/Giap/digest#16 - News, Interviews And A Piece Of Abuse - 11 August 2002

1 - An interview on anti-copyright issues published on the newsletter of the Italian Association of Libraries, June 2002
2 - An interview on 54, pop culture and multitudes (presumedly) published on Make-World#2
3 - A reply to a slanderous message posted on A-Infos
4 - Lots of new stuff on the website in English, Swedish and Spanish


Q: What 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?

An Arm And A Leg

A: As regards universities, the trouble is "upstream": books suck and yet they cost an arm and a leg.
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 enjoy.
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 socio-ecological war.
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 etc. etc.
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.


A re:inter:view with Wu Ming

By Snafu <mdeseriis@tiscali.it>
[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 or not]

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 the workplace.
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 flypaper.
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 to broadcast.
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 and ex-Punks.
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 underneath.
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 something different?

Walter Benjamin (1892-1940)

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, Inspiration etc.
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 everywhere.
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 government.
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>]

Cari/e compagni/e,

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 and
(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 group".
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):

Karl Kautsky (1854-1938)

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 here:
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 protesters.
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 Bloc.
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" nor "socialdemocrats".

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 are concerned.
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.".

WM1 replied:

"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 again."]



MP3 - A relic from the past (which is the incoming future for Germans and Britons)
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 Maffeis.)

Americanos y "Antiamericanos"
(Carta enviada a Il Foglio el 25 de octubre de 2001)

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