plainer. In "Quinte e scene" the comparison between shells and trains and between the Austrian trench and a train station is expressed with two similes ("come treni pesanti"; "come ad un'unica stazione"), whereas in the tavola Marinetti uses metaphors ("treni suicidi"; "convergenti in un'unica stazione"), which abolish the conjunction "come" and leave on the page just the second term of the comparison. Moreover, the expression "treni suicidi" of the tavola (which conveys the idea of trains designed to crash and explode) becomes in the article "treni pesanti," with a consistent loss of metaphorical power. Furthermore, the metonym "nostri 149," which in "Quinte e scene" indicates the guns ("le grosse granate dei nostri 149"), in "Battaglia a 9 piani" signifies the shells ("149 nostri"), making thus a further logical leap. Similarly, "arcate rotte di grandi ponti di ferro" (in "36 pagine") is a more rhetorically condensed expression than "binari di grandi ponti incurvati" (in the article): the curved quality of the bridges shifts from a noun ("arcate") to a more explanatory noun plus adjective ("ponti incurvati"). Finally, the temporal cluster "ogni 27 secondi" of the tavola becomes in the article "con orario preciso," which is in fact less precise. Besides the different literary genres to which "Battaglia a 9 piani" and "Quinte e scene" belong, their dissimilar rhetorical structures have to do, in my opinion, with the different reading publics these works are addressed to; Marinetti speaks on the one hand to a Futurist cultural elite and on the other to a more general public (Daly, "The Futurist Mountains" 324). These works come from the same source text ("36 pagine"), which is strategically reworked in different ways according to their different addresses.

2. "Con Boccioni a Dosso Casina" also shares some textual references with a drawing in a notebook page. The drawing is entitled "Capoposto di notte" and describes that very same night between 26 and 27 October, when Marinetti was at the head of a lookout party (Taccuini 20-21). Both texts refer to that night's coldness and darkness with similar wordings, and especially focus on the many noises unsettling the volunteers. According to Daly, this tavola reveals an "unusually contemplative side to Marinetti" ("The Futurist Mountains" 331), which can be especially observed in multiple references to silence ("silenzio quasi totale," repeated four times, in bold typescript; "buio totale + silenzio totale"). It is, however, interesting that those references are not to be found in the corresponding notebook drawing, and therefore they were probably introduced only during the composition of the tavola. Rather than intentional manifestations of a contemplative side, I believe that they can therefore be seen as rhetorical devices introduced by Marinetti in order to emphasize the noises of that night, relying on a specific contrastive procedure which is widely used in descriptions of silence and noise (Manzotti 17-19).

This night comes two days after the capture of Dosso Casina, the most important war action of the VCA corps. This is how Marinetti reports it in the second article of the Gazzetta dello Sport:

Alle sette riprendiamo la marcia sulla mulattiera, e incontriamo finalmente gli alpini, coi quali ci lanciamo all'assalto delle trincee e dei reticolati di Dosso Casina, mentre i 149 dell'Altissimo intensificavano il loro tiro ben diretto. Notte meravigliosa, quella della nostra vittoria. I nostri muscoli esigevano il sonno e il riposo, ma la gioia di valutare l'enorme bottino di munizioni e di vettovaglie conquistate, ci diede la forza di costruire nuove trincee durante tutta la notte.


Marinetti is at the forefront, bravely fighting alongside the Alpini, the toughest and most famous regiment of the Italian army. However, if we compare this passage to the corresponding one in "36 pagine," a few issues seem to arise.

Si apre il fuoco alle 11.

Fuoco a volonta, tra l'intrico indiavolato dei reticolati austriaci gia sfondati dai 149 dell'Altissimo. Gli Austriaci sono fuggiti gia in parte. Cio che rimane cede e ruzzola giu verso Malga Zures. Bottino di munizioni, zappe, picconi. Subito in trincea. Poi tutti a scavare caverne, ripari.


It is rather surprising that both texts lack a detailed description of the battle of Dosso Casina, which is only generically mentioned. If the glorification of war is a cornerstone of Futurist art, one would perhaps expect Marinetti to narrate extensively the most important action of his 1915 war experience, rather than just quickly touch on it. In order to clarify this point, we can turn to Boccioni's and Bucci's accounts of those days. The Futurists, who were in the "terza compagnia," were supposed to work together that night with the "seconda compagnia," but they had lost track of them. This is the account of the two painters:

(Boccioni) La seconda compagnia e trovata bisogna raggiungerla. S'e unita agli alpini. S'e espugnata Dosso Casina [...]. Verso le 8 girato Dosso Remit troviamo gli alpini di sentinella sdraiati con gia nelle mani materiale abbandonato dagli Austriaci. Entusiasmo. Incontriamo sempre Alpini.

Arriviamo a Dosso Casina. Attraversiamo reticolati sfondati, trincee superate. Gioia. Saliamo sul monte.

(Taccuini futuristi 212-13)

(Bucci) I nostri della prima e seconda compagnia son gia da due ore al trincerone [i.e., Dosso Casina] con settanta volontari alpini. Il capitano e al trincerone. Il trincerone e preso.

"Gli austriaci?" Fuggiti lasciando tutto il bottino. [.]

"Spicciatevi. Bisogna arrivare in tempo per il contrattacco!"

Si vola. E la salita sopra un colle tondo, coronato di sassi come un calvario.

(Bellini 119)

As Boccioni and Bucci's excerpts demonstrate, the Futurists did not take part in the battle of Dosso Casina, since by the time they reached the combat zone the fighting was already over; the "trincerone" had already been conquered by the first and the second companies together with the Alpini. Hence, it seems safe to argue that the reason Marinetti does not describe the battle is simply that he was not there: he was too late.

The reliability of Marinetti's World War I reports comes therefore into question. By stating in "Quinte e scene" that he fought in the battle of Dosso Casina, Marinetti constructs a fictional narrative of those events, creating an alternative memory. This is an important point, because it seems to suggest that in spite of the alleged "behind the scenes" nature of this newspaper article, its aim is not to recount faithfully autobiographical World War I events; rather, it is to give prestige to the Futurist movement by portraying Marinetti and his fellows as war heroes. In other words, I believe that rather than a war chronicle, "Quinte e scene" is chiefly a propaganda operation in which praising the bravery of the volunteers is much more important than giving a truthful account of the war. Most significantly, this enterprise is carried out in a national newspaper with a wide circulation; in those years the Gazzetta dello Sport was published weekly with a print run of about one hundred thousand copies per issue (Farinelli et al. 441-42). Marinetti could not report to such a broad audience that he had missed the most important battle of the day because he was late; instead, he needed the public narrative of those events to portray him as fighting in the frontline. Because of the propagandists nature of this text, moreover, it was essential for it to be easily read by anyone. This is why Marinetti employs an accessible style, very different from the highly rhetorical one of the tavole parolibere; the readers of the Gazzetta dello Sport had to be able immediately to understand and enjoy Marinetti's "autobiographical" story.

Furthermore, by depicting himself and his companions as successful war heroes Marinetti introduced into the representation of the battle a degree of Futurist imagery (linked to the ideas of boldness and toughness) intimately bound with Futurist ideology. He conveyed the concept that the Italians won the battle because they fought with a Futurist disposition. This kind of narrative publicly reinforced the idea of Futurism as a positive and powerful sensibility, the most appropriate for the new civilization of the twentieth century. Hence, in the making of "Quinte e scene" the audience shapes both style and content, as propaganda influences the rhetorical structure of the article and prompts the introduction of fictional elements.

The text in "36 pagine," which unlike the newspaper article is set in the context of a personal literary space (the subsequent version of a notebook), however, raises further issues regarding Marinetti's reliability. In "36 pagine," Marinetti once again does not bring himself to record that he missed the battle of Dosso Casina; rather, he refers to it with a sentence ("si apre il fuoco alle 11. Fuoco a volonta") which can still suggest his presence in the battle, but through the use of an impersonal verbal form it can ambiguously and simultaneously refer to both his participation and distance from it.

A close reading of these passages extends the question of their reliability as autobiography from Marinetti's public accounts to his private notebooks. This is very significant, since it could have a bearing on the critical status of the notebooks themselves within his oeuvre. Why does Marinetti need to construct an alternative war narrative even in the notebooks?

3. "Corvee d'acqua sotto i forti austriaci" offers a similar instance of inventive rewriting. This tavola describes Marinetti and Boccioni carrying a big and heavy bag of water from one campsite to another. Once again, its source can be identified in a notebook drawing, which portrays the scene mentioned above. The water duty also appears toward the end of the second article of the Gazzetta dello Sport:

Io, Boccioni e Sironi facevamo la corvee dell'acqua, preoccupatissimi di non romperci ingloriosamente una gamba scivolando sul ghiaccio.


Here the whole episode is squeezed into a single, very generic sentence, which, unlike the drawing in the notebook and the tavola, also features Mario Sironi, thus creating an alternative version of the event. Another account of this day is in Boccioni's notebook:

Viene ordine di andare in corvee d'acqua. Malcontento generale. Cap. monticelli di pessimo umore. Sottotenente Marelli intontito. Andiamo in una vallatella dove sono le cucine. Il terreno e sconvolto dai 149 dell'Altissimo. Frammenti di granate dappertutto. Evito la corvee, sono esausto.

(Taccuini futuristi 218)

The autobiographical reliability of Marinetti's narration must again be put into question: Boccioni states that he avoided the corvee. Nonetheless, Boccioni appears not only in Marinetti's newspaper article and in the tavola parolibera, which are aimed at an external readership, but also in the drawing in the notebook, i.e., a private literary space that is not destined to be shared with an audience. The passages analyzed so far are just a few examples of the inconsistency that can occasionally be found among Marinetti's World War I autobiographical writings.

The Meaning of the VCA Experience

This examination has revealed at least two features of Marinetti's procedures when composing World War I narratives, namely, that he reworked his 1915 notebooks in different ways in order to draft further writings, and that his accounts of his VCA experience hold some degree of fictionality.

1. The textual source of Marinetti's public writings about the VCA experience can thus be traced to the notebooks and to "36 pagine." Different narratives, and therefore different memories of World War I events, were constructed, tailored, and circulated to various reading constituencies. Hence, in Marinetti's writings the VCA experience--his very first direct encounter with war--does not have a clearly identifiable meaning in itself; rather, it takes on a different meaning in each text. In the three tavole parolibere, for example, complex rhetorical devices and Futurist writing techniques are extensively used since these texts are addressed to a cultivated reading public mostly made up of supporters of Futurism, who are cognizant of the procedures and purposes of Futurist art and are thus able to appreciate the complex representational strategies embedded therein. In these accounts, Marinetti's entire VCA experience acquires meaning (and an aesthetic one at that) insofar as it allows him to craft pieces of high Futurist poetry that glorify the Great War. This is also evident from a letter Marinetti sent to his Futurist friend Francesco Balilla Pratella on 31 October 1915. In this period, the Futurists used to communicate through a postcard, whose format had been especially designed by Francesco Cangiullo, which consisted of one page divided into sections with seven headings. Under the section "guerra" Marinetti writes:
GUERRA 8 giorni sotto il fuoco
vita meravigliosa torturata
dal freddo acutissimo (1000 metri)
= 3 poemi paroliberi splendidi

(Lettere ruggenti a F. Balilla Pratella 57)

Unlike the tavole parolibere referred to in the postcard, the narrative constructed in "Quinte e scene" is meant to be read by a largely popular audience, which is expected to be neither familiar with nor versed in obscure Futurist writing performances but is thought to be eager to consume an entertaining war story. For this reason, Marinetti's style becomes plain and accessible. By presenting a narrative of Futurist heroism and bravery, Marinetti publicly conveyed the idea that Futurist ideology was positively invested in nationalist discourse, dynamically engaged with modern warfare, and that it "matched" the sensibility of the new century. In the Gazzetta dello Sport, the whole VCA experience takes on meaning only insofar as it allows Marinetti to engage in Futurist propaganda.

2. Marinetti's VCA experience takes on a distinctive meaning even in his war notebooks of 1915. The emergence of the autobiographical component in Marinetti's modes of representation of the war, as I hope to have shown, is one of the most important innovations brought about by the outbreak of the First World War into his writing practice. At the same time, however, the reliability of the text remains problematic. It has been suggested that one way to understand an unreliable story can be to hypothesize an extra-textual pact between the author and the reader (Lejeune 12-22). Moreover, it has been pointed out that the purpose of an autobiography is not to report truthfully the historical details of a life, but rather to portray and to communicate to a reader a consistent self (what D'Intino calls "il blocco monolitico di una personalita" 246; also Smith and Watson 122-29 and Weintraub X-XIII). The creative act of writing, therefore, becomes a central element in the making of both the text and the individual self it depicts. While this idea could certainly apply to Marinetti's public writings about his VCA experience (even though they are not proper autobiographies), it is less plausible where his private notebooks (and "36 pagine") are concerned, since they do not necessarily imply an external reader. Nonetheless, these notebooks are also affected by Marinetti's autobiographical unreliability, as I hope to have shown. Introducing fictional elements into private texts that are the source of a series of public writings is an important point that must be accounted for. This approach can suggest a new way of reading Marinetti's notebooks, and can shed light on the relationship between Marinetti's war experience and its textual transposition.

As I stated at the beginning of this essay, my thesis is that Marinetti's 1915 notebooks were composed at the very outset as literary drafts to be used for composing future "autobiographical" works. Therefore, he writes about the battle of Dosso Casina not because he actually took part in it, but because he is jotting down a tentative narrative for a future work. He draws himself and Boccioni carrying a bag of water not because this actually happened, but because it is good material for an "autobiographical" tavola parolibera. The lack of reflections, thoughts and expressions of feeling found in the notebooks can also be seen as a consequence of this technique; as a source of future literary works narrating the war, the notebooks must focus only on the representation of its external phenomena, keeping any reference to human emotions off the page. In "36 pagine," Marinetti occasionally does mention hunger, cold, lack of sleep and lack of supplies (80-82). Far from being complaints, however, these episodes of physical hardship are inserted into the narration with the specific aim of stressing the exceptional endurance and resilience of the Futurist volunteers, as will also be the case in "Quinte e scene," "Con Boccioni a Dosso Casina" and "Corvee d'acqua sotto i forti austriaci." Hence, Marinetti's 1915 World War I notebooks can be regarded as the first building blocks of a specific method of literary composition, their function being not to record events but rather purposefully to design memories which can be creatively readapted in later autobiographical writings, according to the perceived needs of the readership. Thus, they already show the same Futurist imagery which is to be found in the public writings, and which is intimately bound to the Futurist ideology these writings aim to convey. Besides the newspaper articles and the tavole parolibere, the First World War takes on a specific meaning even in the notebooks : it is the source of literary drafts which can then be creatively reused.

This new reading of Marinetti's notebooks can contribute to a better assessment of the impact of the Great War on his writing activity. Before 1915, Marinetti's war writing mostly consisted of external descriptions of the war's extraordinary phenomena, and the glorification of war was an end in itself. Once Italy entered the First World War, instead, the sheer representation of war also became a tool to reach further exogenous and endogenous goals of crafting examples of Futurist heroism, with the aim of circulating Futurist propaganda to a wide, popular audience, or of creating drafts with an autobiographical dimension to be subsequently rearranged and manipulated in further war-inspired writings. The autobiographical shift introduced by the Great War, therefore, bestowed on Marinetti's notebooks a primary position within his literary activity. In order to narrate his 1915 war experience, he had to develop a new, specific compositional method that relied on them as a place for the creation of autobiographical (sometimes fictional) drafts. Marinetti would rely on this method also in the making of other future accounts of his WWI experiences, including the self-help manual Come si seducono le donne (1917), the "romanzo esplosivo" 8 anime in una bomba (1919) and the "romanzo vissuto" L'alcova d'acciaio (1921), which narrates the last months of the conflict up to the final Italian victory.

University of Reading

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Bellini, Dario. Con Boccioni a Dosso Casina: i testi e le immagini dei futuristi in battaglia. Rovereto: Nicolodi, 2006.

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Daly, Selena. "The Futurist Mountains: F. T. Marinetti's Experiences of Mountain Combat in the First World War."Modern Italy 18.4 (2013): 323-38.

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--. Come si seducono le donne. Firenze: Ed. da Centomila copie, 1917.

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Lago di Garda e sull'Altissimo. Annotazioni episodiche di F. T. Marinetti (I)." La Gazzetta dello Sport 31 January 1916: 3. Rpt. Enrico Crispolti, Bolaffiarte 79 (1978): 14-15.

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(1) They were: Umberto Boccioni, Anselmo Bucci, Luigi Russolo, Mario Sironi, Antonio Sant'Elia, Ugo Piatti, Carlo Erba and Achille Funi.

(2) Marinetti's Libyan chronicles, written in French, were published daily in L 'Intransigeant from 25 to 31 December 1911, and then collected in the volumes La bataille de Tripoli (1912) and La battaglia di Tripoli (1912, Italian translation by Decio Cinti).

(3) It is rather ironic that Marinetti joined the war on a bicycle, i.e., that very vehicle he scorned as a symbol of slowness and passatismo in the foundational manifesto of Futurism (Teoria e invenzione 9).

(4) References to the VCA experience are also in the manifestoes Orgoglio italiano (Teoria e invenzione 502-3) and Il Futurismo e la Guerra (Teoria e invenzione 560-61), but since they consist of very short accounts without any links with the above writings they have been left out from my analysis.

(5) The notebooks are kept at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, archive "Filippo Tommaso Marinetti papers GEN MSS 130," box 45, folders 1781-1782. Although the covers and some pages are missing, they are in a fairly good condition. Written in pencil (except for the sheets 1r, 2v-4r, 10v, 12v of the notebook in the folder 1782, which also present writings in black pen), they both measure mm 150x100 and have lined pages; over a few pages Marinetti drew a vertical line with a blue pencil, a distinctive trait to which I will come back shortly. The notebook 1781 has 21 pages, the notebooks 1782 has 13 pages and contains also a postcard with an illustration of the Garda region. They are published in the current edition of Marinetti's notebooks, which includes materials written in 1915, 1917-1921, 1926, all kept at the Beinecke Library. Partly because of some editorial constraints and because it was made from microfilms, the edition is affected by various issues related to philological accuracy (Bragato), among which is the exclusion of consistent portions of text. A selection of these portions was published in 1992 ("Unpublished Diaries" 25-40).

(6) The sheets measure mm 310x210 and are kept at the Marinetti archive at the Beinecke Library, box 40, folder 1696. As "36 pagine" consists only of a transcription (with a few errors) of the autograph text without any paratextual information, the critical reception of these sheets has been rather confused, to the extent that they have been considered as an alternative version of the 1915 notebooks (Bellini 18), as portions of them which had been left out of the 1987 edition (Benedetti 229; Cammarota 108), or as little sheets ("foglietti") written in the trenches (Salaris 167-68). In addition, because of the unusual font of the journal which makes the digit "6" very similar to a "0," the article has sometimes been quoted as "30 pagine dimenticate e inedite" (Benedetti 229; Salaris 326).

(7) As I have been able to observe in my archival survey, in all his notebooks Marinetti used to draw a vertical line on sections of text that he would employ for composing other subsequent works. In the two 1915 notebooks this line can be found in those very passages that also appear in "36 pagine," with which the notebooks share a very similar wording.

(8) Most probably, this tavola was originally entitled "Una notte in sentinella sull'Altissimo," as it seems to come from the first pages of the first (1 June 1916) and second (15 June 1916) issues of L'Italia futurista, where this title appears in the section "Nei prossimi numeri." Marinetti probably decided to publish it in this issue with a different title, in honor of his friend.

(9) A typographically set version in French (entitled Bataille a 9 etages du Mont Altissimo) subsequently came out in 1919 in the volume Les Mots en liberte futurists (95). It was then republished with minimal variations in 1925 in the collection Nuovi poeti futuristi (Caruso and Martini 1: 49). In this article I will focus on the Italian version.

(10) Focusing on its particular indexical attributes, John White has seen in this tavola "a work of specific anti-Austrian propaganda, not an impartially presented battleground" (150). Johanna Drucker defined it as a typographically ordered description of the chaos of the battle (131), a position that has recently been challenged by Selena Daly, who has focused instead on Marinetti's attempt to "futurize" the mountain landscape in order to reconcile it with the chiefly urban nature of Futurism ("The Futurist Mountains" 327-31).

(11) The chart is one of ninety illustrations made by Botticelli for a codex of the Commedia commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici. It "furnishes a panoptic display of the descent made by Dante and Virgil through the 'abysmal valley of pain'" (Parker 84). I thank Paola Nasti for the idea I am developing in this section, which was suggested to me during a seminar held at the University of Reading.

(12) This metaphor is, however, not exclusive to Marinetti. It can also be found in a notebook entry that Boccioni wrote in those days (22 October: "Sulla nostra testa passano i 149 sibilando come direttissimi," Taccuini futuristi 201) and in a letter he addressed to Vico Baer (22 October: "Passano a cinquecento metri sulle nostre teste i proiettili da 149 che danno l'impressione di treni direttissimi" Gli scritti editi e inediti 382); and it is also mentioned by Luigi Russolo in his studies on war noises ("[i] grossi calibri [producono] un rumore simile a quello di un treno che passi non molto lontano" 45).
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Article Type:Essay
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Date:Jan 1, 2015
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