/Giap/digest#14 - About 54 And A Few Short Stories - 22 April 2002
1. Three Of Our Short Stories Now Available In SPANISH
2. A Huge Chunk Of "Whose Astronauts?" Available In FRENCH
3. On Our Latest Novel 54: One Of The Most Intriguing Reviews
4. Update On The British Edition of Q
Hugo Romero is a Spaniard of Italian descent. He's a subscriber to /Giap/ and one of the activists behind www.sindominio.net (a site that we strongly recommend). He did a beautiful translation of three short stories we wrote in the past few months. All three are related to politics, the "global civil war" and the rise of a new global movement.
"Enclave Social de Bolonia" (originally "Bologna Social Enclave") was written by Wu Ming 1 & Wu Ming 4 in June 2001, at dead of night, after an incredibly boring meeting of the Bologna Social Forum. It gives a sarcastic account of the leftist extravaganza surrounding the preparations for the anti-G8 days in Genoa (July 2001), and the surrealistic outcome of past feuds. There is a lot of inside jokes and hidden references to the local scene, but we suppose that all leftist milieux are much the same as far as bullshit is concerned.
"Carcajada Profunda Y Negra" was written by Wu Ming 1 at the end of March 2002, in the aftermath of the death of Marco Biagi. Biagi was an expert on labor law and a consultant of Berlusconi's administration. An alleged commando of the Red Brigades murdered him in Bologna, three days before the biggest demonstration in the history of Italy (three million people marching in Rome) and three weeks before the widest general strike ever (more than twenty million people challenging Berlusconi's labor politics). Rightwingers failed to exploit the attack and blame the unions' "verbal violence". The strike was unbelievably successful. CPYN gives a pretty painful eye-witness account of the cynic jokes and the alchohol-fuelled asinine conversation on the scene of the crime, less than a hour after the murder ("the best party in years").
"Welcome To Israel" was written by Wu Ming 4 in April 2002, the day after he and other people tried to enter Israel and rescue the Italian pacifists trapped in Ramallah and Betlehem. This is kind of a piece of "gonzo journalism", it covers the night flight, the intermediate stop in Athens and the way Israeli authorities "welcomed" the group at the Tel Aviv airport.
We wish to thank all the people who translated our stuff into different languages. We mentioned their names in some previous issues of this newsletter, we'll keep mention and thank anyone who gives us a hand.
The stories are free and downloadable from our website at the bottom of this page: <http://www.wumingfoundation.com/italiano/downloads.shtml>
A long extract of "Whose Astronauts?" (our piece on subversive myth-making in Italy, see /giap/digest #13) was translated into French by the people at www.peripheries.net (we recommend this one too), on the February issue of their electronic carnet [notebook]. It appears that this brief essay was appreciated in France, given that *Les Inrockuptibles* (the famous music magazine) reviewed it a few weeks ago.
Check it out at <http://www.peripheries.net/crnt33.htm>
or at <http://www.wumingfoundation.com/italiano/rassegna/carnet2_wm.html>
Be patient: the British edition of our novel Q will be published by Random House UK in the spring of 2003. As usual (usual for us, certainly not for corporate publishers) the book will carry our anti-copyright notice.
This is one of the best reviews of our latest novel 54. It appeared on "L'unità" national newspaper on March 8 2002, friday.
1954, Wu Ming's Prophecies
The US in the Cold War Era and Italy at the time of Fanfani:
another historical novel by the Bologna-based collective
Nineteen-fifty-four: McCarthy's witch hunt is almost over, it's the end of one of America's most sad and gloomy periods.
1954: the Korean war is over, but Indochina is burning. Under Ho Chi Minh's political leadership and at general Giap's command Vietnamese partisans storm the French garrison in Dien Bien Phu. The French withdraw from South-East Asia and the US replace them. The Geneva Conference ratifies the partition of Vietnam into two nations.
1954: the problem of Trieste is finally solved: the city is returned to to Italy, the region (Istria) is given to Yugoslavia.
1954: after Stalin's death, Nikita Krushev takes over the party and the state. He wants to gradually re-establish relationships with marshall Tito's Yugoslavia, after they split in 1948.
1954: West Germany wants to join the NATO.
1954: Cary Grant's shining cinematic career is stalling. Hitchcock wants him in his next movie co-starring Grace Kelly, Cary doesn't know what to do. 1954: in Italy, old Alcide De Gasperi [former prime minister and undisputed leader of the Christian Democratic Party] is dying and a war of succession is shaking the party. Amintore Fanfani, the dynamic young leader of the internal "left" wing, skilfully exploits the "Montesi affair" (a crime news scandal) in order to get rid of Attilio Piccioni, the most dangerous rival in the party.
1954: after his repatriation to Italy, Salvatore Lucania aka "Lucky" Luciano settled in Naples, where he supervises international drug traffic and other illegal activities of the Syndicate.
1954: television comes to Italy.
Allow me to add a further element:
1954 means six years before July 1960 [huge demonstrations and riots, especially in Genoa, prevented the centre-right government from welcoming the neo-fascist party in the coalition], eight years before the labor riots in Piazza Statuto (Turin) and fourteen years before 1968.
Any year is historically crucial from many points of view, nonetheless a year may be more useful than another to point out long-time trends. 1954 was such a year, a background for the stories Wu Ming like to tell. This collective of five authors caused a sensation in 1999, when their first novel "Q" (authored by four of them and signed "Luther Blissett") was published. They tell fast-paced and adventurous stories, stories of ordinary people, made of their experience, joy and pain, their desires and disappointments, ordinary people that make history although (as usually happens) they are not aware of it, people whose life may seem dull or even incomprehensible if we don't put it in the general context of history. In this novel (54, Einaudi, Turin, 676 pages, 15 euros) the lives of fictional characters mingle with those of actual, historical characters. It is a choral novel more or less like Q, but it reminds also of John Dos Passos' The 42nd Parallel or some novels by Philip K. Dick. In this novel "official" history does never takes over the narration, it is just used to bond the events, all the political conspiracies and intelligence operations, the smuggling and the horse racing and the gambling and the fighting and the loving and the everyday life of a petty populace which is depicted with fondness, sometimes in a slightly caricatural way but usually with lifelike quality. To me this is the best merit of the book.
Of course it is entertaining to spy on Cary Grant while he is having breakfast or giving a lesson in elegance and bearing to a lookalike, or even losing his temper and giving a big punch on the nose of an uncouth FBI agent. Of course it is amusing to read the meeting of Cary Grant and Tito, which is psychologically complex and finely depicted, or don Luciano's remarks on the difference between Italian and American women (supposedly, it lies in the household appliances). It is clear that the authors did not overlook the documents and the details, indeed, they were able to give themselves up completely to their interesting characters. However, the most important thing is that they managed to render the spirit of an age in which none of them lived (which is even more admirable), and did it by describing a particular place, the "Bar Aurora" in Bologna, run by the Capponi brothers. The regular customers chat abour politics and sports, women (very discreetly) and health; they quarrel, grumble and poke fun at each other, always with a fundamental affection and a manfully discreet cohesion whose name is unmistakable: community. Naturally, all have in common an unavoidable presence, that of the Italian Communist Party, which they love and criticize at the same time, sometimes they even fear it; they know the party is essential to them, and yet they feel it is somewhat distant from the community. There is no real political dissent, nearly all of them are members, some are activists, and yet when the secretary of the section sets foot in the place the patrons change subjects, they take the defensive.
It is plain that Wu Ming (who are children of the movement of 1977, not only because of their age) sympathize for the people alienated from the party, either like the partisan who fought at Porta Lame [an epic battle between partisans and SS soldiers, 1944] and then was expelled of the party and became a smuggler, or the English language teacher who is anti-fascist but also a "liberal", or the father of the Capponi brothers who deserted the Italian army in 1943, on the Slovenian front, and joined Tito's Resistance. Now he can't return to italy and even in Yugoslavia he's in big trouble because he sided with the dissident Milovan Djilas. Above all, Wu Ming sympathize with the younger Capponi Brother, Robespierre (nicknamed "Pierre") a bartender during the day and an unrestrainable dancer at night. Pierre - whom we follow from the beginning to the end of the book - is torn by his longing to see his father again, his secret love for Angela (who is married to a well-known doctor and a leader of the ICP) and an anxiety he can't understand and will appear clear only at the end, after all the novel's knotty problems are dramatically solved.
To Pierre and his proletarian friends, elegance and style are hard-fought achievements, as they were for Cary Grant; style signals a longing for freedom which the party and the older brother don't understand and mistake for social climbing. This may sound anachronistic but Wu Ming naturally looked at 1954 through post-fordist lenses.
If I must indicate the two themes of the novel which give the best idea of a post-war which prepares further wars and conflicts (both domestic and international), I would mention the theme of fatherhood and that of the mirror. Pierre's quest for his father is a symbol of a more general need, the need to retrace the path of one's own history, to reconcile each generation's autonomy from the previous ones and the urge to learn from their experience. As to the theme of the mirror, it is embodied in another protagonist of the book, the most present one except for Pierre: a luxury McGuffin TV set which passes from one owner to the other, from America to Naples and then from Rome to Bologna, as everybody fails to make it work. The TV set can only be "a mute witness of dreariness and violence, with nothing to oppose with but emptiness, emptiness versus emptiness". Besides its role in the plot (and this reviewer can't spoil a spy story), I think it is a precious suggestion, especially in these times of televisionary government.
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