Now It’s Personal

I cannot confront Futurism right now. I cannot be objective, scholarly. I cannot investigate Marinetti’s or his comrade’s manifestos intellectually (especially when the black text is plastered on a field of bellicose red). I cannot consider the social and economic changes he was hoping to effect. I cannot regard his ideas as condemnations of economic aristocracy or as exaltations of the progress and ascent of the working classes during the industrial age. I can only react emotionally. Right now. I can only jerk my knee in repulsion to the underlying violence in the ideals of Futurism, the unapologetic bravado that seems incapable of empathy, the aggression, the righteous belief in the destruction of the past, the steamrolling, the bulldozing, the need for annihilation of the traditional, the so-pleased-with-itself hostility, the entitlement, the delight in the eradication of the weak, the celebration of inhumanity.

I know the publicist’s tool of shock value. I know (think?) Marinetti and his cronies adopt an extreme posture to shake things up, to break things down, to provoke challenges and questions. I believe that his later manifesto Destruction of Syntax–Imagination Without Strings–Words-in-Freedom actually tempers much of what would be considered highly aggressive in his initial manifesto. In fact, I think that the typographic videos I watched on YouTube – all of which seemed to separate the human agency from the violence with their substitutions of type for the the visual movie – could bear discussion of the role typography plays in literature. But no matter. I can’t engage with Futurism’s surface right now. I turn away from its celebration of inhumanity, its embrace of the machine.

Instead, I turn toward digital poems that seek out humanity in the machine. I’m thinking of Jim Andrew’s Nio, bpNichol’s First Screening, and a poem that we discussed last week that won’t leave me: Andy Campbell’s Spawn. I love Spawn. I keep returning to it. We discussed it in class last week but we never discussed it. We left it with a vague agreement that it is incomprehensible, but for me, out of all the digital poems we’ve explored so far, Spawn is the most comprehensible, the most moving, the most fragile and tenacious and heartbreaking.

Spawn, I believe, is about the body’s dissolution resulting from procreation. That’s such a cold way to put it. It’s about the how the mother’s body begins to break down with the birth of her child, how the father’s process of death begins when the child’s process of life begins. It’s about that initial sacrifice, that giving up of life, but it is also about the suffering of the parent as the child separates his life from hers, the incomprehensibility of a child growing, not up, but away, changing into the unrecognizable. The very process is a puzzle that teases us with glimpses of rationality, only to hide its reasons in signs and signals that we think we should understand, but can’t.

The upside down jar in the middle of the rotting plank is the womb/testicles between vulnerable, aging thighs. The leaves inside the jar – fertility, the gummed over stem – the clitoris or penis and their inevitable decay. The music is soothing, like the sounds inside the womb. The seeds inside – ova, fertilized, energized, waiting to be born or “spawned.” “Spawn” is both a verb and a noun, the act of creation and the product of the creation. When a seed is click on, it is born, bursting forth, escaping, changing, growing, becoming incomprehensible. It generates text we think we can read, but can’t. It creates symbols and objects that “fly the coop,” disappearing before we can know them. And the seeds insist on being parented. If left alone, if you minimize the screen for a few minutes and then maximize it again, the seeds are agitated, frenetic, much like a toddler in a tantrum, and they don’t settle down unless you click and click and click, or in other words, stroke, and stroke, and stroke.

I suppose the futurists would claim this poem as futurist, given its use of the machine, its textual unintelligibility, its broad associations, its use of symbolism, but I claim it as anti-futurist. I claim it as tribal, clannish, earthy, embodied, and human. It celebrates the cycle of creation and dissolution, how creation brings about dissolution. And no, that’s not the same thing as destruction bringing about creation. It’s just not.



  1. loveandpopsicles said

    YES. I am totally on board with that analysis of Spawn. I too am drawn to that piece. And I like you appreciate its representation of something organic, since the Futurists have shown us that an obsession with machines makes one a misogynist Fascist.

  2. It is fascinating to me that you find the music “soothing.” As you noted in your response to my blog entry, I found the music almost irritating. I didn’t get much further than the music in my analysis, simply because I found myself so overwhelmed by it. When I say irritating, though, I don’t mean that I don’t like the music. I actually find it somehow both irritating and beautiful. I write about horror films, and I’m reminded of the *Alien* series when looking at “Spawn”. The music in those films is much like the music hear, a mechanical/organic swirl of sound, also a drone punctuated by the sounds of bodies, a heartbeat here, an exhale of air there. Like the monsters in the *Alien* series, for me, “Spawn” is beautiful, elegant, but also horrifying.

    By the way, I love the bit at the end of your post about creation bringing about dissolution, sort of like the phoenix but in reverse. There’s something really cool about that reading, and it makes sense considering that the jar is upside down and leaking from beneath…

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