Guido Keller (February 6th, 1892 – November 9th, 1929) was an Italian pilot, revolutionary, adventurer, close friend and comrade of D’Annunzio and one of the early influences of Fascist aesthetics, and even a precursor to the psychedelics revolution of the 60s.
He was born in Milan to an ancient aristocratic Swiss family named Keller von Kellerer, which moved in the middle of the 18th century to Lombardia, Italy. After having finished primary school, his parents sent him to a Swiss boarding school, where he attended for two years before getting expelled for undisciplined behavior.
Sports enthusiast and pilot, he took a tea set with him on his plane and never wore his flight jacket – substituting it for a fancy suit with a long scarf that had a bow-tie on the end, plus a fez hat instead of a pilot’s helmet. In flight he’d sometimes steer the plane with a rope while reading a book. He was shot down several times and was heavily wounded in his leg, after one emergency landing he was taken prisoner and released by Italian forces after the Battle of Vittorio Veneto.
Keller organized the hijacking of the trucks that took 300 volunteers to Fiume for D’Annunzio’s adventure, a gift that Keller gave to D’Annunzio along with a huge bouquet of red roses.
In the established Regency of Carnaro, Keller was made the acting secretary and capo. In practice, this meant that he was in charge of getting weapons, supplies and materials – by any means necessary.
When Fiume ran short on supplies, Keller would personally fly on his plane to various villages, where he would outright steal anything he could get his hands on. These “corsair” activities were viewed favorably by D’Annunzio. One time, Keller even stole a big live pig that he put on board of his plane, however it was so fat that it broke through the fuselage. So, when Keller was landing, the pig became an impromptu part of the landing gear.
In Fiume, Keller, together with writer and yogi Giovanni Comisso, start the “Yoga – Union of Free Spirits Longing for Perfection” movement, with the swastika as its symbol, along with a 5 leaf rose. The movement had an esoteric foundation and saw as its goal to protect D’Annunzio from the moderate conservative elements that attempted to influence him, along with declaring ideals of free love and that thieves and prostitutes are preferable to them than boring and lawful bourgeois.
The movement attempted to theoretically explain the necessity of a “science of Love as a means for Transfiguration,” declaring that the true meaning of the word “philosophy” wasn’t “love of wisdom“, but “wisdom of love“. The movement described the Fiume adventure as a moment of spontaneity and non-seriousness in a businesslike and serious world, an ongoing holiday in a world that forgot how to celebrate, a world enslaved by dumb, pointless labor.
“Yoga” regarded itself in opposition to spiritual movements founded on the unquestioning authority of a single man. According to them, even if that man were the greatest genius, by his nature, he’d be limited and intolerant, incapable of accepting differing views of things, whereas Keller declared that it was the dialectic capacity to embrace opposing positions that was the sure sign of the fullness of life. In contrast, the dictate of a single person created a devastating monotony, which was negation of life itself.
Keller also founded “The Desperates” (Disperati), a division of bodyguards for D’Annunzio, made up of a gang of guys who were rejected by the Fiume Command from participating in the service, due to their uncontrollable nature. Most of their time The Desperates spent swimming, exercising, singing and marching around town dressed in only shorts. They would gather in the evenings in some deserted area where they’d fool around, dividing up into two teams and having shoot outs with real weapons, live rounds and functional grenades, as such they had their fair share of injuries. Thereafter they’d walk around town singing, wearing flower necklaces.
Giovanni Comisso described them as “A small squad of eager, cynical, cruel young lads, wonderful in their daring: the color of rebellion and freedom, people who made it through the sieve of war, revolutionaries if not in their ideas, then in spirit. These guys were known as “soldiers of death”. No dirt stuck to them – these lads cursed by mediocrity and wise men of the world – who had shown the world the color of man in the epoch of the spirit’s twilight“.
Their slogan was “me ne frego”, which later was adopted by the Italian Fascists, with the first true Fascist “Disperata” appearing in Florence in June of 1921.
Following D’Annunzio’s love for the theatrical, his comrades turned politics into an aesthetic expression. D’Annunzio wrote during the Fiume Adventure: “Arditi camp in the evening. Real fire. A speech, inspired faces – a race, born in fire. Chorus singing… Marching. Daggers glistening, held tightly in fists. Grandeur that is entirely Roman in spirit. The daggers point upwards. Slogans. Spirited pace of cohorts. Meat being fried over an open fire. The erupting flame burns the face – fever of courage. Rome is the goal.“
His legionaries devised symbolic rituals which would later on be adopted by fascists. Legionary-insurgents adopted the Moroccan Fez as their head dress. Black shirts and skulls became the symbols of power over life and death. Their banners depicted the roman eagle with open wings. Geometrically strict marches symbolized through the anonymity of their participants a rejection of the bourgeois. Utilization of theatrical techniques into political activity helped cultivate a particular connection between the the Comandante of Fiume and the masses, utilizing the power of symbols and myths.
By the end of the Fiume Adventure Keller became friends with Marinetti and in time becomes a supporter of Futurism.
Leaving the air force, Keller for a time finds himself in Turkey, where he unsuccessfully attempted to start a piloting school.
In 1923, he returned to the air force and worked in the Italian embassy in Berlin, becoming widely known in certain circles thanks to his nonconformism.
In 1925 he is sent as a military pilot to Libya, after requesting transfer to active duty.
Upon his return to Italy he is sent on a commerce mission to Latin America. He spent the winter in Venezuela, taking an expedition down the Orinoco river, crossing the Guyana and reaching the Caribbean sea. Returning to Italy once again, he develops projects for commercial ties which would be realized using hydroplanes. These would be able to land on rivers near Brazilian, Colombian and Venezuelan shores.
In 1928, he crashes his hydroplane, losing his comrade but surviving with no serious injuries.
On November 9th, 1929, Keller dies in a car crash with his two pilot friends. On D’Annunzio’s request, Keller was buried in the Vittoreale estate at lake Garda in Lombardy, where D’Annunzio himself would also be eventually buried.
Original article “Guido Keller”
Source: “Tradition” [Традиция]
Translated by Alexander Slavros