Nanni Balestrini

Nanni Balestrini was born in Milan in 1935 and was a member of the influential avant-garde Gruppo 63, along with Umberto Eco and Eduardo Sanguineti. He is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, including Blackout and Ipocalisse, and novels such as Tristano, Vogliamo Tutto, and La Violenza Illustrata.

During the notorious mass arrests of writers and activists associated with Autonomy, which began in 1979, Balestrini was charged with membership of an armed organization and with subversive association. He went underground to avoid arrest and fl ed to France. As in so many other cases, no evidence was provided and he was acquitted of all the charges.

He currently lives in Rome, where he runs the monthly magazine of cultural intervention Alfabeta2 with Umberto Eco and others.


  • Fiat Has Branded Me: A Hot Autumn Timeline for Nanni Balestrini’s We Want Everything

    Nanni Balestrini’s We Want Everything (Vogliamo tutto), published in 1971, captures an explosive moment of worker militancy in Italy during 1969. It is the story of one man, told by a narrator whose experiences are based on those of the worker and militant Alfonso Natella. It is also, however, the collective story of workers from the Italian south who arrived at the Fiat Mirafiori factory in Turin during the 1960s. These workers were described, in approving terms, by the Italian radical political theorist Mario Tronti as a ‘crude, pagan race’. Balestrini’s narrator says of these new workers: ‘The monsters were coming, the horrible workers’ (WWE 65).

    The novel is primarily set during Italy’s ‘hot autumn’ (autunno caldo), a massive wave of strikes between 1969 and 1970 that affected the northern industrial centres of Italy. In particular it is focused on Fiat’s Mirafiori plant in Turin, which by the late 1960s was a powder keg ready to explode. The plant employed 50,000 workers, with an annual staff turnover of 10% and 60% of these workers, like the worker in We Want Everything, came from the Italian south. Introduced to the new discipline of factory labour, these workers soon came into violent conflict with the bosses. Unlike skilled workers, traditional union members, and the representatives of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), they saw no value in work. As Balestrini’s narrator says, ‘When I came to Fiat I believed I’d be saved. This myth of Fiat, of work at Fiat. In reality it’s shit, like all work, in fact it’s worse’ (WWE 82). These workers practiced the ‘refusal of work’: carrying out wildcat strikes and making ‘impossible’ demands, like ‘we want everything’.

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  • No Tears for the Roses

    Written during the "hot autumn" of 1969, Nanni Balestrini's poem "Senza lacrime per le rose" was first published in the 1976 collection Poesie Pratiche, 1954-1969. As in Balestrini's novel We Want Everything (published in Italian in 1971) the wave of strikes and political action that would define that season and the attendant development of Operaismo form both the setting and subject of the poem.

    "The poem," John Picchione has written, "evinces Balestrini's attention to direct political practice, referring to the social and political violence that, in 1969, followed the student revolts...[it] is constructed through an account of events that shaped that year and through a series of its major slogans."

    We present "Senza lacrime per le rose" below, in a new translation by poet and filmmaker Peter Valente, whose translation of Balestrini's long poem
     Blackout will be published by Commune Editions next year.      

    In the end, big business and its science won’t be the prizes for the one who wins the class struggle. They are the field on which the battle itself is fought. And for as long as the enemy occupies this ground, we mustn’t hesitate to fire our guns at it, without any tears for the roses.
                                                                Mario Tronti, Workers and Capital

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  • 4x4: Four reviewers, four unique versions of Tristano

    Nanni Balestrini’s algorithmic structure has provoked four reviewers to contemplate what their own unique Tristano copies might mean for possible future novelistic forms, language, meaning and the technologies of book and text production.

    Thomas Jones of the LRB praises the novel's  ‘overall effect’ which, he claims, ‘chapter by chapter, can be mesmerizing. There is no meaning but something like a dream of meaning.’ Bill Jeffery of the TLS finds ‘intriguing’ the associations that the novel produces, stating that ‘occasionally the results are startling: the shift from one paragraph to another can feel so natural that is hard to believe it could be arranged otherwise.’ James Bridle of the Observer notes the ‘highly enjoyable primer on algorithmic texts’ by Umberto Eco, adding ‘Balestrini's prophetic work presages our contemporary outsourcing of so much genius to the machines.’

    As Juliet Jacques, writing for the New Statesman, points out:
    Endless novels present fixed versions of events, and it’s baffling that those few to challenge this should attract opprobrium…Tristano is particularly successful in raising the idea that the structures that authors choose are not always necessarily the best possible.

    To read the reviews in full, visit the LRB, New Statesman, the Observer, and the TLS.