/Giap/digest/#3 - The best interview since... - 3 December 2000

This appeared a few days ago on Imola's local journal Sabato sera [Saturday Night], which covered our presence in town for presenting the novel Asce di guerra. Plain and simple, straight to the point. Since several readers are asking precisely the same questions, it may be a good move to put the whole interview into circulation. Thanks for your attention and feedback.

A clearcut question: some people doubt the Lao adventure of Vitaliano Ravagli. Do you think he really lived through the things he's written about?


So far, we haven't noticed any incredulity during the public presentations of the book. Of course there are no photographs - we're talking about guerrilla warfare, not a gala organized by countess Sorbelloni Mazzanti Viendalmare. Our investigations allowed to put Vitaliano's story in the proper context, which may seem an unlikely one if you don't know the history of South-East Asia and that of political expatriation from 1950's Italy. We went to the sources and found other former Partisans in Indochina, and the books confirmed Vitaliano's intuitive assumptions. One should never forget that he was in the middle of a jungle, far away from the negotiations of truces, alliances, land partitions... Moreover, there's nothing on Laos in the Italian language, we had to order American books, visit dozens of  websites in English and French. Vitaliano couldn't copy and paste  from books he never had the chance to hear about. Of course he might make the whole thing up and guess right. In that case, we'd be lucky enough to know a new Emilio Salgari[1], we'd have to take our hats off to him!



You write books collectively, with a consistent style that surprised Paco Ignacio Taibo II [2]. How did Vitaliano conform himself to your method?


Actually Paco doesn't read Italian. Like everyone else, he was surprised by the fact that we write with eight or ten hands. To work with Vitaliano wasn't difficult, he had already authored two self-pubslihed memoirs, which became the foundations of the novel. We edited his story and intertwined the new sub-plots, then we worked on the missing links. Vitaliano's voice wasn't altered, we only chiselled the style to make it more powerful and effective.



Your stories have a political aim as well. What's the political meaning of Ravagli's narration?


In the final sequences of Ettore Scola's movie Tutti a casa [Everybody goes home], the character played by Alberto Sordi (a disbanded soldier after 8 Settembre [3]) witnesses a Nazi comb-out, which only a few Partisans try to oppose. Eventually, he grasps the sub-machine gun and helps them. His last line is: "You can't stand staring all the time". Vitaliano's tale has an ethical value which is prior to the political one. He went and fought a war which he felt was his war, 'cause "the fascists down there were worse than the ones over here". It's the same choice as getting a gun to kick the Nazis and Fascists out of Italy. You've got to know which part to stay on, oppose injustice wherever it turns up. It appears that  the Left has lost this lucidity. 



Why insert the character of young lawyer Zani? What was the literary and political purpose?


We wanted to link the depiction of the Fifties to the struggle against present-day micro-fascisms. Nowadays, there's a plenty of good reasons to fight, and good causes to support. Yesterday's anti-colonialism is mirrored by today's opposition to capitalist globalization, which starves and exterminates peoples, be it in the poorest areas of the planet or just around the corner. Moreover, we needed a character whose family life and personal interests would work as a living link between the stories.



You dug out many stories of Resistance in our region. What was the more interesting aspect? And how did the Partisans and the ANPI [4] respond to your work?


A distinction is required between the ANPI as an institution and partisan fighters as a lively network of contacts, a library whose books are made of flesh and blood. So far we haven't heard of any official ANPI statement, but the book was appreciated by many Resistance veterans, the ones we interviewed above all. The very first presentation of Asce di guerra was in Bologna, at Teatro Polivalente Occupato [5], which - quite appropriately - is on Viale Lenin [Lenin Boulevard]. That was an interesting, fascinating collision of two worlds that usually don't intersect, i.e. the Partisans and the new global action movement against economic neo-liberalism. We shot the evening, most likely we'll produce a video. As to the first question, we were interested in set the people and stories free from any boastful rhetoric. History is never simple, you have to tell it with its contradictions if you want to keep it alive and viable, if you want it to retroact on the present, which is contradictory as well. Many Partisans from Imola helped us: Elio Gollini, Orfeo Sabattani, Vincenzo Martelli and obviously Mirco Zappi, whose advices were invaluable. Last but not least, we wanted to describe the violence of the conflict, as well as the military skills of some brigade commanders. Michael Smargus talks about "Resistance pedagogics", a set of clichés which edulcorated guerrilla actions during the Italian civil war. And yet the partisan brigades on the Alps and the Appenines are in no way inferior to guerrillas on the Cuban Sierra fifteen years later, and many actions of the GAP [6] are just as good as those of Vietcongs or the Algerian Liberation Army.



Your novel also re-writes history. What do you think about the controversy on historical revisionism? [7]


History, especially professional history-writing, has always been a political battlefield. There isn't anything to be surprised about, indeed, it's a healthy process, it would be absurd to create new taboos, try to crystallize one official version of history. Nothing and nobody can stop the historical debate, which parallels social and political conflict. If you cease being political, you end up forgetting your own history, then your foes will exploit your weakness.



Storace wants to put history textbooks on the index, he says they are Marxist textbooks. According to the Right, the Left has monopolized Italian culture. What is your opinion?


Since the end of  World War 2 the official Left has followed Gramsci's path and worked hard to get the cultural hegemony in this country. Now that Left is shattering into pieces, it is only natural that the Right assaults culture. It was the Left that armed the hand of Storace and the likes. If you forget your own history, somebody else will re-write it. The Left has neglected the Resistance, which was confined into the usual 25 Aprile rhetoric [8]. The Left is ashamed of her own history, and the Center-Left governments build up concentration camps for illegal migrants, they're unchaining the nastiest racist moods. Ignorant fascist "nostalgics" get cocky again, they want a new Index of forbidden books... This was far from being unpredictable.



Some people say you are ambiguous: on one hand, you describe yourselves as leftists, communists; on the other hand you run a business company. Can you explain your cultural project and attitude towards communication?


Being a narrator is like any other job, we have no "idealistic" approach to the work, writing shouldn't grant us any privileged condition. Like every other worker, narrators can associate into cooperatives, mutual benefit societies, self-managed laboratories and so on... This is the situation: we are trying to have equal relationships with publishers, firm-to-firm relationships. We don't belong to any literary "stable". Being an enterprise allows us to be independent. When we use the term "enterprise", you should think of a craftman's shop, not FIAT or General Motors. The "botteghe" of medieval and Renaissance painters, the Bauhaus... those were all "enterprises". Forgive us for this cliché, we're in the "information age", the term "enterprise" can refer to a "light" subject and concept, one that can be re-shaped in every moment. We are a "factory of narrative services", a start-up in the new literature.

As to the presumed contradiction between being an enterprise and being political, we can illustrate it by some examples: so far, US-base RTmark (www.RTmark.com) has provided the most intelligent way to exploit business and trade legislation for political, subversive purposes: it is a corporation that finances projects of anti-capitalist sabotage! The other example is Greenpeace, a multinational corporation - one can't deny that the firm's associates are political activists (in a broader sense) precisely because they're associates.

Eventually, if you consider the origins of the workers' movement, you'll see that such prestigious fathers of Socialism as Robert Owen and Friedrich Engels were entrepreneurs, businessmen.



The book is selling very well. Are you surprised?


No, we aren't. Of course this book demands the reader's effort, it is more difficult than Q, explicitly addressed to the hardcore fans of the previous novel. It is very hard for any critic to write bullshit-proof reviews. Moreover, we got a new brand-name and a new publisher. And yet the readers' drums are playing loud, we're going to sell out the whole first edition (15,000 copies). As happened with Q, the readers are forming an open community based on gift economy. This is the greatest gratification for an author.





1. Emilio Salgari (1862-1911), a renowned Italian serial novel writer, author of *Sandokan* and many other books.

2. Paco Ignacio Taibo II, mexican novelist, organizer of the Semana Negra crime novel festival in Gijon, Northern Spain.

3. September 8th, 1943: the Armistice. King Vittorio Emanuele III, once the Great Council of Fascism had deposed Mussolini, signed a peace treaty with the Allied Forces. The Germans responded by invading Northern and Central Italy, where they formed the so-called "Social Republic", an explicitly Nazi regime, little more than an occupation goverment. Disbanded soldiers and antifascist dissidents went to the woods and started the Resistance.

4. ANPI, the National Partisan Association.

5. TPO, a big squat and social centre in Bologna. Actually it is no longer a squat, for the City was forced to legalize the occupation after years of confrontation and mass struggle.

6. GAP = Gruppi di Azione Patriottica [Patriotic Action Groups], anti-nazi urban guerrillas in the Italian liberation war (1944-45).

7. In the past ten years the Italian Right has started a large-scale assault on the formation/cultural industry, which is described as "territory of communists", especially high schools and universities. Recently Francesco Storace, the governor of  Latium and a leader of the reactionary Alleanza Nazionale (formerly the neo-fascist party Movimento Sociale Italiano), has announced he will set up a regional authority on school textbook quality (actually a board of censorship). According to him and his pals, too many books are influenced by Marxist propaganda and describe WW2 in a factious way. It is only too clear that "post-fascists" wish to rehabilitate the Social Republic.

8. 25 Aprile, the anniversary of so-called "Liberation" (the fall of Republican Fascism and the end of WW2 in Italy).