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Tristano

“You cannot read this novel, unless I lend it to you, as each of the copies Verso publish this month contain different iterations of the same text.” – Rhizome

This book is unique as no other novel can claim to be: one of 109,027,350,432,000 possible variations of the same work of fiction.

Inspired by the legend of Tristan and Isolde, Tristano  was first published in 1966 in Italian. But only recently has digital technology made it possible to realise the author’s original vision. The novel comprises ten chapters, and the fifteen pairs of paragraphs in each of these are shuffled anew for each published copy. No two versions are the same. The random variations between copies enact the variegations of the human heart, as exemplified by the lovers at the centre of the story.

The copies of the English translation of Tristano  are individually numbered, starting from 10,000 (running sequentially from the Italian and German editions). Included is a foreword by Umberto Eco explaining how Balestrini’s experiment with the physical medium of the novel demonstrates ‘that originality and creativity are nothing more than the chance handling of a combination’.

Reviews

  • “Balestrini’s subtle, understated language... provokes plenty of thought.”
  • “Balestrini's prophetic work presages our contemporary outsourcing of so much genius to the machines.”
  • “The overall effect, chapter by chapter, can be mesmerising. There is no meaning but something like a dream of meaning.”
  • “Beautiful, and intricately rendered.”
  • “Balestrini's experiment focuses on attacking the twin myths of the creative genius and culture as property.”
  • “The realisation of Balestrini's original, long-unfulfilled dream.”
  • “Goodbye Gutenberg. Many alternative ways of spreading the adventure of literature are emerging. This exercise by Balestrini is absolutely central.”
  • “Finally the historical impasse between literature and new media … turns into an opportunity to create something radically new.”
  • “Balestrini has created with Tristano a kind of poetry of the language … promoting language to the role of protagonist, that is of hero, and where in traditional novels language voices the hero’s thoughts and actions, in this new Tristano language voices itself and celebrates its wide number of opportunities and movements.”
  • “The most impressive feat of publishing in ages.”

Blog

  • 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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  • Franco Fortini: Letter to a Communist

    Franco Fortini (1917-1994) was one of the most fascinating intellectuals associated with Italian Marxist in the twentieth century. One of the country's most famous poets and essayists, his work remains sadly neglected outside of Italy. A lifelong Socialist Party militant, Fortini remained a staunch anti-Stalinist and lead to his position as one of the foremost anti-systemic thinkers in Italy, alongside Raniero Panzieri and Mario Tronti. His work always resisted the path of bourgeois progressivism, in favour of what Alberto Toscano terms a "a communism without guarantees", and "a politics of unevenness, of a difference, an otherness, an antagonism that couldn’t be happily resolved" unlike the stale dogmas of both Stalinism and Liberalism.



    This essay, translated from the first collection of Fortini's essays published in Italian (
    Dieci inverni. Contributo ad un discorso socialista, Feltrinelli, 1957), was originally published in English in the E.P. Thompson edited journal The New Reasoner in 1957. The essay, which includes the original editorial statement from the New Reasoner, analyses the rift in Italian Marxism between the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and the Socialist Party (PSI) and the hard fought struggle within each party against the Stalinist orthodoxy and for a new unity within the Italian left.

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Other books by Nanni Balestrini Translated by Mike Harakis Introduction by Umberto Eco