A Note on F.T. Marinetti’s Futurist Cooking

This essay was originally published in Art & Text no. 7, Spring 1982, and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

In 1932, more than 20 years after the first futurist manifesto, Marinetti wrote (more precisely, compiled for the book appears as a memorial, a documentation, a factual report of quotes, of statements, of actions, testaments, manifestoes by Marinetti and by others) a futurism of a new subject, cooking. La Cucina Futurista was, despite its late appearance (Marinetti was now a member of the fascist Accademia, ‘His Excellency …’), a thoroughly futurist work. It had the qualities of other futurisms: renovation and transformation (here the abolition of the eating of pastascuitta and its substitution by a new constructed cuisine, “food for life ever more swift and aerial”, for a new historical epoch), the juxtaposition of contraries (“alogical syntheses”, a theatre, a setting into play of the spectacles of food (“the drama of inanimate objects”) and what Marinetti called the futurist “style of simultaneity”.

The most common figures of the Marinetti text (all his writing, not only La Cucina Futurista) are punctuations: the comma, which serves to add, to catalogue, to extend and the etc, sign of an infinity, of the inexhaustibility of the list and the limit of language in not being able to speak it. These punctual marks are not matters only phrases, or sentences, or paragraphs, but the larger order (they constitute the order) or writing: in La Cucina Futurista, inventories of meals, lists of foods, series of recipes, groups of quotations, of manifestoes, always these multiples. The Marinettian list is a beckoning to advance along a chain, but toward an end which ever recedes (always one more item, one more comma), so that the closer you get in the going forward the more you have the sensation of remaining at a fixed distance from your desired object; at the end there is always more, the etc; the future is pointed toward, but deferred, the object glimpsed, but never attained (the recipe of course is always a virtuality). The Marinettian narrative (and sentences can be narratives) has often no finale or close and, strictly speaking, no linearity: “The fascination, the childlike elegance, the innocence, the dawn, the shame, the abyss of sex, the rain of madness and false sentiment, the impulse of rebellion against former servitude, one and all found here.” The writing is a writing of accumulations, not of a direction; if words are set out in a successive pattern (one word, then another) because of the limits of writing, they seem placed in a topography, crowded, at once, as in the temporality of an Italian street where pleasures are always multiple and simultaneous: conversation, smell, touch, lights, sights of beauties, costumed children, gelati.

One meal/one writing will exemplify the text. At the centre of La Cucina Futurista (most of the book) are ‘Futurist meals for Particular Occasions’ which either mismatch meals with their accustomed social settings (the guests at a New Year’s Eve dinner sit Indian film and the turkey is live, dancing and cackling between seats), or construct meals for which there is no match, no precedent, no prior convention (therefore no Identity, the meal can be the Same, like another meal). At the ‘Tactile Meal’, “The host will prepare as many pyjamas as there are guests: each pyjama will be made or covered with a different tactile material such as sponge, cork, sandpaper, felt, aluminium paper, bristles, iron fillings, cardboard, silk, velvet, etc. Each guest, some minutes before the meal, will put on one of the pyjamas. Then, all will be taken to a vast darkened room without furniture: without being able to see, each guest must rapidly choose is companion at table according to touch”. The dishes served would be (the Marinettian sense is a conditional future, both assertive and unsure) ‘Polyrhythmic Salad’ (lettuce, dates, grapes, a right-hand eating, a left twirling a hurdy-gurdy and the waiters dance a slow geometric dance till the dish is eaten); ‘Magic Food’ (a surprise hidden from sight which only taste will reveal; elsewhere there are foods for grenadiers which explode); and, ‘Tactile Garden’ (huge platters of mixed greens, raw and cooked, eaten without hands, but with the fact plunged into the food to be caressed by cheeks and tongue and lips; as you raise your face to chew, the waiters spray your face with lavender perfume and eau-de-cologne). (The traditional arts have been arts of distance, the fixing of perspectives. Cooking has not been an art, or only a very minor one, for it dissolves perspective, overwhelms it with the tactile and the immediately sensuous; for the dominion of sight and sound, it substitutes touch and smell and taste. Often in Marinettian meals one must reconstitute distance in imagination with your head in a bowl of greens whereas in the traditional arts your head is in the clouds and it is closeness that must be imagined. Many futurist meals occur in the dark with only the ‘inartistic’ sense as a guide).

In the ‘Tactile Meal’ (but equally in the other meals) either dishes have no order of appearance, or order has no sense (another order would serve), or there is no conventional ruling of succession to dictate the temporality of a meal, not only is there not a ‘first’, a ‘second’, an ‘after’, and a ‘finale’, but this lack of fixed sequence disrupts the usual substitutive series which is implied in the very notion of the ordinary ‘menu’. If the last course may be first then there is an infinity of first and an infinity of lasts. The linear series of the menu is not only indeterminate (another series will do) but is so because the substitutive series in the structuring of any given course is equally indeterminate. In the conventional menu all dishes named ‘sweets’ might substitute for any other ‘sweet’, similarly hors d’oeuvres, soups, pastascuitta, entrees, define a substitution chain, ie., a nominal series of identities and sameness of things that are interchangeable, but a ‘sweet’ may not appear in the position (menus determine positions) of ‘soups’. Marinetti proposes precisely such a (scandalous) substitutive shift between things not Same while preventing by that means the constitution of a logical order which would allow Difference to dissolve in a class-naming of identifications (identical-ness), in Difference becoming not different, the One for example of all ‘soups’.

The freeing of the rules of substitution in the syntactical structure of the menu extends to particular dishes and to recipes for them (Marinetti called these ‘formulas’: cooking as science, innovation, modernity, the future, not tradition, habit, tedium, the antique): eg., ‘Land of Pozzuli and Verona Green’ (“Green citron stuffed with fried and sliced squid. Chew well as if these were anti-futurist critcs.”); ‘Stomach Awake’ (“A slice of pineapple on which is arranged whole sardines like spokes on a wheel. At the centre is a lump of tuna fish on which is half a walnut.”); ‘Meat Sculpture’ (a cylinder of roast veal stuffed with various cooked greens crowned with a large daub of honey, the whole supported by a ring of sausages in turn resting on three golden-fried spheres of chicken); ‘Equator + North Pole’ (a sculpted, flavoured, coloured, perfumed, tactile dish of oysters and hard-boiled egg whites decorated with orange segments and black truffles shaped like aircraft); ‘Rays of the Sun Alaskan Salmon with Sauce of Mars’ (the sauce consists of anchovies, hard-boiled egg yolks, basil, olive oil, Aurum liqueur … there is for another dish, ‘Sauce of Venus’).

A cuisine is structured by more than its menu or a paradigm of dishes, but also by rules for the construction of individual dishes (eg., the plain/savoury relation of the roast to the various sauces and jellies which surround it in English cooking; the wet/dry relation of sauce/pastascuitta in Italian cooking; the relation of the hidden/the revealed in the composed illusions of French cooking; and of course other relations, raw/cooked, mutilated/whole, warm/cool, ‘hot’/mild), and by rules of cooking itself (eg., roasting might be thought to be more ‘natural’ because the food is directly in contact with the fire than the more ‘cultural’ smoking which sets a distance between food and fire, or the still more cultural boiling which involves the mediation not only of an element, water, but of a utensil, the pot; cannibals boiled mother-in-laws and roasted enemies; the dripping fat, roasting is always a less, an extravagance whereas boiling is a more, a thrift; the bourgeois dish is the poule-au-pot; there is the meat, and the soup as well). Marinetti not only disrupted the syntax of cooking but (to extend the analogy) its phonemes, the most basic system of its articulation: eg., the pineapple/sardines/tuna fish/walnut combination of ‘Stomach Awake’ is not only an Italian breakfast but is an impermissible ‘Italian’ taste either in the relation fruit/fish or in the relation sweet/sour/salt/oil (though it might be Sicilian or North African … perhaps after all a conventional arrangement for Marinetti who came from Egypt): and he stressed for food new functions, as sculpture, as geography, as body eg., in the distasteful (morally speaking) ‘Strawberry Breasts’: “A pink platter on which are two raised female breasts made of ricotta coloured pink with Campari. The nipples are made of candied strawberries. Fresh strawberries beneath the ricotta to conjure up in the eating a series of imaginary breasts.”

In another meal, the ‘Geographical Meal’ (like the dish ‘Strawberry Breasts’ equally distasteful – Marinetti insisted on the subordination of women to futurist male dominance, their horizontality to male erect verticality, their passivity to male activity, their yielding to futurist male speed and thrust, its pumping piston-like virility; in one section of the book, futurists address a woman in an alternation of sudden spurts) all usual signs are shifted to an out-of-place: the dress of the waitress becomes a menu (though not less a dress), the menu a map, the map the pointer to the food, the women (full, big-bottomed, big-breasted) the inspiration of geographic place. In wanting one thing you are positioned to having many: flesh, woman, food, direction, geographic place. Everything is re-sited and deferred elsewhere: “It is necessary to select dishes not according to their composition, but by indicating on the map (both dress and woman) the city or region that seduces the fantasy and sense of adventure of the diner … if the diner points with his finger to the left breast of the waitress menu on which CAIRO is written, one of the waiters will silently depart and return immediately carrying the dish corresponding to that city, in this case ‘Love on the Nile’, pyramids of stoned dates soaked in plain win, around the highest pyramid, cinnamon flavoured buffalo cheese stuffed with burnt coffee beans and pistachio nuts.”

Cooking is a structure of signs from which not only food, or images of women (La Cucina Futurista opens with a story, ‘A Meal that Prevents a Suicide’, in which Marinetti and his futurist friends make twenty-one mechanized, palpitating food structures of women from nougat, coconut, flour, eggs, chocolate, candied fruit which are licked and eaten in a feverish, frenzied trembling by the excited futurists), or place, or nausea may be produced, but meanings: pastascuitta of an ‘Italian-ness’, the soufflé of a ‘bourgeois’ness’, roast venison of a ‘noble-ness’, or ‘medieval-ness’, or ‘privilege’. La Cucina Futurista less establishes food than it establishes signs, meanings rather than menus: eating becomes a form of thinking from which you construct ideas, art, expressions, quite literally a language which signifies. Food as mere nature for Marinetti is fodder, not food, fit not for men, but for what men have formerly been (animals), eating a food suitable only for “ants, cats, mice, cattle”, hence the central sign of pastascuitta in La Cucina Futurista is the sign of nature, of what id not thought (and indeed prevents thought, one becomes sluggish on spaghetti), of a food part of tradition (“absurd Italian gastronomic religion”) and the food which unifies and structures all of Italian cooking (its structural hinge); to abolish it is to abolish the cuisine, ‘free’ its elements (congealed in the structure pastascuitta establishes), and to reveal this ‘natural’, unquestioned cuisine as merely ‘conventional’, therefore to present the possibility of another cuisine, a “truly human cuisine”, not based on tradition, on the production of copies, but on invention, innovation, the recombination (endless, infinite) of what the removal of pastasciutta has liberated; hence a cooking (like futurist art) not made by the past, or by ‘history’, but against these according to desire and pleasure and current need. Marinetti turns strands of pastascuitta into the meanings of weight, sloth, pacifism, depression, boredom, tedium, inactivity, naturalism, dullness, the inability to make war (“the most light-footed will win”. “Things thin, transparent, spirals of passion, tenderness, light, will, agility, heroic tenacity harmonise best with the Italian”), the incapacity to make love (“a massive cube weighted down by opaque blank thickness”), and replaces these with a constructed, thoroughly invented futurist cooking and thereby with all those meanings that pastascuitta does not resume and which are its direct contraries.

La Cucina Futurista is perhaps the first (and only) cookbook in the sense that it offers an understanding of cuisine not as an indeterminate list of recipes, lore, tradition, but as a structure, not natural, but conventional, not necessary, but artificial. The ideal cookbook would be one not of empirical lists of dishes and ingredients and methods, but of the structures which have determined these dishes and their combinations, the rules which order the cuisine from which that cuisine (or another ie., created by the transformation of rules) is formed and could be re-formed, a cookbook not of commands and directions and names, but rules of play, of difference, of combination, the very reverse of things as they are.

La Cucina Futurista is in part a call for an erotics of cooking (the food-flesh bodily dissolves, the sensateness of what the text describes), but the futurist “style of simultaneity” and the multiplication of objects along an ever-lengthening, ever beckoning chain do not conspire to produce a language of love. Not only is what is desired deferred, but because of its perpetual suspension, the prorogation of what is sought, its unbridgeable distance, it is addressed by declaration a hectoring, demanding, frustrated, crazed, demented language to close the gap without the least caress or appreciation or valuation. It shouts at what it desires and seeks to establish from a place apart (where one sulks) in a kind of emptiness as if to keep back silence. Futurism by nomination is a deferral, a putting off; at the same time it is a declamation of urgency to abolish what-is (tradition, distance) in order to establish what-is-not-yet (a future consummation); it is a rhetoric to call to the Other, but an Other whose only term is to be not-the-One, a desperation more bizarre than attractive, more full of force than seductive. Futurism sometimes seems, in all its outpourings, its overabundance, its excess, its invention, to be a mute rage, a language of tantrum discomfited at the impossibility of possessing what it wants.

I want to summarily indicate a certain correspondence between Italian fascism and Italian futurism. Italian fascism was composed in part by a revolutionary, romantic-idealist socialism which laid stress on spiritual transformation as the precondition for social and material revolution; it admired Nietzsche and Sorel, had contempt for the mediocre, the traditional, the bourgeois, the gray, the dull; it stressed action, movement; it declaimed, exhibited, was anti-doctrinaire and militantly, violently, revolutionary. Fascism gave a place and for a time a privileged place to Italian futurism: futurism in turn supported and defended Italian fascism. The connection of futurist artists to fascism (not of course all) was neither misguided, nor peripheral, but crucial. Among the ideological aspects of early fascism and its language were the ideas and often the syntax of Italian futurism while the fascist programme of renewal, renovation, revolution, of a new non-bourgeois modern activist Italian order was a programme to which Italian futurism contributed and to which it did easily lend itself.


[1] F.T. Marinetti, La Cucina Futurista, Sonzogno Milano 1932; the short story which opens the book has been translated as ‘A Meal that Prevents a Suicide’ in Salmagundi no. 28, Winter 1975; see also in that issue Sam Rohdie, ‘An Introduction to Marinetti’s Futurist Cooking’; all translations in this article are by Sam Rohdie and all are from La Cucina Futurista.

Created on: Sunday, 5 September 2010

About the Author

Sam Rohdie

About the Author

Sam Rohdie

Sam Rohdie (1939 – 2015) was Professor of Cinema Studies in the Department of Film at the University of Central Florida. He has held the Chair in Film Studies at The Queens University of Belfast and before that was Professor of Film Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. He also held academic posts in universities in England, Ghana, Italy and the United States and was an original member of the Cinema Studies Program at La Trobe University, Melbourne. Sam was the editor of Screen in the United Kingdom from 1971 to 1974. His work was widely published in academic film journals and books. His books include Antonioni (1990), Rocco and His Brothers (1993),The Passion of Pier Paolo Pasolini (1996), Promised Lands: Cinema, Geography, Modernism (2001), Fellini Lexicon (2002), Montage (2006) and Film Modernism (2015).View all posts by Sam Rohdie →