Aaron Jay Kernis’ The Four Seasons of Futurist Cuisine has a strong element of hilarity in it. Its depiction of a wacko culinary future, as laid out in excerpts from the work of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, is as enthusiastic as it is archaic, full of bright and imaginative insanity.
The dual context of Marinetti’s and Kernis’ interwoven texts give the piece an extremely weird complexity. There is, first, the strange time-traveling yo-yo one has to imagine in order to begin to conceive how a man of the present (1) sets a text from the past (2) about futurism (3) by writing music (4) in the now-archaic style of that text’s era (5) which is now (6), as it was then (7), and will ever be (8), called ‘Futurism’ (9) – all in the context of Parmesan cheese, figs, soldiers, lovers, the moon, and a large, complicated ham.
It is easy to see that the futurists were an odd bunch – but their oddness was not manifest only in harmless excitement, dynamic paintings, inventive nutrition, and zany manifesti. The skewed accuracy with which they predicted the mechanistic, warlike future, combined with their total failure to understand the real consequences of their own predictions and desires, creates some awful overtones. Marinetti, for example, is inextricably mixed up with Italian Fascism. One should take note, in order to extract some of the poison, that he was anti-anti-semitic, and disagreed with Mussolini on this point; he did, however, largely support Mussolini and the more general ferocity of Fascist doctrine. In hindsight, we can see futurism and futurists as having had wicked political bedfellows on both the right and the left. How much political consequence the Futurists had is debatable (one might compare the peculiar case of Ezra Pound), but the debate is unavoidable.
The only inarguable casualty of the Futurists’ bellicose longings was, in the end, the Futurist movement itself. The core of the Italian crew, which ought to have spent its time thinking about painting, music, song, and (maybe) cooking, went proudly off to World War I and died there. Marinetti survived the First World War, and lived to volunteer for Mussolini in the Second World War, then died in 1944, having returned from the Russian front in unsurprisingly fragile health. To hear The Four Seasons of Futurist Cuisine is to encounter all these strange issues of Futurism in the screwy upside-down-ness of retrospect, in which both the dynamic fantasy and grim reality to which it refers appear absolutely absurd.