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A "Poetry of Numbers"? Khlebnikov, Jakobson, Marinetti, Schwitters, Kostelanetz

by Matteo D’Ambrosio

The artist of number is coming to replace the artist of word. V. Khlebnikov, 1919

This paper, which relates to the development of the corresponding canon, is aimed mostly at verifying whether any prefigurations and anticipations of Electronic Literature can be detected in the historical avant-gardes, both in their theoretical statements and in their creative writing. All major artistic and literary movements of the 20th century, especially when they had been successful in imposing their agenda, felt the inclination to define their roots and precursors. In this regard, F. T. Marinetti, for instance, after expressing his wish for an Italy that could get rid of its “illustrious past” (1914a, 1) was committed, as a member of the Academy of Italy, in “forward commemorations” (D’Ambrosio 1999) of major authors (Dante, Tasso, Ariosto, …), up to considering Leonardo da Vinci (Marinetti 1936) and Michelangelo Buonarroti as Futurists ahead of their times 1. Already in the first Manifesto of Surrealism André Breton had started to enumerate several predecessors, among whom he is known to have included Marx, Rimbaud, the Marquis de Sade and Lautréamont.

The Italian Futurist avant-garde had focused on the thematic discriminating factor, providing a number of prescriptive directions that were already present in the endecalogue of the first Manifesto (Marinetti 1909). On the other hand, in their early research Russian Futurists said poetry should have total freedom of topic and total, comprehensive freedom of contents, and privileged the development of very innovative thoughts on language.

1. Khlebnikov, Numerologist

The great linguist and literary theorist Roman Jakobson liked to say, on every possible occasion, that he considered Velimir Khlebnikov 2 to be the greatest poet of the 20th century. Khlebnikov, who had studied mathematics since 1903 at the University of Kazan 3, in December 1912 published, together with his fellow artists David Burliuk, Aleksei Kruchenykh and Vladimir Mayakovsky, Slap in the Face of Public Taste (1912), the first Manifesto of Russian Futurism. The Manifesto was published in a Almanac that also contained a brief poem with a peculiar phonological, morphological and lexical structure, Bobeobi, that can be considered among the most impressive instances dedicated to zaum 4, one of the most complex, radical and stimulating experiments of all the international poetic avant-garde of the first decades of the 20th century, of which Khlebnikov gave a particular and archetypal interpretation.

Khlebnikov believed that the linguistic system that was superior to others was not the verbal, but the numerical one (1970a, 112-126; 1970b, 233-253) 5. The language of numbers is “the first international language” (1986, 13), and the keeper of its laws. “Like many others before him, Khlebnikov dreamt of a single language, perfectly suited for immediate and univocal communication” (Sola, in Khlebnikov 1986, 12). He actually believed that the language of numbers, being the first universal language, in mysterious ways hid the secrets of the history.

Khlebnikov devoted almost all his life to research on numbers […] for Khlebnikov, history was … the result of mathematical laws or cycles; and Khlebnikov firmly believed that these were discoverable by, and amenable to, mathematical formulae. […] he was determined to discover “the rules to which national destinies are subject” (Barhooshian 1974, 25)

According to Khlebnikov, even a theology can be drawn from numbers, developed around an absolute principle. In order to intercept its universal harmony one needs to trust generalized calculation. In the first place, it is possible to single out certain figures that can define epoch-marking events 6. Like, for example, number 317, whose extraordinary power he believed to have discovered 7 and that he considered as “the law ruling the wavelike movement of States, peoples, events, wars, mobs, and even of individual souls and individual actions” (Kamensky 1966, 115) 8.

According to Khlebnikov, the language of numbers is the language of the universe, and he turned numerical calculation into one of the various criteria for composition that were at the origin of his creative texts. “He wanted to transfer the relation we have with the concept of number to the concept of word, in order to expand the latter” (Schatz 1977, 44) He also published a poem that is a genuine praise of the values of number, the linguistic unit superior to word 9:

I see right through you, Numbers. I see you dressed in animals, their skins, coolly propped against uprooted oaks, you offer us a gift. Between the snaky movement of the back bone of the universe and Libra dancing overhead. You help us to see centuries as a flash of laughing teeth See my wisdom-wizened eyes to recognize what my will when its dividend is one (Khlebnikov 1913).

Having long appreciated in the first place the communicative function of numbers, in 1919 he eventually stated that he had gone “over to numerical writing” (quoted in Cooke 2006, 102). His self-portrait unfolds like a theorem:

The equation of the soul: I was born on October 28, 1885 + 38 + 38 = November 3, 1921: at the Red Star in Baku I predicted the Soviet Government, December 17, 1920 = 2 x 38 – 317; I was elected a President of Planet Earth on 38 + 38 – 37 = December 20, 1915 (from birth) or 2 x 38 – 37 – 48. On the day of the battle of Tsushima I conceived of the idea of overthrowing the state by means of an idea; in the day of the surrender of Przemysl I entered the domain of chemistry (quoted in Schnapp 2012, 121) 10.

According to Slavic expert Vittorio Strada, his is indeed

fantastic mathematics, a reasoned concoction of calculations which Khlebnikov, Lobachevsky and Einstein of the human Universe, would use to understand the rhythms of general destinies, investigate the waves of the endless ocean of mankind, predict the ebb and flow of the historical and natural world. (1988, 90)

By contrast, Jeffrey T. Schnapp underlines Khlebnikov’s effort “to determine numerical patterns of predictive value” (2012, 121).

This interest apparently never faded out, if it is true that still in Khlebnikov’s last work, Zangezi, dated 1922 11, “mathematic calculations have become a new poetic material, where figures and letters are tied to the destruction of cities end Empires” (Tynjanov 1979, 276) 12.

Young Futurists in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as critics who later on would introduce Formalism in literary studies (Jakobson, Tynjanov) were very familiar with Khlebnikov‘s research, ideas and poetic production (Jakobson 1921), be it that their judgments on his work were quite divergent. According to Vasilij Kamensky, Khlebnikov was just sick of “cyphermania” (Kamensky 1966, 115), while Mayakovsky believed he was the discoverer of “new poetic continents” (1960, 56), the Christopher Columbus of a new universe of knowledge 13.

Another famous scholar and fellow of Russian Futurists like Jakobson and Viktor Šklovskij, Jurij Tynjanov, at the end of the Twenties, wrote the introduction to the first edition in five volumes of the complete works of Khlebnikov. And it is in this introduction that he calls the author “the Lobachevsky 14 of the word” (Tynjanov 1979, 125) (as Strada recalls in the cited passage (1988, 90)) comparing him to the scientist that had radically changed the mathematical sciences and the study of geometry in Russia.

A bizarre anecdote is worth reporting: in an article entitled “Prodigious prophecy of a Russian Futurist about the outcome of the war”, published in the Florence review L’Italia futurista in 1917, Emilio Settimelli told he had dreamed of a written message – which the review illustrated in words-in-freedom form – in which “Kliebnikof” invited him to read one of his “prophecies on war” in an article by Armando Zanetti entitled Italian Futurism and Russian Futurism, published on 5 March 1914 on the second page of the Roman daily newspaper “Il Giornale d’Italia”. Settimelli quoted a long portion of the article, containing a statement by the Russian poet according to which a great empire falls every 1387 years. Khlebnikov therefore expected that in 1917, 1387 years after the fall of the empire of the Vandals, something extraordinary would happen 15. When, in February 1914, the head of the Italian Futurist movement made his appearance in Moscow and St. Petersburg 16, the Italian journalist sent a report to a newspaper in which he described the encounters between Marinetti and the Russian Futurists, including Khlebnikov. Zanetti informed his readers that Khlebnikov’s research on numeric calculations had apparently made it possible for him to establish the date of forthcoming historical events, and in particular he discovered that in history every 1387 years the fall of a great empire takes place. Settimelli could only reproach the doubting Zanetti, who had written the article three years before, and “salute enthusiastically the Futurist Kliebnikof … for his mesmerizing and prophetical force”. According to Šklovskij (1994, 137) and Vahan D. Barooshian, the empire whose fall Khlebnikov had predicted for 1917 was Czarism, that was wiped out by the Russian Revolution that year:

Khlebnikov discovered that three hundred seventeen (years) was the magic number that separated turning points in history. He concluded and predicated that the year 1917 marked “the fall of a State”, which Khlebnikov meant Russia. (Barooshian 1974, 25).

2. The Letter from Jakobson to Khlebnikov

Roman Jakobson knew Khlebnikov’s theories well and, like many others later (including Todorov), he believed that “the strangest part … is without dubts the one consacreted to numbers” (Todorov 1970, 103). So the future linguist proposed that Khlebnikov, in a letter transcribed for the first time in 1940, and dated by scholars in Slavic studies February 1914 17 (which means during Marinetti’s stay in Russia 18) should write poems consisting only of numbers. Here is the relevant passage:

It seems to me that verses made out of numbers are realizable. The number is a two-edged sword, extremely concrete and extremely abstract, arbitrary and fatally exact, logical and nonsensical, limited and infinite. […] You know numbers, and therefore, even if you recognize that the poetry of numbers is an unacceptable paradox, but a sharp one, please try and give me at least a small model of such verse. (Jakobson 1992, 313) 19

We do not know what Khlebnikov responded; in fact, we even do not know whether he ever responded to Jakobson’s suggestion. The reason why he probably did not react to Jakobson’s letter is that from the end of 1912 onwards, as we have just seen, after wishing “the victory of number over word as technique of tought” (Todorov 1970, 111), he was mainly engaged in the enterprise of creating poetry no longer made of words but of “combinations of letters, morphemes and verbal stems devoid of meaning” (Ibid., 108). These attempts of his are deemed to be at the roots of the already mentioned zaum, the “transmental” language 20. It has to be said, however, that according to many of his known texts, numerology, in conjunction with other theoretical suggestions, did not find direct and systematic application in his poetry, except in the sense that calculation is one of the composition criteria he sometimes adopted (although often hard to detect when analysing his texts).

We may therefore affirm that probably, and at least in interrogative form, within the framework of historical avant-gardes, the poetry made up of numbers only originates from this document, open expression of the young artist’s willingness to share the most extreme and experimental results of the ideology of poetic text that were surfacing from within Russian Futurism 21.

Obviously, Jakobson knew everything about Khlebnikov works and research. Why then did he put this question to him, given the fact that he was very well aware of Khlebnikov’s ideas, and of what he was trying to achieve? It is most likely that Jakobson had heard Marinetti talk about some of the ideas that later on would be spelled out in the Manifesto Geometrical and Mechanical Splendor and Numerical Sensibility and in particular in the last section, in which he stressed the importance of “numerical sensibility”.

Jakobson on his turn foreshadowed the use of numbers associated with combinations of sounds and letters, considered to be a solution capable of increasing the expressive potential of a text, and therefore useful for transcribing the results of new poetic experiments. He also remembered to have addressed these matters, especially in relation to zaum, in his correspondence with Kruchenykh and Khlebnikov in the years 1912-1914 (cf. Drucker 1994, 171).

3. Marinetti’s Manifesto Geometrical and Mechanical Splendor and Numerical Sensibility

Recent research work has shown that in the 1910s Russian and Italian Futurists came repeatedly to the same conclusions, with surprising synchronicity (D’Ambrosio 2009a, 145-177).

As has just been said, Marinetti was in Russia in February 1914. He had been invited by Professor Genrich E. Tasteven, and Roman Jakobson happened to be one of his students. Marinetti spoke only French and Tasteven chose the young Jakobson (who at that moment was only 18 years old) as a translator and guide for Marinetti (D’Ambrosio 2009b, 5-36)

One can believe that Marinetti, when he was in Russia, already thought of the subject and various arguments of this Manifesto, and that in Moscow and St. Petersburg he had the chance to discuss his ideas with the Russian Futurists he met, in the presence of Roman Jakobson. At any rate, Khlebnikov was not always part of this group of poets and visual artists, as apparently he preferred to be in Moscow while Marinetti was in St. Petersburg and in St. Petersburg while Marinetti was in Moscow (D’Ambrosio 2009b, 8-9, 12-13, 33).

Only one month after his trip to Russia and after Jakobson’s letter to Khlebnikov, Marinetti published the Manifesto entitled Geometrical and Mechanical Splendor and Numerical Sensibility, a text that circulated in French as well, and was dated March 11, 1914 22, where he, among other things, planned to introduce numbers, mathematical signs, theorems and equations in words-in-freedom texts. As announced in the title, Marinetti attaches to words-in-freedom writing a “numerical sensibility”, capable of finding in numbers correspondences with “the varying mystical intensities of matter”.

At the same time, Marinetti calls for certain principles – precision, brevity and synthesis – that, at least in his poetic intent, he will never part with, paying this enthusiastic tribute of avant-garde imagination to the progresses of new sciences.

As he did in the early stage of development of Futurist aesthetics, and then every time he suggested new criteria and new strategies, in this Manifesto too, Marinetti is concerned about giving examples, obtained from his own writings, which he values as benchmarks. In particular, he takes the following excerpt from his just-published Zang Tumb Tumb, which he invites to consider as an “ultimate lyric equation”:

horizon = gimlet most piercing some sun + 5 triangular shadows (1 kilometer to one side) + 3 diamond shapes of rosy light + 5 bits of hills + 30 columns of smoke + 23 blazes [fig. 1] (Marinetti, 1914b, 139) 23.

Unsurprisingly, in 1919, in Les mots en liberté futuristes Marinetti isolated this excerpt and placed it, with the title of Sensibilité numérique (Marinetti 1919, 69-71), in a right page preceded by a completely blank page.

Marinetti had already thought of using “mathematical signs: + – X : = > <, and musical signs” in the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature, as a remedy to the abolition of puncuation marks, adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions (1912a). Two years earlier, in the Supplement to the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature, Marinetti had defined the limited usefulness of mathematical signs: “I turn to the abstract dryness of mathematical signs, who serve to specify quantities, because they synthesize all explanations without digressions” (1912b, 2).

Instead, in the Manifesto Geometrical and Mechanical Splendor and Numerical Sensibility, Marinetti reflects upon formal solutions in tune with an extended notion of expression 24, and identifies a wide range of possible applications: mathematical signs, despite their “abstract simplicity” can enhance a new type of mobility, on the condition that they are inserted in contexts capable of increasing their conventional semantic values. Indeed, he foresaw, among other things, that words-in-freedom texts could include theorems and equations, together with the phonetic transcription of onomatopoeia.

In other words, Marinetti “proceeds with … a linguistic investiture of non-verbal sign materials, … the recognition of their grammatologic potential” (Ballerini 1975, 72). Another step in this direction 25 had already been taken in his first words-in-freedom text, Battaglia Peso + odore, where the numeric figure “is an instrument governed not by a referent but by the intuition of a poet/artist endowed with a numerical sensibility and improvisatory skills” (Schnapp 2012, 115).

Marinetti also resumes the principle of indeterminedness, an intrinsic coefficient of ambiguity of the poetic discourse, introducing the use of dubitative suspension entrusted to the “mathematical x” 26. With the elimination of the question mark the abolition of punctuation called for in the Manifesto tecnico della letteratura futurista (1912a) is completed.

This is paragraph 9 of the Manifesto Geometrical and Mechanical Splendor and Numerical Sensibility [fig. 2]:

My love for precision and essential brevity naturally gave me the taste of figures who live and breathe on paper as living beings through my new numerical sensibility. […] Mathematical signs + - = x are used to obtain wonderful synthesis and contribute by their abstract simplicity of impersonal gears to the ultimate goal, which is the geometric and mechanical splendor. Such splendor, in his opinion, was the distinguishing feature of a new beauty. It would in fact require more than one page of traditional description to render, in an imperfect way, this very vast horizon of a complicated battle of which you have here the final lyrical equation. (Marinetti 1914b, 4)

In the following passages Marinetti justifies a number of phenomena he defines as a result of his personal “numerical sensibility”. To give an illustration of the principles that should characterize it (first and foremost “precision” and “synthesis”), he uses passages from of Zang Tumb Tumb: the use of X and the elimination of the question mark:

I use the x to indicate interrogative pauses in the line of thought. I also eliminate the question mark for it concentrates too arbitrarily its atmosphere of doubt on a single point of consciousness. By means of the mathematical x the doubtful suspension spreads over the whole agglomeration of words in freedom. (ibid.)

The following passage is dedicated to the use of numbers and mathematical signs:

Following my intuition, I introduce among the words in freedom numbers that have no immediate meaning or value, but (appealing phonetically and optically to the numerical sensibility) express the different transcendental intensities of the matter as well as the uncontrollable responses that the sensibility offers in response to these intensities. I create true theorems and equations by introducing lyrical numbers chosen intuitively and arranged even in the midst of a word. With a certain amount of + - = x I render the thickness and the shape of things that the word is meant to express. The series + - + - + + x is meant to express for instance the variation and acceleration of the speed of an automobile. The series + + + + used to express the piling up of equal sensations. (ibid.)

In this passage, Marinetti mentions a battle 27. He refers to the subject of a page from his Zang Tumb Tumb; here is the example:

(E.g., “the fecal stench of dysentery + the honeylike smell of plague sweat + the stink of ammonia etc.,” in ‘A TRAINLOAD OF SICK SOLDIERS’ in my ZANG TUMB TUMB) 28.

In order to understand what Marinetti means precisely with the term “numerical sensibility”, where writing becomes a post-verbal practice that relies on intuition 29, it is necessary to refer to four of Marinetti’s works: 1) a book that has remained unpublished, but of which a considerable number of pages (about a hundred) are kept in the Marinetti Archives in the Beinecke Library at Yale University (Lista 2001, 269); 2) the text of the Manifesto we’ve already mentioned; 3) Zang Tumb Tumb, a book he published – and it is noteworthy remembering this – shortly after his trip to Russia; 4) the volume Les mots en liberté futuristes, published in 1919.

Page number 45a of the book that has remained unpublished contains a handwritten poem composed almost exclusively of numbers [fig. 3] 30. According to Jane Sharp,
In such instances, Marinetti used numbers and signs to function as symbols of intuitive phenomenon and cognitive processes, and to evoke psychic and emotional states. (1983, 23)

In Vive la France [fig. 4] 31, the first version of the better known table Après la Marne, Joffre visita le front en auto [fig. 5] 32, “lists of numbers’ co-exist with ‘liberated’ letters and criss-crossing curved lines. The letters and the numbers, deprived of the useful function they once served, float mysteriously on the page” (Poggi 1983, 5). In addition to these, but with less significance, there are, in the unpublished book, the two ink drawings on a telegram form marked with numbers 41 33 and 69 34; the second one shows a “nonsensical equation, prominently placed in the center of the design” (Poggi 1983, 7).

4. Une Assemblée Tumultueuse by Marinetti

Other manifestations of Marinetti’s “numerical sensibility” in the form of signs can be spotted in certain texts dating back to the years 1914-1915 and reproduced as inset illustrations in the volume Les mots en liberté futuristes 35, where Marinetti also reproduced the only of his word-in-freedom tables that explicitly mentions “numerical sensibility” in its subtitle [fig. 6], “Not literally readable; possibly a depiction of a political rally, or a celebration of the end of the war” (Bartram 2005, 29); which suggests validating the date of 1918 (that appears there, on top right).

Une assemblée tumultueuse 36 is a typographical collage dedicated to a public celebration on the occasion of the end of the First World War (1918). The collage includes items that Marinetti had previously used to evoke the numerical sensibility, such as a series of numbers and mathematical signs.

Marinetti composed A Tumultuous Assembly by glueing fragments of numbers, letters, and words, including a variety of typefaces, to the surface of his paper. No handwritten or drawn elements appear. The juxtaposition of the date, 1918, the torpedo-like forms, the small drummer, and the overlapping fragments of numbers (an original way of conveying a sense of the jostling and excitement of large crowds) indicates that this free-word poem refers to an Italian patriotic celebration at the end of Word War I. (Poggi 1983, 5).

Additional proposals for a description of the great complexity of this textual device were put forward by Schnapp:

The extended arcs at the center trace the trajectories of artillery shells and bombs, as confirmed by Marinetti’s preparatory collages. They mimic the shape of military dirigibles that are firing and being fired upon. The chunks of data that the poet has cut up and reassembled have been freed from mnemonic functions and cut loose from obligations to instrumental reason. They consist in multilingual word lists from telegraph coding books, arithmetic tables, financial balance sheets, all pressed together so as to suggest that the poet’s summation-assemblage captures but a single sublime moment within a vortex of ever shifting registers and surging data streams. (Schnapp 2012, 118-119).

These, and other composition solutions allowed Johanna Drucker to affirm that “Marinetti’s sensibility is nearly proto-electronic and cybernetic in orientation” (Drucker 1994, 109).

Rather than taking it as an example of “numerical sensibility”, so far critiques have chosen to place this words-in-freedom table within the context of typographic experiments, highlighting in particular the use of collage. John H. White, right in the chapter dedicated to “Futurist Collage” of his essay on Futurist literature, in the first place points at the fact that Une assemblée tumultueuse “looks remarkably similar to Soffici’s Tipografia” 37, that is dated 1915 [fig. 7].

White first compares the two works, putting the relevant reproductions side by side (1990, 128-129); he then corroborates Jane Sharp’s analysis, according to which Une assemblée tumultueuse “refers to an Italian patriotic celebration at the end fo World War I” (1983, 23). Lastly, he downscales the already cited interpretation proposal by Christine Poggi:

Certainly, the date ‘1918’ repeated at the top right-hand corner of the work is the best indication of what may be being celebrated (though, I find it difficult to share Christine Poggi’s assumption that some of the shapes near the centre are meant to suggest torpedos; they look more like festive trombones). (White 1990, 128).

Indeed, the page from Ardengo Soffici’s BÏF§ZF+I8, purposely preceded by the indication “TIPOGRAFIA” at the top, does seem to be a precedent of Une assemblée tumultueuse (Cf. Bartram 2005, 116).

There are illustrations by Soffici (Tipografia) in BÏF§ZF+I8 that reappear identical in Marinetti’s Les mots en liberté futuristes. This verification … leads to suppose that a number of the illustrations attributed to Marinetti were rather used by him on different occasions. (De Seta 1987, 72-73)

Therefore, Marinetti excludes traditional narrative forms, in the belief that their effects have a limited expressive power. As an alternative, he proposes introducing, in the space that once belonged solely to verbal writing, elements of greater dynamism and qualitative efficacy. Enumeration is therefore freed from its reassuring referential logic (which is satisfied instead by the principle of precision). Clearly, the “lyric” (analogic) use of numbers in favour of a spontaneous and chaotic expression of subjective sensitive experience does not satisfy the principle of precision. Its usefulness in favour of “essential brevity”, appears to be more plausible, and can be verified in the composition solutions adopted in each textual device.

The suggestions given in the above-cited Manifesto, however, were not applied extensively in the subsequent words-in-freedom illustrations by the leader of Futurism. That special composition form soon fell victim to the standardisation that characterised the “return to order” of the early avant-garde. Defined by Marinetti in this, in the contemporaneous and in a few later Manifestos [38], words-in-freedom were evidently less used in the creative productions of other Futurists, who relinquished the radical trespassing in post-verbal and inter-linguistic complexity that are to be seen in the best words-in-freedom illustrations.

Besides, the planned anthology I paroliberi futuristi, announced in the pamphlet Parole consonanti vocali numeri in libertà dated 11 February 1915, was never published. Marinetti’s programmatic impulse, however, soon generated certain adjustment efforts, not equally significant. In L’Ellisse e la Spirale of 1915 Paolo Buzzi makes use of formulas and (pseudo) equations as subtitles (Cf. Schnapp 2012, 126), presented as follows in the opening pages:

For a finer tuning of the footage of fantasy to its progressive enarmonic trascendencies, I called for help the formulas of sublime calculation, from algebra to chemistry, mechanics and astronomy (Buzzi 1915, 1).

The first elements of the Fibonacci sequence inspired a painting by Giacomo Balla, Numeri innamorati (which does not include the number 4 in the centre) 39, that however appears isolated from the flows of his research.

The early Futurist Manifestos – those since the foundation of the movement until the years of World War I – certainly influenced the other avant-gardes. Marinetti’s invitation to rely on “numerical sensibility” might have caused at least the presence of a numeric segment in other authors’ works 40.

5. The “Poema Preciso”

Marinetti had already mentioned the principle of precision in a letter to the young Belgian poet Henry Maassen (1909) 41 and, as we just said, in the Manifesto Geometrical and Mechanical Splendor and Numerical Sensibility. This principle will lead him to the individuation of a true textual typology, the “poem of precision”, which he will present only in a couple of examples.

One of these examples is included, in Italian and in French, in the anthology I nuovi poeti futuristi (1925) 42. It is in the clear intention of showing it as an exemplary model to be imitated that he reproduces the same text, now with the title Velocità nel caos delle lave spente, together with the article I poemi precisi 43, which proposes once again the last point (n. 9) of the above-mentioned Manifesto. Marinetti will offer again the same “poem of precision” in his metal book-object Parole in Libertà futuriste tattili termiche olfattive 44, published in 1932 45. Each text is proposed in two versions. The first [fig. 8], to which a couple of numbers and simple arithmetic operations are added, has a considerable number of phenomena of iconisation (typographical mobility, spacing, absence of punctuation) documenting a constructivist – and scarsely dynamic – adaptation of the principles of words-in-freedom. The second version [fig. 9] is polychromatic and is caracterized by a drastic quantitative reduction of the linguistic material, corresponding to the first linear segment. From this configuration are derived textual models who in the post-war years will become part of Concrete poetry 46.

The constructivistic configuration of the verbal material will be resumed by Carlo Belloli, a very young poet in the last years of the Futurist movement 47 and, in the years immediately following World War II, among the early authors of poetic-visual research (D’Ambrosio 2017, forthcoming)

Like many other representatives of the historical avant-gardes 48 (including Futurists 49) Marinetti too, in the subsequent years, will be particularly interested in the debate about the fourth dimension, a dimension he felt was represented by the plastic dynamism of some of the works of Umberto Boccioni and Balla and, more generally, by the painting of “state of minds” 50. Artistic experiments in this direction appeared to him useful to overcome mathematics 51.

6. The Manifesto La Matematica Futurista

Marinetti is also among the signatories 52 of the Manifesto La matematica futurista, published in 1940 53. After defining scientific truth as “variable”, the Manifesto calls for the application of “rational mechanics to the evaluation of paintings and sculptures”. This statement must be connected to the interest shown by the Futurists for a possible “scientific” method of evaluation (or rather, of “measurement”) of works of art. It is Marinetti who, in the course of the 1920s, will apply the experimental method when, during a certain period, he is more or less continuously engaged in writing theatre reviews 54. What appears more obscure is his proposal to apply a “poetic geometry”, understood as a subjective “abstract measurement” to works of architecture. After having paid attention for quite some time to Einstein’s theory of relativity (which he considered, in an article possibly written in 1934, “built on the basis of abstruse calculations and mysterious intuitions” [55), Marinetti now invites his readers “to deny the rationality of numbers by applying to the vicissitudes of life the mocking and combinatorial law of probability” (Guerri 2009, 256). Much preferable is a “mathematics hostile towards symmetry and equations completely launched towards the discontinuous and the rare”. Marinetti, that had by then approached Catholicism, does not fail to affirm “the divine essence of HASARD and RISK” (a term that should be regarded as an unconscious reference to the game theory). The conclusions, however, are surprisingly entrusted to two “precise […] calculations” concerning as many “futurist victories”: the “battles” of Via Mercanti (1915) and of Passo Uarieu during the war in Ethiopia (1936).

7. Schwitters’s Number Poems

A recurring myth in historic avant-gardes, the myth of a text that means nothing else but itself is thought to reappear in the number poems of German Dada artist Kurt Schwitters — a text that, in its actual occurrence, was meant to dissolve the descriptive and representative functions of words. This transversal “sub-genre” – that includes, for example, the abstract poems of another Dadaist, Hugo Ball – is interpreted as a metaphor of the author’s intention to subtract creative expression from the interpretative degeneration that the forms of domain impose on communication.

Different text models can be found among Schwitters’s works 56, sometimes typically non-verbal, with an iconic impact of variable originality and importance from the standpoint of semantic economy 57. One of these models is represented by his ‘numeral’ poems: Gedicht 60 and Gedicht 62 58, published in 1921 in “De Stijl” [fig. 10] 59, and the better known Gedicht 25 [fig. 11] 60.

The procedures chosen, that lack further visible developments, are in the line of leaps the “aesthetics of elementarity” that Schwitters had focused on in the early Twenties, making it the subject of one of his Manifestos (1923, 45-46).

While the former two poems, according to Ulrich Finke, “show the extreme consequence of his tendency towards de-formalization” (1973, 82), Gedicht 25 was considered by J. C. Middleton “a model of patterning and unpredictability in poetic art […] a set of signs which suppress the poetry of lexical and oral values entirely” (1969, 348). It is therefore supposed to be a deployment of the Dadaist poetics of anti-poetry, only apparently “elementary” and banal, certainly ironical, non-conventional and demystifying:

The more carefully one reads, the more readily logic and humour emerge from their mathematical shells and interact to build a fascinating, pleasing and meaningful form. (McCain 1970, 268)

Gedicht 25 develops a process of creating patterns with a rhythm of their own, “changed at the precise moment when they might have become predictable” (Middleton 1969, 347): repetitions (sometimes with variations and irregularities added), replacements, serial modulations and intervals, anticipation and slowdowns of the just-expressed textual logic, transitions.

After admitting, in agreement with Middleton, that Gedicht 25 “looks at first sight like a prank and nothing more” (1969, 347), Meredith McClain precised the relationships between the elements of textual structure and the principles of the musical sonata (which Schwitters knew well, as his Ursonate 61 shows), considering the symmetrical topologic arrangement of typographic form as “a beautiful balanced form, slender and sharply pointed” (McClain 1970, 270).

For Gedicht 62 [fig. 10] – that according to Leonard Retiz, “may exemplify his notion that numbers-as-language-items can convey an abstract image in rhythm” (1974, 308) – there are two known attempts of textual analysis, by Ulrich Finke and by Retiz, that found solutions already in Gedicht 25:

The visual arrangement of the numbers follows a very specific rhythm. The numerical values from one to eleven – the numerical value of twelve is only suggested in the 9th line as the sum of eleven and one – are the elements which constitute the poem. In the abstract rise and decline of the numerical values in the first four lines, in the repetition of the number seven in the fifth line (five times!), in the regular addition of one to the rising numerical value from eight to eleven, and finally in the decline of the numerical values from ten to one, a regular principle in the structure of the poem is evident. The means consist of elementary progressions and regressions, repetition, inversions, variations, reductions, etc. (Finke 1973, 83).
In addition to the imagery wrought by the sound patterns heard in the poem, one finds that its formal structure maintains an intrinsic rationale as cold and clear as more conventional dictates of poesis. The first four lines are built on two different kinds of number progressions: ‘One’ to ‘five’ and backwards, then ‘two’ to ‘six’ and backwards, followed by a row of five ‘seven’s’, followed by four lines of numbers, beginning with ‘eight’ onwards, which arch back to their base number ‘one’, and finally, after ‘eleven’, – at which point the anticipated and logically planned progression on to ‘twelve’ is interrupted – a neat countdown from ‘ten’ back to ‘one’. (Retiz 1974, 309).

Those who write the history of avant-gardes tend to regard these isolated and maybe occasional experiments by Schwitters as yet another prodrome of Concrete poetry 62, whose textual models will be among the first to be repeatedly submitted to computer processing in the Sixties 63. We may assume that a targeted research would go on revealing, in the works of the neo-avantgardes 64, further isolated experiments of a poetry made of numbers alone, in its quest for other linguistic systems than the verbal one.

8. The ‘Numerature’

Therefore, in the textual types developed until the Seventies we find numeric devices, Concretist models and, sometimes, their electronic appendices. Worth of mention are, in particular, the research work done by Richard Kostelanetz 65, one of the best known “polyartists” from New York who, even from outside the Fluxus movement, interpreted its general orientation towards the fusion of arts.

The initial proposition is to verify “if numbers could be used in lieu of words or letters” (1981, 37). After making, in 1969, Accounting (published in 1971 [fig. 12] 66), in later years Kostelanetz developed his project “Numerature”, a “Literature composed of numbers alone”, that he will later leave behind to dedicate to compositions of “numerical fields”, more complex works however related to the language of numbers; these include Indivisibles (Kostelanetz 1993, 136), “a visually diffuse field of numbers whose common property is that nothing can be divided into any of them (except, of course, themselves and one)” (Kostelanetz 1993, 129), and Exhaustive Parallel Intervals (1979).

In 1979 Ernest M. Robson proposed a small anthology of contemporary mathematical poetry 67, where he includes not only Kostelanetz’s ‘Numerature’ [figures 13 and 14] 68 and texts by well-known representatives of the new American avant-gardes such as Larry Went (later a famous sound poet) 69 and Emmett Williams, a Fluxus artist 70, but also Swings and Trascendental Number by Raymond Queneau, as a sample of the research work done by the Parisian OU.LI.PO. (Robson 1979, 57), as well as selected visual poetry works and sound poetry sheet music.

A few studies dedicated to the early developments of Electronic Literature regard these trends as its earliest manifestations, among the many evolving ones 71. Further research will certainly broaden the range of possible references to historical avant-gardes 72 and determine that Electronic Literature, in the period characterised by Computer Poetry and before the shift to the Net – that finally allowed it to be perceived as a distinctive field of expression – co-existed with other trends of international experimenting 73.




    1. See his lectures Da Michelangelo a Boccioni, presented in multiple venues, including the Antarctica Theatre in São Paulo, Brazil (3 June 1926), the Circolo della Stampa of Palermo (2 April 1928), the Compagnia degli Illusi of Naples (30 November 1928). back


    2. See at least Velimir Khlebnikov, Collected Works, 3 vols (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987; 1989; 1998); Vladimir Markov, The Longer Poems of Velimir Khlebnikov (Berkeley-Los Angeles, Ca.: University of California Press, 1962); Europe 978 (2010), [monography]. back


    3. Already “his final school report noted his ‘great interest’ in mathematics” (Cooke 2006, 5). On avant-garde circles, Roberto Messina, “Futurismo tataro. L’avanguardia a Kazan”, Europa Orientalis, 27: 1 (2009): 227-269. back


    4. It is believed that the first morphological example of zaum can be found in the phonetic sequence Incantation by Laughter, by Khlebnikov, March 1910; see Agnes Sola, Le futurisme russe (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1989), 53. back


    5. The first part of this choice of texts from the five volumes of Khlebnikov’s complete works (Sobranie proizvedenij (Leningrad: Izdatel’stvo pisatelej, 1928-1933; first edition) has been published with an essay by Tzvetan Todorov (“Le nombre, la lettre, le mot”, Poétique 1 (1970): 102-111). back


    6. Cf. his history equations treaty Doski sud’by [Tables of Fate], 1922, “a curious work to understand the magic fascination that the poet felt in mathematical calculation” (Schatz 1977, 44).back


    7. Another of his poems is dedicated exactly to the number 317. Cf. V. Khlebnikov, “La conception mathématique de l’histoireˮ, in his “Livre des préceptesˮ (II), Poétique 2 (1970), 250-251. back


    8. Abstract from his Put’ entuziasta [An Enthusiast’s Path] (Moscow: 1931). Also according to Viktor B. Sklovskij 317 was the decisive number in Khlebnikov’s theories: C’era una volta (Milan: il Saggiatore, 1994), 137. 317 was also the number of members for the Society of Presidents of Planet Earth, which Khlebnikov founded in 1916.back


    9. “Khlebnikov proposes not to use words in this referential and communicative function, because they are a replacement for it … on the other hand, we have a much more refined tool: numbers” (Todorov 1970, 110).back


    10. These same principles inspired a series of calculations about the ages of his Russian Futurist colleagues: “Mayakovsky was born 365 x 11 days after Burliuk, including leap years, between myself and Burliuk there are 1206 days, between me and Kamensky there are 571. 284 x 2=568. Between Burliuk and Kamensky there are 638 days, 2809 between me and Mayakovsky …” (quoted in Poesie di Chlebnikov. Anthology essay with comments by Angelo M. Ripellino (Turin: Einaudi, 1968), LXVIII.back


    11. Moskow, 1922. Abstract translated into English in V. Khlebnikov, Snake Train: Poetry and Prose, edited by G. Kern (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1976), 75-79. Reprint (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1978). Zangezi is the name of the protagonist philosopher, the author’s alter ego.back


    12. Another French translation in Gérard Conio, Le Formalisme et le Futurisme russes devant le marxisme (Lausanne: Editions l’Age d’Homme, 1975), 123. Translated into Italian in Avanguardia e tradizione, foreword by V. Šklovskij (Bari, Dedalo libri, 1968), 281. back


    13. See Kamensky 1966, 108 (where Khlebnikov is defined “the Christopher Columbus of the new linguistic culture”)back


    14. Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky (1792-1856) was a Russian mathematician and scientist, and among the first specialists of non-Euclidian geometry. He is quoted in Khlebnikov’s poem “Ladomir” (1920). Lobachevsky had been the rector of the University of Kazan.back


    15. “In 534 the Kingdom of the Vandals was subjugated. Should we not therefore expect some state to fall in 1917” (V. Khlebnikov, Master and Student [1912], now in Collected Works of Velimir Khlebnikov, vol. I, 284).back


    16. Cf. Nicolas Khardiev, “La tournée de Marinetti en Russie en 1914ˮ, in Présence de Marinetti, Actes du Colloque International tenu à l’UNESCO, edited by J.-Cl. Marcadé (Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1982), 198-233; V. Strada, “Marinetti in Russiaˮ, in F. T. Marinetti Arte-Vita, Atti del Convegno, edited by Claudia Salaris (Rome: Fahrenheit 451, 2000), 59-67; Jean-Pierre Andréoli de Villers, “Marinetti et les futuristes russes lors de son voyage à Moscou en 1914ˮ, Ligeia 69/72 (2006), 129-146; Vladimir P. Lapšin, Marinetti e la Russia: dalla storia delle relazioni letterarie e artistiche negli anni dieci del XX secolo (Geneva-Milan: Skira, 2008). back


    17. R. Jakobson, letter to V. Khlebnikov [February 1914], for the first time transcribed in Majakovskij. Materialy i issledovanija, ed. V. O. Percov and M. I. Serebrjanskij (Moscow: 1940), 385-386; subsequently published in the anthology by Nikolai Xardzhiev, Kazimir Malevich, Mikhail Matyuchin, K istorii russkogo avangarda [The Russian Avant-Garde]. Postscript by R. Jakobson (Stockholm: Hylaea Prints, 1976).back


    18. Marinetti arrived in Moscow on 26 January and left on 17 February 1914.back


    19. Italian transl. in K. Pomorska, “Roman Jakobson. Lingua, arte e scienza d’avanguardia”, in R. Jakobson, Magia della parola, edited by K. Pomorska (Bari: Laterza, 1980), 167; new ed.: R. Jakobson – K. Pomorska, Dialoghi. Gli ultimi suoni del Novecento (Rome: Castelvecchi Editore, 2009), 209; partly translated into Italian (by Remo Faccani) in il verri 31/32 (1983): 71; M. D’Ambrosio, Roman Jakobson e il Futurismo italiano (Naples: Liguori editore, 2009), 92. back


    20. See V. Šklovskij, ‘La lingua transmentale 70 anni dopo’, il verri 9/10 (1986): 11-15; Gerald Janecek, Zaum. The Transrational Poetry of Russian Futurism (San Diego, Ca.: San Diego University Press, 1996).back


    21. This is proved in particular by his writings on Futurism, entirely translated into Italian for the first time in D’Ambrosio 2009b, 117-129.back


    22. F. T. Marinetti, Lo splendore geometrico e meccanico e la sensibilità numerica. Manifesto futurista, 11 March 1914 (Milan: Direzione del Movimento Futurista, 1914) (leaflet). French edition: La splendeur géométrique et mécanique et la sensibilité numérique. Manifeste futuriste 11 Mars 1914 (Milan: Direction du Mouvement Futuriste, 1914). English translation: F. T. Marinetti, Critical Writings, ed. G. Berghaus (New York: Farras, Straus and Giroux, 2006), # 23. back


    23. “orizzonte = trivello acutissimo del sole + 5 ombre triangolari (1 Km. di lato). + 3 losanghe di luce rosa + 5 frammenti di colline + 30 colonne di fumo + 23 vampeˮ.back


    24. In this Manifesto “considerations of expression, not just synthesis, inform an overall theorization of the notion of ‘numerical sensibility’” (Schnapp 2012, 111).back


    25. There is a well-known relationship of disparateness between Marinetti’s Manifestos and the texts accompanying them. For instance, the texts included in the anthology I poeti futuristi of 1912 should be considered as samples of times that the manifestos preceding them would like to see gone. On the contrary, Battaglia Peso + odore may be regarded as one more pragmatic progress of the programmatic guidelines theoretically set in the Manifesto that precedes it. Its exemplary value is proved by the fact that it was moved (as pre-text, prologue) into Zang Tumb Tumb (Marinetti 1914b) and later into Les mots en liberté futuristes (Marinetti 1919).back


    26. According to Christine Poggi “The ‘X’ may also be read as Marinetti’s version of the question mark” (“Marinetti’s Parole in Libertà and the Futurist Collage Aestheticˮ, in the exhibition catalogue The Futurist Imagination. Word + Image in Italian Futurist Painting, Drawing, Collage and Free-Word Poetry (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Gallery, 1983), 7. See also other compositions, such as Après la Marne, Joffre visita le front en auto (Marinetti 1919, inset illustration after page 99), in which Jeffrey Schnapp sees traces of “hybrid notational systems” (2012, 112).back


    27. See Battaglia Peso + Odore (3-4), a text in which Jeffrey Schnapp recognizes the additive zeros as a form of statistical hyperbole (2012, 115). back


    28. ‘(Es.: «odore fecale della dissenteria + puzzo melato dei sudori della peste + tanfo ammoniacale ecc., nel «TRENO DI SOLDATI AMMALATI» del mio ZANG TUMB TUMB)’ [fig. 2].back


    29. A special explanatory value must be attributed to the adverb “intuitively”, repeated twice.back


    30. Reprinted in the exhibition catalogue The Futurist Imagination, 28; now also in D’Ambrosio 2009b, 93. back


    31. Reprinted in the exhibition catalogue The Futurist Imagination, 4.back


    32. Marinetti 1919, inset table between pages 100 and 103. Cf. the text analysis (Schnapp 2012, 112-113). Also known by the title Montagnes + vallées + routes + Joffre.back


    33. Reproduced in the exhibition catalogue The Futurist Imagination, 73.back


    34.Reproduced in the exhibition catalogue The Futurist Imagination, 8.back


    35. Les mots en liberté futuristes, one of the major works of the avant-gardes of the time, was unfortunately neglected by subsequent studies on Futurism, maybe because it was not included in the Mondadori anthology of 1968 (F. T. Marinetti, Teoria e invenzione futurista, foreword by A. Palazzeschi, introduction, text and notes edited by L. De Maria (Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1968) and proposed only partially in the reprint edited by L. Caruso (Florence: Studio Per Edizioni Scelte, 1980). This edition contains only the reproductions of the first four pages and of three of the four folded illustrations; the ‘examples’ attached to the original edition were sixteen in total. back


    36. F. T. Marinetti, Une assemblée tumultueuse [A Tumultuous Assembly], in Marinetti 1919, inset table after page 108; now in Gérard-Georges Lemaire, Les mots en liberté futuristes (Paris: Jacques Damase éditeur, 1986), 44.back


    37. First published in Ardengo Soffici, BÏF§ZF+I8. Simultaneità e Chimismi lirici (Florence: Edizioni della “Voce”, 1915), 67; new edition, supplemented: BÏF§ZF+I8. Simultaneità e Chimismi Lirici (Florence: Vallecchi Editore, 1919), 105. Cf. also the useful specifications found in A. Soffici, Tipografia, in his Primi principî di una estetica futurista (Florence: Vallecchi, editore, 1920), 87-90. back


    38. See Marinetti dell’Accademia d’Italia, Prefazione to P. Masnata, Tavole parolibere (Rome: Edizioni futuriste di “Poesia”, 1932), 5-14; F. T. Marinetti Accademico d’Italia Sansepolcrista, “Rivoluzione futurista delle parole in libertà e tavole sinottiche di poesia pubblicitaria”, Campo grafico 3/5 (1939), 63-79; F. T. Marinetti della Reale Accademia d’Italia, La tecnica della nuova poesia; abstract from Rassegna Nazionale 109: 4 (1937): 3-12.back


    39. Reproduced in the exhibition catalogue Balla. La modernità futurista, edited by G. Lista, P. Baldacci, and L. Velani (Milan: Skira editore, 2008), 157 (proposed dating: “circa 1924”).back


    40. Like in the case of Apoteose by Portuguese artist Mário de Sá-Carneiro, included in the second issue of the review Orpheu (Lisboa, Abril-Junho 1915), that Massimo Rizzante regarded as a «quasi-Futurist imitation» (“Echi futuristi in Orpheu”, in Frammenti di Europa. Riviste e traduttori del Novecento (Pesaro: Metauro, 2003), 11. Other not quantitatively significant examples might emerge from other findings in the corpus of the avant-gardes of the time (in Europe and beyond). Our impression, however, is that these are isolated cases.back


    41. See the transcriptions in G. Lista, Futurisme. Manifestes documents proclamations (Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1973), 18-19; ID., Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. L’anarchiste du futurisme (Paris: Nouvelles Editions Séguier, 1995), 220-221. A reproduction of the original in Barbara Meazzi, Les créations futuristes en Italie et en France: étude comparée de l’Imaginaire futuriste, Ph.D. thesis (Chambéry: Université de Savoie, 1997). back


    42. I nuovi poeti futuristi (Rome: Edizioni futuriste di Poesia, 1925), 293 and 314; later in L’Antenna 1: 1 (1926): 1; ReD 2: 6 ([Praha], 1929): 175. back


    43. La Fiera letteraria 3: 27 (1927): 3; subsequently in L’Osservatore politico letterario 20: 6 (1974): 32-33.back


    44. Rome: Edizioni futuriste di Poesia, 1932; lay-out and graphics by Tullio d’Albisola.back


    45. “A total work of art”, “one of the masterpieces of the front European avant-garde of the first half of the 20th century”: G. Lista, Le Futurisme. Création et avant-garde (Paris: Éditions de l’Amateur, 2001), 276.back


    46. For this hypothesis see M. D’Ambrosio, ‘La guerra nella letteratura futurista’, in Il Futurismo nelle Avanguardie, Atti del Convegno Internazionale (Milan, Palazzo Reale, 4-6 February 2010), edited by W. Pedullà (Rome: Edizioni Ponte Sisto, 2010), 198-201.back


    47. Cf. F. T. Marinetti aeropoeta futurista, “collaudo i ‘testi-poemi murali’ di carlo belloli”, and carlo belloli, “poesia visuale”, both in C. Belloli, testi-poemi murali (Milan, edizioni erre), 1944, 3 and 5.back


    48. See Linda Dalrymple Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983); Michaela Böhmig, “Tempo, spazio e quarta dimensione nell’avanguardia russa”, Europa Orientalis, VIII (1989), 341-380; Marc Antliff, “The Fourth Dimension and Futurism: A Politicized Space”, The Art Bulletin 82: 4 (2000), 720-733; Tony Robbin, Shadows of Reality. The Fourth Dimension in Relativity, Cubism, and Modern Thought (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006). back


    49. See Enzo Benedetto, Quarta dimensione. Dinamismo plastico, Quaderni di Futurismo Oggi 14 (Rome: Arte Viva, 1973). back


    50. Boccioni knew the theories of G. F. B. Riemann, on which modern cosmology was based.back


    51. See F. T. Marinetti, “Quarta dimensione di matematici e di artisti”, Gazzetta del Popolo, 30 November 1928, 3; subsequently in La Città futurista 2: 1 (1929), 2; Oggi e Domani 1: 7 (1930), 1 (with the title “Superare la matematica. Verso la quarta dimensione”; Gazzetta del Popolo, 4 March 1937 (with the title “Nuove ipotesi sulla forma dell’universo”).back


    52. F. T. Marinetti, “La matematica futurista. Manifesto”, Gazzetta del Popolo, 2 February 1940, 3; subsequently in Giornale di Bengasi, 4 February 1938; Autori e Scrittori 6: 6 (1941), 1-2 (with a different title: “La matematica futurista immaginativa qualitativa. Calcolo poetico delle battaglie”, signed ‘F. T. Marinetti Sansepolcrista Accademico d’Italia’); F. T. Marinetti, L’esercito italiano. Poesia armata (Rome: Cenacolo, 1942), 30-32 (with the title “Calcolo poetico delle battaglie d’oggi”).back


    53. See M. D’Ambrosio, “‘La critica non è mai esistita e non esiste’. A proposito della misurazione futurista. Il Manifesto di Corra e Settimelli (1914). Il Manifesto inedito di Carmelich e Dolfi (1923). Il Manifesto di F. T. Marinetti, “misuratore di commedie” (1927)”, Avanguardia 15: 44 (2010), 41-59.back


    54. See F. T. Marinetti, Misurazioni, ed. M. Grilli (Firenze: Vallecchi, 1990).back


    55. We know of a typescript of a review article of Come io vedo il mondo [The world as I see it] in which some textual elements allow to establish that Marinetti used the French translation of 1934 published by the Parisian publisher Flammarion (the Italian translation appeared only in the fifties). According to Marinetti, Einstein is a communist Jewish intellectual, pacifist and hostile towards all forms of nationalism.back


    56. See M. D’Ambrosio, “Dada misologo. Note sulla diversificazione dei modelli testuali nella poesia dadaista”, in the exhibition catalogue Dada. L’arte della negazione, edited by G. Lista, A. Schwarz, and R. Siligato (Rome: Edizioni De Luca, 1994), 59-63.back


    57. All the poems cited are in Kurt Schwitters, Das Literarische Werk, I: Lyrik, Hrsg. von F. Lach (Köln: Verlag M. Dumont Schauberg, 1973). On Schwitters’s literary works cf. at least B. Scheffer, Anfange Experimenteller Literatur. Das Literarische Werk von Kurt Schwitters (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag Herbert Grundmann, 1978).back


    58. Also known by the title Zwölf [Twelve], and reproduced as such in K. Schwitters, Elementar. Die neue Anna Blume. Eine Gedichtsammlung aus den Jahren 1918-1922 (Berlin: Verlag der Sturm, 1922), 42; now in Schwitters 1973, 205.back


    59. According to Marc Dachy, ‘the editorial staff of De Stijl did not reproduced the figures but their translitterations, to take out from them the sound value’: Dada & les dadaïsmes. Rapport sur l’anéantissement de l’ancienne beauté (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), 282.back


    60. K. Schwitters, Gedicht 25, in Schwitters 1922, 18; later in Ma 8: 1 (1922), 5; now in Schwitters 1973, 204.back


    61. K. Schwitters, “Ursonateˮ, Merz 24 (1932), 153-186; certain abstracts were already published starting from 1923. Reprint: Edewecht: Edition des Dada Research Centers, 1984. Cf. also the facsimile of the original typographic layout in K. Schwitters, Merz. Écrits - Ursonate (Paris: Éditions Gérard Lebovici, 1990), 194-223.back


    62. See for example Luigi Forte, La poesia dadaista tedesca (Turin: Giulio Einaudi editore, 1976), 112 and 116 (for a transcript of Gedicht 25, 285-286).back


    63. See Christopher T. Funkhouser, Prehistoric Digital Poetry. An Archaeology of Forms, 1959-1995 (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2007); Mainframe Experimentalism. Early Computing and the Foundations of the Digital Arts, edited by H. B. Higgins and D. Kahn (Berkeley-Los Angeles-London: University of California Press, 2012); M. D’Ambrosio, “Poètica i crítica de la Computer Poetry. Dels orígens als finals dels anys Seixanta”, in Under Construction. Digital literature and theoretical approach (Palma (Illes Balears): tecsed, 2012), 366-384.back


    64. See for instance Soneto soma 14 X by E. M. Melo e Castro, reproduced in A. Hatherly and E. M. de Melo e Castro PO.EX textos teóricos e documentos de poesia experimental portuguesa (Lisboa: Moraes Editores, 1979), 209.back


    65. See Richard Kostelanetz, Numbers: Poems & Stories, (New York: private edition, undated but 1976); Numerical Poems, in Wordworks: Poems Selected and New (Brockport (N. Y.): BOA Editions, 1993), 129-144.back


    66. Published in the anthology Future’s Fictions (New York: Archae Editions, 1971) and later in a small 1973 volume. Italian edition: Milanino sul Garda: edizioni amodulo, 1972.back


    67. See Robson, Ernest M. (1979) Against Infinity: an anthology of contemporary mathematical poetry. Parker Ford, PA.: Primary Press. In his foreword, the editor recalls that the Renaissance poet Maurice Scève (as a sort of Khlebnikov ante litteram, we’d like to add) “believed that by employing numbers in poetry one could emulate the celestial numbers which ruled the universe” (5).back


    68. See Kostelanetz, R. “from FIBONACCI and MIRROR”, in Robson 1979, 30 and 31. The second is also reproduced in Kostelanetz 1993, 133.back


    69. See Went, Larry (1979) “Log π (A Continuous Sound Poetry Mantra)”, in Robson 1979, 74. back


    70.Emmett Williams, “Do you remember”, in Robson 1979, 75.back


    71. See Donguy, Jacques (2007) Poésies expérimentales. Zone numérique (1953-2007.) Dijon: Les presses du réel.back


    72. See D’Ambrosio, M. (2009) “Le disavventure della parola. Dalle avanguardie storiche all’ambiente multimediale”, in Il testo, l’analisi, l’interpretazione. Studi di teoria e critica letteraria sul tema “Letteratura, tecnologia, scienza”, edited by M. D’Ambrosio. Naples: Liguori editore, 1-19.back


    73. See the section Chiffres of the exhaustive anthology by Jerôme Peignot Typoésie (Paris: Imprimerie nationale éditions, 1993), 325-352.back

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