The current issue of Shanghai-based 《外国文艺》 magazine (Waiguowenyi = Foreign Literature and Arts) features a 20-page special on Wu Ming and the New Italian Epic. There are translated excerpts from three of our novels (54, Manituana and Altai) plus some non-fiction stuff. It’s both on the translator’s blog (html) and dowloadable from our server (pdf). 哪里哪里! [Looks like our blog isn't in any 60v€rn|\/|€nt bl4çkli5t yet.]
Manituana (paperback edition) reviewed in The Independent
Boyd Tonkin, Friday, 23 July 2010
First known as “Luther Blissett”, Bologna’s fiction-writing collective return with a stylish, atmospheric and provocative saga set in British America in the years prior to the white-settler uprising of 1776.There’s the rub: turning received ideas on their head, as ever, Wu Ming evoke the coming rebellion mostly through the eyes of the Mohawk nation loyal to George III, the “Great English Father”.
At the core of a sweeping, narrative, bursting with colour and character, stands the real-life war chief, Joseph Brant, stalwart but doomed in his defence of a threatened culture and society.
Quite how the Italian mavericks (here beautifully translated by Shaun Whiteside) conjure fiction of this strength and nuance from a collective remains a puzzle. But long may their drums beat.
It is now official: Wu Ming 1 will translate the next Stephen King book into Italian. It is a collection of four novellas entitled Full Dark, No Stars.
Wu Ming 1 is one of the Constant Readers, a long-time Stephen King fan. For years, he’s been reviewing King’s books and writing about his work on newspapers and magazines.
A few days ago, WM1 wrote an open letter to the Italian King fandom, announcing the news and explaining a few things about his method. Here’s a translated excerpt:
I’m fully aware that, like a salmon, I’ll have to swim against a stream of mistrust (if not hostility), which is perfectly understandable. For many years, the Italian “voice” of King was that of Tullio Dobner. Dobner is a skilled translator and his undertakings are nothing short of epic, as he toiled and lost blood on King’s enormous tomes. He is also a generous person who often confronted the fan community in “no holds barred” discussions. It is normal that this new “experiment” raises eyebrows. In fact, I see talk of protests, petitions etc.
Here’s what I have to say: judge me by the result. (more…)
Q and Altai both acquired by Tokyio-based Sogensha Co., Ltd.
In April 2008 Wu Ming 1 – on behalf of the whole collective – published the so-called “memorandum” on the New Italian Epic, which since then has been rippling the surface of Italian culture. The debate is still hot, attacks on our vision are constantly delivered by powerful senior critics and windbags, but we also opened several breaches: since 2008, no discussion of the current state of Italian literature has been possible without references – either positive or negative – to what we wrote. They just couldn’t ignore the “memorandum” (and the expanded version that was published as a book by Einaudi in 2009).
Not surprisingly, the first monography on the subject wasn’t published in Italy but in the UK. It is entitled Overcoming Postmodernism: The Debate on New Italian Epic, and it’s a special issue of the Journal of Romance Studies (Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2010). We reproduce the Editor’s introduction and the Notes on Contributors.
Aims and origin
The contributors of this special issue of Journal of Romance Studies all offer a critical view of a single text. They all engage with different novels as primary material, but their analysis is based on Italian author Wu Ming 1’s essay New Italian Epic: Memorandum 1993-2008, the first version of which was published online in April 2008. Wu Ming is the name of a collective of Italian authors based in Bologna, formerly known as the Luther Blissett Project  The collective is currently formed by four members, known by a number from 1 to 5 (Wu Ming 1, Wu Ming 2, Wu Ming 4 and Wu Ming 5 – Wu Ming 3 left the group in 2008). New Italian Epic is commonly known as the ‘Memorandum’ . It describes and provides a taxonomy for a corpus of Italian contemporary novels by various authors – including Wu Ming. (more…)
He died of prostate cancer. He died in exile in Morocco on September 7, 1997. His name was Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Zabanga – literally “Mobutu, the warrior who goes from victory to victory as no-one can stop him” – but when he was born in 1930, in what was then the Belgian Congo, he was simply Joseph-Désiré Mobutu. The Africanization of his name was part of the visionary strategy that made him famous, along with the distinctive leopard hats, the carved tribal stick and the monumental choreographies.
There is always something ridiculous and farcical in dictators. Their clothes, their mannerisms, even their faces. They are pop stars, or rather crooners, who entertain the public from a media stage, in order to hide the atrocities they commit in the wings. That’s the reason why their style is very often over-the-top and excessive, and at the same time painstakingly constructed and cared for.
Mobutu, for example, was a bloodthirsty dictator, but he was also a key exponent and lover of a certain African glamour made of floral shirts, cloaks, and noteworthy events which attracted attention to him and the facade of Zaire, while obscuring the dictatorship’s crimes. Think of the most famous boxing match in history, Ali vs. Foreman, 1974, recounted in Leon Gast’s documentary When We Were Kings.
The king, of course, was Muhammad Ali, not that pathetic usurper Mobutu, who sought the light reflected by the giant to shine on the international stage. And yet, that clown had had a flash of genius. It was no ordinary thing to imagine such an event, the “Rumble in the Jungle”, a clash between two black fighters in the heart of Africa. (more…)
In a post on his Posthegemony blog, Jon Beasley-Murray makes a good point re a crucial passage of Spectres of Müntzer. WM1 seizes the opportunity to make things a little bit more clear.
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.
As the Grateful Dead would put it: “What a long strange trip it’s been“.
On January 1st, 2000, one day after Luther Blissett’s “Seppuku”, we founded the Wu Ming collective.
A few weeks later, this very website went on line. Ten years of uninterrupted presence on the web. Ten years of conversations, confrontations, communal moments. Thank you all for having made it possible.
With the exception of our comments on the Fluxus-like assault on Burlesquoni, in the last month of 2009 we kind of neglected this blog. We’ve been (and still are) very much involved in the promotion of our novel Altai, which has sold about 30,000 copies so far, and has generated a huge, rich, multifarious debate. The book tour comprises nearly 60 presentations in 50 cities all over the Paeninsula. We already did 14 of them. Film critic Woody Haut says that we’re “indefatigable”, we hope he’s right.
In the meantime, we spotted some interesting things on the web.
For example, The Independent‘s Boyd Tonkin ranked Manituana among the best “general fiction” works published in the UK in 2009. Tonkin wrote that “the overthrow of American revolutionary myths in Manituana” reads as “a tale of our times”, and added: “the Italian Wu Ming collective craft a splendidly surprising, Mohawk-centred view of white colonists’ rebellion against the “Great English Father”, George III.”
In an interview we gave several years ago (BTW we were too influenced by “post-Operaismo” jargon and autonomo-marxist conceptual frames back then, you can see that in the first answer, but the rest of the interview is still good), we said that
We usually think of an historical period which seems fascinating to us, then we spend months watching microfilms, reading sources, doing research, writing down all kinds of stuff, then the brainstorm comes and it lasts several weeks. We have hallucinations, sort of. Historical research is like peyote to us. After we recover from all the shocks and flashes, we start to write.
In 2002 Nate, the guy running the “What in the hell…” weblog, was unable to grasp the metaphor. What in the hell were we talking about? In what way is researching history like taking peyote?
Eventually, after reading Manituana, Nate understood :-D