The Last Novel of the Twentieth Century
An excerpt from a long review written by Franco "Bifo" Berardi
and published on Derive Approdi #19, Rome, Springtime 2000
Franco Berardi "Bifo" (born 1950, Italy) - Philosopher and political activist since the days of autonomia and Radio Alice. Co-founder of Rekombinant, a web environment of informal communication that does not add up to identity. Author of numerous books, including Cyberpunk, The Panther and the Rhizome, Politics of Mutation, Philosophy and Politics in the Twilight of Modernity, and The Factory of Unhappiness.
In Thomas Pynchon's Vineland we already experienced this feeling - of being in a post-historical time-space where nothing happens anymore, nothing but an absurd hanging on along the past's edge. A daughter (Prayrie) reconstructs an indecipherable past from the fragments and rags left behind by her parents' generation. That past is indecipherable because Zoyd and Frenesi (i.e. Prayrie's father and mother) can no longer provide clues for the puzzle: Zoyd makes a living out of simulating accidents, and is also on welfare for partial insanity. As to Frenesi, she keeps embarking on troublesome enterprises.
And yet Vineland is still a contemporary novel - I mean, it wasn't written by someone of the "post-generation", because Pynchon, the greatest unknown man of our times, (although we don't know precisely how old he is) most likely belongs to the psychedelic brood.
Pynchon has paved the way for Luther Blissett's faceless name, and yet he is still settled in the century of historical tragedy.
Now, however, we are witnessing the release of the following generations' early greater narratives. Mind you, I mean: 'following' modern history and modern Humanism.
At the end of the Kosovo war springtime, that springtime during which students hadn't occupied any Italian, French or German university, I read two extraordinary novels: Michel Houellebecq's Les Particules elementaires and Luther Blissett's Q.
These two books have just one feature in common: they are written by people looking in from the outside (indeed, from two utterly different outsides). The viewpoint I am talking about is the space-time where action has become uncontrollable and meaningless. Yet, the two landscapes could not be more different: while Houellebecq's book is desperate and sad, Luther Blissett's is desperate and happy. [...]
Q and Les Particules elementaires are the first novels whose post-historicality and post-identitarianism are utterly conscious, though identity is dissolved in two opposite ways: Houellebecq's dis-identity replaces individuals (names and surnames, personal and collective stories) with the aggregations and disgregations of biological becoming and decompositon. Such dis-identity is degrading, the basic particles move about looking for the individual's consistency, something that's irremediably gone.
On the contrary, LB's dis-identity is awareness of the language's becoming, mutation of roles, becoming community, bodies meeting up with one another, desertion and going adrift. ***
"By now I automatically turn round when people call me Gustav... I've become accostumed to a name no less strange to me than any other".
Q is a book that comes after history... And see how these dis-identitary pirates skillfully master history, with the contempt of those who managed to see through the idealistic fabric - through civilization, religion and politics. Idealism is the condiment of mankind's cannibalistic meal. It is the pepper and salt of both history's violence on bodies and men's violence on women.
First of all, I must say that Q is written with a wonderful masterly skill. The recombination of time is not simply a series of flashbacks - it is a fold-in of temporal strata whose double, subjective sequence is composed of Gert of the Well's passionate look and Q's police-like and political one. Although the book is very lenghty and thick (more than six hundred pages), the plot flows quick and involving.
Secondly, I must say that Q is impressively rich from a philosophical, ethical and political point of view.
The ground stalked by all these precariously named characters is that of the frenzy and madness produced by an historical change in the infosphere, the invention and spreading of a new information technology, that is the press, the possibility of reproducing texts.
The word is no longer "volatile", it acquires an unprecedented power thanks to the invention of flyers, flugblatten. Peasants and craftsmen receive undisputably striking messages. The word becomes matter, and history.
All the madness, fanaticism and wicked violence of modern class war, and also its devotion and generosity, spring out from messages whose path is no longer mouth->ears - rather, it is hand-to-hand, and their readers grasp them as the Word, the Scriptures, the Truth. If the Bible is printed, then any printed text is bible. The Scriptures spread themselves around, they are no longer exclusive property of the Power - everybody can spread the word, and turn the word into flesh
There is a logical shift in the relationship between the infosphere and the mind. The printed word gets into circulation is social milieux that are accustomed to oral tradition - those people interpret the text in mythological, strongly picturesque ways.
Communitarian mythology arises from the ashes of oral culture and overlaps with the critique of the Power, turning the critique into a new dogmatism and revolt into a totalitarian power. This overlap is the origin of all the delusions that have tormented the proletarian community for almost five centuries.
The radical critique of the world turns into the mythology of the Kingdom, autonomy turns into dialectics, the insurgents become victims, pleasure-loving bodies turn into meat in the slaughterhouse of history.
Luther Blissett's novel depicts the tragedy of the proletarian community during the last five centuries, the modern age.
The novel is set in early 16th century Germany, a few years after the beginning of protestant Reformation, precisely during the Peasant War. Through the plot we can see the stories of our 1960's and 1970's - first the exhilarating creation of communities by the force of our discours, by the shared pleasures of flesh and mind, then a tragic armed confrontation, fanatical violence in the name of ideals, and finally police repression.
I don't know if some of the numberless reviewers noticed that Q is the first Italian novel (and even the first European one, as far as I know) handling the experiences of libertarian and autonomous movements, and then of "terrorism", laying the stress on the latter's inextricable tangle of totalitarian fanaticism and state provocation.
It is from this point of view that Q is a desperate novel. There's no hope in history, there's no hope in dialectics. When the movement arising from everyday life designates itself as an avenging judge, when utopia takes the place of life, here comes the spectre of identity, and the rebellious body is imprisoned by sacrificial idealism. Then, the boss recognizes the rebel's face, and hits it hard.
In Luther Blissett's novel there's no hope, and yet there can be happines. It is an Epicurean novel, nay, a Spinozist novel. Happiness is in the pleasure of meeting each other, in the contact, the caress, in words playing games with no pretence to Truth.
Eloi, the Antwerp roof-maker who organizes an egalitarian community based on the refusal of armed violence, is the prototype of a whole generation of insurgents who did not want to seize power, nor did they want victory or revenge. Those people are usually sucked into the pit of assassin history, owing to their fanatic and sex-repressed brothers, who found parties, organize insurrections, provoke massacres and create totalitarian states.
"Ursula is something I won't feel anymore, Melancholy, engraved on my flesh and soul. I look at her, she says: 'You are not like Hoffmann, you do not expect anything. You have a hopeless defeat in your eyes, but you are not tormented by resignation - you are tormented by death. You already chose life, once.'" (Q, p. 191)
Luther Blissett's heroes can be happy, precisely because they don't expect anything, they don't invest their desiring energy in history, the future, a dogmatic truth that is to be realized by sacrificing the flesh.
Happiness is only in the present, the flesh, the pleasures of contact, the concrete community of bodies touching each other and minds exchanging signals.
As far as I know, Q is the greatest lesson of irony against fanaticism, ever. *** I heard that Q caused a sensation in the circles of hardcore multiple name bearers. "What?", someone said, "Luther Blissett signing a contract with a major publishing house? Is this the end of the multiple name and non-identity?".
On the contrary, that was the final coup de théatre, before the scheduled melting into thin air. First of all, there can be no "hard core" of faithful Blissetts, because LB is a prank pulled on faith. Secondly, if identity stillness must be radically contradicted, why not make happen a thing like that? Now, the same mechanism that caused a thousand changes in the relationship name-subject is causing the umpteenth and final change: those who have pig-headedly avoided the "Author" mythologies and logics for such a long time, have the freedom to act as "authors", the best authors there are. Hats off for comrade Luther Blissett, whoever s/he is. Luther Blissett emerges as the most important thing happened in 1990's Italian culture.
He displayed a brilliant critique of politics - critique of literature - critique of critique, while managing to produce the best politics, the best literature, the best critique. This is pure life, pleasure of the struggle, pleasure of language, pleasure of a community that flows and keeps changing instead of fossilizing.
And now? What is Luther Blissett going to do after the end of their Five Year Plan? [*]
Hic Rodus hic salta?
What will you do, fellas? What shall we all do?
I greet you. Hopelessly. Happily.
Bologna, June 1999
[*] This only concerns the older milieux of the Italian Luther Blissett Project. Of course, everybody will still be free to adopt the name.