Dirge of the Efemulated

It seems she had a sudden fit of insanity while shopping at the market. 
–Rosa Rosà,  A Woman With Three Souls (part 7.)


F.T. Marinetti, the de facto head of the Futurism movement of the early 20th century, was a pretty prolific articulator of the ideas and aims the ‘anti-artistic’ movement sought. Whatever one thinks of the art that resulted, his manifesto, printed in Le Figaro (although Italian, Marinetti often wrote in French for French audiences whom he particularly sought approbation) is set at a high pitch. The movement proclaimed allegiance to  speed! and youthful vigor! But things, for me,  go off the rails in his 11 point diatribe. Here, for instance,  is number 9: “We will glorify war–the world’s only hygiene–militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for and scorn for woman,” at the risk of pointing out the obvious, it is pretty odious and ridiculous. Given no. 9, it may surprise one that there were women involved in the movement (interestingly, many of them not native to Italy).

She was fading away and disappearing like a ghost, yet retained, until the last second, her self-awareness, amazed and frightened by the aggression of the new personality (part 1.)

Rosa Rosà, née Edith von Haynau, born in 1884 Vienna, was one such woman. She married an Italian journalist and changed her name, rejecting her bourgeois upbringing for the progressive, exciting promise of Futurism! (I feel that the exclamation point should be henceforth included to indicate the intensity as well as, subversively, the silliness). Rosa Rosà was the mother of four children and her views of what it could mean, in the future, to be a woman are quite interesting and truly progressive. I am not sure how she stomached the vitriol that permeated Futurism! at large, but her ideas were refreshing: embracing the potent sensuality of femininity alongside the power of the maternal feminine.

Giorgina Rossi was young, but her youth was starting to collect dust (part 1.).

Never mind the scorn, it was the indifference and decomposing dust that interested Rosa Rosà. Her short novel, The Woman With Three Souls is a fascinating consideration of the female side of Futurism.

Briefly stated, Madame Rossi is altered by a lightning strike which hits the chemical lab of Professor X (maybe Y or Z, I can’t remember–they consult one another–the point is, X, Y or Z is alarmed at the strange going-ons within the lab and hires a detective agency to investigate whether the effects of the event have permeated outside of the laboratory walls. They have).

A variety of different sensations had converged in one central point. She felt a great surge of vitality, in her very being, altering her personality and her thought process. Her feminine sensibilities seemed to multiply exponentially in a passionate burst of sensuality that had been completely unfamiliar to her until that moment (part 3.).

This nondescript, (not ugly but unattractive) woman is suddenly infused with her own sensuality, she experiences an “intense vitality “ and is “endowed with predatory instinct” (part 8.).

Giorgina, within days, passes through three metamorphoses. The first is the sensual woman. Pejoratively stated: the femme fatale, but her’s is a realization and communication of the sensuality of her sex.

The second is her intellectualization. Posited as a masculine trait I went off on a tangent to find a word that denotes the female equivalent of ’emasculate.’ Sadly, I was unsuccessful. I resorted to coining my own: hence, ‘efemulate.’ How else to describe the notion that one’s essence can be stripped by emulating the opposite sex– or, more pointedly, the expectations of the behavioral norms of the opposite sex? When Giorgina stands on the market square intellectually raving, the reaction to her sudden efemulated metamorphosis starkly exposes the historically  limited view of femininity.

[Giorgina was driven to] eloquently deliver an illogical speech, replete with vague scientific terms, describing with ease marvelous discoveries that do not exist” (part 8.).

News of her ravings makes the front page of the papers alerting professors X, Y and Z to the anomaly’s effect. The name of the paper is The Awakening and I couldn’t help wondering if the reference to Kate Chopin’s brilliant novel was intentional.  After all, only some thirty years separates the stories’ publications and compellingly overlapping theme of a woman’s autonomy being seen as a form of insanity.

But it is the third soul and metamorphosis of Giorgina that is especially moving. Writing a punctilious letter to her traveling husband about the mundane trivialities of her days and the going rate of beets, she suddenly includes an epic sensibility for the infinitude of love:

You are not here, and I love you. I love you without knowing who you are or where you are. I do not know if you are a body, if you are a soul, or if you are simple the projection into the Infinite of all my desires, of my thirst for Unreality” (part 8.).

She poignantly articulates the profundity of love, and maternal love, which is really, simply universal love. It is not the individuality of love, but rather the universality of love (a love for all babies) that is one of the keenest effects of motherhood.

I love you more than ever, because I know this love will never try to invade this remote corner of freedom, which must be my own” (part 8.)

Nevertheless, the status of ‘the wife’ or ‘the mother’ has, historically, reduced a woman. Not surprisingly, upon receiving the letter, Giorgina’s husband quickly returns home fearful of her sanity. A woman of sensuality, intellect and eternal love has long been considered mad.

Rosa Rosà’s optimistic take on Futurism! was that her woman of three souls would be the inevitable future: women would escape the dastardly quagmire of the madonna/whore complex; they would have intellectual freedom without the stigma of efemulation. In the future they would, at long last, be free to be women.

15 responses to “Dirge of the Efemulated

  1. Sorry to nitpick, but not 18th century. I think people who write manifestoes like Marinetti need to be treated as if venting, very in the moment, like bra burning feminists. More about drawing attention to an issue than the fine details

  2. Allow a suggestion to efemulate: maybe efemilate? I couldn’t help, while thinking on it, to arrive at images of emulate and mutilate: some of us. uhm, well …
    It’s closer to feminine. I recently read ‘Solitary Walks’ by Rousseau. I closed the book rather violently at reading how he detested women writers. Why, why?! is it such an issue that a woman can actually think for herself and claim personhood? Why still today? We ‘celebrate’ Women’s Day on the 9th August in South Africa. I had the incredible experience of being sent into my house by some men because I had an issue with them not doing their jobs properly with regard to my garden. Luckily it is 2014 and I was able to not only able to throw them out of my own garden but took my neighbour’s garden away from them too which I then tended for my own pocket. I mean, really!

    • Originally I toyed with efeminate, but rejected it as it sounded too close to effeminate. I hadn’t thought of efemilate, but then, I wonder if it isn’t actually apt that it conjures up ‘mutilate’–it is a form of mutilation. The etymology of the word emasculate is similar in that ‘e’ denotes a change of state, ‘mas’ is obviously referencing the masculine, and ‘culate’ is to castrate.

      It is very frustrating, and as we do ‘celebrate’ things like ‘Women’s Day,’ the attitudes do not disappear, they just get repressed and shade the day in varying degrees of ugly hues.

  3. You know your etymology better than I do. 🙂 The work of just being a person in the world obviously continues.

  4. XY and Z has to refer to a man’s zipper, no?

  5. Then there’s # 10: “We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice.” Odd then, that Marinetti is well represented in museums, and married an artist, Benedetta Cappa: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/arts/design/guggenheim-is-to-show-rare-murals-by-a-futurist.html?_r=0
    Is artist the 4th soul of woman? Or man?

    • I know! it is quite a caustic piece. I listened to a recording of Charles Bernstein reading it and his shrill voice really suited the bizarre fervor or Marinetti’s words.

  6. Interesting read.

    I’ve always thought manifestos were odd creatures bound by bold claims as if they embodied the end and all. A way of classifying oneself that’s just so alien to my way of thinking..

  7. Pingback: Manifestos | Tom Simard

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