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The end of the working class and the tragic and ridiculous perversion of industry: Paolo Volponi’s Le mosche del capitale (1974-1989)

Tiziano Toracca
p. 88-102

Abstract

Le mosche del capitale [The Flies of Capital] is Volponi’s last novel, and it is inspired by autobiographical events, which are depicted at a historical level. The end of a progressist industrial paradigm entails the end of social conflicts (i.e., the end of the working class) and the passage from manufactured capital to financial capital. The pervasiveness reached by capital is criticized through some formal choices that ridicule the language of power and the subjugation of the managers to it. The main objective of this paper is to show how Volponi depicts a double breakdown: on the one hand, and in dramatic forms, the breakdown of the working class; on the other hand, and in comic forms, the breakdown of industry.

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Testo integrale

1. “Le mosche del capitale” and the perversion of industry

  • 1 For an overview see Zinato 2018. See also Baghetti, Carter, Marmo 2021.

1Paolo Volponi (1924-1994) is one of the Italian novelists who has best represented work and industry (together, among others, with Ottieri, Arpino, Davì, Mastronardi, Parise, Balestrini)1 and who has believed in industry as an instrument to achieve welfare as well as emancipation, equality, and democracy.

2Volponi writes, towards the mid-Seventies:

  • 2 Volponi 1966 (all translations of Volponi’s texts are mine).

Industry must not be conceived as an instrument of alienation, as a chain of products, ‘consumer society’, etcetera, but as a force liberating from need, fatigue, illness, and from the infinite slaveries conditioning the life of men.2

  • 3 From this perspective, an author who is close to Volponi is Carlo Emilio Gadda, because he - as wel (...)
  • 4 Pistilli 2014. Among the various contributions on Adriano Olivetti, on the factory and its ambitiou (...)

3The author has often made similar statements and has argued in favor of this thesis in more than one occasion. Such an understanding of industry – not an “instrument of alienation” but a “force that can liberate from the needs” – and more generally the trust in technology and in modernization make Volponi an eccentric writer in the Italian literary realm of the second half of the xx century, also with regard to other authors that have depicted work and factories.3 Nevertheless, this is not surprising. Volponi, in fact, had prestigious roles within Olivetti, a great industry which during the Seventies employed more than twenty thousand workers and had factories in various parts of the world (especially in America), and that was very progressive not only for the quality of its products, but also for the extraordinary technological innovations (often forerunners of the actual digital revolution), as well as for the special treatment dedicated to workers and for the democratic and progressist ideals it promoted.4

  • 5 Volponi 2011; Volponi 2013.

4In addition to having worked for Olivetti for more than twenty years, from 1950 to 1971, becoming director of the social services and human resources and getting close to being nominated chief executive officer, Volponi has also worked some years, from 1972 to 1975, in another great Italian industry, FIAT, first as the responsible for relationships between the factory and the city of Turin and then as a secretary general of Fondazione Agnelli. Elected Senator in 1983, as independent in the list of the Communist Party, he has worked in the Parliament for about a decade, taking part of the Industry Commission and in the Commission for Foreign Affairs.5

  • 6 Giudici 1994.
  • 7 This counter position is denounced by the protagonist of Corporale, Gerolamo Aspri. See Volponi 200 (...)

5In Volponi, the idea that industry can constitute an essential resource for humanity is constant, and it is undeniable that during the Seventies and Eighties (the first decade characterized by political struggles and by the defeat of the working-class movement; the second, characterized by neoliberism), the trust in the realization of such an ideal tends progressively to decrease and to radically change. Since it is incapable of becoming a “social and cultural propulsor”6 and simultaneously of bridging gain and protection of work, industry becomes more and more, from Volponi’s perspective, an instrument of oligarchic domination. In the words of the writer, the “industry of men”, serving all those that work in it as well as the community, gets transformed into the “industry of captains”,7 that is to say of those that direct it and gain profit from it by remaining indifferent to any project of democratic development.

  • 8 The speech can be now found in Volponi 2013: 9-18, 15. The idea of “cultural industry” refers to th (...)

6The juxtaposition of these two “industrial cultures”, that of men and that of captains, emerges very clearly in a speech given by Volponi in Parliament (Senate) in March 1984. The “cultural industry”, he claims in the speech, is not the “sum of technologies” or the “sum of profits”, but the “capacity to invent great scientific research” directed to improve the public dimension of existence and its objective is the “participation of everyone in a project of transformation of the country”.8

  • 9 Volponi’s resignation from Olivetti is caused by a change of paradigm in the factory’s general poli (...)
  • 10 Volponi 2003: 3.

7The progressive denial or perversion of industry that Volponi had learned in Olivetti constitutes – for the author – a trauma9 and it is the principal Leitmotiv that we find in his works, especially in his last novel, Le mosche del capitale, which by no chance is dedicated, in an antiphrastic sense, to Adriano Olivetti, here defined, in the epigraph, “master of the world industry”.10

8Volponi begins to write Le mosche del capitale in 1974 and he publishes it fifteen years later, in 1989, but on a closer inspection it is not an isolated or late novel: it constitutes, in fact, the point of arrival of an artistic and ideological trajectory beginning in the mid Seventies with Corporale [Corporal], which will be in turn published after long elaboration in 1974, and including Il Pianeta irritabile [The irritable Planet], an allegorical science fiction fable published in 1978, besides some minor proses published in the Eighties and dedicated to the conflict between “natural” and “artificial” dimensions, together with various texts of Con testo a fronte [With text opposite] and Nel silenzio campale [In the field silence], two collections of poetry published respectively in 1986 and 1990.

  • 11 See Zinato 2001; Ritrovato, Toracca, Alessandroni 2015.

9All these works, although differently, contain multiple and notable intertextual references and stem in some sense from the same project.11 They thematize and represent the “crisis” of the industrial paradigm that Volponi believed was right and feasible and that he will continue to promote not only in defense of enlightened and democratic ideals, but also in name of the survival of the human species. Corporale and Il Pianeta irritabile foresee an economic mutation, sealed by the triumph of the market and of neoliberism, which in the Mosche shall become all-inclusive by assuming cosmic dimensions. Various themes and various figures that we find in Corporale (the fear of the atomic bomb, the psychical disintegration of the hero, his corporal rebellion, his anxiety for the animal mutation and utopistic escape in another “site”), like many other themes and figures that we find in Il Pianeta irritabile (the post-apocaliptic landscape, the trip of the animals and of the dwarf Mamerte in search for a “kingdom of equality”, their victorious fight against the governor Moneta) depict the overflow of the industrial power, which has become irrational and destructive.

2. A double breakdown

  • 12 I choose to speak of “comic” and not of “irony” or “satire” because in Volponi’s novel there is not (...)
  • 13 The reference to the microphysics of power (Foucault) aims at emphasizing the capillary diffusion o (...)

10The main objective of this paper is to show how - in the Mosche - Volponi depicts a double breakdown: on the one hand and in dramatic forms, the breakdown of the working class; on the other hand, and in comic forms, the breakdown of industry.12 Underneath both breakdowns there is the triumph of financial capitalism which Volponi represents through a formal and original choice: it is depicted as an unlimited and global extension of a language and a logic that are equal for everyone and dominate and transcend individuals. It is a microphysics of power, pervading daily life and the unconscious and imposing itself kindly, as a form of knowledge and pleasure and not as a repressive or negative instance.13

  • 14 At least in part, since in effect also the voice of Saraccini, notwithstanding, is soaked – using F (...)

11Exception made, at least in part,14 for the manager Bruto Saraccini, who is by the way a transparent counterfigure of the author, and exception made for Antonino Tecraso, the worker representing the entire working class, everything and everyone in the Mosche are contaminated by the language of the power (i.e., the language of the capital). This is precisely the key idea of the novel: that capital is not only a logical structure but also a language. Everyone speaks and would like to speak this language, or they serve or would like to serve the same power. Everyone or almost everyone, in the Mosche, instead of speaking as individuals with their own judgment and vision of the world, are spoken by the same language. What could appear as a great polyphony (since in the novel also animals, plants and objects do speak), is in reality a long and repetitive monologue of the power. All the voices are on the same level, and they are aimed at expressing the same logic. They are interchangeable. When interrogated by the moon (“But, tell me, who else speaks around you?”), with a clear parodic reference to the Operette morali [Small Moral Works] by Leopardi, the calculator replies that everyone speaks.

  • 15 Volponi 2003: 99.

Everybody. It is an unbearable parliament. The chairs speak, the stools, the tables, the ashtrays and the pencils, the doors… Everybody continuously speaks, alone or with the other people, and everybody according to their language, that is to say according to the position and function they get assigned…15

12Speaking the language of capital hence means speaking according to one’s own function: not to communicate but to produce.

  • 16 Volponi 2003: 98.

13During this dialogue, a little before, the calculator had explained to the moon that “everything belongs to the capital” and had named itself the “instrument of the decisions of the capital”. Capable of “calculating how many are the men that sleep and how many those that are alive”, the computer is the emblem of the flow of capital and of its capacity to insinuate itself everywhere and to dominate everything. Even the moon is only a “goal, a measure that soon can be overcome”.16

14The triumph of this great collective discourse does not only entail, as I stated, the marginalization or the disintegration of those “non-aligned” (of the enlightened manager Bruto Saraccini on the one hand and of the worker Antonino Tecraso on the other hand), and the complete abjection and degradation of the managers (who behave as ridiculous puppets moved by a transcendent force), but it causes also a grandious homogenisation. It is a totalising discourse, which transcends individuals and deprives them of their singularity. The abjection, in other words, is produced by an abstract force entering the lives of the characters, depriving them of their uniqueness, and transforming them into functions. The logic of the capital, in fact, disciplines space and geography, it exploits time, resets individuality, and uniforms the various forms of life. Exception made once again for Saraccini, who is excluded, expelled, and finally transformed into a faithful manager, and the “fighter” Tecraso, who is an epic and tragic character, disconsolate and solemn, and who ends up being annihilated, in the Mosche there are no other characters.

  • 17 Volponi 2003: 167.

There are no more characters because nobody acts as such, nobody as its script. The only character, it might sound commonplace to mention it, is the power. We suffer from its presence. We can still be a character, but for a very short time, and in a fragmented way.17

  • 18 Volponi 2003: 150. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (quoted explicitly by Astolfo) is here the emblem of th (...)

15There are no longer individuals, there is no longer Madame Bovary, there is nothing else to recount. Narration, as is explained by Astolfo to his speaking dog Tozzo, is now the “counter of the supermarket”.18 Rebels, murderers, fishermen, rich, misers, uncapable men, everyone looks like everyone else. They add up to one another like numbers, goods or reified subjects. They compose an indistinct totality. The fact that animals, plants and objects can speak expresses, indeed, such a cosmic reification.

  • 19 Fortini 1989. See infra.

16The main figure of speech in the Mosche is chaotic accumulation, which does not only represent the disproportion of the power of capital, that grows and flows continuously, undisturbed, also when everybody sleeps (this is the extraordinary incipit of the novel), but allows also, in Fortini’s terms, to express a general “irreality effect”.19

  • 20 Nasàpeti (originally Zeno Franco Furesin) corresponds to Bruno Visentini, who at that time was the (...)
  • 21 Donna Fulgenzia’s lifestyle (she loves sun and beauty, elegance and mundanity) is that of a great f (...)
  • 22 Volponi 2013: 99.
  • 23 Volponi 2013: 155.
  • 24 Volponi 2003: 158-159.

17The furious activity of men, especially of managers-bees (i.e., in occasion of the death of Nasàpeti, represented in the explicit) the servility of the ficus, of the parrot, of the bags and the pens, the presumption of the computer, the exaggerated languages of the marketing, of finance and informatics – all this causes an alienating, flipped over, and carnivalesque effect. In the Mosche, in other words, people also laugh a lot, and this happens through a desecration of power, beginning from its language. The managers’ discourses, reinflated and caricatural, seem self-referential, dumb, childish. Their names are ridiculed (e. g. Nasàpeti),20 and their lifestyles and ambitions alike (e. g. lady Fulgenzia).21 The objects-symbols of the economic power (the purse, the armchair, the ornamental plants, the pen, the parrot etc.) – which are speaking indeed – ridicule the power of which they are functions. Their “unbearable parliament”22 – i.e their self-celebration, their obsession with responsibility and order, their reports of business meetings, their reciprocal attacks and mistrust – ridicule the functioning and the aims of the factory. The serious and high mode, in other words, slips towards a ridiculous and low mode. It is exemplary, in this sense, the monologue of the purse of the President occupying the entire paragraph 5 of the first part of the novel. One of most comic episodes of the novel is a “sacrilege”:23 Teodolinda, a poor cleaning lady, accidentally sits on the presidential armchair of lady Fulgenzia, and the event, recounted with resentment by the armchair, provokes the irrepressible laughter of the woman and gives her an unexpected success. “Everybody speaks about her and her butt”, which in the meantime has become a “symbolic butt”, “a great symbol of battle and of a trade union claim”, a “working class organ unmasking the apex of the power”.24 Her husband, Cosimino, gets promoted and is respected by all his colleagues.

  • 25 In an autograph note in the Mosche we read: “Laughing at capitalism about its language – on its rep (...)

18The world overdetermined by the flow of capitals certainly seems like a dreary heath, but it also appears irrational, dull, conceited and indeed irreal. It is a world that can be upside down and regenerated, in which the brute and bodily elements can ridicule – all of a sudden – the more refined discourses and the rational logic which seems to rule, alone and invincible, over the human relationships and exchange.25

3. Two tales, two failures: the manager and the worker

19Le mosche del capitale consists of two large and parallel sequences of events, both ruinous. It is indeed the result of two projects that Volponi had kept originally distinct, the biographical memoir of the manager and the novel about the worker.

  • 26 The equivalence between money and excrement is explicit in the Pianeta irritabile, especially in th (...)

20The first sequence of events is the story of manager Bruto Saraccini. Unlike other managers, Saraccini is not a “fly” (mosca), hence he does not hover around the capital-excrement,26 but he thinks he can direct industry in a scientific and enlightened way. His failure becomes complete when the summits of the company reject and refuse his innovative industrial plan and force him to resign. Apparently kept in high consideration by other important managers, aristocratic and royal, but – in reality – judged also by them as dull and presumptuous, Saraccini is then hired by another firm in which he is treated as a cultivated intellectual that can be exhibited in mundane gatherings, as a reason to brag.

  • 27 Volponi 2003: 306, 323.

21He is hired as a “vassal”, “cantor of the court” and “courtier”27 and not as an adminstrator or a manager. In fact, in both firms Saraccini is excluded from decisional procedures. The difference between Saraccini and the flies and his double fate, in the first and in the second factory, suggests that he is a transparent mask of the author.

  • 28 Volponi, by the way, will have to resign from FIAT, too. This happens after the author makes public (...)
  • 29 The switch of gender (Gianni Agnelli is a man, lady Fulgenzia a woman), is aimed at emphasizing the (...)

22The textual elements that testify of this overlap are many and critically verified and, not by chance, in an autograph note preparatory of the novel, we can read: “Le mosche del capitale exact story (mine) from 66 until 75”. In 1971 Volponi had in fact been obliged to resign from Olivetti for reasons analogous to those for which in the novel Saraccini abandons the MFM of Salisborgo C. Similarly, once hired by FIAT, the author had a role analogous to that of Saraccini in the firm of Bovino, a more defilated role, a prestigious one, lacking every power of political action.28 The factories represented in the novel, the MFM of Salisborgo C. and the Bovino’s (the one where Saraccini works), recall in fact Olivetti and FIAT and – by the way – many of the characters and many of the places represented in the Mosche refer to real people and real places: Bovino/Torino; Teofrasto/Olivetti; Nasàpeti/Visentini; Astolfo/Umberto Agnelli; lady Fulgenzia/Gianni Agnelli and so on and so forth.29

  • 30 The category of Neomodernism aims at defining a series of experimental Italian novels published in (...)
  • 31 See Fioretti, 2013; 226. The imaginary figure of the “Chinese knight” was one of the main threads o (...)

23The second great series of events narrated in the Mosche, which is much more tragic, is that of Antonino Tecraso, a worker from the Calabria Region immigrated in Turin who is emarginated, fired and then taken to jail on the suspicion of being involved in terroristic activities. Like Saraccini, Tecraso is not a “fly of the capital” and instead, unlike the manager, having been undermined and taken hostage by the industrial power, he fights the power with his own two hands and is defeated. The resistance of Tecraso is tragic but is not narrated realistically, instead the style used can be considered neomodernist, since it gives relevance to the interior life of the character, to his ideas and hallucinations.30 Obliged to be vaccinated in the factory, he imagines for example that the microbes contained in the serum coming from China have “their own Mao” and are organized to destroy the enemy. Like in a daydream, he sees in his ampule a knight with a flag, a “Chinese knight”, and this fantastic figure accompanies him during his desperate struggle (Tecraso will lose a child and will attempt suicide in jail). Symbol of a revolution of the past, that is to say a Maoist revolution, the Chinese knight becomes the emblem of the defeat of the labor movement and in fact will dispel during the incarceration of Tecraso.31

  • 32 On this topic there are several contributions. It is a tendency that arises at the beginning of the (...)
  • 33 See for example: Gallino 2011; De Masi 2018.

24The representation of the collapse of the working class and of the class struggle and the representation of the progressive domination of financial capitalism make the Mosche the first post-industrial novel in Italian literature. Beyond the inauguration of this tendency of Italian narrative (the post-industrial novel) that will progressively gain more and more space,32 Volponi’s last novel anticipates two ideas destined to mark the debate on the transformations of work occurred in large parts of Europe in the last decades. On the one hand the idea predominates that work is over and that the waves of dismissals and business reorganization have been caused by the globalization of markets, by the birth of great multinational corporations, and the consequent externalization of the production favored by the reduction of the costs of work. On the other hand, lies the idea that the wealth of individuals and of entire countries no longer depends on the production of goods (by a real economy), but on financial operations promoted by large holdings and investment groups. Such idea is based on a change of paradigm: the informatization of work and the supremacy of international finance have weakened the capacity of political action not only of individuals but also of governments.33

4. “Broken scattered diminished dazed deviant”: the defeat of the working class

25The crisis of the working class emerges in many passages of the Mosche, and I have selected three among these which appear to be particularly significant.

26The first is a refrain. It is a speech that many workers, especially the oldest ones, repeat in turn while they go back home, an impersonal discourse, collective, which by no chance some workers also repeat by themselves.

  • 34 The possibility to speak and communicate with other workers (first) is counterposed to the silence (...)

27This discourse concerns the difference between the old workshop, the factory until the end of the Seventies, the new neocapitalist industry, and the key idea that the workshop has changed, and the workers no longer know each other.34 At a certain point, we read:

  • 35 Volponi 2003: 160, my italics.

A worker was a worker and he knew what he was doing and he knew what to expect from the factory, of the union, and what to expect from politics. He knew he could count on the salary and that he could spend the money, both for the fixed expenses and his children. He knew that his condition would not have lasted forever and that he could not sadden for this, to confuse and disappear. A worker knew everything of everything, everything that went from his condition to that of his firm, up to the industry and government. Now the workshop is no longer there, and also workers are no longer the same.35

  • 36 Volponi 2003: 160.

28The numerous occurrences of the verb “know” are meaningful. The use of the imperfect tense, the iterations and the agglomerate “everything” (in Italian, “tutto”: “a worker would know everything of everything”) underscore the nostalgia for a lost world. The knowledge of the worker has to do with a metaphysics of daily life, with social identity and the feeling of class belonging, with the possibility to act in the world with certain and familiar points of reference. The workers and the factory can no longer be recognised, they are no longer relevant, and as well the production is automatised, and nobody, not even engineers, controls that the pieces “are absorbed by a pneumatic tube and sent away”.36

  • 37 Volponi 2003: 161, my italics.

29“That now I am a worker”, we read with a sudden switch to the first person singular, “I can tell now only by this tram of workers that I take in the evening and in the morning”. The tram “looks like the old lathes of the Fifties, like large milling machines, like presses” and it is an image that recalls the workshop, the working class, the manufacturing industry. It is overtaken by the sportive cars or by the buses going to the airport, all “quickly directed towards a different world, unknown and denied for workers”.37

  • 38 This man will re-appear at Tecraso’s place with a friend, and they will be hosted some days. Tecras (...)
  • 39 Volponi 2003: 291.
  • 40 Volponi 2003: 135,143. It is an historical event. See Zinato 2015: 246-247.

30Further along in the text, we find a monologue by Tecraso, after he has hosted a young man at his place.38 The working class, Tecraso points out, “has been broken scattered diminished dazed deviant, taking away work and factories, departments machines pieces tools teams categories”.39 Accumulation, hyperbole and exaggeration express the hardness and rapidity that have characterized the fragmentation and an analogous stylistic register had been previously used to describe the clashes and the battle of workers following fifty-seven dismissals.40

31During this monologue Tecraso invokes the creation of a “little Communist party” that can revolt but it is heterogeneous, chaotic and grotesque up to the point that Tecraso’s invocation certifies not the hope, but the certainty that all class struggle is over.

  • 41 Volponi 2003: 291.

32This reflection of the worker is a bitter reflection on the nature of the disintegration that is taking place. The party is indeed composed by “those affected by an earthquake”, the “accused”, the “absolved”, the “obsessed” and the “inspired”, by politicians of different faith (Radicals and Catholics), players, fans, people who have retired. It is not a party but a muddle of people that are numerous but do not make up a class.41

  • 42 It is meaningful that in front of the prison cell, Tecraso thinks: “You are condemning to jail a wo (...)
  • 43 This caesura seems to suffer from a non-casual overlap, on the literary and cultural level, with th (...)
  • 44 Volponi 2003: 320-323.
  • 45 Volponi 2003: 321.
  • 46 Gallino 2011.

33A little after the reflection by Tecraso, who will then be arrested and imprisoned,42 there is the representation of the march of the forty thousand middle managers of FIAT (14 October 1980) which interrupts a strike of thirty-five that had followed the decision (by FIAT) of giving payroll subsidies to twenty-three thousand employees. It is a historical passage that Volponi registers as a symbolic threshold which starts a master’s counteroffensive after about a decade of harsh protests and union struggles, of terror and armed confrontations, and that inaugurates the post-industrial condition.43 The march of the “forty thousand silent and disciplined managers, well-groomed and wearing nice shoes, precise and informal”, defending the “rights of the firm”44 makes explicit the impracticability of the class struggle but also accounts of a more general transformation of the industry. In the parade, in fact, there are not only the bosses but a myriad of categories afraid of “being substituted by electronic systems of information, data, transfers, teaching, assistance, recovery, trial”.45 It is therefore a parade that does not only modify the strength of bonds within the firm but that also alludes to the externalization of the production and to the progressive hegemony of immateriality. The dematerialization of many Italian factories (and not only Italian) is caused by the externalization of work towards areas of the world where work is cheaper.46 It is moreover paralleled by a dematerialization of production and of existence. These themes are central in a large part of Italian literature on post-industrial work and are anticipated by Le mosche del capitale.

5. You are all managers (“dirigenti”), if you “direct” yourselves towards me

34Within the novel there are two large dialogues with many voices modeled - as had mentioned before - on the Operette morali by Leopardi. In them, everything speaks, including the computer, which is the emblem of the informatization of work, of the abstraction of the production and of the domination of capital understood as a continuous flow and as a logic of control.

  • 47 This dialogue had been previously published on the “Corriere della sera” on 10th January 1984, unde (...)

35In these first dialogues the computer explains to the moon what capital is and it describes to the moon why everyone has the right to speak. In the second dialogue the computer speaks to the ficus.47

36The scene begins with the intolerance of the plants. Fearing that they will be neglected in the firm, the ficus revolt against the moquette, the tents, the desk, the telephone, the armchair and the door.

37“They neglect the terminal, knowing that it is powerful, the new favorite, and also indifferent, but also because they hope that it can ally with them. At least by remaining silent”. The plants of ficus claim their importance for the firm. They say they are the “true elements of the direction”, that they know how to spread “resources and goods, science and market, technology and politics” and they affirm that the managers look at them to “think and decide”. Telephones, the armchair, the door and the desk intervene in turn claiming analogous qualities, and soon a race begins to establish who is more useful or necessary to serve the firm, who is more loved and respected. All of a sudden, the computer starts speaking to the ficus that had bragged they could “produce oxygen and images that induce to imagine”.

  • 48 Volponi 2003: 202.

No, also if you are traditional and unuseful [...] You are the sign of a season of industry: little plants for human relations. But today is no longer the time of human relations. You do not serve automations, the joint ventures, the contracts: you do not influence the costs nor the profits. You are still projected on the negotiation, on the mediations according to the social, political and sentimental infiltrations. You are not even patrimonial, convertible, fractionable and you cannot hang to the speed of actual capitalism and favor its absolute abstraction. You are still true, even alive.48

38The plants remain silent but then they reply to the terminal (and here we can feel the voice of the author). They accuse the computer to be fake, to have been created to “annihilate the real direction” and the “real space and time”, to have been built “from the denial of industry and its culture”. They accuse it not to be a manager.

A manager? – the terminal answered. What counts more than a manager? By now, it is only his name that runs through my fluxes, codified with no particular relevance. I want to explain that there are no parts? That by now there are only programs and the system that I can establish and make run?

  • 49 Volponi 2003: 202-203 (emphasis added).

What counts is that I introject codify calculate transmit. Everything else outside, also machineries energy societies of all types, physical and juridical persons, are only material; figures and volumes of the past, which I can of my choice insert in the present and develop in the future […] Be not discouraged, continue […] I am still interested in your company. You are all managers (“dirigenti”), if you direct yourselves towards me.49

39The words of the computer seem first of all to overturn the utopia of Adriano Olivetti: in the new productive universe, automatized and governed by an electronic calculator, the workers are a problem, and the managers, like the ficus, are a mere decoration. The connection between industry and democracy, factory and city, entrepreneurship and territory seem to be only a memory of the past.

  • 50 We are “here” entering in a posthuman condition. For this specific perspective see Fioretti 2017.

40But the words of the computer mean more. The industry, as the plants of ficus claim, does not only deny its own reality, i.e., its enormous potentialities of well-being, but it denies all reality. The dematerialization of the world, the simulation, the inutility of what is even true and alive, the triumph of everything artificial50: in this, mostly, lies the absolute abstraction of the capital - i.e., in ordering the chaos of the world in view of its final destruction.

41By representing a double breakdown (of the working class and of industry) and the triumph of financial capitalism (depicted as an unlimited and global extension of a language and a logic that dominate and transcend individuals), Le mosche del capitale is a gloomy novel but at the same time, by claiming a different paradigm of industry (more democratic) and by ridiculing the logic of capital, is also a joyful novel, which suggests not to surrender and which is projected towards the future.

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Donnarumma, R. 2010, Storia, immaginario, letteratura: il terrorismo nella narrativa italiana (1969-2010), in P. Cataldi (ed), Per Romano Luperini, Palermo, Palumbo: 438-465.

Fortini, F. 1989, Contro il delirio verbale del potere, “L’indice”, VI, 6: 4-6.

Fioretti, D. 2013, Carte di fabbrica. La narrativa industriale in Italia (1934-1989), Pescara, Tracce.

Fioretti, D. 2017, Utopia and Dystopia in Postwar Italian Literature. Pasolini, Calvino, Sanguineti, Volponi, Cham, Palgrave Macmillan.

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Note

1 For an overview see Zinato 2018. See also Baghetti, Carter, Marmo 2021.

2 Volponi 1966 (all translations of Volponi’s texts are mine).

3 From this perspective, an author who is close to Volponi is Carlo Emilio Gadda, because he - as well - claims that modernization can be governed. See, for instance, Tecnica e poesia (1940), an article later republished in the collection I viaggi e la morte (1958). In this text, the worker capable of making the machine work is compared to a demiurge capable of dominating brute matter by making it rational.

4 Pistilli 2014. Among the various contributions on Adriano Olivetti, on the factory and its ambitious aims see Balicco 2021. See, as well, the rich catalogue edited by Ciorra, Limana, Trevisani 2020. See also Saibene 2017; Lupo 2016.

5 Volponi 2011; Volponi 2013.

6 Giudici 1994.

7 This counter position is denounced by the protagonist of Corporale, Gerolamo Aspri. See Volponi 2002: 724-725. Aspri’s discourse is almost a literary transcription of a real conversation that the author himself had with Bruno Visentini before leaving Olivetti. See Bettini, Capotondi 1995.

8 The speech can be now found in Volponi 2013: 9-18, 15. The idea of “cultural industry” refers to the connection between industrial production and collective well-being (of the workers, of the surrounding community and of the territory). Olivetti was not only a manager, but also a revolutionary reformer.

9 Volponi’s resignation from Olivetti is caused by a change of paradigm in the factory’s general policies: the faith the author used to have in industry starts to fade away.

10 Volponi 2003: 3.

11 See Zinato 2001; Ritrovato, Toracca, Alessandroni 2015.

12 I choose to speak of “comic” and not of “irony” or “satire” because in Volponi’s novel there is not dissimulation or disdain, but rather trivialization and overturning. The logic underneath the comicality of the novel is that of the Bachtinian’s “feast”. It is a joyful, working-class, material laughter, aimed at renovating the perception of the world and at revitalizing it. See Bachtin 1981; 1984.

13 The reference to the microphysics of power (Foucault) aims at emphasizing the capillary diffusion of the logic of dominion in human relations. The idea of the false tolerance of power (which controls and domesticates without being repressive) emerges in Foucault and Pasolini’s reflections. See Foucault 2011; Pasolini 1999.

14 At least in part, since in effect also the voice of Saraccini, notwithstanding, is soaked – using Franco Fortini’s words – in the “verbal delirium of power”. See Fortini 1989. In other words, Saraccini introjects the logic of the power.

15 Volponi 2003: 99.

16 Volponi 2003: 98.

17 Volponi 2003: 167.

18 Volponi 2003: 150. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (quoted explicitly by Astolfo) is here the emblem of the novel as a genre celebrating singularity. Madame Bovary no longer exists because the homologation caused by the dominion of capitalism prevents the recount of individual affairs. There are only functions, classes, categories. Astolfo in fact explains to his dog Tozzo that the novel would be an attack against the “totality” of power. The capitalistic exploitation, in other words, translates into an annulment of the multiplicity of reality. On those aspects see Conti 1996; Papini 1997. In Le mosche, next to the main characters (Saraccini and Tecraso), we meet many other characters (human and not human), who contribute to emphasize the power of capital. Astolfo, as we will see, is a manager in the factory of Bovino where Saraccini works and corresponds, in reality, to Umberto Agnelli, manager of the Fiat.

19 Fortini 1989. See infra.

20 Nasàpeti (originally Zeno Franco Furesin) corresponds to Bruno Visentini, who at that time was the President of Olivetti. His name is ridiculous because it is composed by the terms ‘naso’ (nose) and ‘peto’ (fart). There is a long and amusing reflection about this name. See Volponi 2003: 306.

21 Donna Fulgenzia’s lifestyle (she loves sun and beauty, elegance and mundanity) is that of a great feudatory, of a sovereign and not that of a modern entrepreneur. See Volponi 2003: 312-313.

22 Volponi 2013: 99.

23 Volponi 2013: 155.

24 Volponi 2003: 158-159.

25 In an autograph note in the Mosche we read: “Laughing at capitalism about its language – on its repetitive mechanisms – like Gargantua” and it is not impossible that Volponi has read Rabelais through the mediation of Bachtin and his Rabelais and His World (1965), translated in Italy in 1979.

26 The equivalence between money and excrement is explicit in the Pianeta irritabile, especially in the passage where the author, via the elephant Roboamo, quotes a text from the Timon of Athens by Shakespeare, more or less the same passage used by Marx in his Philosophical-economic manuscripts to explain, following Was ist Geld (1844) by Moses Hess, the nature and the properties of money, which is in fact defined “the alienated power of humanity”. See Toracca 2020b.

27 Volponi 2003: 306, 323.

28 Volponi, by the way, will have to resign from FIAT, too. This happens after the author makes public his decision to vote for the Communist Party in the administrative elections. After the vote, in favor of the Communist Party, FIAT asks Volponi to retake the position of Secretary General of the Fondazione Agnelli but the author refuses.

29 The switch of gender (Gianni Agnelli is a man, lady Fulgenzia a woman), is aimed at emphasizing the historical role of Agnelli. As Maurizio Ferraris noted, this switch “clarifies very well what Agnelli has represented at a historical level: more an Oriane de Guermantes, striving to be loved by people, than a master of industry”, Ferraris, in Toracca 2020: 228.

30 The category of Neomodernism aims at defining a series of experimental Italian novels published in the second half of the XX century that recall modernism. See Toracca 2018.

31 See Fioretti, 2013; 226. The imaginary figure of the “Chinese knight” was one of the main threads of the Zattera di sale. See Volponi 2003-2004.

32 On this topic there are several contributions. It is a tendency that arises at the beginning of the Nineties. See La Porta 2000. For an overview, see Toracca, Zinato 2020.

33 See for example: Gallino 2011; De Masi 2018.

34 The possibility to speak and communicate with other workers (first) is counterposed to the silence and isolation (now). Volponi 2003: 157.

35 Volponi 2003: 160, my italics.

36 Volponi 2003: 160.

37 Volponi 2003: 161, my italics.

38 This man will re-appear at Tecraso’s place with a friend, and they will be hosted some days. Tecraso will be accused of favoring terrorism right for this reason. The suspicions and the accuses of terrorism in Italy were very common at that time (in the Seventies). For an overview see Donnarumma 2010; Conti 2013.

39 Volponi 2003: 291.

40 Volponi 2003: 135,143. It is an historical event. See Zinato 2015: 246-247.

41 Volponi 2003: 291.

42 It is meaningful that in front of the prison cell, Tecraso thinks: “You are condemning to jail a worker that I no longer represent. This is no longer me”, Volponi 2003: 293.

43 This caesura seems to suffer from a non-casual overlap, on the literary and cultural level, with the end of the experimental season that had started in the mid Fifties (after the crisis of neorealism) and with the affirmation of postmodernism (Calvino, Eco, Tondelli), and also, at a historical level, with the beginning of neoliberal policies by M. Thatcher (UK) and Reagan (US) and with the succession, in Italy, of a series of weak governments (about ten in a few years), between the homicide of Aldo Moro, 9th May 1978, and the ascent of Bettino Craxi (1983).

44 Volponi 2003: 320-323.

45 Volponi 2003: 321.

46 Gallino 2011.

47 This dialogue had been previously published on the “Corriere della sera” on 10th January 1984, under the title Dialogo sull’industria fra pianta e macchina, with a philosophical reflection on the transformations of industry.

48 Volponi 2003: 202.

49 Volponi 2003: 202-203 (emphasis added).

50 We are “here” entering in a posthuman condition. For this specific perspective see Fioretti 2017.

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Tiziano Toracca, «The end of the working class and the tragic and ridiculous perversion of industry: Paolo Volponi’s Le mosche del capitale (1974-1989)»Rivista di estetica, 79 | 2022, 88-102.

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Tiziano Toracca, «The end of the working class and the tragic and ridiculous perversion of industry: Paolo Volponi’s Le mosche del capitale (1974-1989)»Rivista di estetica [Online], 79 | 2022, online dal 01 février 2024, consultato il 24 juin 2024. URL: http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/estetica/14205; DOI: https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/estetica.14205

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