Giap-digest #26 - Ten years of Luther Blissett and Wu Ming - September 21, 2004

0. Volunteer translation work wanted
1. Ten years of Luther Blissett and Wu Ming: a lengthy interview with La Repubblica daily paper
2. An advance chapter of our novel 54 (translation by Shaun Whiteside)
3. Our movie on Radio Alice was awarded at the Venice Film Festival
4. Oz's talking about us: "The Italian Effect: Radical Thought, Biopolitics and Cultural Subversion"


It is becoming increasingly difficult to find the time to translate texts from our e-zine and website. Last time y'all got news from us was too many months ago. It's a shame.
While a whole vast community has gathered around our activities, with several projects going on and other collectives being inspired by our work, issues of the English digest (which is hardly a digest) are so few and far between that it's nearly impossible to keep in touch with the Wu Ming collective for people who don't read our native language.
To this, we should add the fact that there's a three to five year gap between the publication of any of our novels and its translation into English. Q was published respectively in 1999 in Italy, between 2000 and 2002 in most European countries, in 2003 in the UK and the Commonwealth of Nations, and as late as in 2004 in the USA. When it reached America, things were changed so drastically that assumptions about us in the American press sounded thoroughly ill-informed and pathetic.
Same thing with 54: it was published in 2002 in Italy, it's going to be published in 2005 in the UK, and it won't reach the USA before 2006. In the meanwhile, we'll have completed so many literary and cinematic projects, which will remain largely uncovered in the English speaking world.
Unavoidable as it is, such a situation is frustrating. That's why we need a viable English-language newsletter more than ever. We'd be so grateful to anyone willing to do volunteer translation work from Italian (or Spanish) into English.
In this issue, we'll try to update you on some of the latest things.


Excerpts from the 10th anniversary interview with La Repubblica. It was published on August 24, 2004. The author is Ernesto Assante.

[...] Q. Ten years have passed since the debut of Luther Blissett. What were the most important features of that project? And what's left?

A. What's left is the experience in cultural guerrilla warfare gained by hundreds of people, who during and after that project have taken part in the founding of web radio stations (e.g. Radio Luther Blisset in Madrid) and community televisions, media storm-troops (, groups of art saboteurs (, graphic labs (, theater and performance art collectives (Zimmer Frei), events like the Illegal Art Shows. Within any of these projects you'll find people who took part in many ways in the Luther Blissett Project. Not to mention Blissett's influence on the most creative wing of the White Overalls, which ceased to exist a few weeks before [the anti-G8 riots in] Genoa. Another thing that's left is the good result or our counter-information campaigns. The state has just recouped Marco Dimitri of the Children of Satan for 400 days of unjust imprisonment. He was innocent. We had said it, and done a counter-investigation, as far back as 1996.

Q. The multiple name had pros and cons. What ones?

A. The trouble with the multi-use name was the need of constant attention. The community took good care that nobody put a copyright on Blissett, whose works and actions were to remain in the public domain. We'd have to be ready to disavow the use of the name for signing fascist, racist or sexist content. Thanks to this supervision, the project retained a consistency. The good thing was the mood between us, for we experienced empathy among people who'd never met each other. And the great effectiveness of the name as an amplifier: the Luther Blissett alias guaranteed visibility to any writing or action, which added further anecdotes to the reputation of the imaginary folk hero.

Q. May I say that Luther Blissett was an intentionally mystifying and experimental thing, mystifying even to you, whereas Wu Ming is closer to the concept of "band" as employed in popular music?

A. Yes, you may, but we keep making experiments with the concept, we strain the rules and go beyond ourselves. There are several communal projects around Wu Ming and Giap, our e-zine. Experiments in on-line collective writing have given birth to other collectives, such as Kai Zen [] and Emerson Krott. Then there are iQuindici [theFifteen], a committee of "self-organized readers" who, in less than two years, have examined hundreds of unpublished novels and short stories, and have persuaded [our publisher] Einaudi to publish Girolamo De Michele's novel Tre uomini paradossali [Three Paradoxical Men]. Then there are the collaborative projects that keep changing the outline of Wu Ming. We co-authored Asce di guerra [Hatchets of War] with Vitaliano Ravagli. We co-authored the screenplay of Lavorare con lentezza [Working Slowly] with director Guido Chiesa. We worked with rock-band Yo Yo Mundi [] for their album 54, which is based upon our novel. That's all very consistent with the idea of an open community that was at the foundations of the LBP. More in general, Wu Ming is animated by a strategy aimed at reforming the cultural industry from the grassroots.

Q. You're both nameless and famous. "Unknown", and yet successful. Do you enjoy it?

A. One of our slogans is: "Transparent to readers, opaque to the media". A few days ago we made the 200th public presentation, although we've taken inspiration from [Mexican author] Paco Ignacio Taibo II° and call them "meetings of the democratic republic of readers". We travel Italy far and wide, but we don't go on TV nor do we pose for photographs. Years ago a picture turned up in the press, but we've never repeated the mistake. Nowadays, if someone recognizes one of us in the street, we're pretty sure they attended one of those meetings.

Q. Do you think a Luther Blissett could exist today, or, to put it better, should such an entity employ more dangerous and extreme tactics?

A. We took quite a few risks ourselves, in fact there are still lawsuits going on. Anyway, multi-use names belong to the traditions of social movements, from "Poor Konrad" adopted by Suabian peasants in the 16th century to Ned Ludd during the industrial revolution, from the Capt. Swing of English rural uprisings to el Subcomandante Marcos ("We are all Marcos", the Zapatistas say). The imagination of the dispossessed can create new folk heroes anytime they need them, and find the most suitable tactics.

Q. Information technologies, the Internet and mobile phones. How have they changed your way of writing, working, and communicating?

A. The digital is as revolutionary as the alphabet. The computer made recursive writing possible, you can modify what you've just written without altering or destroying the support. Cutting and pasting is much easier and quicker. As to e-mail, it allows us to share materials in real time and correct the book's proof as many times as we wish - five, six times. It's just an electronic file. As a tool of research, the Net is unvaluable, like lowering the bucket in a bottomless well. Our way of working, and, indeed, not only ours, would be impossible in a pre-digital context. Having said that, this revolution has fragile ankles as it entirely depends on the delivery of electricity. If there's a blackout you're stalled, as is the possibility of saving culture and handing it down to posterity.

Q. Copyright and copyleft. Which one?

A. [...] The idea is that, by operating inside the institution of copyright, it is possible to find a synthesis between the authors' remuneration for the work done and the right of the public to access knowledge and cultural artifacts. Reproduction and re-usage are authorized for non-commercial purposes. Our books can be downloaded from our website, and yet they're still being bought in bookstores. These are two entirely different things, there's no overlap. "Piracy" causes damage to the major labels that try to repress it, but it doesn't damage Rhino Records, which produces gorgeous multi-cd boxes accompanied by real books. The cultural industry, instead of holding ultra-conservative positions and calling for repression, ought to jump on the bandwagon and dare to move beyond parasitism. They should improve the quality of their products. The copyright soil is unfruitful by now, it's time to rotate the crops.

Q. Can anyone really choose to stay in or out of the media system?

A. We don't like that word, "system", it is used to mean too many things at once. If you simply mean the establishment (power games, talk shows, great events, cocktail parties), then it is possible to ram a fist into the palace while keeping your feet in the street. However, if you mean the global integrated circuit of information, we're all inside, with no exception. One of the most media-savvy characters on the planet is His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. Total detachment is imposible. It's in here that we must form new communities and networks of resistance, and build the haylofts where the partisans can have some sleep. Finally, if by "system" you mean capitalism, not even panhandlers are out of it.

Q. Yesterday, there was Luther Blissett. Today we got Wu Ming. What about tomorrow?

A. This is a crucial year for us. First there was the cd we did with Yo Yo Mundi, than Wu Ming 2's solo novel Guerra agli umani [War Against the Humans], than De Michele's novel "discovered" by iQuindici. In october there will be our movie Lavorare con lentezza (which is in competition at the Venice Film Festival) and Wu Ming 1's solo novel New Thing. In the meanwhile, our novel Q has been published in many countries and 54 is hot on its heels. These are the final touchdowns of the game. Wu Ming's first Five Year Plan is nearly over, and the second is about to start. We're already working on the next collective novel, which is set in the 18th century during the American revolution.


Our novel 54 is going to be published in the UK, Australia and New Zealand in the spring of 2005. Here's an advance chapter of the book, indeed, it is the very first chapter.


Actually the international title is Radio Alice, but the movie is originally called Lavorare con lentezza [Work Slowly], after a 1970's song by Italian folk-singer Enzo Del Re: "Work slowly / And effortlessly / Work may hurt you / And send you to the hospital / Where there's no bed left / And you may even die. / Work slowly / And effortlessly / Health is priceless."
Guido had directed a very good documentary on Radio Alice in 2002, the year that marked the 25th anniversary of the March 1977 riots in Bologna, Rome, and other Italian cities. At the peak of the riots, the Bologna-based independent far-leftist "mao-dadaist" radio station called Radio Alice had been shut down by the police.
Here you can find a blurb of the documentary and a biographical note on Guido.
In 2001 Guido contacted us via e-mail, said that after the documentary he was willing to make a feature film on the same subject, and asked if we were interested in co-authoring the screenplay. We were.
We were already acquainted with the story and the memories of that movement, but went back to studying all the same. The screenplay was written in 2002 and 2003, and the movie was shot in October and November 2003. It was produced by Fandango [], the most dynamic production firm in Italy.
Lavorare con lentezza was among the competing films at the 61st Venice International Film Festival. 21-year-old Tommaso Ramenghi and Marco Luisi, both at their debut, jointly won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best upcoming actors. The premiere of the film at Italian cinemas is scheduled for October 1st.
As yet, the movie's official website [] is only in Italian, but you don't need to know the language to grasp some meaning: you may watch the trailer or take a look at the poster.
Here's the English translation of a long rant by Collective A/traverso, which loosely "ran" the actual radio station in those days:


Last week there was a big conference/seminar at the University of Sydney, focused on Italian radical theory and social movements. The title was "The Italian Effect: Radical Thought, Biopolitics and Cultural Subversion". [Check the official webpages: ]
One of the speakers happens to be a very good friend of us, Franco Berardi aka Bifo (a former member of A/traverso and Radio Alice, he even plays a cameo in the movie). We were intrigued when we found out that a session was mainly devoted to aspects of our work. Session 5B, "The Multitude, Luther Blisset's Q and Ecopolitics" (!). Following here are the abstracts of two of the papers discussed. Beware: academic language ahead! :-)

Sabrina Ovan (USC, Los Angeles): Q's General Intellect

This paper provides a multi-faceted reading of Luther Blissett's Q. My analysis of the book encompasses the complex web of social and historical relations that constitute its narration, as well as the notion of collective writing that lies behind its composition, and that is embodied by the Luther Blissett Project (now Wu Ming). These two readings, I claim, are juxtaposed. In the novel, frequent digressions on the causes and consequences of collective activities make it impossible for any reader to avoid reflecting on the fact that the author of the book is a "collective mind", or, we could also say, a "general intellect". To make my point clearer, I will concentrate my analysis on the assumption that both the novel Q and the Luther Blissett/Wu Ming collective that authors it are clearly overdetermined by the use (or non-use) of names.
This attention to names and the act of naming is, in my reading, what explains the possible relation Q and the Luther Blissett Project have with the notion of general intellect, the Marxist term that indicates "a process of control that conditions the process of social life itself". According to Paolo Virno's interpretation, general intellect "includes the epistemic models that structure social communication". With the aid of Marxist and Foucauldian epistemological theories, I intend to suggest that Luther Blissett's treatment of proper names informs Q's epistemic model, and allows the novel to be read both at a "historical" and a "current" level. Proper names (of characters and places) are used, omitted or transformed in order to expose their multiple value and referentiality; in a word, they often--if not always--address a multiplicity, rather than an individual. Such multi-referentiality, as well as the stark contemporary language of the book and the insistence on the political-ideological view that a multiple is more powerful than a singularity (the "slogan" of the novel is omnia sunt communia), are the aspects that most clearly reveal the allegorical value of this tale of the Renaissance. In particular, the stress on the importance of multiplicities allows the story to be read as an allegory of contemporary history.
For the reasons stated above, we could claim, the notion of general intellect can be understood as Q's narrative motor, and it needs to be seen not only as an abstract cognitive scheme, but also, and principally, as a narrative structure.


Jeremy Walker (Trans/Forming Cultures Unit, UTS): Imperial Apocalyptic: Biopolitics, Ecopolitics and the New Economy

The novel Q, a publishing success for its collective author, 'Luther Blisset', novelises the historical moment in the 16th century when German peasant revolts extended and deepened Martin Luthers critique of Papal power. Dispersed throughout the countryside and linked through the extra-canoninical literatures proliferating via the Gutenbergian information revolution, these anarchic sects rejected the authority of both cardinals and princes, mobilising subversion and resistance through unauthorised interpretations of apocalyptic texts. Numerous writers have considered these movements for autonomy and social justice as important proto-communist moments, and the author's drawing of parallels with contemporary anti-capitalist subjectivities is clear.
Apocalyptic movements are not, however, always confined to marginality outside the centralised structures of power. The proposed paper examines 21st century American millenarianism and its role in the re-constitution of Empire as a new American Century. Drawing on political ecological theory and Giorgio Agamben's biopolitical analysis of modern sovereignty, the paper analyses the convergence within US governing elites of market fundamentalism, the 'post'-industrial utopianism associated with the New Economy, transcendental nationalism, and the popular apocalyptic religion of the Christian Right.
In contemporary American political cultures, apocalyptic narratives occupy the unstable contradictions between industrial growth and environmental crisis, between the underconsumption of the South and the overconsumption of the North, between the liberal principles of universal human rights and the rule of law and the violent practices of exception authorised by the declaration of a global state of emergency in the name of Homeland Security. Looking at the Bush administrations responses to climate change, structural eco-social crises and 'catastrophic terrorism', I argue for a distinction between resistance and hegemonic versions of apocalyptic politics. In the former, history is materialised and territorialised in the political foregrounding of the suffering bodies of poor and oppressed peoples. In the case of the latter, of which the religiously sanctioned alliance of neo-imperialism and American consumerism is exemplary, history is dematerialised and deterritorialised into amoral (post-historical) abstractions such as 'freedom', 'the market', 'the nation' and 'economic growth', the identified 'enemies' of which are defined outside of a political existence as the 'bare life' which can be killed.


All previous issues of Giap-digest are available here.