Sunday, February 17, 2008

Slow vs. Fast

This recent New York Times story illustrates how the Slow movement (i.e. Slow Food, Slow Cities and the rest) is parallelling the Futurist movement to an uncanny degree. Both originated in Italy, for starters, but even beyond that, both movements seem to originate from a sane premise that then spins off into slightly less-sane pursuits. 

100 years ago, the most avant-garde artists -- the Futurists -- were embracing many of the things the Slow movement is now setting itself against. While Futurism is most closely associated with visual art, architecture and -- unfortunately -- Fascism, the Futurists were interested in influencing all aspects of human life, beyond the aesthetic. 

Consider this 1931 Time Magazine article about Futurist food and compare it with this description of Slow Food International: "an international organization whose aim is to protect the pleasures of the table from homogenization of modern fast food and life."

Though one movement began in an effort to reform the art world and another began to support sustainable agriculture, it is easy to see the cultural legacies of both are not limited to those realms. In the present day, the Futurists' love of "speed, virility, technology and war" seem somewhat distasteful, though it is clear these ideas are still glorified in contemporary culture. In contrast, the aims of the Slow lifestyle seem so virtuous as to be almost pious -- and thus intimidating. We live in a Futurist's dream, but somehow long to escape from it, turn back the clock to a time before the labor of skilled artisans was deemed no more than "filthy and worm-ridden and corroded by time" -- as long as we can take our iPhones with us. 

Meanwhile, we have seemingly embraced the Futurists' love of speed so completely that Slow advocates find it necessary to create speed bumps for the home, and baskets that will tip over if you fill them too fast. One can imagine F.T. Marinetti's reaction to such ideas (he would probably have set the basket on fire and run over the speed bump with a motorcycle). 

It's clear that, despite their flaws, the Futurists did manage to have a profound effect on society that reached far beyond the Italian art world. And it's already clear that the Slow movement has extended its reach from the kitchen, as the Times article puts it, to take over the rest of the house. But are hand-stitched garments and temporary chandeliers really enough to stem the tide of the (seeming) acceleration of contemporary life? Or did the Futurists do too good a job of seducing us with their arguments for embracing the noisy, fast, mechanized world we inherited?  

"An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth."
-- Bonnie Friedman, New York Times

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