Students and teachers on the war path. Riots and demonstrations all over the country. High schools and universities occupied by the students. Violent clashes with the police in front of the Senate. Berlusconi’s education reform is encountering blatant opposition, and the fact that the government is in crisis makes the movement raise its multifarious head even more. This afternoon, in Rome, students confronted the cops while carrying shields with book titles on them. The meaning was: it is culture itself that’s resisting the cuts; books themselves are fighting the police. It was in this incendiary midst that our novel Q showed up, and in good company to boot: Moby Dick, Don Quixote, Plato’s The Republic, A Thousand Plateaux… These pictures appeared on the websites of the most important daily papers. It goes without saying that, whatever will happen, we’re proud of what our novel is doing in the streets. Omnia sunt communia! (more…)
Manituana nominated for IMPAC International Literary Award (Dublin).
“A Choral, Polyphonic World”. WM1 and WM4 interviewed by 3AM Magazine.
Altai will be published in Greece by Exarchias Press.
WM4′s solo novel Stella del mattino [Star of the Morning] will be published in Spain by Machado/Acuarela.
Q‘s film rights were acquired by Fandango.
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…)
[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…)
The title of this post may be a further example of retrotalk (we slightly adapted the last verse of a 1967 Pink Floyd song, the only one from the first album that was written by Roger Waters instead of Syd Barrett – and possibly the most meaningless of that lot). It’s just that one of us started the day singing it.
Yeah, we’re alive. We haven’t posted anything on this blog for more than 20 days because we’ve been writing and writing and writing, it’s been the final mega-session for the new novel. After about 15 months of the hardest work, two days ago we delivered the text to the publisher.
As we told you some time ago, it’s (more or less) a sequel to Q. We felt the urge to go back to the “crime scene” (our 1999 debut) after the collective lost a member, in the springtime of 2008. After months of crisis and conflict, we needed a new beginning. We needed a peculiar self-managed group therapy (and that’s probably the reason that old tune came to our mind, as it was titled Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk). Gert-from-the-Well appeared and told us: “I can help you, if you bring me back to life!”. And that’s what we did.
It’s been an exciting and fatiguing period. The novel will be titled Altai (here’s a clue as to why). It will be published in Italy in the early days of November. Even those of you who don’t understand Italian might want to listen to this audio recording. You can do it as if it were pure sound, without any meaning. It’s an anticipation of the prologue, read by WM1 at Officina Italia, a literary event that took place two months ago in Milan. Mp3, 16ok, 14 minutes (the first three minutes are the intro/explanation, you’ll realise when the reading begins).
We’ll have a dense autumn: Manituana will be published in France at the beginning of September, then in the UK and the US at the beginning of October, then Altai will come out in Italy.
Ok, that’s all for now. Have a good summer.
In today’s edition of UK newspaper The Independent, Boyd Tonkin compares Dan Brown‘s fiction to super-saturated fats and proposes a more healthy diet:
For the conspiratorial potboiler, almost all roads lead to Rome. However silly the spectacle of TV-friendly Jesuit scholars unpicking Brown’s theology and church history, at least the Vatican grasps that his appeal taps into a seam of anti-clerical suspicion that long predated the Reformation and has never yet run out. If plotters in cassocks and dog-collars float your boat, then other authors can rustle up similar dishes in more a savoury style. (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…)