Thursday, 4 June 2009

With Respect to What Might Have Been

Language and what Wu Ming call ‘the mistaken side of history’.


Somewhere in Percorsi del ’68 Augusto Illuminati warns of the dangers of confusing revolution in all its destructive intent (shooting the clocks and so forth) with the historical frame we later put around its unsatisfactory achievements, which are (for better or worse) a great deal more conservative.

‘Never mistake the pattern of the nails for the structure of the house,’ was one of Faulkner’s apothegms. According to Illuminati you should likewise never see the ruins of some former politics as ‘a prequel of the rebuilding’. Destruction, opposition and/or defeat, on the one hand, and creation, re-creation and/or success, on the other, are orthogonally positioned. History is written by its victors, according to the phrase sometimes ascribed to Churchill. Or in the version which Clinton ascribed to Plato:

‘Plato said thousands of years ago: Those who tell the story rule society.’

(Bill Clinton: Remarks at a Jewish community centre in Scarsdale, NY, 2000)

And so on and so forth. The point is clear enough. The other side of history is what Wu Ming call its ‘mistaken side’ in the blurb to Manituana.


‘The form in which language is expressed itself defines subjectivity,’ according to Lacan. And this is another aspect. Lacan also (famously) has much to say on the future perfect, the ‘historical’ subject in all its completedness:

‘I identify myself in language, but only by losing myself in it like an object. What is realised in my history is not the past definite of that which was, since it is no more, nor yet the present perfect of that which has been in what I am, but the future perfect of that which I shall have been for what I’m in the process of becoming.’

(Jacques Lacan: from Part III of Fonction et champ de la parole et du langage en psychoanalyse, Rapport du Congrès de Rome,1953)

Which is to say that rather than inflecting causally the historical sequence First A then B then C… as A was the cause of B…, we might complain instead that our present state of A is explicable by our becoming B. Change what we would become, in other words, and we can change our present state:

The revolution ...
isn’t some simple event.
The revolution ...
is a daily conquest.

(Enzo del Re: La Rivoluzione)


And finally here is Benni on how restraints can be put in place through the use of nostalgic language:

‘Our dreams were better than theirs.’
‘Maybe … Or maybe we just dreamed that our dreams were better.’

(Stefano Benni: La compagnia dei celestini)

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Britain's 'Clean Hands" Moment

British politics are at a ‘Clean Hands’ moment comparable to Italy circa 1992.


Lucarelli introduces his De Luca trilogy with a fine story about interviewing a retired police sergeant who had served first in Mussolini’s OVRA, arresting anti-fascists and communists, then in the partisan police, arresting ex-fascists, then as a policeman in Italy’s Christian Democrat republic arresting former partisans. ‘And so on,’ up to 1981.

In fact Lucarelli was at the University of Bologna at this time, still researching a thesis (subsequently abandoned) on the police under Fascism pre ’43. But he had wandered somewhat off piste. A question came to mind: for whom did this chap vote?

‘I wanted to know if at least at some point he had been bothered about putting the handcuffs on someone, and instead he looked at me, slightly offended, and said, What’s that got to do with it? I’m a policeman.’
(Lucarelli: Nota di Carlo Lucarelli in Il commissario De Luca, 1990-1996)

That sense of a centre of gravity reappears during the second of the trilogy:

‘Look, I like my work. I’ve got it all in here. He tapped his head with the tip of one finger. And I think I’m good at it. But I lack experience. I took the police officer course when the armistice happened and I went immediately into the mountains with the partisans… The practical stuff I did alone. But it’s not enough. It won’t be enough very shortly because, yes, everything’s going to change. Perhaps there’ll be a revolution but the police, this much I know, will always be the same.’
(Lucarelli: L’estate torbida, 1991)


It might of course seem like trimming. It might be exactly that. But not always. Sometimes, ideally, there might be a loyalty to something higher which can unite the private person, his constancy, her self respect, with a social identity which perdures through all its changes.
What’s significant about Britain’s current parliamentary crisis is not that a significant number of MPs can now be seen to have been corrupt (that much isn’t surprising) but that the Fees Office had been drawn into that corruption, just as the intelligence services had been drawn into a different sort of corruption during the preparations for the invasion of Iraq under Cardinal Blair.
Indeed it has been the marvellous achievement of New Labour, heading towards a British version of Italy circa 1992, continuing the damage wrought by Thatcherism, to have destroyed much of the independence of the Civil Service, to have damaged gravely, unacceptably, the freedom of action of the Judiciary, and to have expunged almost completely any notion of politics as a set of actors, actions and beliefs that together constitute what we used to call a vocation and not something comparable to, say, the activities of some of the more questionable figures in the business community with whose salaries politicians' incomes are now, apparently, meant to be in competition.

To have destroyed, in short, not only independence and self respect at a personal level (and thus in the case of individual MPs) but also constancy and integrity at a social level, which is the level at which institutions and those who make up those institutions have to function.