100 Artists’ Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists by Alex Danchev - review by John Gray

John Gray

Declarations of Intent

100 Artists’ Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists


Penguin Classics 453pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

For Gabriele d’Annunzio the love of war was more than a literary conceit. The self-styled ‘poet of slaughter’ was also an officer who served in some of the bloodiest campaigns in the Italian offensive against the Habsburg Empire during the First World War, an offensive for which he had campaigned fiercely. Over a million soldiers were killed in the course of the conflict, but for d’Annunzio even slaughter on a grand scale failed to be poetic if it was not combined with spectacular suffering. He himself had little fondness for pain – a celebrated dandy, he lived in opulent style and carried a poison pill with which he could end his life if it became too painful or tedious – but he was insistent that others display the heroic contempt for life that was central to his credo. He branded Italian soldiers who had been taken as POWs as traitors only fit to be shot, and when a senior officer who had been fatally wounded begged for one of the lethal capsules he refused the dying man’s last request. ‘It was necessary that he suffered’, d’Annunzio declared, ‘so that his life could become sublime in the immortality of death.’

Above all, life for d’Annunzio was a performance – a histrionic exercise in which other human beings figured only as bit-players or admiring spectators. It was an attitude shared by his contemporary Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944), the founder and chief publicist of Futurism, the tenets of which Marinetti

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter