News, Interviews And A Piece Of Abuse - 11 August 2002
do you think about the recent law on copyrights which prevents people,
even in public libraries, from photocopying more than the 15% of
any book that's on the market? Do you reckon it is an effective
way to protect authors, help the publishing industry and foster
the reading of books?
A: No we don't. The reading of books can only be fostered by liberalizing
the circulation of texts, not by restricting it. If you don't have
twenty euros to buy a book, you just don't have them. What are you
going to do, bury a coin in the Field of Miracles? Prohibition hits
a class of people whom the publishing (and record) industry have
lost already because of short-sighted policies, continual rises
in prices and a general decrease of quality.
Think of university textbooks: most of them are on syllabuses in
spite of being mediocre or even awfully bad, only because their
authors are members of some academic circle...
Generally speaking, it must be noticed that all legislation on copyrights
is the product of an holigarchic and repressive mentality, politicians
are ever more huddled up in defense of those privileged corporate
lobby groups embezzling stuff that belongs to everyone.
Q: Is there any alternative solution?
A: As regards universities, the
trouble is "upstream": books suck and yet they cost an arm and a
In general, we believe in freedom of reproduction. Free reproduction
doesn't affect the sales in bookstores, the circuits are different,
the formats are different, even the users' approach is different.
We witness it every day, for our books carry this notice: "Partial
or total reproduction of this book, as well as its electronic diffusion,
are consented to the readers for non-commercial use".
The latter detail has a political meaning: ordinary bourgeois (liberalistic)
jurisprudence is founded upon a subject whom closer investigation
exposes as abstract and estranged from actual social relations:
it is the "proprietory individual", who is described as invariable,
regardless of contexts. On the contrary, we believe that there's
a marked difference between the subjects, thus there's difference
between their respective rights, that is, a single pennyless reader
must be entitled to a kind of freedom which a big company must not
It took three years of hard work to conceive, write and edit any
of our novels. Add hundreds of presentations and conferences all
across Italy. The bloodsuckers of corporate entertainment must not
be allowed to hijack our efforts gratis, turn our stories into cash-in
movies and fortify their cultural strongholds.
In the past few years we have realized how important was to add
that phrase on "non-commercial use", although some anticopyright
purist criticized us. These people are unaware of the risks one
takes on this job and, at the end of the day, they are unaware of
the fact that this world is divided into classes :-)
Anyway, we keep on seeking a better notice and better solutions
that can be adopted by others. In the meanwhile you can allow your
library users to photocopy our novels and show our copyleft notice
to SIAE inspectors or agents of the Guardia di Finanza :-)
Q: That is the point, Wu Ming challenges
the notions of the author as an individual and of intellectual property
itself. What is the notion of literature on which stems your work?
A: We have made the implicit explicit,
nothing more than that. As a matter of fact no author creates or
writes all alone. We aren't just talking about editors or ghost-writers,
we mean that ideas are in the air and don't belong to any single
individual. An author, any author, is a "complexity reducer", s/he
plays a temporary role. The author makes a precarious synthesis
out of the fluxes of information/imagination which are produced
by the whole society and run across the society far and wide, nonstop,
like electromagnetical waves.
Strictly speaking, it is absurd to claim private property of culture:
if everything is produced by the multitudes, it is only fair that
any work be available to all. There are no "geniuses", thus there
are no "lawful owners", there is exchange and re-use of ideas, i.e.
the improvement of ideas. Lautréamont said that "plagiarism"
(and its precondition, i.e. "piracy", free reproduction) is necessary
in order to make progress.
In recent history such a position - which was regarded as obvious
and natural just a few centuries ago - was taken only by members
of radical and antagonist currents [...] Nowadays it is coming back
as a hegemonic view, thanks to the digital revolution and the success
of free software, GNU Public Licenses, Linux etc.
On the other side is everything the Left (any of the Left's currents)
has fought against since the Enlightenment: unearned income for
the upper class and the exploitation of work by rich parasites.
These classes and interests are obsolete even from a capitalist
point of view: nowadays wealth is produced in such a way that makes
copyright outdated, an ideological wreck whose mere existence inhibits
creativity, curbs the growth of "cognitive capital". Present-day
growth requires networks of social cooperation and brainstorming
in all directions. In order to be productive, ideas must
be free to circulate.
If you wish to hear classic Marxist terms, we'll say that the development
of productive forces is provoking a crisis in the relations
of production. Think of P2P platforms which allow you to share and
exchange MP3 files; think of such technologies of reproduction as
CD burners: the fact that these things are on the market proves
that the Berne convention on intellectual property is being superceded
by the very development of productive forces.
In plain words, if you sell me such technologies as computers, samplers,
scanners, CD burners and photocopiers, then you shouldn't be entitled
to call the cops because I'm allegedly using them "the wrong way"!
There is a vast (not yet fully self-conscious) anti-copyright
movement, which the intellectual property mafia oppose fiercely
by worsening the existing laws. Moreover, the mob counterattacks
on a bigger scale by extending the logic of intellectual property
to living beings and human genes, which means that the battle on
copyrights is one of the most important frontlines in the present-day
Anyway, "we" are winning the battle on the cultural industry, just
think of music: nowadays big record companies plead poverty, attack
"pirates", witness the dramatic decrease of their profits. Perfect!
Bubbles are bursting and parasites get debunked, e.g. clowns who've
become millionaires just because their one and only hit has been
played at piano bars for thirty years, or well known associations
that monopolize the enforcement of copyright laws and share the
money they extort between the Big Families that control the business
The way we access to music (and all cultural artifacts) is changing,
"mass culture" is being replaced by a new kind of "folk" culture,
which stems on live performances, solidarian networks, sharing,
DIY culture (self-production, self-distribution, word-of-mouth).
After all, it will get less and less important to know who
wrote this and who wrote that. Artists will cease to be Authors
(with the capital "a") or "personages", they'll become storytellers
again, they'll be minstrels, bards, griots.
1954, A POP-AUTONOMIST NOVEL
A re:inter:view with Wu Ming
[originally meant as a contribution to the Make-world paper
#2, which was to be distributed at the International noborder-camp
in Strasbourg (July 2002). We couldn't attend the event nor have
we got copies of the paper, dunno whether the piece was published
1954, a decade of Post-War. The Korean conflict has just shaken
the world, the French are withdrawing from Indochina, McCarthy's
witch hunt is almost over, the KGB is founded in Moscow. New lifestyles
and desires for freedom are wriggling under the Cold War blanket.
This is the essence of 54, the novel authored by the Bologna-based
Wu Ming collective ("No name") which was recently published in Italy
(Einaudi, Turin, 666 pages, 15 euros). 54 is about the dialectical
relationship between those two empires (which were going to become
one, as Negri & Hardt would put it) and a manifold mankind that
dreams of moving beyond the modern age and Fordist discipline on
1950's Italy is still a rural nation, with a very few industrial
areas, mostly under reconstruction. To escape everyday life and
work is utopian, especially if there isn't any working.
Pierre Capponi may be an ace of filuzzi dancing and draw
crowds in all dancehalls of Bologna; he may even conquer Angela,
the young wife of comrade Odoacre Montroni (a mythical leader of
the local federation of the Italian Communist Party); and yet he
cannot elope with her, for he is just a bartender in a working class
hang-out, he hardly manages to make ends meet.
Steve "Concrete" Zollo is a professional murderer from NYC and the
right arm of Lucky Luciano; back on the Hudson Bay he used to make
"concrete boots" for the enemies of Luciano. Zollo's bird-cage is
neither Bologna nor poverty: his cage is named Naples, where women
are buxom but they all look like "peasants dressed up on feastdays",
where business (international smack smuggling) is excellent but
alleys are stinking and noisy and everything sticks to you like
What they've got is not enough to get another life. The other life
is just movie-fueled dreams and unfulfilled wishes, like that of
being like Cary Grant. Cary Grant, the perfect leading man, the
ace of style who came from nowhere. If you cannot be Cary Grant,
at least you can look like him, even if you work in a butcher's
shop, or meet him by chance and try to tell your friends, but nobody
believes you. You can also try to sell the lot of heroin you've
stolen from the Boss of the Bosses, in order to change your life
and leave for a far country.
Besides the longing for escape there is a dark design, the long
arm of History. The MI6 (British intelligence) try to get Cary Grant
involved in a motion picture on Marshall Tito, a project that may
help Yugoslavia to get farther from Moscow. The new-born KGB led
by general Serov try to sabotage the mission. In the meanwhile,
television comes to Italy and RAI (state-owned tv network) begins
Families and gangs grapple with each other in order to turn on an
American TV set, a glorious McGuffin Electric Deluxe which is always
off but whose screen reflects the comedy acts staged in front of
it. It does not work because there is nothing inside it, nothing
but a lot of stolen heroin.
54 is a sharp, clean-cut look on a year of living dangerously.
It is a spy story set in the Mediterranean area (from Marseille
to Naples, from Genoa to Croatia), whose plot unfolds on the razor's
edge of greater history, like happened in Q - the best-selling
novel by Luther Blissett, which Wu Ming started from as a project
- or in Pynchon-inspired post-modern fiction.
54 is also another persevering book on Resistance, both historical
and individual. Resistance is not only the collective defense of
inalienable ideals, but also a progressive myth which points at
the desire to live with dignity.
In this novel, America and Europe live side by side. America is
the new frontier, the country that inherited the tasks of the French
Revolution, to free the mankind and make them happy (it is even
written in the Constitution). Italy and the Italians are at the
window, they watch the coming of television and all mod cons. They
don't realize that they are being watched already by those devices.
Q: In a recent interview, you state that
"pop-culture is a pre-requisite for communism". Cary Grant
and David Bowie - the protagonist of Havana Glam, a novel
by Wu Ming 5 - would be "bottom-up icons, shaped by the desires
of the multitudes". Nevertheless, Bowie and Grant entered the
star system through an accurate (industrial) process of selection
and filtering. Living in novels like 54 or Havana Glam,
and coming in touch with a sweating and stinking humanity, those
saints release part of their immortality. Does communism pass
through a sort of "fame sharing" ? Or do we need to fabricate new,
decentralized, P2P, icons?
A: Uhm... Aren't we supposed to talk about genre fiction? :-)
Yes, we did state that XXth century Western popular culture (which
is now turning into something completely different, and way more
complex too boot) was often closer to socialism than XXth century
Eastern "socialist" regimes ever were. We even added that Andy Warhol's
serial icona of Mao Zedong has been more important to revolution
than those Mao Zedong official portraits waved by maoists at demonstrations.
This has to do with our manifold background: Antonio Gramsci's notion
of "cultural hegemony", autonomist Marxism (Toni Negri and
the likes) and the fact that some of us are ex-Mods, ex-Skinheads
You know, autonomist Marxism emphasized the creative and revolutionary
power of workers on their own, apart from state and party. Next
to typical left pessimism, autonomists can even seem dreamily optimistic,
seeing struggle and victory where others see apathy and defeat.
Where most people (across the political spectrum) see capital as
acting and labor as reacting, autonomists see capital as the reactive
side of the relation.
Of course, by "labor" we mean living labor in the social factory,
i.e. all creative power and social cooperation, which is necessary
to capital but is not completely tameable. Life keeps emerging from
We still think that a new and fair mode of production can only be
established through the re-appropriation of the existing networks
of social cooperation. Socialism must be based upon the collective
nature of capitalist production.
This is why, unlike such people as the Situationists (who are obsessed
with "recuperation" and the "spectacle"), we always lay the stress
upon the creative side of the relation between capital and the class.
We lay the stress upon the power of the multitudes.
The making of pop culture (we don't draw a clear distinction between
the "underground" and the "mainstream" here) was a collective process
during which the borders of ever-changing open communities were
constantly re-traced, subcultures constantly re-shaped themselves
around myths. We'd better understand what "pre-requisites of communism"
were at work in that process, instead of believing that millions
of people were being brainwashed.
Nowadays, many things are changing for better as far as reappropriation,
nay, "de-propriation" of culture is concerned. Copyright
infringement, CD-burning, DVD-ripping, P2P exchanges, MP3-sharing,
OCR-scanning, plunderphonics, free software... There is a general
uprising, gallons of cold sweat are running down the bosses's spines.
The institutions of intellectual property are crumbling down to
pieces, people are fucking them over. This is a wonderful grassroots
process, and it's closer to Socialism than China ever was.
Q: I was referring more to the aura (in
Benjamin's terms) which surrounds pop icons. The star system create
icons who are able to reflect people desires, to produce identification,
new 'life-styles' and new subcultures. In this sense, Luther Blissett
- considered as a decentralized, bottom-up myth - will never have
the same aura of Bowie or Grant. Is it a question of a lack of distance
or what? How can we create popular stories, that people can use
to reinvent their own lives? Role games and do-it-yourself subcultures
are the only answer, or a collective of writers like yours can suggest
A: We can only speak for ourselves:
we do play a role game (what else is collective fiction writing
at the end of the day?), and a DIY subculture prospers around us.
We try to manipulate literary genres in order to create popular
fiction. We use the term "popular" in its original sense, like in
Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, French...), where it means
"belonging to the people" or "made by the people". Think of those
folk ballads who seem to have no author, they are credited as either
"popular" or "traditional".
Here we are: we want to get rid of such myths as Authorship, Genius,
As far as the "aura" is concerned, we side with Benjamin rather
than with Adorno, who was an utter bore and even wrote racist comments
on jazz musicians.
The fact that cultural artifacts lost their auratic (i.e. aristocratic
and elitist) power was essentially positive, it allowed multitudes
of people to get more involved in the re-manipulation of culture.
Benjamin called for the democratization of culture, in a way he
foresaw DIY culture and P2P culture. Everybody ought to read The
Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, it is
still very fresh and absolutely brilliant, and it's a good antidote
for nihilist/post-situationist intoxication.
Q: As for Q, in 54 micro-stories
cross continuosly the frame of 'official' history. Thus, this frame
is never accidental nor rigid. The novel gives the reader the chance
to read the cold-war game not only as a binary match, but also as
a challenge within the challenge, with many options which are left
open and undetermined. What if Tito would have decided to make a
movie with Cary Grant?
And what if Dijlas would have influenced Tito politics? If hystory
is so rich of strata and possibilities, there are some threads you
use to weave all the strata toghether' Can you explain what they
are and how you select them?
A: We guess our method allows the stories to tell themselves and
reproduce themselves by parthenogenesis (self-fertilization).
Of course there is a starting point, we believe that history is
neither straightforward nor cyclical, it is 'catastrophical', 'fractal':
conflicts produce bifurcation (branching off) and discontinuites
all the time. History as a science hardly manages to deal with such
discontinuities, it appears that all rational investigation ends
up producing even more disquieting shadow-cones. Such gloomy areas
are intersections between history and mythology. The only way to
explore them is by playing games with history.
You see, we don't write the usual kind of "ucronic" speculative
fiction, like P.K. Dick's The Man In The High Castle (except
Havana Glam, which is a sci-fi divertissement about 1970's
glam rock). We prefer to investigate the 'possibility' of a bifurcation
in history, the moment when history 'might have gone' in a different
direction. We are not interested in depicting the bifurcation itself,
or its consequences.
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.
Q: The mirror is one of the core themes
of the novel. A glorious Tv, the McGuffin, travels throughout the
novel, "a mute witness of any sort of violences and squalors".
Everybody wants to see the first TV broadcasts but nobody knows
how to turn the TV on. But they do not realize that they are already
on the screen, in the shape of pale reflected shadows. How can we
compare this '50s quest for dreaming with contemporary banal reality-fictions
such as "Big Brother"? What is the function of television
today and who take cares of our dreams and nightmares?
A: In Italy the 1950's were the dawn of the TV era, people wanted
to dream because the situation was very tough, there was violence
The 1990's (we started to work on 54 in 1999) were the laboratory
of the network-propelled "Big Brother"-fuelled semio-fascism that
turned a 40-year long quest for dreaming inside out, reflecting
all nightmares ("Criminals are everywhere!", "What do all of these
fucking Moroccans and Albanians want from us?") and rotten beliefs
("the Commies are back!"), producing a vast amount of symbolic violence
which can only be compared to 1950's McCarthysm in the US. Last
year this symbolic violence helped the Berlusconi gang to take over
Now they are trying to push the country back to the 1950's
by erasing all changes and reforms the social movements (workers,
students, feminists, gay rights and free speech activists etc.)
have achieved since 1968. Italy is looping the loop. After S11,
the whole West seems to be doing more or less the same.
However, we think that history is neither straight-forward nor cyclical,
there is no way the powers-that-be are able to grasp its complexity
and plan everything. Like in our novel, present-day Italy mirrors
herself in 1950's Italy, and yet she isn't the same country anymore.
Berlusconi and his buddies are going to be unseated, nay, 'unsaddled'.
Their regime shall come tumbling down sooner than anybody expects,
and the whole world is likely to take lessons from this.
[This reply was sent to A-Infos, the most important anarchist information
service on the Net. Later it was posted here: <http://ainfos.ca/d/ainfos00272.html>]
On June 19th, 2002 A-Infos [English language version] put into circulation
an anonymous message from Italy stating that
(1) the Wu Ming collective is part of the so-called Disobbedienti
(2) is "relative" of the people who assaulted an Umanità
Nova-selling anarchist in Venice some time ago. In the same
message the Wu Ming collective was also
(3) charged with being "social democratic" and "bolshevik" and somehow
accustomed to attacking anarchists. Furthermore,
(4) we were accused of being "hypocrites" and "shits" because our
novels are published by a corporate publisher "part of Silvio Berlusconi's
Here's our repleader.
1. We are not part of the Disobbedienti or every other current of
the movement, we are absolutely autonomous from all currents, groups
and parties, we are a collective of novelists.
Indeed we criticize the Disobbedienti, sometimes we do it bitterly.
We were involved in the "tute bianche" experiment (1998-2001), one
of us took even part to escorting the Zapatista "March of Dignity"
in Mexico, that's well known, but later we reflected upon the flaws
and limits of the TB experience.
After Genoa we wrote that everyone (not only those wearing white
overalls) had to start over. In case someone is interested to read
our analysis on the tute bianche and their times:
Not every person involved in the "tute bianche" joined the Disobbedienti,
indeed, several local affinity groups quit that network in the past
12 months. Our critique of the "wooden language" employed by the
Disobbedienti is available here (unfortunately only in Italian):
2. We never were anarchists, that's
no mystery: we position ourselves a thousand light-years from most
branches of the Italian anarchist movement (especially those who
affect ultra-nihilist suicidal tendencies). We also dislike most
articles featured on Umanità Nova, and yet we strongly
condemn any aggression, anybody must be free to publish and spread
any kind of opinions, if someone else disagrees they have to counter
with other opinions not by kicking asses.
As to our alleged custom of "attacking" anarchists: we never did
that. We were extremely critical of the way Black Blockers acted
last year in Genoa, that's no mystery either, we still think that
on July 20th 2001 the BB was mocked, imitated by agents provocateurs
in several spots of the town, however, we never criminalized the
BB. Our appreciation of the way the BB acted in Quebec City is available
On June 19th 2001,after the riots in Gothenburg, we also co-authored
a communique titled "Stop The Encirclement of the Black Bloc", which
I enclose here:
<<"The Black Bloc is no bullshit. It should not be trivially
associated with vandalism and irrational devastation. It is an informal
network of affinity groups, mostly - but not exclusively - anarchist
ones, and it extends all over North America and continental Europe.
They've been active for years, elaborate strategies and tactics
and are willing to transform them in relation to contexts, alliances
and aims. It should be clear that so far the Black Bloc hasn't manifested
itself in Italy.
As the recent history of the movement proves, the Black Bloc are
not static and can adopt different tactis and seek "cross-fertilization"
like they did in Quebec City during the anti-FTAA mobilisation.
In those days they acted in full respect of the town and its inhabitants,
and concentrated all efforts in tearing down the "Wall of Shame".
They even chose to use symbols and practices devised by the white
overalls (pads, shields, position holding etc.) and co-operated
with other affinity groups in the street.
In Gothenburg the Black Bloc talked with the white overalls and
decided to take action in a common frame including more peaceful
Troubles started when the vast majority of spokespersons and coordinators
were "preventively" arrested during the thursday night raid.
The morning after, the cops cut in half the demo and isolated a
section of it, which was labelled as "Black Bloc". These demonstrators
could only defend themselves by throwing stones, and a few shop
windows were broken [...]
The peak of police violence was reached at an apparently peaceful
moment: on friday night, when the cops surrounded a park where hundreds
of youth had organized a rave party. They attacked the ravers, which
tried to resist unbecomingly [well, you can't always be stylish],
then the police fired. Certainly the rave was not organized by the
Black Blocsters are political activists, we may disagree with their
praxis and theory, but we don't deem them as brainless Pavlov dogs
foaming at the sight of truncheons.
Moreover, they are more fanciful than people think: a few months
ago Black Blocsters split off a demo in Buffalo, entered a destitute
neighborhood and picked up garbage. When journalists asked what
the fuck they were doing, they answered: "You wrote that we would
trash the town, we decided to pick up the trash!".
We're witnessing a very serious attempt at criminalizing this section
of the movement. We refuse to save our ass to the detriment of the
Black Bloc, we regard them as a fully legitimate part of the movement
and refuse any distinction between "good protesters" and "bad protesters".
White Overalls of Bologna / Wu Ming>>
4. The things we do everyday are
sufficient evidence of the fact that we're neither "bolsheviks"
5. The socio-political and economical situation in Italy is too
tangled and bizarre to be summarized here, and it's very difficult
to explain that there is no apartheid between high and low culture,
the mainstream and the underground etc.
It is all the more difficult to explain how bankrupt and a system
of chinese boxes forced the most prestigious left-wing publisher
in Italy (that published such authors as Gramsci, Marx - both Karl
and Groucho -, Adorno, Benjamin, Agamben, Pasolini, Aleksandr Herzen,
Sartre, Barthes, Tzara, Breton, Artaud, Gandhi, George Jackson,
Angela Davis and so on) to become a sub-label of the Mondadori colossus
whose main shareholder is Berlusconi. Nevertheless, Einaudi remained
completely independent as far as contents and editorial choices
Anyway, the most important thing is that we have complete control
on our output, since the mid-Nineties we have imposed an anti-copyright
notice on our books and, generally speaking, we manage to do whatever
the fuck we please, in happy and thorough self-management.
As far as our bank accounts are concerned, we are a group and share
every precious drop of income. So far we have barely made a living
out of that.
I hope that you'll give this reply the same relevance you gave to
the slanderous message.
Wu Ming 1
(on behalf of Wu Ming)
[Afterwards, Ilan Shalif of the A-Infos editorial staff wrote to
WM1 and asked:
"I just wonder If you define yourself as anti-authoritarian and
despise the vanguardist-elitist position of parts of the old left.".
"Yes we do both, our long journey started from "autonomist marxism"
[...] Of course nobody is completely exempt from authoritarianism,
not even anarchists. People make mistakes. Freedom is a tendency,
not a state of things. It is like the horizon, you move towards
it but you never reach it.
Q -What is the use of the horizon then?
A- You look at it and it makes you want to move forward, again and
MP3 - A relic from the past (which is the incoming future for Germans
Interview with one of the authors of Q
"Arts Today" on the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation]
23 november 1999 h.8:30
[mp3 - 15"06' - 80kbps - 8914 kb]
Tankar från Quebec City - Tankar väckta av demonstrationerna
mot FTAA i Quebec City
Tute Bianche - Den praktiska sidan av att mytskapande
Génova: del tiempo del relato al tiempo del proyecto
(traduccion integral de /Giap/#1 nuova serie, July 26th 2001)
El Imperio somos nosotros
Un día de sol en Kreuzberg y una grabadora, octubre de 2001
(Versión integral de la entrevista-río concedida por
Wu Ming 1 a la revista Arranca
y al periódico Jungle World de Berlín en un
parque del barrio de Kreuzberg
el 23 de octubre de 2001. Entrevista y transcripción de Stefania
Americanos y "Antiamericanos"
(Carta enviada a Il Foglio el 25 de octubre de 2001)
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