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…)
[WM1:] During my stay in New York City I met Ashley Dawson and Gabriella Coleman, two members of the collective editing and running the Social Text journal.
They interviewed me for about two hours. My friend and former fellow Blissett Marco Deseriis aka Snafu, who lives and teaches in NYC, took part to the conversation.
We covered a lot of issues, including our self-critique on how we dealt with “technified myths” in the months leading up to the anti-G8 days in Genoa (July 2001). We also wrote an essay about that, it will be published as an introduction to the collection of Thomas Muntzer‘s sermons which Verso is going to publish in 2010. The interview is a good introduction to the introduction…
We also talked about history, historians, Norman Cohn, the Iroquois, the difference between our work and postcolonial studies, contradictions in our cultural militancy, the current situation in Italy, our new novel Altai, the “War on Terror”, George Washington‘s genocidal strategies etc.
You can read the whole thing on the Social Text website.
We are among the many co-authors (including the likes of Bruce Sterling and Maurizio Cattelan) of this newly released book covering the 1999-2009 activities of our friends, comrades and former fellow Blissetts Eva and Franco Mattes, aka 0100101110101101.org. In the wake of the LBP’s “Seppuku” (December ’99), two groups were born of Luther’s ashes, and they have never ceased to co-operate closely, e.g. we took part in their United We Stand stunt (a worldwide promotional campaign for a non-existing movie). Here’s the book’s flap blurb:
Featuring previously unseen works, this book is the first official monograph on the artists-provocateurs Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG. Over the last ten years, the Mattes have manipulated video games, Internet technologies, feature films and street advertising to reveal truths concealed by contemporary society. They have created media facades believable enough to elicit embarrassing reactions from governments, the public and the art world, and they have orchestrated several unpredictable mass performances, staged outside art spaces and involved unwitting audiences in scenarios that mingle truth and falsehood to the point of being indistinguishable.
This book brings together all these exploits, including the anecdotes, indictments and controversies that have always accompanied them. At the same time the book reveals the couple’s very first (and until now undisclosed) work: Stolen Pieces. Over two years, 1995-97, they toured the world’s most important museums and stole dozens of fragments from well-known works by artists such as Duchamp, Kandinsky, Beuys and Rauschenberg. This work, which has remained a secret for 14 years, is revealed and discussed here for the very first time.
This unique book is a combination of history and fiction, criticism and plagiarism, jesting and journalism.
With texts by Domenico Quaranta, Bruce Sterling, RoseLee Goldberg, Wu Ming, Fabio Cavallucci, Maurizio Cattelan, Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito, Tilman Baumgärtel, Marco Deseriis and Matthew Mirapaul, 144 pages, 243 illustrations
You can order it here: Amazon.com – Amazon.co.uk
Our new novel Altai is in Italian bookshops.
3rd prolegomenon to Manituana, Summer 2006
‘Hendrick Peters felt he belonged to a past season of the world. He had been a boy at a time that the English called the “last century”, he remembered the days of great power of the Longhouse. That phase of his life had become an image known on both shores of the Ocean. He had been ambassador to London under Queen Anne, painters had captured his likeness, fixing in time the moment and the man who ferried the Mohawks from one age to another. On his face, the marks of time left a trace that ran through the last sixty years of history.’
Article by Jacopo Guerriero in GQ (Italian edition), n.91, April 2007
‘This revolution is faceless! No photographs, no authors. The author is a commonplace of consumerist perversion invented to make you read happily, but with your pockets empty and your brain fogged by romantic inventions. Step back: western Europe in the early 1990s, was the time of the appearance of the web, of the ‘no-copyright’ movements, the start of a new transformation of the culture industry. You found a mysterious signature that appeared everywhere, in station toilets, in graffiti on the walls, on the tables of a pub…’
When the Indians invented punk two centuries ago
Article by Marco Philopat published in the journal XL, no. 20, April 2007
‘As soon as I’d finished reading Manituana I wanted to cut my hair into a Mohican, like in the old days. Set before the revolution that brought America into being, Manituana is a story from the wrong side of history: the Indians. Published these days, the latest collective work by the literary clan, writing workshop, cultural and political project of Wu Ming, the ‘no names’ of Mandarin Chinese, had the same effect on me as the first punks in Portobello in the late 1970s.’
- Stewart Home
[That old fellow traveller of ours, the novelist and cultural terrorist Stewart Home, blogged a few interesting things about Manituana, which we duly reproduce. He also reviewed Q some time ago.]
Manituana by Wu Ming
Following on from Q (authored as Luther Blissett) and 54, comes a new novel Manituana by the Bologna fiction collective known as Wu Ming. Verso are publishing Shaun Whiteside’s English translation, the proof copies were circulated last month, and the book will be available in both the UK and the US shortly. Like the earlier tomes by the same authors, Manituana is a heavily researched historical novel that speaks as much about a future we have yet to make, as the past in which it is set. The main action takes place around the ‘American War of Independence’, with the focus on the alliance the Iroquois Indians made with the English.
The Iroquois way of life was destroyed by the development of capitalism, and this entailed the exploitation of both Africa and the Americas, as well as the European working class. The diseases that accompanied European traders and their goods decimated the indigenous American population and thereby opened the way for their conquest. The Iroquois were caught between a rock and a hard place and mostly chose to ally with ‘perfidious Albion’, rather than the equally barbarous French or – slightly later – the genocidal armies of George Washington. However, for me the real ‘heroes’ of this novel are not the characters who take up the bulk of its pages (some are actual historical figures), but rather those shadowy proletarian figures who attempt to make an alliance with the Iroquois when some of their leaders visit London. From page 199 of Marituana: (more…)
[This is from Giap #1, 10th Series, 12 May 2009.]
These were Sean Connery‘s words after the last take of Diamonds Are Forever (1971), the seventh film in the 007 saga. He was 40, incipiently bald, and trying to broaden the horizons of his artistic career by getting rid of James Bond, who had now become an awkward alter ego.
Clearly, however, it’s not so easy to leave your origins behind, or rather, it is difficult to resist the temptation to go back again and settle your scores, in order to look at yourself in perspective.
So, twelve years later, in 1983, Connery put back on the clothes of the antonomastic secret agent. He was 53 and had an opportunity to reinterpret the cult role in an older but still attractive version, and to do so through a remake of Thunderball. Therefore, the return was twofold: Connery was Bond again, and the protagonist of a story he had already interpreted. It’s easy to understand why the producers and the director decided to ironically name the film Never Say Never Again. (more…)
[After All These Years, the Mutual Acknowledgement. An Interview with Luther and a letter from us.]
From the daily newspaper ‘L’Unità’, January 3 2009.
LUTHER BLISSETT: FROM FOOTBALL PLAYER TO SYMBOL OF A LITERARY PHENOMENON
The English striker arrived in Italy in ’83 to revive the fortunes of an ailing AC Milan. But the honeymoon didn’t last long. Luther disappeared, to be reborn as a collective pen name.
In Milan they remember his lack of grace, his awkward movements, the dreams that evaporated quickly. He had arrived amid fanfare and hope in the summer of 1983: a transfer market coup in a pre-Berlusconi Milan; the forward who’d scored over a hundred goals in England; the man who was going to fix every problem. Things went differently. A mutual lack of understanding lead into a dead end and an ignominious finale. Whenever he got the ball the catcalls that rang out from the stands become a cacophony – the constant soundtrack of his single Italian season. He departed amid insults, taking home a measly five goals in thirty games. (more…)
Two years after it first hit the Italian bookshops, our novel Manituana is about to be published in the UK and the US (June 2009).
Our previous works (Q and 54) were published by Heinemann in the UK and Harcourt in the US, but now we’ve got one new publisher on both shores of the Atlantic, Verso Books. On the other hand, the translator remains the same: Shaun Whiteside.
Two years aren’t such a long time, we were used to waiting for much longer before our books appeared in Angloville:
- we wrote Q in the 1995-98 period; it was published in Italy in 1999; only after 4 long years it reached Britain, and 2003 had to give way to 2004 before the American readers could find it on the shelves.
- we wrote 54 in the 1999-2001 period; it was published in Italy in 2002; we had to wait, respectively, 2005 and 2006 to see it in print in the UK and the US. (more…)