2-1 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/10.17742/IMAGE.crypt.2-1.6 | Kanz | Cmiel PDF

Between 1890 and 1933, male birth fan­tasies became a wide­spread phe­nom­e­non in Euro­pean cul­ture. One of the key exam­ples of male birth fan­tasies is Fil­ip­po Tom­ma­so Marinetti’s “African” nov­el Mafar­ka the Futur­ist. The novel’s pro­tag­o­nist, Mafar­ka, gives birth to a child—by his will pow­er and by draw­ing on diverse for­ma­tions of knowl­edge, from alche­my to the­o­ries of evo­lu­tion. In addi­tion to the con­sid­er­a­tion giv­en the psy­cho-his­tor­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and sci­en­tif­ic con­texts of male birth fan­tasies in the avant-garde, the con­tri­bu­tion reflects on sib­ling encrypt­ment with­in the rela­tion­ship to the moth­er as one more aspect of a span of geneal­o­gy one might term “Mater­nal Modernity.”

Le fan­tasme du male birth se répand dans la cul­ture européenne entre 1890 et 1933. Un exem­ple-clé du fan­tasme du male birth est le roman « africain » Mafar­ka le Futur­iste de Fil­ip­po Tom­ma­so Marinet­ti. Le pro­tag­o­niste du roman, Mafar­ka, donne nais­sance à un enfant à tra­vers sa volon­té, mais aus­si en faisant appel à divers­es con­nais­sances de l’alchimie jusqu’aux théories de l’évolution. En plus de con­sid­ér­er les con­textes psy­cho-his­torique, cul­turel et sci­en­tifique du con­cept du male birth dans le cadre de l’avant-garde, cet arti­cle con­sid­ère l’encodage de la fratrie à tra­vers la rela­tion à la mère comme un autre aspect de l’intervalle généalogique qu’on peut appel­er « la moder­nité maternelle ».

Chris­tine Kanz | Images: Adam Cmiel

Ex-Corporation: On Male Birth Fantasies

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In Fil­ip­po Tom­ma­so Marinetti’s “African” nov­el Mafar­ka il futur­ista (Mafar­ka the Futur­ist), male omnipo­tence is for­ti­fied by male cre­ativ­i­ty; or rather, male omnipo­tence should be sup­port­ed by a cer­tain kind of male cre­ativ­i­ty. Mafar­ka, the pro­tag­o­nist of the nov­el (which was first pub­lished in French in 1909), is an Egypt­ian dic­ta­tor who com­mands thou­sands of black pris­on­ers. At the same time, he alone in the text gives birth to a child. This cre­ative, mater­nal act, then, can­not be described as only a tri­umph over the sens­es and nature in gen­er­al. The birth of Gazourmah, who is at once Mafarka’s son and a new futur­is­tic super­hu­man being, ulti­mate­ly lets Mafar­ka him­self become super­flu­ous. Although the super baby’s face has the fea­tures of a black male, Mafar­ka, whose own “face was the colour of beau­ti­ful ter­ra-cot­tas” (8) and who scorns and humil­i­ates black peo­ple, final­ly adores his son as a deity.

Mafar­ka il futur­ista is set in Egypt, a deeply ambigu­ous Egypt. Take, for instance, the dou­ble-image of Mafar­ka as a Mus­lim, on the one hand, and as an Ancient Egypt­ian, on the oth­er hand. Or con­sid­er the dou­ble-image of Mafar­ka as a wild, hand­some, erot­ic Arab war­rior and, at the same time, as a car­ing moth­er. Clear­ly, Mafar­ka is fas­ci­nat­ed by fem­i­nin­i­ty and mater­ni­ty in a neg­a­tive, but also in a pos­i­tive, sense. He is depict­ed as an aggres­sive wom­an­iz­er, whose exag­ger­at­ed sex­u­al dri­ve, on many occa­sions, turns into sadis­tic vio­lence. How­ev­er, he is also char­ac­ter­ized as moth­er­ly, as hav­ing mater­nal feel­ings towards his younger broth­er, as well as towards his new­born son. Mafar­ka is filled through and through with fem­i­nin­i­ty. The image in the fore­ground of the mod­ern ath­lete, who is cru­el and omnipo­tent, is under­mined behind that scene by tra­di­tion­al female attrib­ut­es based on emo­tions, the body, and the senses.

The very intro­duc­tion to Mafar­ka il futur­ista cul­mi­nates in a sort of male birth man­i­festo, accord­ing to which “men […] give birth prodi­gious­ly” and “the mind of man is an unprac­tised ovary […]” (3). But at first Marinet­ti exhorts his “futur­ist broth­ers” to “scorn woman” (1). The “broth­ers” should “fight the glut­tony of the heart, the sur­ren­der of part­ed lips” (2). In the same vein, Mafar­ka oppos­es monogamy, fear­ing the love for and of a sin­gle woman: “I want to con­quer the tyran­ny of love,” he declares, “the obses­sion with the one and only woman, the strong Roman­tic moon­light bathing the front of the Broth­el” (2). His “broth­ers” should not be like “mis­er­able sons of the vul­va” who “stran­gle the roar­ing Future and incal­cu­la­ble Des­tiny of man” (3).

Mafarka’s mys­te­ri­ous­ly pro­duced child embod­ies the sig­nif­i­cance of male birth fan­tasies in the con­text of the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry avant-garde. Gazourmah not only has a black face, but also, and per­haps even more strik­ing, Gazourmah is a machine—an air­plane, to be pre­cise. Gazourmah spreads the wings of an air­plane, which enable him to pro­duce “total music” (205), music made from fac­to­ry noise or the sounds of traf­fic.[1] The stan­dard recep­tion of the nov­el sees the fig­ure of Gazourmah as the embod­i­ment of Niet­zschean ideas of the Über­men­sch. Cer­tain­ly, the fas­ci­na­tion with air­planes, machines, speed, ener­gy, space and noise, around 1900, was a key trope of the Euro­pean avant-garde, yet also an utter­ly male affair. But there are, I believe, fur­ther aspects to the cri­sis of the mod­ern West­ern male sub­ject, and the role of the Futur­ists there­in, that can­not sole­ly be account­ed for with­in the con­ven­tion­al frame­work of a Euro­pean his­to­ry of ideas, but rather, are infused with ambi­gu­i­ties gen­er­at­ed by dichotomies, such as art/science, man/woman, nature/technics, and last but not least, by the colo­nial encounter.

Web_shc07 star wars AWhile these ele­ments can be eas­i­ly rec­og­nized as stem­ming from the cul­tur­al archive of ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Europe, their com­bi­na­tion with male birth seems unusu­al. Yet upon clos­er inspec­tion, male birth fan­tasies are actu­al­ly quite com­mon in the cul­ture of the time. They are present, for instance, in the psy­cho­an­a­lyt­i­cal con­struct of male “envy of preg­nan­cy,” a term coined by psy­cho­an­a­lyst Karen Hor­ney (365), and that was thought of as a par­al­lel alter­na­tive to Freud’s iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of female “penis envy.”[2] Male birth fan­tasies also remind us of the phe­nom­e­non of male child bed (cou­vade), as described by the philol­o­gist Johann Jakob Bachofen and lat­er anthro­pol­o­gists. Male birth fan­tasies also fig­ure in texts by Franz Wer­fel, Frank Wedekind, Else Lasker-Schüler, Ernst Weiß, Ernst Jünger, and Franz Kaf­ka. In film, we find Rot­wang, the mad sci­en­tist in Fritz Lang’s and Thea von Harbou’s Metrop­o­lis (1927), devis­ing a tech­nol­o­gy that ‘gives birth’ to a female dou­ble with­in the blank of a robot. In Robert Wiene’s Das Cab­i­net des Dr. Cali­gari (The Cab­i­net of Dr. Cali­gari 1919), Cesare is, if not born to, at least adopt­ed by Cali­gari. Birth fantasies/male moth­er­hood fan­tasies are also dis­cernible in sculp­tur­al work; for instance, Max Beckman’s Adam and Eve reval­orizes the Gen­e­sis account of Adam as the cre­ator of Eve, by depict­ing Adam as Eve’s male moth­er. Jacob Epstein’s 1915 The Rock Drill, iden­ti­fied as “a liv­ing enti­ty”[3] by the artist him­self, shows an embryo in its bel­ly, while in Erwin Blumenfeld’s Self Por­trait, a man gives birth to a woman, or at least, to a pic­ture of a woman. Final­ly, we can also dis­cern male birth fan­tasies in the Man­nequins or Wax­dolls used by the Sur­re­al­ists to fig­ure as male moth­er or as male Madon­na with child (e.g. Lucien Vogel with a man­nequin pup­pet or Hans Bellmer with his doll), and sim­i­lar fan­tasies in some paint­ings, espe­cial­ly by Umber­to Boccioni.

Male Birth as Analogy of Art Production

Giv­en Mafarka’s bla­tant­ly racist views, it is cer­tain­ly odd that the lighter-skinned Mafar­ka gives birth to a son whose face is black. Indeed, in a moment of post-par­tum depres­sion, Mafar­ka con­sid­ers his own cre­ation a fail­ure. Gazourmah dis­turbing­ly resem­bles his black pris­on­ers more than him­self, thus cast­ing doubt on Mafarka’s abil­i­ty “to give [his son’s] face the ide­al har­mo­ny” (186). But what is the sig­nif­i­cance of the artist’s desire to project the alien­ation from his work onto the image of a bas­tardized, black child? The face is mod­eled after African masks, which were becom­ing increas­ing­ly avail­able and valu­able in the Euro­pean art mar­ket. Con­sid­er, for exam­ple, the front cov­er of Carl Einstein’s 1915 mono­graph Negro Sculp­ture, a text that was extreme­ly influ­en­tial at the time. In fact, the orig­i­nal cov­er image select­ed for Einstein’s book match­es the descrip­tion Mafar­ka gives of his son: “I was able to design your wide almond eyes, your straight nose with its big mobile nos­trils, your thick, inso­lent lips and broad jaw!” (186). Like Einstein’s African sculp­tures, Gazourmah is formed out of an amor­phous black mass. And just as Africans, accord­ing to Ein­stein, adore their sculp­ture-like deities, Mafar­ka ulti­mate­ly adores his own work, his son.

There are oth­er par­al­lels, too. Carl Ein­stein, as is well known, val­orized the poten­cy of the African art object over the beholder's weak­ness and insignif­i­cance. Much in the same vein, Mafar­ka cel­e­brates the anni­hi­la­tion of the artist-sub­ject in favor of a greater force embod­ied by Gazourmah. “The old­est of us is thir­ty,” Marinet­ti says in one of his man­i­festos, “so we have at least a decade for fin­ish­ing our work. When we are forty, oth­er younger and stronger men will prob­a­bly throw us in the waste­bas­ket like use­less manuscripts—we want it to hap­pen!” (Marinet­ti, “Found­ing” 43). How does this half-male, half-female form of cre­ativ­i­ty sup­port male omnipo­tence? And why are black stereo­types so impor­tant in medi­at­ing between male omnipo­tence, moth­er­hood, and artis­tic creativity?

One main rea­son for Marinetti's para­dox­i­cal appro­pri­a­tion of mater­ni­ty as a source for a new form of cre­ativ­i­ty lies in the spe­cif­ic mate­r­i­al itself that is required for this super­hu­man act: an organ­ic, amor­phous mate­r­i­al out­side of the tra­di­tion-laden West­ern canon, or in short, a vir­gin mate­r­i­al. Thus, it is no sur­prise that Mafar­ka, cre­ator of the dead female slime and pulp, gains inspi­ra­tion from a mass of undif­fer­en­ti­at­ed black females. Africa becomes the (muse-like) mate­r­i­al that will pro­vide Mafar­ka with the pow­er to form the ulti­mate sculp­ture: a sculp­ture with “negroid” (23: “negress’s”) features.

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There is an uncan­ny par­al­lel between Marinetti’s use of the tra­di­tion­al tri­an­gu­la­tion ‘mass—fluidity—femininity’ (and here also: ‘black­ness’) and Klaus Theweleit’s analy­sis of Freiko­rps con­struc­tions of fem­i­nin­i­ty. Male bod­ies, Theweleit famous­ly sug­gest­ed in his book on male phan­tasies, become geo­met­ric because the sol­diers’ armored bod­ies have to be under­stood as a defense against bound­less­ness and flood, which is tra­di­tion­al­ly linked to female­ness. In much the same way, Mafarka’s cre­ations take shape out of the flu­id­i­ty of black female bod­ies as a pro­tec­tion against ‘fem­i­nin­i­ty.’

In Cul­ture and Impe­ri­al­ism (1993), Edward Said deduces the cul­tur­al cri­sis of moder­ni­ty and its deep ambi­gu­i­ty from the mod­ern artist’s colo­nial expe­ri­ence. The artist’s quest for a new for­mal lan­guage, Said claims, led him to draw on ele­ments from both his own cul­ture and that of the Oth­er, a strat­e­gy Said calls “new inclu­sive­ness” (189). Hence, much like Said’s torn mod­ern artist, Mafar­ka cre­ates a new being from the mass of despised black females. In the end, like the West­ern artist, Mafar­ka can relate to both cul­tures only with a mix­ture of “famil­iar­i­ty and dis­tance”; he is at home in nei­ther, nev­er devel­op­ing “a sense of their sep­a­rate sov­er­eign­ty.”[4] Ambi­gu­i­ties such as these illus­trate that the mod­ern project of cement­ing male auton­o­my can nev­er be ful­ly completed.

In the colo­nial con­tact zone—probably more so than in the heart of Freiko­rps Germany—there is no end to the project of for­ti­fy­ing the male. Between bronze and black, between Egypt and Sudan, black and white, the abject female nev­er real­ly dis­ap­pears. That the female can nev­er be total­ly erased takes a spe­cif­ic form for Mafar­ka, who can­not let go of his beloved deceased moth­er. This love rela­tion is so pow­er­ful and sym­bi­ot­ic that its con­sti­tu­tive ambiva­lence caus­es anxiety.

The Presence of the Past (Golem, Pygmalion, Prometheus and Alchemy)

One can ques­tion this text’s futur­is­tic impulse by demon­strat­ing the pres­ence of the past with­in it. This per­sis­tence of the past is inher­ent in the very ambi­gu­i­ty of mod­ernism, as Wal­ter Ben­jamin demon­strat­ed through­out his work. Man’s “desire” to give birth to chil­dren is as old as mankind itself. As not­ed, the cre­ation of “Man,”[5] as described in Gen­e­sis 2:7, can be read as a male birth fan­ta­sy while the gods Kro­nos, Zeus, Prometheus, and Pyg­malion are known to have con­ceived the fan­ta­sy into reality.

That the extrac­tion of mat­ter from dead bod­ies of black women pro­vides the inspi­ra­tion for the cre­ation of black-faced Gazourmah recalls the Jew­ish leg­end of the Golem. Accord­ing to this leg­end, the Golem is a prod­uct of moth­er Earth and the Divine Spir­it turned cre­ative word. It is espe­cial­ly dur­ing the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry that the Golem myth resur­faced in a num­ber of texts and films, includ­ing Gus­tav Meyrink’s Golem-nov­el and Paul Wegener’s silent movies fea­tur­ing the Golem. The Golem is linked to moth­er­less birth, to unformed mass, or even is referred to as embryo (Huet 243). He comes to life through the word and proves, in mod­ern incar­na­tion, a giant who kills his own creator—again like Gazourmah, who final­ly kills Mafar­ka, his mother-father.

Pas­satismo, the obses­sion with things past, was for Marinet­ti the worst insult. Instead, he aimed for an “unwrit­ten begin­ning” that would free him from the author­i­ty of all lit­er­ary pre­de­ces­sors. Marinet­ti was intent on devel­op­ing a new kind of poet­ics, with­out tra­di­tion­al tropes. For Marinet­ti, ‘birth’—both as a metaphor and as a metonymy—belongs to the male sphere. Birth is often used as a tra­di­tion­al metaphor for the process of writ­ing, and as such, it oppos­es woman to man as the pro­duc­er of the work of art. Hence, in evok­ing this gen­der stereo­type, Marinet­ti did not over­come pas­satismo at all. At the same time, ‘birth’ is a matri­ar­chal trope, stand­ing for a pri­ma­ry female domain. And so, as Mafarka’s desire to cre­ate a new world with­out the help of the ‘vul­va’ inevitably entails men capa­ble of giv­ing birth to chil­dren, Gazourmah’s birth must be read lit­er­al­ly, as enact­ing a shift toward the male sphere that rup­tures what his­tor­i­cal­ly has been a bio­log­i­cal­ly argued metonymic chain: birth—woman—domestic sphere—family.

Clear­ly, a re-writ­ing of the female trope “birth” is only pos­si­ble by a return to the past. Marinet­ti net­works a vari­ety of tra­di­tion­al images of moth­er­less birth with­in the his­to­ry of sci­ence, specif­i­cal­ly, the his­to­ry of alche­my as pre­cur­sor to chem­istry. Marinet­ti also invokes the the­o­ry of evo­lu­tion, while (fic­tion­al­ly) fore­ground­ing mod­ern bio­engi­neer­ing meth­ods. Con­sid­er­ing Gazourmah’s super­hu­man or, if you will, post-human qual­i­ties, one is struck by two extra­or­di­nary fea­tures: his over­sized male sex­u­al organ and the air­plane wings attached to his body. Both pieces of bod­i­ly arma­ture ren­der him espe­cial­ly fit for the male tech­no­log­i­cal future Mafar­ka envi­sions. But this idea of acquired bod­i­ly mod­i­fi­ca­tions was actu­al­ly not so com­plete­ly out of order at the time—at least not when viewed from a cer­tain evo­lu­tion­ary biologist’s stand­point, name­ly that of Jean-Bap­tiste Lamar­ck (1744-1829).[6]

Web_shc04 naechster schwung BIn his Zoo­log­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy (which, though first pub­lished in 1809, was most influ­en­tial around 1900), Lamar­ck for­mu­lat­ed two new evo­lu­tion­ary rules, which were based on the fol­low­ing assumptions:

Nature has pro­duced all the species of ani­mals in suc­ces­sion, begin­ning with the most imper­fect or sim­plest, and end­ing her work with the most per­fect, so as to cre­ate a grad­u­al­ly increas­ing com­plex­i­ty in their orga­ni­za­tion; […] and every species has derived from its envi­ron­ment the habits that we find in it and the struc­tur­al mod­i­fi­ca­tions which obser­va­tion shows us. (126)[6]

Lamarck’s first law states that often used organs will “grad­u­al­ly” strength­en, “devel­op,” and be “enlarged” while dis­used organs will weak­en and shrink in the course of time, “and pro­gres­sive­ly dimin­ish [their] func­tion­al capac­i­ty, until [they] final­ly disappear”(113).[8] The sec­ond law states that these acquired char­ac­ter­is­tics will be “pre­served by repro­duc­tion to new indi­vid­u­als […]” (113),[9] mean­ing: it states the inher­i­tance of acquired char­ac­ter­is­tics. If nec­es­sary, cer­tain new organs would be present imme­di­ate­ly after birth—just so as to fit the needs of the indi­vid­ual in his or her spe­cif­ic envi­ron­ment, “as a result of efforts” (108).[10] And so, as a result of Mafarka’s efforts, Gazourmah is endowed with acquired char­ac­ter­is­tics, in this case air­plane wings, which are nec­es­sary for liv­ing in a futur­ist world.

Web_EGO3 ABut Gazourmah also shares oth­er fea­tures with the Lamar­ck­ian indi­vid­ual, such as being the prod­uct of a union of his father and the sun. In one scene of the nov­el, for instance, she-Mafar­ka lies stretched out on a lawn (131). Allow­ing her­self to be pen­e­trat­ed by the rays of the he-sun, she-Mafar­ka seems to con­firm Lamarck’s view that the sun’s light is the source of all life.[11] Marinetti’s text on “Mul­ti­plied Man and the Reign of [the…] Machine” (which became part of his lat­er infa­mous text From War, the World’s Only Hygiene, 1911-1915) actu­al­ly describes the super­man mod­el of the future by explic­it­ly refer­ring to Lamarck:

It is cer­tain that if we grant the truth of Lamarck’s trans­for­ma­tion­al hypoth­e­sis we must admit that we look for the cre­ation of a non­hu­man type […]. We believe in the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an incal­cu­la­ble num­ber of human trans­for­ma­tions, and with­out a smile we declare that wings are asleep in the flesh of man. […] This non­hu­man and mechan­i­cal being, con­struct­ed for an omnipresent veloc­i­ty, […] will be endowed with sur­pris­ing organs: organs adapt­ed to the needs of a world of cease­less shocks. From now on we can fore­see a bod­i­ly devel­op­ment in the form of a prow from the out­ward swell of the breast­bone, which will be the more marked the bet­ter an avi­a­tor the man of the future becomes. (91)

In the same text, Marinet­ti also declares that the new futur­ist human being will be the fruit of the male will[12], which reval­orizes, as much as it con­tra­dicts, the ear­li­er inclu­sion of Lamar­ck­ian evo­lu­tion­ary devel­op­ment.[13]

Conclusion: Mother’s Mourning and Will

Web_EGO3 BThis turn to the will is anoth­er man­i­fes­ta­tion of ambivalence—towards tech­nol­o­gy, Woman, and the Mater­nal. Man has to bring every­thing under his will pow­er. But the male will so often invoked by Marinet­ti can­not be the will of the male sub­ject alone. In Mafar­ka il futur­ista, it is Mafarka’s late mother’s painful mourn­ing over her oth­er son, Mafarka’s late lit­tle broth­er Mag­a­mal, that trig­gers and enforces Mafarka’s repro­duc­tive act, and thus the cre­ation of the new futur­ist human being. Gazourmah is cre­at­ed accord­ing to his late mother’s will or tes­ta­ment, which Mafar­ka inter­nal­ized. Before and after Gazourmah’s birth, Mafarka’s moth­er appears as a sort of Fata Mor­gana to moth­er-Mafar­ka (34, 193). His dead moth­er talks to him—grieving over his late lit­tle broth­er. Final­ly, Mafar­ka believes that she gives him the order to give up his life for his son, the son that was cre­at­ed by her order and will. His poten­tial moth­er­li­ness fades away under the eyes of his moth­er and becomes a valu­able good, tak­en over by his own moth­er. In sum, it is his moth­er who is the dom­i­nant fig­ure through­out his life unto death.

Fol­low­ing Lau­rence Rick­els’ mourn­ing-and-incor­po­ra­tion-the­o­ry, there must have been a dead and not yet or not ade­quate­ly mourned sib­ling of the author him­self behind the incor­po­rat­ed body and birth in this text.[14] Already a read­ing on the fic­tion­al lev­el (still fol­low­ing Rick­els’ main idea) could lead to a dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tion: from this per­spec­tive it would not only be the moth­er, but also his dead lit­tle broth­er Mag­a­mal, whom Mafar­ka could not mourn ade­quate­ly. The moth­er then would have shared her part in this uncon­scious mourning:

The moth­er is always in a posi­tion to hide secret trea­sure in her child’s body which she has trained, arranged, and mapped out; she can thus deposit the unmourned corpse of one of her chil­dren in the body of anoth­er lit­tle one who sur­vives. The mourn­ing that nev­er took place is covert­ly and ambigu­ous­ly entrust­ed to a sur­viv­ing child who must car­ry a dead sib­ling and mourn in the mother’s place. (11)

Is the birth of Mafarka’s son the result of an ex-cor­po­ra­tion? Is his son’s body the for­mer­ly incor­po­rat­ed “unmourned corpse” of his late lit­tle broth­er, an encrypt­ed result of aber­rant mourn­ing, and thus the young Über­men­sch of the future a rem­nant of the past?

A full adap­ta­tion of Rick­els’ psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic-auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal mourn­ing-mod­el would require look­ing for a pos­si­bly inad­e­quate­ly mourned sib­ling of the author him­self.[15] Con­se­quent­ly, a clos­er look at Marinetti’s biog­ra­phy would be nec­es­sary. Indeed, Marinet­ti did lose a broth­er two years his senior, who died short­ly after Marinet­ti com­menced his study of law in Pavia and Gene­va. Marinet­ti then imme­di­ate­ly gave up his stud­ies and focused on his own pref­er­ence: he began writ­ing.[16] Gün­ter Berghaus insists on the immi­nent influ­ence of this fam­i­ly dis­as­ter on the onset of Marinetti’s writ­ing, stress­ing that broth­er Leone’s death was also impor­tant enough to be includ­ed in Marinetti’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal text “Won­der­ful Milan—Traditional and Futur­is­tic”: “My broth­er Leone, beau­ti­ful boy of genius, […] stopped in his tracks […] by heart dis­ease […] my incon­solable moth­er spent her life weep­ing at his tomb stone at Cimitero Mon­u­men­tale” (58).[17]

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It is key to Rick­els’ the­o­ry of unmourn­ing that the encrypt­ed loss not so much con­tra­dicts as viral­ly repli­cates and dis­man­tles the unic­i­ty of the­mat­ic read­ings of works of mourn­ing (whether Oedi­pal or pre-Oedi­pal in focus). Haunt­ing is always mul­ti­ple occu­pan­cy. In the Mafar­ka nov­el, Magamal’s death as unac­knowl­edged is car­ried for­ward as the wish to give birth, which the loss of the moth­er con­ceives. It is not Mag­a­mal, but the undead moth­er who is the iden­ti­fi­able rem­nant in the text, haunt­ing Mafar­ka day and night. Thus, in my read­ing of Marinetti’s nov­el, but also of texts by Kaf­ka and select­ed Ger­man authors of that time,[18] it is the dead moth­er who car­ries the weight of those who nev­er real­ly dis­ap­pear.[19] Mafar­ka can­not let his dead moth­er go; the abject female can nev­er be total­ly erased, and the mod­ern project of cement­ing male omnipo­tence can nev­er be ful­ly com­plet­ed. The ide­al­iza­tion of moth­er­hood and mater­ni­ty is the key fea­ture of Cul­tur­al Mod­ernism. It finds its most cogent expres­sion in male birth fan­tasies and, implic­it in these fan­tasies, in the rejec­tion of father­hood. What is more, Mafarka’s ambigu­ous rela­tion­ship to his ‘prod­uct,’ Gazourmah, the machine man who is half-human half-air­plane, even sug­gests that the Futur­ists’ technophilia—destined to pro­duce new and improved overmen—is not free of fear. The secret of birth, oth­er­wise the exclu­sive prop­er­ty of women, the organ­ic, mate­r­i­al process that takes place inside, gives way to a mas­culin­ist cryp­to-tech­nol­o­gy of the dead (to which, accord­ing to Rick­els, actu­al moth­ers are, in fact, giv­en to con­tribute over their dead chil­dren). Male birth fan­tasies rep­re­sent the turn toward the organ­ic that must be brought under con­trol. In play­ing on a vari­ety of tra­di­tion­al images of moth­er­less birth (for exam­ple, the con­struc­tion of an arti­fi­cial womb; Marinet­ti, Mafar­ka 151), Marinet­ti fore­shad­ows mod­ern tech­nolo­gies of repro­duc­tion, in which, by the looks of it, the peren­ni­al fan­ta­sy attrib­uted to men will cease to be fiction.


[1] This sug­gests a par­al­lel with Lui­gi Russolo’s Arte dei rumori and the Futur­ist fas­ci­na­tion with noise and machines.

[2] See Sig­mund Freud, Das Medusen­haupt 47.

[3] See Arnold Lionel Haskell and Jacob Epstein 42.

[4] Accord­ing to Said, mem­bers of a col­o­niz­ing nation/culture see and feel the other/the abject culture/nation, “with a com­bi­na­tion of famil­iar­i­ty and dis­tance, but nev­er with a sense of their [the dif­fer­ent cul­tures’] sep­a­rate sov­er­eign­ty” (xxi).

[5] See “Das 1. Buch Mose“/“Genesis” 2:7, 6.

[6] It flour­ished after hav­ing been pub­lished as a Ger­man “Volk­saus­gabe,” or folk’s edi­tion, in 1909, fur­nished with an intro­duc­tion by famous Ernst Haeck­el (1834–1919) who did his best to direct gen­er­al atten­tion to this in his view impor­tant evo­lu­tion mod­el. Nowa­days, it seems, this the­o­ry that had been regard­ed for so long as con­tain­ing remark­able errors, has become inter­est­ing again after genet­ic research has acknowl­edged a cer­tain truth in epi­ge­net­ic the­o­ry and in the hered­i­tary of acquired char­ac­ter­is­tics or even acquired genet­ic modifications.

[7] Thus, all in all he assumes “that by the influ­ence of envi­ron­ment on habit, and there­after by that of habit on the state of the parts and even on orga­ni­za­tion of any ani­mal may under­go mod­i­fi­ca­tions […]” (Lamar­ck 127).

[8]FIRST LAW. In every ani­mal which has not passed the lim­it of its devel­op­ment, a more fre­quent and con­tin­u­ous use of any organ grad­u­al­ly strength­ens, devel­ops and enlarges that organ, and gives it a pow­er pro­por­tion­al to the length of time it has been so used; while the per­ma­nent dis­use of any organ imper­cep­ti­bly weak­ens and dete­ri­o­rates it, and pro­gres­sive­ly dimin­ish­es its func­tion­al capac­i­ty, until it final­ly dis­ap­pears” (Lamar­ck 113).

[9]SECOND LAW. All the acqui­si­tions or loss­es wrought by nature on indi­vid­u­als, through the influ­ence of the envi­ron­ment in which their race has long be placed, and hence through the influ­ence of the pre­dom­i­nant use or per­ma­nent dis­use of any organ; all these are pre­served by repro­duc­tion to the new indi­vid­u­als which arise, pro­vid­ed that the acquired mod­i­fi­ca­tions are com­mon to both sex­es, or at least to the indi­vid­u­als which pro­duce the young” (Lamar­ck 113, empha­sis mine).

[10] “We shall short­ly see […], that new needs which estab­lish a neces­si­ty for some part real­ly bring about the exis­tence of that part, as a result of efforts” (Lamar­ck 108, empha­sis mine).

[11] See Wolf­gang Lefèvre 52.

[12] “On the day when man will be able to exter­nal­ize his will and make it into a huge invis­i­ble arm, Dream and Desire, which are emp­ty words today, will mas­ter and reign over space and time” (Marinet­ti, “Mul­ti­plied” 91).

[13] Hal Fos­ter sug­gest­ed a dif­fer­ent read­ing of this con­tra­dic­tion: “For Marinet­ti the futur­ist sub­ject must accel­er­ate this process, speed this evo­lu­tion, for only then might man ‘be endowed with sur­pris­ing organs: organs adapt­ed to the needs of a world of cease­less shocks’ […]” (122).

[14] See Lau­rence A. Rick­els: Aber­ra­tions of Mourn­ing: Writ­ing on Ger­man Crypts.

[15] This state­ment ref­er­ences a per­son­al con­ver­sa­tion with Rick­els fol­low­ing my pub­lic talk at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Bar­bara, Feb­ru­ary 20, 2007 on which this paper is based.

[16] See Luce Marinet­ti Bar­bi, “Rem­i­nis­cences of my Father” 52.

[17] My trans­la­tion, from the Ital­ian orig­i­nal: “La grande Milano tradizionale e futur­ista”: “Mio fratel­lo Leone bel ragaz­zo geniale […] fre­na­to […] da malat­tia di cuore […] Mia madre Amalia incon­sola­bile vive­va piangen­do fra la sua tom­ba al Cimitero Monumentale […].”

See e.g. my Kaf­ka inter­pre­ta­tion in Chris­tine Kanz, Mater­nale Mod­erne 90ff.

web_y__07 end[19] An inter­pre­ta­tion of Kafka’s texts by Rick­els also focus­ing on the birth theme might add plau­si­bil­i­ty to the impor­tance of the moth­er figure—in spite of the fact that Kaf­ka also had an unmourned late broth­er. Rick­els’ read­ing implies a male preg­nan­cy in Kafka’s text The Judge­ment. Here it is Georg who gave birth to the “friend”: “The ‘birth’ Kaf­ka achieves with the writ­ing of The Judge­ment is con­veyed with­in the sto­ry as Georg’s cre­ation of a phan­tom friend also to the extent that both deliv­er­ies cir­cum­vent while hold­ing the mother’s miss­ing place. The phan­tom friend embod­ies ‘the con­nec­tion between father and son,’ Kaf­ka writes in his own exe­ge­sis of the sto­ry. This embod­ied con­nec­tion is shad­owed by the post––the friend is phan­tom pre­cise­ly to the extent that he is exclu­sive­ly a let­ter-writ­ing friend––just as it embod­ies the loss between father and son, the two-year-old loss of the moth­er" (258). More­over, also Georg’s father would have par­tic­i­pat­ed in this preg­nan­cy, at least this is how Kafka’s com­ment con­cern­ing the “birth” of the “sto­ry” and regard­ing “the com­mon ground” between father and son could also be read:  Their biggest com­mon ground or hid­den bond (“ihre größte Gemein­samkeit”) the text says, is their con­nec­tion (“Verbindung”) (Kaf­ka, Tage­büch­er 491, my trans­la­tion). It must be a shared pro­duc­tion or even their child on what is com­ment­ed here—at least this is sug­gest­ed by the bio­log­i­cal hint to the blood ties by Kaf­ka him­self: It is the friend that is, one can read in his diary notes, who belongs to the blood cir­cle sur­round­ing father and son (“Blutkreis, der sich um Vater und Sohn zieht”) and to which Georg’s bride will nev­er get access (Kaf­ka, Tage­büch­er 492, my translation).

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