[A week ago a prestigious British magazine asked us for a long piece on Grillismo. We wrote it and submitted it, but there was some misunderstanding, and they edited it too heavily for our own taste. We clarified the matter with them, but at that point we were way beyond the deadline and the issue went to print without our contribution. Too bad, but no grudge held. The piece was too long - almost 5,000 words - to submit it to any other mag or newspaper, let them do all the editing all over again and have it published in a reasonable lapse of time. Over here the situation is very bad, and people abroad are completely disinformed about it. Every day we read nonsense and bullshit on Grillo by people who completely ignore the reactionary, authoritarian nature of his movement. A harsh reality is biting our arses and we need to send a message in a bottle right now. In the end, having no other possibility, we decided to publish the piece on this ugly, obsolete, long neglected blog, which is in bad need of complete reconstruction and a new start, but even in its present form is better than nothing. Of course it isn't as authoritative as that London magazine, and potential circulation is ludicrous in comparison, but what else can we do? Please feel free to copy our analysis and republish it wherever you want. Thanks.]
«Marriage is a bond between a man and a woman. How can you institute marriage between two persons of the same sex? Why not marriage between three persons then? Why not marriage between you and your animal? Some people have a strong relationship with their animal, would you allow them to marry it?»
(Francesco Perra, 5SM candidate at the recent national election, 8 June 2012 )
[The original version of this essay was published on Giap on 26 September 2011, which means several days before Steve Jobs died. The French version was published on Article XI on the eve of Jobs' death. The piece had already received a lot of attention, backlinks and comments when the news arrived. However, it obviously sky-rocketed to the status of "crucial" text as soon as the media landscape was filled with iGrief, and it kept attracting people when anonymous cultural activists "displaced" the discussion on iGrief by creating the "Steve Workers" persona. The present English translation was done collectively on a Wiki page on Mauro Vanetti's website. Many thanks to Mauro, SandorKrasna and all the guys who gave a hand. This version retains some additional mini-explanations Wu Ming 1 wrote for the French readers. We also inserted a few additional links that weren't in the original text but came up during the discussion.]
Last week a Pennsylvanian daily newspaper, The Morning Call, published a long and detailed inquiry – entitled Inside Amazon’s Warehouse – on the appalling work conditions at Amazon warehouses in the Lehigh Valley. The article, resulting from months of interviews and direct checks, is being spread around the world and has gotten coverage from the New York Times and other mainstream media. The picture is grim:
- extreme job insecurity, a mood of perpetual blackmailing and lack of rights;
- inhuman work routine, with a pace that can be doubled overnight (from 250 to 500 units per day, with no advance notice), at an internal temperature beyond 40 Celsius that at least in one case reached 45 °C (114 °F);
- disciplinary actions against workers who slow down the pace, or simply faint (a report of the 2nd of June mention the fainting of 15 workers due to heat);
- “exemplary” immediate sacking, with the guilty escorted outside before the eyes of co-workers.
And there is more. Read the whole piece, it is worth it. The key sentence was said by a former Amazon warehouseman: “They’re kiling people mentally and physically“.
For those who speak or at least can read French, «Fétichisme de la marchandise digitale et exploitation cachée: Les cas Amazon et Apple» is the translation (*) of an essay Wu Ming 1 wrote and published – with great resonance – on our Italian blog Giap a few days ago. It is also being translated into English and Spanish. We’ll make those versions available as soon as they’re ready. If you like a good work in progress, the English translation is being made by a group of people using this Wiki.
N.B. If you take a look at the Italian article, you’ll see that it also relies upon a few embedded videos. They’re respectively about:
1. Workers’ suicides at Foxconn plants in China;
2. The really depressing inauguration of the biggest Apple store in Italy;
3. An example of how people live and work in an African e-waste dump (this one is in Ghana);
4. Andrea Casaleggio’s Gaia-inspired totalitarian vision of the future
[Casaleggio is the ideologist and marketing guru of the neo-poujadiste, neither-left-nor-right, digital-fetishist movement headed by former comedian Beppe Grillo].
BTW, be patient, we’re going to relaunch this neglected blog as soon as possible!
* French translation by Serge Quadruppani.
People's History poster by Tim Simons - Taken from www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily
Here’s both the audio recording and text (PDF) of the double talk WM1 and WM2 gave at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, on April 5, 2011.
On the previous day we’d given the same talk at Duke University, Durham, NC. The UNC version is slightly different, because it took into account things emerged in the Duke Q & A.
We wish to thank, among many, Mimmo Cangiano, Roberto Dainotto and Federico Luisetti, who invited us and organised the whole thing; Laura Moure Cecchini, who put us up in her flat; the comrades of El Kilombo Intergalactico, for an eye-opening afternoon of “counter-tourism”; Michael Hardt, for being always the gentleman; Fredric Jameson, for supporting the initiative; Michal Osterweil, with whom we share precious memories of the penultimate uprising.
Silvio Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini
The London Review of Books blog published an article we wrote to dispel some dangerously hopeful fantasies on Berlusconi’s decline.
People ask us: Is this the end for Berlusconi? And we answer: No, it isn’t. Not necessarily. And even if it were, it wouldn’t be the end of Berlusconism as a fetishistic mass cult, an ideological current in Italian life and a certain way of using the media.
The most likely outcome is Berlusconism without Berlusconi. His former allies who are strong-arming him into resigning as prime minister are preparing a continuation of Berlusconism by other means. Gianfranco Fini, the former neo-fascist who is now being idolised even by some left-wing amnesiacs, is yet another Man of Destiny pretending to have come to town this morning. People seem to forget that Fini is still the man who was in alliance with Berlusconi for 16 years; who took advantage of Berlusconi’s conflict of interests; who voted for every shameful bill on employment, the environment, the judiciary and so on; who supported the police in every case of brutality against demonstrators, strikers or prison inmates; and who personally devised two very repressive pieces of legislation: the Bossi-Fini Act on immigration and the Fini-Giovanardi Act on drugs. In Italy, amnesia rules.
Read the rest on the LRB blog.
by Wu Ming 1
1. THE NAME OF THE FATHER HAS EVAPORATED
The latest wave of pseudo-scandals and false events had the merit of making unmistakably clear what the «Discourse of Burlesquoni» is and how it operated for all these years. Do you hear the discourse? Everybody does. It goes:
«Italians who voted for me, this is my message: do whatever the fuck you want to! Do like me! You want to drive at 150 kmh on the highway? I’ll abolish speed limits! You want to evade taxes? I’ll pass yet another tax amnesty! When you told me you needed to cook your company’s books, I decriminalized accounting fraud. Wanna hang out with young whores? I’ll join the party! Wanna swear and use cuss words? All together now: MERDA, CAZZO, FICA, ORCO DIO! Do whatever the hell pleases you (as long as it doesn’t damage the interests of the rich) and I’ll also do what I please. Above all, I’m goin’ to issue decrees that are exclusively and blatantly (BLATANTLY, ’cause I can afford it!) to my advantage. You know that, I know that you know, and YOU KNOW THAT I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW!»
by Wu Ming 5
Quite often, what passes to history as the end of a story is just an intellectual construction, a conceptual invention. The reality is more like a process than a collection of facts. It is difficult, even arbitrary to define a beginning and an end. Perhaps it would be more correct to speak of rise and decline, appearance and dissolution. Certainly it would be difficult to review the events of human history without defining any coordinates. Without an idea of beginning and end, we would find it impossible to apply notions of morality. We need an end because ends are exemplary.
Take Ernesto «Che» Guevara‘s mission to Bolivia: Che fought guerrilla warfare alongside his comrades, then he was captured, and finally he was assassinated. The tragic end causes the appearance of the Christological icon. We all agree in saying that Guevara’s end is also the beginning of his legend. This dynamic – an end which is a beginning on another level – is known to us, we perceive it as obvious, it is almost a cliché.
And yet, in the story of Ernesto Guevara and his comrades there is something concrete, something alive that escapes death (this concept which we mistake for a fact and consider The End par excellence). Something, or rather someone: Pombo, Benigno, Urbano. (more…)
by Wu Ming 1
In October 1978, Michel Foucault (hereafter cited as MF) visited Iran. The country was already shaken by street protests against the Shah. The regime was brutally repressing demonstrations, with the only result of strengthening the people’s determination. The overthrow of Reza Pahlavi looked imminent, many felt that a revolution was around the corner, but nobody knew what revolution it would be. In those autumn days the rallying cries were few, focused and clear; all political movements and social classes converged into a single, urgent request: «Down with the Shah!». There were already some who demanded an “Islamic government”, but the Ayatollah Khomeini was still in exile in Paris, and the movement was manifold and “in fusion”.
MF got enthused by all the energy circulating in the social body, and wrote several articles for the Italian newspaper «Corriere della Sera». He had brilliant insights but was also the victim of his own “oversights”. Such oversights were partly intentional: MF declared himself unable to «write the history of the future», and never posed himself the problem of what regime would be born of the revolutionary event. He just felt the need to analyze the event itself as a historical fracture, the rupture of an order, the end of a political and social model. MF interpreted what he was seeing as an ongoing «strike against politics» entailing the rejection of any compromise, of any traditional pattern of negotiation. Where there is one and only purpose declared to all and sundry with crystal clarity («Down with the Shah!»), there can be no mediation. (more…)
[In 2008 Wu Ming 1 wrote a series of articles on some strange, "exotic", ancient-sounding titles famous jazz musicians gave to their compositions. The articles were published on Musica Jazz, the oldest and most important jazz magazine in Italy. Little by little they've been translated into English, so you too have the chance to read them. Starting today, we'll publish them on this blog by the end of Autumn. The first installment is dedicated to Ogunde, an ancient Yoruba chant John Coltrane reinterpreted soon before his death.
Wu Ming 1 is the author of New Thing (2004), an "unidentified narrative object" (ie a weird novel) on the NYC free jazz scene around 1967. In recent years he's been writing extensively on Black music, his major effort being a long essay titled Black Noise Supremacy: Notes and Digressions on the Alleged "Whiteness" of Punk and the African Origins of Rock'n'Roll Corporeity (2006, so far available only in Italian and Spanish)].
Recently on this magazine, Luca Conti noticed how certain titles of jazz and, more generally, Afro-American music compositions recall “a mysterious, unfathomable, even macabre Africa, a place the white man is not allowed to access. Listening to those songs makes you feel like you’re hearing a message that, unfortunately, is not addressed to you and does nothing to include you in the conversation.” (more…)
1775. Maximilien de Robespierre is a 17-year-old student who has been chosen to make a welcoming speech before the King. Louis XVI is going to visit the college where the young man lives. All lined up, students and tutors wait for Louis and Marie Antoinette in a pouring rain, and the waiting lasts for hours. At last the coach arrives, but the royal couple do not exit for fear of getting wet.
If one should study Robespierre’s life to make him a character in a biopic or historical novel, this would be a good starting point. The camera closes up on the adolescent’s eyes, which are still and expressionless. Now the camera backs off slowly, frames the young man’s entire figure and then the whole group, until young Robespierre is just one of the many people standing in the cold, damp air. (more…)
3. Frankenstein in Frankenhausen (2001-09)
‘How long have you been on the run?’
[...] ‘I told you, ever since priests and prophets claimed a hold of my life. I fought with Müntzer and the peasants against the princes. Anabaptist in the madness that was Münster. Purveyor of divine justice with Jan Batenburg. Companion of Eloi Pruystinck among the free spirits of Antwerp. A different faith each time, always the same enemies, one defeat.’
- Luther Blissett, Q
Thomas Müntzer spoke to us, but we couldn’t understand his words. It wasn’t a blessing, but a warning.
It is impossible to disclaim the responsibility the Wu Ming collective had, at least in Italy. We were among the most zealous in urging people to go to Genoa, and helped to pull the movement into the ambush. After the bloodbath, it took quite a while – and a lot of reflection on our part – to understand our own (specific) errors in the context of the (general) errors made by the movement.
We had underestimated the enemy, and overestimated ourselves. Clearly, something had gone wrong with the practice of “mythopoesis” or “myth-making from the bottom up”, which was – and still is – at the core of our philosophy. (more…)
2. Müntzer Mojo Rising, or: the Castle under Siege (1999-2001)
«They say that they are new, they christen themselves by acronyms: G8, IMF, WB, WTO, NAFTA, FTAA… They cannot fool us, they are the same as those who have come before them: the écorcheurs that plundered our villages, the oligarchs that reconquered Florence, the court of Emperor Sigismund that beguiled Ian Hus, the diet of Tuebingen that obeyed Ulrich and refused to admit Poor Konrad, the princes that sent the lansquenets to Frankenhausen, the impious that roasted Dozsa, the landlords that tormented the Diggers, the autocrats that defeated Pugachev, the government whom Byron cursed, the old world that stopped our assaults and destroyed all stairways to heaven.
Nowadays they have a new empire, they impose new servitudes on the whole globe, they still play the lords and masters of the land and the sea.
Once again, we the multitudes rise up against them.»
- From The Multitudes Of Europe Rising Up Against The Empire, Springtime 2001
The publication of Q was followed by an extended book tour all over Italy (and Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland). We met hundreds of readers in all kinds of venues (squats, libraries, bookshops, festivals etc.), answered their questions and discussed the reception of the book in the literary scene. During that tour we announced that, after the end of the LBP, we’d start a new project, more tight-knit, focused on storytelling and with no deadline ahead. Wu Ming was just around the corner.
We were still travelling when the Battle of Seattle broke out.
It was the thirtieth of November 1999. That evening we arrived at Lodi, a small town in Lombardy, and met readers at the municipal library. Instead of talking about the book, we raved about what had just happened at the WTO summit. We felt it was the beginning of something big.
And big it grew indeed. Very soon, the new movement erupted into a worldwide challenge to the global institutions regulating “free markets” from the top down: the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and other bloodsuckers. (more…)
1. Marcos, Müntzer and Q (1994-99)
«[...] I fought [...] alongside men who really thought they would put an end to injustice and wickedness on earth. There were thousands of us, we were an army. Our hope was shattered on the plain at Frankenhausen, on the fifteenth of May 1525. Then I abandoned a man to his fate, to the weapons of the lansquenets. I carried with me his bag full of letters, names and hopes. And the suspicion of having been betrayed, sold to the forces of the princes like a herd at a market.’ It’s still hard to utter the name. ‘That man was Thomas Müntzer.’
I can’t see him, but I sense his astonishment, perhaps the incredulity of someone who thinks he’s talking to a ghost.
His voice is practically a whisper. ‘You really fought with Thomas Müntzer?’»
- Luther Blissett, Q
To this day, we don’t know if Marcos ever had a chance to read the book. He’s been supernaturally busy in the following years, and the situation in Chiapas (indeed, the whole Mexico) seems to have worsened considerably. However, to give him a copy had a precise meaning. To us, that present symbolised the completion of a cycle, from the 16th century Peasants’ War (the subject of the novel) to the Zapatista Levantamiento [Uprising].
The Peasants’ war was the biggest popular revolt of its time, it broke out at the heart of the Holy Roman Empire and was savagely repressed in 1525, one year before the Spanish Conquistadores started their bloody invasion of Southern Mexico and destroyed the Maya civilisation.
The Zapatista Levantamiento was the most inspiring peasant rebellion of our time, it took place in Southern Mexico on the initiative of Maya activists and had an influence on struggles all across today’s unholy empire.
Call it a chiasmus if you like.
The Peasants’ War was a prefiguring event, in the same way its main agitator Thomas Müntzer was a prefiguring character. It was literally a pre-figuration because the social order that Müntzer and the revolutionary peasants envisioned was far ahead of their time, indeed, it’s still ahead of our time, and yet it wasn’t just a collective hallucination followed by bursts of mass violence. That’s the conservative interpretation started by Martin Luther and refined by Norman Cohn, who described Müntzer as a forerunner of modern-day totalitarianism and Nazi madness. Bullshit. (more…)
[This essay was written in the Summer of 2008, to be used as a preface to this collection of Thomas Müntzer's sermons. It is a bitter piece of self-criticism on our "mytho-poetic" politics during the 2000-01 period (roughly from the "Battle of Seattle" to the mayhem in Genoa). It's been circulating widely in Italian and Spanish, but not in English, due to problems that delayed the publication of the book. Many people asked us for it. We decided to post it in four chunks on this blog. This won't harm the book, indeed, our long-time experience with anticipating stuff on the Internet tells us quite the opposite.]
«A few months before the summit we started to write epic texts such as From the Multitudes of Europe… (and many more), you know, it was like an edict and it went: “We are the peasants of the Jacquerie… We are the thirty-four thousand men that answered the call of Hans the Piper… We are the serfs, miners, fugitives, and deserters that joined Pugachev’s Cossacks to overthrow the autocracy of Russia…” Then we pulled media stunts in order to create expectations for Genoa. An example: on a quiet springtime night, we put placards around the necks of the most visible statues in Bologna (guys like Garibaldi and other nineteenth-century national heroes), with messages encouraging all citizens to go to Genoa [...] We wanted to persuade as many people as possible to go to Genoa, and we ended up convincing as many people as possible to fall into a full-scale police ambush. Demonstrators were assaulted, beaten to a bloody pulp, arrested, even tortured. We didn’t expect such mayhem. Nobody did. I regret we were so naïve and caught off-guard, although I think that was a crucial moment for the latest generation of activists. In a way, it was important to be there. That experience has created bonds between a transnational multitude of human beings [...] We’ll see the consequences of that “being there” for a long time to come, on a grass roots, extended, long-tailed level.»
- Wu Ming interviewed by Robert P. Baird, Chicago Review #52:2/3/4, October 2006
0. A present from the monkeys
It happened one chilly night of March 2001.
It happened in Nurio, state of Michoacán, Mexico, where all the indigenous tribes of the country were gathered to demand an Indian Rights Act. It was the third meeting of the National Indian Congress, largely a creation of the Zapatistas, those media-savvy poetic warriors who had seemingly appeared out of nowhere – out of the depths of time – seven years before. U2 were wrong, sometimes something changes on New Year’s Day. Sometimes an army of balaclava-wearing Maya peasants occupy a city and get their message across to millions of people. It occurred in San Cristobal de las Casas, state of Chiapas, Mexico, on the first of January 1994.
And there we were, seven years later, in the darkness on the edge of Nurio, and the Zapatistas were there, Subcomandante Marcos was there, for the indigenous meeting took place during the famous and internationally covered March of Dignity.
The March: throngs of people travelling on battered coaches, covering thousands of miles, from the backwoods of Chiapas to a spectacularly crowded Zócalo, the biggest square in Mexico City. Twenty days of travel, twenty days of poetry delivered by Marcos in seven allegorical speeches called the ‘Seven Keys’. (more…)
January was a work-filled and travel-filled month, which made us neglect this blog, but we’ll make amends for this!
We’re still promoting Altai all over Italy (the novel has been in the Top 10 list of Italian fiction for 4 months), we just returned to France to promote Manituana, and Wu Ming 1 went to Kenya and climbed the mountain that gives its name to the country, walking in the footsteps of this guy.
Benuzzi wrote a famous memoir on his adventure, No Picnic on Mount Kenya, in print in several countries. WM1′s purpose is to write an Unidentified Narrative Object on Africa, daring escapes, World War 2 POW camps, writers climbing mountains, half-forgotten stories of inconspicuous adventures, and how the Fascist regimes manipulated mountaineering for political propaganda during the 1930s. The investigative journey has just begun, there will be more mountains to climb, people to interview, lost memories to recover, remote archives to consult.
In the meantime, Wu Ming 2 is almost through with another UNO, a quasi-novel that also works as both a trekking guide and a counter-information investigative piece on the Appennines between Bologna and Florence, a narrative survey of what is still beautiful and what has been devastated by all kinds of property speculation and – especially – railway projects. The book is also a spin-off of WM2′s solo novel War on the Humans (2004).
Wu Ming 4 is writing several essays on JRR Tolkien, Robert Graves, TE Lawrence and a dissection of the figure of the “hero” in mythology and popular culture. These essays will be published in book form at the end of 2010. Of course this has to do with WM4′s solo novel Star of the Morning (2008).
All together, we just started research for the second installment of the Atlantic Triptych.