Luther Blissett on Tue, 27 Jul 1999 20:28:25 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Bifo on Luther Blissett's *Q*

The following text is an excerpt from a long review written by Franco
"Bifo" Berardi. It is going to be published on the pilot issue of Exit, a
new Italian magazine.  ---------

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 hasn't been
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 broom.  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 *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. 


"Now I turn around when people call me Gustav... I've got used to a name
which is not more 'mine' 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 took a
look 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 tom Kloster'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 dis-identity?". 

On the contrary, that was the final coup de theatre, before the planned
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.

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