Emilio Angelo Carlo Marinetti (some documents give his name as "Filippo Achille Emilio") spent the first years of his life in Alexandria, Egypt, where his father (Enrico M.) and his mother (Amalia Grolli) lived together more uxorio (as if married). His love for literature emerged during his school years. At seventeen he started his first school magazine, Papyrus; the Jesuits threatened to expel him for bringing Emile Zola's scandalous novels to school. His family sent him to graduate in Paris, France where he obtained the baccalaureat in 1893. He enrolled in Pavia University's Law Faculty, together with his elder brother, Leone.
His brother Leone's death at the young age of twenty-one was the first real trauma in Marinetti's life. After having obtained his degree (1899), Marinetti decided to abandon law and follow his literary vocation. He experimented incessantly in every field of literature (poetry, narrative, theatre, words in liberty), signing everything "Filippo Tommaso Marinetti". His mother died in 1920.
Marinetti is widely known as the author of the Futurist Manifesto, which he wrote in 1908. It was published on the front page of the most prestigious French daily, Le Figaro, on February 20, 1909, reportedly due to the influence of an Egyptian friend of his father's who was an important shareholder in the paper.
In The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, Marinetti declared that "Art [...] can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice." Since that text proclaims the unity of life and art, Marinetti understood violence not only as a means of producing an aesthetic effect, but also as being inherent to life itself. George Sorel, whose influence spanned the entire political spectrum from anarchism to Fascism, also argued for the importance of violence. Futurism had both anarchist and Fascist elements; Marinetti later became an active supporter of Mussolini.
A great lover of speed, Marinetti had a minor car accident outside Milan in 1908 when he veered into a ditch to avoid two cyclists. He referred to the accident in the Futurist Manifesto: the Marinetti who was helped out of the ditch was a new man, determined to shake loose the pretense and decadence of the prevailing Liberty style. He outlined a new and strongly revolutionary programme to his friends, in which they should close off every bridge to the past, "destroy the museums, the libraries, every type of academy", and sing of "the great crowds, shaken by work, by pleasure or by rioting". Together, he wrote, "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." .
The Futurist Manifesto was read and debated all across Europe, but Marinetti's first 'Futurist' works were not as successful. In April, the opening night of Le Roi Bombance (The Feasting King), written in 1905 was interrupted by loud, derisive whistling on the part of the audience... and by Marinetti himself, who thus introduced another essential element of Futurism, "the desire to be heckled." Marinetti did, however, fight a duel with a critic he considered too harsh.
Even his drama La donna è mobile (Poupées électriques), presented in Turin was not terribly successful. Today, the play is remembered chiefly through a later version, titled Elettricità sessuale (Sexual Electricity), and chiefly for the appearance onstage of humanoid automatons, ten years before the Czech novelist Karel Čapek would invent the term "robot."
In 1910, his first novel Mafarka il futurista was cleared of all charges in an obscenity trial. But that year, Marinetti would discover some unexpected allies when three young painters (Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo) decided to join the Futurist movement. Together with them (and with poets such as Aldo Palazzeschi), Marinetti launches a series of Futurist Evenings, theatrical spectacles in which the Futurists declaimed their manifestos in front of a crowd that, often as not, attended the performances in order to throw various vegetables at the Futurists.
The most successful "happening"' of that period was the launch of the Manifesto Against Past-Loving Venice from the belltower of Saint Mark's Basilica. In the flier, Marinetti calls for "fill(ing) the small, stinking canals with the rubble from the old, collapsing and leprous palaces" to "prepare for the birth of an industrial and militarized Venice, capable of dominating the great Adriatic, a great Italian lake." In 1911, the Italo-Turkish War broke out and Marinetti did not shrink from the war-effort: he departed immediately for Libya as war correspondent for a French newspaper. His articles were eventually collected and published in The Battle Of Tripoli.
In the meantime he worked on a violently anti-Catholic and anti-Austrian verse-novel, Le monoplan du Pape (The Pope's Aeroplane, 1912) and edited an anthology of futurist poets. But his attempts to renew the language of poetry did not satisfy him. So much so that in his foreword to the anthology, he launched a new revolution: it was time to be done with traditional syntax and to move towards "words in freedom" (parole in libertà). His sound poem Zang Tumb Tumb exemplifies words in freedom. Recordings can be heard here of Marinetti reading some of his sound poems: Battaglia, Peso + Odore (1912) Dune, parole in libertà (1914) La Battaglia di Adrianopoli (1926) (recorded 1935)
In early 1918 he founded the Partito Politico Futurista or Futurist Political Party, which only a year later was absorbed into Benito Mussolini's Fasci di combattimento, making Marinetti one of the first supporters and members of the Italian Fascist Party. He opposed Fascism's later canonical exultion of existing institutions, calling them "reactionary," and, after walking out of the 1920 Fascist party congress in disgust, withdrew from politics for three years. However, he remained a notable force in developing the party thought throughout the regime's existence. For example, at the end of the Congress of Fascist Culture that was held in Bologna on March 30 1925, Giovanni Gentile addressed Sergio Panunzio on the need to define Fascism more purposefully by way of Marinetti's opinion, stating:
Great spiritual movements make recourse to precision when their primitive inspirations - what F. T. Marinetti identified this morning as artistic, that is to say, the creative and truly innovative ideas, from which the movement derived its first and most potent impulse - have lost their force. We today find ourselves at the very beginning of a new life and we experience with joy this obscure need that fills our hearts - this need that is our inspiration, the genius that governs us and carries us with it.
Thus Futurism continued to influence Fascist thinkers outside of the Futurist school of thought on the furthering of Fascism.
Throughout the Fascist regime Marinetti sought to make Futurism the official state art of Italy but failed to do so. Mussolini was personally uninterested in art and chose to give patronage to numerous styles and movements in order to keep artists loyal to the regime. Opening the exhibition of art by the Novecento Italiano group in 1923 he said, "I declare that it is far from my idea to encourage anything like a state art. Art belongs to the domain of the individual. The state has only one duty: not to undermine art, to provide humane conditions for artists, to encourage them from the artistic and national point of view. Mussolini's mistress, Margherita Sarfatti, who was as able a cultural entrepreneur as Marinetti, successfully promoted the rival Novecento Group, and even persuaded Marinetti to sit on its board. Although in the early years of Italian Fascism modern art was tolerated and even embraced, towards the end of the 1930s, right-wing Fascists introduced the concept of "degenerate art" from Germany to Italy and condemned Futurism.
Marinetti made numerous moves to ingratiate himself with the regime, becoming less radical and avant garde with each. He moved from Milan to Rome to be nearer the centre of things. He became an academician despite his condemnation of academies, married despite his condemnation of marriage, promoted religious art after the Lateran Treaty of 1929 and even reconciled himself to the Catholic church, declaring that Jesus was a Futurist.
In 1938, when Adolf Hitler included creations of Futurism in an exhibition deriding what Nazi propaganda called degenerate art, Marinetti persuaded Mussolini not to allow the exhibition entrance into Italy.
Marinetti died at Bellagio, Italy.