Thursday, 29 January 2009

Tronti on Knowledge

Intellectuals don't create new knowledge; they relate together bits of old knowledge.

(Mario Tronti)

The Mushroom

Freedom is a mushroom you have to try for yourself. You cannot know beforehand whether or not it will harm you.

(Stefano Benni: Saltatempo)

Monday, 26 January 2009

Freedom and Revolt

The 1909 Manifesto began a process whereby human beings, the collective organism, quickly became machines. This was the era which saw ‘a financial system based upon the futurizing of the entire economy, upon debt and economic promise. That future is now over.’ (Bifo’s introduction to his Post Futurist Manifesto 2009)

The Futurist Manifesto sings of aggression and speed against a literature of ‘painful immobility’: ‘We want to exalt aggressive movement …the route march, the leap in the dark ... The world has now been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. We want to praise the man who holds the steering wheel, the column of whose lance crosses Earth, launched at a run, over the course of its orbit.’

In 1982 Francesco de Gregori sang of the Titanic’s Captain Smith, fused with his vessel along with ‘a million horses’: ‘Look at the muscles of the captain, all plastic and methane.’ ‘This ship does 2,000 knots… / and it has an engine made up of a million horses / and in place of hooves they have wings. / … / In this swift and electric night … / the future is a burning cannonball and we are almost about to reach it.’ The end comes ‘peacefully’ enough, as it were, to the strains of a much earlier song about the Sirio, whose wreck preceded that of the Titanic, with its own hundreds of dead, on 6 August 1906:

‘and amongst them was a bishop
who gave everyone his blessing.’

This is probably the fate of bishops (and commentators) everywhere: to gloss the inevitable even as they go under.

Anyway here is Francesco Guccini singing in 1972 of how on 20 July 1893 Pietro Rigosi, a railway fireman, deliberately drove train 3541 into the first class carriage of another train just outside Bologna. This was when the ‘Holy War’ of the anarchist pezzenti ‘was beginning’ and ‘the train too seemed a myth of progress / launched over the continents / … a strange monster.’ This train is the generic train of strength and speed whose ‘dynamite’ power is controlled by hand and brain, formed by the transfer of imaginative energy from the natural world into that of the machine. But it becomes an image of luxury, velveteen and golden, parked in a dead end. Meanwhile, even as it ‘grips the rails with muscles of steel’, the generic iron horse status of the fireman’s train is transformed back, as though redoing a magic spell, first into a true 'living thing', into 'a young colt that has just thrown off the reins’. And it is this ‘immense destructive force’ within the system itself, which ‘runs and runs and runs ever faster / and runs and runs and runs and runs towards its death’ which ‘nothing can now hold back’.

It is presumably not always the case that new horizons do not (potentially) exist out there or that they have been conceived of inappropriately. But when freedom itself is destroyed the 'freedom of philosophy' (this is Adorno, of course) becomes no more than 'the capacity to lend a voice' to that unfreedom'. Or else there is simply silence: 'To breathe the same air / as a warder doesn't suit me / Therefore … I'll give up / my hour of freedom.' (Fabrizio de Andre: Nella mia ora di libertà, 1973)

Driving I

It isn't difficult to drive whilst asleep. You just have to dream exactly the same roads that you're driving along. (Antonio Moresco: Gli esordi)

We're all crazy. We don't actually drive anything any more. They drive us. (Stefano Benni: Saltatempo)


To get some sense of refusal a good source is Mario Tronti (probably '65 or thereabouts). The worker is on the inside. He's also one of the drivers of capitalist development. So his refusal (finally) to go squeezing himself up chimneys means (short term) longer and longer brushes and (eventually) service engineers equipped with suction pumps and leads. This is how the system survives, not by the sweep as social subject but by the Darwinian evolution of its structures and his tools. So one has to distinguish, as Tronti does, between 'I will sleep with you tonight but then you'll have to pay me extra' and 'I'm just not that kind of girl', between a reformist refusal and its insurrectionist counterpart, between 'a credible opposition' (sanctioning what exists with small adjustments) and 'incredible opposition': 'You won't buy us off this time / with those five lire increases. / If you offer us ten we'll want a hundred / if you offer us a hundred a thousand is what we'll want. / ... / What do we want? We want the lot.' (Alfredo Bandelli: La Ballata della FIAT, 1969) When Wittgenstein (Zettel 160) says, 'Do not forget that a poem, even though it is composed in the language of information, is not used in the language - game of giving information,' he is implying a similar point, that there is a refusal at the heart of poetic production with respect to the world of exchange.